Disclaimer: All characters owned by Paramount and Babylonian Productions, respectively.
Thanks to: Hobsonphile, for beta-reading.
Timeline: Directly after "A Time To Stand", season 6,for DS9; post-Objects at Rest, pre-Crusade in the Babylon 5 universe.
Author's note: Written for Multiverse 2005. The request was for an encounter between Garak and Bester. If you're unfamiliar with Babylon 5: the character of Alfred Bester, a powerful and ruthlesstelepath, was played by Walter Koenig, aka Pavel Chekov in Star Trek.
Coming in from the Cold
It's a truth universally acknowledged that the last thing a ship on a covert mission needs is an unannounced visitor. This is all the more true if the visitor in question might or might not be an important and venerated Starfleet official and the ship in question is short of life support, deflectors, guidance system and core matrix.
I was wondering, not for the first time, whether throwing in my lot with the Federation really had been preferable to being executed by Dukat.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before reporting the incident in question, I should probably introduce the dramatis personae, as the good doctor's favourite playwright was wont to call his assembly of illogically acting characters, the location and the time. It happened during the Dominion War – an appellation which, for the record, I find vaguely insulting. It was not the Dominion, after all, who got reduced to ruins and desolation as the result of it. Admittedly, titling it "The Cardassian War" would have caused confusion, as there were quite a few of those in our history, and naturally the Federation did not want to sully their good name by combining it with the word "war" if they could avoid it.
So. The Dominion War, and at a quite desperate point, too. The Federation had sent out Captain Sisko with a minimal crew, including yours truly, to destroy the sole existing manufacturing plant of Ketracel White in the Alpha Quadrant. We succeeded, in no small part because we were using a captured Dominion ship, but we also ended up in the above mentioned lamentable circumstance. Dr. Bashir, newly entranced with mathematics, suggested it would take us no less than 17 years to reach Federation space without our warp drive.
As the official record would have it, this was when our ship stranded on a planet together with another ship full of Jem'Hadar and their obnoxious Vorta, Keevan. But then, have you ever known an official record to include everything? Of course you haven't. Certainly not any record that I had anything to do with. As my… mentor, Enabran Train, used to say, official records are for small-minded bureaucrats, and neither of us can be called that, can we, Elim?
(He was not the most modest of creatures.)
Now of course we did eventually land on the extremely rocky and extremely inhospitable planet the record mentions. But after the destruction of the base and before this involuntary detour, something else happened. What sensors were still functioning on our ship picked up a small space ship of unknown type and origin, with a black omega painted on it, and a human inhabitant. The ship's systems were failing, and the inhabitant's life signs were unstable, so Captain Sisko, who still felt guilty about shooting on a Federation ship earlier to maintain his cover till the base got destroyed, ordered the person to be beamed on board at once.
(Captain Sisko and guilt, and the accommodation of same. Now there is an entertaining tale of its own. But I digress.)
It turned out to be a man, around 70 years of age, unconscious for lack of oxygen though otherwise in relatively healthy condition. Later on, we noticed he couldn't move one of his hands, but that was a defect which had nothing to do with his recent circumstances. What Dr. Bashir, who examined him, noticed right away was this: He looked exactly like one of the highest-ranking Starfleet admirals, one Pavel Chekov.
"You can't imagine what a shock that was, Garak", the good Doctor told me over lunch. "Admiral Chekov was one of Kirk's crew. I mean, the man's a living legend. And we did know he was in charge of some of the crucial Dominion War operations. But his being here, in that strange ship which exploded almost as soon as we had beamed him out of it, that made no sense. Besides, the man might have been old but not old enough. Chekov is over 100. So naturally I thought we had a Changeling at our hands, who just hadn't gotten the impersonation right and had managed to fool the sensors about his life signs."
He looked down on the table, in that manner he has when he feels guilty, which looks far more attractive on him than it does on Captain Sisko. Dr. Bashir, you see, does actually believe in the ideals he's spouting.
"Otherwise I would never…"
"Of course you wouldn't."
