A Matter Of Perspective

On Deep Space 9, bits of gossip and plenty of rumours are always making the rounds; the Dominion War has added resentment to the mix, revealing a disquieting fact…

Triggers: None

For the staff of SFHS on Deep Space 9 it had become a weekly ritual to have a business lunch at Quark's at noon station time when the place was not yet crowded. For once, they had a slightly longer break so, after enjoying their meal they relaxed, then began to discuss ways of streamlining deliveries of aid to affected worlds. Minutes later a group of Bajorans settled at a table a few meters away and one of them commented just loudly enough for their neighbors to hear, "Wouldn't have expected snakes here. Seems the Dominion forgot these specimens."

His companions covertly glanced over at the group of aliens who were absorbed in discussing options and recognized at once that the Cardassian staff were on friendly terms with their colleagues, clearly respected them as equals.

The man continued, "Was here when the station was occupied. One of the spoonhead officers came here every single day, got drunk each time. Once he provoked a fight with Jem'Hadar, was demoted, but suddenly became a Gul for some reason or another. I was sitting at the bar minding my own business, but got a killing stare from him so moved away. He began celebrating and once he was filled up enough, that self-important viper let himself be drawn out by Quark."

His neighbour shook his head, "Give it a rest, Lenkor. They're all right. Those Cardassians are members of staff, are discussing assistance programs for various worlds with their colleagues. I've been listening to the discussion."

"So has one of the females - to ours." Lenkor sneered under his breath, "Always spying on others to find an advantage or a weakness."

Quark had been watching and listening to what was being said and came over, "Everyone is welcome in my establishment. This group of guests is with Starfleet, SFHS, is organizing relief efforts to assist worlds affected by the past war." He quickly looked over at Melset, at her neck ridges. Slightly tensed; she has been listening all the while. "All guests are welcome to enjoy what my bar has to offer."

The Bajoran turned to confront the Ferengi, only to find himself held back by his friends, one of whom explained, "Bad day for him. We're leaving." The group paid and, at passing the table with staff, frogmarched Lenkor past, but he got off a parting shot.

"Say, I remember the bastard's name. Damer or something like that. Fits."

Melset showed no reaction whatsoever; it seemed to her colleagues she was so absorbed in the discussion that she had not heard any of the comments.

Have to speak to Quark. She suppressed the apprehension she felt. Something serious must have happened...

For the next few days Melset tried to put off what she had heard as the words of a troublemaker. She and her fellow Cardassians on staff were not unaware that, while they were not subjected to physical attacks, they nevertheless were hated or at the very least, regarded with distrust by most of the Bajorans on the station, often overheard remarks about why they weren't where they belonged. Even days later Lenkor's remarks made her uneasy. If you cannot resolve a problem, confront it….

Quark was finishing his calculations of the day's profits after establishing the overhead when he heard the door slide open and someone enter the bar. He got up to address this unwelcome guest. "Sorry, the bar is closed."

The guest put her hood back, saying, "We need to talk about the matter Lenkor addressed five days ago."

"Nothing but the ranting of a drunk troublemaker, Gul Melset. Forget about it."

There is more to the affair, he is uneasy, does not meet my eyes, pretends unconcern. She took two chairs off one of the tables, sat down and gestured at Quark to join her. "I'll leave as soon as you have given me the information I want, my dear Quark,"

He carefully avoided making eye contact with her.

You definitely know something you do not want to tell me. "What was that officer's name?"

He could not read her expression, only noticed that her neck ridges were slightly spread. "We Ferengi say that sometimes an answer is more dangerous than a question."

"So much is obvious, but I have to know. To judge by your posture and expression, you have the answers I need." Her voice was even, with the slightest hint of a threat. "First question: what was the officer's name?"

At his continued silence, she exclaimed, "Oh, Quark! How very rude of me to forget! And that after frequent contact with Ferengi during my time on Earth, at SFCCEI." Feigning embarrassment, she reached into her trouser pocket, took out a strip of latinum which she held up, then placed on the table. That should loosen his tongue.

When he made to reach out for it, she covered the strip with her hand, smiled. "Ah no, my friend. First the information, then the bribe."

"Glinn Damar; demoted after a brawl in my bar which saw several Jem'Hadar and Cardassians killed, promoted to Gul soon after."

"See? Wasn't that easy? Only cost you a slight effort."

When he reached out again, she shook her head, "No, you don't, not quite yet… What you have just said is worth a slip. This, my friend, is a strip. Next question: What did he do? And I want the truth."

"He came here and drank heavily every day after his shift, just sat at his place, glowering at everyone, especially Bajorans. Seems he hated everything here, the station, his duties, his Union's new allies. Left to himself, he sat there staring into space, drinking as though trying to drown his thoughts, yet was potentially aggressive. Really strange attitude. Only thing to be said for him was that he always paid his tab and tipped decently."

"Continue."

