Duty to Cardassia Supersedes All – Part 6 - The Law

Eight Years After

Eight years after The Defeat, Cardassia's institutions had been re-established; Detapa was headed by Natíma Lang, Pa'Dar and Hogue, the New Order by Garak, Nadroy and Dejar. Central Command's political power and military capacity, however, were but a shadow of what they had once been, much to the concern of the three Legates.

Cardassia had been left virtually defenseless after the massive loss of ships and crew, which presented an unacceptable risk. Legates Berak, Ocett and Nador discussed the situation with the heads of the other two institutions who agreed they give their project absolute priority: initiate ship-building at the shipyards that had not been destroyed and recruit military personnel.

While the Federation observed all other developments with approval and provided assistance when needed, it viewed the recreation of Cardassia's military with marked distrust. The Cardassian government had the same feelings about the Federation base on Cardassia, suspected that the Cardassian Union would be pressured into joining the Federation or becoming its ally; some voices even warned that those developments conflicting with Federation ethics could be sabotaged by Federation Intelligence. Everyone remembered the phrase that 'Cardassians can be trusted to be untrustworthy'…..

Cardassia Prime's cities were but a shadow of what they had once been, but now had the main institutions: hospitals, schools offering boarding facilities for the children who came from communities too far off for them to return home after instruction, a growing industrial base which offered employment. Cardassia's exports to allied worlds and even some Federation planets were expanding, thanks to the initiatives of both their Ministry of Commerce and a consortium of Ferengi whose activities were monitored with the greatest of dedication by a specialized department within the Order ….

As to the colony planets, their populations were far smaller than before the Dominion War, but served to demonstrate a permanent Cardassian presence. The Federation had proven true to its word by deploying warning beacons to discourage incursions of opportunists hoping to annex Cardassian systems.

Lesana 1, renamed Perali City, now had a relatively large population of roughly four thousand, for the main part Kelani and the majority of the war orphans who had returned from Bajor five years before. Kelan-Lesana's economy was predominantly based on agriculture, with non-polluting high-tech companies in areas that were sub-optimal for food production.

As she had once spent a year on a mission on Bajor, Melset was often invited to join the returnees and their friends, many of them with young children who had been born on Cardassia; The young people repatriated from Bajor had either married among themselves or, in many cases, had found mates among the natives. Most were still concerned about how to reconcile the differences between what they had learned on Bajor with Cardassian expectations, remained observant, anxious to learn.

"Jivan and Temun will be attending Loo'Wess Central for their secondary education and live in the boarding school there; Myral will join them after her exams at the end of this year," Melset explained when asked about the two older children's further education.

Dauri commented, "Far different to life on Bajor; we were taught the basic skills by our parents and the Vedek or prylar, and only left for the larger cities to attend secondary schools. During that time, we were taken in by families, often relatives. Children and young people without the security only family can provide? That would have been unimaginable."

"Our young people are expected to form networks of mutual support and interdependence from an early age on up; rivalry among peers is encouraged to find the best minds for elite professions; this rivalry usually did not lead to hostility, as we were dependent on one another. Everyone found a place in the hierarchy, all according to abilities and talents. Another factor is that we were and are raised to strict obedience."

Gul Losir Damar who had joined them on this occasion as he had some spare time, added, "All of us were under constant observation, risked arrest and interrogation if we seemed inclined to question policies. Our children were taught from infant on up never to speak impulsively, to do as they were told. It was this unquestioning obedience that led us into the catastrophe we experienced and whose effects we are still trying to overcome. Many had misgivings about the Alliance, but could not risk verbalizing their reservations."

None of the repatriates commented as, for them, this kind of life was inconceivable. On Bajor, everyone was expected to comply with the rules of the Prophets, but within the limits imposed by these rules which only demanded mutual respect, compassion for the less fortunate, in brief, normal ethic standards, Bajorans were free, had been free even before the D'Jarra system was dissolved.

A small child of perhaps two, Jotun, ran over to Melset, placed his hands on her knees, and looked up at her, smiling.

"Then come, child, if your parents allow you to." She looked over at them questioningly. Another difference. A Cardassian child never approaches anyone outside of his family unless permitted to do so; in this way we learn never to trust anyone we do not know very well, and especially not non-Cardassians.

"Yes, Jotun, you may go to Melset." Darya and Tahno knew that even after five years on Cardassia, they still had much to learn about their people's customs and expectations.

Melset gently took him onto her lap to hold him close, considered him affectionately before telling his parents, "As your adoptive people would say, 'The Prophets have blessed your union.'"

Dauri surreptitiously watched Melset interact with the child who seemed perfectly happy to be where he was. You and Garak, you have been together for five years already, and there is no child. It was not hard to recognize that the woman would have liked to be one of the mothers in spite of the fulfillment she found in duty to Cardassia.

A Favour For a Favour

The Satras had discussed their plan down to the smallest detail and had agreed. What they wanted to do was not all that unusual, was customary on Bajor. The couples who decided to offer this option always first consulted a Vedek who counseled them according to the precepts of their culture and beliefs.

"No spiritual guidance here, on Cardassia. We do not even know whether our proposal is allowed under its laws."

"For me, too, this is the most disquieting aspect of our life here. We have been given the Texts, read them when we meet for worship, yet only a Vedek or Prylar can give true spiritual guidance as they have spent a lifetime studying them in detail."

The woman took her husband's hands in a reassuring gesture, "…. then we must rely on our own feelings and what is in our paghs. Garak and Melset have set an old injustice right, giving us the possibility to return, settle in the area of their people on Cardassia Prime. All of us have homes, acceptance, friends, are being helped to integrate, have at no time been reproached our ways." She added softly, "I have seen Melset's expression when she watches the children or is given one to hold. To bring happiness into her home is something we can do to show her and her husband we are grateful for what they have done and," she smiled her husband, "we will have many others."

Some hours later, they went to see Delhina and Losir, greeted them respectfully. "We have a matter to discuss which is of some sensitivity and of which we fear it may possibly cause offense." Vijim continued, "After speaking about it repeatedly we are in agreement in every way."

"Has something happened?"

"No, yet it is very personal, perhaps even invasive by those of your norms we still have to learn."

"We will not take offense, whatever it is you address. You may speak freely," was the formal reply. The older couple gave a slight nod of encouragement when they saw the Satras hesitate.

They briefly waited, then Dauri said, "We know that Melset and Garak have been together for five years, yet there are no children, even though anyone can see that she wishes she had some. She often joins us to answer our questions or just spend time with us, but also to interact with our young ones."

Delhina and Losir exchanged glances then said quietly, "This is indeed a personal matter, but you are right."

"On Bajor, fertile couples are permitted to give one of their children to a childless family, or this family adopts an orphan. We want to offer Garak and Melset the next one we have." The young woman said this in a rush of words, misreading the elder couple's attitude.

"You are most kind and our family would be more than willing to accept this gift. Our ethnicity also had this custom before we lost independence," Delhina said in a low voice. "But the child's DNA would be scanned in the course of the formalities involved in adoption, its heritage determined, and adoption forbidden."

The reaction was suppressed consternation. "But a child is a child! What kind of…." At her husband's gesture of caution, Dauri fell silent, fearing she had already said too much.

"After The Defeat our custom of shunning orphans was abandoned in face of the loss of so many lives, the law modified so that orphaned children could be adopted as the need for homes for them was so great. However, genetic scans have made it possible to reunite many with family, so only couples who already have children of their own can take in an unrelated child. Or if both partners are infertile."

"We do not want Iniki to know of our offer yet."

"It is indeed better. She will be in Loo'Wess tomorrow, but Garak will spend some hours here. Come to us then, and we can speak about the matter together."

Moved by the kindness of the offer and the sacrifice they were willing to make, Delhina and Losir embraced the young couple, saying, "According to Kelani custom, you will become members of our extended family if a solution is found due to your help."

They returned the embrace, thinking, This is also Bajoran custom.

Consultation

The next morning, Melset used the glider to travel to Loo'Wess and adjusted it to autopilot so that she could process some data she had been given only minutes before her departure. At least there is always duty to Cardassia and its people. She was not apprehensive in the least. Whatever the result would be, it was to her to accept it. That was the Cardassian way. Certainly, even though Orid Khalem had given her the facts about how she had been recruited for the Order, it was difficult to suppress the very slight hope that perhaps, only perhaps.… she shook the feeling off. Hope is an uncardassian indulgence that leads to weakness and lack of resolve; we either act when action is feasible, or accept.

At arrival at Loo'Wess Central Medical Institute she reported to the secretary, first giving him a data rod with her files on which he entered the list of doctors available. When she read it, she saw Khessano, Nyson, Kedra and Parmak among them.

"Do you have any preferences?"

"No. Whoever has a slot."

"Gul Melset, Dr. Kedra is in his office and will see you."

With a nod of acknowledgment she left, walking along the corridors after looking at the diagramme of the Institute's layout and soon found Kedra's office.

The doctor's assistant addressed her, "Gul Melset?"

"Yes. I am to report to Dr. Kedra."

"Come with me."

When the doctor saw her, he gave her a nod of recognition and respect as he had served aboard the Orissá during her time as the cruiser's commander then asked, "What is the problem?"

"Some years ago, I was incorrectly diagnosed with a hereditary defect and subsequently sterilized. Dr Khessano performed the surgery. Is it possible to restore my previous status?"

While talking to him, she removed her clothing and lay down on the biobed, relaxed. The doctor carefully scanned her, entered some details on his padd, then said, "The examination has been effected, you can get dressed."

His diagnosis was to the point: "Sterilization was effected by an Order surgeon, Dr. Khessano, who pulled you through after your shuttle exploded. The operation is irreversible, your reproductive organs removed to the last cell. However, you have been equipped with a permanent implant to stimulate the pituitary whose activity will gradually be reduced at the normal end of fertility, in roughly 17 years in your case. It may interest you to know that it is functioning very effectively, even triggering your system to form, respectively reabsorb medullary bone at the appropriate time, including other cyclical changes. Obviously this cycle gave you the impression the operation was reversible."

