Duty to Cardassia Supersedes All – Part 5B - Know Your Enemy

After watching "Destiny" and especially the encounter between Gilora and Chief O'Brien, I realized Kira did not know she was encouraging Gul Dukat's advances by responding with irritation or anger at his various comments …

Commander Kira's thoughts kept returning to Daryn and Sekor; especially the information that their seemingly aggressive encounter was Cardassian courtship, not a serious disagreement had come as quite a surprise to her, reminding her of certain rather unpleasant incidents with Dukat. There is no one else whom I can ask to explain that system to me, so I may as well speak to Melset, she is discreet, and won't mention the conversation to anyone else.

While making her usual round along the Promenade some time before beginning her shift as had become her habit, now that she was officially the commander of the station, she saw the Cardassian woman sitting at a table in the Replimat area, relaxing while enjoying a raktajino and reading a padd.

"May I join you?"

"Of course, Commander." Melset laid aside her padd and made a gesture of welcome.

Kira went to get some ginger tea for herself then sat down facing her, and looked over at Melset's choice. "I didn't know you drank raktajino, I thought Cardassians really detest the stuff. All those I know prefer redleaf as a stimulant."

"I admit that it is vile, but an excellent stimulant nonetheless. I assure you, my dear Commander, you can get used to almost anything if you only drink or eat it often enough, provided it is not poisonous to your species of course. Much to Garak's disgust I've also learned to like root beer; I told him he had Quark to blame for this aberration in taste. And on Earth, when I was invited by the Klingon staff, the food served could only be described as quite lively."

"I can imagine!" Kira laughed, then asked, "What are you reading?" She had seen it was not an official datapadd in spite of the Cardassian emblem on the back.

"Lako found this and had it sent to me, it's the history of the Hebitian Empire; a most interesting account, said to be the most comprehensive one published so far. In spite of everything that has happened, we were fortunate: more has been discovered than we would have ever dared hope after The Defeat."

She could see that Kira was looking for a way to address a matter that made her uncomfortable, so Melset took the initiative. "Commander, I have the impression that something is bothering you. If so, why not discuss it? I promise you that, whatever it is, it will stay between the two of us unless it concerns station security."

"The matter has nothing at all to do with station policy, but something entirely … different."

There was no hint about what it could be. Melset's expression reflected her curiosity. It seems to be a personal matter… "Perhaps it would be commendable to find a place which offers more privacy than this Replimat; there are always listeners here." When she got up, she commented in a very low voice, "That fact actually makes me feel at home."

"I can imagine it does. Well, the ready room is empty at the moment, as far as I know," Kira said.

The two women looked in; it was indeed unoccupied so they settled near one of the viewports. The starscape always made for a feeling of peace, so that they spent some time looking out. With longing, Melset remembered quiet hours on the bridge of the Orissà, the shifting patterns of the stars as the squadron silently moved through space… Those times are over for me, but they were rewarding… She could see that Kira was indulging in memories of her own, and apparently not bad ones either.

The Bajoran took a deep breath, thinking, May as well grab the palukoo…. "There's no one else I would consider asking about this detail. When you told me that Daryn and Sekor were … courting, not fighting, I remembered a few details about Dukat's reactions to my responses when he commented about how well we cooperated or about my abilities."

So that was the reason for your hurried departure after I told you what they were doing. "Ah, this could be most complicated, Commander. Some examples, perhaps arranged according to when they occurred, would make it easier."

"My quotations won't be exact, though."

"That is unimportant. It is the context and, above all, the sequence of events that is crucial."

"The first incident was when a self-destruct program, installed well before the end of the Occupation in case of an insurrection by Bajoran workers, was activated by mistake. Gul Dukat beamed into OPS and, after realizing that he was trapped along with us and, even worse, that the self-destruct sequence was activated, agreed to help us. He spoke about being able to deactivate that program, explaining in one of his usual long-winded speeches that 'there is no problem that cannot be solved by a disciplined Cardassian mind', drawing himself up to his full height, gesturing like a lecturer. I paid no attention to what he was saying until Garak told him 'It's not working.' Dukat became angry when he continued, "Your incessant posturing isn't working. Kira has far more taste than that! You, a married man!' The two of them began threatening each other and had to be reminded of the danger to the station before they stopped arguing and resumed trying to solve the problem.

"How did you react?"

