- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Perhaps it starts like this. A man goes on a journey, to an island in the sky. He brings his son with him; and he also brings his sadness. It takes him time, but, surrounded by strange people, and their even stranger ideas, he learns many things. He grasps that he can put the past aside; he learns to live with it; he begins to hope for the future. And that is not all that he learns from the strangers around him. He finds, as well, that he can do things differently.
Or perhaps it starts later than that. A stranger comes to town, to the island in the sky. He brings suspicions with him, and so it does not take much time for him to grasp that he has been deceived. He leaves in anger, but it is not until later -- not until far too late -- that he realizes he has not seen everything. He has failed to see the full extent of the deception.
But perhaps it all started much earlier. A man goes on a journey. He has been cast out of his home, and now he is stranded on an island in the sky. He brings regrets with him, and scores as yet unsettled (and some not yet even made). He knows that the past cannot be wholly put aside, and he bides his time, and he watches, and he waits for his opportunity. And when he sees it, he grasps it with both hands.
And where does it start right now? A message is sent out, perhaps, summoning someone to a rendezvous, or giving someone her instructions. A message is received, instructing a path to be diverted, foretelling events to come. Slower than messages, ships set out, and pass; and, as they journey, other communications are sent, weaving between them, weaving them together. In time, it's hard to see how they're connected; like looking at a picture of old friends found in a drawer, it is hard to guess exactly where it is that they would go. But this is how it always starts. Some men go on a journey. Some strangers come to town.
What is it about a tuxedo?
Jadzia smiled as she saw Julian catch a glimpse of himself in the two-way mirror, stop, and smooth away some of the creases in the dark jacket. He started playing with the bow tie. His other hand was holding the gun.
"Is that a real one?" she said.
He looked down at the gun and then up at her. "Of course not."
"I meant, is that a real bow tie?"
"Well, of course it is!" He sounded piqued.
"Aren't the ready-made ones less trouble?"
"They are," he said, "but they don't look as good. Garak said that wearing a fake bow tie was like taking someone on a date to the Replimat. You might as well not bother."
"Oh, well," she murmured, turning away to gaze out beyond the mirror, "if Garak said so..."
Jadzia sighed and lifted up one aching foot, squeezed into a sparkling and thoroughly unreasonable shoe. On the other side of the glass, the banquet was well under way. Soft strains of some exquisite music floated round the hall, to the clatter of silver and the tinkle of crystal. A lavish, fabulous occasion, attended by lavish and fabulous people -- politicians, diplomats, ambassadors, even the odd scion of some royal family tree here and there, very odd -- and all of them upstaged by their surroundings. The hall was wide enough that there were rows of chandeliers hanging from the gilded ceiling and, beyond the huge table, in front of the long row of windows, a line of golden candlesticks, each almost as tall as a man and crowned in glass lamps. The light glanced and shimmered off every surface, seeming to fill the room with jewels. From where they were hiding, Jadzia couldn't even see the hall's most spectacular feature. Seventeen huge mirrors lined one wall, facing the long windows, and reflecting all the opulence back upon itself, duplicating it. And behind one of them, looking out through a piece of fake glass, stood Julian Bashir, Secret Agent, and his beautiful assistant, Jadzia Dax, waiting to make their entrance.
She switched feet. The other was hurting just as badly. So much for glamour.
"Julian," she whispered, "when are things going to start happening?"
"Are we going to be standing here much longer? My feet are killing me!"
Julian looked down at her shoes, and relented. "Not long now," he said. "In about two minutes, the main course will be served. Just after the waiters have finished, but before the doors close, five armed and masked terrorists will burst in and fire at the ceiling -- "
Jadzia glanced upward. "I don't hold out much hope for those chandeliers."
"They're only holograms, Jadzia."
"Still, they're very impressive. It seems a shame to ruin them."
"Can I carry on?"
She lowered the fake eyelashes at him, granting him permission.
"As I was saying, the terrorists will come in and take all those very prestigious guests hostage. But a moment or two after that, we burst through this false mirror, I shoot the ringleader, and then swing round to take out the other four gunmen before they know what's hit them." He stopped and frowned. "I should probably make a quip about coming through the looking glass, but that still needs a bit of work...."
