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Enigma Tales (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) by [McCormack, Una]
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Length: 368 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Una McCormack is the author of the Star Trek novels The Fall: The Crimson Shadow (a New York Times bestseller); Cardassia—The Lotus Flower (which appeared in Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume 1); The Never-Ending Sacrifice; Hollow Men; and Brinkmanship; as well as two Doctor Who novels, The King’s Dragons and The Way Through the Woods, and numerous short stories. She lives with her partner, Matthew, in Cambridge, England, where she reads, writes, and teaches.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales

One

There is nothing quite to compare with arriving on a new world. As the ship comes into orbit, even the most seasoned traveler cannot help but stop their reading or their moss-gathering and peer at the planet moving slowly into range. Questions form in the mind: What will I see that is new? Will I learn something? Will I be surprised? Will my visit here change me in some small but significant way? When the time comes, you board the landing shuttle and, for a while, you see little more than its sealed interior, and hear little
more than engines thrumming as you are brought planetside. But soon enough you’re down, and safety harnesses are released, and you rise and stretch, and fumble around for your bags, and at last you come out into the spaceport, into the whirl and noise of a thousand alien strangers, busy about their lives, caring little for your concerns, anxious about missing connections or finding friends or simply getting home. You begin to find your bearings. Your journey on into the new world begins. You have arrived.

No, nothing quite compares. You are weary. You are disoriented. You are excited too. You are struggling to get your bearings. And when the world in question is Cardassia Prime, mystique shrouds your arrival. You know that Cardassia has been at peace with the rest of the quadrant for over a decade, and all the signs are positive that the peace is lasting. You know that there is an alliance in place now, a special relationship between these people and yours, but this is an alien world after all, and one can never be too careful. You are aware of all of this, but the war still lingers in the memory, and behind it lurks the Occupation, a scar that has never quite healed. You are aware that Cardassia’s legal and judicial system is now considered second to none within the quadrant in terms of transparency, equity, and efficiency. You gather that the police service too these days is a byword for honesty and fairness. Education, healthcare, social care—all flourishing, all nurtured, and with a philosophy that prioritizes care ahead of cost. Most importantly, nobody starves in the Cardassian Union these days, and while remoter regions of Prime and some of the outer worlds might still require the more rugged and self-denying sort, nobody is thrown to the wolves. You try to shake off your doubts. This is a new world. But there remains some dark glamour to Cardassia Prime, some continuing sense that something cruel may still lurk in the shadows. Perhaps you are wondering if you are safe here. Perhaps you are wise to wonder.

Katherine Pulaski was not immune to glamour, but like most things it had to work fairly damn hard to cast any kind of spell on her. This morning, Cardassia Prime, as if sensing a worthy opponent at last, was pulling out all the stops. The spring sunrise unfolding beyond the transparent-aluminum walls and ceilings of the spaceport was a veritable symphony of color. A bass line of rosy pink warmed the sky. Gentle arpeggios of yellow rippled through, counterpointed by sharp and sudden purple leitmotifs. The whole opened out into a faultless final movement: the vast unbroken blue of spring over the Cardassian capital. Welcome, Katherine Pulaski, Cardassia Prime seemed to be saying. Ta-da! This world is like no other. Enjoy your stay here. We promise you the trip of a lifetime.

Pulaski yawned, stretched, and scratched. “Look,” she said to her traveling companion, pointing ahead. “Coffee. Goddammit, Peter, they really are civilized here after all.”

Her companion, a lean man in his midthirties with black hair and space lag, peered above the rims of his dark sunglasses, and muttered, “Praise be.” His name was Doctor Peter Alden, and he and Pulaski were colleagues and, sometimes, such as in meetings, archenemies. Grabbing their in-flight bags, they shambled across the arrivals hall to the small café that Pulaski had spotted. She sat Alden down with the bags, and put in their order with a friendly young Cardassian male who was excited to see two humans and chattered about the human teacher he’d had at his school as a kid. Pulaski smiled and nodded and managed a facsimile of friendliness: no mean feat for her. When their order arrived, she and Alden sat in silence until Alden had finished his coffee, leaned back in his chair, and taken off his glasses.

“Of course,” he said, “the reason that there is coffee is down to us.”

“What?” Pulaski said. “I’m willing to take credit for a lot of things, but I can’t see how I can get away with that one.”

