“A Worm Turns”
Corat Damar Hall
Diet Legislative Building, Cardassia Prime
“Kall!” Jake Sisko called out, sticking up his arm and waving it vigorously. Despite his height, Jake felt adrift in the sea of bodies surrounding him. Journalists of every creed and stripe it seemed had descended upon Cardassia in the last two weeks. And many of them packed the balcony, crushed against the railing. Jake hoped the structural foundation was sturdy enough and that it wouldn’t collapse on the mass of reporters belong.
He averted his eyes momentarily to look at the hungry flock, both feeling a kinship and a level of disgust that they were so eager to witness the downfall of a sapient being, even if he did deserve it, and even if Jake was the instrument of his destruction.
From a muckraking standpoint Jake should feel proud of what he had done. His bosses back on Earth surely had. They told him that the information he had uncovered was blaring across the quadrant.
Of course the truth wouldn’t have come to light at all without Garak. Jake wished the man was here so that he could get the vindication he so richly deserved. However the wily tailor was still a fugitive, still wanted for the assassination of Natima Lang.
Jake didn’t buy into that, even though he knew Garak was capable of reprehensible things, but he also knew that the man cared about Cardassia, and Jake knew that Garak thought Lang had represented the best hope to return Cardassia to the galactic community.
“Jake,” Kall Yano said warmly, right after elbowing a Bzzit Khaht to get out of her way. The young Sisko chuckled. The Vulcan-Bajoran hybrid wrinkled her ridged nose at the less than wholesome smell of the leathery Bzzit Khaht, before smiling at him.
“Where were you Yano?” He asked, taking the brown-skinned woman in his arms. She hugged him tightly. They had started out as colleagues. Jake hadn’t found a better camera person among the litter at the Federation News Service than Kall.
Only recently, after a series of harrowing events, starting with the Alshain slaughter on Munzala, that the two young journalists had decided to admit their feelings and do something about it. And now they were a team in more ways than one.
“Talking with one of the Altair guys,” she said, referring to one of their news rivals, from the Altair Information Syndicate. “He also couldn’t believe that FNS had snatched our plum assignment and given it to Gilmore,” the biracial woman huffed. It rankled Jake too, but he had long ago learned to maintain his composure in public.
“That’s the way things go Yano,” he said, his voice measured. “But the people who matter know it was our work that broke the story.”
“Yeah,” she sighed as she leaned into him, “But it’s Elena Gilmore who gets the glory,” she said, jabbing an accusatory finger like a spear tip at the front of the room. It had been roped off and the bigger named, ‘celebrity’ (Yano’s word) reporters were sitting and chatting amiably.
Jake’s eyes fell on the object of Yano’s ire. The middle-aged, trim auburn-haired human woman was laughing with a Valerian colleague.
Jake pursed his lips, a prick of envy dispelling his mood, but he quickly pushed it away. Elena Gilmore had been-remained-one of his heroes. She had been a war correspondent of the highest order, putting her life on the line countless times to insure that Federation citizens got accurate, truthful information.
Before the wars with the Klingons and Dominion, Gilmore had made her bones exposing corruption on various Federation member worlds. Unlike many, Gilmore’s skepticism often showed the serpent in the paradise many thought the Federation was.
The woman was an inspiration to him. So he couldn’t quite be too bummed when she had been picked to deliver the death blow to Trade Provost Mintof Urlak.
His bosses wanted someone more experienced with slaying Goliaths, and he couldn’t blame them for that. Still he did hope, if for nothing else, history’s sake, that both he and Yano got some credit.
But more importantly he hoped the information would lead others to doubt Urlak’s veracity in other areas, including his strong assertion that Garak murdered Lang.
“Please be seated,” a stern, computerized voice said from speakers hidden throughout the hall. No one on the balcony paid attention. The favored reporters dutifully complied.
“Trade Provost Urlak will be arriving at the podium momentarily,” the voice added. Kall squeezed his hand.
“Here we go,” she said, her excitement palpable. Jake nodded, swallowing a lump in his throat. Looking back down again, Jake noticed that Gilmore was perched on the edge of her seat like a bird of prey. She was ready to swoop down on Urlak.
Without fanfare Mintof Urlak strode onto the stage. The man had a slight build but he radiated power. The Cardassian trade minister was dressed in a simple brown tunic and matching pants, his expensive black shoes glittering in the ceiling lights. The man’s comfortable lead in the polls had evaporated over the last week as more stories had emerged. Now it looked like Urlak might lose the premiership to the incumbent, Feren Remec, who had been acting premier since Lang’s assassination.