"Don't worry about it," Jadzia advised. "They'll all be too busy admiring your bow tie."
He gave her a cool look, and then went back to staring through the glass. Jadzia rocked onto her toes. How she was supposed to leap through a false mirror wearing these shoes she wasn't sure. She had a vision of herself falling flat on her face. The evening gown she was wearing was a fabulous emerald green affair, but seemed unsuited for acrobatics, and, despite everything, there was nothing in Emony's memories which might help in a situation like this....Maybe I'll let Julian do the leaping, and I'll just do some elegant strolling.
This had seemed such a good idea at the start of the evening. Julian had been so moody recently; preoccupied. She had thought asking him to take her round his spy program might cheer him up a bit. She had even hoped it might take her own mind off the casualty list she had read that morning. She certainly hadn't expected to find herself hiding behind a mirror and teetering on ludicrous heels. She wondered, mischievously, what he would say if she suggested swapping shoes, but when she turned to speak to him, she caught sight of his face, and stopped herself.
Julian was looking down at the gun. He was running his thumb along it. After a moment, he switched the gun over to his other hand, and pressed his free palm against the back of the mirror. It left a print there, the image of his fingers splayed out across the glass. He stared at it, seeming almost to be entranced by it. Jadzia frowned -- and then, from the corner of her eye, she caught the door at the far end of the banqueting hall open. It was all about to start happening....
"Computer," Julian said, from beside her, his voice soft, "end program."
Everything went very quiet. Jadzia looked round. It was all gone. The mirrors, the hall, the great and the good; all the glitz and all the glamour. All of it fake. All that remained was the blank wall of the holosuite, gray-green and a bit scuffed from overuse. From too many fantasies, and too much fiction.
"Julian?" She turned to him. The gun had gone too. He was standing with both arms slack by his side, staring at the holosuite wall. "What's the matter?" she said.
With an effort, he roused himself. "I don't know....All of a sudden it seemed a bit...well, childish. Not the real thing." He shrugged. "You know, I think I may have outgrown it all." He gave her a smile. "Sorry about your shoes," he said, nodding down at them. "And sorry to break up the evening. Shall we just go and have a drink?"
"If that's what you want," she said. She followed him as he made his way out of the holosuite. She felt that she had missed something crucial, but she was not sure how to ask him what had just happened.
Out in the comfortable bustle of the bar, Worf was waiting for them. "Did you have a good time?" he asked, reaching for his wife's hand.
"Fine," Julian said, before Jadzia could speak.
"What do you want to drink, Julian?" she said instead.
He fumbled with the bow tie and looked around the bar. "You know, I'm actually feeling a bit tired. I think I'll just head off to bed. Thanks for a nice evening, Jadzia."
They said goodnight, and Jadzia watched him cross the bar, and worried. She reached out to lean on Worf's shoulder, supporting herself against him, and began fiddling with the strap at her ankle. Worf watched her struggle impassively.
"I do not like those shoes," he said.
"Don't worry," Jadzia replied, still watching Julian as he disappeared onto the Promenade. "I don't think I'll be wearing them again."
The cargo ship Ariadne threaded its way through space, small and purposeful, casting a line between Lissepia and Yridia. On its cramped bridge, its youngest crew member yawned and stretched and checked the time. Still an hour to go before the end of his shift, and Auger was having trouble staying awake. He thought about going to get another coffee, but decided it was too much effort. He eased back into his chair, a slight young man who twitched, with pale eyes that did not always seem to be quite focused on the here and now.
Auger stuck his legs out on top of the console in front of him, crossing his booted feet at the ankle. It was something he had seen Trasser do; he was trying the habit out to see if it fit, but it made his feet get in the way. He stared past them at the screen beyond, at the bright lights, at the specks of stars against the darkness. He picked out patterns in them; tried to see the shapes that Steyn had just taught him. One set of stars made up a club, another was like a diamond -- if you ignored the missing point. He wondered what they were called. He could always check, he supposed, but a set of figures and letters wasn't really what he wanted to know. Did people on different planets see them differently, he wondered. Did they give them their own names? Make up their own stories about them? Connect up the dots in their own particular ways --
"Those boots have an impressive shine, Auger. I bet you can see your face in them." The captain's voice, deep for a woman's; only half-awake right now, but still to the point. "But they're out of place on my helm."
