Half of the cultural antics in the immediate area died down to a collective hush to stare up at the Cardassian Gul screaming down over the rail to the bewilderment of the public already intrigued by the walls of yellow armor strategically lining the section.
"What?" Quark turned back with a snarl.
"Make it five!" Anon instructed. "Same thing! Five people!"
"Why don't I just bring a tray!" Quark shouted back.
"A tray?" Anon thought about that. "You mean a big one?"
"No, I mean a small one," Quark scoffed at a nearby table full of patrons struck dumb even if they didn't recognize Anon as the Number One Son of his one and only, apparently not so one or only.
"Dukat!" Damar demanded.
"Shut up!" Anon turned on him with a snarl. "I can't hear the Ferengi if you're talking too!""Shut up…" Garak could feel himself swoon at all the possibilities such an open and obvious hostility could present.
He wasn't the only one. "Apparently there's no love lost between those two," Dax remarked to Kira frozen in her seat.
Sisko was far less impressed than his senior staff. "Gul Dukat…" his voice, quiet and emphatic penetrated the stunned silence.
For naught, Odo nodded. Dukat turned his back on Sisko as well to shout over the rail for Quark.
"Of course I mean a big one!" Quark hollered up as Sisko stood there, his face drawn and flush with fury, a melee moments away from breaking out.
"That was a mistake," Dax's spots flamed deep violet. Kira's knuckles white as she gripped the arms of the chair, a breath away from leaping to her feet.
"Actually, that's not a bad idea!" Bashir sprang to his feet, tripping O'Brien and colliding with Janice jumping up from the table with Damar's outraged reach for Anon that had Pfrann leaping to protect his brother.
"Janice!" Anon exclaimed as his brother toppled into Garak's arms, Janice sandwiched somewhere in the middle of them and Bashir in a tangle of arms and hair. A feat that was at least effective in bringing everyone else up short even if half of them fell down.
"Quite," Bashir grinned at Janice, attempting to ignore Sisko's blackened stare and Kira's coarse, "Bashir!"
"Are you all right?"
"A little startled, I'd have to admit," Garak answered from somewhere close by. "But otherwise unharmed." He collected himself with the assistance of someone -- Worf, he believed it was -- to flutter his smile over Julian and Doctor Lange, and, yes, Major Kira and Commander Dax, all embracing Dukat and his brother in a group hug. "The same, I trust, holds true for the…six?" he verified, "Of you?"
"Three," Dax smiled. There only to assist Kira and Worf with identifying and separating the bodies.
"As well as you?" Garak included Anon. An unlikely hero, but nevertheless valuable in preventing the group of them from plummeting over the rail entwined in that same tangle of arms and hair.
"What?" Anon said to Bashir, no doubt as confused to have found Julian in his arms, as he was confused to find…
Janice. Garak suddenly realized what he had heard Anon say, and what he said made little, if any sense at all.
"No, not me." Julian was shaking his head. "Garak's asking if you're all right."
"Yes, of course I'm all right," Anon diligently worked with Kira, Dax and Captain Sisko, Odo and three conscientious security officers to extricate his brother's banner snarled in Doctor Lange's hair.
"Yes, well, I think…" Bashir offered, an accomplished surgeon and therefore familiar with these types of intricate procedures.
"Don't touch it!" Captain Sisko and several others insisted in mutual agreement.
"Do not," Worf added to that.
"Anything!" O'Brien upheld.
The Chief, Garak smiled, was obviously not as fortunate as the rest of them as he came away from Julian's acrobatic endeavor wearing Commanders Dax and Worf's gagh in an interesting motif on his uniform breast. The three security officers just kept working.
"Well, I guess that tells me," Bashir grinned at Pfrann standing there as patiently as one could expect under the circumstances.
Eventually however sixteen hands proved better than two. The group disbursed, leaving the responsibility of plucking the remaining strands of hair left behind in sacrifice from the banner to Dukat and his brother -- and, yes, Garak noticed, Doctor Lange, until Anon waved her back to her seat. "No, it's fine, it's fine. Thank you."
