Gul Dukat strode down the promenade, one of the few areas of Terok Nor that resembled a standard space station rather than an ore processing facility. Largely due to his benevolent hands-off attitude towards those legitimately involved in trade and commerce, several shops selling various wares managed quite stiff competition for the hard earned currency of the Cardassian masters of the Bajoran sector. He took considerable pride in the fact that those under him had less reason to grumble than those under his predecessor. Even the annoyingly ingratiating Ferengi, Quark , was proving more useful than he would have thought possible.
He enjoyed these morning strolls with all eyes upon him, those under his command, the merchants, and of course the laborers being marched to and from work details. Despite four assassination attempts by Bajoran resistance fighters, he was fit, healthy, and not about to be cowed. Hiding behind personal guards and protocol might suit others in his position, but it was something he would never do. The instant the Bajoran scum smelled fear, there would be no end to their machinations. No, it was much preferable for them to see that despite their best efforts, he walked among them with a smile on his face and seemingly little care in the world.
“Prefect Dukat,” a perfunctory looking Glinn hurried to catch up to his longer legged superior.
Brekor, he thought with an inward roll of his eyes. If anyone could spoil a perfectly pleasant morning it was this officer who should have turned bureaucrat. “Yes?” he said in his most magnanimous tone.
“Prefect,” he said again, licking his lips nervously, “it's...it's your pants.” His voice dropped to a sotto whisper Dukat had a hard time picking out from the background noise of the station.
“My pants?” Dukat raised an eye ridge ever so slightly, almost certain he had heard wrong.
The Glinn nodded convulsively. “Yes, Prefect. There's a rip,” he gestured discreetly with a gray finger toward Dukat's posterior.
“My pants are ripped,” Dukat replied as levelly as he could under the circumstances. How many people had already seen and dared to say nothing, or worse yet took amusement at his dishabille? Irritation simmered beneath his icy glare. “Is that all, Glinn Brekor?”
“Yes, Prefect,” the unfortunate nodded once more, looking as though he would rather be anywhere but there.
“Thank you for informing me,” he said, managing to convey more menace than gratitude. He continued to glare until the unctuous little ball of nerves beat a hasty retreat from his line of sight. He had two choices, neither of them palatable. He could walk all the way back to his quarters, ensuring that anyone who had not gotten a good look on his first pass would have a second chance, or he could duck into the new tailor shop he had insisted on having opened and deal with its proprietor. The thought of actively avoiding Garak rankled. Why should he? He needed a service, and it would be satisfying being able to extract it on demand rather than having to pay.
Setting his lips to a smirk any familiar with him came to dread, he changed his course to angle toward the tailor's shop. “Garak's Clothiers”, as the newly created sign proclaimed, was lit from within and apparently open for business. He stepped through the open doors and quickly scanned the shop. A soft chime announced his arrival. So pedestrian, he thought with satisfaction. One would never guess how far our tailor has fallen.
“One moment,” Garak's unmistakable voice called from the back, steadily increasing in volume as he approached. “I've just received a shipment of fine Deltan silks. I don't suppose you'd be...interested.” His last word trailed off as he emerged and realized the identity of his visitor. “That goes without saying,” he added smoothly. “What brings you to my humble shop, esteemed Prefect Dukat?”
Had he not know better, Dukat might well have bought the deferential act. He couldn't detect the slightest note of disrespect or displeasure in the man's voice or posture. To all outward appearance, Garak was pleased to see him. He hoped the act annoyed the actor as much as it did him. “I'm in need of your services,” he answered, seeing nothing to be gained by not getting straight to the point. He turned just enough to show Garak the rip, still unsure himself of just how large or obvious it might be.
“Do you wish to leave them here?” the tailor asked.
"I do not,” he said. “There is no reason that you can't perform the repair right now with me still in them. I have an appointment this morning, and I don't wish to be late.”
Garak's blue eyes were as impossible to read as his bland smile. “In that case, permit me to fetch the appropriate colored thread and a sufficiently fine needle.”
Dukat gave a bare incline of his head and stood at parade rest while he waited for Garak to retreat to the back. He had no fear that the other Cardassian would be foolish enough to attempt to prick him or otherwise sabotage the repair. He was, however, somewhat disappointed that Garak didn't have a stronger reaction upon seeing him or being requested to serve him in such a menial way. He pondered this and various ways that he might yet provoke the disgraced operative while watching the standard morning traffic pass by just beyond the open doors.