"It took me by surprise. All of us were concentrating on trying to save the station, deactivate the program, and these two Cardássians begin arguing about my response to Dukat's posturing…. I did not think too much about it at the time, as the situation was too critical; the station was about to be destroyed and evacuating it was impossible."

Melset listened, fascinated, waiting for her to continue….

One of the most annoying incidents was when we were on our mission to search for the Ravinok. Would you believe Dukat was trying to convince me that the Occupation was good for Bajor, brought us, a, as he called it, weak, contemplative people choking on their isolation to an acceptable level of civilization, that we were, as he said, 'tempered by Cardassian steel!'" Kira still bristled at the recollection. "I asked him what it was that made us strong, the labour camps, the massacres or the starvation."

"He replied that we had become a strong people, thanks to the Cardassian presence and influence. When he wanted to continue, I told him that we became strong in spite of the Occupation, then added that he really was in love with the sound of his own voice. Finally I told him that I wanted to spend the rest of the trip in silent meditation. Would you believe he smiled at me?" The Commander's eyes reflected her irritation. "I then said, after some moments of silence, that there was a chance of us surviving the trip after all. Gul Dukat smiled again, as though I had said something that made him very happy."

For Melset, it was an uphill struggle to stay serious.

"Finally, when we were on the Groumall some months later, he asked what Shakaar and I could possibly have to talk about, called him a 'lumbering farmhand', and hinted that he, Dukat, and I had much more in common, made a good team, were on the same level. Whenever he praised my abilities, it sent a chill down my back, he was so overenthusiastic, drew so close to me I desperately wanted to push him away or leave. In the end, when we had taken over the Klingon cruiser, he even tried to convince me that we were destined to fight the Klingons together, that my talents were being wasted on Deep Space 9 as I was meant to fight, not to push desk duty. What a verbose speech that was…"

"And you didn't accept."

"Of course not! I told him that I had had enough of that life, and could not work together with him, then offered to take Ziyal to Deep Space 9, as I wanted to spare her the kind of life I had led; that a life of fighting and killing was suited neither for her, nor for anyone else. He seemed convinced I was helping his daughter for his sake; I repeatedly told him it was for Ziyal's. When he took leave of us on the station, he said "Like it or not, our lives are now deeply intertwined."

I answered, "You like that, don't you?"

"Did you say that and smile at him?"

"Yes, because the very idea was so preposterous as to be laughable. I got the reply, 'Major, it gives me reason to live,' said with that smile of his which I abhor so much." She added, "And in the background, I could see that Ziyal was watching us, hoping that we would eventually make up, become friends. That poor girl didn't realize, or couldn't understand that the atrocities committed under her father's command were unforgivable and that I did not take his words of regret seriously, realizing as I did that they were nothing but lies. She dearly loved her father, believed what he told her about regretting his deeds with all her heart."

"When the Dominion took the station, it became impossible for me to escape his attentions anymore as he was my superior officer, obliging me to cooperate with him. At one point, he called me in to OPS, cornered me in his office, and, among other things, said that he did not see me as often as he would have liked, then told me in a wistful inflection that he could make life very pleasant for me, to which I answered with an insult before adding, 'Are you so deluded you think we could ever have a relationship?'"

"Dukat replied, his voice persuasive, with an attitude that hinted at his thinking he had the upper hand, 'Ah, Major, but we already have.'" Kira nearly shuddered at the recollection of that specific incident, "then he put his hand on my cheek in a caress. I was terrified, nearly panicked, fearing that he was planning to take me, and, in a reflex, slapped his hand away." She met the Cardassian's glance, "Melset, how would you feel at having an enemy's touch forced upon you, and you defenseless? An enemy so hated it is hard to be in the same room with him? He finally let me leave, smiling at me indulgently and possessively, as though confident that I would cede to his charm."

"He touched your cheek, you slapped his hand away," Melset repeated, incredulous.

"What else should I have done, there was no way I was going to have any kind of a relationship with that Cardassian butcher! And to be touched by him, knowing what orders he had given and signed and what he had done with those very hands. They were coated with the blood of my people!"

And here you were, encouraging him without even realizing it. "And next?"

When Ziyal returned from her studies on Bajor, I did go to their shared quarters to look at her paintings; they were such beautiful objects and she so anxious to show them to both of us that I really did not have the heart to hurt her by refusing. You have already seen one of them, remember? I still recall how she told Dukat and myself that the resemblance in style on which we had commented showed that Bajorans and Cardassians see the world in much the same way; above all, I remember the hope in her voice. Gul Melset, she had such a level of innocence, was so trusting; no one would have ever believed that she had grown up in a Breen labor camp." Kira smiled, remembering, "She even touched Garak; when she was killed, I could see how devastated he was even though he disguised it."

