"Sisko!" General Martok's aging and prominent features twisted in rage, his one eye narrow and piercing like a beam of black light. His other eye a flat, empty socket, closed and sutured shut. He had lost that eye to a Jem'Hadar blade during the two years he had spent as a prisoner of the Dominion on a remote asteroid in the Gamma Quadrant while his Changeling impersonator reigned supreme throughout the Klingon-Cardassian war. He came away from that asteroid with a strong taste for revenge and earnest respect for one Cardassian only. Enabran Tain. A powerful and determined old man who also spent what turned out to be his last years as a prisoner of the Dominion on that asteroid before dying an honorable death on a stone plinth.
He was an unlikely candidate for anyone's respect, Tain. Cardassia's hated and feared exiled ruler of her former Obsidian Order. Singularly the most powerful Intelligence network in the galaxy until the Cardassian Civilian Revolt and subsequent fall of the Union. It was an insidious organization. One as intrigued by internal affairs as it was by those outside the State. Infamous for its heinous crimes of torture perpetrated against her occupied territories as well as her own people. Dukat's father reputedly died at the hands of an accomplished Obsidian interrogator. Elam Garak. Sisko's resident Cardassian tailor and Tain's son who also spent a short time as a prisoner on that asteroid where he found enough of his father's courage to attempt to continue his father's struggle to escape until the union between Cardassia and the Dominion was announced and escape proved unnecessary. Had Tain been alive he would have killed the messenger as Martok had killed him. He would have killed Dukat as Martok still wanted to though the Federation-Dominion war was over, and Cardassia's former Emperor Dukat faced, not freedom, but internment for life in a Federation prison for the criminally insane.
He would ignore Garak; Martok didn't even notice him. The steel spikes of his boots clattered across the floor of the Infirmary towards Sisko, his long black hair flying behind him, his arm outstretched. He stopped abruptly a step or two from the Captain, rage momentarily replaced by a frown of confusion as he turned on his heel to stare at something he caught a glimpse of in passing. The head of a Klingon woman bent in pain as she sat on an examining bed, Sisko's Bashir beside her.
"What is this?" Martok growled, immediately abandoning Sisko to investigate the situation for himself.
"He thinks she's Klingon," Dax interpreted Martok's abrupt about face with a smile for Benjamin who could only stare back at her.
"Klingon…" Sisko repeated carefully, his stare slowly turning away from Dax to follow Martok's flight.
"Klingon," Worf assured.
"Worf should know," Dax agreed as Benjamin's head snapped up to stare at Worf.
Kira gaped at Martok. "I give up. I give up!" she gripped Odo's tunic in both her fists, shaking him. "I do! I!" she assured, "GIVE! UP!"
"Yes, well, not really," Odo grunted."No," Kira sighed, "but it's a thought."
"Oh," Janice looked up startled from straightening the sleeve of her tunic to blink at the giant Klingon looming over her.
Martok halted, flustered by the face that was distinctly Human. No evidence of any family crest hidden under her streaked mass of hair. His penetrating glare dropped briefly to the thin hands and legs protruding from her knee-length tunic before he gripped her chin in his hand, his steel-gloved fingers squeezing her cheeks tightly. "Forgive me," he apologized, "I thought you were Klingon."
"No," Janice managed a slight smile and shake of her head.
Martok grunted, not entirely convinced even though he could feel the twigs she called bones.
"But would you believe she has heard that before?" Bashir offered, his hand on Martok's wrist because feel the twigs was one thing. Listen to them splinter and shatter was quite another.
Martok grunted again, eyeing Janice's striped mane one last time before he let her go.
"Are you all right?" Bashir exhaled in relief.
"Oh, yes, I'm fine," Janice cracked her jaw once or twice just to be sure. "He wasn't trying to hurt me. I think I just startled him as much as he startled me. Actually, he seemed like a pleasant enough man."
"As well as just by chance a member of one of the strongest species known in the galaxy," Bashir ran his tricorder over her jaw and throat to insure she hadn't suffered a hairline fracture of her cervical vertebrae. "It's a sheer miracle he didn't walk away and leave you paralyzed."