Auger jumped in his chair, and hastily rearranged himself, putting his feet back down. He straightened up before the helm, and tried to look busy and competent. Steyn came up to stand beside him.
"I know I run a casual ship," she muttered, "but not quite that casual."
Auger threw an apologetic glance over his shoulder. Steyn was standing with a mug cradled to her chest, and was staring down at the control panels in front of her as if hypnotized. Her eyes were hazy.
"Sorry, Captain," Auger said, brightly. "I got comfortable...."
She waved her hand at him. Stop talking. Steyn was no good first thing. She took a swig from the mug. Her eyes seemed to become a little less blurred. Black tea, Auger knew, having delivered enough cups of it to her, even in the short amount of time he had been on board. Black tea, very sweet.
She blinked a couple of times and came into focus. "Status report?" she said. "Are we still alive?"
She said something like this every morning. Auger grinned, and he caught Steyn's own smile before she hid it behind the rim of the mug.
"Looks like it," he said. "All systems running smoothly. Still right on schedule for our arrival on Yridia."
Steyn grunted an acknowledgment. She drank a little more of the tea, and then fell into the chair next to him. She heaved a deep sigh. "Any word from our guest?"
"Not a sound from him all night."
"Good." Her voice held a grim satisfaction.
Auger had not quite got to the bottom of the dislike that lay between the captain and their Lissepian client. He knew -- because Steyn had said so, and often -- that she took exception to how humorless Mechter was. Auger himself took more exception to how armed he was. It seemed to him to be impolite, never mind how nervous it made him feel whenever Mechter was around....The details of their antagonism were in fact unimportant, since Auger was firmly on the side of the captain. But given how even mention of Mechter seemed to make Steyn grind her teeth, it had to be something serious, Auger guessed. It was either that or Steyn just liked something to complain about. Whichever way, as long as the captain was happy, then Auger was happy.
"I bet you'll be glad to see the back of this cargo, Captain," he said.
Steyn sighed. "Two more days," she said, "and that'll be it. I tell you, Auger, if I'd had the choice, I'd never have got myself stuck with this job. Still, you have to play the hand you're dealt."
Auger nodded, trying to look wise or, at least, trying to give the impression that he understood what the captain was talking about. He watched anxiously as Steyn brooded into her cup. He tried a safer topic.
"Do you want some more tea, Captain?" he suggested, tentatively, hoping to cheer her up. For a fleeting second, the thought of more tea did seem to perk Steyn up. Then she shook her head.
"No, I'll pass. Thanks though."
Auger went over to the replicator and got himself a coffee. He had never had the stuff before he had come on board the Ariadne, and now he was nurturing a fair addiction. He balanced his mug on the edge of the console, pulled out his chair, and started the complex maneuver of sitting down. Hundreds of muscles must be coordinated -- relaxed and tensioned just so -- to fold and lower the body safely to the cradling framework of upholstery, designed by experts to support the lower back during a long and arduous space journey. His mind had wandered by now far from the confines of the Ariadne to contemplating what they were going to do when they got to Yridia; this meant that his whole sitting-down maneuver was orchestrated -- unintentionally and yet perfectly -- to knock his coffee over. He flung out both hands and caught it just before it went flying, and then noticed how hot the mug was and said, under his breath, "Ouch." He glanced over at the captain. She had been watching his efforts with a detached and benign fascination, gnawing at the knuckle of her thumb. Auger put down the mug, and began blowing furtively on his hands. He was still busy cursing his clumsiness and thinking how much he hated looking like a fool in front of the captain when Steyn leaned forward in her chair. Her morning fog had completely lifted.
"Auger," she said evenly, "what the hell is that red light?"
The communication had come late in the station-day, the chime of the console echoing brash and loud around the empty office, and just when he had been contemplating sleep. Now Sisko sat running his finger along the edge of the desktop, trying to listen to Bill Ross.