“Starfleet—the Federation—we were here for years. The reconstruction effort. All mixing with the locals—like that young man there who brought us our drinks. I bet we won’t struggle to find human food and drink.” He looked thoughtful. “I could murder a curry.”

Pulaski smiled. “If you’re offering analysis and feeling hungry, I’m going to guess that your space lag is better.”

Alden stretched and looked up through the ceiling. “Well,” he said, “it’s a nice morning.”

“It’s beautiful. Who would’ve expected it from Cardassia Prime?”

Alden grunted. “I gather it has its charms.”

Pulaski contemplated her companion as he leaned forward and started making short work of the pile of small iced buns that she had brought with the coffee. Pulaski’s current assignment was on board a scientific research vessel, the Athene Donald. Scientific research vessels were plenty in the Federation, sure, but the Athene Donald was special. Its crew was the most diverse yet assembled, drawing as it did not only from Federation species, but from allied and not-so-allied worlds. Ferengi, Cardassians, even a Tzenkethi, mingled freely with the humans, Trill, and Vulcans. The idea was that a untrammeled scientific community would find ways of working together that were not bounded by diplomatic needs or constraints. It was a truly utopian vision. There had been numerous complications, but one of the most irritating, to Pulaski’s mind, had been the appearance at the very start of the ship’s mission of Starfleet Intelligence, in the form of Peter Alden.

Pulaski didn’t want spooks aboard her ship. She didn’t like their games, and she thought it made a mockery of their mission. Alden came anyway. By the end of that first voyage, however, Alden had been what Pulaski called “cured.” He quit the intelligence service, signed up on the Athene Donald, and had completed his doctoral studies in xenosociolinguistics in record time, working with Ferengi and Tzenkethi advisors. Since then, Pulaski and Alden had enjoyed sparring with each other whenever they could. When she had been invited to Cardassia Prime, she told him he should come along. Alden agreed immediately, to the vast amusement of their colleagues. There was a pool on the ship (neither of them knew this) as to how soon she would make him the fourth Mr. Pulaski. There was also another pool (they perforce knew nothing about this either) as to how quickly she would divorce him.

Their quiet, restorative breakfast was interrupted by the sudden arrival at their table of a rather harassed-looking young Cardassian male. He was breathless from hurrying across the concourse, and he was waving a piece of cardboard on which PULASKI had been written in big block letters.

“Doctor Pulaski!” he cried. “Doctor Pulaski!”

“Watch it, Kitty,” Alden said. “I think someone wants your autograph.”

The Cardassian screeched to a halt at her elbow. “Oh, thank goodness!” he said, between gasps of breath. “I thought I’d missed you.”

“Well, sonny, don’t worry,” Pulaski said. “You’re back on target.”

“Oh, thank goodness!”

She smiled at him. “Who are you, exactly?”

“Me? Oh, yes, my name is Metok Efheny. I’m from the chief academician’s office at the university. I’ve been assigned as your aide during your visit, and I’m here to take you into the city. We have everything . . .” He looked anxiously into their cups. “Oh my goodness, I’m sure we can find you something better to drink than that noxious brew . . . Anyway, I’m so glad I’ve found you! Professor Therok would’ve been furious if I’d missed you!”

“Hanging offense, huh?” said Pulaski.

Efheny blanched. Quickly, he said, “I must assure you, Doctor, Cardassia is nothing like that these days—”

Alden covered a laugh. Patiently, Pulaski said, “It’s just an expression. I wasn’t expecting to face the death penalty—not this early on in the trip, anyway.”

“Really, we don’t do anything like that, not ­anymore—”

“Sonny,” said Pulaski, “stand down. This is a great welcome, this is great coffee, and you’re doing just great.”

That did the trick. Efheny looked relieved and very grateful. Pulaski stood up, Alden close behind. There was some fuss and bother while Efheny found their luggage, and then he led his guests out into the bright morning. Alden put his sunglasses back on, but Pulaski enjoyed the heat of the sun upon her skin. She’d been on board ships a lot the past few months.

“What a great morning!” she said, and Efheny smiled happily. Nice kid.

With some further hustle and bustle, Efheny got them to their skimmer, packed in the luggage, and settled them into the back. It was a very nice skimmer, Pulaski noted, with some satisfaction. Plenty of room for the three of them to sit, with Alden and Pulaski facing Efheny, and a driver up front beyond a barrier. Being a very important person was very fine, Pulaski thought. Alden nudged her, and she saw that Efheny was looking at her anxiously. “Say something nice,” Alden muttered.