"I understand…" she fell silent. What did I expect? Order surgeons were among the best; Khessano managed to save me in spite of my having suffered severest trauma. And he did his duty as directed by Tain, even though sterilizing an individual without hereditary defects is strictly forbidden.

Wordlessly, she gave Kedra a code which he entered and she verified.

The doctor inclined his head in agreement when Melset stated, "I was not here. Other personnel already have this directive as well. The funds for the examination and your diagnosis have been transferred to your account."

As though it had only been a routine examination, she left the clinic and returned to her duties at Perali Centre. Melset appreciated Cardassian doctors' directness. Facts were presented neutrally, the appropriate action taken, no time wasted with useless expressions of sympathy or encouragement. I am a Cardassian, accept everything, and consider Cardassia's interests first, no matter what the circumstances, she reminded herself, well knowing what the diagnosis would mean for her and Garak.

Family Matters

After the conversation with the returnees, Losir Damar had contacted Garak immediately, "Garak, It is important you meet with us, Dauri and Vijim tomorrow, as soon as Melset has left for Loo'Wess. There is a matter that must be addressed. I can only tell you that it is urgent and of some sensitivity."

When he went into the Damar-Melset family's home, Garak found himself facing a repatriate couple together with Delhina and Losir, greeted them then sat down, waiting.

After some moments, Delhina addressed him: "Elim, the Satra family has spoken to us about a matter which concerns you and Iníki."

He looked at them searchingly, intensively, then asked, "Ah? And what may that be?"

"The fact that your union is without issue." She added, "That is the reason for Iniki's absence this morning. She has gone to Loo'Wess Medical Centre, very obviously hoping for a solution to the dilemma," Delhina shrugged, admitted, "I know about everything as I worked for the Order, but thought it best for her to get the information from medical staff that had been involved."

"I was expecting something like this," he said quietly. "There is that census which will be effected in a little over a month." Even though he and Melset never spoke about it, their love gave them a sense of belonging, of stability. For Garak, part Kelani through Mila, Kelan-Lesana Province had become a home, and Melset,... He had had the old Tain residence in Loo'Wess rebuilt to serve as his official residence as well as to house a number of Order offices. Delhina's question drew him out of his thoughts.

"We must know this: Do you also desire children?"

"I am a Cardassian," he replied after some moments, "And family is important. Melset was told six years ago that the operation she was subjected to was unnecessary." He added in a low voice, "First Kovar, then Renor, her loss of command, everything meant to encourage her to become an agent." The last was said with bitterness. "You know exactly what was done and why."

"Indeed." Our family was to be destroyed because Tain suspected we had information making us a potential threat, the truth about Elim's heritage.

Losir said, "It may be there is a solution…" Some moments of silence followed.

"I know Iniki would be grateful, and I, too."

Delhina nodded at the couple.

Turning to Garak, Dauri explained, "My husband and I have agreed on this: I offer myself as a surrogate. You and Melset, you organized the initiative to bring us home; we are accepted, are being taught your ways but not forced to give up what we have learned, are not merely tolerated, we belong. Vijim and I are supporting ourselves by the skills we learned on Bajor, have been shown further techniques by your own craftsmen. We want to give you something in return, something just as valuable as what you have given all of us."

For once, Garak was speechless but quickly recovered. "Do you fully understand what is involved? The procedure must not be effected onworld, nor you, Dauri, give birth here, for certain reasons. Before making a decision, I have to contact some of my sources, both on Cardassia and on Terok Nor. Obtaining the necessary information is no problem, considering my position."

"We have decided and will not back out of our offer, although it will be hard to give up the child."

"I accept what you offer with gratitude, but under no circumstances must Iníki hear about this until everything has been resolved; I have to make some inquiries first."

After returning to his work area, Garak contacted Deep Space 9 and found himself speaking to Chief Remosi. "This is Organizer Garak. Is Dr. Bashir available?"

"Yes. Contact will be initiated at once." The Bajoran's tone was neutral, but he smiled at Garak, remembering his frequent visits to Deep Space 9.

"Garak! What a surprise! It is good to hear from you again. I take it conditions on Cardassia are normalizing rapidly now?" Bashir's pleasure at seeing his old friend again was undeniable.

"Indeed. Reconstruction has nearly been completed, we have recreated our institutions, industry and agriculture are developing well; in fact, we expect to declare our full independence of assistance within less than two years."

"Cardassian sense of duty and determination; you made every delivery count. When she went to Cardassia to be a witness at Gul Revok's trial Commander Kira was astonished at the progress that had already been made within only five years." His expression briefly became serious. "I know you well enough to recognize that you have not contacted me only for sake of a conversation," the doctor said.

"Indeed. I have a question concerning a certain medical procedure."

The doctor, intrigued, nodded. "Which one?"

"Do you have the means to create pluripotent cells from an individual's somatic cells to produce viable ova, and after fertilization and genetic screening, transfer it to a surrogate of our species to be brought to term? I can place the necessary medical information about Cardassian procreation and gestation at your disposal as well as the structure of necessary enzymes, their sequence of application together with information about a certain implant, as hormonal treatment may be necessary for one of the women concerned."

"Yes. It could just work. The method for producing pluripotent cells is standard procedure as we have been using it for organ replacement in a wide range of species for decades. Once we have the cells we need, the rest is fairly uncomplicated, even though your species is ovoviviparous. It will be interesting, though." He added, "Prepping has to be initiated roughly a month in advance."

"My dear doctor, I'll be accompanying your future patients. I am due leave."

"It will be good to see you again and exchange news directly. There have been changes here as well. I must not forget: Don't tell them I said so, but Quark and even Commander Kira still miss you and Gul Melset even though they would never admit it. As do I. You taught me so much during our lunchtime conversations and discussions; your advice and training were invaluable."

"Well, in spite of my having to see to my duties, there will be time enough to indulge in our old ritual while we are on station." Garak met his eyes, "Until then, doctor, be strong."

Obtaining the necessary information can be effected within a matter of hours. Garak closed the connection and, on his way to his station in Perali City, passed by Melset's parents' office to give them the news, notified the returnees, then took up his work. Quite a number of inquiries and updates. Within an hour at most, the backlog can be eliminated….

Census

When Garak returned from his duties at Loo'Wess, he went to Melset's office and waited for her to finish processing the data she had received.

"We have decided to shift priorities now that the population has, for the most part, settled permanently in the areas they have chosen. The exact number of individuals who have survived The Defeat has to be determined, the new database compared to that of immediate prewar records found in the underground area of the old Order Headquarters. Procedures will be streamlined by using automatic scans, so that only suspect cases need to be examined by surviving members of the Order."

"Where precisely were they?"

"On a computer installed in one of the rooms opening into the passage connecting the Order's and Central Command's respective headquarters, on a level with the tenth subterranean floor. Every detail registered at the Population Centre was automatically transferred to this computer for interesting data to be considered more closely."

"This project may take time, especially as there have been a number of new joinings, combined families, births, adoptions, the repatriated war orphans..."

Garak quickly looked over at Melset, And there will be questions, which may well have consequences for us; I'll have to play for time, now that I am assured of the good doctor's assistance. "Teams of agents will supervise procedure so that it will be completed within some few weeks."

"Finally security will be ensured. There were a number of individuals who made use of the chaos immediately after The Defeat to adopt a new identity or that of another person. Remember Gul Revok, or the alleged gul who turned out to have been a Var 1st Order expelled from Central Command for incompetence. His assuming a rank he never had nearly saw an innocent man facing court-martial and execution."

"No such impostors can escape notice, as tissue samples will be taken from all individuals to determine whether they are who they claim to be." Garak added, "The first areas to be canvassed are Loo'Wess city and province, Kelan-Lesana, Saranji and Ubari Provinces. The military will ensure the enforcement of travel restrictions."

Exactly one month later the census was effected as planned so that the Bureau of Identification soon received the database of all survivors together with their DNA scan. Within three months, the data of inhabitants of all colonies and areas of Cardassia Prime was transferred to their respective home cities and provinces. The day after the conclusion of this project was declared a holiday by the government and, objectively seen, it was a reason for celebration: another step towards normalcy taken.

The results initiated a renewed wave of planning and projects. So far, housing all of the survivors in permanent homes had been a priority; most of the modular buildings had been returned only about a year before, shantytowns razed, but in some few remaining areas infrastructure was still provisional at best.

Otherwise, the situation was encouraging, offworld assistance no longer needed to any greater extent, so that, at present, the goal was to attain pre-Defeat standards within the next ten years. At seeing the final tally of losses, however, Melset and Garak could only stare at the screen, too stunned for words …. Nearly five billion dead! Civilians, Military and Order. No one could even begin to grasp such numbers.

Garak remembered one specific incident. So many victims. And it was one small child who died minutes before we could reach her who had our team grieving unashamedly….

The couple drew close, nearly touching, remembering the scope of devastation they had faced only some years before.

A week later, Garak called Melset into his office to view an official notification on his terminal. "No doubt you have just received the same one." His expression was grim.

Apprehensive, she put her project on hold. I already know what this is… she thought resignedly.

Side by side, they listened to the message:

During evaluation of your respective data, Organizer Garak and Gul Melset, it has come to our attention that you have remained without issue throughout the five years of your union. You are report to Loo'Wess Medical Centre for evaluation and will be apprised of the date within the next three weeks.

"And be ordered to terminate our commitment," Melset said evenly. "An infertile union cannot be condoned at a time when we need to rebuild our numbers."

Consequences

After their examination at Loo'Wess Medical Centre, an official accompanied them to Organizer Reman; Sestol gave no sign that he had seen Melset only a month before as this was none of his concern.

They entered Reman's office and, for a moment, Garak considered him, then thought with some satisfaction, I may well have the advantage here, but showed no outward reaction whatsoever.

A nod of greeting, then "You are Organizer Elim Garak of Loo'Wess."

"This is correct."

"And you are Gul Melset, currently working in Perali City, Department of Infrastructure."

"This is correct."

"You officially joined at Chief Archon Jenol's office five years ago."

"Yes."

"According to the files, your union has produced no children." Reman looked over at Melset. "Your personnel file contains an entry by Dr. Khessano, attesting to the fact that you were sterilized due to a hereditary defect shortly before becoming a liaison officer."

