A/N: This chapter takes place during and has some dialogue taken directly from episode 5x24 (Empok Nor). Please review!


Chapter 11: In Fatal Flux

...

It was not without a sense of irony that Garak found himself in the middle of hemming a shirt when they made their final approach toward Empok Nor. He needed to plan ahead for whatever options opened to him, and he could think better when working, or so he reasoned.

After informing the crew of how idiotic the idea of beaming aboard was, Garak went to don a space suit in preparation for the task at hand. The claustrophobic feeling of the suit was surprisingly easy to bear, knowing that soon he would be disarming traps and infiltrating the station's central security net. It became harder once his magnetized boots had clamped down on the floor of the docking station and he began the complicated process by flashlight. As his mind settled into a familiar alertness and working rhythm, images of the asteroid prison camp began to surface in his mind: images of Bashir, and the feeling of the doctor's hands steadying him when the world swirled around him like a sandstorm in the Mekar Wilderness. With it came an echo of the overwhelming despair of that time and place. Tain remained in the memory only as an absence, and yet it was a heavy absence, like a room that has gone too silent.

The silence rang in Garak's ears in the moments when he held his breath, wanting respite from the constant reminder that he was trapped in this suit and his breath never went further than a few inches from his face.

There. The booby traps were disabled. Garak accessed the internal sensors and summoned a display of the station's structure and available systems. He only had a few minutes to absorb anything useful before the Chief would start to get worried. No shuttlecraft in the cargo bays. Garak exhaled in a frustrated hiss and brought up reports of the station's firepower; all had been taken out when it was abandoned, except for automatic armaments for internal security and the self-destruct mechanism. Garak flipped through a few more screens before deciding that anything of further use could be investigated casually while looking for salvageable parts. He hefted open a compartment and pulled the lever to re-engage the artificial gravity and life support systems. The lights came on all at once in the corridor Garak was in, but left it dim as Cardassians preferred. He went back to the screen to wait until the oxygen reached safe levels.

He took his helmet off and his own breath stopped assaulting his ears. The steady hum of the station's technology felt soothing, so he sat down to wait for the others after taking the comm. badge he'd been lent from his pocket: "All clear, Chief. Well, the worst of it, anyway."

...

Garak blessed his luck when he was assigned to work with Boq'ta. The soft-spoken Bolian had been in his shop before and Garak had always been amazed that such a compliant and tentative person had made it into Starfleet. Then again, the Federation valued conformity in its own way, Garak reminded himself. Boq'ta would be easy to direct and wouldn't ask too many questions if they strayed a little to investigate anything which caught Garak's interest.

Like now, for instance. As they reached the promenade, Garak braced a hand against the central support of the spiral stairs leading to the mezzanine, and quickly drew it away with an impulsive "urgh!"

"What's this?" he mused half to himself as he rubbed the bluish gel between his fingers. It had come off the rail onto his hand.

Boq'ta hurried back down the stairs to pass his tricorder over the stuff. "It's a biogenic compound."

"I wonder where it came from," Garak murmured. Perhaps a discharge from a biogenic weapon, a weapon undisclosed to the rest of the Cardassian military? A weapon he could use against the Dominion? Or—perhaps more effective—a secret he could use to manipulate Dukat?

He knew Boq'ta's specialization wasn't in medicine, and for half a second he caught himself wishing Bashir were there to analyze the compound for him. He glanced over at the infirmary; a pale light came from between the door panels. There would be equipment in there he could use.

"Follow me," he commanded Boq'ta in an undertone.

But the moment he entered the infirmary, he nearly forgot about the compound on his hand. The displays at the back of the room were fritzing and full of static as if they had been in the middle of receiving a transmission when they went down. Instead of the usual biobeds, there were three large tubes in the middle of the room—stasis tubes, as Boq'ta astutely observed a moment later. The casing on one was cracked. A beam had fallen from the ceiling and broken through where the edge had made impact. Garak hefted it away and opened the tube.

A Cardassian skeleton lay inside. Garak guessed that he'd been dead for at least a year. The sight was unexpectedly harrowing, and Garak was startled when the usually inhibited Bolian reached down and plucked something from the skeleton.

