"Where is he?" Damar's silent partner Paq spoke as the time ticked closer to 0700 and neither Dukat nor his brother had yet seen to gracing the conference room with their presence.
"Preparing to make an entrance," Damar scoffed undisturbed and disinterested as he scrolled through his proposal for one last final review. "What do you think?"
"What or where?" Paq's voice was coarse, dry, knowing and assuming. Their eyes met; something clicking in the back of Damar's photographic memory. A downed transport. A story of the remnants of a Bajoran Township all but destroyed by Klingons and Rigelian fever. It was two months before First Minister Shakaar saw to allowing the Cardassian Union across the border into Bajoran Space to reclaim their own.
"You should have known," Paq criticized, speaking the words Damar spoke only last evening, his hand positioned on Damar's wrist to stay his Emperor's outrage and keep it from exploding."I was talking about Martok," Damar choked, now sputtering about someone else. "That stupid idiot! Dukat! Of course, Dukat!"
"You could kill him," Paq nodded.
"Kill him?" Damar scoffed, the heavy cords of his throat throbbing. "What will that change? The fool knows!"
Paq frowned. "Sisko? He seems more preoccupied with you than Dukat."
"With good reason," Damar assured. "Shakaar, you fool. Shakaar, not Sisko. Read the writing on the wall. The child is no one. She comes from nowhere. And, yes, now," he cursed bitterly, "now, it all makes sense. She makes sense," his blistering stare met Dukat's expressionless face coming through the door. He ignored his Emperor, but then he always did. It was two minutes past the agreed hour of seven. Ten minutes earlier he had been reluctantly kissing his lover goodbye. Like father, like son.
"If you're right," Damar cursed Paq.
"If?" Paq was annoyed by the question.
Damar sneered. "Anon may just like the attention. Tora Naprem was a Bajoran prisoner of war on a Cardassian transport. Dukat went in search of the Ravinok with intentions of killing her and the child. Everyone seems to forget that…Everyone but me." He settled back remembering something else; that phaser rifle in his assistant's hand. "Don't even think about it."
Paq was shocked by the suggestion, of course he was. "My loyalty is sworn.""Of course it is," Damar agreed sarcastically. "So is mine. We're all just artists as the tailor proposes. Our temperaments occasionally getting in our way…" He eyed Kira suddenly jumping to her feet and disappearing from the room on a run.
"I believe she may have just remembered Lange is waiting for her clothes," Dax explained Kira's sudden and hurried departure to Bashir and Garak.
"Well, I attempted to explain that to her, Commander," Garak sighed. "I certainly did. But you know Major Kira as well as I."
"I know Kira knows you."
"Really," Garak said. "And what could my interest actually be in Doctor Lange?"
"Personally or professionally?"
"Professionally, naturally," Garak smiled. "I believe you'll find any personal interest to be that of someone else other than myself…"
"Here, here," Bashir raised his hand.
"Not withstanding Julian's interest," Garak agreed.
"Yes, well, the Chief…" Dax attempted to say.
"Is hardly joking, Commander," Garak cautioned. "Oh, no, I doubt very much if Chief O'Brien is. While he may not be serious, he is far from joking. Oh, yes, I seriously doubt that. But then I hazard to suggest Doctor Lange is quite likely an extraordinarily attractive young woman. I mention this because even being Cardassian, the artistic eye, Commander, while it may not fully comprehend or understand a subject of its attention, can appreciate its existence and contribution to the otherwise dull scenery."
"A rose is a rose is a rose," Bashir summed up quite nicely.
"Yes," Garak said. "A rose is a rose." And no, young Gul Dukat did not know what a rose was, or why the Ferengi Quark might be wearing one stuffed behind his left ear.
"We meet again," Quark practiced on Anon studying the breakfast buffet.
"What's that thing?" Anon ignored him for the thorned green stem with its shrunken red bulb bobbing in time with Quark's coyly arching eyebrows.
"Ever hear of an ice breaker?"
"An ice breaker?" Anon thought of the emaciated green stem pitted against a glacier. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Stick around," Quark invited. "Maybe you'll learn something."
"From you? I doubt it," Anon picked up the coffee with a snort. "No, I don't want this. Where's the fish juice?"
"Oh, Leeta!" Quark sweetly bellowed.