Garak returned to him, the picture of professional efficiency, with his needle already threaded and a precise length cut for the mending. “This will take but a moment,” he informed him. “And do hold still. I would hate to hurt you.”
I'll just bet, Dukat thought dryly. He folded his arms across his cuirass and spread his feet hip width apart. “I must say, I'm very impressed with how quickly you finally settled in once you had the proper motivation.” He still felt his threat of putting Garak to work with the Bajoran slave labor if he continued to delay the opening of the shop was a stroke of genius. It was such a shame that the exile had taken him seriously at first threat. He would have greatly enjoyed carrying it out.
Garak's touch with the needle and thread was so light, Dukat could barely tell the repair was in progress. “It is truly amazing what one can accomplish with proper motivation,” Garak agreed. “To look at the place, one would suppose I had been here for quite some time already, and my account books bear out the impression. It was generous of you to provide me with such an opportunity.”
With his back safely to the man, Dukat allowed himself a small scowl. Liar, he thought. There is no way he could possibly turn a profit this quickly, not when ordering fine Deltan silks. He felt himself relax again at this mental assertion. Only an idiot would trust anything Garak had to say about anything, even as trivial as the ambient light or temperature. “I was positively delighted to be able to do so,” he said with equal measures of truth and spite.
He heard Garak inhale for a response that never came. Blindingly bright white flame blossomed just five doors down and across from the clothing shop, followed almost immediately by a deafening boom that shook the entire station and sent a fine web work of cracks spreading across the clear doors and windows all along the shops of the promenade. Activating his wrist com, Dukat barked, “Status report, now!”
Only static met his request, and all outside the shop erupted into full chaos, with merchants screaming and running for cover, Cardassian guards pulling together into formations, and Bajoran laborers suddenly breaking free of their chains to rally resistance to the guards. Although the guards were firing energy weapons on the Bajorans, Dukat realized to his dismay that at least some of the Bajorans were firing back. Alarms claxoned throughout the refinery, and why weren't the damned fire suppression systems responding? That chemical fire was spreading far too fast.
He reflexively reached for his sidearm phaser only to have his hand grasp air. Whirling on Garak, he had just enough time to hurl himself to the side, at the last moment realizing he wasn't the man's target. A feral eyed Bajoran woman went down just a few bare steps from where Dukat had been standing, the twisted homemade blade in her hand dropping to the floor of the shop and bouncing end over end.
Garak tossed him his weapon and dove for the woman, moving much faster than Dukat would have ever credited his ability for his age and relative stoutness. He slung her over his shoulder and immediately started for the back of the shop. With the fire and the firefight raging through the promenade, Dukat didn't even think to question whether he should follow, hoping it would buy them at least a few moments. He had to shout to be heard, “Won't we be trapped?”
Shooting him a withering look, Garak cut sharply to the right, past a curtain flap into his stock room. He slung the limp Bajoran woman to the floor like a sack of rulots and dropped to his knees, running his fingertips along the smooth floor until a fingernail caught a tiny latch and a large panel swung soundlessly upward. Wordlessly, he eyed Dukat, the silent challenge apparent. Go first, if you dare.
With no time to argue, Dukat stared hard at him as he dropped down to Garak's side and swung his legs into darkness. He had no idea how far he'd fall, but he needed one hand to hold his weapon. There was no way he intended to allow himself to be disarmed a second time, even if the first time resulted in his life being saved. Awkwardly, he swung himself downward braced with his free hand. The drop wasn't as bad as he expected, and he flexed his knees to absorb most of the impact, his boots clanging on metal grating.
No sooner did he have his balance than Garak's tenor rang down to him, “Catch,” and the dead weight of the Bajoran came crashing down. He bent to take the brunt of the impact on his shoulders, awkwardly twisting his knee in the process. It was too soon to tell if it would continue to cause him problems or just throb and subside.
“Damn you!” he snarled up at Garak. “You almost broke my leg!”
“Sorry,” Garak said a bit breathlessly, swinging down into the bowels of the refinery beside him and closing the hatch above them with a soft click, “but we were a little pressed for time. I do believe that explosion centered on your meeting place, Prefect.”