Dr. Bashir told the Captain. The unconscious visitor was promptly isolated and guarded at once, with every available gun pointed at him, but as I mentioned earlier, we were a rag tag crew. The Doctor took a blood sample, which refused to change, but then, there had been the precedent of Martok whose impersonator had provided a blood sample as well, strategically placed within his body. At this point, the man woke up, or appeared to, if he was simulating, looked at the guns pointed at him and said:
Afterwards, everyone's memories suffered a short blank. Everyone's, that is, except for mine and those of the Ferengi Nog. To our amazement, we saw the valiant crew members put their weapons down, mild as Cardassian nichalas. The Chekov doppelganger noticed we didn't follow suit, took one of the guns, and pointed it at us. To be more specific, at me, who was standing right in front of him. Besides, he probably assumed I was the more dangerous opponent, and who am I to argue?
However, this allowed Nog to, as the humans phrase it, "get the drop" on him. Ignoring or discounting Ferengi is a habit that I must confess I had shared for years of my life, but my exile had taught me otherwise. Besides, Nog had had recent experience with hostage taking. (This experienced involved him, myself, the Chief and a day of my life I'd rather miss; not that I believe in regrets per se, but I'd rather be not guided by an experimental drug when performing assassinations. A matter of professional pride.) In any event, he came up on the stranger from behind and knocked him unconscious, at which point the rest of the crew came to their senses again.
"A telepath," Captain Sisko concluded grimly. "And a powerful one."
"Good thing Ferengi and Cardassians are immune to that kind of thing," muttered the Chief.. "Good work, Nog."
Dr. Bashir kept running tests. "He still reads as human," he said, frowning. "Not Betazoid or Vulcan or any of the telepathic races. And definitely not as a Changeling."
"Doesn't mean he can't be a Dominion agent," Sisko declared. "Someone who just happens to look like Admiral Chekov comes across a vital Starfleet mission and shows powers ideal for a spy? He could be…"
Bashir's face fell. He probably knew what Sisko was going to say next as well as I did.
"…genetically enhanced. And selling his services to the Dominion, because of Federation law."
"Sir, there is no proof of that," Bashir protested.
"Other than him influencing my crew and drawing a weapon on us?"
"Well, he did wake up surrounded by weapons pointed at him," Bashir said. "Which is my fault. I was so sure he was a Changeling. Perhaps if we could have just let him wake up in a situation where he feels safe, we could find out…"
"This ship is falling apart as we speak, and we're behind enemy lines," the Captain said bluntly. "There is no such thing as a safe situation. And we can't afford to have a security risk on board."
"You're not suggesting we should just kill him," Bashir said, horrified. Three months into the war, and he still was capable of that. I do miss him, you know. Sisko looked as if he couldn't decide whether to say "no, of course not" or "yes, of course", so I came up with a little suggestion of my own, in the interest of efficiency and universal safety. Which would have been compromised if the only physician on board had spent the reminder of the trip agonizing about one of his patients being killed, no matter how sensible an option that would have been.
"Captain," I said, "since we know his telepathy doesn't work on me, why not let me be there when he wakes up, to… pose a few questions?"
It didn't take anyone around long to interpret my offer correctly.
"Captain, you can't let that Cardassian butcher torture a human," O'Brien exclaimed with disgust.
I couldn't resist. "As opposed to a non-human, Chief? There is still the possibility our guest is merely a modified Changeling, you know. If they were able to make Constable Odo human as a punishment, they should be able to repeat the procedure for other reasons."
Bashir stared at me.
"Garak, you can't."
"Time is off the essence," Sisko said abruptly, as I knew he would. "But you're not interrogating him alone. Ensign, you're to remain with Mr. Garak there entire time."
Nog looked less than trilled – hardly surprising, considering the last time we had spent in close proximity – but nodded.
"How humane of you, Captain."
"It's a precaution," Sisko said coldly. "I've had quite enough of Cardassian allies entering into secret arrangements with the Dominion behind my back."
I could have pointed out that if I had been willing to follow Dukat's example, I would have chosen a less obvious way, but I just nodded. Bashir looked at Nog with a relieved expression. He must have missed that Sisko had not ordered the Ferengi to interfere if my methods grew less than savoury for Federation tastes. Or perhaps he believed that I would not use such techniques in front of an adolescent boy.
As I said, the good doctor was an idealist.
A few words about the man I was about to interrogate. For a human, he was small of stature, with dark, greying hair, a nonedescript, rounded face, and as I saw during the few moments he had been awake before, dark eyes. Whether or not he resembled Admiral Chekov, whom I have never met, I couldn't say. But he certainly had a better dress sense. Starfleet uniforms, no matter the ranks, excel in their spectacular banality, blandness and need to make the human body less attractive. Our involuntary dressed, however, was dressed in simple but elegant black. Leather, no less. He even had gloves.
