Major Kira Nerys stood on the Ops deck stifling a yawn.
"The Cardassian government has petitioned the Federation with a request to install the First Cardassian Consulate on Bajor Prime in an effort to improve the standard of living among its Cardassian-Bajoran citizens." The deep brown eyes of Captain Benjamin Sisko, Federation commander of the Bajoran outpost station Deep Space Nine, twinkled as he leaned over her cup of Klingon raktajino with a Cheshire cat grin.
"Huh?" Kira's Bajoran eyes looked back at him, and Sisko's grin widened.
"Don't you just love it?"
"Benjamin, I haven't even had my coffee yet," she suggested. "Could we wait with the jokes?"
"It's not a joke," Sisko shook his head.
"It's a joke," Kira assured.
"It's not a joke," Sisko shook his head.
"What do you mean it's not a joke?" Kira eyed him.
"I mean…" Sisko gently removed the cup of raktajino from her hand, leading her towards his office, "it's not a joke."
"Oh, for!" The heel of Kira's boot struck the deck sharply as she stalked into the office. Eventually she calmed down.
"I mean," she paced back and forth with Sisko watching her from behind his desk, "what am I concerned about? I'm not concerned. There is no way the Federation is going to listen to this. They're not even going to consider listening to this."
"I have my doubts about that also," Sisko agreed.
"Of course you do," Kira ran her fingers through her short, dark red hair, her nod firm. "Of course you do. It's nonsense. It's utter and complete nonsense. It is by far the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard."
A week later the Federation had decided otherwise.
"What?!" Kira's fingernails threatened the smooth surface of Sisko's desk as she loomed over him.
Sisko put up his hand. "They've only agreed to present the matter at their next session for discussion."
"Oh," Kira said. "Oh, well, I suppose there's really no way around that -- Is there?" She was back to eyeing Sisko.
"Not really, no," Sisko admitted. "If Federation and Cardassian relations are to continue to improve --”
"Why do they have to continue to improve?" Kira verified.
"Because they have to," Sisko nodded, and she shrugged.
"It was worth a try."
"So it was. And I wouldn't be concerned, no."
"I'm not. This way the Federation Assembly can -- can --”
"Discuss the matter?" Sisko offered.
"Right. They can discuss the matter, and the Cardassian government will just have to accept their decision."
Two weeks later the decision was to send it out for a vote.
"A vote?" Kira echoed. "Did you just say a vote? They're seriously sending it to the floor for a vote?"
"It'll never pass," Sisko promised.
"Passed?" Kira's voice was shrill. "It passed?"
"Major," Sisko's hand went to his forehead, a pounding headache throbbing behind his eyes, the smooth flesh of his brow wrinkled in concentration.
"Damar has no more interest in the Bajoran-Cardassian situation than anyone before him!" Kira insisted.
"I agree with that, Major. However Legate Damar --”
"Legate," Kira threw in with a sneer. "He's a helmsman!"
Sisko continued. "Is claiming to have an interest, as well as requesting an opportunity to do something about it."
"And the Federation Assembly bought it!"
"Yes, they bought it," Sisko paused to think about that briefly.
"But it isn't true!"
"No," Sisko also agreed with that.
"He's looking," Kira gestured wildly, "to install some organized, centralized spy network!"
"Aren't they all?" Sisko sighed.
"What?" Kira said.
"A reputation, Major," Sisko nodded, "that has followed the idea of Consulates for years."
"In the instance of Cardassia, it's true! The war hasn't even been over six months!"
"Major?" Sisko requested.
"All right, fine," Kira took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. It's not you. There's still the Council of Ministers. Shakaar will kill the petition himself before it reaches the Vedek Assembly.""On the basis of frivolity alone, he has that authority," Sisko concurred.
First Minister Shakaar Adon of Bajor forewent exercising his authority. The Vedek Assembly forewent expressing opinion. Sisko studied the notice from Bajor's Council of Ministers agreeing to Bajor's participation in a series of talks with the Federation and Cardassian government.
“Except Bajor's participation, Major," Sisko explained to Kira, "will be by way of a Neutral employed by the Council of Ministers and sent in representation to hear the Cardassian proposal."
"There has to be some mistake," Kira borrowed the padd have a look.