“Gorgeous skimmer,” Pulaski said. “I feel like a star.”

Efheny went pale with pleasure. “You really are an extremely honored guest. What you did to solve the Andorian genetic crisis . . .”

Pulaski was embarrassed. “Well, it was a team effort,” she said gruffly. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure why she had landed this gig on Cardassia Prime. But the University of the Union wanted to pin a medal on someone, and given that Julian Bashir was . . . Well, Katherine Pulaski was always ready to take one for the team. One keynote speech on biomedical ethics, one medal ceremony, a few receptions and dinners—­she was happy to oblige. Though she knew it was Julian Bashir who really deserved this accolade.

“The Distinguished Impact Medal is the highest honor that the university can bestow,” Efheny said. “I hope we are able to do you and your work justice.”

“I know you will,” said Pulaski. She flicked through the itinerary that Efheny had sent to her padd. “I was hoping to see Julian Bashir,” she said. “See how he’s doing.”

She looked up. Efheny’s mouth was opening and closing like a gasping fish. “I’m afraid that I . . . I’m not sure that I . . .”

Pulaski became aware of Alden’s hand upon her arm. “I suspect,” said Alden, “that this is something that we can take up with the chief academician. Or perhaps the castellan himself, when we meet him.”

Efheny gave Alden a grateful look. Alden gave Pulaski’s elbow another nudge.

“Of course,” she said. “All right, sonny. Let’s see what you’ve got lined up for me.”

*   *   *

Professor Natima Lang looked up from her padd and began wrapping up her lecture.

“And so we see,” she said, “that the enigma tale is a more complex, more disturbing form than perhaps we are in the habit of thinking, and one that is surely standing on the verge of significant transition. A form that, like no other, deals with that peculiarly Cardassian trait—guilt.”

Her audience laughed knowingly. Lang smiled out at them. This was the last in her series of lectures on contemporary literature and, as usual, she had filled the hall. Lang’s lectures attracted interest from well beyond her immediate students. She saw colleagues here, people eminent in their own fields, who had come week after week to hear what Lang had to say about the books she had been reading. Her heart filled with joy to think that her civilization was now one where reflections on literature could attract such interest and lively response, rather than suspicion and outright hate. Her heart burst with pride to think of the transformations her people had wrought upon themselves.

“In the enigma tale as we have known it,” she said, “we have evidence that literature—that art—encodes into itself, despite all attempts at extirpation, critiques of the world in which it is created. In the enigma tale, these authors tried to address—through the medium of the puzzle, the riddle—what we could not discuss in public: the nature of our guilt, its role in our past, and its impact on our future.”

She paused and took a small sip of water. Nearly done. But she wanted them to listen to this final part—really listen. So she paused, and quietly cleared her throat. When she knew she had their full attention, she continued.

“Literature such as this creates within its bounds a microcosm for society. In the country houses of the Second Republic, the mansions of Coranum, or”—she gestured around puckishly—“the lecture halls and committee rooms of the university, we see our world writ small. The crimes and misdemeanors of the wider world, the perpetrators and offenders, were concentrated and offered for our consideration.”

They were smiling. They were with her.

“But Cardassia has changed—changed almost beyond recognition. Some of us old villains are still around, yes”—she tapped her chest and they laughed—“but my question now is—what might the enigma tale look like under our new dispensation? We have seen how, in the past, the question was not which of the characters was guilty, but how were the characters each guilty? Is it possible that in the future an enigma tale might contain a character who is—I can hardly imagine it—innocent?”

More laughter. Good.

“The Cardassian way of life has for a long time meant that we have all felt ourselves tainted in some way by guilt, by our treatment of each other, our actions on Bajor, our perfidy during the Dominion War. But will that be the case in the future? And to have dealt so successfully, so honestly, with our past—where might that lead us? Where might it lead our culture, our stories, ourselves—and our Union? Where does the enigma tale—where does the Union—go next?”

She turned the last page and rested her hands upon her padd. “As yet, I have no answers to these questions. I can only put them to you.” She looked out at her audience—most of them so young, with bright and constructive futures ahead of them, and she smiled. “They will, I think, be questions for you to answer. In the meantime—thank you for listening.”