"Enough for everyone," Bashir nodded as he got Janice's chair for her; really, she was a most trusting young woman Garak did have to say.
"What?" Anon's head snapped up from giving his brother's uniform one final review.
"Not your hair," Bashir grinned at Janice. "The meal. We'll just all share from the same meal. Humans call it breaking bread. A gesture of unity…And we certainly are all united; at least in an idea," he smiled at Anon's contorted and incredulous expression. One spreading throughout the group poised to take action, probably not against Dukat. "Even if we haven't agree upon the method."
"Oh, we're in agreement," Kira muttered under her breath. "Death."
"It's probably the only answer," Dax nodded.
"Hm," Odo agreed.
"What's wrong with him?" Kira insisted. "Is there something wrong with him?"
"Julian?" Dax smiled."Hm," Odo agreed.
"He's talking about the conference," Pfrann explained quietly to Anon scowling at him.
"Yes, all right," Anon waved impatiently in unlikely understanding to Bashir. "What about the Klingon? Do you want Quark to include the gagh then?"
"I beg your pardon?" O'Brien blurted out, Garak's eyes glittered in appreciation of his and Worf's thoroughly understandable startled reaction.
"For two, please," Commander Dax exhibited her usual poise under pressure.
"For two!" Anon resumed bellowing over the rail for Quark.
"Did you ever have one of those urges to kill someone?" Quark halted with a sigh; a tray precariously balanced in his hand.
"He can't hear me," Anon shook his head at Bashir.
"No, he can hear you," Bashir promised, joining Anon in a shout that would wake the dead.
"Oh, Jesus…" O'Brien just turned his back on the lot of them.
"And that's before the kanar," Odo mentioned, not to exclude or excuse Bashir.
"Kanar?" O'Brien groaned. "Oh, please."
"Make that two someones," Quark nodded at a table full of patrons no less startled by the sight of Bashir hanging over the rail, his arms spread in demonstration.
"A huge platter! And include the gagh for Worf and Dax!"
"Include the gagh," Quark nodded. "Five minutes ago they didn't want the gagh, now they want it again."
"What do you want to drink?" Bashir asked Anon. "Wine? Kanar?"
"Kanar?" Anon looked Janice up and down. "No, Janice won't drink kanar," he shook his head, but that was hardly the point. Yes, hardly the point at all.
Janice? Garak glanced at the parsley scooped up and dangling from Anon's hand.
"If she won't eat this, she won't drink kanar."
"Well, you never know," Bashir smiled.
"I know," Anon assured.
Do you? Garak regarded the Gul as confident as he alluded to being familiar. Are you? He wondered why.
"Fussy when you have a choice," Anon teased Janice with a laugh.
Is she? Garak ogled Doctor Lange who he would presume to be a woman remarkably unpreoccupied with trifles of any sort. He judged this, naturally, based on her appearance and their hour or so acquaintance. Certainly hardly qualified to suggest otherwise with such definition.
"Who isn't?" Janice shrugged.
"That's true." Anon passed the duty of refreshments back to Bashir. "All right. Wine, kanar, whatever you want…" he paused in assuming his seat to eye Garak in an unspoken inference that perhaps he was not only as bold as he seemed, but equally as observant as some tailor."Enough for everyone," Anon tossed Garak the parsley while Bashir screamed "Quark!" out over the rail.
"Well, I'll be…" O'Brien whistled low as Garak's focus shifted from Anon to the parsley he held in his hand.
"And that's an olive branch," Bashir approved.
"What?" Anon said.
"Not important," Bashir approached Kira with a grinning whisper. "Did you see that?"
"Yes." Kira was no more impressed than Benjamin, O'Brien or Odo. Dax's attention was riveted on Worf and his equally uncompromising rigid posture.
"Oh?" A staunch critic or two didn't necessarily deflate Bashir's spirit of togetherness and intragalactic peace. "Well, I thought it was an interesting gesture, at least."
