"Anything else?" Anon asked Kira as well as Lange.
"Not at the moment," Kira handed Janice back her padd, pulled up a chair, parking herself directly behind her. She joined by Captain Sisko parking himself behind O'Brien.
"Do you want…" the Chief extended his padd.
"No, that's fine," Sisko declined, there only to observe. "What about a census, Major?" he smiled at Kira. "Doctor Lange made an interesting point last evening about the estimated percentage of the Bajoran-Cardassian population."
Lange snapped her fingers in waking agreement, apparently still deliberating Anon's question in her mind. "Oh, yes, we need a census."
"Okay, we need a census," Kira said.
"And I hate to use the word enforce," Janice winced, checking off her list of notes. "So I'm just going to say I think we should also have a Federation arbitrator examine Bajoran criminal and civil laws as they are written to insure they at least come close to the Articles of Federation guidelines…The best example of morality and legality of equality I could find," she explained to Sisko nodding.
"An excellent suggestion, Doctor,” Sisko concurred. “The Articles of Federation are a blueprint for social accord. I can foresee no conflict between them and Bajoran law or religious considerations. To the contrary, Bajor has enjoyed a successful bid for admittance into the Federation in the past, one sure to be reinstated hopefully in the not too distant future. In the interim, it is merely a matter reopening the applicable areas of the Bajoran petition for review to ensure any necessary amendments remain firmly in place."
"Someone such as Odo," Janice proposed for the Federation arbitrator. Certain the UFP would not only be able to find such a person, but understand what she meant. Which, admittedly no, neither Sisko, Kira, nor the Chief did.
"Odo?" The three of them turned around to stare quizzically at Odo.
"Yes, a Federation arbitrator," Janice busied herself persuading Anon. "What are you huffing about now?"
"Odo?" he scoffed.
"Not because he's a Changeling," she laughed. "Honestly, Anon, what do you think? Bajor's now in secret negotiations with the Dominion to overthrow you and the Federation?"
"Why Odo?" he insisted.
"Because he's one of your father's better ideas," she proudly pointed out her notation with a smile before Kira grabbed the padd back to see what moral deviate dared to write 'good idea' and 'Dukat' in the same sentence.
"Major?" Sisko asked, intrigued himself.
"No, it's just a personal note to herself," Kira waved in disgust. "Where does she get these ideas?"She was not alone in wondering that.
"What is she talking about now?" Damar muttered to Paq. Considering just five minutes ago Lange succeeding in getting Dukat to acknowledge, orally anyway, the Union's recognition of the Bajoran-Cardassian war orphans, Odo couldn't say as he blamed the Legate for his suspicions.
"I'm one of Dukat's better ideas," Odo complied.
Damar snorted. "Until one examines the reasons."
"Yes, well, apparently one's reasons don't count," Odo reminded. "Not yet anyway. Certain we’ll find out when they do, if not what they are…that includes yours." He ogled Commander Dax unable to resist contributing her own special brand of humor into the debate.
"What were Dukat's reasons?"
"Who knows," Odo grunted. Undoubtedly changing with each breath his former Eminence took and boiling down to he felt like it at the time, the same as everything else. A belief apparently upheld by his eldest son in contrast to Lange's viewpoint of Odo being the closest example of a Neutral Dukat could find at his disposal.
"That sounds about right," Odo agreed with Lange there. It was the part about Dukat exhibiting a sense of fairness he had just a little hard time swallowing.
"Why did Dukat employ you?" Dax asked the same question she asked before, simply in a different way and that time with a frown.
"Who knows," Odo gave her the same answer he gave her before, pointing her curiosity towards a young man possibly better informed than he.
"No, no, no," Anon emphatically shook his head at the idea of his father's far and wide search for a Neutral to insure any accused member of the Bajoran work force had an equal and fair opportunity to die by public execution rather than during interrogation. "I told you before, my father employed Odo because he was weak. Malleable."
Untrue, but Odo could see Dukat believing that.
"Fairness?" Anon outright gagged in disbelief. "My father was Prefect of Bajor. He didn't have time, nor any reason to even think about being fair -- to whom?"