"I said I'm not!" Leeta hammered up to them on her titanium stilts, dragging Rom behind her trying to help her zipper into a new and equally attractive jumpsuit. "Oh, it's you." She stopped when she saw it was Anon, Rom banging off her shoulder blade.
"OW!" Rom grabbed his nose.
"Sorry, Romiekins," she tweaked his lobe, took the coffee away from Anon and began clearing random plates from off the table. "No, you don't want any of this; I know exactly what you want."
"Romiekins?" Quark scowled as Leeta tripped away to the replicator.
"It's a Human term of endearment," Rom giggled.
"Human?" That was information Quark could use. "I'll make a note. Where were we?" he returned to Anon. "Never mind, I know. Apparently you do have the same je ne sais quoi as your father."
He was met by silence and a penetrating stare.
"Pheromones," Quark inclined forward with a confidential offer of assistance. “Hormones. Sex appeal. Call it what you like. You ooze. You drip. They drop."
"I have sex appeal?" Anon repeated slowly to his brother, uncertain if his universal translator had shorted out entirely or what was going on.
"Hard to believe, isn't it?" Quark agreed. "I'm standing here talking to a guy who looks like a constipated bullfrog -- trust me, it's hard to believe."
"What is he talking about?" Anon insisted to Pfrann.
"Explain it to him," Quark said with a flick of his head. "He'll understand it better coming from you…if not, I've got a Library of holoprograms, we'll work it out."
"No," Anon dismissed wasting time on nonsense. "We're here for a purpose -- "
"What are you adopted?" Quark insisted.
For all the constant and irritating comparisons to his father, the suggestion that he was not his father's son stung Anon like a slap in the face.
"Anon…" Pfrann muttered a warning reminder that Sisko was a table away and watching closely.
"Something I said?" Quark straightened up with a wary step backwards.
"Hungry," Anon inclined forward over the buffet. "I am hungry. I want food and I want fish juice now -- and I wouldn't spit in it, if I were you." His hand struck a plate in demonstration before he walked away.
"Should I make that for two?" Quark turned to Pfrann with a shrug.
Pfrann looked at him. The neck coiled forward, his hand plucking the rose from behind the Ferengi's ear, a coy, sardonic smile staining his thin lips as he held the rose out. "We meet again."
"Now that's more like it," Quark approved.
"What's the matter with you?" Anon's fist caught Pfrann in the chest when he sat down.
"I felt like it," Pfrann shrugged.
"No, you didn't just feel like it. That's what everyone expects of you."
"So what," Pfrann slouched in his seat.
"Sit up!" Anon snapped and Pfrann looked at him.
"It's a notice of appreciation," he sat up straight. "The rose. It's for Janice."
"No, I thought it was for me," Anon agreed sarcastically. "I know what a notice of appreciation is."
"It's a Human tradition," Pfrann jaw tightened. "That's all I meant."
"Then why are you talking about Janice?" Anon insisted.
"I just told you," Pfrann sputtered. "It's a Human tradition. She's Human!"
"I also know that," Anon assured.
Pfrann groaned. "Never mind. Just don't hit the Ferengi when he gives it to her." Because that he highly doubted if any of Sisko's staff expected from either of them regardless of any other speculations.
"Quark?" Anon blinked at Quark, started to chuckle and broke out into a laugh. "No, it's not from Quark, it's from me."
"You?" Pfrann said tiredly.
"Yes, me," Anon assured. "It's for Janice, it's from me. I look at her, she'll know that. I don't have to hit anyone."
"I don't think that's the way it works."
"I don't care how it works." Anon picked up Damar's proposal to scan through it. "That's the way it is. I can't read this stupid thing." He threw the proposal down with an anticipatory look around. The woman approaching though was the Bajoran Leeta, a fresh carafe of hot fish juice on her tray. She hesitated with Anon's accepting nod.
"I said thank you," Anon reiterated.
"Rom's my husband," Leeta almost pleaded.
Her request for his discretion in mentioning his father's and hers questionable past association puzzled him even though he knew what she meant. If he meant to be reassuring it didn't come across that way. "Yes, and?"
Leeta flushed angrily. "Okay, fine, be that way!" she slammed the tray down and stalked off. Anon shrugged with a reach for the carafe.
"It must be something with their race."