Once the room was cleared of anyone but me and Nog, who had his rifle pointed somewhere between me and the prisoner, I said:
"You can stop pretending to still be unconscious now. I always prefer a conversation with neither party insulting the other's intelligence."
Obviously, the stranger shared this view, as he did abandon the pretense, and sat up, looking at me.
"As do I."
He had a very precise, cultured voice. This was unfortunate, as it reminded me of Cardassia, and what passed for homesickness with me did not exactly heighten my mood in those days.
"Undoubtedly, you have an explanation about what brought you in a region of space where being human results in less than enthusiastic welcomes."
"Naturally, though I can't say I can complain about the enthusiasm," he replied, looking at Nog, who did his best to convey an impression of stoic fortitude and managed to look slightly ill as a result. "Usually people need at least an hour or so before pointing guns at me."
"How tardy of them," I commiserated.
"Extremely lethargic," he nodded. Nog frowned, as if wondering whether or not to suspect me of fraternizing with a likely enemy. On the other hand, the talk of lethargy might have reminded him that time, as Sisko had put it, was of the essence. Pity. I rarely had the opportunity for some not war related conversation any more.
"So what brings you to this singularly charmless part of the galaxy, Mr…?"
He tilted his head slightly.
"Garibaldi," he replied without hesitation, which gave me the immediate certainty that he was lying. Not that he was bad at it; but I am an expert, and besides, he did not strike me as the trusting type who would surrender his true identity immediately.
"I'm afraid the explanation is rather banal. My starfury had a malfunction on my way back from an equally charmless space station, I dropped out of hyperspace, and a few not very interesting hours of waiting later, I found myself rescued by your gallant crew."
This could be a lie as well, or the truth. Banal explanations tended to be far more likely than any of the scenarios that entertaining holoprogram of Doctor Bashir's comes up with, but then again, he would know that when inventing a lie. However, despite what the young Ensign watching us might believe, finding out the truth wasn't really the point of our little dialogue.
"The truth," said the supposed Mr. Garibaldi, "isn't what you really want to know, though."
"Why, Mr. Garibaldi, one would almost assume you were a telepath."
He smiled. I had immediate heartwarming flashbacks of Enabran Tain demonstrating the way to interrogate political dissidents to me.
"But I thought he can't read…" Nog started, then stopped when I gave him a look.
"The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination," our prisoner said. "And I could be a mundane and still realize your problem, though admittedly what I got before your Captain left us alone helped. You're all pressed for time. He wants answers, and he doesn't believe in coincidences. So what he really wants is an excuse to dispose of me, and you're the only one who can give it to him. He can tell himself he really did try to find out who I was before killing me."
"It's the Starfleet mindset," I said. "At his heart, he's a pragmatist, but all that cloying propaganda he grew up with causes the permanent need for self-justifications."
"Oh, trust me, I recognize the type," he said. "Mundanes in uniform are the same everywhere."
"I wouldn't call our gallant Captain mundane," I demurred, and Nog, who by now looked almost as horrified as he had done when I had held a knife at his throat, burst out:
"Captain Sisko would never order murder!"
"Young people are the same everywhere as well, I'm afraid," I said, and the man in black nodded.
"I have to admit," he said, "that dying because of a conflict I'm not at all concerned with when my people are fighting to preserve our kind strikes me as something of a waste, though."
"I empathize," I said, and I did. At least with this latest war, I could tell myself that my actions would ultimately benefit Cardassia, and perhaps even my death, if the Federation managed to get me killed in one of their increasingly desperate enterprises. Out of curiosity, I added: "You wouldn't define the human species as your people, then? The current conflict here touches them rather deeply."
By now, I was willing to consider the theory that this "Garibaldi" had come from the parallel universes from which and to which there had been increasing tourist expeditions in recent years; it would make sense of his referring to his slightly different vocabulary – for example, I had never heard of a ship called a "star fury" -, his uncanny resemblance to that Starfleet admiral and the scanners identifying him as human. But though I myself have never participated in said tourist expeditions, Bashir and several other members of the Federation crew had, and their tales had been rather heavy on the solidarity they felt with their species in said parallel universe. I can understand the feeling; parallel universe or not, I doubt I could see Cardassia in any version and not be affected. Which was why the attitude of our guest interested me.
