Duty To Cardassia Supersedes all – Part 5 - Resolution

Returning to Normal

Nearly six years had passed since the end of the Dominion War. The efforts of SFHS and of NGOs as well of the inhabitants had rapidly improved the situation on those planets and systems devastated by the war, so that only few still needed support. For many, it had only been a question of repairing key installations; others had soon become fully independent of aid and were organizing assistance to worlds which had suffered heavier damage.

The same was true of the Cardassian Union; the ruins were nearly gone, the rubble recycled, smaller settlements were rapidly replacing the cities that had been destroyed. This development was going ahead at an accelerating rate on planets both in the central and outlying systems; some of those that had sustained less damage were already independent.

Whether assistance was still needed at all was a topic of discussion among the Organisers and the leaders of the provisional governments. Within another year, a central government that strongly resembled the former, tripartite one was to take over; all that remained was to determine candidates for the various positions. Cardassia would then declare itself independent of humanitarian aid, finally end this humiliating situation and overcome remaining challenges according to the precept of 'Cardassians solve their problems on their own'; it would be difficult, but manageable.

A year previously, SFHS – Deep Space 9 had gone through a first phase of downsizing, with eight staff leaving the branch. Within a few more months, personnel was to be reduced once again, leaving but eight people at SFHS. This second phase would see a complete turnover of staff and repatriation for the Cardassian personnel.

Only five days before, a team of fifteen Cardassian experts had passed through Deep Space 9 on their way to Trill. To the relief of the organizers both on- and offworld who had invested time and effort in implementing the program, Ambassador Troi's project was an unmitigated success so that, at any given period, twenty to twenty-five groups were stationed on diverse worlds. In the beginning, reservations against employing Cardassians had been more or less openly shown, but the teams in question knew and accepted that it would take decades for recollections of the Border Wars, the occupation of Bajor and later, the Dominion Wars to fade.

To judge by the reports Melset and the organizers onworld were sent at regular intervals, there were no serious conflicts. Immersion courses in customs and traditions which both Cardassian and participating host companies were required to attend helped prevent most cross-cultural misunderstandings, especially as the Cardassians invariably kept to themselves, a habit which at times did lead to distrust.

What slowly changed attitudes was their request that their employers provide them with but simplest rations and quarters, so that as much of their income as possible could be transferred to the Cardassian Bureau of Reconstruction. When an unknown but reliable source made their request public knowledge, a number of news agents interviewed them; their explanations as well as their openness increased willingness to employ Cardassian teams.

On Deep Space 9 itself, there were no greater upheavals; in the course of the past years personnel at all levels had been redeployed, others arriving to replace them, a normal element of military life.

Soon there was a special occasion which everyone had been awaiting since the end of the war, one deferred nearly eight years previously at the Emissary's and the Prophets' advice: the Bajoran government and the members of the Vedek Assembly were unanimous in their decision to reactivate their application for admission to the Federation. As all formalities had been completed well before the Dominion War, the documents only had to be signed.

Kira found herself wishing that Captain Sisko, the Emissary, were present to witness the realization of the goal towards which he had worked with so much dedication, then realized: He is with the Prophets, they see and know all, so the Emissary, who is one of them, will, too….

Comradeship of sorts

Deep Space 9 no longer was the relatively isolated outpost it had once been, but had developed into a hub of activity, with goods and travellers passing though in growing numbers. Changes to security measures were now necessary, so that Chief Remosi, Kira and Melset began discussing options, the Bajorans nixing the more terminal ones the Cardassian suggested, adding those they could accept to the pool.

While leaving the ready room after the end of one session, Kira looked over at Melset who was still wary after nearly six years on the station. In spite of willingly cooperating, she rarely volunteered information, preferring to listen rather than to speak overly much, except to conceal one detail or another behind a confusing barrage of words when pressured for information about her home system or her contacts, exactly as Garak had done.

Yet, there was something Kira had been wondering about since The Defeat so that she finally asked, uncertain about Melset's reaction. "Was Gul Revok, the officer who denounced the Cardassian resistance ever found?" This no doubt was a sensitive subject Cardassians would prefer resolving without outside interference, the same as her fellow Bajorans had dealt with their own collaborators, taking action according to their laws instead of those of the Federation.

The reply was straightforward, "No, not yet. He is either dead or in hiding. Doing the latter certainly is not difficult at present. We are only beginning to re-establish our refined network of surveillance systems. Even if it were still operational, we do not have enough personnel to analyse incoming visual and auditory data. Many individuals' files have been lost in the general destruction so that you can assume a name and hope no one who might recognize you has survived. Possibly, those who have something to hide will become incautious after a time, think they are safe. We are searching for that military, although arresting and bringing traitors to trial has, of necessity, been quite low on our list of priorities."

"I hope he can be brought to justice," was Kira's reply before she continued, "Fortunately, Damar, Garak and I had taken the precaution of having Seskal beam us into an unguarded passage of the cave in which we had agreed to meet Damar's contacts." Kira's voice briefly reflected a hint of that day's terror, surprising the Cardassian woman into looking over at her searchingly.

"Had we materialized in the main passage, none of us would have survived. Everyone was killed by the Jem'Hadar. We fled to Tain's house with Garak, barely made it. The area was crawling with Jem'Hadar. Fortunately Mila took us in."

Garak never said as much, but I know she was his mother; his deference to her, her manner towards him implied a closer relationship. Kira added, "I never thought I would say this of a Cardassian, but Mila was a remarkable woman, courageous, warm-hearted, a kind person."

"That she was; Tain knew our family well, thus we also saw Mila quite regularly." Melset explained, "The Klingon invasion had led to widespread starvation and epidemics so that we had no other choice than to request Federation aid after the destruction of our industrial base, our health system, our infrastructure on dozens of planets. The Federation's help was generous, but we remained defenceless, an untenable situation, so that we welcomed the Dominion's help in eliminating the Klingon forces and the Maquis, in rebuilding Cardassia's defensive power. The Dominion promised to rebuild our fleet, and it did.

"When Gul Dukat signed the alliance, no one expressed reservations; in our system the Obsidian Order and Central Command or Detapa decided. In this crisis, with the Order gone and Central Command severely diminished, Dukat, as the military advisor to Detapa, clandestinely negotiated the Alliance with the Dominion. We only learned about it when he returned with the Dominion Fleet."

"Even I initially welcomed the Alliance as the means to improve our situation, yet soon realized what would happen: Weyoun, not Gul Dukat or later Legate Damar addressed the Cardassian people, and if, they said what they were directed to say, were reduced to giving speeches that made Dominion policies acceptable."

"How did the Cardassians with whom you were stationed on Earth react?"

"There were no other Cardassians. My staff was Lissepian and Khoberian, members of allied peoples. This was considered more effective; when in a group, we keep to ourselves, which would have made my duties impossible to fulfil." With amusement Kira knew was pretence, Melset said, "I was constantly observed by the personnel of SFCCEI; they were curious, made contact with me, which would not have happened had there been more of us. Later I became the target of choice for responses to the alliance, a quite unpleasant situation." Her eyes glittered. "There were incidents I can neither forgive nor forget."

"What about Damar's son, Jivan?"

Our educational system has been reinstituted, though still quite provisional. Instruction is given in shifts; fortunately, we have enough individuals who can teach the basics. Jivan has finished his first year; in roughly a month, after a week of exams, he will begin the next phase. In half a year I can claim three weeks of leave, stay in in Lesana and will see him then."

"Five, and beginning the second year! On our world, children are taught the basics by their parents. Even the Occupation could not make us change our ways. This helped us keep our culture and beliefs alive during those five decades of terror."

"A long childhood is the luxury of the wealthy, or of those who live in peace, something that was never ours to enjoy. I was not quite seventeen when I became a recruit, had my first taste of trench warfare six months later." My time on Earth –peace, access to everything imaginable, mutual acceptance, no observation….

"And I began fighting for Bajor's freedom the moment I could fire a phaser; the recollections of battle, they'll never fade."

"I know. I cannot forget these first experiences nor those of later conflicts…. Sometimes they are so overwhelming that you think you are reliving it all again." The Commander most likely experiences flashbacks herself; but we were expected to remain untouched by everything. Any officer admitting to such a weakness would have been discharged in disgrace….

They fell silent at reaching the offices of SFHS. With a slight nod at Kira, and "I'll see you at the joint staff meeting this afternoon," Melset entered, heading for the main computer to view the reports that had arrived during the past eight hours. It appeared there was already a consignment of work as everyone was at their station, inputting data and transmitting details to other organizations in the sector.

Only 14 personnel were left. Roval, Gardner, Chambers, Galto, Yeron, Isnaya, Lyoba and Geroth had already been stationed elsewhere, respectively had returned to their homeworlds. The next phase at the end of the year

Otherwise, everything had settled into a routine; the only element that was on hold for the moment was returning the sacred objects Cardassian forces had taken. Even that could soon be effected as the underground area of the Obsidian Order's building was nearly cleared. Melset and Gul Berak were already preparing for this occasion.

Only some days ago, Quark had commented: "Make the Bajorans pay to get their property back. The sum they would be prepared to offer for those items would be inestimable and help you accelerate reconstruction. You already missed out on making profit with the Unefra Orb. Where is your instinct for business?"

The question annoyed her but she remained calm and replied "I know. 'Opportunity plus instinct equals profit,' you grasping little Ferengi troll. Now, however, we are hoping for something far more valuable than profit."

Quark had taken no offense, but walked off, laughing to himself: he had managed to get a rise out of her. "There is nothing greater than that one element we Ferengi consider so valuable, Gul Melset," was his parting shot. "Peace may be good but remember: "No good deed ever goes unpunished."

The reaction was a set of choice insults he had never heard before, not even during the Occupation, but he knew that she had enjoyed the exchange and that the insults were part of their game.

He commented to one of his employees, "At least that works. She and her kind are entirely too serious – no holosuite programmes, no games, no plans for business….. How can anyone live like that?"

Gul Revok

At the same time, in Loo'Wess 4, Gul Shokib Revok nodded at his brother in agreement; apparently his return had gone unnoticed so that he could finally risk leaving the housing unit where Tarik was living with his wife and child. Tarik Revok himself had survived by sheer good luck and was now a minor official involved in the reestablishment of infrastructure. Both considered the so-called new Cardassian government with contempt. All his employer had done was to ascertain that he had not been a traitor to the resistance before accepting him for the position he now filled.

There were no surveillance devices in the houses, streets and offices. The provisional government's top priority remained housing the surviving population; nevertheless, the lack of observation gave Gul Revok a feeling of insecurity in spite of his need to conceal his identity. Formerly, visitors were required to report to the authorities and state their business; their whereabouts during their stay were registered by the Order. If someone proved to be of dubious patriotism, both the visitor and his host were arrested and interrogated. He suppressed nostalgia; those had been simpler but far safer times...

Gul Revok hoped he had covered his tracks by assuming a different name at returning to the main city. The precaution of seeking refuge in one of the provinces had saved his life. In exchange for his denouncing the Cardassian résistance, the Vorta in charge had protected him. After The Defeat, however, the supporters of the Dominion were left to fend for themselves, scattering to ensure at least a few would survive to renegotiate an alliance with the Dominion. That option was out at this power's withdrawal from the Alpha Quadrant.

For the past week, he had remained in hiding in his brother's home lest someone had recognized him. Now it seemed safe to try and find former associates. Gul Revok knew he also had to find employment, rebuild his life under his assumed name; his wife and four children had been killed, their remains never found. Central Command? Its present role was organizing reconstruction and providing logistic support.

Transmissions about development and reconstruction informed Revok that Garak had survived; anyone else who could have recognized him was either dead or offworld. The chances of encountering Garak? Negligible. Revok despised him and Natíma, one a disgraced member of the Order, the other a dissident who had fled offworld, sought asylum in the Federation instead of facing trial like a true Cardassian.

In his opinion, however, Damar was the most despicable of them all. Without his résistance that had called destruction down on Cardassia, the Empire would have been strong again, a power to be reckoned with, not what it now was, a weakened union with a population struggling to survive and rebuild. He considered Damar's sister, Gul Melset, no better. A Cardassian who worked for SFHS, employed by Starfleet, participating in negotiations for humanitarian aid, helping coordinate offworld assistance with non-Cardassians; she was cooperating with Garak who had returned from exile after the Defeat and the organizers who had agreed to these humiliating procedures... a disgrace to Cardassia.

Worst of all, UFP/Starfleet had been authorised to establish a base just outside Loo'Wess in exchange for additional assistance. While everyone knew the situation in the Cardassian Union would not have improved so rapidlywithout this help, the base was viewed with suspicion and resentment.

While walking through the city, Gul Revok saw ruins being torn down, remembered with longing how impressive the capital of the Cardassian Union, Loo'Wess had been. It was now a group of nine small towns, interconnected by broad streets that were the beginning of peripheral routes that would, in future, lead to outlying areas as the towns expanded.

With growing resentment, he saw the people working there, their faces protected from the all-pervasive dust by strips of wet cloth... Cardassians labouring like Bajoran slave workers he had often seen, respectively supervised, many of them malnourished, some suffering from the after-effects of serious injuries, yet each one of them determined to see a new Cardassia. Even a few children joined them for some hours after instruction was over for the day...

Every now and then the remains of victims of Dominion disciplinary action were found in the ruins; no one reacted to this as everyone had seen too much, or else blocked all feelings. In a few years, memorials to the victims and to the leaders of the rebellion would be erected,... these traitors were to be honoured, their names inscribed on each and every monument to the victims of the war, had the respect, even love of the population who called them the liberators of Cardassia.

Apparently, the population refused to recognize the truth, desperate as it was to realize the dreams of its new leaders, the dream of a new Cardassia. Damar and his rebels called down destruction on all-Cardassia was Revok's recurrent thought. The transferral of a few minor systems to the Breen Alliance... an unimportant loss, considering the influence the Union could have wielded within the framework of the Dominion. Due to Damar's lack of vision, Cardassia had lost the chance of attaining the position due it as the superpower in the Alpha Quadrant.