The applause that followed was rapturous. Lang was almost embarrassed. This was good work, she thought, but by no means her best. That had been done years ago, under the shadow of the old Union, when every day she had feared the knock at the door, arrest, torture, hard labor, perhaps even execution. She would not go back to those days, by any means. But she knew that she had done her finest work then, desperation at the plight of the Union and what she knew would be its inevitable self-immolation driving her to write as if all their lives depended on it. Those writings, those words, had been read by many, and moved many. She gathered even the castellan had her work on his shelves—but then, he was rumored to be a great reader.

Lang lifted her hand to quiet the applause and glanced up at the chrono on the wall. Nearly midday. She had kept these young people here long enough. They must be tired, and they must be hungry. She knew she certainly was. But a few hands were hovering, ready to go up. “Just a couple of questions.”

Eight or nine hands shot up, and she took each one in turn, running on slightly over her time. Nobody left. The thoughtfulness behind the questions, the genuine engagement with her words and ideas, humbled Lang. She thought back to her own time at the U of U, struggling to find ideas within the allowed orthodoxies, and she was proud to be part of this new flowering of ideas and freedom. This new generation, she thought. We are hardly worthy of them.

At last they were done, and Lang wrapped up the session to more rapturous applause. A few of the shyer students lingered to ask questions, and she answered these fully and with courtesy while gently guiding them toward the door. Soon she was done, running down the steps of her department building, and out into the main square of the campus. It was a fine spring day, one of the last days that people would be able to bask outside before the summer dust storms rolled in from the mountains. The midday sun was high, and the students were out enjoying their lunch and each other’s company. On one side of the square, a big screen was showing the rolling news. More than anything—more than the weather report, more even than the hound-racing—Cardassians loved rolling news. The novelty of a free press hadn’t worn off yet.

The campus was of course completely different from when Lang had studied here. It occupied a slightly different part of the city, for one thing. In the last days of the Dominion War, the student body had mounted a courageous if foolhardy defense of their university against the advancing Jem’Hadar. The Jem’Hadar had been instructed to carry out a particularly vicious reprisal. The result had been a terrible massacre, made all the worse by the fact that so many of those who died were so young. More than that, most of the university buildings had been flattened, and the use of chemical agents had left a large part of what had once been the campus unusable. Lang, who sat on the relevant committee, knew that the detoxification process had been going unexpectedly well, and the land should be available again for the university within the next couple of years. It would be a welcome site for expansion and would be soon needed. Cardassia’s birth rate had been shooting up in the past few years, further evidence that people felt optimistic again. The future looked bright for the U of U. It was a future Lang sincerely hoped to shape.

She took her usual route to the skimmer park. This took her to a high hedge. She followed this around until she reached a gate in the hedge, which led in turn into a small quiet garden. She went through the gate, softly closing it behind her. The garden was full of spring flowers: isca with its tiny star-shaped flowers; pale blue caroci, bunched in clusters; and a few remaining nhemeni, whose bright yellow flowers were the first sign that winter was ending. At the heart of the garden was a pool, the water still and covered, right now, in a blanket of meya lilies. On a stone stand in the center of the pool was a memorial to the students who had been murdered by the Jem’Hadar.

Lang stopped to look. It was an unusual piece, two solid blocks of black stone, taller than head height, each one covered in symbols representing ­knowledge: equations, formulae, fragments of old scripts, Hebitian figures, well-known quotations. Resting on top of the blocks, connecting them, was a piece of gray metal fashioned into an infinity symbol. Etched around this were the words from the dissident student poet Lim Pa’Mar, who had died in a labor camp on Cardassia IV:

They will not grow old, but the memory will never fade

Of their never-ending sacrifice.

Lang had known Pa’Mar. She had taught her. She had nearly saved her, but had come too late. She thought of her daily, and she had lobbied for her words to be put on this monument. Cardassia had sacrificed its youngest and brightest for many years. It would never, she hoped, do such a thing again. Lang placed her hand upon her breast and bowed her head. Lang was not religious—few Cardassians were—but she was steeped in her own history, and this quiet grave garden moved her like few other places. Most days she spent a few moments here, remembering the past, hoping for the future.

A tiny londub bird, black and bright-eyed, hopped past, glancing up at her. She smiled at it and then left the garden, carrying on down the path that ran alongside the memorial garden to the skimmer park. As she walked, she heard footsteps behind her. She looked back over her shoulder to see a figure hurrying toward her. “Professor Lang!”