"Hey, look at this," Boq'ta said, seeming perfectly unperturbed by the dust he blew off it.

"Interesting." And Garak was interested.

Boq'ta smiled at his find. "Regimental badge."

"Third Battalion, First Order, if I'm not mistaken," Garak glanced between it and the skeleton, his uneasy feeling growing.

Boq'ta didn't notice. He was grinning. "This is gonna make Pechetti's day."

Garak barely heard him, eyes roving over the infirmary. "Both those tubes have been activated recently."

Finally Boq'ta seemed to get it, and his grin disappeared. Garak glanced over at the door and scanned the darkness beyond, a familiar tension prickling his neck ridges. He hesitated. If he told O'Brien his suspicions now, it might eliminate any further chance at scouring the station for tools to defeat Dukat. If he didn't, the Chief and the rest of the crew might end up dead. Gritting his teeth, Garak stood ill at ease, trying to find a third option.

Boq'ta was nervous. "If they were activated recently, then… then that means someone was here before us."

"Indeed."

"Or else… it was just something automatic, something set to activate when the station's power came back online?"

Garak glanced at him skeptically. "Why set stasis tubes to activate at all if no one was inside them?"

"Shouldn't we tell Chief O'Brien?" Boq'ta asked.

And there it was. No matter how timid he seemed, Boq'ta wouldn't be fooled into believing that the Chief should stay uninformed. "Yes, I think we'd better," Garak said softly, and took out his comm. badge again.

"Garak to O'Brien."

"Go ahead," replied the Chief's voice.

"Could you come down to the infirmary? There's something you should see."

"On my way."

"Watch the door," Garak advised. "And keep your phaser ready."

"What are you doing?" Boq'ta asked nervously.

"Hopefully… finding answers." Garak began trying to access the controls for the static-filled displays, and managed to clear the image on one of them. It was a display from about a year ago, showing what Garak assumed to be the decline of vital signs in the three stasis tubes the last time they'd been active. Unable to clear the other screens, Garak tried to pull up more information on the first but it locked him out with an encrypted message.

"I hear footsteps!" Boq'ta squeaked. Garak whirled and peered out onto the promenade.

"It's alright. It's Chief O'Brien." He recognized the man's outline.

The Chief shoved the doors open wider and stopped short as he came in. "What's all this?" He looked around at the stasis tubes, bewildered.

"A very good question, Chief. They're stasis tubes, and they've been recently activated, except for this one, which met a, ah… rather unfortunate end."

O'Brien stared fixedly at the Cardassian skeleton for a few seconds before blinking hard and turning away. "Alright, how could the other two have been activated recently? How recently?"

"Very recently," Garak nearly whispered. "In fact-"

"Nog to Chief O'Brien!" The Ferengi's voice broke shrilly into the quiet.

"What is it, Nog?" O'Brien said. "I'm at the infirmary."

"Sir, the runabout! It drifted loose from the docking clamps—and—and it exploded, sir!"

...

"I'm very sorry about the runabout, sir!" Nog said as he jogged after O'Brien. "I should have been paying more attention!"

They had split up again, and now Garak was stuck with these two on the way to Cargo Bay Four. He and Nog were to guard O'Brien as he worked to set up the signal generator so they could send an S.O.S. to Deep Space Nine.

"I said to stop calling me sir," O'Brien grumbled. "It's not your fault. Stop apologizing. If you hadn't forgotten the flux coupler, we wouldn't have found out the situation so quickly. I'd say we're having pretty good luck considering the circumstances. Let's hope it holds out."

"Yes sir! I mean—Chief!"

Garak came along behind them, walking sideways half the time to watch their backs with phaser in hand. "I'm not sure I share your optimism, Chief. The Third Battalion's reputation is well-earned."

"Yeah, yeah, 'Death to All,' I heard what Pechetti said. But if we hadn't found out about the runabout so quickly, we wouldn't have realized that we're probably being hunted down as we speak."

"I thought that was made quite clear by the open stasis pods in the infirmary," Garak said lightly. "But either way, I suggest we keep our voices down if we don't want to attract their attention prematurely."