The disgrace of the new government did not end here ... he had heard from Tarik that, nearly three years previously, Legate Ertan had welcomed three Bajorans who, to judge by their skills, almost certainly had been terrorists during the Occupation. They had even been protected by Cardassians then accepted as trustworthy and honest in their wish to give much-needed assistance, teach their skills and learn from the people they helped.

Some few members of NGOs were still on Cardassia Prime, among them volunteers who had probably insinuated themselves into the trust of a broken, beaten people grateful for even the slightest support in their struggle to survive and recreate a semblance of their old culture... While he recognized Cardassia could not have managed without offworld help, he believed it would have been best to accept humanitarian assistance but keep out offworlders to prevent exposure to potentially corruptive influences.

A reliable source had informed him that, three years before, Garak and his co-organizer Melset, together with a Vedek had offered Cardassian war orphans raised by Bajorans the possibility to return home "to share with us the skills they have learned." What skills could a people as primitive as the Bajorans offer? Thirty organizers who represented the Provinces and met at regular intervals to discuss procedures and not one of them had voiced any reservations about this potentially disastrous decision or even tried to veto it.

Revok considered this repatriation a disaster. He had already seen such a couple: Cardassians speaking with a Bajoran accent, using that people's gestures, dressed in a combination of Cardassian and Bajoran style, even wearing earrings. Worse even, some few individuals of mixed heritage had been taken in by their fathers and integrated into pure Cardassian families.

All of these facts, a litany of disgrace and treason that replayed in a loop in his mind… Garak, Melset and Natíma, they should be summarily executed together with that Bajoran terrorist!

Found

After attending a joint session of local officials and organisers, Garak was standing together with Gul Ketran, one of the members of his team. The two men were discussing some details when a flash of movement to the side caught Ketran's eye. Surreptitiously, out of deeply ingrained habit, he considered the individual who had come out of the narrow passage between two buildings. Normally, those alleys were reserved for deliveries, not used as walkways. This however was not what had attracted his attention.

It was this person's attitude that made Ketran watch him with growing suspicion. The male's expression was neutral, betrayed no feelings, but his outrage at seeing a crew made up of Cardassians and Federation members was all too obvious. He surreptitiously looked around, briefly stared in Ketran's and Garak's direction then relaxed again.

"Here is someone who does not wish to be recognized…"

Order training enabled agents to hide emotional reactions behind an unperturbed façade while registering all details of a person or place, so the operative in question could give an exact description even years later. Now, however, Garak's control demanded conscious effort: recognition elicited violent but carefully concealed resentment. Too much was associated with this one man.

He recalled the scene in the cave as if it had been only yesterday ... beaming down with Damar and Kira, watching helplessly, in hiding, as the Cardassian resistance was eliminated, barely escaping, then, at bay in Tain's basement, seeing reports on the eradication of the organization they had brought to life..., lying on their bunks in Mila's cellar, discouraged, resigned, later listening to Weyoun's sanctimonious speech urging the Cardassians to return to a 'spirit of friendship and cooperation' after the destruction of Locarian City. Finally, renewed hope when Mila told them about rumours that Damar was alive after all... Mila, who had encouraged them when they had given up hope and who had died trying to buy them enough time to seek concealment.

Without missing a beat in the conversation, Garak said, barely moving his lips, "Excellent,... the male walking towards the ruins of the Order building does seem to be Gul Revok. His stance, patterns of movement, features... have him taken into custody and send a security force into the building out of which he came. It would seem Tarik Revok, whom Tuyren interviewed some weeks ago, has sheltered him out of an ill-conceived sense of family. If that is the case, he will face the consequences together with his brother. Should we have misidentified an innocent man and his relative, they can be released, given an official apology, the right to claim extra rations and compensation. I will leave and notify Gul Terkor."

"I shall meet you on site 44 then, Elgos," was Gul Ketran's reply as he automatically used one of Garak's code names. "We have been assigned to group 45b, the road in our sector is ready for permanent surfacing. The machinery should arrive in two hours; the technicians are preparing the elements sent from Loo'Wess 3."

The men parted as though leaving for work, unhurriedly, calmly, to avoid arousing the supposed returnee's suspicion.

On the way, Garak passed a group of men who were returning from the ruins where they had been working, then went into a side alley to contact his fellow agent. "Gul Terkor? Garak here. Loo'Wess 4. We may have found Gul Revok. Gul Ketran is following the suspect. Trace his comm signal."

Garak heard a low hiss of satisfaction at the news, then, "Understood. Terkor out."

Not wanting to risk being seen by Revok whose goal no doubt was the Bureau of Reconstruction and Relocation, he chose another route to his glider.

The organizers had become quite well-known due to reconstruction projects, public announcements and speeches. If Revok thought he had been seen, he could easily disappear into the population of another province. Even seeking refuge offworld was a possibility which would see him permanently out of reach.

No sooner had he arrived in his quarters than the communit activated. "Garak here."

"This is Gul Terkor. Our sporadic observation of Tarik Revok has paid off. Gul Revok has been arrested, his identity verified. Once confronted by the facts, he made no attempt at denial. His brother Tarik Revok and his family are also in custody. Interrogation is to begin at once. Terkor out."

Switching the communit on standby to conserve energy, Garak permitted himself to relax. After having waited so long to find Revok, he knew that the deaths of those who had lost their lives in the Dominion's reprisals would finally be avenged. The living would be comforted by witnessing the traitor's trial. Garak only regretted that he was not to be Gul Revok's interrogator.

A Second Witness

Late in the evening, Melset was contacted by Garak. "Good news: Gul Revok has been found and arrested in Loo'Wess 4; he had assumed a new name, invented a new identity. His sentence and that of his brother who concealed him have already been pronounced. The trial is scheduled to take place in four days, once Gul Revok has been interrogated for further information." Garak hesitated, "We have been strongly advised to admit Federation observers to the trial... However, we have a serious problem. The only witnesses of his treason were Damar, Kira, Seskal and I. Apart from myself, only Kira has survived; I would rather spare her this, but Federation law demands more than one witness."

There was a moment of silence, "It might take some doing, but I shall try to convince her of the necessity. Contact within a day. Melset out." She glanced at the chronometer next to the screen. Yes, there would be time enough to meet Kira before she finished duty.

She went into the security office to request admission to OPS and exchanged greetings with Chief Remosi and Commander Kira's secretary who had been discussing procedures. As one of the three heads of SFHS, Melset had access to most areas of the station, but complied with the new security regulations Starfleet had introduced, though she thought them downright pathetic.

"Major Feridon, I should like to speak to the Commander if she has the time. If not I'll contact her in an hour."

Feridon was one of the new personnel on Terok'Nor; his first act had been to place the four Cardassians on the station under strict observation until he was informed that they were personnel associated with SFHS.

"I'll ask." The Bajoran got up and spoke into the intercomm. "Commander Kira? Gul Melset inquires whether you have time for her or if she should contact you later... Good. Thank you." He turned to the Cardassian, "I'll take you to her office." Preceding her, he went to the door, then stood aside to let her enter.

Kira looked at Melset from across the desk. Due to frequent contact and cooperation in the course of the past five years, there was no more enmity. At times, they even had lunch together with Bajoran or mixed staff at Quark's or at the Replimat. "Gul Melset, can I help you?"

"It is Garak who requires your help. He has given me information which is of some importance."

The Bajoran nodded at her. "And that would be?"

"Gul Revok has been found and arrested. The trial is to begin in four days; but this is not the problem," Melset hesitated. "I am aware this will be difficult for you, Commander Kira, but you are the only living witness of his betrayal besides Garak. As we have been … asked … to admit Federation observers, at least two witnesses have to testify or the trial may under circumstances be declared invalid. He inquires whether you would go to Cardassia to present your observations before the court, confirm this traitor's identity and corroborate Garak's testimony. If your duties preclude your leaving the station, a recorded statement given in Chief Remosi's and Major Feridon's presence, then transmitted to the Ministry of Justice could be admitted as evidence, but there is the risk of its being contested or even declared a forgery." Melset extended a hand, palm up, slightly cupped in a gesture of pleading.

Taken unawares by the request, the Bajoran stared at her, then at her hand: fine grey scales on the back, palm covered with pale pink skin... In the course of the past five years she had become used to her, but now? Suddenly, Melset's grey skin, scaly ridges and dark hair framing wide neck membranes with patterned scales reawakened aversion. To go to Cardassia. And yet, I have seen the civilian population, have recognized they are not like the occupying forces....

Only 14 years ago being sent to that system had meant torture and a slow, certain death for any Bajoran taken there for whatever reason. No one who had lived through these decades of unrelenting terror and suppression would ever forget.

With a sinking feeling, Melset recognized Kira's barely-concealed hatred. It is absolutely necessary someone besides Garak corroborates the facts... In a low, persuasive voice, she added, "Commander Kira, I assure you that you will be safe. Offensive as it may sound to you, Garak considers you one of us after your support. Do you remember Daniro's brother and his friends Yisach and Edras? They returned safely. In the meantime we have re-established a security system of sorts." With a slight smile that disguised her desperate fear the traitor would be freed for want of a second witness, she continued, "Your role in the uprising is known. Commander Kira, you are respected and even loved as the Bajoran who helped free Cardassia from Dominion rule. No one would think of threatening or attacking you."

Still caught up in her memories of the Occupation, Kira hesitated, averting her eyes from the woman who now looked so repulsive to her; even her accent in Bajoran seemed revolting. Kira gazed at the display screen on her desk, lost in thought. This one recognized the evils of the Occupation, spoke for ending it at a time when the very suggestion meant execution for treason. She treats us with respect... Now her people need my help to bring a man to justice whose plan, if he had been successful, would have seen Bajor and the entire Alpha Quadrant occupied at some point, but for the mobilization of the Cardassian population. That non-aggression pact was not worth the paper on which it was printed.

After some moments, she met the Cardassian's eyes, "Gul Melset, notify Garak that I'll leave tomorrow. A Federation ship is scheduled to depart for the Cardassian system." Trying for a friendlier tone of voice, she inquired, "Will you be joining?"

"Yes. I have already been notified that I am due compassionate leave because Damar was my brother," It was obvious Melset wanted to give her some additional information. "Do you still have a minute to spare?"

"Yes. I have no appointments." I want that damn snake out of here. Kira looked up at her coldly.

Melset saw the resentment in Kira's eyes. I understand your response, you and your people suffered too much; cooperation cannot eliminate or even attenuate the memories.

"The verdict and the sentence have already been pronounced. Nothing you say will change anything. You need not hide your feelings, much to the contrary. Remember, Tarik Revok has sheltered a known traitor, a serious offense for which he may share his brother's fate. Gul Revok himself betrayed a true patriot, so contempt, even hatred are acceptable. Should you call us 'spoonheads' or 'Cardássian butchers', there will be angry responses, but no consequences for you. Everyone will recognize your courage in going to Cardassia to cooperate with Damar and Garak to help free us from the Dominion in spite of your reservations. You will be respected for returning to Cardassia Prime, this time to ensure Revok pays the price for his treason. The contrast between words and actions will be most impressive and not see Revok the Traitor freed." Derisively, she added, "Ah! I did not think! An alleged traitor, according to Federation norms."

"O'Brien told me in detail about his experiences before a Cardassian Court. I know exactly what to expect." Kira's said contemptuously; she considered the Cardassian idea of a fair trial a perversion of justice.

"Commander, once again, I realizewhat this request means for you. For Bajorans, for the Federation, Cardassian trials and sentences are a travesty of justice, inhumane, merciless. Our publicly transmitted court procedures are considered contemptible, a violation of the accused's rights. Yet, this system makes us feel safe, protected. But this is beside the point. One traitor has been found. Perhaps, someday, Gul Dukat can also be brought to justice. When that time has come, Commander Kira, we will have an entire world of witnesses."

The door chime sounded; Melset turned to see a Starfleet officer stand outside the door, then enter. Kira wants me out of here, I noticed her touch the call button under the desk ... She saluted him, then left, saying, "Now Garak and I owe you a favour..." She nodded at Remosi at passing by his office, then chose one of the less-frequented corridors to return to her quarters. It will be generations before Bajoran resentment of Cardassians even begins to fade.

"Gul Melset here. Alanis Dessot, put me through to Garak." The young woman who appeared on the screen was one of the Cardassian war orphans traced by Rendon. She had quickly readapted to Cardassian life and, after half a year, had married a Varagasi male. There were only minor misunderstandings because of divergent customs as the surviving members of his family accepted her, were reintroducing Alanis to her heritage. Others had also returned to Cardassia at hearing about Vedek Serad's and Inyon's initiative, but many had been so strongly influenced by the accounts of the Occupation that they rejected their heritage.

Within moments, the link was established and Garak appeared on the screen, "Ah, Iníki! I trust you have spoken to the Commander? I can only hope she has agreed."

"She saw the point at once, although there was some initial hesitation. Kira and I will arrive on Cardassia Prime within two days."

Garak relaxed perceptibly at the news. "You can tell the Commander that I'll meet you at the Centre. We'll spend the time in our quarters in Loo'Wess which should be ideal as they are in a guarded enclave." He added, "I take it she was not overjoyed at the prospect of returning to our Union for even a short time."

"No, hostility would be more like it," Melset replied, "but who can blame her? Think of Kira Taban and Meru, her brothers... the experiences her people made during the Occupation." Trying for a lighter tone, she added, "That is settled then. But do explain that she is being offered hospitality according to our norms and you not planning on imitating Gul Dukat."

Melset knew about Gul Dukat pressuring Kira, thought it contemptible. Among Cardassian officers it would have been a court-martial offence. Occupying forces used members of other peoples for their pleasure, but officially, it was considered inacceptable.

"She well remembers my words to Dukat, believe me, and knows that our moral codes are as stern as those of Bajorans." Laughter was Melset's response to Garak's words when he added, "I refuse to take his place as our good Commander's source of excitement and irritation, too much of a risk."

"That is most kind, Elim," was her reply, but Melset's expression showed her thoughts plainly enough.