"Well, he had to have some sort of reason," Janice stubbornly insisted. "Odo was neutral, your father did know that, and I don't understand where you get this idea of Odo being weak. He was employed to oversee the civilian work force -- occupied peoples who applauded and recognized him for his efforts. Why would they do this if he was your father's puppet as you seem to think?"
"How do I know?" Anon groaned. "My father spent his life trying to figure out Bajor, why they do this and don't do that. You think I can tell you? I can't."
"Well, I do know," Janice assured, "and they wouldn't. Odo wasn't a puppet. He wasn't weak, he was strong. A talented and gifted man, capable of maintaining his neutrality in a situation where few would be able to. Exactly the type of person Bajor and Cardassia both need to review Bajoran law as it is now written. Ensure any amendments as Captain Sisko states remain in place so that, yes, if the ratified law of this agreement needs to be enforced, it can be enforced without having to spend the next fifty years mired in red tape."
"No, it's not going to take fifty years." Anon was back to shaking his head. "Ask Sisko, I told him. Not years, not a week. Two days. All of this will be resolved. You have questions, address them to me."
"Two days?" Janice blinked. "You're planning to return to Cardassia tomorrow?"
Anon stared at her. "Perhaps a little unrealistic, you're right."
"Hm, just a little," Janice smiled. "I'll be surprised if we get through half of this in a week."
"I'll second that," Kira snorted. A confirmed cynic herself when it came to history-making agreements of intragalactical proportions reached within the first fifteen or twenty minutes."And in the meantime," Janice smiled at Anon from under her glittering halo of hair, "all I'm saying is the Federation is our best avenue to find a person with Odo's credentials. Someone not only with the ability for neutral arbitration, but with the plain and simple ability to understand law and how to have it work for you."
"She has a point," Dax nodded in the stands.
"She is excellent," Worf assured.
"She's all right," Dax agreed. Once getting beyond Lange's general inexperience, evident in her unorthodox and casual approach even Curzon would probably be moderately impressed.
"An approach which is refreshing," Worf felt.
"It can be," Dax said. "Actually, you know who she reminds me of somewhat?"
"Lwaxana Troi." Odo grunted. Betazed's dauntless Ambassador to the Federation. An unorthodox, frank and honest woman who just also happened to be one of the most respected Federation arbitrators this century.
"Arbitrator," Worf stared at Dax.
"Lwaxana Troi," Dax stared back at him.
"We are not at liberty to make suggestions beyond security," Worf sighed.
"Do you think that includes talking loud enough for Benjamin to overhear?" she grimaced.
"Or at least Mister Damar," Odo agreed.
"Which he did overhear." Damar assured from where he sat to Odo's right. "The request is out of the question. The woman is a telepath — and that would be Legate Damar, Constable. Keep it in mind. Along with the fact that I, and I alone have the power to abort the conference at my choosing if I suspect contamination at any time -- which I do suspect."
"Care to share it with me?" Odo invited.
"All in due time," Damar promised. "All in due time."
"Yes, well, probably no reason to create hasty accusations at that," Odo said.
It took his Eminence a moment, but he eventually got it. "Create?" Damar glared.
"If the shoe fits," Odo nodded. Meanwhile Commander Dax got her wish when Sisko interjected Ambassador Troi's name over Lange elaborating on her description of what would constitute the ideal person to oversee a review of Bajor's legal and moral standing in the universe.
"That's my Benjamin," Dax cheered quietly and happily when Sisko hit upon the idea of Ambassador Troi without coercion.
It didn't matter to Damar how Sisko happened to come up with Troi. He was back up on his feet and shouting for the benefit of Dukat. "Out of the question. Ambassador Troi is a telepath."
"Yes, so?" Anon's indifference trained itself on his brother.
"It could be perceived as granting the Federation an unfair advantage," Pfrann explained.
"Over whom?" Anon scoffed. "Us? I don't think so. Try it, you'll see," he tempted Janice. "Have your Federation telepath attempt to read me. What she will hear and what she will see is silence. My thoughts are mine alone."