"The Klingons are?" Janice smiled. "I don't believe I was aware of that."
"Second only to the Jem'Hadar and the Cardassians in the matter of pure brute strength," Bashir winked. "I say pure because it’s difficult to measure things like actual strength when one species has a tendency to whine, while the other has a tendency to enjoy."
"You left someone out of your rather rude analogy," Janice laughed.
"The Jem'Hadar," Bashir nodded. "The classification of humanoid has become rather broad over the years. You do know they are genetically engineered?"
"Well, I'm not so sure everyone isn't genetically engineered," Janice shrugged. "The classification of Nature is also rather broad. Varying from culture to culture. And who's to say which culture is absolutely right? Except for themselves?"
"You know, you really are a very fascinating woman," Bashir decided. "Beyond your Klingon hair and two doctorates. Potentially dangerous, I'm sure some might think. With all those radical thoughts rattling around in that brilliant head of yours."
"Because I say what I mean, or I mean what I say?" Janice's eyes twinkled delightfully. "I've also heard that before."
"I'm sure you have," Bashir agreed. "Personally I'd settle for half the honesty… particularly since, one could always refer to the other half as mystery," he proposed with a slow and suggestive blink of his tortoise-colored eyes Janice would say. Certainly not completely brown, but flecked with sparkles of yellow, green and blue, at least under this light.
"Well, personally," Janice straightened up with her smile and a professional nod of her head, "I'm not so sure you're not potentially dangerous yourself, Doctor. Therefore I'd settle for knowing why you believe Cardassians are stronger than Klingons."
"Coward," Bashir laughed.
"Cardassians?" Janice countered wickedly. "With all that brute strength? That doesn't make very good sense."
"Can be cowardice," Bashir promised. "Redundancy and the ability to regenerate vital organs aside, Cardassians have one thing Klingons do not have, and that is a hide. Not flesh or tissue like you and I," he picked up her hand. "But a thick, leathery hide. Virtually impenetrable."
"No, it isn't impenetrable," Janice frowned at her hand that she could for a moment see covered with Cardassian blood.
"Virtually, I insist," Bashir released her to rest on his elbow, talking into her eyes and over Martok's shouts of Klingon fairy princesses beset by Cardassian beasts. "Do you know I once shot Garak in the back of his throat during a holographic reenactment? Quite accidentally, I can assure you. And not with a phaser, but with a small steel projectile called a bullet, fired from an ancient Earth weapon called a gun. Do you know what happened?"
"It bounced off?" Janice guessed.
"Well, no, not exactly," Bashir admitted. "It did penetrate, though barely with this resulting little trickle of blood hardly worth noting."
"But he cried anyway?"
"Cried? Garak? Oh, no," Bashir shook his head. "He was surprised, of course. Touched his neck and said something in utter amazement like, 'Julian, you shot me.'"
"I see," Janice said.
"Good," Bashir grinned. "Back to that air of mystery I think you should cultivate …Not that you don't have an air of mystery, because you do."
"Back to that theory of yours," Janice suggested instead, "that's all wet."
"I beg your pardon?" Bashir started.
"You're all wet," Janice laughed. "The bullet did penetrate. Garak did bleed and he didn't whine."
"Yes, but I explained…" Bashir said.
"No," Janice shook her head. "No, you told me a story about shooting Garak in the neck with a steel projectile. And while I might only be an archaeologist, Doctor, I do know if you shot me, or I shot you, however accidentally, we would have blown each other's head clear off our shoulders."
"What a graphic image," Bashir agreed. "Quite colorfully red."
"Yes, it is," Janice said. "The only assessment I can make from your account is that the degree of pain or injury required to make a Cardassian whine must be astounding. Far beyond what you and I would call sheer agony. All the way to the point that we would both far more likely be dead before we had a chance to utter the tiniest little cry."
"Actually you're the one who's all wet," Bashir laughed. "All things taken into consideration, my shooting Garak in the neck is about equivalent to a bee sting on me. But that's quite all right. Did I mention how you were fascinating anyway?"