It was too dark for Dukat to see anything at all, despite Cardassian proclivity for low lighting. He found to his surprise that now that he couldn't see Garak's distracting bland facade, he could hear what he had not heard before, a small measure of emotion in that smooth voice: smug satisfaction. Vole stench filled his nostrils, and he inhaled more shallowly. “Never mind that,” he snapped. “We have more pressing problems. If that fire continues to burn—”
“I'm well aware of our predicament,” Garak cut him off. Dukat could hear him lifting the woman and settling her once more. “This way,” he said, moving down the narrow metal tunnel to Dukat's left.
Keeping his phaser trained in the general direction of the sound of the tailor's footsteps, Dukat followed. More rumbles echoed ominously from a greater distance. He could only wonder if there were more bombs or if the fire was raging in earnest and destroying valuable equipment and monitoring systems. How had the Bajorans managed to orchestrate this under their very noses? It was nothing like the previous assassination attempts. Those were crude ploys carried out by fewer than five slaves. This was as close to open rebellion as he had seen in his tenure here. If he survived this crisis, he determined then and there that he would put elaborate safeguards in place throughout the entire computer network. He'd have them embedded in the very core, and if it meant that every living soul died on Terok Nor at the next attempt, it was a price he was willing to pay for sheer spite.
Don't get ahead of yourself, Skrain, he thought. You're still not out of this.
He resisted asking questions as they scurried further from the raging fire every bit as furtively as voles. It was bad enough having to follow Garak blindly who knew where, but to be beholden to him for saving him from the woman was an indignity almost too much to bear. He longed to shoot him in the back and be done with him, but he knew if he did that, he could wander the dark tunnels for an indefinite amount of time. He might even run into rebels. No, better to play along, at least for now, and then seize control of the situation once he was in a better environment for it.
Periodically, he tried his wrist com to no avail. He decided they must be jamming the signal somehow. On the chance that they might try to track him using it, he turned it off entirely.
“Wise decision,” Garak's voice drifted back to him. “I'd have suggested it myself some time ago had I any faith you'd care to listen.”
“When I require your tactical input, I'll request it of you,” he retorted acidly.
“Of course,” Garak said.
Dukat frowned thoughtfully. Was that strain in the tenor? Perhaps the weight of the unconscious woman was wearing on him, or perhaps it was something else. If he was careful, he could possibly turn it to his advantage. “Do you even know where you're going?” he demanded in an irritable tone of deliberate provocation.
“Patience, good Prefect,” the tailor rallied, although there was still something not quite right about his voice.
Dukat committed this bit of knowledge to memory. In the future, if he wanted to hear what Garak was really saying, closing his eyes might help. It felt strange to trust one of his weakest senses, but the more they spoke, the more he was certain he was right. Garak didn't seem quite as good at controlling his voice as he was his body and facial expressions, and when Dukat was deprived of more dominant sensory input, he could tell. His knee began to throb in earnest, and he could feel the fabric of his pants leg pulled tight over it. It was swelling. Pain was something he didn't handle well. For the first time since swinging into the tunnel, he was grateful for the pitch darkness so that Garak couldn't see his grimace.
The footsteps ahead of him slowed, so he slowed as well, futilely narrowing his eyes. “What are you doing?” he asked, suddenly suspicious.
“Feeling for something. It would be much easier if you'd take the prisoner for a moment,” the tailor answered.
“Just put her down,” Dukat snapped.
“I don't think that would be wise,” Garak retorted. “She has been feigning unconsciousness for some time now.”
Dukat heard a sharp, feminine intake of breath followed by a muttered curse from his would-be assassin. “I have my weapon trained on you,” he said to her. “I don't need to see you to shoot you, and I'm not as merciful as my subordinate. Put her down, Garak, between us.”
Garak snorted very softly as though to dispute the fact, but he did what he was told. Dukat heard the woman's bare feet slap the metal grate none too gently. After a few moments, Garak exclaimed, “Ah, here it is! You may find these accommodations a bit more to your liking, esteemed Prefect.”
A bluish circle of light flared, quite dim but startling after the weight of such complete darkness. Dukat squinted and almost cursed under his breath much as the woman had. Just off the unused maintenance tunnel was a nearly egg shaped alcove room, large enough to accommodate the three of them, a computer display terminal, a Cardassian style sleeping pallet, and several crates of supplies. The walls were honeycombed with noise suppressing micro-mesh, and a small signal array jutted through a slender slit in the ceiling. Garak slid the door panel into place behind them, closing it seamlessly.