She nodded, "Indeed. This diagnosis was later proven incorrect. My genome is flawless. This was confirmed by Dr Bashir of Deep Space 9 and by a reliable source on Cardassia."

There was no reaction to this information. "You agreed to a union with Organizer Garak in spite of this, Gul Melset, consciously chose to ignore regulations? You cannot have been unaware of the fact that, especially now, sterile unions are prohibited unless both partners are infertile. I take it you have seen the statistics and grasped their implications?" His intonation hinted at veiled contempt.

"We organized repatriation of the Cardassian war orphans left behind on Bajor after Withdrawal; in the meantime many of them have joined, have children of their own," was Melset's calm rejoinder. "And only a little over a month ago, two more families followed their example."

The official considered her, then Garak neutrally before saying, "I concede that your efforts in their favour are most praiseworthy. In fact, two repatriates are working here; however, your helping them become true Cardassians again does not negate the fact that you, Gul Melset, are keeping your husband from fulfilling his duty to Cardassia."

"Then we are bound by law to rectify the situation," Garak, then Melset stated.

I have to get Iníki out of here. "Gul Melset, there is some confidential information I have to access. The matter will not take long."

He turned to Reman. "Gul Melset has data that she is to process as soon as possible. I request closed access to the communit I have seen outside."

Reman complied at once.

She went to the communit, settled there and, taking out a rod she had been working on, continued developing the proposal as though nothing at all disturbing had been said.

Meanwhile Garak eyed the Organizer, then said, "Ah, Organizer Reman, I thought your name was quite familiar and now I remember why: You were posted on Terok Nor, and were involved in some…. little deals, minor irregularities, nothing of consequence." He waited for his words to sink in before stating, "It is most gratifying to see you have come through this past conflict unharmed. And are fulfilling your duty to our beloved Union with admirable dedication." His eyes fixed the man unblinkingly.

Suddenly very nervous and uneasy, Reman stared at Garak, briefly made eye contact, averted his own. He must have registered by which means I redirected some of the proceeds from the mining operations, and sold a number of valuable objects confiscated from their Bajoran owners. This could lead to repercussions even now if reported as he most likely possesses enough evidence to back up an accusation.

For some moments Garak continued eyeing him like a snake preparing to strike, sensing Reman's growing apprehension before he said with deceptive friendliness, "I am most impressed at seeing you understand me. Now, answer the following question, and do so according to the facts and the laws, without any attempt at subterfuge."

Reman only nodded.

"Is the fertility of a union also recognized if a surrogate is involved and the child thus produced combines the heritage of its parents, but no element of the surrogate's genome apart from her mitochondria?" He then inquired as if concerned that the man had not understood him. "You do understand what I mean, don't you? Take your time finding the appropriate paragraph; I am very patient, as is Gul Melset who, I presume, is already absorbed in her project; no one is going to disturb us. I have already seen to that little detail."

The organizer gave him a glance of mingled panic and confusion, then began narrowing down permissible options, muttering, "Genetic intervention… wait. I have it." He motioned Garak over to his screen. "A surrogate is acceptable by law, provided she offers her intervention voluntarily and is independent of those requiring her assistance. And, …" he met Garak's eyes, "… this is important. The child's genome will be scanned at birth and if there is the slightest doubt as to its parentage, the surrogate keeps her child and you provide for its support." His intonation was insinuating, deliberately offensive.

"Of course, heritage has to be clear." Garak added silkily, "Now there is only one more element: it would be most kind if you granted us a grace period of 18 C-standard months due to unusual circumstances and did so at once." He went around the desk so that he could watch the official's every motion and read what he wrote. When Reman hesitated, Garak said with a strongly sibilant undertone, "You will do so immediately and, I repeat, without any attempt at subterfuge."

"Consider it done." The Organizer wrote an addendum to the file. Inwardly, he sagged with relief. He had expected far worse at recognizing this particular witness of his infractions. I can always alter this after he has left with his gul…..

Garak pushed him aside and, blocking his view, quickly made some adjustments to the file. "I have seen to preventing your committing any unfortunate errors of judgment, such as deleting or modifying this specific file. After all, accidents do happen." His voice became gentle, nearly affectionate. "Come to think of it, Reman, as we are acquaintances of old standing, I may just be grateful enough to forget your rather pathetic attempts to insult Melset and me," Garak turned to him with a cold smile, his expression subtly threatening. "And, under circumstances, the past as well."

Reman stared at him, realizing he could not risk alienating this former agent without paying a very high price indeed.

Mission accomplished…., Garak respectfully inclined his head and left the office, saying, "It is well possible we will have occasion to cooperate again at some point. Be strong, Organizer Reman."

During their return to Perali City, Melset and Garak did not speak. Garak thinking of the process that would now be initiated, Melset coming to terms with the development she had been expecting. I had no right to agree to Garak's suggestion. For some seconds, she felt she would strangle with hurt, suppressed her reaction. Another sacrifice to be made for Cardassia. I never failed in my duty. Only this once, and now must pay the price.

Misunderstandings

When they got back to Perali City, Garak clandestinely contacted Melset's parents. "I have reconsidered and think it is advisable to discuss procedure with Iniki immediately, in private. But I can assure you of this in advance: she will accept, so that Dr. Bashir can be notified today, and Commander Kira requested to assign Melset a work area as well as a secure channel on Deep Space 9 for the time of her stay as I'll be returning sooner."

He closed the channel and went over to her office. "Iniki, everything has been arranged. Departure for Deep Space 9 is scheduled for next week and you are to remain there for a brief time with Satra Dauri after my return to Perali City."

She did not react or look over at him.

After waiting for a reply, Garak repeated, "There is a solution."

"The official one. You need not find a replacement for me as I will continue cooperating with you; we have roughly the same methods, making our pattern of work highly effective." Melset got up to leave wordlessly.

With a gesture of exasperation, Garak headed her off, kept her from opening the door and stood facing her until she made eye contact. "Wait. There is more."

The answer was even, undisturbed. "I understand. Don't insult me by trying to make things easier; I am a Cardassian military, and Order-educated, as are you, have overcome the behavioral modifications effected before I was sent to Earth. We both know and accept that we have to comply with the law or face the consequences."

"You have misunderstood!"

"Ah, have I? Garak, you know exactly why we joined: it was a reaction of despair at seeing everything we had known destroyed, lost forever. The situation was traumatizing for both of us, no one knew what would happen. We all functioned, fought for our people's survival, did not allow ourselves to feel. Under such circumstances anyone would look for comfort, for companionship and a modicum of stability. We cooperated intensively, realized we had much in common, so made an error which must now be corrected."

"Officially, it may have been an error, but my conscious choice …. and yours. There is no reason to regret it."

"No, members of the Order never regret anything, do they." Old recollections surfaced together with long-suppressed emotions. "No reasons for reproach. Tain took everything that stood in the way of my becoming an agent. In the interrogation you mentioned Kovar…"

"I did not know what was done to him until I was given the information to undermine your resistance."

Her reply was scathing, "Certainly. You did not know. He instructed, mentored you. You were always involved in his plans in some way!"

"I was often sent on off-world missions. I assure you…."

"Don't you assure me of anything! When the shuttle exploded I was purposely beamed aboard milliseconds too late, so severely injured only the skills of an Order-trained doctor saved my life. A lie about an alleged genetic defect, sterilization, Renor forced to dissolve our commitment. My command was taken from me as full rehabilitation allegedly was impossible! My breakdown? Drug-induced! By then, all I desperately wanted was to stay in the service of the Union as a true daughter of Cardassia.…"

"You were excellent in both Command and Intelligence and as a liaison officer…." was Garak's response.

With an angry hiss she interrupted him when he wanted to continue. "Was I? Really? I heard my rapid promotions were strongly suggested … by Tain."

"Only slightly faster than standard as your ratings were far above average."

"And my mission on Bajor? Tain must have known Withdrawal was imminent! I was sent there a year before, the information obsolete even while I obtained it!" She spat the words. "My mission was revealed! On purpose?"

"A test. All prospective agents were submitted to one determining flexibility, survival skills and adaptability," was his calm reply.

"And why in Reliketh Province?"

"Does this bother you, my dear Iniki?"

"Tain certainly knew about Kelani heritage, planned to frame me, have me executed as a bastardized Cardassian turned traitor once I was no longer needed!"

"No, it was a test of your abilities. You survived and succeeded. Consider how invaluable the contacts you made there have proven to be, most useful indeed…" Garak smiled at her. "As have those made during your mission on Earth."

The smile irritated her. "And the pattern continues," she said, deceptively calm. "My response at seeing the work done by O'Connor's team in so short a time was recorded, transmitted! Possibly exposed me to derision. You said, 'so touching, exactly what humans love. Perhaps that will create more willingness to help.'"

"I told you..."

She interrupted him, her expression cold, "Signing the forms making our separation official will be one of many necessary duties. I have been expecting this."

"Not to judge by your attitude when you left Organizer Reman's office, my dear," was the amused retort.

The comment and his intonation hit her full force.

"You were planning to exact revenge all the while, weren't you," she said very quietly.

"What in all the Union are you talking about now?"

"Damar murdered Ziyal; he is dead, out of reach but I am not, so you are making me pay for what he did. You told me I had nothing to fear from you, thinking I would let down my guard, become vulnerable."

I have to stop this now before it goes too far. "For the love of Cardassia, Iníki! Will you finally listen?"

"There is more! Some years ago a former mentor told me a few interesting details. Garak, I loved Cardassia, took pride in the privilege of serving and protecting her, was prepared to make the greatest sacrifices… and did so without hesitation." She added bitterly, "A backwaters Kelani proud of commendations issued, medals given for securing systems, for bravery in battle, to be accused of subversion at some point and executed when no longer useful!"

"This is enough!"

Shocked into silence, she stared up at him, tense, eyes glittering, breathing accelerated, neck membranes fully spread.

"Listen. You, Satra Dauri and I will be traveling to Deep Space 9 together. Dr. Bashir is waiting for us." Garak said urgently.

"What…?"