Return to Cardassia

"Ah, Commander Kira! Gul Melset! Welcome to Cardassia Prime!" Garak quickly went over to them the moment they stepped off the transporter pad. Kira responded to his friendly welcome with a smile and, at his words, "Please, Commander, allow me to take this," ceded her bag to the Cardassian who told her: "All of us are most grateful for your agreeing to attend the trial. We respect the effort you have made to overcome your reservations about us and return. This ensures justice will be served, but Melset may have told you this already."

Surprised at his words, Kira met his eyes, "We did fight together, Garak. However, the request was startling, to say the least."

Garak looked over at Gul Melset, "No offense meant, but I thought you had used up the time allotted for duty on Cardassia?"

"This is compassionate leave. Shortly after The Defeat someone informed Commander Chandler that Damar was my brother; I still wonder who told him."

For a moment, Garak's voice became grim, "We will be under guard at all times; not everyone considers Damar's rebellion a heroic act." He met Kira's eyes evenly. "Damar, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but Melset is."

Kira replied, "I understand."

"The three of us will have bodyguards during our time here," Garak explained. "Now, some details. There are mixed reactions to the trial. For some, Revok is a true patriot who wanted for us to stay on the path towards a glorious future, who had Cardassia's best interests at heart. He, as well as a number of others, such as Legate Broka, believed the Dominion Alliance would give us unlimited power. Damar's rebellion was seen as instigated and supported by the Federation, allegedly to give this organisation a foothold in the Union."

"Others hate those who negotiated and wanted to preserve the alliance, absorbing Cardassia into the Dominion, with no right to autonomous decisions or to demand her territorial integrity be respected. For them, Cardassian independence was and is of greatest importance. Remember the Jem'Hadar barracks, the contingents of Vorta? Their areas had no surveillance devices so that no one knew what the Dominion was planning. You witnessed how innocent Cardassians passing by the barracks on their way to their homes or to work were arrested and taken for interrogation, at times disappeared without a trace. Whoever dared inquire what had happened to them was eliminated as well."

Kira and Melset noticed the curious glances of those they passed. Two Cardassians and a Bajoran, absorbed in conversation, nearly like friends, was indeed unusual. They stopped for a moment to look at the newly-constructed transportation centre which was already being expanded, then chose a more circuitous path.

Some more metres and they reached the small glider Garak had been assigned for travel in the course of his duties on Cardassia. "It is quite far to Loo'Wess 1, so I thought this the best and safest option."

As they flew over the area, Melset and Kira gazed out in silence; the sight was both depressing and encouraging: a vista of scorched earth broken by surprisingly wide swathes of cleared ground. Forming three concentric rings with the administrative area, Loo'Wess 1, as the hub, nine small towns were interconnected by three broad streets that were already being surfaced. The layout corresponds exactly to Deep Space 9's basic structure... was Kira's reaction. On the towns' outskirts, Cardassians were working determinedly to eliminate the remaining reminders of the war. The six immense camps Melset had described had been dissolved.

Realizing that Garak was waiting for her to comment on what he was showing her, Kira said, "It is incredible how much has been accomplished. The Emissary and Odo described the situation after Defeat. Some days later, when he finally managed to find the time, Bashir told Dax and myself what he had seen, said everything looked so hopeless that he feared Cardassia's fate was sealed. He was vehement in his demands your people be accorded humanitarian assistance."

Garak took over, "When I left Dominion headquarters, I nearly lost hope. Raging fires, mountains of rubble where buildings had been, the capital shrouded in smoke and ashes, dead Cardassians, militaries and civilians, everywhere... Yet, incredibly enough, after some hours, survivors assembled in open spaces and immediately began exchanging information on where else there appeared to be signs of life. We were confronted with the insupportable, everyone was, but a few hundred of us began work then and there. Little later, personnel beamed down from the cruisers that had come through combat; the military was literally our lifeline during the first year. The most difficult task was striking a balance between the equally urgent needs to effect rescues, house the survivors, ensure basic medical care, see to distribution of goods and assistance, establish requirement lists, finally, to find people to organize teams to take these matters in hand. Only our strict discipline made it possible, as did the assistance we got in exchange for permitting the UFP to establish a base on Cardassia Prime. In three more years we hope to have all ruins eliminated," was Garak's reply before he looked over at her. "Your people did no less than we are doing now; the situation after the Occupation, the effects of decades-long exploitation were catastrophic..."

Kira did not answer. How different you are to the person you were on DS9... Secretive, always hiding the truth behind an elaborate web of lies, denying your past, concealing your skills except when coerced into cooperation... For me you were the prototype of the treacherous Cardassian and I despised you. Now, even your voice, your speech patterns and gestures have become different to what they were before. She glanced over at him, the change was indeed remarkable.

After some minutes, the glider was brought to a landing and they got out. "Here we are. A few more steps."

They walked along the road, Kira curiously looking at the new buildings that were spaced wide apart, allowing for expansion in future. No covered passageways typical of Cardassian cities. A small group of Cardassians went by, stared at her and Garak in disbelief. A child who could not have been more than eight waved at Kira shyly. She responded with a smile and waved back.

That was the best reaction you could have had; its spontaneity has won you additional respect. The child and her parents will mention this to others, stressing your making a difference between enemies and normal people. "I did not lie when I mentioned your reputation," Garak whispered to her. "I can just hear them... 'Look! That is the Bajoran terrorist who helped Legate Damar free us from Dominion rule!'"

At a gate Garak entered a code. It admitted them to a complex of buildings, one of them a three-story structure which, Garak explained, was the administrative centre of the Loo'Wess area. A few steps saw them arrive at a five-storey house with its own low protective wall, obviously a multi-unit complex.

"We have no visitors' housing as yet. In a few more years, once diplomatic contact with other worlds has been re-established, it will become necessary. How can we have diplomatic relations based on equal standing with other worlds while still dependent on assistance from these very worlds? Once we have become independent, negotiations will begin."

"Normally, our custom was to stay with friends or family when obliged to travel. We never liked to leave our home planets or even provinces unless we had to, so usually lived in enclaves; unfortunately, that made it very easy for hostile native populations to stage devastating attacks on us during conflicts. By the way, Commander, you will have a room in our home. As we are both organizers, we have been assigned quarters in this building. All units here are reserved for individuals active in reconstruction and planning."

Kira carefully disguised unease.

At seeing her reaction, Garak explained, "Commander Kira, I give you my word you are safe. Your area is self-contained for total privacy, but you can join us in the main room whenever you wish."

"Security is not what it used to be," he said with regret, inserting an identification card into the door; he was scanned, then verified Kira's identity as well to obtain a metal card which he gave to her. "There. You are free to come and go as you wish. We may not be expected to attend the trial together."

They settled in the living area. Kira had seen Legate Ghemor's house years ago. In retrospect it seemed incredibly luxurious compared to what Garak and Melset called 'home' in Loo'Wess: only very basic furniture, a comm unit in a corner, some few sources of light, bare walls and floors. And yet ... these simple buildings were valued as a sign of Cardassia's renewal.

Garak watched her glance around. "As you can see, it is a start, four walls, a ceiling, three rooms, a kitchen, sonics... More equipment and machinery was left than we expected. The ruins are being systematically eliminated. Loo'Wess, together with the other cities we plan to rebuild, should be fully cleared within another three or four years. In the centre of every city a memorial with the names of casualties will be erected to give us closure. Representatives of those worlds and agencies who helped us will be invited to the ceremony. You, my dear Commander, are already on the list of dignitaries."

She remained silent, thinking: How must it have felt to be confronted by a world in ruins after desperately wishing to return home throughout more than a decade? Bashir had told her about his parting from Garak in Dominion Headquarters... The Cardassian's rigorously-controlled emotions, his military bearing when he had left the building as if prepared to do battle with a deadly enemy... At seeing just how much had already been effected, Kira felt grudging respect for the former exploiters who, contrary to Garak's words, were coping with far worse than her people had after Withdrawal.

She watched Melset activate the annex, the communit before she came over to sit next to Garak.

"The trial starts tomorrow: fact-finding, registering additional information. This will be done in the presence of the accused, as is our custom. It is best you use the translator that will be placed at your disposal. Melset and I know you speak and understand Cardassi, but this should be concealed for obvious reasons ... your personal history ... Under circumstances your terrorist past may be mentioned as you did instruct Damar and his rebels in the methods used by the Résistance. No matter what the phrasing, references to your past do not mean an attack on your integrity. In the meantime, if you wish, you can perhaps rest." With a gesture for her to go in first, Garak followed, avoiding Melset's apprehensive glance.

When they entered the room, the Bajoran stopped in her tracks, stunned. The symbol of the Temple Gates hung on the wall facing the window, underneath it was a small home shrine provided with everything she needed for worship and meditation. After the initial shock, Kira clenched her fists, feeling cold rage she could barely control; seeing these specific objects on this world made her wish for nothing more than to wipe the pleased expression off Garak's face, hurt Melset as deeply as she could. The Cardassian occupiers had stolen so many artefacts, destroyed so many shrines and monasteries in their effort to break her people's will by robbing them of the hope offered by their religion... and here, at her side, were Garak, who apparently prided himself on understanding Bajoran needs, and Melset, who was stationed on DS-9 and with whom she at times cooperated.

She slowly turned to face them. "Should I thank you for placing these stolen, desecrated objects at my disposal to show how very understanding of my needs you are?" Her voice was dangerously level, her dark eyes glittering with hatred as she said. "No doubt you, Melset, suggested Garak do this to show your great tolerance of and open-mindedness towards a primitive, superstitious Bajoran shrinecrawler," she stated sarcastically.

It was Garak who replied. "Commander Kira, apart from how you think we consider you, you are correct. We found these objects in the rooms of the eighth subterranean level in the Obsidian Order building a little over a year ago. I immediately notified Melset to discuss procedure: it is a sensitive subject as your reaction has shown. Now that the rooms on that level and the last two have been cleared, nothing more recovered apart from some few artefacts dating back to the Hebitian Empire, we will return them to the Bajoran people. When you travel back to the station, it will be via Galor-Class cruiser. Gul Berak, one of Melset's fellow officers, has been accorded the honour of taking you there and of delivering the objects to the Kai's residence in the Bajoran capital. Those not needed for your personal use are safely stored, ready for transit." He added, indicating Melset, "She knows you are deeply spiritual and wanted you to have this," he gestured at the items, "to make your stay on Cardassia bearable. She has not forgotten your kindness to her in the beginning."

Kindness? I was barely civil! When she arrived on Deep Space 9 to take up her duties, she must have noticed our distrust and hatred. What experiences did she make before her transferral to Deep Space 9?

"She had you do this and was the one who negotiated for their return." She did have an appointment with the Kai a year ago...

Garak nodded, "Indeed. You are no doubt aware of the fact she has a quite different attitude towards your people than most Cardassians." He added, "We expected your reaction. These objects will be beamed up with you. Berak will pass by the station to pick up Vedek Navri, then continue to Bajor where the return will be effected."

"How much has actually been found?" She tried to keep her voice even. Kiassa, Tekendra Province, the Kai's residence in our capital… these and so many shrines and monasteries were so severely damaged, it took years to return them to their former state.

"I can show you the list; it is rather extensive. Regrettably enough, no more Orbs have been found since that discovered on Unefra, which was returned to you two years ago. We know that four are still missing." The last was said with genuine regret. "As we still have to discuss some procedures with Natíma and Madred it will be best to leave you to settle in." With that they left her to her thoughts.

She stared after the two Cardassians, annoyed at herself for being surprised at Garak's perceptiveness, annoyed at herself for having shown a weakness. Once alone, Kira looked around. The combination of spartan post-war living conditions and the objects from Bajor which seemed to have a life of their own, warmth, spiritualitymade for a strange contrast.

Up to a week here... She wondered whether there was more to this than only the trial; Cardassians always had plans within plans. Yet, Garak seemed sincere. During her cooperation with him and Damar, she had seen a person remarkably different to the exile, an individual capable of compassion, affection, loyal to his people and friends. He was a typical Order-educated Cardassian, but no longer seemed threatening and treacherous. Those had been different times, with Garak possessed by the desperate wish to return home from an exile that was constant torment for him. You are at home now, rather, to what is left of what you once called 'home'.

Melset had gone into the living area to prepare for the trial. Her time on Earth cannot have been much easier, even though she hardly says anything about SFCCEI.

Some months ago, while waiting in Remosi's office, she had looked at one of the screens at random, only to see Garak and Melset walk along a corridor. In response to a comment, Melset had looked up at him before briefly touching his arm. The scene had reminded her of Ziyal's relationship with Garak. When we returned to the station, everyone but you was welcomed by family or friends; Quark said he saw you standing among them, as though lost. You were anticipating meeting Ziyal, only to be confronted by her death... For a moment, Kira regretted that she had found nothing else to say to Garak than, "She loved you, you know..." The young woman's death had been a shock for her, too. Kira had not known how he would have reacted to any sympathy she had to offer. Nor did I care at the time...

Modifications

In the meantime, the Federation observers were in Chief Archon Jenol's offices to discuss procedures with her. It was far more difficult than either party would have expected. Conservator Kovat had been reactivated and called in as only few of his colleagues had survived: the former Ministry of Justice had been replaced by an immense crater, his colleagues were working at recreating a judiciary system...

"The sentence for treason is public execution and has already been pronounced in accordance with Cardassian legal procedure," Jenol explained, showing Commander Chandler, Admirals Ross, and Sarkon the appropriate paragraphs. "Any sentence other than capital punishment could provoke unrest among the population who would fear that they are no longer assured of the protection they were guaranteed before. What we need now is stability, and that can only be maintained by preserving pre-war structures and expectations. The experiences of the past six years have proven destabilizing, our social expectations are shifting, with all attendant consequences."

The two men exchanged glances before Sarkon replied, "This sentence may be in accordance with Cardassian law, but, under circumstances, could lead to protests by Gul Revok's supporters. That would further destabilize an already precarious situation, perhaps even result in rebellion, or entail further conflicts in future. Moreover, you may already have been informed that the trial will be transmitted to Federation worlds. If the sentence is public execution this could lead to reactions with all attendant consequences."