Dukat shot him a murderous look. “You've been stealing supplies from the station and secreting them in this dirty little vole nest?” For the time being, he was content to ignore the prisoner whose eyes darted between them like a caged animal's as they spoke.
“On the contrary,” Garak countered, setting all deference aside and fixing Dukat with what could only be described as an inquisitor's glare. “Do you honestly believe that you are the only person I answer to here?”
Neither Cardassian blinked or so much as twitched a breath for the space of several seconds. As much as he was loath to do it, Dukat looked away first, his ridged jaw clamped tight. Of course, there was the possibility that Garak was bluffing, but if he wasn't and Dukat moved against him for following Tain's orders, the consequences could be particularly unpleasant. He didn't need the coldness in the other man's eyes to tell him that.
The Bajoran prisoner snorted contemptuously. “Can't even control your own man,” she said, but a tremor in her voice betrayed her bravado for what it was. “Some leader you are.”
Both Cardassians shifted their focus to the filthy woman. Now that he could see her more clearly, Dukat realized she was not nearly as old as he had first thought. She was barely more than a girl, in her mid-teens at the most, with bedraggled tendrils of brown hair matted halfway down to her mid-back and nearly black eyes. He raised his fist to strike what for him would be a very casual blow to her face, just enough to teach her some respect, but Garak held up a hand to stop him. No stomach for this? Dukat thought with some surprise. It didn't fit with what he knew of the man at all.
“Don't sully yourself, Prefect,” Garak said with the offhand air of someone discussing the weather. “Let me do my job. If you could just hold her from behind and don't let her move too much?”
Despite himself, Dukat felt his mouth go a bit dry as he positioned himself and grasped the girl's wiry arms. It wasn't as though he hadn't performed interrogations before. He was quite adept at them, and he felt no love for this wretch that had tried to kill him. No, it was this unholy partnering and the implications that went well beyond this little Obsidian Order style cell, the thought of helping a man whose hands had once coaxed agony from his own father, agony strong enough to break him utterly and lead to his slow execution for treason.
Garak stepped closer, and the girl kicked out at him suddenly and violently, using Dukat's grasp for leverage. In two movements Dukat's eyes followed well but that probably seemed little more than a blur to the prisoner, Garak snapped off two kicks of his own, breaking both of her knees. She howled in pain and sagged in the taller Cardassian's grasp.
“It's very unfortunate I had to do that,” Garak said in an instructive tone, addressing not the girl, but Dukat. “Building to pain is much more effective than something so drastic and immediate. Now I'll have to monitor her for shock, and I may even have to waste some drugs I was hoping I wouldn't have to use, as they're in short supply.”
Dukat barely registered the scant weight of the girl in his grasp. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Garak's as he spoke. He willed himself to see something, anything, beyond the look of a somewhat bored instructor in the glassy blue, but there was nothing. Had he been more able to focus, he would have also consciously rather than subconsciously noticed that whatever odd strain had claimed the inquisitor's voice in the tunnel was now gone without a trace. Are these the eyes my father saw? he thought, appalled.
Garak turned away to open one of the neatly stacked crates. He moved with graceful precision, setting aside a hypospray and selecting a few vials to use in it, each with a different purpose, to stave off shock, to dull the sharp pain of the broken knees, to keep her awake, to revive her should that fail. Dukat shifted his hold so that he supported the prisoner with his arms beneath her armpits and his hands clasped at the back of her neck. She moaned and struggled until he let her have some of her own weight on her broken legs. That subdued her with a high pitched whimper.
“Don't do that,” Garak said without looking his way. “Support her fully, and keep her upright.”
Numbly, Dukat obeyed. All thoughts he had of wresting control from Garak once he had high ground were distant now. It took all of his focus and mental discipline just to maintain his own self-control while the man went about what he did so well. He couldn't stop thinking of his father, and he had witnessed enough state interrogations not to need a vivid imagination to know what had been done by this man, the one before him treating him as though he were some wayward student in need of better instruction while he tortured a girl. It was as though the girl were secondary, and his target was—Dukat blinked with the realization and refused to allow himself to complete that thought.