"Are you so sure about that?" Janice teasingly draped herself across the table.
"Excellent," Worf approved again of Lange's subtle and highly effective way of getting her message across.
"Subtle?" Dax looked at Lange who, at the moment, looked about as subtle as Dukat looked draped across the table from his end. The two of them meeting just about in the middle. Much to Kira's annoyance, Benjamin's surprise, and the Chief's utter delight, Dukat's apparent opinion.
"We'll find out, won't we?" he laughed, amused by Lange's spontaneous demonstration of her ability to be as cocky as anyone else. Who rose from the rank and file of Federation diplomats to fill the role of arbitrator was clearly not important to him. Ambassadors Troi, Sarek or Curzon. The choice or recommendation was Captain Sisko's.
"Ambassadors Sarek and Curzon are both dead," Damar fumed. "Dukat!"
"Ignore him," Anon advised Janice as he sat back and she was pulled back to her seat by Kira.
"What is the matter with you?" Kira insisted. "Sit down!"
"What?" Janice blinked.
"You want to know what a puppet is?" Anon was saying. "That's a puppet; Mister Damar. Not I, or Pfrann."
"Who said you and Pfrann were puppets?" Lange asked, evidently having skipped over that chapter as well. Not only the one on being wary of spiders and their webs despite her natural talent for soothing the savage in one's breast.
"No one," Anon shrugged, not about to admit it if a thousand had. Which ten times ten thousand probably had and were as they sat there. "I am just telling you."The same as he believed there was no better time than now to inform her the next concession to be made would be hers. Bajor's. Not his or the Cardassian Union. A demand softened by the thoroughly believable smile on his face. Odo grunted. He was priceless, that was for sure. A shining jewel in his father's otherwise corroded crown.
"In his dreams," O'Brien guffawed in confidence to Bashir and Garak regarding that smile four hours later when the committee took a break from working on the details of the proposal to eat lunch.
"Really…" Garak said to Bashir. The conference room not exactly warm with congeniality was not exactly bristling or cold either. "We understand. We do understand -- I believe Julian and I do, anyway," he smiled in encouragement to O'Brien's glowing grin as the Chief sat there proudly listing off Doctor Lange's accomplishments of the morning thus far.
"Well, yes, I believe Garak and I understand somewhat," Bashir drew up a chair, Garak quick and happy to join him.
"Worf," Sisko picked up his coffee without lifting his eyes from the padd.
"I see them," Worf agreed.
"To an extent," Bashir frowned at O'Brien. "Understand, I mean."
"She's not just good, she is damn good." O'Brien promised. "I mean damn good. Wham! She starts out sounding like she's coming from nowhere and the next thing he knows, she's got him exactly where she wants him, and he's no idea of how he even got there -- am I right, or wrong?" he singled Worf out of the crowd.
"You are right." Worf assured, his confidence in Doctor Lange not having waned with no anticipation that it would.
"You can say that again,"O'Brien pulled up a chair for Worf to have a seat.
"Dax." Sisko directed with another reach for his coffee and without needing to look up.
"I see them," Dax smiled.
"So do I," Odo assumed his place as next in line.
"Constable?" Sisko's question was quizzical as it warranted a brief glance up.
"Just in case you need someone else to rescue the rescuer and so forth," Odo offered.
"Understood." Sisko resumed calculating an estimated cost of the programs discussed even though it wasn't the natural order of things.
"How much does it cost?" Kira wandered up presently to wonder, a reasonably replicated example of the traditional Bajoran fare hasperat in hand.
"Who says reasonable?" she dropped the briny roll of marinated herbs and roots back down on her plate with the first disgusted bite.
"Those who don't know any better," Odo supposed. "And a lot."
"This surprises you?" Kira snorted. A suitable counter to both observations.
"Does it?" Odo looked to Sisko for at least one of the answers.
"No," Sisko shook his head. "A fair question of Doctor Lange's all around."
"Who's going to pay for it," Odo assisted Kira.