"He told me that he had planned to make me pay for Damar's deed, but then realized that I didn't even know about what my brother had done…" Melset returned to the account, "Her paintings were exquisite. It is regrettable she was killed, and not only because she had so much to offer."

"Some days later, Dukat invited me to a reception in his quarters to celebrate that some of Ziyal's paintings had been accepted for a display at the Cardassian Institute of Art; he was as excited about the occasion as she was, took so much pride in her success as she had contacted the institute on her own, submitted samples of her art that I briefly forgot my hate for him in my happiness about Ziyal's success."

She saw Melset look out the viewport, fascinated by something or another, before turning back to her.

"It was shortly before the reception that Damar came to my quarters with a present from Dukat but left before I could open it."

"What was it?"

"A dress he wanted to give me for the reception. I'd never seen, let alone touched such material: it was anthracite-colored with an iridescent bluish shimmer, flowing and satiny, quite hard to describe… very beautiful." Kira admitted, "I was delighted with that dress, was even looking forward to wearing it until I remembered who was offering it to me; as of that moment I couldn't even bear to touch it anymore."

"Tell me, Commander, was the material the same as that of the embroidery on the clothing I wore to Bajor at the Prime Minister's session?" The upward inflection of her question was very marked.

"Apart from the color, yes, definitely." Kira wondered at the Cardassian's astonishment. "Why are you so surprised? He had access to everything."

"That was a most generous gift, Commander Kira. That dress was made of sefrak, a very rare and very expensive material indeed! I have only seen it once or twice, even though, before the Lissepian attack, its production was traditional in our area with those who produced or processed it highly respected for their skills which were passed on from generation to generation. We exported it all over Cardassia in the old times, in roughweave, brocade, atiko, sheer, or for Kelani-style embroidery. Our local rulers and the Khessari wore robes of sefrak brocade as a sign of their high status." After a moment, she added, "You didn't keep it, though?" Melset's expression was apprehensive.

"No. I returned it to him at once, in person. I would never have accepted anything from Dukat, let alone a personal gift; the very thought of wearing it was revolting."

What did you tell him?"

"'I like the dress, but I don't like you,' then I dropped it on the sofa. Dukat answered, actually pleading: 'But Major, you know that isn't true. Come, sit down, let's talk it over.' To which I replied, 'No, we won't,' and left at once, didn't listen to what he called out to me. No doubt it was more of the same."

"Ah, good. If you had kept and especially worn that dress this gesture would have meant your agreeing to have a relationship with him."

"What about the outfit you wore to the session and your meeting with the Kai on Bajor, Gul Melset? I could see it was new." Kira's expression was definitely not friendly when she thought of her narrow escape.

"I know what you are thinking and, yes, Garak made it for me; a fellow Kelani did the embroidery. We clandestinely joined two years ago, so his gift was not part of the courtship." She admitted, "Commander, were we to openly show we are together, it could expose both of us to a great risk. Remember Garak and his parents."

Knowing you spoonheads, you and Garak no doubt considered the interrogation I heard about as part of your courtship. Kira hesitated, then asked, "What would have happened if Deep Space 9 had not been retaken?"

"Repeat of argumentative phase, shorter this time but far more intensive, followed by another, even more expensive present. By this gifting a male shows he can offer a family more than the bare necessities and that he highly values the woman he is courting."

"Yet Daryn and Sekor came to an agreement within an afternoon. There was no involved courtship in their case."

"Both were married before, and now, in these uncertain times, many elements are being abbreviated; remember, she has lost her entire family, Sekor his wife and two of his children. That one argument was enough for them to recognize that they were well-matched and that a marriage would work out. Daryn plans to extend her contract with SFHS for a year then return to Cardassia with Sekor when his team's contract ends."

Kira only shook her head. "And I really thought they were fighting…"

"No, that is our form of flirting with, then testing the other." Melset said gently, "Any Cardassian woman would envy you the honor Gul Dukat showed you; he was very respectful and circumspect in the way he demonstrated his interest in you: in his eyes, you were considered worthy of being accorded the highly refined, upper-class Cardassian courtship ritual, one phase following the other in carefully-chosen steps, all graded in intensity in accordance with your responses, an exercise in patience."