He stepped quickly to the podium. He cleared his throat before speaking to the audience, “This is a very important matter that involves not just this campaign but the future of Cardassia, so I will dispense with the usual pleasantries if you do not mind,” he paused for only a second, “It has come to light recently that my foundation, the Crimson Order, which had been dedicated to providing services for veterans and their families had been transferring funds to the Crimson Shadow, a breakaway extremist faction.” He stopped and looked around the room and then up into the balcony.
Jake grumbled low in his throat, his lips twisting in confusion. For a man headed towards the gallows Urlak certainly hadn’t lost any confidence. “It is true,” Urlak said. A rumble of voices flowed through the crowd, growing into a din. And many reporters down below leapt to their feet, Gilmore leading the pack. Jake sat back dumbfounded.
He had imagined what this moment would be like, but never thought it would happen. While Garak had been a mere operative in the Obsidian Order, Urlak had been one of its masters. He had never thought the man would ever admit to something so damaging. There had to be a reason why, he wondered, his eyes narrowing as he gazed at Kall.
Yano frowned. She leaned close so that he would hear her over the roar, “I know that look,” she said. “What’s wrong?” Jake shook his head, not sure what to say.
“Please, please,” Urlak raised his voice. “Your questions will be answered satisfactorily,” he promised. He bade the audience to settle down several more times and finally they did.
“I have someone I wish to introduce,” Urlak looked off the stage and waved for someone to step forward. A surprised gush roiled through many as Gul Vaidar Dien stepped onto the stage. He was dressed in a standard military uniform, his brown cuirass as polished as Urlak’s shoes. A row of medals hung from the man’s chest. The audio amplified their clinking in the near silence his appearance had created.
The cadaverous Cardassian militant was the current leader of the Crimson Shadow. He glanced warily around the room before he walked over to the podium. Urlak stepped to the side and then behind the taller man.
Dien gripped the edges of the rostrum and bent down as if he were speaking into actual microphones. Jake’s grunt this time was one of grim amusement. Dien had no qualms about blowing innocents to bits but seemed bedeviled by public speaking.
“Fellow Cardassians,” Dien began, his voice sounding dry, “I took up arms to protect our homes, our families, our future from invaders.” He paused, glaring quickly out into his immediate crowd of reporters. “And now I lay down my arms and submit to the legal authorities.”
“What did he just say?” Kall was as disbelieving as many in the audience. The whole auditorium-it seemed-had been stunned into silence. Jake’s mind was reeling at the news himself.
It was damn near impossible to fathom. Dien was the current media bête noir, the fanatical militant who would never give up until he had turned Cardassia into a graveyard of Federation and Klingon corpses. But he had just upended the galaxy and Jake really wanted to know why.
The gul released his death grip on the podium and pushed away from it, his relief evident. Urlak tugged the man’s elbow and Dien now stood behind him. Dien looked down as Urlak addressed the crowd again.
“This is where the Crimson Order’s funding went,” he explained, “to insure that Dien and those who will surrender along with him, and their families, will have jobs, will have a stake in the new, the one Cardassia we are building.” He said, craftily inserting his campaign slogan “One Cardassia” into the statement.
The room erupted; the reporters could no longer contain themselves. Urlak stood placidly, weathering the barrage of questions. After a few minutes, he signaled for silence with a hand gesture and the restive journalists muzzled themselves.
“I promised I would answer all of your questions satisfactorily,” Jake could hear, if not see, the smile in man’s voice. “But I didn’t say I would do so all tonight. Ms. Gilmore, of the Federation News Service, I will grant you the first exclusive interview. Please contact my press secretary at your convenience. Now, I’ve got a campaign to finish.” He backed away from the podium.
Urlak grabbed Dien’s hand and held their clasped hands together up in the air, long enough to be recorded, and then he ushered the overwhelmed gul off the stage. Urlak was on the man’s heels.
Burly security guards came out to block any reporters from trying to follow the trade minister. Through all the haze of activity, Jake tried to get his bearings.
“I’ll be damned,” Yano said, echoing Jake’s sentiments exactly. “The old sawtooth pulled it off.”
“Yeah,” Jake said glumly. He took Garak’s best card and turned it into an October surprise, as the Old Earth political tactic goes. How was Remec going to beat the man who had just engineered the surrender of the system’s biggest terrorist?
He shook his head, looking sadly at Yano. “Many in here think the war is over, but it’s just beginning.”