"I know what she said," Kira assured. "I didn't say it wasn't a good question. Yes, it was a good question."
"And the answer is?" Odo looked to Sisko.
"The Federation." Sisko stood up with a smile, moving away to verify something against the station's data banks now that he had the chance.
"In a perfect world," Odo grunted before Kira lost her lunch, literally, catching her plate before it dropped to the floor.
"Where everyone forgives and forgets," Kira momentarily satisfied her hostility with a vicious bite of her hasperat. "I wouldn't count on it. There's more than a few Federation worlds that aren't too happy with the Supreme Assembly's decision to press for a new treaty with Cardassia. Dukat's not the only one who has a fan club, so does Gowron."
"True," Odo ogled Sisko who apparently had set his parameters to exclude those particular delegates completely.
"What is Benjamin doing?" Kira was by nature a suspicious woman.
"Yes, well," Odo gathered, from the looks of the profiles flashing by on the screen? He had a feeling Sisko was further isolating the Federation delegates into two distinct groups. The ones who were slated for upcoming reappointment by their home worlds, and the ones who had a few years to go, and hence a few years for their home worlds to forget the delegate's support of the Cardassian proposal; if necessary. If by chance Damar's Consulate didn't turn out to be all it was carved out to be.
"Precisely," Sisko returned to his seat and his coffee with the same smile.
"What?" Kira looked from the Captain to the screen and back again. "That's cheating!"
"Not really," Sisko denied.
"Yes, it is," Kira sat down with a huff and a loud clatter of her plate. "You can't seriously be planning to lobby for the Federation's financial assistance already."
"Major?" Sisko suggested. "Relax."
"And are you sure that's legal?" Odo added.
"That, too," Sisko nodded.
"Relax," Kira snatched up her hasperat. "That's what you said the last time and now look where we are -- what?" she insisted. "Am I sure what's legal?"
"That," Sisko indicated. Not her hasperat, the fact that she was sitting at the table. "With me." he said.
"All right, fine, I'll stand." Kira stood up. "No, it's all right, I'll stand.""Thank you," Sisko nodded. After all they didn’t want to panic the Umpire. Prompt Damar into screaming something like foul when they were on top at the bottom of the first inning, the bases loaded, not a strike in sight.
"He's already threatened," Odo reassured Kira all was not lost that they wouldn't panic the Umpire.
"Dukat he's not," Kira agreed sourly.
Odo deliberated about her comment.
"Dukat," Kira's teeth clamped down on her hasperat. "Damar's not Dukat. And neither's -- Neither's -- " her arm flailed in the general direction of.
"Dukat," Odo nodded.
"I don't like him," Kira confided to no one's surprise. "I really do not like him. I think I like him even less…"
"Than Dukat," Odo nodded. "It's possible."
"It's definite," Kira assured, even if she wasn't quite sure why. She eyed Pfrann presently engaged in combating his brother's stoic icy stance with an exhaustive and lurid hula in a desperate attempt to win whatever debate he was losing. A mildly interesting note to be filed somewhere. An image rather like one of Dukat straining to exert his will over Sisko. The frustrated Cardassian snake clearly no match.
"Appearances can be deceiving," Odo also agreed with that.
"In some other universe," Kira muttered. Where she was the Intendant and Dukat was an astrophysicist. An image, part of which, Odo couldn't begin to assimilate.
"Beg your pardon?" he said.
"Don't hold your breath, in other words," Quark waddled up with a nod and unauthorized refill of Kira's coffee that she didn't even have until he plunked a mug down on her tray. "Not that I mean anything personal," he assured Kira. "But would you like some parsley to go with that? Or will an away suit do -- not for you, for me. I can take gagh. I can even take kanar. There's just something about fifty Bajorans eating hasperat at the same time in the same room that makes me want to petition the Federation to change the Prime Directive to exclude an item or two from protection."
"Kimchee," Sisko did not look up from his own troubles.
"Come again?" Quark cocked a lobe. "Do I hear an offer to pay double plus hospital expenses?"
"Korean cabbage," Sisko grinned. "It's traditionally aged in clay pots buried in the ground for a year."
