TITLE: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

Author:Valerie Shearer

Contact: (thenightbird@earthlink.net)

Series: DS9

Part: Rev

Rating: PG-13

Codes: Bashir, character death

Summary: An exploration of the continuing cost of war set in an immediate post-war Federation. Did they win the battles but in the end lose the war?


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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Julian Bashir, Elim Garak, Miles O'Brien, Benjamin Sisko, Sloan, and Starfleet Intelligence and any other cannon person or place I forgot is the property of Paramount Studios. The nameless others in the story are my creation.


Warning: This story contains description of psychological torture and is intense in nature. It also involves character death.








The Dark at the End of the Tunnel


by Valerie Shearer


Are you, or have you ever been ... ?


Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senate Hearings on Un-American Activity



Note: This story is set in an immediate post-Dominion war Federation with the assumption that the war ended in some sort of negotiations with Cardassia relatively intact.



It's not the first time I've been dragged from my bed at night. The Dominion took me that way, and I spent over a month in one of their prisons while my double nearly succeeded in his plan to destroy my world. I escaped only by a miracle I know many still believe to be too convenient. I assume they are still watching, just in case. Then I was kidnaped by our own secret police and put through a deliberate ruse, and I believe that I am one of the few "lucky" survivors. I'm not sure luck is the right term. Every morning I wake wondering if what I see is another simulation.

But this is quite real. They wear Starfleet uniforms. They broke into my home and took me when I was asleep. There was no deception. They removed me from the station to their ship. If Sisko has tried to intervene I doubt he'll get anywhere. These people are with Intelligence. They have laws and rules, if they chose to follow them. I still don't know what they want with me, except it has something to do with Garak. All they ask about is him. They won't answer my own questions. I've decided not to answer theirs either.


**********


I am told that if I decide to cooperate I'll get a blanket. If they would give me a few answers, I'd consider it. But I don't trust any of them anymore. Intelligence has rules, but I don't expect them to follow them any more than I would Sloan. This little cell is totally bare, only a hard floor for sleeping. But I'm being left alone for a little while. I would welcome a blanket and pillow, even a mat, but I'm so tired I'll make due with the floor. I must get whatever sleep they allow me.

I keep imagining that Sisko is demanding they let me go, that somehow my friends will get them to release me. But I can't believe it. Sloan quoted some rules before, and I checked quietly on my own. They are real. There are more he could have used. If they want to detain me they can. If they call it state security they can do it without anyone's interference. I am already lost.

There were so many questions. The only subject was Garak. I've hardly talked to him in the last few weeks and haven't been to the shop at all. Lunch has been sporadic since we retook the station. I've been too busy, what with the constant stream of casualties and the refugees. Somehow the old routine we had never quite returned. It hasn't been the same, not with any of us. We lost too much, especially our innocence. Once I might have not been so worried. All the rules changed with the war, and I'm not convinced they can ever really go back.

They've always suspected Garak, and probably had doubts about me since I called him a friend. They used him during the war. He agreed to do it willingly. He wanted to destroy the Dominion. He was an exile before. Now he became a traitor as well. Still, he decoded documents for them. He changed when he admitted to himself that his work was leading to the deaths of the same Cardassians he hoped to save. He could never go "home" again and he knew it.

He was bitter, but kept it hidden. After Sloan I understood. We might have taken a little comfort in our shared secrets. Instead it drove us apart. Perhaps we reminded each other too much of ourselves. He was still a friend, but there was a barrier.

I can tell them some of this and they might believe me. I suspect before they are done I will. But I can't say much about the last few months. That's all they asked about. I'm scared. I'll admit that. What if they don't believe me? What if they don't let me go?


**********


I have a different tormentor this time. Each time I'm questioned it's someone else. They all look the same, and I'm sure they don't believe me. I keep saying I don't know. I keep repeating I haven't said much to Garak, that he hasn't confided in me in a while. But all they do is nod and ask again, rephrasing the questions each time. I have no answers. What do I say?

They are starting again, different words but the same questions. I'm too tired to be creative, so I'm repeating the same answers I gave them before. This one looks annoyed when I do that, or at least as far as I can tell. I've decided not to look at them anymore. Perhaps they will believe I don't know anything then. Or maybe they will be satisfied that I'm not fighting them, and get to what they really want. Anything to get this over ...