Archon Jenol barely kept from showing irritation at Sarkon's repeating her words; by Cardassian standards, this constituted an attack. Most likely they do not know this... "Accompanied by the appropriate anti-Cardassian propaganda, I assume," Jenol stated every bit as matter-of-factly. "The Federation has always been very talented at distorting the facts about any people with whom it was in conflict. Klingons, Romulans, Breen, Cardassians..."

Ross stated, "A normal reaction among all peoples who suffer from incursions by an aggressive power. Under circumstances, there could be responses from various organisations leading to far-reaching repercussions, influencing what we are trying to do."

"Which could mean their withholding or terminating assistance," Jenol said very quietly, her eyes showing quickly suppressed outrage at what she considered blatant extortion. We are dependent, defenceless. Now the Federation is revealing its true colours.

"Not SFHS as such, but private organisations which have been and are contributing the most. Capital punishment is not considered justice. It is considered murder. We used to pronounce these sentences ourselves, but have since adopted more effective disciplinary measures which give the criminal the possibility to contemplate his or her error, accept the consequences and ..." He chose a term Kovat had used only moments ago, "...redeem himself in the eyes of the people. Once this individual is released, he can retake his place in society, become a productive member. Consider this, Archon Jenol and Conservator Kovat: Gul Revok went by the book, supported his superiors, Gul Dukat, Legates Damar and Broka, unquestioningly. The rebellion, objectively seen, was treasonous. We have heard rumours stating it was Federation-supported. If those rumours spread..."

Barely controlling her outrage at this veiled threat, Jenol rose and nodded at Conservator Kovat who joined her. "Permit me to contact my superiors. I do not have the authority to make this decision alone, at least not without running the risk of a trial, one with no Federation observers present to demand my integrity be respected."

"It is your prerogative." Admirals Sarkon and Ross exchanged glances at realizing the Archon seemed nearly frantic with apprehension at understanding exactly what change had just been demanded. "Take as long as you need, Madam Archon."

"Deliberations may take some time, so I will notify Ysram to bring you something to drink. Our climate is not easily tolerated by non-Cardassians." With a gesture at Conservator Kovat to accompany her, Jenol left the room, her tension undeniable.

Two hours later she returned. "As you can see, it was exceedingly difficult to convince the authorities of the need to commute the sentence. Do not ask for details. I barely escaped a trial myself," she smiled in an attempt at humour, hoping to defuse the situation. "We have agreed on permanent exile to one of the most severely damaged planets in our system, which will mean hard labour alongside volunteers and settlers dedicated to reconstruction, the greatest of hardship, but not death." Unless, of course, Gul Revok meets with an unfortunate accident in the course of work, which is not inconceivable, considering his treason will be known to all after this trial; moreover, he will be assigned work in one of the most hazardous areas. Justice – true justice – will be served….

The two admirals rose to take leave of Archon Jenol.

Sarkon stated, "We respect the effort you and your superiors have made. We shall be in court at nine hundred hours tomorrow."

She nodded once, then returned to her desk to prepare for the next day; slightly inclining her head in a gesture of dismissal, Jenol watched the men leave. When the door slid shut, she covered her face with her hands, sat down heavily... Her escape had been very close indeed, so close, the archon was shaken. The observers would never learn that security forces had already been sent to her office to take her into custody. Moments later, she reviewed the details of the trial, changed some elements…

The Trial

Late in the evening, Garak came back and Kira heard him moving around in his own area before the intercomm activated - audio only. "Colonel Kira?"

"Yes?" She waited.

"The first session is scheduled for tomorrow, at 9.00 hours. There is no dress code; Starfleet uniform or Bajoran Militia, it is your choice. Melset will wear dress uniform as required. As to the rest, we shall see."

After a few minutes she went out into the main room where Garak and Melset wee sitting together, transmitting data. He turned to her, saying, "To Varon Province. A shipment of material is being sent there from Loo'Wess 2. The method may appear inefficient, but we have decided to duplicate essential systems so that goods can be mass-produced in more than one area. It was our tendency to specialization and centralization that made us so vulnerable. When installations in one province were disabled, branches in the others felt the consequences. For the moment, however, we have no other choice. Ah, good! Done."

He went over to sit facing her. "I do not know how much she," He indicated Melset, "has told you about our court system, but in this case some procedures have been changed to comply with the expectations of Federation observers. Formerly, the witnesses' statements, that of the accused, the Conservator's exhortation for the accused to regret his crime and to accept his sentence in the knowledge he would thus be redeemed in the eyes of his people, pronunciation of the sentence, and its immediate execution were all that was deemed necessary."

Kira said coldly, "You have forgotten something ... interrogation to extract a confession from your prisoner."

Unabashed, Garak explained. "Members of the military and the Order are systematically trained to bear even severest pain and thus react differently to this method of fact-finding. Resistance is often weakened by injecting various drugs. Some years ago, Gul Melset was interrogated after suggesting Bajor become our ally. The result was arrest, transfer to the Order's facilities, repeated injections of a drug to lower resistance, physical abuse, a subdermal implant to induce extreme physical pain. Her statements never changed, neither when I repeatedly activated that implant, nor when unconsciousness was induced to preclude any dissimulation on her part. She was judged innocent by Tain, Entek and myself, or else you," Garak stated evenly "... would now have one less spoonhead butcher on Deep Space 9 to worry about."

Kira's eyes widened when she realized what he had just said and stared at the two Cardassians in horrified disbelief, "Garak, have I understood you correctly? You interrogated her?"

"Yes," he met the Bajoran's eyes. "The only desire of the accused is that the truth be brought to light. There is no resentment towards the interrogator, only gratitude to know innocence has been proven beyond a doubt. Should the outcome point to guilt, this is accepted too. When I told Melset about the results of the interrogation, her main concern was whether she retained her commission and command of the Orissà, was still allowed to serve Cardassia. Cardassia, Duty and Family … they meant and mean more to her than life itself." Garak looked out of the window to hide his feelings, "Although both of us have had to accept painful truths about Central Command and the Order since then, our love for Cardassia transcends institutions and politics and time."

Kira felt horror and disgust, but grudgingly accepted that their peoples were vastly different in mentality. What she had just heard fit what she knew about her people's enemies. It was a strange, terrifyingly extreme combination of brutality, disregard for life and personal integrity, yet, in families and among friends, affection and love. The guilty, however, were rejected no matter how stable a relationship seemed to outsiders ... You interrogated her; yet, Gul Melset seems to trust, even love you.

"That is all you still had to know." Garak got up and went into another room, then brought out three plates with fruit and a thick sauce. "We do not have much to offer, and certainly not Bajoran food, but what we can offer you has been prepared to approximate Bajoran fare, especially as our respective worlds have some fruits in common; Melset somehow managed to get her hands on enough for this meal. It is neither drugged, nor harmful to a non-Cardassian."

The three ate in uncharacteristic silence, Kira still absorbing what she had just learned, Garak and Melset preoccupied by their duties and the trial that would take place the following day.

The next morning, they were picked up by an officer, Gul Ketran, who, at being introduced to Kira, inclined his head, saying, "We are most grateful to you for coming. Many of us did not dare hope in face of the past."

"It would make a quite devastating impression of our respect for justice if a traitor was left to go free because of one Bajoran who refused to set foot on Cardassia Prime, wouldn't it?" She met his eyes evenly.

"My words meant no offence, Commander, I wish to express gratitude. We expected you to come. Commander Kira, you fought side by side with Legate Damar and his officers, which showed great courage; after you and your fellow terrorists won your people's freedom, you helped a former enemy win that of his own people. You have our respect." Gul Ketran's attitude expressed the regard he felt for this Bajoran.

Within minutes they arrived at the building. Gul Ketran accompanied them to the main entrance, where an officer of the court received them. The first session already was the official one, with all procedures recorded. Garak and Kira were taken to a windowless room outside the court proper, Melset accompanied to a separate area by a soldier. While waiting to testify they could observe proceedings via a screen inset in the wall. Flanking them were two young soldiers, recruits, it seemed, and at either side of the door, two more guards. Kira had the impression that witnesses were considered as much a liability as the accused. At looking at the men more closely, she saw their scales did not have the metallic sheen typical of a healthy Cardassian, and that their uniforms showed marked signs of wear. And you were always so proud of your impeccable appearance...

After a short account of the crimes committed, the accused was acompanied inside, preceded and followed by guards carrying phaser rifles at the ready. He neither looked to the right nor to the left, his bearing arrogant and his expression contemptuous at seeing the Federation observers.

Garak was delighted by Gul Revok's manner. "A most impressive attitude! He is unrepentant, which will make the inevitable admission of guilt and expression of regret even more gratifying and encouraging for those who have the privilege of observing this trial." After a moment, he added approvingly, "Very good! Look: they have made him appear in uniform to underline the depth of his treason. Our militaries take an oath to defend Cardassia's integrity whatever the costs, whatever sacrifices this may demand. Towards the end, just before the sentence is to be pronounced, Conservator Kovat will entreat him to reconsider his actions, admit to his guilt and express his regret for having acted contrary to Cardassian ethics and moral standards. Remember, Commander Kira, every phase of the trial, even this relatively unimportant one, is being transmitted for public viewing. At this very moment, thousands of Cardassians are gathered in assembly halls, in town centres. They have been given time off to observe the trial, as has always been the custom in serious cases."

He indicated various areas of the room. "Look up there." He indicated three screens inset in the walls, "Our reactions are also being observed and evaluated. Witnesses are not only expected to present information, but also to express contempt for the criminal and his or her deeds." With a low sigh, he added, "The strict application of our laws assured us that, in spite of all the hardships and sacrifices expected of us, we were safer than any other people in the Quadrant. 'All crimes are solved, all criminals brought to justice...' This was a comforting thought."

He fell silent when a gonglike sound reverberated through the building. "Ah, the trial begins..."

The door to the right of the room slid open silently, and, accompanied by two guards, the judge entered. In contrast to the trials he had seen before The Defeat, Garak noticed that the Archon was not wearing the ornate, heavy robes of her status, but normal attire. He had hoped Chief Archon Makbar would be officiating as he knew her to be one of the best judges he had met, but some days before he had heard, much to his regret, that she was listed as missing, presumed dead. Her replacement was also a woman, tall, elegant, her expression stern and unmoved. To the back, left of her podium, a Cardassian family entered, Dukat's wife, Sarika, and her remaining three children. Singularly appropriate, having you witness the trial of your husband's supporter. Dukat was the worst of all traitors, delivering Cardassia into the hands of the Dominion to increase his own power. At the same time, Melset entered to the right-hand side, in uniform, arrogant, proudly self-assured as she quickly glanced at those present with no sign of recognition. After saluting, she stood at attention, motionless, as though standing guard.

One of the guards called out, "Chief Archon Jenol."

The Archon went up the stairs to the elevated dais, leaned over to strike the panel inset in the surface of her desk before taking her place.

She spoke in a low, clear voice, stressing every word. "This trial will substantiate the crimes of Gul Shokib Revok, an officer of high rank, who was led astray by his desire for power, who betrayed, sacrificed the lives of true patriots to keep Cardassia under Dominion rule, accepting its inevitable loss of integrity and autonomy. The civilians witnessing the trial are Sarika Dukat and her children Mekor, Turgar and Asimi. She disassociated herself from Gul Dukat when he brought his daughter Ziyal home, so we can dispense with the question of whether she knew about her husband's plans."

As if she has not gone through enough - losing four children, being confronted with the result of her husband's philandering, even though Ziyal was innocent and a good person. Kira thought.

She indicated Melset, "And Gul Melset, Legate Damar's sister, former member of Central Command, later Order liaison; both her brother and his family were killed after Legate Damar had called on the people to fight for Cardassia's freedom from Dominion rule."

Kira watched Chief Archon Jenol and recognized that she was uncomfortable; Kira realized that the modifications she may well have been pressured to make in ceding to the Federation's demands for a 'fair trial had come with a price.' The function of a Cardassian trial was to demonstrate how the crimes of one individual had been proven, and then to pronounce the predetermined sentence which would be followed through immediately without any possibility of revision. But now?

"Our witnesses to the trial proper are Admirals Ross and Sarkon of Vulcan, Starfleet, and Commander Chandler of SFCCEI. They are Federation observers sent to witness this trial as the Dominion War and its outcome impacted all systems of the Alpha Quadrant, cost billions of lives on both sides, brought ruin over numerous worlds and cultures, weakening some beyond recovery. Admiral Ross was one of the three commanders who set foot on Cardassia Prime after the final battle... And yet, in spite of the conflict and the destruction, the Federation surmounted the past to grant us the assistance without which we would not have managed so much in so short a time."

Chief Archon Jenol rose, "We are now to witness the trial of Gul Shokib Revok. The sentence has already been pronounced." She turned to the observers, "We have evidence which has been corroborated. The purpose of this trial is to demonstrate its veracity."

A spotlight was aimed at where Gul Revok, flanked by guards, sat on the top seat of a triangular arrangement. Below him, at the very bottom, sat the Nestor and the Conservator. To their right, the three observers had been assigned their places.

Archon Jenol struck the inset and called out, "The trial begins!" She gave a short account of the events leading up to the end of the Dominion War and, contrary to Cardassian custom, scenes of the destruction wreaked by Dominion forces during their fortunately aborted mission to eradicate every Cardassian from the face of the planet were shown. "This is what Gul Dukat's alliance left us. He went against all that is Cardassian for the sake of personal status, abandoned his duty as a true Cardassian. His successor, Legate Damar, realized what the outcome would be; a loyal officer, he honoured his superior's decisions until the Breen-Dominion alliance was instituted; Cardassia was but a pawn in the hands of the Founders, its military and systems at the Dominion's disposal. Millions of our best gave their lives in battle, but their sacrifice did not further Cardassia's interests. Our systems were no longer ours to administer, but were in the hands of the Dominion; territorial concessions were negotiated that left the Dominion's worlds intact while ceding what was ours to new allies. Systems for which Cardassian blood was shed lay in the hands of the Dominion, were used to gain the allegiance of allies such as the Breen, allies that were not ours but those of the Dominion. Our government was not informed about alliances until after their inception, was not included in negotiations. Legate Damar recognized this was wrong and organized a resistance movement to eliminate the Dominion alliance. The rebellion could have spread and finally seen Cardassia freed as other militaries were joining his group together with the civilian population; thousands of men and women were stationed at all key facilities."