"No mistake, Major." Sisko stood up to study the Ops area through the windows of his office where Chief O'Brien worked diligently at removing the last traces of Dukat's recent occupation alongside Dax, Worf and others at their respective consoles; all comfortable and comforted by six quiet months.
"What are you thinking?" Kira was at his side.
"The truth?" Sisko answered quietly. "A great many things. Not all of them good. Under guise of wanting to ensure fair and unbiased participation due to the sensitive subject of the Bajoran-Cardassian situation, the truth is any improvements which may have come of these sessions will be completely unbinding on the part of Bajor with a Neutral acting as representative. First Minister Shakaar is playing his cards close to the vest, never mind anyone else, and quite frankly that to me reeks of a token effort. Simply put, why bother? Unfortunate, in my opinion, because, yes, I do see an opportunity being wasted here."
"What opportunity?" Kira denounced. "The only opportunity Damar sees is a way to further his own agenda."
"Yes," Sisko agreed. "By ingratiating himself with the Federation, rather than seeking to ostracize Cardassia like Dukat. That is very true. As it was a perfect opportunity for the Federation to call Damar's bluff," he turned around to her. "Also true, Major. In the meantime, regardless of Damar's agenda, for him to accomplish it, we could have ended up with the first Cardassian Consulate on Bajor. Undeniable, and indisputable progress between your two worlds. Matters of the Bajoran-Cardassian population would have had to have been addressed for the first time in fifty years. A point, obviously, Major," his head tipped in solemn concession, "that Bajor is not yet willing to address. Shakaar can't say no to Damar because he could be accused of undermining Federation-Cardassian negotiations. He can't say yes because he has the opinion of his own people to consider, as well as face."
"That doesn't sound like Shakaar to me."
No. Nor to Sisko either. Which was why the expression close to the vest. "What's his agenda?"
"I can't begin to think of one. Other than he doesn't trust Damar anymore than he trusted Dukat."
"Then say so," Sisko insisted. "At those talks, Major, say so. Don't send your maid to say it for you. Damn Damar. And, yes, damn ruffling a few Federation feathers. If progress is to be made, true progress, then this constant treadmill has to stop. Beyond wasting everyone's time, ten thousand people pour through those airlocks every day. Unless I am willing to wall this station off from the rest of the galaxy at a time when we have only just begun getting ourselves back to normal, the security risks for this type of affair are staggering. I am hardly anxious to begin addressing them for little more than sheer nonsense; I refuse to."
"I certainly agree with you there."
"Good!" Sisko approved excitedly. "Because we have a fight on our hands that I intend to win. Cardassia has jumped on Shakaar's bandwagon of neutrality with vigor. The Federation is not too far behind. Under the guidelines drawn and accepted, as Emissary to the Bajoran people I have been precluded from active participation in the talks either on behalf of Bajor or the Federation."
"What?" Kira gaped at him.
"So have you, Major," he advised. "As has Dax. By simple definition, as Emissary to the Bajoran people, I am not unbiased. Even if I surrendered my position, I am still the commander of this station, and therefore biased. You are a former member of the Bajoran Resistance, you can't be unbiased. Dax is married to Worf. A Klingon. And lest we all forget the Klingon-Cardassian conflict."
"This is utterly absurd!" Kira sputtered. "Fine! Exclude me! But you are the commander of this station, and Dax is a skilled arbitrator!"
"So she is. And if anyone should be seated at that table in representation of the Federation, either I or Dax should be."
"Shakaar has to realize that!"
Sisko just looked at her.
"All right, fine," Kira conceded. "So Shakaar isn’t taking it seriously. But what about Damar? How unbiased is he!"
"He isn't," Sisko assured. "Who he is, is the man whose idea is being brought to the table. A very clever man. In a gesture of support of Shakaar's concerns, Damar has offered to remove himself as the Cardassian representative. He'll be here for the talks, yes. But only in the background should his replacements have any questions regarding Cardassia's position."
"Replacements?" Kira emphasized.
"A team of two," Sisko nodded. "A primary speaker and his aide -- and that, Major," he pointed, "is what we are going to use as our argument."
"If Damar's speaker can have an assistant…" Kira believed she was following him. "Why can't the Federation?"
"Or at least someone available in the background to answer any questions that might arise concerning the Federation's position," Sisko smiled.
"You," Kira nodded. "Are you going to push for Dax to be the speaker?"