"Uh, huh," Quark said. "If it makes sense to you, it makes sense to me. So what's this I hear about Dukat wanting to erect a memorial to Ziyal in the middle of the capital city of Bajor with Shakaar's and the Federation's blessing? I don't need the details, those I can get anywhere. I just want to know if it's root beer, kanar or blood ale I should lay in a supply of this week, and which way to duck when the Disruptors start firing. Notice I said Disruptors, not phasers. Not that I mean to suggest that Martok's here for any reason other than his health -- just how do you say welcome to Quark's bar in Klingonese?"
"You don't," Sisko promised.
"If I live to see Friday, I hold you to that." Quark refilled his raktajino. "Marry Grilka is one thing, live with her is another. I've nothing against sex, blood, guts, or mutilated body parts. No more than the next one. I just know there's more to life than death -- that'll be twenty strips. Not for the coffee. As a down payment for when you know who needs me to help her sabotage the weapons array so you can retake the station one more time." he eyed Kira. "Did you ever wonder if what actually happened is Damar missed? Hitting Ziyal instead of you? I have. Call it wishful thinking, but I have."
"Eh, heh," Kira said."Suit yourself," Quark shrugged. "Just remember, he who laughs last, laughs last. Whatever that means. Keep it in mind."
The Chief was close to laughing heartily, boasting like a proud parent. "He's the one who hasn't a clue. Every damn time he walks straight into it…In over her head? He's the one in over his head, and paddling like hell to try and keep his head above water -- never happen," he promised Worf. "It'll never happen. True or false?"
"You are right," Worf agreed.
"Yes, I'm right," O'Brien snorted. "Knew it five minutes after I sat down and he knows it, too. Two days, I give it. Not even. Said as much already himself. By this time tomorrow if he hasn't throw the towel in, we do know who will."
"Damar." Bashir understood that much. "Are you quite sure you heard Dukat correctly? I suppose as long as he doesn't mind sleeping with his eyes open and his back to the wall watching the door for the next hundred or so years, yes, you must have."
"Either of which is fine with me," O'Brien pointed. "The sooner this nonsense is over with, the better. Because it is nonsense, yes, it is. All of it."
"Oh, yes," Garak breathed. "I may be forced to agree with you, Chief O'Brien… Especially if…" he regarded the Chief as well as Worf with awe, "you are accurate in your claim Gul Dukat acknowledged Cardassia's responsibility not only for but to the Bajoran-Cardassian war population."
"He did," O'Brien maintained.
"Yes," Worf agreed.
"Really…" Garak said to Commander Dax strolling up to lean down over Worf's shoulder. "How utterly astounding as Julian professes, and certainly quite daring."
"Foolish is what Julian is saying," Bashir corrected. "Utterly absurd is right. The man must be insane -- not completely unrealistic," he grinned for Dax. "Considering his genetic background. Mental illness does run in families. Cardassians are no exceptions."
"Actually what Dukat said was he recognized the Bajoran-Cardassian as a people. Kira is the one who asked if he was acknowledging responsibility. Not to dampen anyone's celebration." Dax smiled at O'Brien.
"You can't dampen anything," O'Brien insisted. "Say it the way you want to. It comes down to the same thing."
"Well, no…" Garak could see where there might be a difference. "Not necessarily. A subtle difference, I'll grant you…"
"Best known as the subtle art of diplomacy," Bashir clapped him on the shoulder. "Garak's right, Chief. Regardless of what you might think Dukat meant, he knows what he said. Rather the same as I find it somewhat difficult to believe he could be 'tricked' into anything he didn't wish to be; impossible to believe, actually. All he'd have to do, if the impossible happened, is say, no, I'm sorry, that's not the way it is; this is."
"Oh, yes," Garak agreed. "Yes, most definitely. Absurd to think otherwise."
"Our people, all right?" O'Brien said. "Those were his exact words. Yes, they're our people. Yes, I recognize them and so does Mister Damar. You tell me how someone can misunderstand that."