"Yes, you did," Janice assured. "The same as you mentioned you were genetically enhanced."
"I am," Bashir grinned. "As illegal as it is, and it is, I am."
"How thoroughly unnatural of you, Doctor," she teased. "Really, the classification Human is apparently quite broad also, not only humanoid."
"As well as quite fresh," Bashir promised.
"Fresh? No, I'm not fresh," Janice denied. "I simply say what I mean, and mean what I say." she stared across the room at Anon, wondering if she'd have a chance to say it, and if so how. It was a moment before she realized he had a knife in his hand. "Anon!" she gasped.
"Quite!" Bashir dropped his tricorder in agreement with a protective jump in front of her; he wasn't quite sure why, other than it seemed to be the thing to do. "I believe you mean Klingon dagger. Kut'luch, specifically. Martok's, if you want to be even more specific." Not that it was necessary since that was quite obviously Martok staring down the point of his own blade, an amused smile on his face.
"But, why?" Janice insisted behind him, clutching his shoulders and trying to see around him.
"Well, I don't know why," Bashir assured. "Probably something to do with the fact that they've been at war with one another for three years. Something to do with the conference. Something to do with he's Klingon and he's Cardassian. He's General Martok and he's the son of Gul Dukat. The Gul Dukat, let us not forget that. No Changeling impersonators or reasonable facsimiles thereof."
"Oh, for goodness sake!" Janice huffed, Bashir wouldn't go as far as saying angrily. The same as he was certain she pulled his hair quite accidentally in an effort to maintain her balance while she hopped up and down on one foot, busily yanking her cloth slipper off her other.
"What are you doing?" Bashir stared at her in shock.
"Throwing my shoe at them," Janice assured. "Why?"
"Why?" Bashir stared at the cloth slipper she called a shoe clenched in her hand. "Well…" he said. Considering her slipper was cloth not steel, he seriously doubted if it would do any worthwhile damage. The same as he seriously doubted considering its lightweight it would even make it halfway there. "You can't very well fling your shoe at Klingons or Cardassians for that matter," he insisted.
"I can't?" Janice corrected him, challenged actually. "Why not?"
"Why not?" Bashir echoed. "Well, I don't know why not. Why would you?" he wondered, the psychology behind her reasoning beginning to intrigue him. "Or for that matter, do you really think you should?"
"Definitely!" Janice gave her slipper a heave over his shoulder in the general direction of the crowd of people that by that point included many more than simply Dukat and General Martok.
"Did it work?" Bashir asked, his eyes closed, his back turned against the masses.
"I don't know," Janice sat back down on the examining bed with a sigh. "It at least got everyone's attention."
"Yes, I'm quite sure it did that," Bashir agreed, "even if they're not quite sure why. Excuse me," he pardoned himself to go and collect her slipper for her, confident that whatever had triggered the latest conflict of wills was all over with. Which it was. For the next five minutes or so. Bashir also found himself in marked agreement with that prognosis.
"What is he doing?" Anon stiffened in concern when Martok grasped Janice.
"Anon…" his brother's arm halted him in warning as Damar's attention vacillated between concentrating on Martok to flashing the two of them a quick glance.
"He's hurting her," Anon angrily shoved the arm aside. "He could kill her holding her like that. Snap her neck. If I could kill her, he could kill her!"
"He's talking to her," Pfrann claimed.
"Talking to her?" Anon's fingers clenched Pfrann's throat in a painful grip. "If I talked to you like this you'd soon have something to say about it, wouldn't you?"
"Anon!" Pfrann pulled his brother's hand loose.
"I should have known," Damar chuckled to his assistant Paq, silent not because he didn't have anything to say.
"What?" Anon snapped at him. "Known what?"
"Anon!" his brother insisted as Damar's cold eyes flickered back over the two of them."You don't know anything," Anon assured, settling into glaring at Martok releasing Janice to clatter his way back to Sisko.