They bring a sandwich and something to drink. It's the first thing I've had to eat since they kidnaped me. I eat it without looking at them and stare at the floor the rest of the time. Someone new asks the questions, and it goes the same for each one. He asks his question, and I say I already told you. Then he says I hadn't told *him*, so I repeat myself again. Then he goes on the next question and we repeat the game. At least, I start thinking of it as a game. It makes it easier to endure. When a few hours have gone by and he starts over I just tell him I'd already answered. I won't repeat anything. I'm just too tired to remember it all.


**********


I don't care about a blanket, or a pillow or even a cot. The floor will do. I think they kept it up over twelve hours, but I can't be sure. I need some food, but mostly I must sleep. I can't think straight anymore. When they shove me into my cell I just crawl to the corner and roll into a ball and instantly fall asleep.


**********


It's a different room this time, and a softer chair. They bring food. I gobble it down. I drink three glasses of water. I will not to say anything else. They probably won't bring anymore food so I eat it while I can. I still don't know what they want of me. I still can't tell them anything they will believe. Why even try?

But the questions are different this time. I guess they believe Garak hasn't told me anything of his plans. With enough sleep I am a little less foggy and listen carefully to what they are saying. Something has happened to Garak. I'm certain. One of them referred to him in the past tense.

Now they are asking about his moods. Was he worried? Did he act nervous? Was he paying attention to his shop and the like? They are fishing, but I still can't tell them much. It's all little impressions in passing, and I'm too tired and they are pushing too hard to think straight. I think he was scared. But it's just an impression. We've had too many patients pass through-- especially refugees and released prisoners--to want to notice that sort of thing. I can't let myself see that Garak is too afraid and not also feel the numbness and pain in my patients. I can't afford to see that and keep my sanity.

I tell them what I can, knowing it isn't much. They won't be satisfied. But a little cooperation could get me more food, and maybe more sleep. I don't know which I need more but would take either right now.

I think its been hours. They are asking again, each set of questions just a little different in meaning. I'm too tired to think straight. Now they want to know about before, when he was going to quit. It seems like a very long time ago. I try to give them good answers. There is a large pitcher of water with ice on the desk and I can't keep my eyes off of it. I can hardly keep my mind on their questions when I think of it. I'm not even sure what they are asking. I'm saying what comes to mind. I don't know if any of it makes sense, but they look happy. It's all I care about right now, that and the water.


**********


A different cell this time. My hands are cuffed behind me, and the floor is a barred grid. Cold air blows up from the grid and I keep shivering. I'm so tired I could sleep leaning against the wall, but there is a small sensor on my head as well. If I fall asleep the floor sends a little shock. Sloan used sleep deprivation but I think its worse when you know. They want something. I don't know what but I almost wish they'd just ask. I can't remember how long they've had me. I still don't know what they want. I just want it to end with my sanity in tact.

The door opens, and they release my hands. There is food, just a little but I inhale it. A glass of water too, and it helps. But then they tie my hands higher up, to a knob. Now I can't sit. They lock the door. I awkwardly lean against the wall and try not to sleep.


**********


A shock, just fading, jars me awake. The door opens. My hands are untied. Half-carrying me, I am removed from my cell. I try to walk, to preserve some sense of my own dignity, but they mostly have to carry me. I don't care, not anymore. Everything is foggy. I can't keep my mind on anything for long. I'm still fighting sleep. The zapper is still there, attached to my foot now. I can't tell them anything new. I hope they'll be done soon. I don't much care how it ends.

The room is ... I can't remember if I've been here before. They drop me in a chair, and I nearly collapse. They shove me back and tie me in.

None of it's real. Nothing is real anymore, not even memories.

Another faceless tormentor arrives. He takes his time to sit and arrange his things. The others in the room defer to him. I don't remember that before, I don't think. This one is important. Maybe the last one. I hope so.

He pours a glass of something, and hands it to me. "I thought you might be thirsty," he says.

I resist the urge to grab it and drink it quickly. Then I'm astonished. It's tarkalean tea. I sip it, looking at the man as I've refused with all the others. But I know now. He wants something. He knows exactly what and how he plans to get it from me. As I sip my tea I wonder if the cost of resisting is worth it.