"Dauri has volunteered to be a surrogate for us, has spoken with your parents, with me. Bashir will take a tissue sample from you, prepare it. For me, the process will be quite simple," he said with a smug grin. "In three or four weeks, Dauri's fertile phase is due to start, introducing the critical part of the process." He said very gently: "This is the Satras' thanks for what we have done for them and the other war orphans: a child of our own heritage to repay our kindness by giving us something of greatest value to our family."

"Why didn't you tell me before?" The woman was seething. "You must have been planning this for months! I should have been given the information! What else are you hiding from me, Elim?"

"First I had make sure it was legal." His expression became vindictive, "Our friend Reman did a few things on Terok Nor that were court-martial offenses. He knows that, under circumstances, I may decide to forget them. Just imagine, my dear, within minutes he had found the exact paragraph corroborating my own information that this solution is perfectly legitimate."

Trauma And Sharing

He reached out to touch her shoulders, felt a slight, barely noticeable tremor which, among Cardassians, hinted at unbearable tension. "My dear Iniki, don't you think this positive news is well worth the excitement?" He grinned at her provocatively.

Turning on him, she asked, "How do I know that this isn't yet another lie?"

He was taken by surprise when she violently pushed him away, looking around as if cornered, threatened by something only she could see,.

A flashback…. Garak realized when he saw her glare at him as though facing an enemy, preparing to defend herself. I have to keep her in here until it is over. After quickly locking the door, he faced her, well aware of the fact that she was as highly-trained in hand-to-hand combat as he was.

Finding the way out blocked, Melset commanded, "You will stand down and let me leave. At once."

There was no way that he could restrict himself to dodging her blows or slipping past her to keep her from resorting to various holds as well as unfair maneuvers. Alternately circling, searching for an opening, or attacking, they made repeated contact, dodged, re-engaged until he blocked a kick, pushed against her leg, making her lose balance and fall. Up within seconds, she aimed at an opening in his guard. After some minutes of sparring, he pretended to trip, caught hold of her arm and threw her, letting himself drop at the same time, trying to pin her down until the episode was over. No such luck..…. With a cry, she frantically twisted out of his grip, leaving her tunic in his hands. He threw it aside, re-engaged. For only a second, he noticed a flicker of panic in her eyes.

With a guttural sound like a Klingon's snarl, Melset pressed her fingers between the rows of scales along his ribs with all her strength. A brief hiss of pain, and he gripped her forearms, pulled her hands away, held her tight to keep her from getting in a strategic kick.

You have integrated elements of various techniques and added non-canon methods…. As she fought to escape, Garak became acutely aware of the sinewy strength under the soft curves of her body. You have kept on training systematically. With a quick writhe and thrust, she yanked his tunic up far enough to cover his face, briefly immobilize his arms. It worked. For seconds. Shrugging it off, he dug his fingers into her neck membranes, provoking a loud hiss. Melset reciprocated at once.

Slowly, he saw the confrontation become something else entirely for her: a desperate struggle to hold him off at all costs.

Whatever experience she is reliving, it must have been terrifying, even by our standards. He pulled her to the ground,managed to keep her from escaping.

"Iníki, you are here, on Cardassia, safe, at home."Trying to reach her, he kept on speaking, his voice low, comforting.

Minutes later, she seemed to awaken from a nightmare, seemed disoriented, then stared at him incredulously before sitting up.

"What was that?" was Garak's query.

"A … flashback," Melset leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, shuddered. I thought I had erased the incident from my memory and now? So clear….

"There is no reason to be ashamed."

She did not answer.

"Others have them too, my dear, but, like you, deny it, for fear of 'showing uncardassian weakness', of becoming an object of contempt. Nor did Central Command's medical department ever create facilities for treatment of this disorder. 'A true Cardassian copes on his own.'"

"Never had any, only after The Defeat."

"I have had claustrophobia since an accident during a mission; the walls of the room I was in began to collapse inward, nearly crushing me. It was triggered in Internment Camp 371, and later, when I was blackmailed into performing certain duties." He smiled without humor, "By sheer chance, Ezri discovered why I had those attacks; once the reason was discovered, I could overcome the problem."

"When I was a Var 2nd level, my troops and I were searching houses on a Federation colony planet our forces were clearing. We were separated, the troop with me shot and killed. I took his identity chip, vaporized the body, turned to leave the house. A settler who had been hiding struck me hard enough to momentarily stun me, take me into a stranglehold, and take my weapons. Five others joined him, laughing, 'Hey, look, a female spoonhead. Payback time!'

"Couldn't fight them all off," she said in a rush of words, "They pulled off my armor; I freed myself, incapacitated two, but the others surrounded me; there was no escape,… I fell, managed to kick one in the face when he undid my trousers, then his own…, another knelt next to me, pinning me down with his friend's help, then began choking me while the third ... I could barely breathe, nearly blacked out. Suddenly I heard shouting, was freed... my attackers said they'd 'only wanted to make a snake pay'.

The Federation officer ordered his troops to arrest and beam up with them, told me, 'They will face trial. Federation members do not rape or abuse women.'

I was in shock, only stared at him.

'He helped me up, saying: Look, I have a daughter in the forces, will let you go for her sake.'

I quickly got back into full uniform, then he asked, 'You all right?'

All I could do was nod.

"He beamed up, escaped. I should have taken him prisoner, but he had helped me…. I ran out, reported back with Kovar and Yanos, kept what had happened to myself. It was my own fault, carelessness. I managed to forget... But just now? The recollection resurfaced so vividly, I thought you were …. one of them.…"

Garak nodded once, "I recall that, when we interrogated you, there was a memory we could not access." A memory so profoundly traumatizing you isolated it. Aloud, he added, "That Federation officer preserved a sense of decency even under circumstances as they were during the Border Wars…."

"There is something you must know, Iníki." He made her face him. "You said 'it was my fault'. It was not. No female who is raped is the guilty party. This person is used like an object, robbed of her dignity as a feeling, thinking being. Your attackers wanted to send a message: 'Cardassians are sadistic brutes and rapists; see how it is being on the receiving side.'" He risked opening an old wound, "Imagine Kovar finding you dead, abused." He fell silent, but then continued with obvious difficulty, "During the Occupation, rape was a perverse show of power. Those unfortunate Bajoran women were victims of their tormentors' worst instincts. Cruelty for cruelty's sake. The perpetrators' crimes were kept secret to uphold the image of our forces as true patriots dedicated to the service of Cardassia. Remember: You are not to blame for what happened to you."

She replied with a nod, remembering what she had been told on Bajor about the crimes committed by her people. The villagers did not make me pay. And you Garak, you have seen things and made experiences too horrific to share.

Reaffirmation of Unity

For a time they sat close to each other in silence, nearly touching; what had just occurred had been disturbing as was being confronted by incidents that caused emotions they had tried to keep under control.

"We have two more hours until we meet with the Satras and your parents."

"I know and actually, you could have spoken for me as you know I accept the offer together with all attendant consequences." Melset turned to him, made eye contact, smiled with an effort at lightening the mood. "We are both Order, have just shared our respective stories. That you now know mine," she found it hard to admit to her feelings, "shows that I … trust you," she put her head to the side, indicating humor, "even though my admission has put me into your hands."

"A trust that will not be misused." He looked over at her, held out his right hand, palm open.

"Garak, …." Melset did not continue the sentence and pressed her right hand against his before moving towards him to lightly touch his chest with her hand, withdraw it again.

When he laid an arm around her shoulders, gently pulling her close, he felt her cede willingly, unhesitatingly to the pressure. Perhaps I can find out who that officer was…. But for now, …. the physical contact was comforting, pleasurable. He took his time, enjoying the warmth of her body as he knew she did that of his own; in a gesture of trust, she laid her head against his chest, eyes closed.

"I was given some very interesting psychological information," he whispered, his voice pitched to escape the listening devices he suddenly remembered were no longer there, "Ezri says that responses to a traumatizing recollection can, under circumstances, be alleviated by a positive experience."

"Among Humans? Could well be. Perhaps it holds true of Cardassians, too? It is worth trying," was the reaction he got.

Responding to her words with a slight smile he shifted position, waited before gently tracing her facial ridges with his fingertips before breathing on her *chufa, very slowly moved his hands downwards, to her neck membranes, followed their edges with feather-light touches while gradually increasing the pressure, circled the *chula, but avoided the curve of the furcula just above its rim, saving those sensations for later…...

Garak caught his breath first, turned to Melset who lay next to him, passed his hand over her hair; when she gazed over at him he said. "My dear Iniki, you gave me no information, apart from a long-suppressed traumatizing experience."

"Indeed, for which you offered therapy of sorts... And finding out about your own one was my intention, my dear Elim; now we are in each other's hands, know each other's weakness, know where best to strike," she added, her expression mock-threatening, then serious. "I did not believe a solution had been found. Knew you were always excellent at exacting revenge but … so am I." With a languid movement, she turned onto her side, laid her hand on his waist, touched his neck membranes, moved towards him before drawing back with a vocalization of regret.

"We have to notify the elders and Dr Bashir that we agree to Dauri's offer," she said. "Otherwise…"

"I know," Garak got to his feet. Together they looked around the room, gathered up their clothing. At a low murmur and suppressed laughter from Melset, he looked over at her, "Yes, Iniki?"

"Fortunately Kelani clothing is made of sturdy material so everything is still in one piece, but …." grinning broadly, she pointed at Garak's tunic which hung from the terminal, partly covering the viewscreen. "A most revealing detail for anyone who might have wanted to contact us."

Acceptance and Return to Deep Space 9

Garak waved her over after calling up the file he wanted. "Iníki, here are the details I have found, respectively been sent concerning the legality of the Satra's proposal."

"In essence, we are permitted this," Melset commented after viewing the paragraphs in question. "And both acceptance of the couple into our family as well as adoption of the child are only dependent on the child's genetic parentage." She was surprised when she read on, "It has become a formality, is now abbreviated."

"And that is the reason why we are going to need Dr Bashir's cooperation and that of Dr. Parmak which I have already secured."

There must be a reason why the procedure will be effected on Deep Space 9 and not here… "Ah, good, then we can negotiate directly for what we need. I'll have to contact Quark as soon as possible."

"And you know I have been planning to expand our basis of commerce as well."