Lang sighed. She really wanted her lunch. But it was a matter of principle always to take the time to speak to a student. It was her work. She stopped walking and waited until the young man had caught up with her.

“Thanks!” he said. “Phew! I thought I’d missed you.”

She waited patiently while he sorted himself out, and next thing she knew she had a holo-recorder shoved into her face.

“Student news,” he said. “We heard this morning that Chief Academician Enek Therok intends to resign his post at the end of this term. Is there any truth to the rumor that you’re intending to put your name forward for the position?”

Lang looked down at the recorder. “That’s a very nice piece of equipment,” she said, “for the student news.”

He looked at her shiftily. “Well, I’ll do an item for them too. Probably.”

She smiled, nodded, and turned to go. This young man was on assignment from one of the mainstream news channels. Probably hoping for a job after graduation. But he would have to do it without turning her into an exclusive. “No comment.”

“But Professor Lang!”

“Young man,” she said, “I admire your initiative, your commitment to the fourth estate, and your desire to build an impressive curriculum vitae. But do you really think that university politics are of the slightest interest beyond this campus?”

“With great respect, Professor Lang,” said the young man, and his serious tone stopped her in her tracks, “do you really think they’re not?”

She turned to face him. “What do you mean?”

He gestured back over his shoulder. “That memorial. People don’t come past it much, but they think about it all the time. People who never come onto this campus—that’s the single thing they know about U of U. The massacre. And it breaks their hearts. One hundred and forty-nine young people, at the very start of their adult lives, murdered by the Jem’Hadar. People love the U of U, Professor Lang. They love seeing its students on the streets of this city. They love our freedom and our enthusiasm—they even love our stupidities! We’re proof that things really have ­gotten better. Oh yes,” he said with a smile. “People will want to know who’s going to be in charge.”

Lang looked back to the hedge surrounding the memorial park. She could just see the top of the statue, the great swirl of infinity. She felt the prickle of tears in her eyes. She was glad, she thought, that she had stopped for this young man. She had loved this university her whole life, but had always feared it was self-indulgence on her part. Now she knew that more people than she had ever imagined felt the same way.

All the more reason not to show this young man her hand at kotra. “Thank you,” she said. “That was lovely to hear. Truly. But I still have no comment.”

She walked on. He kept pace alongside her. “How about if I gave the exclusive to the student news?”

Now that, she thought, was almost tempting. But not quite tempting enough. She walked on to her skimmer. “Thank you for your interest! Good luck with the story!”

He wasn’t following her, but he did call out one last time. “You’re a public figure, you know, Professor Lang. Whether you like it or not! People are interested!”

Horrific thought, but Lang didn’t let it spoil her lunch, nor her afternoon nap, nor her early evening writing session.

*   *   *

Doctor Elima Antok had spent the day in the blissful isolation of the university archives. The place had a somewhat sacrosanct air: the destruction of the capital city that had happened in the very last days of the Dominion War meant that the great cavernous libraries and sealed archives of old had been leveled to the ground, and the new small archives that were being built—while beautifully appointed and spotlessly kept—sometimes had an empty, regretful feel about them. Records from before the war were scant, and whatever had survived was precious. Still, Antok easily became lost in her work here, and the fragmentary nature of the material with which she was working only made her task more absorbing. She treated it like a puzzle, a great riddle, piecing together what was left, trying to weave a story from the fragments salvaged from the ruins.

Antok checked the time. The afternoon was wearing on and she was particularly keen to get home this evening. She made a few sketchy notes for what she would do during her next visit, then saved and closed her files. She stood and stretched, thinking about the evening celebration that lay ahead and smiling in anticipation of her boys’ excitement. Then she realized, with some annoyance, that she had left her bag back in her office. It contained most of what they needed for the evening (well, apart from the food, which had been organized some days ago and was already prepared at home for the family to break their day’s fast), but there were the candles, the lights, the last decorations. She hurried out of the archive building and across the northern edge of the campus to her department building.