"Oh, I'm invested in the survival of the human species," he said. "Just not in yesterday's relics . Would you care whether some versions of your prehistoric ancestors duked it out with someone else when they're otherwise busy keeping the current form of your species in a nice little ghetto?"
"Mmm," I said. "You know, we actually have an advanced human being on board. He comes with the Starfleet mindset, too, I'm afraid, which means he'd disagree with your definition of species."
For the first time, he gave the impression of being curious.
"There is no other telepath on this ship," he said. "I'd have sensed it."
"I didn't say he was a telepath. Genetically modified is the term, I believe. But I find it interesting that you see being a telepath as your primary identity. You must be aware that there are other species with telepaths. Would you define a non-human telepath as "your people" over a non-telepath human, Mr. Garibaldi?"
He regarded me thoughtfully, if you forgive the bad pun. Nog looked anxious, probably because this wasn't at all how he had imagined the interrogation to go, or perhaps because he was still pondering whether we were right about what Sisko had really wanted of me, and interested despite himself.
"No," he said at last, with the faintest touch of surprise in his voice, and then it grew non-committal again. "But then, every species treasures their heritage. I don't think museums would get away with the prices they charge if it weren't for some rudimentary sentimental attachment to one's ancestors, do you? Some of mine just happen to still be walking about."
"You sound like a Founder," Nog told him, for the first time addressing him directly. "They think they're better than everyone else, too."
"If the Founders are the shape-changing species very much on your Captain's mind, they probably are," the stranger said wryly. "Though he seems to think he has his own set of demi-gods to fight them with. It's all terribly repetitive."
"Your conflict is similar?" I probed.
"Not anymore," he said sharply. "We got rid of our demi-gods, but the mess they've made is still lingering. They created us, in a manner of speaking, as canon fodder for their wars, and it would be wonderfully convenient if we were to depart quietly now that their war is over. But ours has barely begun."
He interrupted himself, and smiled again.
"You know, it's a shame you're not really interrogating me. You're quite good at it."
"Thank you," I said modestly.
"Surely by now enough time has passed to accommodate your Captain's scruples. Shall we get on with the killing part?"
"I'm not letting him kill you," Nog said, and pointed his gun directly at me. He had that look of nervousness and determination again which had become all too familiar these days."You're not killing him, Garak. It's not what the Captain ordered, and it's not what Starfleet stands for."
"You're the only one in this room holding a weapon, Ensign," I replied and barely refrained from rolling my eyes. Talking to the prisoner, I continued: "Remarkable, isn't he? He doesn't trust you in the slightest, and thinks you're probably a Dominion spy, and we have been, as my ill luck would have it, comrades-in-arms these recent months. But he still would kill me to protect you, because you are an unarmed prisoner, and he didn't even grow up with this mindset. It's rather infectious. Like a virus."
"You don't need your own weapons to kill," Nog said tonelessly, rifle not wavering. "I've seen that."
"Has he now," "Garibaldi" said to me, and it took me a second to realize he had not moved his lips.
If you can read my mind after all, why didn't you stop this a long time ago, I thought.
I can read you, he said. It's not very comfortable, and it takes some adjustment, but I can do it. But your shields are too strong for me to influence you, which would indicate you had some mental training. Interesting, since you don't have the slightest telepathic abilities. I'd love to compare, but we just don't have the time. Unfortunately, your young companion here remains a complete blank; it must be the species.
Ferengi are inconvenient this way, I commented. I take it you have a deal to offer.
He did. I have to admit telepathy has its distinct advantages. It is not nearly as time-consuming as spoken conversation, and far more discreet. As far as Nog was concerned, mere moments passed before I said:
"Time to make up your mind, Ensign. Do you want to risk us being captured by the Dominion just because of Starfleet regulations? Where is the profit in that, Nog? Be a good boy and give me your weapon."
"No," he returned, focused entirely on me, tension and resolve so evident in his young Ferengi face that it didn't disappear even after the black-clad man from another universe had knocked him unconscious.