He waits until I'm done. The cup is taken and I try to find somewhere to look. "We need to discuss some of the observations you made about Mr. Garak before," he says. Some sense of alarm I thought I'd buried stirs me back to full awareness. I know I'd said things, but as far as I remember of them could be called observations. "Especially the more recent ones," he adds.

I almost deny them, but he's pouring more tea into another cup. He starts to sip it himself. I can smell its aroma. I want more. I'm afraid if I fight them they'll put me back in that room. "Can you tell me what has happened?" I ask, afraid but needing to know where I stand.

"Mr. Garak disappeared. It appears from what you said that he had certain doubts about his role in the war from the beginning."

It is so matter of fact and calm that I can almost buy that I'd said it. I have the fleeting impression of a look I'd seen in Garak's eyes the last time I'd seen him. He'd been worried, perhaps even afraid. It would take a lot to openly worry Garak. He'd made a lot of enemies and any one of them could have taken him.

Garak is probably already dead.

They will put me back in that room if I decline to cooperate. "He was deeply troubled by its implications." It is not a lie.

"You suggested that his continued cooperation was due to his sense of duty," he says calmly. I don't remember saying anything like that, but perhaps I'd suggested it. I can't actually remember what I'd said before.

"He hated the Dominion," I say, sticking to the truth for the moment. "He believed they had destroyed his home."

"And so he aided in their defeat. But now the war is over. Where do his loyalties lie now?" He pauses. "You expressed reservations about that. You suspected he wanted to go back to Cardassia."

I am sure I'd not said that. Or if I had there had been more to it. Garak could never go back. "He missed his home," I say. It is still the truth.

"Of course, but you noted he'd been paying less and less attention to his shop of late, almost as if it no longer mattered."

This was a lie, but I don't know what to say. Garak had taken some pride in his skills as a tailor, but the shop had been a constant reminder of his exile. Perhaps I had suggested that before. I can remember few details of the last few ... what? I don't know how long it has been. Just too long. "Perhaps," I say cautiously.

The man smiles. He pours another cup of tea and hands it across the table. I take it, sipping it slowly. It is so easy. I can almost pretend it is true. In a way it is. It might even *be* true for all I know. And if Garak is probably dead what does it matter?

Someone brings in a plate of food. It is placed in front of me. Another cup of tea is poured. "Why don't you eat while I review the other things you discussed. Perhaps you might want to expand on the details."

It is a good meal. He offers more tea, and I take it. Eventually we are done, and it is time to sign. I think of the time Garak had gone back into the wall at the camp. I remember how I'd shot him in the holosuite when he was willing to sacrifice the others for his own survival. Which was the real Garak? Was it somewhere in-between? Would Garak have signed the document to save himself if the situation were reversed?

I expect him to give me the padd. I have no idea what to do. If I refuse they will ... I don't want to think of that. But he was a friend. I'd been careful in what I'd said. I can't betray a friend, not yet, not even one who would have betrayed me.

He puts all his documents down and looks at me. "There is something you should know. Mr. Garak is dead. He left with a small group of Cardassians and was executed almost as soon as they departed. It was known that he'd been responsible for the code translations during the war."

I already suspected it. But it is different hearing it officially. "You're sure?" I ask.

"Quite certain. I'm surprised Mr. Garak was so careless. It wasn't like him. But then he always was something of a mystery."

Garak would not go willingly. He had been kidnaped. I remember how nervous he'd been of late. I wonder if he'd expected someone to come for him. But that isn't what the questions and "discussions" have been about. The man had referred to "documents". They are making him a scapegoat. I am being forced to help.

I think of all the people who'd died in the war. Is this to be their legacy? I look at the padd. He holds it out towards me. Then he pulls it back. The man looks at me. "I must review the record before you're brought in to sign. You should be returned in a few hours."

They untie me. I let them support me as I walk back to my original cell. The zapper is still there and I know better than to touch it. He is giving me time to think it over.


**********


They go past the door they'd opened before, back into another corridor. The lights are dim. They stop in front of yet another door. The inscription reads, "Isolation".

I start to panic. The door is opened and I stumble backwards. "No," I say, trying to run as the panic grows. They grab me. I try to fight them but we are too close and they shove me in before I have a chance to twist away from their grip. The door shuts with a woosh and everything becomes very quiet. I crawl back into the box, running my arm into the water spigot and getting myself all wet. It is cold. Rounded, smooth, hard metal walls surround me. I curl onto my side which is the only way I can really fit.