Still discussing potential projects, they went over to Melset's parents' home and saw that Dauri and Vijim were already waiting.

Delhina addressed Garak and Melset, "The decision you are about to make is of greatest importance to our family and relatives, and especially to Satra Dauri and Vijim. If you decide in favour of their proposal, it will mean their full adoption into our family system in accordance with Kelani ways."

The young couple covertly exchanged glances, thinking And according to Bajoran custom.

"We have already discussed all implications of their offer and accept with gratitude, with full acknowledgment of the consequences," was Garak's reply.

"And you, Iníki Melset?"

"I agree with Elim, and will, as he, and as you, welcome Dauri and Vijim into our family without reservations." She reached out to take Dauri's hand, "The child will enjoy the same status as if I was fortunate enough to bear it myself." With a quick look over at Garak, she added, "The Bringers of Light are my, our witnesses."

Her husband did not react to the phrase, only inclined his head in agreement. Fortunately, our bureaucracy has become slightly less inflexible. Before The Defeat this would have entailed examinations, interrogation as to motives, adherence to our principles, endless inquiries among relatives and contacts….

"Then it is decided," Losir said, "You, Elim, have made a request."

"Indeed. No one outside immediate family is to know about this matter, nor the reason for our stay on Terok Nor. Officially Dauri is visiting friends on Bajor, Iniki and I have to go to Deep Space 9 for negotiations in the areas of agriculture and my own business; details have been registered at the Bureau of Commerce." He added, "If Dr Bashir is successful, the birth is to take place on Terok Nor. The good doctor is informed, Dr Parmak has given him all details necessary to ensure the mother's and the child's well-being. In fact, he is waiting for me to notify him." Garak added very quietly, "I have some concerns, thus this precaution..." Unless I take the appropriate measures

Departure was scheduled for a month later. Melset had already made an appointment with Quark and an old contact, Kelgan, to negotiate for a specialized fertilizer made of soil micro-organisms native to Cardassia combined with nutrients. It would reactivate once-fertile fields that had been freed from the overburden of impacted and fused earth. And these organisms will spread, ensuring that harvests will reach and even surpass pre-Defeat levels in a little over a decade...

Garak, who, in spite of his duties in the New Order, still did some tailoring, had an appointment with a Bajoran merchant who was to bring samples of various fabrics; if all went well, he hoped to establish a branch of commerce that would benefit Cardassian craftsmen who as yet, only produced material and decorative objects for the local market. He was certain his project would be successful as he had heard enthusiastic comments from members of Federation NGOs when they had seen some of the artwork salvaged from the ruins. There would be time enough for business concerns after medical procedures were initiated.

"Welcome back to Deep Space 9."

They were met by Kira and Chief Remosi, and noticed that the greeting was sincere, friendly.

As they walked through the Promenade after the Cardassians had registered as temporary residents, there admittedly were some distrustful glances, some whispered remarks from the Bajorans they passed, but no overt hostility, especially as the group of Bajorans and Cardassians were obviously comfortable with one another, talking animatedly in Bajoran.

When they had reached the habitat ring, Kira input the access code into the lock at the door of their assigned quarters and explained, "Chief Remosi and I have assigned you family quarters for more privacy," The Cardassians looked around to see they had two large rooms in addition to a living and dining area. "And for you, Garak and Melset, I have reserved an office next to the bureaus of SFHS as you most likely have to attend to your current duties during your stay."

"Commander, this is most generous," was Garak's reaction.

With a smile, Kira replied, "Duty to Cardassia supersedes all, remember?"

Remosi added, "One last thing: communicator pins to trace your whereabouts if necessary, and in case of trouble."

With that, they were left to themselves.

Preparations And Old Contacts

The next day, they reported to sickbay for the routine examination. When it was done, Bashir smiled at the Cardassians, "Good news: Same results for each of you. Your values are excellent; I can see that conditions at home have greatly improved. No more signs of starvation."

"Our government hopes to become fully independent of assistance within two years at most." Garak explained, "There still are local shortages, but at present we can cope with such difficulties on our own."

"When I remember the situation in the Union even six years ago…" Bashir replied pensively, "What your people have accomplished in so short a time, after such devastation is admirable." Loo'Wess, so many buildings in flames, entire areas reduced to rubble, bodies everywhere…. It was impossible to forget these scenes. For a moment, he thought, How do you cope with the memory of those sights?

"We are Cardassians, we did our duty and beyond, doctor. The exiles and refugees from justice who returned after The Defeat, the survivors on-world, and," Melset nodded at Dauri, "the war orphans who were repatriated from Bajor, all did their part. Nor must the aid given us by Bajor, by Federation NGOs, SFHS-Earth be forgotten." With understandable pride, she said, "We made every donation count. Nothing was wasted or misdirected." She met Bashir's eyes, "Nor must we forget your insistence in demanding we be helped, Dr Bashir; you were facing massive opposition from some quarters."

"Or Commander Kira who returned to Cardassia to testify against a traitor," Garak added.

"Never," was the reaction. "The Commander was very generous otherwise too: she accorded the staff of SFHS quarters free of charge, had the offices of SFHS installed near Ops, always willingly discussed options with us as Bajor had also faced massive destruction after Withdrawal."

"Now to the medical procedure you and I discussed three months ago, Garak. I take it you have informed Melset and Dauri about what it involves?"

"We have gone through the information you transmitted to me in detail and understand the risks involved, as well as the odds of success."

"Before we proceed, there is a formality that needs be addressed in compliance with Starfleet Medical's regulations." He opened a file, "Satra Dauri, I need a brief statement attesting that you have accepted to act as a surrogate on a voluntary basis, are under no pressure whatsoever, neither moral nor in connection with social expectations."

She declared in a firm voice, "I am Satra Dauri, wife of Vijim Dauri, resident of Perali City, Kelan Province, Cardassia Prime. I hereby declare that I have volunteered to function as a surrogate for Elim Garak and Iníki Melset. I have not been subjected to any form of pressure and I am fully informed of the risks involved in this procedure. I accept them willingly." She gave her imprint as did the other two Cardassians involved.

"Gul Melset, I'll take a tissue sample from you right away to establish a culture in a medium with nutrients, then treat it with enzymes to obtain pluripotent cells, which, with the appropriate treatment, should permit me to obtain viable ova. This procedure takes roughly five days, including a scan of the ova for genetic defects, in which case, the ovum concerned will be destroyed."

He could not quite suppress a grin at seeing Garak's expression when he told him, "For you, a brief stay in there," he indicated a cubicle, "is enough. I'll notify you in five days."

"Satra Dauri, do you have children of your own?"

"Yes. Two, born a year apart. A son and a daughter. Birthing was uncomplicated: a little under five hours from onset to completion, at home. Both full term, the yolk sac fully retracted into the abdomen."

He took the sample from Melset, saw her look at the vial expressionlessly. "I know that look. Don't worry. I'll keep all of you informed on developments. In case of questions, you know where to find me." With a smile, he added, "Now, for the next few days, you can enjoy what the station has to offer. There are a few people who will be glad to see you again."

"How about Quark's?" was Garak's suggestion. "You can panic him just a little, Iníki."

Melset turned to Dauri, "Remember? We went there one evening before your return to Cardassia."

Dauri nodded, "That little Ferengi toad, … but he has been helpful. I saw the various contracts you negotiated with him and his group before the Chamber of Commerce took over."

"Be sure they are watching him as carefully as I did," Melset laughed. "Organizer Leshek told me that he tried to slip a deal under the radar once or twice."

"How did he react when that was registered?"

"Complained volubly about restrictions, declared it all a misunderstanding, then renegotiated amid protests he would be reduced to penury, finally arriving at a result that is positive for both sides," Melset could not suppress amusement at recalling her own experiences with the Ferengi.

When they got there, Melset saw Dauri covertly look over at the shrine, her expression longing. After a quick exchange with Garak, she offered, "Dauri, If you wish, do attend services whenever you want while we are here. You were raised in the Bajoran tradition, no doubt miss the rituals."

Using Bajoran, she addressed a man who was standing nearby, "We require information: Is Vedek Navri still the station Vedek? Our friend was raised on Bajor, has since returned to Cardassia, is happy there, but misses the guidance given by the Vedeks and prylars."

In spite of his instinctive reaction at seeing a group of Cardassians, he responded to her friendly intonation, "Yes, he is still here as is Mesro. The service starts in two hours. Your friend will be welcome as we are all children of the Prophets."

She made the Bajoran gesture of gratitude and at turning to Dauri, recognized her joy. The returnees have their home shrine, meet for prayers, but, it must be difficult for them, cut off from something that was so much a part of their lives.

Her own ethnicity had been forced to give up their own beliefs, even though a number of Kelani still clandestinely worshiped the Bringers of Light, even had a shrine in their subterranean city of refuge. She looked over at Garak with unease. How much does he actually know about Mila's and my ethnicity and its customs? Tain must have observed her carefully, making worship dangerous. Especially the Order worked to eradicate our ways.

To her surprise, he addressed Dauri in turn. "By all means, attend if you wish to, and rejoin us afterwards, or if Navri and Mesro want to know how things are on Cardassia, stay with them for as long as you like. Melset told me about the kindness they showed you and the other returnees."

At entering Quark's they chose a table that was near where the staff of SFHS used to sit. Quark was over at once, grinning with pleasure, as he said loudly enough for all to hear. "Welcome to Quark's; how good to see old customers come by again, especially the discerning ones who know where they will always get quality service."

"After all the negotiations and deals, we decided that we would observe you just a little for old times' sake," was Garak's reaction. "Nassir is scheduled to arrive tomorrow with his samples. It was most kind of you to initiate the contact."

"He saw the work you did and are still doing," the Ferengi gave another toothy grin, indicated his suit, then the elaborate dress worn by one of the waitresses. "Made him give up his reservations against dealing with a Cardassian when I told him that you always gave everyone excellent service while on the station and still do."

He turned to Melset, "I've found a source of that fertilizer your government wants, have begun negotiations on your behalf. Do you want to contact the Department of Agriculture or should my contact do so directly?"