Pfrann rolled his eyes. "Anon…"
"I know who she is," Anon silenced him. "The length of the list, whose name is at the top of it and why. Control. He lives for it. That's all. What?" he looked up at the Changeling meandering over to nod down.
"Everything all right?" Odo just wondered.
"It's fine," Anon assured. "You?"
"Never better," Odo agreed. Particularly since having taken a second refresher look through those old Cardassian security logs available. The ones that included more than the occasional mention of all those impressionable young associations throughout his Eminence's ten year reign.
Anon's sigh was impatient. "I was a child at the time of Legate Dukat's appointment as Prefect. I scarcely remember it. Him. Or Bajor. Pfrann wasn't even born."
"Before my time also," Odo acknowledged. "An auspicious occasion nevertheless. By tradition, one that would include the family's participation -- as would its anniversary."
"Don't tell me about my world, or my life. I told you I don't remember."
"Yes, well, remembering the station is probably guaranteed," Odo reminded him of that enduring Cardassian memory. "Recognizing it is another thing." Despite that enduring Cardassian tradition of studied elegance, equilibrium and harmony in architecture. Producing such unforgettable triumphs as those famed Cardassian archways and ore bays. Whose perfect placement to one another ensured the harmonious and perfectly balanced flow of energy, by any other name the blood and sweat of the Bajoran labor force, throughout the occupation.
"I can't recognize something I've never seen," Anon insisted. "I don't care whose logs contradict me. I am telling you I have never been aboard this station before in my life."
"No." So Odo understood, his gaze moving to include Quark. "By all available accounts you weren't. By those same accounts who was, was Pfrann…That probably had something to do with despite what the younger one might remember from his days as a toddler, the elder one could understand as well as report."
"It slips my mind," Quark shrugged.
"Probably a good idea all around," Odo nodded.
"There has to be a better way." Janice sunk down on the floor of her quarters, the room spinning cartwheels as the transporter beam faded away leaving her and her molecules intact except for a dizzy head and upset stomach.
"Janice?" Anon's distorted voice crackled through the air.
"I'm fine," Janice smiled at her security bracelet lying waiting for her three feet away.
"I love you," he said before the transmission failed.
"I love you," her fingers closed over the bracelet, closing her eyes for a minute or so as well…it couldn't have been any more than five minutes before the sound of the door buzzer had her eyes snapping open. The buzzer sounded again and Janice sat up with a start, grabbing up the security bracelet to put it on; it was engaged. Locked and secured.
"Anon!" she jumped up with a groan, trying to force the bracelet down over her hand.
"Janice?" Kira rang the buzzer a third time. "Janice, it's Kira."
"I'll be right there!" Janice dashed for the shower and a sanitizing spray for her hair, yanking off her nightgown to yank on her tunic and tights. She was dressed, all but for her shoes when she answered the door with breathless and hopeful apologies. "It came off in the middle of the night?"
"What?" Kira looked from the water dripping off the ends of Janice's hair to the arm she extended with the security bracelet crammed tightly around her hand.
Janice sighed. "You're right. It's my fault. I didn't realize if I closed it, I wouldn't be able to get it back on…"
"No, it's my fault," Kira interrupted. "I remembered I forgot your clothes and I came up here to get them…and forgot them again…" she frowned at the bracelet. "It came off?"
"Oh," Janice said. "Well, yes. Apart, actually. I'm really not sure how…" she pulled the bracelet off her hand that was reddened and starting to swell from trying to force the bracelet back on. "I clipped it back together to see if it was broken, never thinking I wouldn't be able to open it again…But I guess that really wouldn't make too much sense if I could, would it?" she stopped again, her eyes staring innocently back at Kira shaking her head.
"Hopeless. You're hopeless."
"Yes!" Kira laughed. "Look at you!" From her wet hair dripping down the front of her tunic, to her stocking feet, to the stack of data logs piled on the couch and floor. "It's seven o'clock."
"Oh," Janice grimaced. "Well, I guess I also sort of lost track of the time…"
"It's all right," Kira took the bracelet away from her with a nod toward the bathroom. "Go -- well, dry your hair. I'll get your clothes…stop by the security office…" she frowned again at the bracelet that looked perfectly fine to her. "The magnetic sequencing probably just needs to be adjusted…"Kira remembered the bracelet, but walked right by her own quarters for the second time forgetting Lange's clothes.