"Yeah," O'Brien breathed, and after that, they went silent until they reached their destination.

Their footsteps seemed ridiculously loud to Garak's hyper alert ears and he was startled by shadows once or twice as they entered the cargo bay. It had been a long time since he had felt this much adrenaline. It surprised him a little. True, the Third Battalion had a frighteningly effective track record, but he was a better survivor than the average Cardassian. No, he didn't feel afraid, not in the same panicked way as he felt when claustrophobic. He was alert, awake… aware.

As O'Brien settled down to work, Garak put his phaser away and settled into position to watch the entrance as Nog vigilantly patrolled the room, ducking dramatically between the dark rows of storage compartments. Garak's hand itched where the compound had touched it, and he vaguely remembered wiping the goo off on his pants. He needed to analyze the compound, but he didn't want to tell the Chief or Nog about it until he knew for sure what it was and whether or not he could appropriate it for use against Dukat. He rubbed his fingers against his palm to soothe the itch.

"Aren't you curious, Chief?" he asked in an undertone.

"Hm? About what?" O'Brien was kneeling down to open an access panel.

"About the occupants of those stasis tubes! If you ask me it's all very unusual. I'd like to go back to the infirmary and see if I can access the medical records, to find out why there were three members of the Third Battalion locked away on this abandoned station. It doesn't make any sense, surely you see that?"

"The files on the computers have probably been wiped," O'Brien said dismissively. "Besides, Stolzoff's guess is as good as mine. They probably were left here to guard the station. It's the only logical explanation."

"I'm not convinced Stolzoff was right about our Cardassian friends," Garak protested, more loudly than he knew O'Brien or Nog was comfortable with. But he was getting excited. "Why would anyone voluntarily seal themselves into a stasis tube—perhaps for years!—just to guard an abandoned station? Even the Third Battalion isn't that fanatical. Something else is going on."

This was the kind of key he'd been waiting for, the missing piece that would bring his goal within reach. There was something about this station, something that its former occupants must have wanted hidden from the general public, but still accessible at some point should they decide they needed it…

"Maybe so," O'Brien was saying, "But I don't intend to be here long enough to find out what it is."

"That's the trouble with humans: you don't know how to enjoy a good mystery!"

The itch was a nuisance but the question of the compound could wait. He had to unravel this other mystery first, snatch up this opportunity; he could feel it deep within his body, a thrilling certainty. His heartbeat quickened.

"I love a good mystery!" O'Brien argued. "The kind I can read in bed… not the kind that's trying to kill you."

"Don't get me wrong, Chief," Garak said, "I want to get off this station as much as you do, but I just know, if I don't figure this out, it's going to nag at me for days…."

"Alright now," O'Brien said, like telling his daughter it was time for bed. "Let's concentrate on finishing this signal modulator so we can get out of here. You have the whole trip home to sort out your mystery."

O'Brien looked at Garak expectantly, and Garak remembered that his technical skills were probably no longer a secret. He gave the Chief a questioning look anyway. O'Brien stared grumpily for a moment before giving up and calling over his shoulder. "Nog? I need your help with the phase discriminator."

"On my way, Chief," Nog called from somewhere to the left.

As the Ferengi's footsteps approached, Garak thought he detected a second set of footsteps much quieter than the first. He peered into the darkness but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It could have been an echo, but then again….

Garak could barely resist wandering off to check the area. Instead, he backed into the surrounding darkness, trying to disappear as much as possible despite O'Brien's revealing presence just feet away. Perhaps it was best to have the bait situated close to the trap, if only they would fall—

"Stolzoff to O'Brien! A CARDASSI-" Stolzoff's voice over the comm. badge was interrupted by a clamor of noise which included several cries of pain.

O'Brien jumped to his feet. "Stolzoff?" he cried in return, facing Garak but not looking at him. "Stolzoff!" His eyes met Garak's and at almost the same moment they turned to head for the Habitat Ring. Nog scrambled after them, rifle in hand.

...