It is so silent. I can't even hear the rumbles of the ship's engines or feel the vibrations. The darkness is absolute. I can't escape into sleep, but it is very hard to fight it. The zapper reminds me of that a little while after being locked inside. I know it hasn't been long. My clothes are still wet.


**********


I jump as the charge shoots up my leg, restoring consciousness. I am lying very still. My stomach is grumbling. I've discovered I can talk to the voices and fool the zapper for a few minutes. But that is dangerous. I have to hold onto reality. If I let go I'll be lost.

'Ouch, you're slipping,' says Miles. He's been talking to me for hours, or whatever it has been. I don't care anymore. Each zap hurts more. Eventually I'll pass out and they'll have to let me sleep.

"No," I mutter. I'm not sure if I say it aloud. I hope not. But it doesn't matter much anymore if I entertain them.

'Can't let them win,' he says.

'Nonsense,' says another voice. It is Garak. He hasn't been here before. 'What does it matter? I'm dead.'

"I know what they want," I mumble miserably. "And what if they lied to me?"

Garak sounds resigned. 'They didn't. I won't burden you with the details of my death but to say it wasn't ... pleasant.'

'You can't sign it,' says Miles. 'It's a bunch of lies. Even if *he* would.'

Garak is insulted. 'I would like to think that one of us survives this. Please keep your inappropriate advise to yourself.'

'He's my friend, and I'd like to see him keep some of his principles. Somebody should,' Miles retorts.

'But it's time to be practical. You'd like to see him again, I assume?' Garak is irritated.

'Certainly,' admits Miles, 'But he stands for something. He wouldn't be Julian if he didn't.'

'You would prefer them to break him completely before he signs it, I take it,' says Garak dryly. 'You aren't dead. You get to see what they'll leave.'

'No,' says Miles, but he hesitates.

Garak jumps in again. 'You think, they're Starfleet. You still cling to the belief that they won't tear him apart. You don't want to face reality.'

"Stop this," I say. I don't want to hear it. I don't want to believe Garak. But they ignore me. I listen to them argue for ... whatever ... as Miles grows more hesitant with each passing of time. But they are company. They keep my mind off my empty stomach. They help keep me awake. I really don't know anymore if they'll take off the zapper or not when I pass out.


**********


They are still arguing when the door is opened. But even they are tired. They have run out of things to say. I can see them in the darkness, both impatient for this to be over. Miles has ceased to argue. They no longer pay any attention to me and I'm ignoring them. When the door opens they vanished in a painful flash of light.

I cover my eyes but otherwise don't move. I let them carry me. They tie a blindfold around my eyes and the pain stops. I am put in a chair after a time.

"I'm sorry it took so long," says the voice. I vaguely remember it. The one who had the padd, I think. I don't remember what was on it anymore, or particularly care.

Garak says, 'Sign it.'

Miles says, 'Might as well.'

I say, "I'll sign."


**********


They take off the zapper, and put me in a room with a bed. I eat a little but can't stay awake for much. I sleep. It am too exhausted for the nightmares to matter. I wake to the smell of breakfast. I sit up in bed, while my visitor talks.

"You will be released soon. You have been a great deal of help to us." He and his padd, I remember, as my hand was guided, in the dark, to the right place for the thumb print. I know Garak would have signed it, even if it was all a lie. I don't want to be like Garak. But I do want to go home.

Finally, I work up the nerve to ask. "Is Garak dead?"

"Yes. He was kidnaped and killed. As I said before, they knew about his work with us." The man pauses. "We offered protection but he refused."

I wonder if it was pride or guilt, but that was private. "It wouldn't have mattered," I said. "May I read that padd I signed?"

"I'm sure Captain Sisko will have a copy." I hope that I hadn't signed too many lies, but remember one of our lunches. Once, not long after we'd started the tradition, we'd been sharing each other's literature. Garak, in response to my misgivings over one character's fate, had said that anyone could be broken. I don't want it to be true. But then, if he was alive, I knew he'd have understood.

I think about what I'll say to Sisko when the inevitable questions come. I don't want to talk about this. They have carefully left no marks, even healed the burn from the zapper. I am being allowed to recover before my release. I am sure no one will believe me if I accused them of torture. Sisko might, but it would end there. The Captain has grown far too practical to invite trouble.