"By stretching acknowledgment of someone's existence to include some form of political or financial remuneration," Bashir proposed. "You're talking apples and oranges…also reasonable," his smile flashed again for Dax, "considering your own inexperience…as well as Worf's. Personally, in this instance, I'd be far more inclined to respect Curzon's impression."
"Well…" Dax smiled, considering the way it was put, she wasn't so sure he would.
"Well, what do you call the damn Consulate if it's not remuneration?" O'Brien snapped. "He also said that. Quote! 'It makes no sense to propose a Consulate for a people we don't recognize, therefore we must.' End quote!"
"On the other hand…" Garak ogled Dax.
"Close enough," Dax shrugged.
"If the offer is sincere," Garak agreed. "Yes, quite possibly."
"Which you're insisting it isn't," Bashir reminded O'Brien "So it's not remuneration, merely a strikingly obvious scheme of some sort as suspected."
"You know there's one in every crowd," O'Brien nodded to Worf.
"Make that two," Dax apologized to the both of them. "Not to tell either of you your jobs, but I really don't believe the two of you are supposed to be discussing any of this?""With the hired help," Bashir teased. "Explains your 'No, actually what Dukat said was'. But quite all right. I agree. You really shouldn't be. But only because…" he accepted a refill of his root beer from Quark, toasting the Chief with a wink, "it's extraordinarily boring. As I said, predictable. For heaven's sake, it's painfully clear to me Dukat is gambling on Ziyal to glean Janice's sympathies -- and succeeding. Which puts him steps ahead of Janice, as well as you."
"An interesting theory, Julian, yes, I must say." Garak continued to jump sides.
"Make that three," O'Brien nodded to Worf. "Four. You can include Kira in there, too. Did you see her? The way she grabbed her? What did she think they were going to do? Kiss each other?"
"I beg your pardon?" Bashir almost spit up his root beer.
"No!" O'Brien said. "Get a grip."
"How some people exaggerate." Quark shook his head in agreed disgust.
"True." Dax handed Bashir a napkin.
Which it wasn't true. No. Garak knew that. What it was, was a window of opportunity lost. A chance to take their blinders off and see a son talking with a woman he knew, rather than a father ogling, enticing and plotting the conquest of fresh game. A significant difference. A significant point that would cause the immediate halt to the proceedings. The ones that Garak could see little more than Captain Sisko and Doctor Lange taking seriously. Unfortunately as Doctor Lange was clearly as guilty as Gul Dukat of at least the indiscretion of personally knowing someone she wasn't supposed to know. Where Captain Sisko was just so focused on the task of having the meetings come off smoothly regardless of Legate Damar's true intentions. Leaving ample time and sufficient opportunity for all the others to blindly continue along their merry way.
Oh, the games that people play, as the Humans say. Garak's thoughts strayed to watching Anon watching Janice paying extraordinary close attention to a large bowl of fresh fruits on the buffet table. Games that had Julian, the Chief, Major Kira naturally, Commander Worf, and even Commander Dax rallying to pit their wits and their wills against a man they just all knew too well. All while forgetting that the man present was a man they didn't know at all.
Not in the least. Garak's patronizing smile shifted from the delectable variety of foods to the equally blind watchful and silent figure of Constable Odo presiding over his troops presiding over the room to the point of overcrowding. Captain Sisko was taking no chances whatsoever. A veritable army of Federation and Bajoran Special Forces surrounded the conference room both inside and out. The deadly powerful authority of their figures and stern unemotional faces, now relaxed and casual. Confident. But then there was something almost strangely comforting in the common knowledge that of course Gul Dukat was guilty of whatever anyone suspected, thought or anticipated. So why worry about anything other than the obvious of beating him at his own game?
Oh, for goodness sake, Garak, will you stop sitting there observing and say something? Ziyal groaned. Trapped between their world and hers and unable to communicate with any of them, she would grab Garak by his collar and shake him if she could in the hopes that it just might do some good. She gave it a try anyway and her hands passed right through him as if he was the one who wasn't really there."Ah! Now, I could have told you that!" Smug, amused and satisfied, her father taunted her from the background.