"You can give me the details which you have no doubt already negotiated so that I can examine the exact terms before transmitting them; I accept no middlemen bar you; the AgroDep will negotiate with you directly." She waited before adding, "It will keep me informed on each single term and condition."

They placed their orders and, while waiting, looked around. The atmosphere was still the same, but they could see that Quark had expanded his business. Four additional holosuites, an extra dabo table or two, more tables, more employees. His brother Rom being the Grand Nagus had proven very profitable in spite of the taxes that paid for the social programs and innovations Rom had introduced on Ferenginar.…

After their meal, Garak and Melset parted from Dauri who left them to change into Bajoran clothing and go to the shrine. The couple knew that the young woman was slightly apprehensive and wanted guidance.

For now, they had an appointment of their own: Dr Bashir, Dax and Kira were already waiting for them at the Replimat to share news and developments.

Medical Procedures

The two weeks of waiting were uneventful. For the first time in years, the Cardassians were able to relax; this alone seemed like the greatest of luxuries. During their standard 7-hour shift in their office various notifications, advisories, proposals arrived which they had to review, process or comment, but the frantic pace of work they had kept up during the years immediately after The Defeat was a thing of the past. Dauri participated in duties as she knew all of the procedures, having begun working for the authorities in Perali City as soon as she had relearned Cardassi.

While preparing to leave after their shift, Garak told her, "Only a normal shift, tomorrow the same. During the first four years most of us did triple shifts as we had so few personnel. Most of the survivors were seeing to basic work… You have read the accounts or been told about the first three years before your return."

And we saw the situation in Kelan-Lesana, helped remove the remaining ruins. She only inclined her head briefly.

"Come to think of it," Garak said, "Have you contacted the Bajoran family that raised you yet?" The young woman looked at him in surprise when he explained, "Melset and I plan to travel to Nevaris Village, stay there for two days. Should you not be able to reach your family in Rakantha, you can come with us."

At noticing her hesitate, Melset added "We took the liberty of inquiring whether that would be possible; the Arnas, the family who sheltered me before Withdrawal, agreed at once. You will be welcome."

Sixteen days after their arrival, Garak and Melset were called to Sickbay. Dauri was already wearing the standard hospital gown, Dr. Bashir his surgeon's outfit.

"Entering the critical phase. I've reviewed all procedures repeatedly, effected them in Dr Parmak's medical holosuite program, so, all considered,…" He did not end the sentence. "But there is one important decision that has to be made: there are two viable ova, both fertilized." No problem in an ovoviviparous species.

Taken by surprise, Melset and Garak quickly exchanged glances before turning away to discuss this unexpected development and within moments arrived at an agreement. Melset replied, "Dr Bashir, this decision is neither Garak's nor mine to make, but Dauri's alone. I wish to speak to her."

When Garak and Bashir had left the room, she went over to Dauri, clasped her hand and embraced her. "My sister, as I have already told the doctor, this decision is yours, not mine, not Garak's." She waited for a few seconds before repeating, "It is yours and yours alone." As though fearing her words could be picked up by listening devices, she whispered so that only Dauri could hear her, "Decide with your pagh, listen to what the Prophets tell you is right. That is all anyone asks of you."

Dauri met her eyes. "I have already spoken to Vedek Navri and Mesro about this, did so after the service when they wanted to hear about our lives on Cardassia, how we were received. After all, Dr. Bashir spoke of ova. Navri and Mesro gave me the same advice you just did." She smiled at Melset, disguising slight nervousness. "In some hours, we will know more," then lay down on the biobed, briefly clutched the symbol of the Temple Gates Navri had attached to the necklace she was wearing hidden under her clothing.

Outside, Melset told the others, "Dauri has already discussed the matter with the station Vedek and, doctor, she will tell you what she has decided."

Dr Bashir went into surgery while Melset left with Garak.

After whispering a short prayer to the Prophets, Dauri waited, now calm; as soon as she heard the doctor come in, she turned to him. "Dr Bashir, I have discussed the situation with Vedek Navri and Melset. They both have said the same: that is to me alone to decide." She took a deep breath before continuing, "I think it is the will of the Prophets I do this. I cannot discard one ovum in favor of the other when both have the potential to grow into a healthy child."

"All right, it is decided then. For now, relax and don't worry." He induced sleep, saying, "I'll see you in just a little while."

"So, let's give you a good, warm home, little fellows. Good luck…" Bashir murmured to the two tiny cells floating in the injector, barely visible to the naked eye.

To his relief, everything went smoothly; he mentally thanked Parmak for placing the information at his disposal as Cardassian females' reproductive system was very different to that of most humanoid women. Ovoviviparous reptiloid mammals. An unusual combination of traits…

Little later, Nurse Jabara adjusted the neurostimulator, and, side-by-side with the doctor, watched the Cardassian woman slowly regain awareness, look up at them questioningly.

"Satra Dauri, both ova have been implanted, have already found their places." He explained, "Their respective amnion will form within 24 hours, followed by production of the yolk sac which should reach full size in a few days. Your medullary bone is well-developed and vascularized, so you do not need any supplements, especially as your dietary needs will shift in response to hormonal changes. In brief, I tend to cautious optimism. I'm keeping you here for 52 hours, under observation, just to be on the safe side, then scan you again. Nurse Pradani will take over later on."

Gently guided by Nurse Jabara, she walked to a separate room where the temperature was adjusted to nearly Cardassian norm, and, soothed by the warmth and the ambient sounds of the station, Dauri fell asleep.

Bashir went out to Garak and Melset who had been notified. "Everything has gone according to plan. She'll stay here under observation for 52 hours as a precaution. Do tell Dr Parmak that his information and the holosuite program are invaluable." And I have discovered something highly interesting in that program… considering there still are some of those cells in stasis.

"We'll be sure to tell him, especially as he has offered to observe Dauri's pregnancy."

When they left, he watched the couple walk along the Promenade, recognized how different Garak had become now that he was back on Cardassia, had been integrated in a family system, something he had never experienced, was involved in developing the New Order with two of his peers, a full life indeed, perfectly suited for a Cardassian. Soon, if all went well, there would be yet another change for his old friend, a family of his own. Tain was no father to you, his words to you before he died said it all. A bleak childhood as an unwanted bastard considered a liability, a childhood and a life spent constantly trying to find recognition and approval, but realizing that would never happen… Tain did not deserve your loyalty and devotion.

"I take it you have a meeting with Commander Kira in a little while. I have some business I must attend to. Give the Commander my regards." With that he left for their office while Melset headed for the Replimat.

After getting a cup of Raktajino, Garak settled in front of the annex. The list of confiscated goods was soon found in the archives of the Order… a record of sales, proceeds, of deliveries, then objects that had mysteriously vanished, but whose price was reflected as income on a clandestine account that could be traced with some doing. Cardassians were meticulous record keepers, so that the first two records, directed to the computer of the colleague assigned the task of reconstructing these specific files, would arouse his and his staff's interest, result in a detailed examination …. which would culminate in a report disastrous for the career of one organizer who, twenty years before, had failed to cover his tracks well enough. With a smile of satisfaction about a job well done, Garak cheerfully effected modifications to cover his own tracks, made everything seem a result of exacting research. How very unfortunate, my dear Reman.

With that thought, he went to meet Nassir who had just arrived.

Business, The Past and Hope For The Future

A week later, Dr Bashir was cautiously optimistic that the ova had taken as the latest scan had shown development progressing normally.

It was also time for Garak to leave for Cardassia. His negotiations with Nassir had been more successful than expected; in roughly a month, the Bajoran merchant would deliver bolts of various kinds of cloth as he had managed to convince Nassir that it was quite safe for him to come to Cardassia to do business.

This deal was to develop into extended cooperation. He had contrived to interest Nassir in Cardassian materials and handicraft by asking Melset and Dauri to slowly walk by the Replimat in traditional Kelani clothing during his first meeting with the merchant; this had sufficed. At closer inspection of the material and embroidery, Nassir took the bait. A first tentative contract was drawn up which would expand the range of locally produced Cardassian exports, thus helping a number of craftsmen who had formed a cooperative. Production of sefrak was also in the start-up phase; once processing it began, another cooperative would be set up. One deal in which you won't have your grasping little claws, Quark, was his uncharitable thought.

In the meantime, Melset had concluded her own project, had transferred negotiations for the fertilizer to the Department of Agriculture after preliminary discussions of costs and overhead, so now only had her usual shift in the office she and Garak had been assigned, joined by Dauri who normally was employed in Perali City.

After seeing Garak off, the two women left the boarding ring and slowly walked along the Promenade.

"Two more weeks," Dauri said, "and we'll return as well."

"I spent nearly six years on Deep Space 9, posted at SFHS, often went to Cardassia to inspect or evaluate projects. It was always difficult to come back here, even though my work was fulfilling. SFHS-Earth had assigned me the Cardassian section and my co-organizers and team were what I would call friends. I still have contact with some of them." Melset turned to look out the viewport. "A life away from Cardassia… six years on Earth, at SFCCEI. Commander Chandler did the best he could by insisting I be given a position here. He made the effort to try and understand Cardassian mentality." She admitted, "He realized that I would have risked my life to return after The Defeat."

"At times I miss Bajor so much," Dauri admitted, her voice very low. "My parents were killed in a terrorist attack when I was three so that I have only vague memories of a different life. I was raised as a Bajoran, after a year only spoke Bajoran. When I grew up I began to understand the differences, the history of our peoples. Yet we were always treated with kindness, were taught that we were children of the Prophets in spite of what our kind had done during the Occupation. Ah yes, we learned to fear Cardassians, even the older children who still remembered their parents, our language, feared them. We had Bajoran friends, were happy, but…" she fell silent, remembering. "When I went back to visit, I was happy to see the people who had raised me, felt at home, and wished Vijim and my children were with me to share..."

There was no answer, only a soft touch. Kira had told her and her parents about the dilemma the returnees had faced and, in part, were still facing. And you will have these feelings for many years to come.

In silence, they looked out together, lost in thought.

The remaining two weeks were uneventful, with Melset putting in her shifts together with Dauri, checking analyses and contracts, collecting information about relevant matters. Afterwards, they often met Kira at the replimat or at Quark's, spent time with Dr Bashir and Dax. For Melset, who, as so many others among her people, had pulled years of double or triple shifts in their determination to overcome the results of The Defeat as soon as possible, this routine was like downtime.