The sight of both Pechetti and Stolzoff lying dead in separate sections of the habitat ring was no surprise to Garak. What else could one expect from the Third Battalion? But as he listened to the frightened whining of Boq'ta, and turned his head this way and that, carefully watching their surroundings, he felt uncomfortable. They were in the open. His idiotic comrades were like bright silhouettes carved out against a dark horizon, and he wanted nothing more than to remove himself from their company. But he resisted that instinct strongly. He was afraid for them. He didn't want to abandon them.

The feeling echoed memories of giving in to Ziyal when he should have pushed her away, should have moved on Dukat when he had the chance… shouldn't have been "careless" in covering his tracks on the Defiant when he was about to destroy the Founder's homeworld. He felt sweat begin to gather on his face and palms and his breath come ragged. What had he allowed to take hold of him like this? What kind of self-destructive sentimental

"What if I send Garak with you, too?" O'Brien's voice jerked Garak out of his wave of panic, and he glanced over at Boq'ta who looked like he was about to wet himself. "Would that make you feel better?" The Bolian was nodding before O'Brien had even finished his sentence.

"I'm flattered," Garak said, "But I'm afraid I have other plans."

"What're you talking about?" O'Brien huffed.

Garak let his voice go harsh and soft. "I don't intend to stand around waiting to be killed." As he said it, he rubbed his throat, which felt constricted. It itched there, too. He had no more time or patience for Federation dallying.

"Meaning what?" O'Brien's voice went hard in turn.

"Meaning I'm going after those two Cardassian soldiers… to neutralize them. Besides, all this whining is giving me a headache!" He lifted his hand to his head as he began to walk away, and it was true—the dull grinding, throbbing feeling that he'd become accustomed to was heightening into something sharper, something which filled his whole body with tension. He thought of the compound again and his stomach jumped. No more wasting time. He would find the answers to both these mysteries.

The sound of a phaser rifle being cocked made him freeze in his steps.

"You're gonna have more than a headache if you don't do what the chief wants," said Amaro, another of those over-confident under-experienced small-time officers. Garak felt a strange thrill, and decided it must be because he had finally decided to let his four surviving team members take care of themselves. He had no obligation to pander to the desires of these idiots!

"Amaro," O'Brien called in a warning tone.

The light mounted atop the rifle never wavered.

"You'd like to shoot me," Garak said calmly, only turning his head slightly but standing his ground. "Wouldn't you? You're dying to kill a Cardassian. Any Cardassian!"

"Let him go!" O'Brien insisted, as if Garak were a prisoner. And Garak realized suddenly that yes—that's how it had always been.

The light on the rifle turned off with a click as Amaro drew it back.

O'Brien moved into Garak's range of vision. "If he thinks he can neutralize the Cardassians, let him try. He'd be doing us all a favor."

"That's the spirit!" Garak cheered quietly, a grin spreading across his face. "Why don't you come with me, Chief? Kill a few Cardies. It'd be like old times. Wouldn't you like to avenge their deaths?" He gestured to the white sheet covering Stolzoff's body.

"No," O'Brien said. "I just want to get everyone home."

"You're fighting your instincts," Garak said. His voice was low and nearly purring with confidence. "I can see it. But the hero of Setlik Three is still inside there somewhere."

O'Brien's stony expression never changed. "If you're gonna go… go."

Garak swayed on his feet for a moment, smiling, like a snake waiting to strike, then turned and hurried away, his steps feeling light and becoming more silent as he distanced himself from the others. At last, he could get down to the business at hand without burdens or distractions!

He headed straight for the infirmary. He could do both at once from there—find out about the compound while luring his prey. The computer was waiting for him, and soon he had a few of the consoles working and could set about trying to crack the security code. As he worked, he talked loudly to himself. Let them think he was a bumbling overconfident idiot like the rest of them! He could hear everything, could sense the air currents wafting through the rooms via the circulation system—he would know when they were coming.

"Access Denied," he said, when the computer flashed that exact message at him. "Well, isn't that nice." He tried again. "Access Denied. Alright." Another try. "Access Denied… Access Denied… Access Denied… ."