"As I said, he drank like a fish and … often said too much after a little flattery." At seeing her unblinking stare, he added in a low voice, apprehensive, "Told me that time why he was promoted to gul so quickly... had found a way to bring down that minefield. We went through an entire bottle of Kanaar 27 together before he was loaded enough to become … talkative."

She inhaled with a gasp, "He … told you…" then stared at Quark, eyes slightly widened.

A nod of confirmation before he said, "The only ones who know are Grand Negus Rom, Kira and Jake Sisko. Kira knows far more than any of us as she and Garak cooperated with Damar and his rebels to free your Union." He hesitated before admitting, "I passed the information on to them; the Dominion had to be stopped by all means."

Wordlessly, Melset got up, put her chair back onto the table, turned to Quark, picked up the strip and placed it in his hand. "You have now earned it." After a moment, she added, "Tomorrow or the day after, we'll come by again." She could see the Ferengi nearly sag with relief.

"Gul Melset, can I get you something before you leave? You may need a little help to get over what you have just heard."

She shook her head, "You are most kind, but it is well past your establishment's closing time and you still need to complete your accounting for the day. As to myself, my colleagues and I may have two or three shifts of our own tomorrow, considering the number of worlds that require assistance."

Quark locked the door after letting her out, then covertly watched her until she disappeared into the corridor to the habitat ring before returning to his accounting.

Some days later, Melset decided to follow Quark's advice and asked Chief Remosi to contact the Commander for an appointment.

"In which matter?"

"I require information, have been told told that the Commander might be able to tell me what I need to know."

"Her shift ends in roughly two hours," he checked her schedule, "Nothing listed on Commander Kira's agenda…" he entered the Cardassian's name, "There. Done. She will be waiting for you in the ready room."

"Thank you, Chief Remosi."

"Report to my office and I'll accompany you."

"Commander Kira, Gul Melset wishes to speak with you. I thought the ready room would be appropriate and have reserved it."

When he arrived with the Cardassian, the Bajoran woman eyed her, suppressing aversion. She has chosen civilian clothing and hairstyle; seemingly she knows what recollections their uniform evokes... Trying for a corresponding friendly gesture, Kira indicated she take a seat, took one facing her. "How can I help you, Gul Melset?"

"When my colleagues and I were at Quark's some days ago, a Bajoran mentioned a Cardassian officer, Damar, getting drunk and apparently revealing too much. I have already talked to Quark who gave me some information but told me that you may know more about the matter." She met Kira's eyes, "Commander Kira, I must know what happened…"

"We had a get-together, just some friends and I, when Quark staggered in. We had never seen him in such a state before. He was both drunk and shell-shocked; when we asked him what was wrong, he told us that he had gotten Damar so thoroughly inebriated that he confided in him, told him the reason for his promotion: He had discovered a way of dismantling the minefield blocking the Temple Gates."

The woman facing her neither reacted to the account nor to Kira's using the Bajoran expression for the Wormhole, only waited calmly.

"One of us got out a message to Starfleet via a reliable friend; Starfleet Command reacted immediately, sent all available forces to retake the station. Unfortunately, the minefield was detonated seconds before the weapons array could be deactivated; everyone was expecting thousands of Dominion warships to come out of the Wormhole when Captain Sisko suddenly took the Defiant into it in a desperate gamble, hoping to somehow hold off the Dominion's forces. Suddenly, though, as Dax told me, the Dominion warships … disappeared in flashes of light." Kira wanted to provoke a reaction as the Cardassian's unmoved expression irritated her. "It must have been the intervention of the Prophets themselves." She added, "Dukat was captured. But that you already know."

The Cardassian woman's eyes briefly revealed her consternation when she said, her voice barely audible, "Damar passed on classified information…"

Kira nodded. No words were necessary.

"And before that was demoted for provoking a brawl that saw a number of Cardassian and Jem'Hadar personnel dead," Melset said, averting her eyes.

"The reward for his discovery? Promotion to Gul, which he celebrated in his usual way: by getting staggering drunk." At seeing Melset's stricken expression, Kira briefly regretted her contemptuous phrasing.

"Damar ... a traitor to Cardassia…," the Cardassian woman's attitude seemed as if a crushing load had been placed on her shoulders.

"No, Gul Melset, a traitor to the Dominion, which led to positive developments."

"Our Union was allied with the Dominion. At that time no one suspected we were to become an integral part of it, but remain a discrete Union, with jurisdiction over our own territory, worlds and politics. He committed treason, plain and simple. We keep to our alliances."

"His treason as you call it, saved the entire Alpha Quadrant from invasion and subjugation."

She spoke as if she had not heard Kira. "I always cautioned my troops against overindulgence during downtime…. And Damar…."

"His betrayal set developments into motion that removed the Dominion from the Quadrant and liberated Cardassia." Kira added, "Or do you keep to alliances under all circumstances?"