"Are you sure it isn't deliberate?" Dax teased when Kira showed up with Lange a half an hour late for breakfast, but in time to take her place in line for Julian's blood screening. "Not that I don't agree with you. She doesn't have to be a fashion plate to get her point across…"
"We meet again." Quark sauntered up with a frosted mug from which protruded the now wilting rose.
"Or to quicken anyone's pulse," Dax noted.
"Iced raktajino," Quark identified the cool refreshing potion for Janice. "All the right people drink it. In occasionally the wrong places, but they still drink it."
"Really…" Along those lines of right and wrong Garak was horrified to see the young woman wearing the exact ensemble she had worn the evening before regardless of Julian's rather generous proposal that they look upon the dismal beige tunic as Doctor Lange's official uniform. "After all, Major, I am confident even you change your uniform from time to time. The occupation is over; has been for years."
"No, I sleep, eat, and drink iced raktajino in them -- What's this?" Kira snatched the rose out of the mug, a frozen thorn puncturing the fleshy mound of her thumb deeply enough to draw blood."Sharp," Quark nodded.
If Odo was of the mind to record a personal observation of the opening session of the latest round of historical Federation-Bajoran-Cardassian talks it probably would not have included however reserved on the outside Gul Dukat might appear to be, he was clearly still feeling giddy on the in. The plight of the Bajoran-Cardassian war population about the farthest thing from his mind. In retrospect, Odo's failure to take such notice probably came under the same reason as everyone else's failure to take such notice. Garak was right. Canary yellow wasn't the only thing blinding to the eye. So was that woven black and silver armor of the Cardassian tunic. If there was anything extraordinary to report it might be a begrudging mention of how the first day went better than anyone anticipated.
A great deal better considering the first few opening minutes. At 0900 sharp, having all once again successfully proven their status as solids, the small entourage of diplomats left the conference room to move along the corridor for the station's main auditorium. A round table symbolically set up for the three main players of the drama in the center of the amphitheater before her ring of bleachers, ended up seating four as Dukat decided his brother's place was at his side, rather than observing from the sidelines. Likewise being that the proposal on the table was Cardassian in origin, the nature and length of any opening speech was at Dukat's discretion. A sentence in length, it was remarkably short and to the point, presented with a predictable insufferable grin for Doctor Lange and Chief O'Brien. "Any questions?"
"Oh, here we go." The Chief's muttered response was also predictable, along with his he's-starting-already look for Sisko sitting in the bleachers. The Captain's only response was a slow, shake of his head in silent reminder to the Chief of those two golden rules of not biting the baited hook, or charging the red flag like a maddened bull, whichever was more applicable to the Chief's particular personality.
"Got it," O'Brien shuffled in his seat, settling for countering with a diplomatic retort. "Of course we've got questions."
A position ardently embraced by Doctor Lange. "Who's going to pay for all of this?"
A reasonable question that had Kira up out of her seat like a shot and down into the arena before the Chief finished stammering in shock.
As apparently even he knew one never broached the subject of cold, hard latinum during diplomatic arbitration. That came at some point afterwards when business took over where signed, sealed mutual agreement left off. Figuring out how, where, and from whom they were going to get the funding needed to fund the agreed upon fund. Risky, as more often than not the bottom line proved too steep for even the deep pockets of the Federation leaving the agreement dead at conception. Still, the order of things made sense. It was illogical to hold budget hearings before one even knew what one was being asked to fund.
Kira's unspoken point as she intervened with a friendly offer of advice for Lange. "I think it's better if we just all begin at the beginning."
"Oh, yes," Lange merely had a different opinion on what constituted the beginning. "Well?" she turned back to the equally startled Gul Dukat.
"Well?" Anon repeated. "You expect me to answer that?"
"No, she doesn't expect you to answer," Kira assured.
"Yes, I do," Janice nodded and Kira's head snapped back around to stare at her.
"No, it's all right," Anon snapped to attention with hurried reassurance for Kira. Odo wasn't quite sure why, but he was sure he would find out. '"It's a good question. A very good question…" he reached for Damar's proposal being stuffed in his hand by his brother Pfrann. "Why? Doesn't it say in the proposal?"
"No," Janice said.
"Are you sure?" he frowned through the scrolling pages.