A momentary image of Bashir's face came to mind and the sweat on his face and hands turned cold. The tightness in his throat came back. He tried another code and reached up to rub his neck, his jaw clenching."Access Denied… Access… Denied… don't you know how to say anything else?" The computer bleeped at him again. A shiver went through his body and he exhaled hard. "Apparently not." It must be the compound. It was creating these physical symptoms.

He froze suddenly. No, something had triggered that shiver—the sense of being watched. He listened but heard only silence. "Access Denied… Access Denied…." He felt the footsteps rather than heard them. "Access Denied." They were like raindrops at the very edge of audibility. "Access… Denied! How… monotonous!"

There. They were close now. Garak moved swiftly and silently to the broken stasis tube. He was so intent on the footsteps of the approaching Cardassian that he didn't feel a hint of claustrophobia as he lay inside, even as he had to force his breathing lower. He could see the warped blur of the Cardassian's figure approaching the console he'd just left.

The soldier circled the periphery of the room slowly. Garak's mind was leaping bounds ahead of him. He would capture the soldier, interrogate him until he knew everything about the situation, the compound, the station—Tain's voice rang in his ears. I never met anyone else who relished a good interrogation as much as you did. The sweat trickled down Garak's neck and every nerve in his torso seemed to hum, every muscle constricted.

The soldier walked right past the stasis tube Garak was in—close enough to touch. One step, then another, then another….

The tube slid open and the soldier turned. "Looking for me?" Garak asked; the phaser in his hand sent a beam straight to the other Cardassian's chest. The phaser in his hand was Cardassian, but he barely registered this as unusual—that was as it should be, and it had been set to kill. The soldier's death cry, the way he flopped onto the ground, was comical, and Garak nearly laughed, feeling a sense of triumph as if he had just burst through chains with pure strength. But this was cleverness. Better than brute force, always. He had always been clever. Tain knew that. And ruthless. That's what had always made him valuable. That was always it.

"That felt… good," Garak said to the empty room. As the last word left his lips, a shadow of his earlier panic brushed over him like a draft. His eyes went to the phaser. How had it come into his hand? He had been equipped with a Federation weapon before. It was still on his belt. He shifted, looking down at the dead body he'd shoved aside to make room for himself in the pod. Of course. It was the dead Cardassian's weapon.

He rolled out of the tube and quietly made his way to the newly dead soldier on the floor. He checked the soldier's vital signs. No, he was definitely dead. No use for interrogation. Why did I—

Garak jerked to his feet, tearing the soldier's badge off his chest and shrugging off the question. It was better this way. He could get answers more quickly. Even if it won't be as fun. Garak shakily wiped his sweaty hands on the sides of his pants. He went to fetch a medkit and took out a laser scalpel, selecting a patch of skin by the soldier's throat to cut off and insert into a medical scanning device he found in a compartment nearby. He had seen Bashir use a similar device before, and within a few minutes, the readings began to make sense.

Psychotropic drugs. Massive amounts. Garak had seen similar readings somewhere—it didn't matter to him where, but the memory came anyway. Lessons with Tain, long ago, the Cardassian sun glowing dull in the window as he reviewed how a drug's protein structure could produce certain emotional and mental states, some more conducive to interrogation than others….

The information swam through his head as he staggered through those early days of training, and gathered into one coherent word. Xenophobic. A word so often applied to Cardassians, a word which Garak had never known what to make of. It was in the nature of all living things to hold caution toward others—it was what kept them alive. The faces of his fellow students at the Bamarren Institute for State Intelligence flashed through his mind, the regnar who had taught him how to disappear, Tain's satisfaction at his progress, and the crazed face of Dukat's father as the interrogation went terribly wrong….

Bashir's face, hovering above his, concerned and stubborn as Garak sank to the ground, the implant in his brain like a live wire sending currents of pain through him….

Garak wavered. Xenophobic. Phobia suggests fear. He was not afraid of anyone. The other soldier would die as quickly as this one had, and then they would all go—back—

He snapped to his feet and hurried, disturbed that the drug might be taking effect. They had to get off the station before it ran its course—but did it really matter? He would kill the Cardassian and then the station would be his to do with as he liked! His boundaries would be secure and easy to protect. But the others—The others were slow, incapable. Unimportant. He had to protect them. It was his duty as their team mate. And a good excuse. But they were part of his boundary, at least formally they had to be, it was the mission—

Garak was back in Cargo Bay Four. His feet slowed automatically at the sound of O'Brien's voice.