She turned to Gul Revok. "This military chose to follow Gul Dukat's path; he was willing to compromise Cardassia's integrity for the sake of an agreement the Founders had no intention of honouring. The Alpha Quadrant would have been the Dominion's alone, administered by the Vorta. Blind to all repercussions of the Alliance, caught up in Gul Dukat's traitorous vision, this high-ranking officer denounced the Cardassian Résistance, leading to its eradication, the death of the faithful patriots who had brought it to life. Gul Revok thought to attain a prestigious position in the Dominion Alliance by committing this heinous act."

Back in the room reserved for the witnesses, Garak said to Kira in a low voice, "In a moment one of us will be called up to testify. Remember what I have told you."

The intercomm activated, "Admit the first witness, Commander Kira Nerys of the Bajoran Militia, former member of the Shakaar Résistance Cell, currently commander of Terok Nor."

Flanked by two soldiers, she went up the steps to the right and took a seat. At once, the wall facing her slid aside. She blinked once, dazzled by the sudden, intense light; the room itself was dark, only the witness' seats, the accused, the civilian witnesses, the Archon were in brightly lit areas.

Using a translator the Chief Archon addressed her, "Commander Kira, do you require a translator? The trial is conducted in Cardassi."

She answered in Bajoran, "Yes," then thanked the soldier who activated the device for her.

"Recount the events leading up to the events in the rebel base."

"After freeing Commander Worf and Lieutenant Dax, Legate Damar sent a message stating that the Federation now had a friend on Cardassia. That was two days after the Dominion - Breen Alliance was signed. Soon after, he disappeared within hours of issuing a call to all Cardassians to resist the Dominion. He was a military, trained to follow orders unquestioningly, did not know the strategies necessary in resistance." Kira took a deep breath. "Captain Sisko sent me to help him organize and train his resistance group. Initially, I wanted to refuse. I hated Damar, the Cardassian brute who had murdered my friend Ziyal in cold blood. However, preserving the freedom of the Alpha Quadrant and ending a destructive war that was threatening us all were concerns that superseded all personal feelings, so I agreed to assist him in organizing his résistance cells." Kira shook her head very slightly, "It was sheer irony of fate: a Cardássian seeking to gain what we had won after unceasing struggle all those years ago: freedom for his people."

For some moments, Kira waited, then continued her account," After some opposition from his co-conspirators who distrusted my motives for offering them my expertise, we established cells on various worlds, eighteen in all. Legate Damar's fellow officer, Gul Rusot, finally convinced Gul Revok and Legate Goris to join, which would have meant 500.000 additional personnel for the movement. We agreed to meet in a cave on Cardassia Prime, but, at Garak's advice, took the precaution of having Seskal beam us into an unguarded passage..." For a moment, Kira closed her eyes, reliving that day's horror. "The first sound we heard was Jem'Hadar phaser fire; when we looked down, we saw dead Cardassians all over, Jem'Hadar were stripping them of their identification disks and weapons, Gul Seskal's ship was destroyed. Then … we saw Gul Revok walk in speaking about traitors, accompanied by a Vorta. It was he who had betrayed Damar. We had but one chance of survival, to find concealment before we were eliminated in turn. Garak took us to Mila's house in Loo'Wess." All the while, she did not avert her eyes from the Archon who was watching her every reaction quietly.

"From where did you see Legate Goris, Gul Revok and the others?"

"From a ledge roughly four metres above the cave floor. The entrance lay to our left and admitted enough light for us to recognize them. We saw Legate Goris fall, executed by a Jem'Hadar. I will never forget the face of the man who denounced Legate Damar. Madam Archon, my people had no other choice but to live with Cardassians for nearly six decades, live with the violence, the torture, the massacres, the labour camps; we hated and still hate them for what they did to us, to our world, but Damar's patriotism and his recognition towards the end... I am not insulting him by what I am about to say: he recognized the evil of the past after experiencing the same pain and loss his people had inflicted on so many of us. This gave him the determination to keep on fighting against impossible odds. For that I respect him. Damar had the strength and sense of honour that, had he survived, would have made him a great leader of the new Cardassia," her voice trailed off at remembering his words of thanks, the way he had died, the painfully pronounced word "keep" urging them not to give up the fight.

"And yet, you came here. You remember the past, and yet are willing to accept and work for reconciliation. This impressed Gilora, Ulani and Dejar who mentioned this to me. For that, we thank you, Commander Kira Nerys." She turned to Gul Revok. "Now, Gul Revok, explain your actions which are those of the basest traitor."

Gul Revok rose, his bearing arrogant, glance unwavering as he contemptuously looked at Commander Kira, at Gul Melset and at the observers. "Legate Damar does not deserve the honour of being called a Cardassian. The Dominion had fully integrated us in its system, was willing to share a power that would have spread throughout the entire Alpha Quadrant. Together with the Founders, we would have finally realized our destiny in the Quadrant, taken our rightful place as the rulers of all its peoples. Compared to what we would have won, those few systems accorded the Breen were of little value; certainly their loss did not justify full-scale rebellion, sabotage, even terror!" He shouted angrily, "Look around when you leave this building! What is the outcome of Legate Damar's alleged heroism? Ruins, need, inadequate housing, a loss of over 4.5 billion citizens. Our military? It is organizing transport of goods, has lost its defensive capabilities. The civilians and militaries who have survived are working like Bajoran slave labour. We have non-Cardassians onworld who, under the guise of assisting us are corrupting our people, destroying what little is left of our culture which was second to none!"

He briefly interrupted his tirade, "Legate Damar's sister, Gul Melset, who neither deserves to wear that uniform nor to be addressed by the title of 'Gul', was interrogated fifteen years ago after suggesting Bajor become an ally of the Cardassian Union; declared innocent, she retook command. Central Command assigned her young officers to mentor, a most unwise decision, as it exposed them to her traitorous views. Later, she was sent to Bajor, then to Earth, missions which fully corrupted her. Now she is working for SFHS, allegedly to help us rebuild." His eyes filled with hatred as he stared at the officer who stood at attention, unmoved. "Because of her contacts and those of the other so-called organizers and repatriates, we now have aliens on-world who will influence our people, destroy our unique culture. Are all of you too blind to see the truth? Her brother called down destruction on Cardassia, and she? Both traitorous issue of a family of traitors! And now: a Bajoran female, a member of a contemptible, weak, primitive people only fit to be exploited, is called upon to bear witness against a Cardassian! Whom do we have to thank for these catastrophic developments? The traitor Legate Damar and his associates!" He sat down after making a gesture signifying 'execute' at Kira, then at Melset, neither of whom reacted. Garak, watching the scene from the waiting area, rejoiced inwardly. Commander, your words were exactly the right ones. One of us could not have chosen better... moderate phrasing, calm expression - a marked contrast to Gul Revok's tirade...

"Which brings us to the second witness..."

Kira rose to leave the stand, but was addressed by the Archon, "No, Commander Kira, I request you stay. Your fellow witness will sit at your side." The woman seemed to smile as she added, "We shall see in how far he has been corrupted in the course of his cooperation with the resistance and the Federation and Gul Melset."

With an odd feeling, Kira realized that Gul Melset had not shown the slightest reaction to Gul Revok's accusations, then remembered. Whatever happens, no matter what confronts us, we are expected to remain unmoved, to always show the pride and determination of true Cardassians.

Garak entered, went to sit next to Kira. "Commander."

"Organizer Garak," was her greeting.

"Elim Garak, former member of the Obsidian Order, place of residence, Terok Nor until your cooperation with Legate Damar. There, for the duration of your exile, you performed your duty to Cardassia unfailingly, as expected in spite of your sentence."

"Yes, Madam Archon." He heard an abrupt intake of breath from Kira. No doubt there would be some explaining to do later on...

"How exactly did you become involved in Legate Damar's resistance movement?"

"When he heard that Legate Damar had called upon the people of Cardassia to resist, Captain Sisko strongly suggested I activate my contacts on Cardassia to locate Legate Damar's base. Both he and Admiral Ross thought it advisable to support Damar's movement for the sake of the Alpha Quadrant and," Garak met the Admiral's eyes, "for the sake of the Cardassian people. For myself personally, this mission offered me the chance to finally return home, redeem myself by fighting for Cardassia's freedom. I accompanied Commander Kira and Odo to give technical support, use my skills as an Order operative and at the same time, provide security for the other two. I did it gladly, knowing that I would be on Cardassia again, helping my people shake off a destructive alliance."

"What was your relation with Legate Damar?" Archon Jenol looked at him calmly; she knew Garak well from his time as an operative when they had frequently cooperated in bringing criminals to justice.

"One of enmity, Madam Archon. His killing Ziyal, Gul Dukat's daughter, who had become a close friend, was unjustified. She was not the one responsible for the loss of Terok Nor."

"I hear you cooperate intensively with Gul Iníki Melset. This officer of Central Command transferred to the Order after her medical discharge. She subsequently became a liaison officer and operative sent on select missions. Evaluation? Unfailing fulfilment of duty during her entire career, from recruit until now. Multiple commendations, medals awarded for bravery, for annexing systems during the Border Wars and for unhesitatingly facing death in a desperate, but successful action taken for the sake of Cardassia in her final battle."

Garak saw a barely noticeable flicker of terror in Melset's eyes. He knew she was apprehensive about being recognized and accused of war crimes, especially as this trial was being transmitted on official channels, possibly even in the Federation; this specific action had already been addressed, but so far she had escaped, thanks to the precautions she had taken….

There will be a good amount of explaining to do now... Garak could feel Kira's outraged stare nearly physically and hoped against hope she had not made the all-too-obvious connection.

"Indeed. Unfortunately Gul Dukat's alliance ruined the slight advances the intercultural programmes at SFCCEI had made in improving Federation-Cardassian relations. Immediately after The Defeat, Commander Chandler transferred Gul Melset from her post on Earth to SFHS on Deep Space 9. With Andrews and Selon as her co-organizers, she presently supervises a full staff. I commend him for his understanding our mentality and negotiating for a branch of SFHS to be established on Terok Nor to assist worlds which had sustained damage." He added, "In doing so, he may well have saved her life, as she would accepted even the greatest risks to return, to do her duty to Cardassia."

"What was your opinion of the Dominion-Cardassia Alliance, Gul Melset?"

"A serious error resulting in the destruction and loss of autonomy of the Cardassia we loved and served with all our being. I always considered the consequences of involving non-Cardassians in our internal affairs disastrous in the long term."

Archon Jenol inquired, "What was the purpose of your TDY on Earth, at SFCCIE?"

The answer was to the point. "SFCCEI hosted representatives of diverse peoples from both Federation and non-aligned systems, even other Unions. The institution's goal was for us to cooperate in establishing a programme of presentations and courses meant to further knowledge about our respective cultures in an effort to eliminate preconceptions, thus promote understanding. Within a short time, we were requested to present our work to the general public." There was a moment of hesitation, "This work was very rewarding as I could obtain valuable information on a diversity of cultures."

Garak barely managed to remain serious at her brief shift in attitude and at the phrasing.

"What is your response to Gul Revok's accusation?"

Melset replied, apparently unmoved by the tirade. "When General Martok, Admiral Ross … She briefly looked over at him, "stood on the ruins of Loo'Wess, spoke of the end of the conflict, plans were already being made at SFHS – Earth to assist all worlds and systems that had suffered Dominion incursions to a greater or lesser degree." She fell silent for a moment, "Before I continue, I want to address a misunderstanding: General Martok's drinking blood wine and singing a Klingon warrior's song in praise of the battle on Cardassia after The Defeat was an expression of respect for an enemy who had fought and died well, not one of triumph."

The Admiral inquired, "How come you know this?"

"From General G'Kathor and his staff; we cooperated from my arrival onwards and I was often invited to the Klingon Department's celebrations, or to meetings when friends or fellow officers visited. They explained their customs to me and I reciprocated."

She fought to keep her voice steady when she recollected the scenes after The Defeat, then said, "I did not beg for help as stated by Gul Revok. Help was offered within hours, by humans, the Bajorans at SFCCEI and two Klingon friends with their own contacts, even by a clan of Ferengi with whom I have frequent contact as well as some others. The situation on our worlds was so catastrophic, destruction so immeasurably great, that refusing assistance would have seen even more deaths. I frequently have occasion to observe interactions and my reliable sources have reported that help is exactly that, delivered by those willing to assist us, with no attempts at any kind of influence."

"Thank you." The Archon quickly spoke into her intercomm before inquiring, "Organizer Garak, you have heard Colonel Kira's testimony and Gul Melset's reply to Gul Revok. Can you add details they may have forgotten to mention?"

"Very few, the Commander's statement was exceedingly comprehensive. I did question Legate Damar and Gul Rusot on the wisdom of accepting Legate Goris and Gul Revok into our group. Legate Damar assured me that he knew both well as they had fought side by side with him, were true patriots. This satisfied both the Commander and myself. All of the other militaries who joined him were true Cardassians, loyal to the end. Everyone remembers that our military was exemplary in upholding Cardassian values. As to identifying the individual in question, I can confirm beyond a doubt that this man is Gul Revok. I find him quite hard to forget." He stared at the accused with an expression Kira remembered from Dominion Headquarters: unblinking, filled with cold anger, showing which sentence he would have willingly pronounced and executed on the spot. "I can corroborate Gul Melset's reply. When she arrived on Cardassia three weeks after The Defeat, help was already arriving, measures initiated, expatriates returning. She did not beg for help, but described the situation objectively, giving those who inquired leeway to imagine the situation." He added, stressing every word. "A Cardassian does not beg, whatever the situation. We accept, determined to rectify whatever has happened."