"Interesting?" Kira seethed, far more than her sense of the agreed rules of protocol incensed. "Interesting? Her name is Doctor Lange! Not Janice!"
"What?" Bashir said.
"Dukat," Dax leaned over to confide. "Apparently you’re not the only one who feels comfortable addressing Lange by her first name."
"Oh," Bashir smiled. "Well, no, I'm sorry, I didn't really notice. I was more preoccupied by you and Worf and the offer of gagh."
"It is an attempt at seduction," Worf assured, able to see the forest for his stomach, apparently.
"Of course it's an attempt of seduction," Bashir settled down, not really concerned about it or anything at all. "It's an attempted seduction of you, me -- and, well, obviously Janice."
"And that is reason for concern," Worf insisted.
"Oh?" Bashir chuckled. "Why? Are you about to crawl into bed with him? I know I'm certainly not."
"Neither is she," O'Brien scoffed. "Have some faith in the damn woman, is right, never mind him."
"Quite," Bashir pointed his finger. "What the Chief said. Have some faith in the damn woman, damn him."
"I'd have to agree with that," Dax smiled at Worf as well.
He sighed. "Jadzia --”
"You know as well as he does Cardassian mating practices are as specific as Klingon," Bashir interrupted. "Meaning flagrant even if your father didn't write the book."
Worf ignored him. "Doctor Lange's qualifications as an officer of the Bajoran government do not mandate she be familiar with every aspect of Cardassian culture."
"If they don't mandate she be completely familiar with Bajoran," O'Brien snorted, "I don't see how they could."
"Precisely," Worf maintained to Dax. "Chief O'Brien is right. She is Human. And he is, yes," he acknowledged somewhat begrudgingly, "the son of Gul Dukat. That is significant only that it is obvious in its extreme."
"In every way," O'Brien said. "He perches on a chair like some damn King."
"Yes," Worf agreed.
"And that means?" Kira said.
"It means," O'Brien insisted, "that if she's not in tears an hour from now, I'll eat gagh. He's trying to confuse her. His behavior has to seem to her to be somewhat bizarre -- it's bizarre to me, for pity's sake. From Damar on down to Garak."
"Yes, well, actually…" Odo drawled.
"I know!" O'Brien sputtered. "It's intentional. Classic. He's his father incarnate. And that gives him an upper hand, or he thinks it does. Not to where she's going to wake up and find herself next to him with no idea how she got there, no. But, yes, in every other way, yes. The Consult!" the back of his hand clapped against Worf's chest. "He's working every angle he can think of to come out on top; he is!"
"Yes," Worf apprised Dax.
"I know she's twenty-four years old," Dax maintained calmly. "And if she doesn't know by twenty-four when someone is making an overture --”
"I would be remarkably concerned for her mental health," Bashir supported.
Dax's eyes closed with a sigh. "Julian…"
"Well, I would," he protested to her pained look. "As a doctor, of course I would."
"I'm afraid I might also have to agree with that," Dax finally surrendered with apologies to Kira.
"Good," Bashir approved. "Because it's certainly quite obvious to me whose eye Janice is attempting to catch."
"Excuse me?" O'Brien gagged, no minor overreaction there. "Whose eye she is attempting to catch? Whose? Or should I bother to ask?"
"Mine," Bashir looked around for the wine and a glass, finding both surprisingly enough intact on the corner of the table.
"Yours," O'Brien preempted Kira standing there with an artery or two about ready to explode.
"Mine," Bashir wandered back. "As I said, fairly obvious to me."
"That's not what's obvious to me," O'Brien's hand connecting with Dax's reaching to collect a chair with a mind to park it and Bashir down in it for safekeeping. "You believe him?"
"Actually yes," Dax was sorry to have to say.
"Uh, huh. What happened to rule about no fraternization, or is that different if your first name is Julian?"