On the last day, Dauri reported to Dr Bashir for the final scan. "You can do everything you did during your first two pregnancies; everything checks out fine." He added, "I have some more good news for you: Some days ago Garak informed me that a matter has been resolved so that you need not return here for the delivery."

He smiled at seeing Dauri's pleasure at this news, but added wistfully, "To attend a Cardassian birth would have been a first for me. Quite unusual by our standards."

He handed Melset four sets of pills. "We have already discussed this. Begin taking these when Dauri begins the third month of gestation and select richer foods from then on," he grinned, "Actually, you will be unable to resist them. Ideally you should gain roughly five or six kilos."

"Understood. Doctor Bashir, what you have done for Garak and myself, for our family is of inestimable value. Should you require any assistance we can give you, remember that you have friends on Cardassia you need but contact."

"I have much for which to thank Garak; he helped me cope with a situation that was extremely difficult. This … is the least I could do."

She wondered at his expression which hinted at both a very disturbing occurrence and at gratitude. There is more behind this. Perhaps I will find out sometime… But I know I can offer him the experience he desires.

Transit back to Cardassia was uneventful, and this time, Melset and Dauri went to the lounge, did not stay in their cabin, keeping to themselves. There were mainly Cardassians travelling with them, but also a few members of the Federation: Vulcans, Humans, an Andorian couple, a group of Trill, a Betazoid…. even some Bajoran merchants who were planning to enter negotiations with their Vulcan peers. Membership in the Federation had opened new possibilities for them as it had for so many other peoples before them.

Melset found herself wondering whether membership in the Federation would not end up imperceptibly and permanently changing the Bajorans as well as their culture and religion, slowly bringing them in line with Federation expectations. She remembered an expression she had heard at SFCCEI, about 'getting a taste of the root beer,' a subtle influence first rejected, then slowly insinuating itself into all facets of culture and perception. Her first taste of this human beverage had had her recoil from it in disgust, but soon it had 'grown on her' as Inari phrased it so that it was now a treat to be enjoyed whenever she was on Deep Space 9.

What about the Cardassian staff on the Federation base on Cardassia Prime? Or the teams who had been offworld? Those Organizers, including herself, who had continued, often intensive contact with representatives of Federation peoples, accepting their hospitality during negotiations, seeing and even experiencing their way of life? For a moment she felt concern, a fear for the integrity of her people and their ways. She pushed her apprehensions aside. It would be to the three pillars of Cardassian government to decide policy. For now, there were more important matters, renewed hope for her family, for herself and Garak…

Once they had arrived in Perali City, it was back to their respective routines after giving the elders of Melset's family a detailed report and the prognosis. The news was received by Delhina and Losir with suppressed happiness and anticipation.

The Satras often came by now in the evenings, or after having enjoyed the companionship of the other returnees. At seeing their initial hesitation when Melset invited them, she explained, "I can see that you are uncertain about your status in my family. Unofficially, you have become one of us, are always welcome; after the birth of the children, your status will be made official so that you have the same rights and obligations as all of our other family members. On Cardassia, family is everything. No one is ever excluded, there is mutual support, we offer each other security, care for our children and our old with equal devotion. The hierarchy in the family is determined by age, males and females are equal, everyone respected for what he or she is. Decisions are made within the family with everyone having input. And family is also a feeling, deeper than any other.

Of course, before The Defeat, Cardassia was always to be considered first and foremost, so that we were forced to witness against a family member and disassociate ourselves from him or her in case of opposition to the government. But that is past now; we love our Union, are devoted to it, but the evils of the past have been eliminated, controls instituted so that they will hopefully never be recreated again.."

With a smile of encouragement, she added, "Do as you have been doing all this time: observe, inquire, learn. That is better than any explanations can be."

Three months after their return from Deep Space 9, Melset began taking the hormones Dr Bashir had given her; within barely ten days she noticed a shift in her dietary needs. When she complained about it, Dauri nodded, slightly amused but sympathetic. "Iníki, this will permit you to share one important element with me; it is only for half a year but it strengthens the bond between the mother and the child. That we will be sharing means that they will look to us both for protection and love so that there will be no trauma of separation."

"There will be no separation; we will continue sharing as you are family," was the answer.

As Dauri's pregnancy advanced, she adopted the loose two-layered robes that, on Cardassia, meant prestige and respect for a woman who was ensuring the continuation of the family and Cardassian society.

"And I am a fraud," was Melset's disgusted comment when she had to switch to that style of clothing as well. "But any other clothing but Kelani style has become so tight, it feels as though I was in the coils of a Terran giant-snake." She muttered under her breath, "At least Dauri will have something to show for it!"

Vijim overheard her comment and said, laughing, "Don't complain, my sister, your arms will no longer be empty. There will be joy in your home."

Dr. Parmak declared himself satisfied with progress and after the before-last examination, met with the two couples and Melset's parents. "In about three more weeks. Retraction of the yolk sac has been initiated, the children have nearly attained the expected stage of development."

"I have a request to make," Melset looked at the others, "Dr. Bashir has made this possible, and, when we left, he said that he wished he could have witnessed the birth as he had never assisted at a Cardassian one."

The Satras agreed at once, Vijim saying, "He treated both Dauri and you, Melset. But Dr. Parmak, the invitation to attend is yours to make; after all, you will be overseeing the birth as you are the doctor in charge."

"I shall contact him this evening. He deserves this privilege," In spite of the formality of his reply, the Cardassian secretly was pleased as he had learned to respect the human doctor for his knowledge and his acceptance of cultural differences in procedure as well as in patient doctor interactions.

An Unexpected Invitation

"Dr. Bashir, Incoming message from Cardassia Prime. It's Dr Parmak."

"I can only hope everything is all right," he said, immediately concerned. "Patch it through."

"Greetings, Dr. Bashir, this is Dr. Parmak of the Cardassian Medical Centre. I will make this short as I am on duty: I have been informed that you have expressed the wish to attend a Cardassian birth."

"That is correct. The information you gave me is invaluable, but first-hand observation…"

"You are being given the chance." Parmak said with a friendly intonation, "I invite you to come to Perali City in two weeks. While waiting for the birth, you will have the chance to visit our clinic and see how everything has changed thanks to your assistance since you last were here. The birth proper will be a home birth, as is custom among our people except in high-risk cases. You will, of course, be staying with the Damar-Melset family. I was requested to pronounce the invitation. Parmak out."

When he arrived two weeks later, he was received as though he were family. The time until the birth was a constant round of tours, of reports. He, as Kira had been before, was astonished at seeing that conditions both in the cities and in medical facilities were nearly up to prewar standard again. He could well understand the pride his Cardassian hosts took in showing him what had been accomplished within a relatively short time.

A few days after his arrival Delhina Melset called him, "Dr. Bashir, Dauri has gone into labor." She accompanied him to the birthing room of the family home.

He looked around; dark and warm by Federation standards, in accordance with Cardassian custom, a bed, a birthing chair. Dauri was already positioned on it, Melset at her side, holding her close in support.

"As she is bearing the children for the Melset-Garak family, Melset is the one to offer Dauri support during this time, encourage her.

"Welcome Dr Bashir," was her greeting, "You honor this occasion by your presence."

For a moment he was startled at the phrasing. It should not surprise me, not after what I learned about her some years ago.

Dr. Parmak was already present, together with Delhina, Aderro the midwife and, to his concealed surprise, Garak.

"As Garak is their father, he is accorded the privilege of being among those who will welcome the new citizens."

He nodded. The entire arrangement was unusual by human standards, but made sense in this specific situation, at least for Cardassians.

Dr. Parmak explained, "Everything is proceeding normally, but as the pregnancy was assisted, I have been asked to come, to help in case there is trouble. While waiting, I can explain some elements to you."

"Our women's pelvis is much like that of human women, but there is a suture in the front of the pubis, bridged by cartilage which softens before birth; during the birth proper it stretches by about three or four centimeters, thus facilitating passage of the child which is enclosed in a thin amniotic sac. At contact with the air, this sac spontaneously dries, ruptures, further easing the process. To compensate for potential weakness, we have gastralia, cartilaginous rods in the abdominal wall for additional support of our inner organs."

"Doctor Bashir?" Dauri invited, "Do come over here."

To his surprise, she took his hand and drew it to her pubis, "Feel the edges of the bone and the connective cartilage? They are fully spread, thus birth imminent."

"Now," she called out.

Melset supported her when she doubled up, gasping, and only seconds later Dauri writhed, uttered a prolonged hiss. At the same time, Aderro said, "We welcome you into the family."

The child, a girl, was passed to Delhina who took off the amniotic sac, dried off the child and gave it to Dr. Parmak.

"Look, Dr. Bashir. This is a full term child: The yolk sac has been retracted into the abdominal cavity where it will be absorbed."

For a few seconds, the child seemed to meet his eyes.

At seeing the human doctor look at the baby with disbelief, he added, "Our children are immediately aware of their surroundings." "Yes, little one, this is a human … and a friend." Parmak smiled at the baby.

There was another call of welcome some minutes later, when the second child was born, a boy this time.

After examining him and declaring the baby in good health, Dr Parmak explained, "This, Dr Bashir is the extent of your and my duties here. The birthing process is over, both the mother and the children are well and will rest now. First though, we have to bear witness."

Dauri lay back against Melset who had supported her and said loudly enough for those present to hear: "Iníki, my elder sister, Elim, my brother-in-law, I give you these children so that you may have joy in your house. They are of your blood."

"My sister, Dauri, you and your husband, Vijim, have become members of our family by giving Elim and myself this double gift of life." Melset bowed her head close to Dauri's, whispering, "We shall share. You are family, the children you have given us are not lost to you."

Together with Aderro, she helped Dauri lie down on the bed and then left after gently touching her cheeks. The midwife would watch over her for another three hours.

"It is done," Parmak whispered to Dr Bashir when they went out with Delhina who held the babies, then quickly dressed them, laid them in a cocoon-like bed which would keep their body temperature constant.