The following day, court convened one last time to pronounce the sentence. Rising and turning to Gul Revok, Conservator Kovat addressed him, "You have heard the testimony of the witnesses which has proven your guilt beyond any doubt. You are now offered the chance to cast off the burden of denial that only serves as the means of a desperately guilt-ridden man to conceal his misdeeds from his own consciousness. Your deceit is so dishonourable that it must be torment for you to consider it in its entirety. I entreat you, Gul Revok, unburden yourself of your guilt and accept the comfort offered by honest recognition of your crimes, you permitting yourself to be seduced by a vision of power, a vision of power so tempting that it made service to Cardassia but a secondary concern."

The Conservator gestured towards the screens, his posture, his voice reflecting entreaty, "Gul Revok, at this very moment, the population of our Union, a population beset by unmerited hardship, struggling to regain a modicum of its former glory, is observing procedure as is our custom, waiting for justice to be served, waiting to be granted solace from the knowledge that all crimes are brought to light and punished in spite of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, that our system of jurisprudence has survived even the destruction visited upon us. The ruin of our worlds cannot be ascribed to your treason alone, yet your ill-conceived act contributed. I plead with you, prove yourself a loyal citizen of Cardassia and accept your guilt and the sentence." He bowed to the Archon before sitting down again.

Kira quickly glanced at Garak then over at Melset, only to stare at them in disbelief; both looked serene, even happy and were very clearly deriving solace from the proceedings; for some moments at least, their beloved Cardassia had come back to life, was as they remembered it from childhood onwards. You really believe in this form of justice.

Gul Revok got to his feet and said proudly, "I accept nothing, neither the verdict of guilty nor the sentence. My only reason for this alleged crime was to ensure Cardassia's renewed rise to power and to expand her sphere of influence. I gave my oath to serve unfailingly, sacrifice my very life for the glory of the Cardassian Union. I was never a traitor; those who designate me as such are the true traitors to Cardassia." With that he returned to his seat and faced the Archon calmly. "Do with me as you will, Madame Archon. The Empire we knew, the Empire we had upheld for five hundred years is dead, together with its best minds, its most dedicated people. The Cardassia that you call yours today is not the Cardassia I loved and served." His voice hinted at sorrow as he added, "This Cardassia is no longer the Cardassia I took an oath to serve at entering the Academy, at receiving my promotion to Gul. Do with me as you will. My life is in your hands."

Chief Archon Jenol spoke slowly, searching for the words to express a thought process so alien to her and her society. "Gul Revok, over 4.5 billion loyal Cardassians, men, women and children, were lost due to this nefarious alliance. We cannot afford to lose even one more life. It has become amply clear that you acted in accordance with the pledge sworn by all Cardassians at beginning service in Central Command. You profoundly believed in what you were doing, thought you were acting in the interest of Cardassia. This fortitude and willingness to sacrifice everything shows that you can be rehabilitated and subsequently reintegrated in society." She met the eyes of the observers unwaveringly before continuing, "For this very reason, we have agreed to let mercy prevail as you have a record of faultless service. After painstaking deliberations we have unanimously agreed to commute your death sentence to permanent exile. Reconstruction is to begin on Pentath IV, one of the worlds of our Union whose main cities were reduced to rubble in a punitive action after your denunciation of Legate Damar's rebellion. You will be assigned to a team working there to fulfil your duty to the Union and our people. This same evening Doctor Parmak will be admitted to your cell to equip you with a subcutaneous transponder prior to your departure. Should you attempt to return clandestinely, your punishment, but not delivered by law, will be death; it will be the same if you attempt to remove it. Your brother, who concealed and sheltered you, has been sentenced to exile together with his family. He will reside on Quinor."

"The sentence pronounced by Central Command is loss of title and commission." With that, Chief Archon Jenol struck the panel in her desk and rose, remained standing at attention while the participants left the room. Exhausted beyond words, she left for her home and contacted her supervisors to submit her report. Later that evening, the observers, the Conservator, she herself and her own superiors would meet to discuss proceedings, justify this lenient sentence that ran so contrary to Cardassian expectations.

Except for the Federation observers, none of the Cardassians who had witnessed the trial approved of the sentence. After arriving in their quarters, Garak, Melset and Kira listened to transmissions, some of which reflected the general public's opinion. The majority of comments showed that public execution alone would have met with unanimous approval...

After the trial which had taken only two afternoons, Melset took over Garak's station while he, Natíma and Madred gave Admirals Ross, Serkor, Commander Chandler, and Colonel Kira a tour of the Loo'Wess area before they left for Starfleet Headquarters. They were walking through a future residential area when their group was approached by a group of Cardassians. One of them, a female, came over.

The spokeswoman of the team addressed Madred, "Gul Madred, pardon the intrusion. I am Sanji Mekaar, one of those responsible for coordinating the building of homes in this sector. If you can possibly spare the time, we request the privilege that Colonel Kira and the other dignitaries inspect the buildings that have been financed with Bajoran funds, so that she can inform the Bajoran and Federation organizers of the Cardassian Relief Programme that donations are being used as stated. We would be most grateful were you to grant us this privilege."

Who advised you to use such phrases? Have we already been reduced to this attitude because we depend on aid? Garak did not meet the eyes of the others in the group, nor did his Cardassian colleagues show the slightest sign of how uncomfortable they felt. The request had obviously been phrased in accordance with what Sanji Mekaar and her fellows thought was Federation custom.

There was a brief discussion, then Natíma agreed. The buildings were simple, but built so that they could be modified in future as the situation improved. Sanji added, "The Vedek Assembly and First Minister Shakaar should know the help is greatly appreciated. These ..." she indicated the buildings, "... have given 750 of us shelter. We are using whatever we can spare of the assistance to help the next group rebuild as well. We owe them not one, but many favours." The gratitude in the eyes of the woman and of her companions was sincere.

At departure from Loo'Wess, Natíma gave Kira a detailed report, requesting she add her own comments. She was already supplementing the evaluation meant for the Council of Ministers on Bajor and SFHS. Andrews had transmitted Starfleet Headquarters' request to her moments before her departure. There is no corruption, no waste, whatever is given is used for one purpose alone... was her thought. If it were not for the past...

The Returnees

That afternoon, after seeing Commander Chandler, Admirals Ross and Sarkon off, Garak and Kira left on a tour of the various reconstruction sites on Cardassia Prime. Kira had readily agreed to this as Vedeks Inyon and Serad had requested she contact the returnees who were now living in Kelan-Lesana Province.

"Commander Kira, this is Lesana I. When SFHS has downsized its offices on Terok'Nor, Melset and I shall settle here, have already chosen where we will have our respective homes." In response to Kira's surprise, he added, "It is safer. The True Way. … Its leaders have been eliminated, their followers are being watched but under present conditions…." He wanted to provoke her just a little, "We know who they are, and they will disappear within some months. Should any of them travel to Terok Nor,"

"They are a danger to all of us," was the only thing Kira said about the matter. Then Melset will have Security's support and cooperation.

Kira looked around as they flew over the area: slightly hilly terrain, apparently not as arid as the other regions she had seen so far. As in Loo'Wess City and Province, it was surprising how much the people had accomplished in a relatively short time. Some areas were still devoid of life; scorched ground bore mute testimony to the genocide envisioned by the Dominion.

Losir Damar and Delhina Melset showed her what they were doing, described the irrigation system which combined Bajoran and Cardassian methods, showed her the screens set up for water capture, their agricultural methods. The small farms were already producing enough crops to send surplus to neighbouring provinces in exchange for other goods. To Kira's relief, everyone had only praise for the young Cardassians who had been repatriated.

With a friendly gesture, Losir Damar said, "Commander Kira, Satra Dauri and Vijim have been waiting all this time for you to visit with them; they will enjoy meeting a Bajoran after nearly three years. In the meantime, we have discuss some procedures with Garak, so you can speak freely." He added, concerned, "I would be most grateful if you gave me some few details of what you will be told. The returnees cooperate with us, are trying to adapt, have become fully accepted members of our communities, join us whenever we have a reason to celebrate, but at times, they seem ill at ease, even frightened. We accept their worship of the Prophets, although it was forbidden even Bajorans during the Occupation. My daughter told us that it was your faith that helped your people survive … What I am asking of you is not meant to harm them, but permit us to help them."

Kira briefly remembered the decades-long suppression of the Bajoran faith before Liberation. "I will see what I can find out, even though I think I know exactly what the problem is," she met his eyes. "Remember on which world they were raised."

The Cardassian inclined his head, "I am fully conscious of that fact, but how can we solve this specific difficulty? We cannot change what we are. This specific area was chosen for a reason…" He fell silent.

Kira immediately recognized the home the Satras had built for themselves. It was unmistakably Bajoran in style, but modified to allow for the warmer climate. Losir called out, "Satra Dauri and Vijim, Commander Kira is here."

The door opened immediately, and the couple came out to stare at Kira in disbelief, then overjoyed, invited her and Losir in. He declined, saying, "Another time. I have to return to the others. Garak is here with further information. Like this, you can speak openly, in the language of your childhood." Kira noticed the kindness of his words.

After entering, she looked around, curious; the rooms were also a combination of both styles. I can see what the difficulties are. You are trying to become true Cardassians again, but it is impossible as you have been brought up on Bajor, have absorbed our mentality and expectations, you will always react accordingly, even though you will end up adopting some elements of your people's ways.

"Commander Kira, we were told you were onworld, but did not dare hope you would find the time to come to Lesana Province."

"Garak had this tour on his list of priorities and I already have the compilation of reports I need. This visit is off the record." She smiled at them and chose a place where she could look out of the window. From her vantage point, the scenery outside resembled that of the drier areas of the Southern Continent. "From what I can see, you have found acceptance here. Gul Melset told me about how you were received, that there was only a very brief period of difficulties, but mainly because of different customs."

Vijim inclined his head briefly, "That is true, we were taken into her family until we had built our own home. When we asked what we should do to adapt, we were told to do as we saw fit, to watch the others and gradually adopt what we thought good, but not to force ourselves to be something we are not. All of the families in Lesana 1 are helping us learn Cardassian language and customs. They are far different to what we expected, are thankful for our help and open to learning our own methods and teaching us theirs." His expression became more cheerful, "On Bajor I learned carpentry, Dauri was raised in a family of artists. We are already being hired for our skills, can earn our own support."

"What was very reassuring was that we were not reproached for our ways, even though they must have alienated some of the others in the very beginning. We were given access to the commlink in the Centre to keep contact with our adoptive families and friends on Bajor and are still doing so with no problems or negative comments. As you can see, we are fully integrated in the community here, and that holds true of the other returnees who have come since."

Kira noticed that, even after three years, they still used the gestures and had the responses of the people who had adopted them. This made their finding such a degree of acceptance unexpected. At being invited into the private area of Satra Dauri's and Vijim's house, she saw that the couple had established a small shrine in one room.

Vijim explained, "This was readily accepted, especially as we keep our worship private. Dimos helped us find the necessary material to make this, worked with me to make the symbol of the Temple Gates, asked about its background. The other two couples come by regularly so that we can worship the Prophets together."

What Kira heard made it seem that the returnees' experiences were surprisingly good, but Vijim's and Dauri's account showed another, more troubling aspect.

Vijim said pensively, "At times it is hard. Bajor gave us a home in spite of what we are, we had friends, some of us were adopted, were never treated like outcasts. Yet, whenever we heard about the atrocities committed by the Cardassian forces, we reacted like our Bajoran families and friends: with horror, hatred and anger. But we did not belong to them in fact. Whenever we looked into a mirror or saw our reflection in a window, what we saw was a Cardassian face, reminding us of what we were and would always be: members of the race that had terrorized Bajorans throughout decades. You can imagine that we were frightened when we returned here: Cardassians in heritage, but raised as Bajorans. The worst moment was parting from Vedek Serad, even though Gul Melset understood our situation and assured us we would be received with kindness, saw to it that we saw the Celestial Temple and spent some hours with Mesro and Vedek Navri. Upon arrival, the reception was friendly, we were welcomed like family, but..." He fell silent remembering, "We do not really feel at home here, either. Physically, we are Cardassians, but feel like strangers on this world, often think we belong to Bajor, at times even wish we could return ... When you arrived...," Vijim fell silent.

Dauri agreed. "Vedek Serad assured us we would be welcomed and our help accepted with gratitude. We had agreed to come here for a trial period of six months. After some distrust, which was only normal, we were integrated, are learning about our heritage, are not pressured to abandon what we learned to believe and do while on Bajor. As a result, all of us have decided to stay. Yet, at times, when we see Cardassians we do not know, we are afraid of them."

With a gesture that encompassed her surroundings, Dauri said openly, "We will never be able to become truly Cardassian. Kira, we think in Bajoran, our feelings are like those of our adopted people; how can we give up all we learned in our childhood and replace it by totally different patterns of thought?" she fell silent, then added, her voice low when she touched her abdomen, "And what about our own children? The one I will soon bear? How will we manage? If we raise them as we were they, in turn, will be strangers to this world."

Kira gently put a hand on Dauri's shoulder, "I know this will not happen. All those in Lesana-Kelan Province have accepted responsibility for you, for your future children; they are aware of and understand the conflict. Losir Damar asked me to find out what the problem is. He is concerned, wants to help you in every way, as do the others. They have recognized the cruelty of abandoning you at Withdrawal, indifferent as to the consequences."

They then spoke of other concerns, reconstruction, the development of agriculture, basic industry and the educational system. For moments at a time, the couple did not seem so alien to Kira; they had the same concerns as her own people had after Withdrawal. Some hours later she left, pensive; Delhina and Losir were already at Garak's house but waited, knowing she would tell them what they needed to know in good time.

On the last day, she discussed the situation with Gul Damar and Garak. Garak only replied, "You see the problem. Our principle of 'A child without parents has no rights in society' was why these children were abandoned, cut off from their heritage. Now we have to face the consequences of Central Command's decision, make transition as easy for them as possible. The next generation will feel this is home, bridge the gap between their parents' and their own experiences."

Losir added, "The decision to leave these young people behind was not ours to make. Central Command, that is the Guls of the first and second level, decided." In the distance, they saw Delhina walking over to a house together with one of the returnees, absorbed in conversation. "My wife was in the Order. Not even its members knew about this until the Kotran Pa'dar case," he fell silent.