"That doesn't mean I like thinking about what happened then. I was a soldier, Nog. Sometimes, soldiers have to kill."

"Come now, Chief," Garak said, turning on his flashlight so that Nog could see him coming from between the aisles. He knew they were talking about Setlik Three again. "Don't be so modest." Their faces amused him, all stark and startled in the white light. "You did a lot of killing."

"How did you get in here!" Nog demanded. "Both doors are secure!"

"Secure is such a relative term, wouldn't you agree?" Garak stepped toward Nog, noting his nervousness with satisfaction. "I've brought you something." He turned to O'Brien and took out the badge. "If you don't mind," Garak murmured to Nog, who stood back uneasily to let him closer to the Chief. "I'm sure Pechetti would have appreciated it more, but…."

O'Brien took the badge with furrowed brow. "Where did you get this?" he said softly.

"Ah-from its former owner."

"You killed one of the soldiers?" Nog blurted.

"One down, one to go," Garak replied matter-of-factly, and launched into a brief explanation of what he had found out from the tissue sample.

"My guess is that the soldiers who were left here were part of some sort of Cardassian military experiment. The High Command was probably looking for a way to further motivate their troops."

"So they gave them a drug to make them hate anybody but Cardassians," O'Brien said thoughtfully.

"Then why did they attack you?" Nog demanded.

"Ah-that's a good question," Garak said quickly. They didn't attack me. But I knew they would. I attacked first. It's Kotra. Attack to defend.

Yes, that was it. He was attacking to defend these poor fools. He was attacking to defend everything—he would kill Dukat to protect everything….

"Maybe it's an experiment that went wrong," O'Brien mused. "That's why they were left in stasis."

Garak felt a jolt of dread.

"They were uncontrollable," O'Brien continued in his mulling undertone.

He broke in. "I'd love to stay and hypothesize all afternoon, but once I've set my mind to a task, I hate to leave it unfinished."

O'Brien looked at him narrowly and suddenly got to his feet to face him as if expecting him to bite.

"What is it, Chief?" Garak asked in overly gentle tones.

"You look different," said O'Brien.

"How so?"

"That's not the face of a tailor."

Garak tilted his chin up carefully. "I'm not a tailor." His voice was cold, and he glanced at Nog, seeing the dread on his face. "Not for the moment anyway," he added more casually, with one of his practiced smiles.

He left immediately, feeling their eyes on his back as he walked away.

...

"You know, I once bought a suit from Garak. Turned out the sleeves were a little long. I remember being angry when I brought it in to be fixed."

"Is there a point to this story?"

"If I'd known he was so dangerous, I never would have complained."

Garak rubbed at his throat, his entire body vibrating with adrenaline. He knew he was well hidden but there wasn't the familiar calm of melting into his surroundings. He itched too much. Itching, itching—it was like a deep restlessness that came through from the bone, through the muscle, just below the surface of the skin. Boq'ta spoke softly to Amaro.

"You think he'll get that other Cardassian?"

"I hope not… I want to get him myself. Stolzoff was my friend. We went to the academy together…."

Garak tuned out the inane conversation and listened instead for his fellow predator. He would be attracted to these two—their speech and lack of attention to their surroundings, their overconfidence would all prove irresistible.

Questions about the drug spun wheels in his mind. There was a chance he hadn't really been infected—it would have been a small amount, and with only skin contact—but he felt different. But was that just his instincts finally waking up now that he'd learned how foolish sentiment and attachment truly was? Now that everything he'd worked for had been threatened once again by his failure to play the game right?

They were uncontrollable. Uncontrollable. That's why they were left in stasis.

The Chief didn't know anything of Cardassians. He had thrown away his battle experience. This was their natural state—the purest form of instinct, to protect one's boundaries, to move against the enemy, to take pride in one's aggression.

I'm doing it to protect—to keep from losing—

Footsteps.