His back ached a little, and he shifted in the seat. Reaching quietly to one side, he touched a button on the console, flipped open a file, and started to read. He kept nodding as Ross talked, made the occasional noise of agreement. He kept one eye on him, the other scanning down the data in the file. Romulan Activity in the Benzar System -- A Strategic Assessment. Slow going, picking off the system rock by empty rock, but still, ineluctably, advancing.
A dream had been troubling Sisko the past few weeks. He would find himself standing on the bridge of the commandeered Jem'Hadar ship, pushing back the headset, rubbing at his eyes, the crew shifting in and out of his field of vision -- and then they were rocked bow to stern. Unfriendly fire -- very unfriendly. Smoke began to fill the bridge, he heard someone yell, "Hold on!," and when he flipped the headset back in place, he could see them plunging down, down, toward the planet's surface, and there was nothing he could do to stop it....
It was at this point that Sisko would most usually wake up, sweating and wondering whether Vreenak had seen something like that. Whether he had known that he was going to die. Whether he had had that moment of terrible grace. Maybe, he would tell himself, Vreenak just never knew what hit him. Maybe the ship was gone in an instant. Maybe. Either way, you had to live with the uncertainty. You had to live with it.
He had been contemplating sleep. But not quite risking it.
"This offensive was a mistake," Ross was saying. "It turns out we thought we knew more about the defenses at Sybaron than in fact we did."
"Cardassian intelligence is still tricky," Sisko murmured. "Even without the Obsidian Order." He read on. Details of Romulan incursions into Dominion space; attacks on ketracel-white manufacturing facilities; high rates of success.
"And the Seventh Fleet has paid the price." Ross shook his head. "It's hard, Ben. Thinking of those ships going out there. Expecting...well, not what they must have hit up against. And what do we have at the end? Stalemate."
"It's a bad business," he muttered. "A bad business." The report and the admiral's features blurred together, his eyes heavy. He glanced up from the file. Ross was looking at him quizzically. With an effort of will, he marshaled his attention.
"When do you set out, Ben?"
"First thing in the morning." Sisko sat up straight in his chair. "How are the conference preparations going?"
"Well, everything seems under control. The Romulan and Klingon delegations are being quartered at opposite ends of the building."
"Perhaps they should be put in separate cities."
Ross gave him a dry smile. "I'd like this summit to lay the groundwork for coordinating military strategy. But what I'm hoping for is simply that all the delegates will be in one piece by the end of the week."
"I'm sure it'll all work out just fine," Sisko said. He looked back at the file and wondered who would be part of the Romulan delegation.
"I'd be more confident we could come to agreements quickly if military coordination were the only thing the delegations were concerned with. But I have no doubt this summit is going to be as much about the peace as about the war. About what will happen next."
"Inevitable, I guess. Some politicians always seem more concerned with fighting tomorrow's battles."
"Don't be too hard on them, Ben. You know that, sometimes, we all have to be politicians." He paused for a moment, as if weighing something. "This you won't have heard about yet." Ross paused again. "We have some representatives from the Cardassian government-in-exile."
Sisko looked back in surprise. "Is there one?"
"Apparently so. There are two representatives coming -- Rhemet and Tehrak." Ross shrugged. "I gather they were both prominent in civilian life before leaving Cardassia. Rhemet was part of the government before the Dominion took over."
"He was lucky to get away." Sisko started thumbing up and down the file on the Benzar system. All the data -- all the figures on strike rates and targets met, on Dominion and Cardassian casualties -- began to scroll past, far too quickly for him to read. A blur of light and color.
"I don't know the details. And while we're on the subject of Cardassians," Ross gave him a shrewd look, "I assume your friend Mr. Garak is still planning to come along?"
That pushed the definition of the word friend. "Yes, he's coming," he said. "And I'm sure he's looking forward to enlightening all of us about Cardassian tactics, technology, psychology, art, music...Mister Garak," Sisko explained, "likes to talk."
"Good. Because Starfleet Intelligence are keen for him to talk to them."
Sisko stopped the file dead.
"Starfleet Intelligence?" he said.
"Questions about the information he gave us when he was at Starbase 375." Ross shrugged. "More detail, if he can give it. And his recent report aroused a certain amount of interest. I think that several people are keen to find out what else he can do for us."