"General," Sisko put up his hand in a calm and reassuring gesture to slow Martok's pounding advance.Martok slammed the hand aside, his voice an outraged roar. "You have a plausible explanation for the state of the young Klingon queen, I suppose?"
"The who?" Kira mouthed to Odo.
"Young Klingon queen," Odo grunted. "But don't give up. Personally I wouldn't miss this part for the world.""Nor I," Garak assured in utter fascination.
"Human," Dax stood up on the tip of her toes to offer Martok in a whisper just in case Benjamin really did find himself at a momentary loss for words. "Doctor Janice Lange. Bajoran representative to the Bajoran-Cardassian Conference."
Martok ogled her, this Trill Jadzia Dax, wife of his friend Worf. He liked her. Even her determination to make her mark in what was truly a man's world. She had grace, intelligence and strength. "Debatable," he decided, his sneer a friendly one.
"Debate all you want to," Dax shrugged.
"She is Human, General, yes," Sisko upheld quietly.
"And I asked you a question," Martok screamed. "Who is responsible for the child's injuries regardless of whose species she claims as her heritage? You? Or perhaps you?" he challenged Worf and O'Brien. Kira and Odo. "Or you," he turned around to fasten his piercing black eye on Damar. "Legate Damar," he taunted. "Done with licking his master's boots he has apparently decided to try them on for a while and see how they feel. Eh, Dukat?" he ignored Anon to solicit Pfrann. "Which one of you is Dukat? You are obviously. You look just like him. No question of who your father is…A question, yes," he turned back around to Sisko with a chuckle, "perhaps of who is the mother. Eh, Sisko?"
"She really is Human," Dax promoted again in his ear.
"Who is?" Martok snarled. "The mother of that Cardassian reptile? Dukat spends as much time trying to outdo himself as he does everyone else."
"The young woman with Doctor Bashir," Sisko reminded quietly.
"What of it?" Martok scoffed.
"You really are wasting your breath?" Dax nodded, a friendly blow to his ego, but then she also liked him. He was a good man. A strong man. Honest in his love of his world even if he insisted on upholding the prehistoric notion that women did not belong on the Council floor.
Martok thought about her point of wasting of his breath. Gnashed it around in his teeth for a while before he threw back his head with a loud laugh. "You can't fault an old man for trying," his hand clapped Sisko's shoulder in merriment.
"No," Sisko agreed as quietly as before.
"So tell me who is responsible for the disservice done to the child," Martok insisted, his hand dropping from Sisko shoulder to grip the hilt of his kut'luch fastened at his waist. "Human, Klingon or Trill, it would be my honor to avenge her."
"No disservice, General," Sisko assured. "A mandatory blood screening, that's all. As required by the joint committee of the conference."
"Ah, the conference," Martok nodded to Dax. "You mentioned that. A Bajoran representative to the Cardassians. So the child isn't entirely Human as you claim."
"She is Human," Sisko maintained. "As she is a Neutral acting as representative for the Bajoran Council of Ministers."
"Shakaar?" Martok laughed uproariously. "The only difference between him and Dukat is his politics!"
"Excuse me?" Kira's blood pressure shot to the top of her head.
"When it comes to women, Major," Martok reassured her, "not his soul. Have no fear, I have no quarrel with the heart of your savior any more than I'm sure his Prophets do."
"Funny, but you know," Dax remarked to O'Brien's shoulders shaking in laughter beside her, "I'm not so sure Kira fully appreciates the sentiment behind the words."O'Brien couldn't even bring himself to answer her.
"I've had word of it," Martok released the hilt of his dagger to point at Sisko. "This conference."
"Yes," Sisko suspected that might be the reason behind the General's visit.
"Visit," Martok waved. "I am always here. Like Dukat, I find it difficult to stay away. Why?" he peered in Sisko's face. "Do you think I should leave?"
"I think," Sisko choose his patient words carefully, "we would both do each other a greater service if we continued this discussion in my office."
"Why?" Martok smirked. "Is there something about my presence someone might find offensive? The Human child perhaps? Recoiling in terror from the one-eyed Klingon warrior?"