"It was the Rugal Pa'dar incident which made me recognize what was happening to those children. Their Bajoran parents and educators did not abuse them, but, as Dr. Bashir pointed out, learning to fear and hate your own heritage, something you cannot change, is a form of unrelenting mental torment no one should experience. It was Bashir, a Federation doctor, who made me question what had been done, whose reactions to the situation made me realize a few things."

The next day they departed for Loo'Wess; it was time for Kira and Melset to return to Deep Space 9. No one spoke on the way to the terminal, too preoccupied with what they had seen, by their experiences of the past days.

At the beamup point, Garak gave Melset a padd. "This is for SFHS. This padd here, it is yours. It contains a record of the trial and the testimony given, the verdict, and details about the repatriates; you can share those details with Serad and Navri."

He then turned to Kira, "Commander Kira, I am most grateful to you for having come. Be strong."

"Success to your endeavours, Organizer Garak."

On the way to the beam-up point Kira was already thinking of the occasion that would be so important for her people, Melset going over the plans that she and Garak, together with some of the organizers, had made for the next steps of redevelopment.

Restitution

Two days later, they passed by Deep Space 9 where Vedek Navri beamed up. Berak, wearing dress uniform, met him in the transporter bay to show him to his quarters for the two-hour transit to Bajor.

Navri looked up at the uniformed officer, concealing fear and revulsion, forced himself to address him, "I, we are grateful for what your people has decided to do in good faith, freely returning what was taken from us and not placing a price on these sacred objects."

For Berak, the moment was also difficult until he reminded himself, If Melset can do this, I can do the same. This is not a treasonous act, but one of rectification that could mean a valuable ally in future. "You helped us in our time of greatest need, something we will never forget. Your holy objects which were taken from you are being returned in acknowledgement of your overcoming the past enough to assist us." He tried to approximate the gesture that Melset had shown him.

I can feel he means what he is saying, his words are not Cardassian lies to trick us into lowering our defences.

With a Cardassian gesture of respect, Berak offered, "Vedek Navri, you have been given quarters for the time of transit, for meditation or prayer. I trust they will meet with your approval. I have to return to the bridge." A salute, and he left. Navri watched him round a corner: That was the Gul himself, the Commander of this cruiser, who accompanied me: those snakes' gesture towards an honoured guest…..

Melset was at Gul Berak's side when he contacted Bajoran Central.

"Gul Berak requesting permission to enter standard orbit. As per agreement with the Vedek Assembly, I request the coordinates of the beam-down point for the artefacts that are being restored to the Bajoran people from whom they were taken during the Occupation."

The Prylar who received the message was not sure he could trust his ears: Gul Berak had stated his request in Bajoran. He made a gesture Melset recognized as one of thanksgiving and joy before transmitting the data. In another ten minutes, the artefacts were to be beamed down to the Monastery of the capital, the Kai's residence.

Little later, just before transferral, Kira, Berak, Melset and the station Vedek materialized just outside the hall where they were met by Vedeks Yarim and Serad.

"A Vedek Assembly has been organized in recognition of this event which the leaders of all religious orders have been invited to witness. Regrettably, the Assembly as well as the Ceremony proper are restricted to members of the religious orders as the objects you are returning have to be ritually cleansed and consecrated before they are taken to where they once were," was Vedek Yarim's explanation.

Melset added, "I know. The Orb found on Unefra was an entirely different matter. Now we are returning objects that were considered lost forever, some of them thousands of years old." She met Berak's eyes, "A few date back to a time of peaceful contact between our peoples, over nine centuries ago."

Serad saw the other Gul's reaction: curiosity, not disdain….

When those present moved to enter the assembly hall, Gul Berak said respectfully, again in Bajoran: "I ask you to advance no further than the first five metres. It is for your own safety."

Melset had cautioned him Cardassian still evoked the past, especially in these surroundings. This occasion was important, a first step towards reconciliation, there was no allowance for error.

Berak nodded once at Kira, then spoke into his communicator, "Initiate!"

A pervasive humming, followed by a glittering beaming effect in the back half of the Hall, pulses of beaming, anxious waiting… the beam pulsed once more, advanced, coalesced into a wall of crates that filled the better part of the hall, halfway to the ceiling.

Berak and Melset exchanged glances, avoided looking over at Kira. That much….

Unobtrusively Berak looked over, watching the assembled Vedeks, noticed disbelief mingled with anticipation in their eyes. He himself had conflicting emotions. Gratitude for the assistance given by these, as he considered them even now, purveyors of primitive superstition, but, at the same time, understanding when he recalled the joy he and his peers had felt at learning that not all records of their culture and history had been destroyed, that so much had been found in the subterranean areas of Obsidian Order Headquarters. These people were now experiencing the same joy... Kai Unkteh noticed the Cardassian's gaze and gave him a nod and a gentle smile. There was no hostility in his expression.

When the beaming process was concluded, the Vedeks together with Kai Unkteh, could only stand there in silence, overwhelmed at the vast number of containers that had been sent back from Cardassia. They recalled the brutal suppression, the wholesale destruction of shrines and monasteries, the execution and abuse of religious leaders, the attempt to break their people's will by liberating their holiest objects in the effort to destroy their beliefs. And now? What they had feared lost forever was back, on their world...

In the evening, during a short official ceremony, there was another development. Adopting a posture which most recognized as the Cardassian sign of respect, Gul Berak, who at Gul Melset's advice had opted for civilian clothing for this occasion, addressed the Assembly in a short speech, expressing thanks for the help accorded his people in spite of the past, indirectly giving an unofficial apology for the crimes committed during the Occupation. This speech, as the others before and his comments was held in simplest Bajoran, heavily accented, sibilant, but correct, much to the pleasure of the Bajorans present.

While on Cardassia, Melset, together with the Organizers, had carefully chosen the appropriate phrasing, avoiding anything that could be interpreted as treason, while at the same time hinting at their will for reconciliation, quite an exercise in subtexts.

The reaction of the attendees was immediate applause, followed by a prayer to give thanks for the return of their sacred objects. Kira watched Gul Berak surreptitiously, noticing he did not observe reactions with a sneer, but with respect.

Afterwards, Kai Unkteh, trying to overcome his instinctive reaction to the sight of a Cardassian in the Hall of Assembly, went over to Berak to explain that the objects would be given a ritual cleansing before being returned to the shrines and monasteries from which they had been taken, that celebrations would take place, services of thankfulness when the time came.

The Cardassian officer replied, again in halting Bajoran, "May this be the first step. I am not authorized to speak for the provisional government, but I hope for reconciliation."

Kira was well aware that he was often in contact with Melset, yet, the effort that became apparent in his using the language of the people Cardassians had always considered with only contempt, his respectful stance during the entire ceremony showed that, at least in the case of some individuals, attitudes were changing in response to the catastrophic outcome of the past war.

Just before beamup, Vedek Navri mentioned a prophecy predicting this very development to Kira, saying that Melset already knew about it for reasons she did not want anyone to know. I will have to ask to be shown the appropriate passages...

Changes in Perspective

"Finally," Kira could not help sighing when she saw Deep Space 9 appear in space. The week she had spent on Cardassia Prime had been strenuous, not only due to the sessions before court and the necessity to be present when it convened, but mainly because of having to associate with her people's worst enemies; admittedly, there had been no negative incidents, but the emotional stress was bad enough.

The tour of inspection, as Garak had insisted on calling it, was far different to what she had expected, showed hope for a new Cardassia. The gratitude most expressed was honestly meant; certainly, some still feared clandestine attempts at indoctrination as dependence always made people more liable to being influenced, but nothing she saw validated these concerns.

This tour had shown her a different aspect of the people she still considered with such strong reservations. After recognizing that Garak, Melset and their associates were honest in their motivation, Kira had decided not to demand any explanations concerning their missions. That was the past and belonged there alone.

A voice over the intercom: "Docking procedures completed."

When Kira left her quarters, two Glinns accompanied her and the others to the turbolift where they met Gul Berak. He took them to the airlock, speaking to Melset in a low voice before exchanging salutes. Just before the group left his cruiser, he grasped Kira's arms. "You have our gratitude, Commander Kira. It means much to us that you returned to Cardassia as a witness to see Revok brought to justice. Without your decision to come, he may well have been set free due to the conditions set by the observers. This will be remembered. Legate Damar chose his allies well."

"And you have our thanks - for returning the artefacts, for showing a desire for reconciliation," she replied with a slight smile.

With that, she walked out to the Promenade together with Melset, then went to her quarters to change into uniform before heading for Ops. No doubt there were enough reports waiting for her to keep her busy for at least two days of double shifts...

Hours later, she went back out to the Promenade, relaxing. To her relief, there had been no unexpected occurrences during her absence and all was running smoothly.

Rendon Tabor was having lunch at Quark's; at catching sight of Kira, he waved at her to join him. She went over and, soon after, Retto Naphtal joined as well and inquired, "How was it?"

Kira gave a short account, then said, "I hate Cardassians and always will, even though I have learned not all are the same. Yet, when I saw just how much they have already done, the pride they take in reconstruction and every step taken towards independence …. a team asked us to inspect newly erected buildings funded with Bajoran aid, these people did not seem all that different to us as we were after Withdrawal. The repatriated Cardassian war orphans have been fully accepted, are being given support in re-acculturation; their hosts have noticed their difficulties and are trying to help. And now, when the objects plundered from our shrines were returned … Gul Berak addressed the Assembly in Bajoran."

For a moment she fell silent, "When Melset asked me to go to her homeworld on Garak's behalf, I no longer saw the person with whom we have associated for the past five years. All I saw was a Cardássian; she recognized this, but her only fear was that a traitor would escape if I refused to go to Cardassia." Kira added, "I never thought I would consider a viper's feelings."

Rendon explained, "She doesn't hold it against you as she has not forgotten her time with us in Rellaketh Province. I overheard her tell Vedek Serad, 'Forgiveness is one of your precepts, but some things can be neither forgiven nor forgotten.' When Tevren obtained certain information shortly after she had been found, Vedek Serad pleaded with us not to kill her; he knew she had the potential to finally understand." The Bajoran shrugged, "The risk was validated."

Pensively, Retto added, "I have since heard she was involved in attacks on Federation colonies and was as vicious and as merciless as all of the others, but has recognized the evil her people committed. But even now, if she said this openly, …"

Tabor gave Retto a glance of warning, then added, "Those negotiations cannot have been easy, especially as our religious leaders were targeted first and foremost. When she returned, she seemed withdrawn; seemingly there were elements that were difficult for her to accept or she may have been given information she does not wish to discuss, at least not yet."

Useful Misunderstanding

Two days later, a Bajoran transport docked and Garak went through the docking ring. Much to his annoyance, he was seen by Quark, who gave him a toothy grin. May as well speak to him. "Sorry, I can't stay right now, only want to thank you for your help."

"And what kind of thanks would that be?" Quark's eyes glittered acquisitively in his anticipation of new opportunity.

Garak gave him a small padd. "This. You may find it quite... profitable. But remember, those offering you this opportunity will take the appropriate revenge should you attempt to pocket more than you are being offered. Remember, Gul Melset is observing you with every bit as much dedication as did Odo."

The Ferengi had managed to negotiate export rights for those goods Cardassia was beginning to produce, and been asked to establish contacts. Quark had a network spanning the Quadrant, and with his brother Rom as the new Nagus, it was branching out even further.

Perhaps I can finally proceed without further encounters... His hopes were shattered. At entering the corridor of the habitat ring, he met Dax who smiled up at him, "Good to see you're back, Organizer Garak."

He sighed in irritated resignation. This place is even worse than Lesana I; in fact you can't do anything without the entire station knowing within minutes... He decided to use the door chime. Within moments, Melset opened and at seeing Garak, she said, "Elim, you are back! Welcome!" held up her hand; he affectionately pressed his palm against hers, saying, "I was given the option of a short stay here before continuing to Cardassia, decided to make use of it."

Together, they settled in the living area and, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, spoke of progress reports and Jivan's education.

"Kira was uneasy about her reaction to me when I told her about your request." Melset told Garak. "I told her that it was not surprising, considering the past." She fell silent before continuing. "I never realized how much had been liberated from Bajor. If I think of the storage bay on Berak's cruiser... it was nearly filled to capacity, and the Hall of Assembly…."

"We have much to answer for, that is undeniable, but Gul Berak's effort seems to have made quite an impression, according to what I have heard in transmissions and from mutual contacts. To change the subject, there is some very good news; perhaps you already know about it as you are involved in SFHS' programmes: we can return the last industrial replicator in another half year."

"Garak, I have not had the time to ask about the information stored in the Obsidian Order's buildings. Most of the rods were intact, but many severely damaged, especially the oldest ones, whose material was or had become more fragile; could some of the details stored on them be reconstructed, at least in part?"

"That, my dear Melset, is an interesting story indeed: a human communications specialist saw some of the irreparably crushed rods lying in a container, ready to be discarded. He contacted the administrator at once and, after telling him he was specialized in recuperating information from severely damaged data carriers, that it was his pastime, asked leave to give it a try. At getting the go-ahead, he asked for an Order agent to cooperate with and observe him to alleviate suspicion. Together, working like the best of our analysts, they managed to extract an extensive amount of data from those rods. Still under the operative's supervision, the information was transferred directly to our central computer. He was pleased about the success of his work, about the data that had been recuperated against all odds. He gave the padd he had used to the agent before submitting to a detailed search as any Cardassian would have. He did not request even the most innocuous element of information, saying it was ours and ours alone. He refused to have his full name registered, saying he 'owed one of us a favour for which he would always be thankful'."

"Garak, do you remember his name?"

"He only gave his surname, in imitation of our form of address, "Herven, it was. Yes, Danilo Herven."

Melset's expression was astonished, "He was my prisoner shortly before the end of the Border Wars; apparently he never realized that I had manipulated him into believing I was 'one of the rare decent Cardassians' by refusing to submit him to a Cardassian-style interrogation, and, later; that I was interested in the Federation and wished for a better life …"

"There is more, I know you."