Elima Antok was a historian, an expert on the Occupation of Bajor, and specializing in how the Occupation had affected life back in the Cardassian Union. Her doctoral thesis had documented the lives of the small but significant number of Bajoran comfort women and their children who had been brought to Prime, and the book arising from that research had won an important award within her field. Altogether a most auspicious start to her academic career, and the success had brought an appointment at U of U. She was lucky that her subject matter not only attracted attention, but was considered vital work in postwar Cardassia, where examination of the past was considered as important as reconstruction of the buildings. Nobody quite wanted to close the book yet on recent history: there was a definite sense that there was more to be revealed. So Antok, who did good work, was in the enviable position of doing work that had mainstream interest and, more importantly, funding. She had provided evidence to a recent Assembly report looking into Bajoran Occupation war crimes. She had received a substantial grant to investigate the university archives and discover what role the institution had played during the Occupation. On top of all this, one of the big three news ’casters had been sniffing around. There was talk of a documentary series. Antok had a pleasant, informative, and non-confrontational lecturing style that also managed to be authoritative. Altogether, she thought, life in the new Cardassia was good.

She dashed into her office, hoping not to bump into anyone who would keep her talking, and grabbed her bag from the chair by her desk. As she turned to go, she heard the comm on her desktop chime. Antok groaned. Wasn’t it always the way? Just as you were walking out of the door, another message would arrive and demand attention. She considered pretending she had already left, but the chime, while soft, was insistent, so, with a sigh, she put down her bag and went across to check, promising herself that she would not get absorbed in any other messages she had missed during her day’s isolation.

The message turned out to be from Chief Academician Enek Therok. It had been marked URGENT and ALL STAFF MUST READ, so Antok dutifully read. There was a lot of sentiment and braggadocio, which was par for the course for Therok, but the upshot of the message was that he was retiring. Antok marked the message as read, closed her comm, and smiled. This was undoubtedly big news for Therok, but Antok could have gone uninformed until the morning. She grabbed her bag and dashed out. Already she was thinking about how she could make this work for her. There would be lots of people wanting to speak to experts on the U of U staff to give Therok’s career context. He’d been here forever.

She found her skimmer and began to ease her way off campus. With luck, she would be on the main city circular before the rush hour began in earnest. She drove, like all Cardassians, with one of the newscasts muttering away in the background. The national addiction. There was a short piece about Therok, of all things, and some conjecture about who would be his successor. Natima Lang seemed to be the frontrunner, thank goodness, and Antok nodded. If anyone deserved the honor, it would be Lang, who had been steadfast in her defense of freedom for years before the Dominion War. The story moved on to discuss the arrival of some Federation VIPs, and her attention drifted. Tonight, she and her family were celebrating Ha’mara.

Ha’mara: the Bajoran festival of light that celebrated the arrival of the Emissary. A festival of gratitude, of thanks to the Prophets for their special love for the Bajoran people, and their gifts and aid during a long, dark history. Antok stopped to allow pedestrians to stream past, and she stared, as she often did, at their faces, wondering who else shared a background like hers, who else on Cardassia Prime would be celebrating tonight?

She pulled up outside the school and waved to the two small figures standing at the gate. They waved back and hurried to meet her. Her boys. One-eighth Bajoran, as she was one-quarter. Antok’s paternal grandmother had been brought to Cardassia as the mistress of a gul toward the end of the Occupation. She was hidden away, but important, because she was the mother of a son—a son who looked unquestionably Cardassian. They all looked Cardassian: Antok, her two sons; her brother, his three daughters. Nobody would ever guess. The question was, these days—would anyone even care?

The boys scrambled into the back of the skimmer. “I did it, Ma!” said Evrek, eight years old and senior. “I fasted all day.” He looked scornfully at his little brother, who was strapping himself carefully and methodically into his harness. “Velek had lunch,” Evrek said darkly, as if at some great betrayal. Velek, now securely fastened in, looked calmly ahead. “I was hungry,” he said.

Elima Antok nudged the skimmer back onto the road. “Well, you know,” she said, “children don’t have to fast.”

“Bajoran children didn’t have the choice,” said Evrek, glowering at his brother. “Bajoran children didn’t have enough food.”

Velek was unperturbed. “I’m only a bit Bajoran,” he said. “And I was hungry.”

“I’m proud of you, Evrek,” she said. “And of you too, Velek, for knowing you should eat.” She saw Evrek roll his eyes at this maternal even-handedness, and quailed a little at this brief presentiment of adolescence. “Dinner for everyone when we get back,” she added, and a big cheer erupted from behind her. “And cakes.”

She eased the skimmer onto the circular. As soon as she and the boys were back, she and her partner, Mikor, would close the shutters, chill the room and darken the lights, and make the whole house cozy. Then they would light candles and give thanks and eat their strange home-cooked food until they were sated and happy and suffused in love. Mikor was Cardassian, wholly, but he had embraced these celebrations. In fact, he was grateful to be admitted to them.