"Should an alliance prove deleterious to Cardassia's interests, we break it and if there is a realistic chance of victory, turn on our erstwhile allies in retribution."

Cardassians can always be trusted to be untrustworthy. Kira just kept from replying impulsively, waited briefly, then said, "And that was exactly what happened in the end."

"This changes nothing. What counts is what he did before! And he killed…" No, this has nothing to do with the fact under discussion.

"Gul Melset, you were on Earth, you experienced the Breen attack on Starfleet HQ. Without his so-called treason such attacks on unsuspecting worlds and unions would have become a terrifying routine throughout the Alpha Quadrant, gradually destabilizing each one, with the Dominion gradually subjugating them, establishing treaties signed under duress or after massive attacks and subsequent occupation. And those that still refused? Either decimated to the last individual or infected with pathogens."

"We are expected to support our leaders' decisions at all costs. Fulfill our duty to Cardassia without question, no matter what."

"Sounds exactly like the Dominion to me," Kira could not help stating.

The Cardassian glared at her in pure outrage. "We are nothing like them!"

"Perhaps not. Now listen: I had to cooperate with Damar later. He was not blinded by the desire for power like Dukat, realized what would happen in the end; soon his apprehensions were validated when he became a powerless figurehead with no jurisdiction over his own Union and territories.

Even before the Federation retook the station, he resented the Dominion and all it stood for and that, I now understand, drove him to drink. The man had a conscience, knew that what was happening was wrong. He could not openly show his hatred of the Dominion, but instead focused his aversion on us as we had freed ourselves from Cardassian occupation, we, a spiritual, weak, contemptible people, and Cardassia? It had been delivered up into an even worse form of subjection by one of its own….. but your people's blind, unquestioning obedience..." Kira fell silent, then added more gently, "It was not treason, Gul Melset. It was his unconscious urge to escape a potentially disastrous situation. A resistance which only crystallized into action after the Breen alliance."

"Commander," the Cardassian looked away, "it will be considered such."

"What did that Bajoran say?"

"He got drunk and seemed to confide in Quark."

"So, nothing incriminating in his words. Quark despised and feared the Dominion and its representatives in spite of the profit he made due to the Cardassian military presence on-station. Grand Negus Rom? When the economies of worlds touched by the past war begin recovering, he'll help initiate business connections. Jake and I are the only ones who could let a word slip. However, after Commander Chandler had spoken with me before you arrived, I told Jake to forget this one incident in case he ever decided to write an account of the Dominion War. He agreed at once. We respect Damar for his actions in the end, for giving his life to liberate Cardassia."

"I know that, yet…"

"Yet, as a by-the book Cardassian military you still feel that he betrayed his Union."

A nod was the answer.

"I'll give you the Bajoran perspective if it interests you." Kira looked at the Cardassian female.

Melset tilted her head to the side very slightly, indicating curiosity. "It would."

"The Prophets used him, a man with far more sensitivity than we gave him credit for at the time, to save the Alpha Quadrant, save Bajor from enslavement. The Prophets choose their agents beyond the limits of race and heritage. Only consider Sisko the Emissary; in the beginning it was hard for me to accept that a non-Bajoran could truly be the Emissary of the Prophets."

"The Order and Central Command believed it was an elaborate hoax created by the Federation to give it power over Bajor, exploit the planet and its people in turn, but present all actions as the will of the Prophets…. Some members of the Order regretted that they had not had this idea first."

And many of us believed it was but a change of occupiers. I never would have thought I'd say this to a Cardassian military, a spoonhead butcher who certainly must have committed atrocities during her own career. "Then why not Damar? The defeat of the Dominion did not come at once as both powers had to be humbled first, experience what other worlds and Unions had experienced at their hands. This seed was planted with one man's unconscious act of rebellion against what he instinctively felt was wrong, resulted in the developments we are now witnessing: former enemies cooperating to heal the wounds of the past."

"Bajorans, Humans, a Trill, a Betazoid, two Bolians, a Lissepian, Cardassians… here at SFHS … and many others working together on site to help affected worlds," murmured the Cardassian. "Trying to surmount past resentments."

"Everything has happened the way it was destined to happen. There is even a prophecy. The time of reckoning is over, the future will be what we make it." She smiled ruefully, "May as well give you some more information. Vedek Yarim told Vedek Navri and me some details about you that made it easier to accept a renewed Cardassian presence on this station."

"My suggestion of some years ago, my time on Bajor, …. my reaction to Sisko's vision of the locusts."

Kira nodded. "Indeed, and these details are safe with us. Now, one last element: Consider the dilemma from both perspectives: your own as a Cardassian military bound by your rules and regulations and then ours which is determined by our worship of the Prophets and their sacred precepts, the visions of the future shown in the Texts. When you have done this, you have the information that will permit you to decide whether your brother was a traitor or not."

A nod was the reply.

"I have to return to OPS. Be strong, Gul Melset."

"And you, Commander; you have my gratitude."