"Indeed. I drugged his food, and when he was asleep, managed to get the padd he was hiding, copied the information it contained, then returned it to him. He never found out what had happened. That information turned out to be very useful for intelligence."

"And now, thanks to this misunderstanding, he has given us help of a kind we could not have accessed, at least not yet." Garak took out a data rod, held it out to her. "I was given permission to keep this one for some time. It should be of interest to you. After all of the information you have been given, it should not come as a surprise; years ago, before you were born, an agent who later died in the Gamma Quadrant accidentally left it in your mother's office. It validates the information both Vedek Serad and I gave you two years ago." He added, "I advise you to view it with discretion. Some of the footage is extremely disturbing, even though you may remember such scenes from Bajor."

The next day, Garak left for Cardassia; for some seconds, she stood at the door to the air lock, thinking: To return to Cardassia again! Life on my home world admittedly is still difficult, even dangerous due to abandoned ordnance. That made no difference to her. She turned away, not seeing Ezri Dax who stood a little way off, watching her while taking care to remain out of sight.

There was quite a bit of work to be coordinated at SFHS; reports however, were encouraging. In ten months, six members of personnel would be transferred to other branches, some months later, all of the others, with eight to be replaced by new staff. Double shifts had become a thing of the past, so that everyone had time to enjoy what the station had to offer.

At seeing Dax come out of a passage, she waved at her, got a smile in response. The Trill had spoken to her repeatedly and, to Melset's relief, there had been no prying, no attempts to give her unsolicited advice, only covert observation that she noticed but accepted as it was in accordance with Cardassian custom. Dax' questions were innocuous, about conditions onworld, new industry, education, the personnel sent offworld. Melset knew she was watching her, especially as she had once presented a weakness, had displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress after returning from Cardassia the first time. Like Order Headquarters: mutual observation.

The station counsellor was invariably friendly and, thanks to her encounter with Garak, knew exactly where Cardassians drew the line. For Melset, the fact that this young Trill had the memories of eight lifetimes was unimaginable. Ezri had told her about her initial confusion, even laughed about it, but Melset replied, "No, it cannot have been as amusing as you now describe it. Mental integrity is what everyone values most, and to fear losing it the worst fear of all."

The reaction had been a nod, and surprise in Dax' large blue eyes. This perceptiveness in a Cardassian was unexpected. "Yes. At times I thought I was going insane, had wishes, desires and interests I had never had before, friendships I remembered, but which, at the same time seemed strange…"

From then on, contact intensified very slightly, enough so that Dax could observe the Cardassian without arousing suspicion.

Evidence

Melset looked at the rod Garak had brought for her to view, He said I should view it with discretion as it could prove disturbing. For him to say that… She decided to address Dax as her professional code demanded strictest confidentiality.

The next day, she went into her office with the rod.

"Exactly on time. I have seen to preparations, just in case" was Dax' comment.

Both of them were fascinated by what they saw, a large town with what had once been a fortified building integrated into the administrative centre which was housed in impressive limestone buildings. These surrounded the city square on three sides, a little outside, people were leaving a shrine. Obviously the records showed the start of an important market day; all the buildings were decorated; the merchants' stands offered a wide range of goods; this scene was followed by a short take of the villages outside the town…

"Those houses, they are nearly like those built by the returnees, only larger…" Some minutes later, very quietly, Melset said, "Dax, I saw this, years ago!"

Suddenly, when all of the dignitaries had gathered for the opening ceremony, the peaceful scene was shattered by phaser fire from the sky. "The Lissepian attack," commented Melset.

The attack concentrated on the administrative centre and the shrine which were destroyed but, abruptly, Melset called out, "Dax, look at this!" and stopped the report.

The two women looked at the scene. "Someone has beamed down, no, a contingent of people; Cardassians, entering the archives…. during an attack?"

Moments later, Lissepian fighters beamed down but did not fire at the people who were coming out of the archives, they concentrated on systematically killing the members of the government, officials, the Khessari who had gathered for the celebrations. In the distance, the residential section of the town was under attack, fleeing citizens hunted down.

Shocked and horrified at what she was seeing, Melset realized that this was a report on the destruction of Kelan-Lesana's former capital. The Samagaltayi Magtaal took place every three years in memory of this very attack.

"Dax, those scenes, they were shown us in our 8th year, to demonstrate that Central Command protects us all. Watch."

The clouds were shot through with the light of phasers. A real battle or an enacted one? finally, the terrified population saw Cardassian soldiers beam down, backed by primitive-looking suborbital vessels that were converging on the Lissepian cruiser. In disbelief, Melset pointed out some soldiers who were checking the officials lying on the ground for signs of life and surreptitiously killing those who did. Finally the Lissepian fighters who were pursuing civilians were eliminated by Cardassian troops, not taken captive as normally would have been done.

The final scene showed a troop telling a civilian not to flee, then pointed up at the sky: an explosion lit the clouds with blinding light…. The attackers' vessel was eliminated.

"And this, Counsellor, is the report on how the Kelani minority was encouraged to join Central Command. There is far more to this, to what was done to us, but that concerns Cardassia alone." After some moments she added, "Did you see the parallels?"

"Yes, footage of reprisals at Cardassia's Withdrawal from Bajor." Dax said, horrified at what she had just seen.

"This privilege was reserved for all." Melset got up to take the rod out of the communit. She seemed calm, untouched by what she had seen. "We wanted to live in peace, Central Command needed personnel, not only supplies."

"That still doesn't make it right."

"No, it didn't. But even our oral traditions were slowly falsified by means of propaganda. Within two generations…" Melset shrugged, turned to face Dax. "Counselor Dax, I am grateful that you agreed to view this with me. It was and is disturbing, but will not provoke an episode."

Dax watched her walk out of her office as though nothing at all had happened.

Closure

For Daryn there was an unexpected development. Only some weeks before, three teams of twenty-four Cardassians in all had stopped at the station to spend three days there prior to continuing on to Andor. Melset first read their files then asked Ismit Daryn to show them the station.

At the end of the tour, one of the men stayed behind, watching Daryn. After a time, she noticed him waiting and asked, "Do you need more information? If you do, address Commander Kira. I am not authorized to tell you more than I just did."

"It is another matter entirely," was the reply. "I remember you. Before the war, you worked for administration in the main city of Saranji Province, Kedaran City, in my home district."

"What is that to you? Many have displaced, have lost everything, ending up where we never expected to be."

"Indeed. I lost my entire family except for one child in the Dominion retaliation; was in another area of the city where I worked as an administrator. I called out to my employees, indicated an abandoned passage I hoped was secure, just managed to find shelter with them. Afterwards, I spent hours trying to get through the ruins to my family." He fell silent for a moment, "All killed, except for three children, two of them my sister's. They are now at a boarding school in a relocation centre."

"None of my family has survived," was Daryn's barely audible reply.

The next day he was waiting for her at the Replimat. Daryn joined him and, after some minutes of conversation, a loud argument broke out, rapidly escalated, both Cardassians were angry, neck membranes tensed, voices sibilant, facing off.

Kira was on her way to the Shrine and, at hearing the two, stopped, trying to listen in. It was no use as both were using Saranji dialect.

No use calling Security, Kira knew Cardassians never brawled in front of offworlders, but this level of verbal aggression was unusual. Whatever is the matter, I have to notify Melset before the situation escalates. She'll know what to do.

After the service, the two were long since gone, so when she saw Melset, she told her, "There may be a problem you have to resolve. Daryn and Sekor had a vicious argument at the Replimat. For some moments I thought they were going to attack each other, they sounded that aggressive."

To her surprise, Melset seemed very pleased about the incident. "Thank you for the information, Commander. So it worked! I pointed Sekor towards Daryn after reading his file." At seeing Kira did not understand what she meant, she decided to explain. "What you saw and heard was our form of courtship: Testing each other's limits, getting to know each other's responses; it can be quite elaborate at times."

"That is the way Cardassians … do it?"

Melset wondered at Kira's expression of horrified realization and embarrassment. "Is something wrong, Commander?"

"No, not exactly." With that, Kira hurriedly returned to OPS, leaving Melset to watch her retreat, puzzled about the Commander's reaction.

When the teams left the next day, Daryn went to Melset's office, "Gul Melset, I wish to defer my departure from the station, which was scheduled for next year. Sekor will pass through Deep Space 9 when he returns to Cardassia in two years and we will return together." She added, "We plan to settle on Soukhara as his surviving relatives live there. And here, you'll have an experienced staff member in place to help the new personnel get started."

No more was said about the matter. There was no need to do so.

Partings

To Quark's joy, the personnel slated to depart had decided to ask him to host the celebration in his establishment. After extensive haggling and arguing on the terms and costs, which meant repeatedly reminding the Ferengi of little deals he had conveniently forgotten, he and his staff had organized a day-long parting bash, as Andrews called it. Quark's preparations were elaborate; to everyone's delight, he managed to procure foods from the worlds of the personnel who would be leaving, draped flags of these worlds from the first level. The occasion itself was the usual array of mercifully short speeches followed by farewells and anticipation tinged with a hint of regret at leaving people behind who had become friends. Everyone made the usual promises to stay in contact, though time and circumstances usually put paid to these good intentions.

From across the room, he watched Melset interact with the others; she was relaxed, animated, clearly anticipated returning home. For all her openness towards the other inhabitants of the station regardless of race, she was a Cardassian, arrogantly proud of her people, deeply attached to the Union and all it embodied. She would leave the same night; the little she owned had already been sent ahead.

Not Quark, of all creatures! With slight aversion, Selon, Nerada and Yung saw the Ferengi sidle over to them in an attempt to be unobtrusive. "There you are! I have been notified by Gart. He asks me to tell you that everything has been delivered, along with some extras offered by good friends." It was obvious from the glint in his eyes and the way he rubbed his hands that Quark was hoping for a new source of income.

Quark, acquisitive though he was, had often tried to help them, although the hope for more business was always at the back of his mind. Selon decided to take his word for it, acknowledge his pride in having pulled off something without a Cardassian noticing. "Good. I was hoping you could be as secretive about those deliveries as any Cardassian. You told us nearly her entire income went to the Reconstruction Fund. Well, you succeeded with Bertos and Roval, have also planned for Daryn. Come to think of it, Melset has been extremely tolerant of your ways, far more than I could ever have been in her place. Those contracts she secured for you and your contacts… they have been very useful, haven't they?"

"Ah, Gul Melset is a Cardassian I truly enjoy. Gart said that she appreciates our talent for business; when he contacted her on Earth, she always made the time to listen to his accounts of deals, even quoted the Rules at him! She also recognizes and appreciates a reliable and selfless friend, instead of thinking of the differences." At recognizing the annoyance in Yung's eyes and her shifting position ever so slightly, he decided it would be best to get going.

With a quick backward glance to ensure this human was not considering some unkind gesture after all, he ducked behind the counter to emerge again, holding an oddly-shaped packet. Clearly trying to be discreet, Quark went over to Melset, whispered to her urgently and insistently, repeatedly thrusting the object into her hands, even touching her fingers to close them on it, then holding them there.

At first, Melset shook her head, saying, "Quark, you have done enough for us. Of course, you must admit it was very profitable for you because of all the spin-off deals involved, but you always were and still are reliable, and I value that. There will be more business for you in future." She smiled and lightly touched his ears. "I know exactly why you were kind to me… 'A wise man hears profit blowing in the wind.' You heard it well, my dear Quark; your deliveries to Cardassia were thus for you, as was your negotiating first deals." She added quietly, "It was extremely helpful as few were willing to initiate trade with us in the beginning. You helped us make a first step."

A toothy grin of satisfaction was his reply. He didn't even bother denying the facts the Cardassian had just stated. Once again, he thrust the packet at her. "Gul Melset, now finally take this before I think it over. It is not only for you and Jivan but also for Garak, in case he decides to open a tailor's shop on Cardassia, and I, for one, wish he would. You can tell him that the Bajoran who has taken over his shop on-station does a good job, the quality of his materials is excellent, but he just doesn't have the same eye for style, is too austere." He tugged at his jacket, "See, the cut is just a little too loose; the colours are well combined, but something is missing, a certain … feel."

"You are as elegant as ever…," Melset considered the jacket seriously, knowing this was the Ferengi's way of parting: unsentimental, always business-oriented. "I'll talk to him; these Rules may be just the motivation he needs to get started. Thank you, Quark. Your help was invaluable."

From the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar figure in a deep-red uniform come towards her.

"I don't have much time," Kira said, "Duty calls. I only wanted to say that we hope for lasting peace, and for you, safe transit and a good life back home."

"And I thank you for your support and cooperation. Remember, you will be invited to our celebration of independence in a few years." One last effort, "May the Prophets guide you." Melset added, giving her a data rod, "This is for you alone."

"Be strong."

A wave, and the commander returned to Ops after looking back once.

Melset turned only to see Quark standing next to the packet, guarding it. "Ah, Quark! Thank you for watching this for me; my gesture was most careless." With that, she briefly touched Quark's shoulder in a gesture of parting.

One last look around the station which had become a home, even though she would not have admitted to the fact.

A slight smile, a wave, and she left the station.

At walking through the airlock to board the starship, Melset found herself regretting leaving behind a number of people who had become friends. Yet, in most cases, underneath the admittedly kind gestures, the tolerance and interest in her people's culture, mentality and way of life, there had always been constant, albeit surreptitious observation which, in contrast to that of the Obsidian Order, showed that she was considered untrustworthy by some as well as potentially dangerous by nearly all, in brief, a typical Cardassian. Her actions in the matter of a member of The True Way's attempting sabotage on the station had only served to reinforce this idea. For a moment, she smiled at imagining Kira's reaction once she discovered the array of bugs she had left behind in various areas for the Bajoran commander's entertainment.

Standing at the viewport, she watched Terok Nor become a speck against the background of space, then went to her quarters. Only two more days to go and she would be back on Cardassia and not be forced to leave her world again. Now I can finally leave years of constant adaptation, pretence and obfuscation behind, once again be what I am: A Cardassian, with all this implies.

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