Elima Antok glanced behind her and her heart swelled. These two creatures, she thought, how un­­likely, how impossible they were. How astonishing that her grandmother had survived. How astonishing too that her son—Antok’s father—had produced a ­daughter before war took his life. And how grateful she was that she, Elima Antok, had been spared the last days of the Dominion War to produce these two boys, and live to see a Cardassia where they could explore their Bajoran roots without fear of reprisal. Truly, Antok thought, she had much to be thankful for. And as she drove along, she gave thanks to the Prophets for all their gifts.

*   *   *

The day was nearly over, and Elim Garak had not yet started work. To be sure, his day had been busy. There had been a ceremony in a remote northern province celebrating the opening of the first technical college in the region in its entire history. He had transported back to the capital in time for a pleasant working lunch with the leader of the largest party in the Assembly. There had been a private meeting with a deputation of vedeks about the Bajoran temple they were opening in the city. And then, late in the afternoon, there had been a satisfying conclusion to a small trade dispute that had been simmering for several months with the Ferengi (everyone had saved face and nobody had been out-of-pocket). But he had still not even started the main task that needed to be done that day. The report—which had arrived at his secure padd sealed and thoroughly encrypted—had not yet been opened. He dreaded to see what was inside, and the thought of its contents had loomed large even over the day’s successes.

After three years, Garak wore the castellanship lightly and with considerable style. He had taken to the job like a riding-hound released onto the wide Veletur plains, savoring the theatricality, the busyness, and what he called the “varied and variable reading.” He had thought when he embarked upon this ­project that he might like aspects of the job—certainly he believed he was duty-bound to take it on—but he had never expected to enjoy it quite so thoroughly. Moreover, people seemed to like what he was doing. His advisors—an achingly young and committed set of individuals—were constantly saying things like “Great job!” and “Stunning!” and “Castellan, you are unique!” and had a vexing habit of using slang that made him feel old. Commentators on the ’casts sometimes muttered phrases like “new Golden Age imminent,” and his popularity was high. And sometimes, sometimes Kelas Parmak said, “That was well done, Elim,” and Garak would smile and be content.

This evening, however, the castellan did not like what his job entailed, and he was doing all he could to put off the moment when he began work. He wandered around the room, a private office-cum-sitting room on the second story of the castellan’s official residential complex, and located a bottle of kanar. He poured a measure, took a sip or two, then abandoned the drink and resumed his pacing. He flicked through books. He adjusted cushions. Eventually, he came to a rest standing looking out of the window. The sunset was very beautiful and very melancholy.

Garak fiddled with the curtains. He had chosen the color and the fabric, of course, but he was no longer sure about it. He had not been keen on the move to this new residential complex. His private home was in Coranum, a district up in the hills that had once been the location of the mansions of the wealthiest people in the Union. After the war, Garak had gone there and found the ruins of what had been his father’s home, and he built a sanctuary from the rubble. He had raised memorial stones, too, where history had happened, and grown a garden that made him proud. But the security teams were having none of this sentimental nonsense about attachment to one’s home. Garak was head of state now—head of state of a major power in the quadrant—and a ramshackle set of rooms perched on a hillside was not secure enough in their judgment, no matter how safe Garak felt there.

He remembered the meeting with the security officer assigned to head the team when the topic of his potential assassination had been broached.

“Nobody,” said Garak firmly, “wants me dead. Certainly not among our allies. In fact, I doubt you’ll find one of our enemies who wants me dead. I’m not flattering myself when I say that Cardassia would be thrown into chaos. Look where that got us last time. No, I must be the least uneasy head wearing a crown in the whole quadrant.”

The security officer, give him his due, stuck to his guns. “There is also the matter of personal animosities toward you,” he said. Rather forward, in Garak’s opinion. (Manners were not what they once were, but then one no longer had the weight of the Obsidian Order by which to enforce them. Nobody is rude to the secret police.) But he had to admit it was true. Over the course of his life Garak had met many people who had ended up wanting to kill him, and regretfully most of these had extremely good reason. So, dutifully, Garak had packed his rather slender possessions—books and pictures, mostly—and moved into the new residence. One day, he thought, he would leave it behind—leave the castellanship behind—and go back to his garden, where anyone still alive and desperate enough to take a pot shot at him would at last have their chance. If they’d waited that long, they probably deserved it.