Kira, aghast, was unable to say a word, stared at her, her eyes wide when she realized what had really happened. "He once told me, 'Ah, Major, I can wait. I am a patient man…"

Melset could not keep from laughing when she told her, "And your own increasing annoyance and sharp replies, even insults, served to encourage him, give him hope. Ah, my dear Commander, I regret to tell you that you were leading the unfortunate man on, just like one of us would, leaving out not one single way of keeping him guessing, watching, forcing him to redouble his efforts."

"Melset, that's a damn Cardássian lie and you know it!" Kira called out, thoroughly horrified and outraged at the same time. "I only wanted that Cardássian butcher to keep away from me, finally leave me alone. What he was doing was horrifying as he was my and every Bajoran's worst nightmare. That man, I hated him and will always despise him for what he did to all-Bajor, for trying to destroy the Emissary of the Prophets!"

Once again serious, Melset explained, "If one of us is courted and considers the man unacceptable, we do not react to him at all, but ignore his provocations, purposely misunderstand them, stay calm, unperturbed."

"Did you ever have to do this?" She had recognized the undertone in Melset's voice.

"Yes, a few times." The Cardassian woman's expression showed that one specific recollection still bothered her. "One was quite unpleasant: At the end of my debriefing by Gul Dukat after a lost battle, when I was a Glinn. Before being assigned to the Orissà I had been told he was a 'connoisseur of fine specimens' as one of my comrades put it, so was forewarned."

"And he took my irritation about his statements as meaning I was interested…" The Commander added, "How did you … escape? How did you react?"

"As though I did not understand what he wanted because I am Kelani; my apparent bewilderment and distress at his insinuations put a stop to his attempts, made him end them then and there and apologize. He was so contrite afterwards that he never overstepped regulations again. Oh, I knew about it very well as all Cardassians have this ritual in common, but consider the implications: a superior officer and a married man at that! It would have gone against all our moral and military codes, with severest consequences in case of discovery. And I had a fiancé..."

"Did your refusal have any negative consequences for you?"

"No, not at all; we cooperated well, were like comrades-in–arms in spite of the difference in rank. Gul Dukat was not the kind of commander to be unjust, especially as he knew what he had tried was wrong. To show you how he was before becoming Prefect of Bajor, consider this: a Glinn who had made a serious error was given a second chance. Dukat thus had this officer's gratitude which no doubt was repaid at some point. He was a good superior officer."

"He certainly changed since then…"

A brief pause, before the Cardassian added, "You won't like this, Commander Kira: you were actually being honored! Just imagine: a mere Bajoran treated like a good Cardassi woman of highest status."

"What!?" Kira looked as though she had stepped into something revolting, then stared at Melset.

The Cardassian nodded, avoided the Bajoran's glance.

The Commander's expression of disgust and aversion had Melset's amusement about the misunderstanding fade when she suddenly realized her laughter about the situation had been inappropriate, that the very fact of being courted by her people's worst enemy had been a traumatic experience for the Commander. This especially was the case as Kira was all too aware of the fact that, before Withdrawal, she would not have been able to escape Dukat's attentions; he would have taken her and she would have been forced to submit to his desires or suffer the worst of consequences. In spite of the element of force, she would have been seen as a collaborator by her fellow Bajorans. The women torn from their families like Kira's mother was, used by our officers, then discarded, or if they were lucky, kept as mistresses, men press-ganged to work in the ore processing centre …. She remembered Meydar and what was expected of him, especially one element that still disgusted her….

"Even though I have nothing to do with what happened, I condemn what he did. Commander Kira, I owe you an apology. My reactions to some of your descriptions were inappropriate, considering your situation as well as the atrocities under which your people suffered during the occupation, and that you and your culture were derided." Melset admitted, "Your situation was anything but a laughing matter, much to the contrary. The time I spent on Terok Nor during the Reymac incident showed me aspects of the Occupation that I considered normal and even justified at the time until I got more information … on Bajor," she said, briefly meeting her glance. "I am a Cardassian military, you have no reason to trust me, but if I think that your people was to be destroyed, your plant colonized … Nothing justifies exploitation and genocide."

"Indeed. And Prefect Dukat was duty-bound to realize this very mission. Luckily he did not manage to fulfil it". She added quietly, "Garak admonished Dukat that first time. For that I am grateful, and to you, for explaining. If it had not been so horrible and frightening a situation,…"

"Under different circumstances, the whole affair would have been amusing, though embarrassing. Yet another cross-cultural misunderstanding ….. Remember Jake Sisko and his ants? That has become a running joke for our team."