"For a week," Bashir reminded. "Not a millennium. Certainly no harm after the conference with inviting Janice out for a harmless cup of tea. I seriously doubt if she's all that anxious to get back to unearthing some Bajoran belt buckle lost ten lifetimes ago. Even if she is, there's still nothing wrong with a day or two holiday?" he offered Dax the glass of wine with a smile for the chair.
"He has a point," she declined pleasantly with a nod for O'Brien.
"On the top of his head," O'Brien assured. "The woman will be out of here at warp speed before he's finished asking her to tea or anywhere else."
"Possibly," Dax agreed. "Still, it could be worse."
"They could both be screaming," O'Brien understood.
"They were both screaming," Worf contributed, deadpan.
"Actually, all three of them were," Dax laughed.
"Quark," Odo offered Worf's furrowed crest.
"Oh, please," O'Brien scoffed. "I stand a better chance…"
"Excuse me?" Kira strangled out.
"Well, I do," he insisted. "Excuse me, but you did notice that while the three of them were trying to out crow one another, I was the one just sitting quietly by?"
"Yes, and?" Kira insisted.
O'Brien thought about that. "Yes, and some women like the quiet type," he concluded.
"If not the strong and silent type," Dax offered, personally an expert on the subject.
"You mean like Keiko?" Bashir grinned.
"Who?" O'Brien said.
"Your wife!" Kira snapped.
"Mrs. O'Brien," Odo clarified.
"What is this with bringing up Keiko every five minutes?" O'Brien demanded. "Because I'm married, I can't look?"
"He can look," Worf agreed.
"Excuse me a moment," Dax nodded to Kira.
"Jadzia," Worf groaned, "I simply meant…"
"The Chief has two eyes."
"Yes…" Worf hesitated. "He has two eyes…"
"Easily remedied," she promised.
"So it is," Bashir laughed. "In a fair number of creative of ways."
"Go ahead and laugh," O'Brien waved. "Like I said, have faith in the woman. In my opinion even being married I stand a better chance than you, or Quark, or that one."
"Well, Quark and Dukat are rather a given." Bashir discounted them the same as he discounted Garak or Odo, though not out loud. Sisko never even crossed his mind.
"And?" O'Brien said.
"And so are you," Bashir sat down. "So I guess that just leaves me."
"We'll see," O'Brien threatened. "What you think you have sown up in style, I know I have in experience."
"I beg your pardon?" Bashir paused.
"I said, we'll see," O'Brien assured, undaunted by the glances passing between the lot of them. "I'm forty-two years old, I'm not dead."
"You're forty-two years old and married, is what you are," Bashir corrected. "With two children, I might add."
"So?" O'Brien scoffed.
"So, you can't be serious," Bashir insisted.
"Oh, I can't?" O'Brien's head cocked.
"No, and he isn't serious," Bashir assured Dax. "He isn't," he maintained to Kira.
"I don't care!" she said. "That's enough, the two of you!"
"It certainly is enough," Bashir agreed. "The woman is hardly some sort of prize to be won, or vied for…You're not serious, are you?" he frowned at O'Brien, really not sure if the Chief wasn't serious to an extent.
"May the best man win," O'Brien borrowed his wine glass to toast him with it before he downed better than a quarter of it in one swallow."I didn't think so," Bashir relaxed into a smile. "Quite all right. You can still be best man -- Godfather, also, if you insist. Garak, of course," he acknowledged as Kira snatched up his wine, but since she never did get her coffee, he could imagine she was thirsty for anything by this point, "might be a little put out…"
"What do you have?" Anon looked over Pfrann's shoulder to read the data padd while Garak thoughtfully studied the parsley in his hand, Bashir's conversation with the Chief inaudible except for an occasional laugh.
"Bareil," Pfrann answered quietly, evidently lacking that same appreciation Captain Sisko and Damar lacked for his brother's behavior.
"Me, too," Anon sat back down with a new and a potentially leading question for Doctor Lange. "Kira tell you about Bareil, how she knew him?"
"Adon did, actually, yes," Janice smiled.