Bastard, he thought furiously, more internal curses directed at Garak following that first, some of them words he would be embarrassed to speak in the company of anyone civilized. You think to torture me? Me! Resolve tightened within his chest. For the memory of his father, he vowed to stay strong and let nothing this beast said or did touch him where it truly hurt.
It was hard, harder than he ever imagined it could be. Each nuanced touch from Garak, a pressure point here, a subtle twist there, a sharp jab to delicate nerve clusters, played the girl in Dukat's arms like an instrument string pulled too taut. She thrummed with agony, and he could feel every tremor to his core. In each shudder, he felt an echo of his father, until he was as desperate for the girl to crack and give them the information Garak wanted about the assassination attempt and uprising as she was for the pain to stop.
Please, he thought fervently, just give him what he wants so this can end. He didn't know what was worse, the endlessly patient, repetitive questions for their prisoner or the commentary the torturer kept directing at him as though the two of them were teacher and pupil on friendly, familiar footing. “It really helps if you can dig beneath that tendon just so. You see there, how she quivers? But when I release and press here....”
I'm learning one thing, he thought grimly. I'm learning I only thought I hated you before. That hatred became his one salvation in the ordeal. It burned him so deeply and viscerally it eventually wiped away any ability he had to connect the Bajoran to his father. His locked fingers behind the girl's head longed for one thing only, Garak's powerful neck in his grasp.
“All right!” the girl suddenly shrieked and sobbed at the same time. “Allrightallrightallright! I'll talk! I'll tell you! I'll tell you! Just please stop. Please stop. Pleasestoppleasestop....” her words trailed into incoherent sobs, and Garak relented at last, allowing her to catch her breath to fulfill her promise.
They both listened carefully, every name annunciated in broken syllables committed to eidetic memories. Not surprisingly, the Bajorans had outside help when it came to obtaining the energy weapons and the ultritium resin for the bomb that had been intended to take out Dukat instantly and would have succeeded had he not stopped to get his pants mended.
Once he obtained which sectors of the refinery were targeted, Garak turned his attention away from Dukat and the girl so that he could focus on his computer array. He began inputting algorithms that would wrest any systems still under rebel control back to Cardassian hands and monitored what he could of the situation above. He hummed lightly under his breath as he worked.
“You did well,” Dukat whispered close to her ear. “You held on as long as you could, but there's no shame in bowing to Cardassian authority. You're just misguided. You don't understand how much we're helping your people. You can't possibly understand.” He shifted her in his arms so that he cradled her, brushing back sweat streaked hair from her muddy forehead.
It was a few moments before he realized Garak was finished with the computer and simply looking at him with a skeptical air. “Is that something they teach you in Central Command?” Garak asked dryly. “Because I've never seen that technique before.”
“Oh, stop it,” Dukat said, weary to his core with the inquisitor's game. “The girl has given us everything,” he said. “Surely you can see that.”
“Not everything, Prefect,” Garak countered.
Dukat felt himself involuntarily tense, his arms tightening almost protectively about the prisoner. “What else?”
“An example, of course,” the inquisitor replied smoothly, “of what happens to collaborators against the Cardassian Union. Can you carry her topside with that knee? I believe you'll find your men have much of the situation under control. All that remains is the routing of the implicated and their extended families, unless you have a better plan?”
Conflicting emotions warred beneath the Gul Prefect's careful facade of control, a facade that had endured a great deal of erosion and abuse over the past few hours: chagrin that Garak so easily spotted his wound, vague regret that what he said about the need for an example was true, and above all else, eagerness to punish everyone who bore any responsibility for the extended time he had been forced to endure Garak's company, including the filthy bitch in his arms.
“Let's go,” he said with steel in his voice and all desire for kindness toward the girl expunged. “And Garak,” he paused and waited for the inquisitor to precede him through the door, not wanting his back to him for a single instant after what he had witnessed, “take one more thing from requisitions without my permission, and Tain's protection or no, I'll make you wish you hadn't.”
Garak inclined his head slightly and walked out ahead of Dukat. The Gul could have sworn that as he turned away, he finally saw something in those glass blue eyes of note: amusement.
Story Notes: As much as possible, I've tried to stay true to DS9 cannon and information presented in Andrew Robinson's "A Stitch in Time" in order to fill in the background for this story and to hint at things to come. If you notice any serious violations within that context, please do let me know so that I may correct it.