Bashir was still looking at the children, fascinated, when Melset came out of the birthing room.

"They will only have to be nursed two or three times a day for the first three days as they are still being nourished by the yolk sac, but I expect Dr Parmak has already explained everything to you." With a smile, as she was anticipating the human doctor's reaction, she explained, "Our babies do not cry like yours. When they are hungry, they do this..." She made a sound like the contact call of a baby alligator; "and this when they are distressed," she made the same sound, but two-toned, higher in pitch.

Bashir stared at her, then at the children as if he was not sure whether this was a joke or not as in the past, this Cardassian often had used the prejudices and misconceptions about her people to have fun at his and others' expense...

The Cardassians who saw his carefully-hidden surprise and disbelief laughed out loud.

"See, Doctor, those who call us reptiles are not all that wrong," Melset added, trying to remain serious.

He turned back to the children who were decidedly appealing, with straight black hair, large blue eyes, soft, finely-scaled gray skin with the slightest hint of the ridges they would develop at the onset of puberty. They yawned drowsily, curled up and fell asleep. Parmak went over to him and explained, "They are small by human standards but will grow rapidly during the first six months. Our females' milk is extremely rich in nutrients, which supports rapid body and brain development."

Bashir left with Dr Parmak who added, "In the first three days, they will already nurse, too, but that will be a thick liquid with minerals and enzymes to stabilize their metabolism, activate their immune system. In four days, lactation will set in, Dauri and Melset will share this time, half a year in the case of our children."

Delhina had come over to them and said, "They will be able to roll over and lift their head in a month, walk at seven months and use short sentences at the age of 12 months. But for now, they are preparing to meet life."

Later on, Bashir was sitting in the main room when Garak and Melset joined him.

"Doctor Bashir, everything has gone as we hoped," was Garak's comment. "I expected no less."

"How does it feel?"

"Fulfilled, and we are deeply grateful for what you have done for us, Dr Bashir," was Melset's reply.

Garak gently touched her waist and explained, "A union without children is cut off from the past and the future, is empty of meaning for the family as a whole as it will leave no sign it once existed. Dr. Bashir, you have given ours life and a place in the sequence of generations."

Bashir did not answer, realizing that words were superfluous and would ruin the moment, but was touched by these words from the former Cardassian spy who had always hidden the truth behind a web of lies, who, as an agent of the Order, had a personal history and had done things it was best not to consider too closely. Now I have seen an aspect of you as a person that reveals a little about how you might have been under different circumstances.

He still spent a week with the family; it was an interesting experience; up to then he had for the most part interacted with individual Cardassians, in situations which had them suspicious, on the defensive, or waiting for a chance to get the advantage or repay what they perceived was an injustice. Within the environment of family, however, he saw an entirely different aspect. Their offering him hospitality showed they trusted him implicitly; they treated him as though he was one of them, were openly affectionate among each other, caring, though far more restrained than humans.

Having seen Melset during her time as a member of SFHS, driven, hardly taking time for rest, only thinking of fulfilling her duty to the union no matter what the cost, he was struck by the difference between then and now. Together with Dauri, she shared the babies, was enjoying this new phase of life, which in essence was a new duty, one connected to Cardassia's future.

Upon leaving, he knew that, apart from the normal dramas of family life, everything was now settled especially as, only hours before, he had seen Garak holding one of the babies, gazing at it as though he was seeing something infinitely precious, his attitude protective yet gentle. You won't be passing on the treatment you got in your childhood.

For Melset, life had also changed. As before, she met with the group of returnees, but at times wondered that she was not impatiently waiting to take up her regular work again.

After a month, Darya asked, curious: "How does this compare with the duties you had before?"

"Far more intensive, more … personal. I have the responsibility for these little ones, enjoy them and sharing with Dauri. Certainly I have much less time to myself, for keeping up with developments and the supplementary tasks that I was often assigned, but the experience is satisfying. I had always wanted four or five children, thought this option was taken away from me, was resigned to the fact, and now," she indicated the children, "I have these. …"

She briefly looked around at their group; exchanges of advice, some sewing or other forms of handicraft, discussing new developments, watching over the older children or playing with the smaller ones … a scene that could be found on Bajor, on Earth… I've seen so much: combat, injuries, captivity, have seen comrades fall, saved and was saved, was forced into transferring to the Order, experienced missions, expatriate life, ceaseless work to do my part in recreating our Union …. And now? A quick glance showed her that her own children were dozing. She looked over at Darya and made a half-nod, indicating that she was content in her new role.

As was custom, Melset was freed from duty for a year. After receiving the notification from the Department of Infrastructure, she commented to Garak, "Family leave for an entire year; never since my time as a recruit have I had more than a week of downtime."

There was a loud squawk from the adjoining room.

"Not exactly downtime, Iníki, I hear duty to Cardassia calling you."

"A specific duty I never expected to have the privilege of performing, and I have you and Dr Bashir to thank for it." She left with a call of her own, and, speaking to the child, took it out of its bed and gently held it to her breast.

Two months later, a notification from the Loo'Wess Medical Center arrived. "So, the decisive formality…. How very ironic..." was Garak's reaction as he waved her over. "Look who has been assigned to perform the genetic scan and confirm the children's parentage."

Melset could not quite disguise apprehension at reading, "Dr. Khessano is assigned to take the tissue samples and perform the scan. You will subsequently be given the results with which you are to report to the Population Centre, Department for Birth Registry to complete further procedures."

"He was Tain's doctor of choice, and can be trusted."

Suspicious, Melset gave Garak a sideways glance.

"No, no pressure exerted at all. He was most impressed by your stoic acceptance of the alleged facts, and your absolute trust in our system that time." Garak added, as it no longer mattered, "He did invoke the law against sterilizing a genetically healthy individual, but was strongly advised to comply, was coerced into doing as ordered."

She took Garak's word for it after having seen how the Order functioned more than once. "At the same time, the Satras can be registered as members of our extended family, a positive development for them and for us as their status will be legitimized. I never expected this Kelani custom to be included in the laws pertaining to family affairs."

"Various modifications were effected when the laws were revised. Only remember your concern at seeing how the tenets of the Order had been changed." Garak waited for some moments before adding, "No more surveillance, no listening devices…. How to obtain information and prevent subversive activities?"

"Ah, yes, the good old days…" was her rejoinder. We were safe then."

At the Loo'Wess Medical Centre the elders and Vijim waited in the anteroom while Melset and Garak reported in together with Dauri.

They submitted their data rods to confirm their identity, and after a short time, Dr Khessano's secretary came to take them to his office.

"Dr Khessano, Garak Elim, Melset Iniki and Satra Dauri." with that, the secretary left.

The doctor gave them a nod of greeting, then stated, "This will not take long. Your own scans are already on file, samples were taken during the census, so I only need those of the children."

He spoke gently to them, distracted them from the momentary discomfort, and after taking the samples, said, "Well done, you are good children of Cardassia."

Understanding by his tone of voice and expression that they were being praised, the two looked up at the doctor, then over at his assistant who was working at a terminal; it was obvious they would have liked to be carried around the room. Every new place was so full of unknown sights which they did not understand yet...

The doctor made eye contact with Melset, saying, "I know what recollections our meetings has no doubt evoked for you. Then was then and now is now. Those were different times. I will now effect the genetic scan of the children's samples, and once that is ready, compare them to your, Garak's and Satra Dauri's records."

He invited the three over to observe the process. "There, it is done, and here are the results," Khessano murmured after some minutes.

"Heritage confirmed. It is entirely yours, Garak and Melset. There is not one codon indicative of a contribution from the surrogate, Satra Dauri." He recorded the details on their data rods, then said, "Everything necessary has been effected, the information has been transmitted to the medical branch of the Population Center." He pressed a call button. "Setani will take you to Pareto's office for registration."

Pareto found herself facing a sizable group when the parents entered with the children, accompanied by Delhina Melset, Losir Damar and Vijim Satra.

"Dr Khessano has notified me that you, Satra Dauri, have functioned as a surrogate to enable Melset and Garak to do their duty to Cardassia. Heritage has been confirmed, all conditions are fulfilled."

Iniki Melset and Elim Garak, you are prepared to adopt these children, Nelis and Kendos, who have been borne by Satra Dauri."

"Yes. We take them into our family as our own."

Satra Dauri, do you renounce all rights to these children?"

For a moment, the young woman hesitated, looked over at them then said very quietly, "Yes. I cede them to this couple whose heritage they are transmitting to future generations, to Garak and Melset in gratitude for what they have done for me, for all of us who have been given the possibility to return home from Bajor."

Losir added, "They will possess the same rights and status as Jivan Damar, the son of our son, Corat Damar, whose Kelani given name was Åvron."

Damar, the Legate who fought for Cardassia's freedom... These are his close relatives! Disguising her astonishment and awe, the woman input the data, then looked up with a slight smile, "This is all. The adoption has been registered, and all relevant details will be transmitted to the Centre for Population Affairs and to the Order, which will receive both documentation and the samples. I will personally see to it that this procedure is accorded priority."

Losir Damar added, "There is one more formality we wish to effect: The Satras are to be integrated into our extended family as fully recognized members of same, with all rights and privileges. Both the Order and the Centre already have their data as well as samples, which should facilitate the matter. This is an element of Kelani custom which is now recognized both in Kelan-Lesana where it originated and throughout Cardassia as a procedure unique to our ethnicity."

Pareto checked, then nodded. "The entire process and subsequent documentation will take roughly a week. You will receive the data together with the code to transfer it to your family archives."

On the way out, Melset commented, "Apparently Organizer Reman has been offered a new position."

Garak said evenly, "Indeed, but not in the way you think. From his point of view, he fell victim to a most regrettable development. You will remember that the Order is reconstructing various files and a team is now processing those from the time before Withdrawal. An inconsistency in two files pertaining to confiscated goods and their subsequent transferral was his undoing, led to an accusation of embezzlement and fraud. He has been demoted, and is now serving time on a colony planet."

I can imagine what happened. She said nothing, only looked down at the child she was holding, then at the one in Garak's arms.

And now, for us, a new phase of fulfilling Duty to Cardassia with its own challeng