"Yes, of course, Adon," Anon poured wine from another convenient bottle while waiting for something more agreeable to him. "First Minister Shakaar Adon of Bajor. He would be a sheep farmer, or something like that, if it wasn't for us. You know that? About the Bajoran caste system?"
"Yes," she nodded.
"Of course you do," he reached to take the data log from his brother and toss it back in the duffel. "Something you find in agreement with the Federation Articles? This denial of personal freedom to be something other than what your family name denotes you to be?"
"Well, actually," Janice said as Sisko and Damar glanced up, "what you're calling a caste system --”
"No, of course, you don't," Anon stopped her. "I forget. You're a Neutral. You don't know anything about the Federation."
If she thought he was challenging her she was right. Not because he felt betrayed to find her sitting there in representation of Bajor, but because he continued to feel awkward and constricted by his inability to just talk to her without concern of arousing someone's suspicions. Their relationship and exchange had always been open and honest. Right now they weren't being honest with each other at all.
"Chapter One," Janice struck an amusing pose. "Purpose and Principles, Article One, paragraph three: 'To achieve interplanetary cooperation in solving intra-Galatic problems of economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character; in promoting and encouraging respect for intelligent life-form rights; and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to culture, sex, life-form, or religious belief'."
"Paragraph two," Anon applauded. "'To develop friendly relations among planets based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of intelligent life-forms.' Very good. What is self-determination to you? I am self to me. Defined as self, not you."
"The Bajoran society --” Sisko interrupted quietly.
"Well, good," Janice interrupted him to extend her approval to Anon. "Because I am self to me. Defined as self, not you."
"And?" Anon said, as Sisko eyed Lange.
"And," Janice nodded, "if the Bajoran social system denies the fundamental freedoms by distinction on the basis of culture, sex, lifeform or religious belief…Or," she preempted him, "if it violates the equal rights or self-determination of an intelligent life-form, it would be in violation of the Articles of Federation Chapters One through and including Eighteen. Yes, it would be. Absolutely."
"So it would be," Sisko bit his smile at the oblique answer. "However, I think Doctor…"
"What does that mean?" Anon scoffed with a point of his finger in her face. "Bajor clearly employs the principles of a caste system in its treatment of the Bajoran-Cardassian population. Admit it. They are in violation of the Articles of Federation."
"Yes, Bajor does, and so does Cardassia," Janice smacked his finger out from in front of her face to point hers in his. "And, yes, that has to change. You know it, I know it, and so does the Federation."
He laughed. No one else did, but he did. "You're good. Very good. I look forward to the conference. It should be interesting."
"Well, I should hope so," Janice smiled. "I wouldn't like to think I've bored you already."
"No, I'm not bored. How could I be?" Anon rested back in his seat with a taste of the wine he did not like and a glance over his father's Nerys arguing with the Federation puppets O'Brien and Bashir. "Kira tell you how she was guardian for my sister Ziyal?"
"Your sister…" Janice repeated.
"Dukat!" Sisko and Damar both immediately barked. Kira jumping to her feet, aborting her dressing down of the Chief and Bashir to attack him.
"What?" Anon was amused.
"You know very well what!" Damar's fist struck the glass tabletop rattling the plates and flat ware. "I will not have our position compromised simply because you feel like being clever!"
"You believe him?" Anon snickered to Sisko.
"Regardless," Sisko returned coldly. "Your question is inappropriate. The agreed protocol is emphatically clear on the issue of neutrality. The entire point behind Doctor Lange's assignment -- whose position," he advised, "I will not have compromised. Is that understood?"
"Neutrality," Anon scoffed. "Who's neutral? You? Or perhaps you?" he turned around to Kira. "The Klingon? The Changeling? Or maybe you two," he nodded at O'Brien and Bashir, "in your Starfleet uniforms? You just put them on tonight, or something? For the occasion?"
"Twenty-four years," O'Brien assured.
"Chief!" Sisko warned.