He produces the padd, and walks over to the bed. "One more thing, we need your signature. He holds it out towards me along with the pen. Suddenly I hesitate, and then take it. "I want to read it first."

"We don't have time for that," he says.

"I'd like to see if it's accurate," I say hesitantly.

He takes away the padd. Several guards enter, and move towards me. "I thought you were being cooperative," he says.

They have their hands on me. I push them away and sit. "No need," I say. "I'll sign." What difference will it make? I'll sign it eventually.

I take back the padd and do as instructed. One of the guards produces a hypo and with its hiss the nightmare is over.


**********


I hold the padd in my hand, staring at it. Sisko has cleared the conference room and only he and I are there. "I didn't say this," I tell him. Garak had not tried to trade his life for secrets. He understood that what he had done would mean his death. It was an insult to his memory but had probably saved my life. Sisko is looking at me. I look away.

"But you signed it," says Sisko. I could feel his disappointment.

"I wasn't allowed to read it," I said softly. I want to tell him about the room and the zapper and the disorientation, but can't. He hadn't been there. "I had to sign it."

Sisko shifts uncomfortably in his chair. "What did they do to you?" He is unhappy and resigned at the same time.

"No sleep, little food." I don't want to elaborate. I hope he won't ask.

"Just what did you say?" he asks. I am being questioned again. I recognize the tone. I study the table.

"I told them I hadn't talked to him much in the last few months. I couldn't tell them if he had anything planned since I hadn't seen him." Sisko is watching, waiting. He knows there is more. "Then some of it, I ... I don't remember what I said."

"You expect me to believe that?" he asks. I can't look at him. His voice is controlled but I can still feel the anger.

"I was too disoriented. I wanted them to stop and give me some food and let me sleep. That's all. I didn't much care about anything else right then." I mumble most of it. He leans forward to hear.

He is shaking his head. "How did they force you to sign this document?" he asks, with a hard edge to his voice. I pull away. He is pushing too hard. He reminds me of them too much.

"More of the same," I say softly, "Worse. I think I would have signed anything then or later." I can't say more, not yet, not to him.

"I see, " he says. He expects more. He hopes for more, even for Garak. I can guess what he is thinking. There are no visible scars. The ones they'd inflicted will only show if you look for them. "Do you want to officially recant it then?"

I bite my lip. Garak is dead. What good will it do me to claim it was a lie? And there will be the questions about their methods. "No," I say. I don't explain. Sisko can figure it out if he wants to.

He pauses. I can feel him watching me but won't look at him. He wants an explanation I will not give. Finally, I hear the chair shift. I glance up at him, just for a second. He slumps down in his chair. "What happened to us?" he asks, his tone softer. I think to myself he finally did understand. "I asked for your release but they refused. I was told by certain highly placed people to leave it be. I kept asking, even if they kept refusing." He sighs. "I wasn't really sure we'd get you back, it was such a long time. I didn't give up."

I don't want to talk about it. I just want to go to my quarters and sleep. I don't think I could ever get enough sleep. "I appreciate that," I say, tiredly. "But they wanted *that*," I say, pointing at the padd, "and they wouldn't give up until they got it. They didn't have to let me go until they decided to."

"I suspected, but I had to try," he says, and we sit in silence for a moment. "That's all. Go home. Get some rest. We'll talk about things later."

"Thank you, Sir," I say, wishing that was enough. But it isn't. I stop before I reach the door. "Sir, Garak didn't steal that data. He was kidnaped and killed. His code work caught up with him. They told me before they let me go. I don't know how I fit in to all this except I was a convenient target. I don't know that they have any idea who did take it. But I guess since he's dead Garak can't say their wrong."

Sisko stares at the door, eyes unfocused. "No, but he would understand. Go home, Doctor. Pretend you didn't tell me that. He may be dead, but the others like him--ours and theirs--are still around. Take care."

I nod, and retreat. I go to my quarters, so familiar and yet so foreign, and bathe. I pick up the copy of The Enigma Tales that he'd given me so long ago. I'll miss him. I need sleep, but retire to my bed with his book in hand. I'd never finished it. I read only a few pages before I fall asleep, but already see an understanding in its labyrinth of lies that is perhaps Elim Garak's final bitter gift.


The End
(of more than the story)