"I am. Who I would also like to push for is you. On behalf of Bajor. There aren't too many Neutrals familiar enough with the intricacies of the Bajoran social structure to present a coherent platform. Unless Shakaar truly is just looking for someone to sit there and mouth words, he has created quite a tall order for the Council of Ministers to fill."
"Yes he has," Kira frowned. "There's also the position of the Prophets to consider."
"Precisely. I'm not proposing you're an expert, Major, but I am confident you are far more than adequately versed in your own beliefs than any Neutral to know if the Cardassian or Federation positions fall within an acceptable range of moderate interpretation -- specifically Vedek Bareil's interpretations. Shakaar's representative will be using the basis of Bareil's Cardassian Peace Accord as a formula for these sessions."
"Oh," Kira said. "Well, yes, I'd like to believe I'm versed in Bareil's writings -- even though I don't agree with half of them."
"You don't have to agree," Sisko reminded. "You have to be able to maintain an open mind."
She realized that. What she was not so confident about was her ability to detach herself well enough to be able sit in the same room as Damar. "About Damar? You want me to maintain an open mind with Damar?" Kira's face hardened in a grimace, her chest tight, the palms of her hands feeling wet with sweat.
"Can you do it?" Sisko was asking.
"He killed Ziyal!" she exploded. "No, she wasn't my daughter. I realize she was Dukat's daughter, but he murdered her!" There. She said it. Of all the things Dukat had ever done, Damar was the one who killed Ziyal. "What does that say about him and his concern for the Bajoran-Cardassian population? What does that say? He's sorry?"
"I'll push the issue to the wall and beyond if you tell me you can."
"Damar will never sit still for it."
"I'm willing to gamble Mister Damar will end up not having a choice."
"Start pushing," Kira pointed.
"Thank you!" Sisko said.
A month later Sisko's drive through the rigorous Federation and Bajoran screening process mired in red tape was still afloat. Another month and he knew his push for Dax was doomed when he received a communiqué requesting an alternative recommendation selected from his senior staff. He didn't have an alternative recommendation other than himself or Kira still under consideration as the assistant to the Bajoran representative. Reiterating Dax's credentials, he inserted Kira's name alongside his own and crossed his fingers. Six hours later the Federation's decision was on his desk.
"I beg your pardon?" Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien crawled out from under a conduit.
Sisko wet his lips. "You've been chosen as the Federation's Consular Representative for the opening session of Cardassia's conference with Bajor."
O'Brien had missed hearing about that one. "What Cardassian conference with Bajor?"
"We'll get to that," Sisko promised.
"Before or after we get to the part about is there something I know about being a Consular representative that I don't know I know?"
"I don't know," Sisko handed him a padd.
"Sounds about right. What's this?"
"Rules of Protocol," Sisko nodded.
"I guess that's as good a place as any to start," O'Brien pocketed the padd.
"Chief?" Sisko said.
"Well, it's not like it's tomorrow," O'Brien gestured. "I can finish what I'm doing, can't I?"
"Monday," Sisko nodded.
"Monday?" O'Brien squealed. "Today's Friday!"
It was Saturday evening before Sisko knew the name of Shakaar's representative scheduled to arrive by shuttle Monday morning two hours before the conference for her final medical screenings.
"Doctor Janice Lange?" Kira read the notice with a shrug. "Never heard of her."
Late Sunday afternoon before Sisko knew the name of Damar's representatives also scheduled to arrive by battle cruiser Monday morning a few hours before the conference for their final medical screenings.
"Gul Dukat," Sisko handed Chief Constable Odo the padd handed to him by a security officer who caught up with them on the bustling Promenade on their way to Odo's office to go over the security schedule for the conference.
"What?" Kira snatched the padd from Odo to stare up at Sisko. "His son?"
"Sons apparently." Sisko gazed out a porthole into the misleadingly peaceful vacuum of space. "Damar's covering all of his bases evidently includes an attempted strangle hold on the Cardassian public. Dukat has his critics, but he also has his fans."
"This is too much! We just got rid of one of them, now we have two?"
"Probably changes a few things at that, doesn't it?" Odo grunted.
"Just a few," Sisko turned around.
"What's the latest word from the Federation Assembly about your and Major Kira's appointments?" Odo asked. "Or has there been any word?"
"Funny," Sisko smiled, "for some reason I was just thinking of making a call."