Afterwards, things proceeded smoothly. By now, our vessel was close enough to a planet we could actually and, or rather, crash on. Or, for that matter, use a transporter towards. My new and very temporary ally modified everyone's mind but mine and Nog's; he'd have preferred to wipe out knowledge of his existence altogether, but that would have left us with no choice but to dispatch of Nog as well, and I did feel a certain obligation towards the Ferengi. Consequently, the crew was led to believe that the Chekov doppelganger had confessed to being a genetically engineered being, a clone created by the Dominion, and had tried to escape whereupon I was forced to take Nog's weapon and shoot him, disintegrating him in the process. There were some other accommodations as well.
"You don't want them to trust you as well?" our guest asked me. "I could arrange that. None of them do, you know, though the Doctor rather urgently wants to."
"Trust makes me sloppy, so I'd rather you didn't," I replied, and from the look he gave me, he understood. I could have added that I also didn't want to waste this opportunity on such personal indulgences. It would have been against everything a Cardassian should be. For all their platitudes about ideals, I have yet to meet the Federation citizen who manages to keep the larger goal, the needs of the state, as a priority all the time.
The war had been going rather badly, you see, and I was somewhat afraid they would ultimately concede defeat. As this would have left my planet in the possession of the Dominion and ruled by an irresponsible egomaniac, it just wouldn't do. But with a little rearrangement by the telepath fate had given me, I had made sure that Benjamin Sisko would do everything, and I mean everything, to ensure the Dominion was defeated. Now, there would be nothing and no one he wouldn't sacrifice to achieve this goal. No leftover scruples would get in the way. Sisko, of course, was not Starfleet, and not even the highest ranking official in the sector – this would have been Admiral Ross – but after having observed the man for some years, I had faith in him. He would carry the day. When he had truly made up his mind. And now I had made it up for him.
Naturally, I had no immediate way of testing this, as my former prisoner pointed out when I accompagnied him to the transporter platform.
"I can see what you mean about trust," he said. "Yours in me is rather disconcerting. I expect to make mistakes any time soon."
"It's not much of a gamble on my part," I replied. "If you didn't do as I asked, we're still in much the same situation we would be in if I had indeed killed you. And I hate wasting a potential resource."
"As do I," he agreed. I set the transporter to beam him far away from our likely crash site. How he intended to get off the planet I had no idea, but then again, that wasn't my problem. It was his.
"Well, it's been a pleasure, Mr. Garak," he said, and stepped on the platform after I had told him how the procedure worked. Transporter technology was apparently not something his universe possessed, which required some modification of my theory about his origins.
It must have been some aesthetic dissatisfaction with loose ends, but I couldn't resist. My hands hesitating over the transporter controls, I observed:
"I like a pseudonym as much as the next man, but I must say "Garibaldi" really doesn't suit you. To me, it conjures up some holoprograms Dr. Bashir uses, with eye-rolling black curled humans breaking out into song every other minute."
"Indeed?" he asked, amused. "Well, we can't have that. How does Bester sound to you?"
"Much better," I returned, and pulled the controls. In the moments before he faded out of sight, he raised his left hand to his head and said "Be seeing you."
Then he was gone. The transporter rather confusingly indicated he had travelled a far larger distance than I had set, and I wondered whether I had inadvertendly managed to get him back to the place he had come from, given that transporter accidents had started the entire universe-crossing trend. Not that I spent much time wondering; I erased all signs of the transport as quickly as I could.
Half an hour later, the ship crashed on the surface of the planet, and in the evacuation procedures, nobody wasted any time wondering whether or not their memories of our visitor were correct or not. Not even Nog, who woke up, was told what had happened by the Chief and spent the entire evacuation glaring at me. But he did not doubt the man I had interrogated was, indeed, dead.
The sad and none too inspiring tale of our time on the planet and eventual rescue has been written elsewhere, and ably. I never saw any reason to add my own little footnote to this episode of the Dominion War. But the nights are long and cold on Cardassia now, with the ashes of our dead still carried in the winds when we go outside, and sometimes, when I try not to think about the task ahead for me, I find my thoughts returning to past years. And I wonder what became of Mr. Bester, and the conflict he returned to, if he did. For all his intelligence, he seemed to believe it would result in some kind of utopia with "his people" ruling the rest of the world. It's an all too familiar dream, and I taste the results every hour of every day now.
So, somehow, somewhere, I suspect, does he.