"I haven't noticed Doctor Lange to recoil, General," Sisko granted.
"Nor I," Martok agreed. "So it must be the Cardassians who concern you as they concern me. You claim a station free of carnage…"
"If I have anything to say about it," Sisko's voice tightened.
"You don't," Martok interrupted and Sisko's flush spread through his cheeks. "You can't. Nor will you."
"My office, General," Sisko directed, "before I forget myself."
"You?" Martok chuckled. "My friend? A threat?"
"A promise. For the last time under your own accord or escorted like a child. The choice is yours. It makes no difference to me."
"I believe you," Martok's hand clapped Sisko's shoulder again with a smile. "That's why I like you. Ask Worf. On the day you forget yourself, will be a day the galaxy will live to regret."
"I have liked to believe that myself, General," Sisko had to admit, "upon occasion."
"Who hasn't?" Martok's sharp nod was for Dax. "Save your energies for your husband. I'll be in Sisko's office."
But not before he was unable to resist halting in front of who he believed to be young Gul Dukat. Whatever he was planning to say as he lunged forward into Pfrann's face was lost in the instant it took Anon react, ripping the dagger from its harness at Martok's waist. Martok was staring at the tip of his own blade, amusement playing his face over the brazen audacity of such a foolish young man.
"Distinctly foolish," Martok promised the boiling red eyes glittering like fire. "Someone take this toy away from this child before he hurts himself."
"Worf!" Sisko had already barked with an instinctive grab for Anon's wrist that he hung onto with every ounce of Human strength he had. "Drop it!" he demanded. "I said, drop it, Dukat, or so help me!"
"Oh, yes, Dukat," Garak assumed the responsibility of enlightening Martok as to his earlier understandable error in confusing the two young Cardassians. "Gul Dukat, as a matter of fact. Not to say the other isn't Dukat, because of course he is, merely younger…
"And, if I may say so, Captain…" he likewise took advantage of the moments between Anon's ability to hold out against Captain Sisko's manacled grip around his arm, as well as Commander Worf's manacled grip around his throat in what Garak believed Humans referred to as hammer lock. "You certainly can't fault Gul Dukat for defending himself or his younger brother from what he believed quite likely was about to be General Martok's assault."
"Your tailor has a point, Captain," Damar voiced his thoroughly unwanted and unnecessary opinion. "General Martok did attack first. I'm sure your impartial Chief Constable of Security will uphold that claim as fact."
"He will," Odo grunted. "He’ll also make a point to say regardless of everything that's been said to the contrary, upon occasion it is of benefit to be a shape-shifter. Or at least a close friend of one. See what I mean?" his liquid fingers slid neatly in between Anon's vise grip to pull the dagger free.
"Oh, we do," Garak drooled. "We certainly do."
"I had a feeling you might," Odo nodded to Anon. "Following in your father's footsteps shouldn't include his follies."
"I agree," Anon assured. A not too subtle hint that he just might have a different opinion over what constituted a folly and what did not. Hatred and attempted annihilation of the Klingon Empire at any and all costs probably did not.
"Hm," Odo grunted. "We'll keep it in mind." Even still he had a feeling what the group of them would not be able to agree upon, aside from with each other, was the rhyme, reason or purpose behind a cloth slipper finding its way onto the scene just about then. Initially airborne, it landed with intensity of a feather about a foot and a half away from the almost injured party General Martok. Commander Dax's curiosity got the better of her even if no one else's got the better of them. Stooping to retrieve the visiting shoe and pass it after a brief moment or two of scrutiny onto Bashir babbling something about the heat of the excitement of the moment and the subsequent understanding thereof."Yes, well, no," Odo declined understanding anything. The same as he was sure everyone else did and would. Confident they all had enough on their mind not to waste time pondering why an intelligent woman such as Doctor Janice Lange would take to throwing her shoe at dagger-wielding Klingons, or Cardassians as the case actually was, beyond the hopes of capturing everyone's attention, which it did. Simply after the fact.