"He's trying to sabotage the damn thing before it's even off the ground!" O'Brien insisted.
"Let him!" Sisko said. "Lift a finger to help him -- any of you," he circled the table with his stare, "and so help me, you will find the UFP inquiry a picnic. Is that clear?"
"Well, no, actually," Janice spoke up. "I'm afraid it isn't. Not at all."
"A simple matter of genetics, my dear," Garak offered quickly with a smile for her as well as Captain Sisko momentarily taken aback by. "I'm sorry, Captain, but again, your request, really doesn't apply to me."
"Wanna bet?" Quark staggered up to drop a platter the size of someone's moon down on the table. "Not that I mean to interrupt."
"Not at all," Garak said. "As I was saying --”
"On the contrary, Garak," Damar inclined forward with a deadly warning, "if you think your life is miserable now --”
"Would be half-Bajoran, Doctor Lange," Garak offered Janice. "The sister Gul Dukat refers to. On her mother's side, of course."
"That's far enough, Legate," Sisko's hand clamped over Damar's wrist.
"Cardassia will not be held responsible for your little toad, Captain!""Then that's far enough," Sisko nodded. "Since he's my toad, and my responsibility."
"And?" Janice prompted Garak.
"And?" Garak paused. "And what, my dear?"
Janice sighed, turning back to Anon with a smile. "No, I wasn't aware of your sister. Is that why you are interested in the conference?"
"No, that is not why," Anon sat up straight with a snort. "That is why I was asked to preside, yes, of course. That, and the status of my father --”
"I really don't know that much about your father either," Janice shook her head. "Well, I don't," she insisted with a gesture of her duffels when he slumped back in his seat to scoff. "I know who he is, of course; I've heard of him. But I certainly don't know anything about his personal life --”
Anon stopped her. "I'm not going to argue with you, Janice."
"Well good, because I'm not arguing with you."
"I asked you if Shakaar told you about Ziyal because I wanted to know the answer."
"And I told you no, Shakaar did not tell me about Ziyal, any more than Kira did."
"No one believes that!" he loomed forward suddenly in her face, irritably excited. "Only they would rather sit and wonder about it between themselves. Try and figure out ways to gather the information without you being aware. From Cardassia, to Bajor, to the Federation; believe me!"
"What?" Janice said.
"Janice!" he groaned.
"Anon, listen to me," she requested. "Even if I say I believe you, I know I still don't understand."
"What?" he demanded. "What don't you understand? Your own neutrality?"
"No, of course I understand my neutrality; I am neutral."
"Of course," Anon nodded along. "And your ignorance of my father's notoriety further guarantees your unbiased participation in the conference."
"It does?" she blinked.
"It doesn't?" he challenged back.
"Well, I don't see why it would," Janice shrugged from him to Sisko, Damar to Kira. "How?"
"Ha!" Anon snatched up his wine. "You're right. It doesn't…." he eyed the glass he was drinking. "What is this stuff?"
"Root beer," Quark disclosed. "It's a preferred favorite among Humans. Ours is not to reason why."
"Why?" Anon insisted anyway. "It's disgusting. Where's the kanar?"
"Excuse me if I only have two hands like the rest of the bipeds I know."
"Let's try it this way," Quark said. "Think of the color yellow and tell me if you noticed the army at the foot of the stairs? Did you notice the army on the stairs? What about the forty-three guys behind you?" he wondered as Anon turned around to have a look.
"Of course I notice them. What does that have to do with the kanar?"
"Twenty minutes," Quark swore. "Three checkpoints, four blood screenings, I'll be right back."
"Along with a partridge in a pear tree." Julian chanced Captain Sisko hanging him from the nearest Cardassian archway, boldly stepping to join Doctor Lange. Edging a chair between her and Dukat -- or at least as close as he could get to in between them without knocking Dukat off his seat since the Gul failed to oblige in making room.
Fascinating, Garak reiterated to himself. How utterly fascinating the evening had become. What could it possible, ultimately, all mean? What could it possibly?