"Of course I'm sure," she laughed with a teasing waggle of her copy of Damar's effort to date. "Did you even read this?"
"Some of it," he handed his padd back to Pfrann with a shrug. "It's all right. I'll find out the answer for you -- what?" he said to Kira's annoyed snatch of the padd out of Lange's hand to shake it at him.
"You didn't read your own proposal?"
"It's not my proposal," Anon was set to retort when a sudden wicked thought entered his mind. The spiraling downward fall of Legate Damar. The verifying question for Lange was calculated and obvious. "Why? You think it's expensive? Too expensive?"
"Well, I think it's probably expensive," Janice agreed.
"And we should pay for it," Anon encouraged her deeper into his web.
"It's your idea," Janice reminded him.
"Damar's idea," Anon smiled under the rapt attention of the occupants of the bleachers and the round table. "All right. I will find out exactly how much money Damar has to spend on Bajor that the Union doesn't have for its own people."
The Chief slammed his padd down, Sisko countering with another slow, discreet shake of his head. Lange's failure to identify Dukat's intent was not the Federation's problem. Odo was set to rest back on his laurels. A decision that proved to be premature.
"Don't try to be clever." Janice suggested, some might say desperately, they would have been wrong. "They are your people."
"All right, our people," he waved, bored with Damar and eager to move onto talking about anything while secretly thinking about other things. Such as her hair dragging across the table as she stretched towards him. "Our people, you're right." Whose people wasn't his point. His point was the expense Damar was prepared to incur. It paled by comparison to what he just said. In fact, you could hear that proverbial pin drop in the room.
"What?" Anon asked absently of Kira staring at him.
Her statement was slow to the point of almost holding her breath. "Are you saying you recognize Cardassia's responsibility for the Bajoran-Cardassian population?"
"What?" Anon's gaze shifted to Janice straightening up with what some might say a coy smile, they would be right.
"Well, do you?" Janice asked. "It makes no sense to propose a consulate for a people you don't recognize."
Anon hesitated, but then he shrugged. Comfortable that if anyone could rest on his father's highly publicized indiscretion, he could. A luxury that did not necessarily apply to Damar. "Yes, I recognize them. I just said I did. Why? You want that, too? Mark that down," he instructed Pfrann. "Shakaar wants recognition of the Bajoran-Cardassian population. Legate Damar agrees. He recognizes them."
"Dukat!" Damar jumped to his feet.
Anon ignored him for Kira and Janice. "You're right. It makes no sense to propose a consulate for a people we don't recognize. Therefore we must. Damar must."
"A point, Legate," Sisko could feel a grin creasing his cheeks as his head turned slowly towards Damar. It was a monumental moment in history, for the moment, anyway. Sure to be remembered differently by each of the conference Advisors and Assistant Advisors and presiding security staff that included Odo, Dax, Worf and Legate Damar's personal assistant Paq.
As it was certain to lose much of its impact and/or significance by 1300, the scheduled hour for lunch. Four hours certainly ample enough time for any Cardassian worth his membership in the Union to figure his way around, weasel his way out of most anything.
"That may be, Constable," Sisko nodded to Odo's skepticism. "That may be."
"Then there are Dukat's own reasons to take under consideration," Odo ogled his Eminence the Emperor Damar who also looked remarkably like a bull frog in pain, or whatever it was Quark had said. Reasons that were fairly evident. If Damar was as lucky a man as his unlucky predecessor Dukat, he just might live to be exiled once the Civilian Council got wind of that particular concession of his. As well as Central Command. The True Way and the average Cardassian on the street.
"Also true, Constable," Sisko nodded. "Also true."
"Still, I suppose there's nothing wrong with wallowing in the moment," Odo grunted.
"No, there most certainly is not." There was a spring in Sisko's step as he stepped to join Major Kira at the growing round table as she also decided to stay around for a little while. Damar remained in the bleachers, listening to his assistant's chastising critique of the meeting thus far.
"The woman is nothing? She comes from nowhere?""Shut up," Damar suggested. A good one. Plotting the demise of one's adversary while in the presence of the Chief Constable of Security was not generally in one's best interest. The exception to that rule was Dukat's apparent plot to depose Damar. As far as either of them Odo would have to make a concerted effort to respond in a timely fashion. Lange was different story.