They walked out of the ready room together, discussing some procedures to be instituted on-station.

Melset briefly looked at the Commander; it seemed she had come to a decision of her own. "Commander Kira, I have a request to make of you in turn and you will not even owe me a favor in exchange. Please, accompany me to Sickbay; there is something I need to find out, and I can trust you to be discreet about the matter."

Taken by surprise, Kira hesitated, then said, "I still have some time before my shift begins."

When they arrived together, Dr. Bashir inquired, immediately concerned, "Has something happened?"

"No, Dr. Bashir, the Commander has agreed to provide the moral support I may need." Melset asked, "After all, there is one question that still has to be answered, but which I have been avoiding – how Uncardassian! - Did you ever trace that factor you found in my genome two years ago, the factor that points at admixture?"

She did not see Kira's look of surprise.

"In fact I did as soon as you'd left as I expected you would come for the information sooner or later." The Doctor went to his computer to access the results although he remembered the details well; the file was called up in seconds: "This specific factor is prevalent in the population of Rellaketh Province, especially in the district around Nevaris Village."

"I was sent… to them! We are related!" Melset's breath caught in her throat so that she could hardly pronounce the words. "Why there of all places? There were so many other provinces with resistance cells … No, wait: Vedek Serad told me the history of my ethnic group: Rellaketh – Relijakani - Kelani." She fell silent, fighting for composure at fully absorbing the scope of Tain's duplicity. This was to be a case of make your own traitor; once Tain decided I was no longer useful but knew too much, he could have accused me of cooperating with the enemy. Manipulated the truth about my mission on Bajor to discredit me, declare me a bastardized Cardassian sent by the Bajorans to gather information. The Order had samples of every Cardassian citizen's DNA, analyzed it for potentially useful properties. How many agents were set up for accusations of treason, their service records faked? I escaped this fate, but only because Tain died before he could use this knowledge to get rid of an agent he no longer needed and who presented a risk…. And I was so naïve as to wonder that a number of agents I knew well had become traitors. They were innocent…

"Gul Melset, are you all right?" Dr. Bashir inquired at seeing her shock and distress.

She nodded mutely, then whispered, "I am, Dr. Bashir. Thank you for the information. Now I think I finally understand ... everything."

It was only too obvious to Dr. Bashir and Commander Kira that it wasn't the information itself, but what she had realized in connection with it that was disturbing. The facts and their implications could not be shared with anyone, yet were far too painful for her to remain impassive.

Dr. Bashir said in a low voice, "Commander, keep her company for some minutes. I have the feeling she could use the presence of a trusted person. I have some results to register for Starfleet Medical."

Once he was out of earshot, the Commander said in a very low voice, "That explains why you were selected for the negotiations, why you had continued contact with those villagers. When you arrived here, I could see you had a different attitude towards us than most other Cardassians."

After a short time, Melset regained composure, appeared untouched by what she had learned; she turned to Kira with a hint of a smile as though the lapse had never been. "I thank you for accompanying me, Commander, and ask you to understand that I cannot give you any details apart from what you have just heard from Dr. Bashir. I have to cope with the facts and their ramifications on my own according to our ways. What has become clear to me concerns Cardassia and one specific institution alone, how my heritage was to be used, respectively misused." The Cardassian woman showed no sign of how perturbed she still was. "Come to think of it, Commander Kira: I sincerely hope you are not too disappointed about not having a Cardassian in the family."

"You can find humor in something that perturbs you so much?"

"The way that detail could have been used is what proved disturbing, not the fact in itself. As to my remark, on Earth, I often saw how Humans coped with bad news or situations, asked why they joked about them, and they explained this reaction to me." The Cardassian shrugged, "Can't do this among my kind, of course, but it does help, distracts." Holding up the padd, she said: "Regrettably enough, this will now have to wait until my downtime. For me, back to SFHS."

"Are you sure?"

"Both joy and sorrow are vulnerability…" was the calm answer she got. "And duty to Cardassia is the most reliable comfort of all… it helps us surmount everything. Commander, do not forget: I owe you a favor."

At leaving the infirmary with her, Kira touched the Cardassian's arm, met her glance. "Gul Melset, I promise you what I have heard will remain between the three of us … and the Prophets."

"As will Dukat's most unwelcome courtship."