Garak's head snapped around, eyes fixed on the silhouette of a Cardassian face. The soldier moved fluidly, confidently toward where Amaro was pacing with his rifle. Garak moved too, stalking the soldier, slinking easily after him.

"If that spoonhead gives me a chance…" Amaro's voice faded in and out of Garak's consciousness like a red flash of irritation. Suddenly, Garak remembered Pechetti's obsession with Cardassian insignia, Boq'ta's nonchalance at looting the corpse in the stasis tube, and Amaro's gun pointed at his head. Amaro wanted to kill him. That spoonhead. They were all glad he was going after the Cardassian because who cared if he died in the attempt? They were probably hoping for his death… especially Amaro.

Garak reached the spot where the soldier's shadow had disappeared, and came around the corner of a storage barrel. Nothing. He had slipped away. Garak quickly sank back into the shadows.

He watched as Amaro paced back up to the head of the corridor, his back toward Boq'ta.

"Give me the coil spanner, would you?" Boq'ta called.

Amaro began to rummage. "What does it look like?"

The soldier came out of hiding, closing in on Boq'ta. Garak raised his phaser but he was transfixed, fascinated by the scene playing out before his eyes.

"It's got two pointy things on the end."

Why didn't they see it? Were they blind? Were they deaf? Such pathetic creatures. No, it was natural that he feel nothing for them; he had barely exchanged words with them in the past—they were Federation lackeys. Surely Amaro heard the soldier approaching—but Amaro cared nothing for his comrades. He just wanted to kill all Cardassians.

The soldier stomped down on Boq'ta's face, then his throat, and the Bolian gave a muffled, weak scream which trailed off into spasmodic choking noises.

Garak jerked out of his trance, stepped forward, and fired. The Cardassian fell. Amaro panted in fear as Garak walked slowly towards him, watching the corpse to make sure it was dead. Amaro bent breathlessly to look at Boq'ta, then turned away.

"He asked me to get a coil spanner for him…." He straightened. "I just turned my back for a second!"

Garak stared blankly at this man, this pathetic man who had let his comrade die, this pitiful man who spouted slurs and jokes to make up for everything he lacked, and who made excuses for his disloyalty. They couldn't afford this kind of a traitor on their team. Amaro was playing a weakling to put him off guard, but underneath that deception, his fingers were itching to pull the trigger on Garak.

He stepped toward Amaro who was leaning against the wall, winded. He took the tool gently from the man's hand.

"That's a shame," he said very softly. "And the worst part of it is… this isn't a coil spanner."

He looked straight into Amaro's eyes, registering the ridiculous expression of confusion, before he thrust the pointed ends of the tool between Amaro's ribs.

"It's… a flux coupler," he said, above Amaro's gasping cries.

The man went down, staring at him, staring as if he were actually shocked.

Garak fled the corridor. His team would understand when he explained—no, they wouldn't; they would never believe him. Their Federation ideals would implicate him even though he knew, deep down, he knew that Amaro was planning to kill him. They would all be his enemies now, all because he had done what needed to be done. That was the measure of their loyalty.

But as he ran, the panic became overwhelming. He was a coward, he was turning his back on everything he lived for—no, he was losing himself, that's how Bashir would put it, but it was Bashir, that infuriating Doctor, him and his Federation, him and Ziyal and the disgusting, ridiculous hesitation that would cause him to lose everything, just as before, just as when he had lost everything the first time—just as when he lost everything for the last time—

The pain in his chest and head and throat exploded into ecstatic, calculated rage, and it was as if a blockade came down in his mind, and everything fell into place at once. He could see the way to his salvation. He would kill everyone, remove all obstacles, and use the system for sending distress calls which O'Brien had rigged to contact the nearest Cardassian ships. Then, once they arrived, he would subdue them, kill them all if necessary, and commandeer a vessel. From there it would be easy to infiltrate the Dominion. He could pose as a loyal survivor of a Federation attack, alter data files on the ship he took, destroy Dukat, destroy the Dominion, destroy everything...then it would stop, then he would be in control of his own fate!

It was so simple. He didn't know why he hadn't seen it before. Tain was right—had always been right. Sentiment clouded the mind, so that he had been blind to even the most obvious path.