The sun had almost faded when Parmak came in. With one glance, Parmak took in the situation—the closed comm, the glass of kanar, and the brooding head of state by the window, and said, “You’ve still not started, have you?”

Garak, who had of course heard him come in and known exactly who it was, said, “By this time of day I would prefer a lighter read. Did you know that Sayak has a new collection of enigma tales? I’ve been sent a copy prior to publication.” He walked over to a nearby table where a slim and handsome dark-green volume lay, picked it up, and began to flick through the pages. “I do like the perks to this job—”

“Enigma tales are not light reading,” Parmak said, extricating the book from Garak’s hands. “Guilt, more guilt, death. Murders. Trials. Executions. More guilt—”

“But the settings!” Garak’s eyes sparkled wickedly. “Always so baroque. That’s what makes enigma tales so delicious, don’t you think?”

“I don’t agree, and I don’t think you believe it either—”

Garak opened his mouth to protest.

“I’m prepared to admit that you like reading them,” Parmak said. “You have some strangely lowbrow tastes.”

“I was not quite as expensively educated as you.”

“But I’m not prepared to admit their excellence.”

“Popular culture,” said Garak portentously, “can tell us a great deal about a society. I know that because Natima Lang says so. Said so this very day, in fact.”

“Perhaps they can. But so can an important report into the actions of the military on Bajor during the Occupation. Which you have not yet read.”

Garak sighed. Gently, Parmak maneuvered him over to his chair.

“I already know what’s in it—more or less,” Garak said bitterly.

“You might know the gist,” said Parmak, “but you don’t know the details.”

“I don’t need to know the details,” said Garak. “I can imagine them.”

“You also don’t know the conclusions of the committee,” said Parmak.

Garak gave him a narrow look. “You think I can’t guess?”

“You won’t know for sure until you look.”

“What do you think their conclusion is, Kelas?”

Parmak rubbed his eyes and sat down opposite him. Quietly, he said, “I think they’re going to say that there should be prosecutions.”

“That,” said Garak, “is what I both hope and fear.”

They sat in silence for a while. At last, Parmak said, “It has to be done. It’s the last part of the reconstruction, isn’t it? Everything else—the rebuilding projects, the education and judicial reforms, the work done with the constabularies and the civil service, the Assembly, the press. It’ll all be worth nothing if we don’t confront this and make amends.”

Garak cradled his kanar glass between his hands. “When you say it altogether like that, it’s quite a legacy, isn’t it? This chapter, in the history book of my life, might not be as appalling as the blood-drenched pages that precede it.”

“Not if you don’t read that report.” Parmak frowned. “What’s worrying you, Elim? What is it, really? You know what the subject matter will be, and you must be fairly certain that the committee will recommend prosecuting to the full extent of the law. Are you frightened about what the military might do?”

Garak snorted. “I am in the enviable position of being a rare head of state of this Union not to serve at the pleasure of the guls. No, I’m not afraid of having a few guls or legates come to my office and shout at me.”

“Don’t underestimate the guls and the legates,” said Parmak. “They might not try a coup d’état, but they can probably marshal significant public opinion against you.”

Garak narrowed his eyes further. “They can certainly try,” he muttered.

“So what is your worry?”

Of all people, Garak owed Kelas Parmak the truth. So he swallowed and took heart. “I know there are political risks. I am concerned that I might not be the man to take them.”

Parmak frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that to bring prosecutions successfully might require a castellan with significant moral capital. I am the first to admit that I have something of a weak position when it comes to the moral high ground.”

“Perhaps there is nobody better placed to scrutinize the past,” Parmak said softly.

Garak picked up the padd and held it lightly between both hands. “Life as an act of atonement? There are worse fates for an ex-spy, I suppose.”

Suddenly, the specter of another doctor loomed large: Julian Bashir, here, in this very building, but lost; in a catatonic state where not even Elim Garak could reach him. Parmak, eyeing Garak carefully, said, “Will you go and see him this evening, Elim?”

Garak shook his head.

“It’s some time since you’ve been to see him,” Parmak said.

Garak opened the file, but he did not read. The letters swam before his eyes. “There’s no reason to see him, Kelas. There’s no one there.”

Product details

  • File Size: 1663 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (June 27, 2017)
  • Publication Date: June 27, 2017
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01MD0SETT
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,516 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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