"So if he's feeling talkative, or feeling helpful, I'm sure they'll appreciate it." Ross smiled at him. "Anyway, we'll speak again when we meet, Ben. Safe trip home!" He leaned forward, cut the com, and then he was gone. Quietly, discreetly, the familiar emblem of the Federation displaced Ross's face upon the monitor. Its colors were muted and entirely lacking in their usual reassurance.
Sisko swiveled in his chair, turning to look out at the pale starlight. He sat for a little while, watching the stars wink back at him, and he wondered whether Vreenak had taken comfort from them, or if he had cursed them, just before he died....
"Dammit!" Sisko slammed his palm down against the desktop. He stood up, and began to pace the room, thinking hard. Starfleet Intelligence wanted to know what else could be done for them? That was all supposed to be finished, he thought as he paced. All in the past. Garak's deeds done, report filed -- now they could just get on with the job of winning the war. No more deals with the devil.
Sisko came to a halt near the exit, rocking on his heels and staring out into ops. Beyond the tinted surface of the doors, he could see one or two people moving about quietly. Late shift. He could almost convince himself that it was peaceful out there -- if it wasn't for the war. He stood and watched through the door as the routine business of the night went on, and he was not comforted by it. All in the past?
Sisko raised his hand to his head, pressed his thumb and forefinger against the bridge of his nose, and tried to order his thoughts. Two dead men, a guilty conscience -- and nobody paying the price. Nobody paying the price for any of it. Perhaps there was something worse than crimes being discovered. Crimes remaining covered. Crimes willfully ignored.
"Computer," he said unwillingly, cursing once again the day he had decided to dance with the devil, "locate Mr. Garak."
The Ariadne rocked, bow to stern, and then everything went unpromisingly still. Steyn started swearing under her breath, remembered Auger fluttering next to her, and swallowed back the rest of her tirade. She drained the last of her tea and set the mug into its holder, hoping the shaking of the ship disguised her own trembling. She punched on the com, opening up a channel to the engine room.
"Trasser," she said calmly, not wanting Auger to hear her sounding anxious, "I could do with an engineering report...now?"
Silence. Steyn watched the lights on the console flashing madly at her, jerking and dancing at random, nothing like their usual measured ballet.
As Steyn waited for her engineer to speak, she heard the door to the bridge open. She closed her eyes very briefly. No surprise that her guest was awake, given how hard the Ariadne had just been shaken. But she could really do without Mechter's attentions right now....
Through the comm came the sound of something clattering. Then the Ariadne's engineer began to talk. "Sorry, Captain...things have become pretty hectic down here...."
Just behind her left shoulder, Steyn heard Mechter start to murmur.
"Thanks for that," she said, a little sourly. "How about something a bit more informative than 'hectic'?"
"Well, I think I know what the problem is..."
"And there's good news and bad news."
Steyn imagined she could feel Mechter's breath upon her neck. Not a happy guest.
"Mr. Mechter and I are eager to hear both, Trasser," she said, pointedly.
There was a pause.
He'd taken the hint. Good.
"The primary engines have failed, Captain -- "
"I'm going to take a guess and assume that's the bad news?"
"Yes, I'd say that was the worst of it. I've not quite got to the cause of the failure yet -- though, to be honest, these retuned drives can sometimes be a bit off -- "
Steyn felt Mechter take hold of the back of her chair.
"How about that good news?" she said sweetly.
"Well, I've got the systems offline now -- we won't get any more of that shaking, which is good news for stopping the ship from falling apart..." He stopped. Perhaps -- Steyn could only hope -- he was thinking a little better of conjuring up such images. "Well, we're stable now but we're not exactly moving at full speed."
Had Trasser ever moved at full speed? Steyn put the question aside. "And how soon will we be moving again? At full speed or otherwise?"
"All right, that's the other bit of bad news -- I'm not going to be able to fix this, Captain. Not quickly, anyway."
"Oh, come on -- "
"Don't start, Steyn! Come down here and have a look if you don't believe me. These systems are fried. It's not a question of skill, it's a question of manpower."
Steyn played with the controls of the com, thinking hard. "All right -- keep at it down there. And keep me posted." She cut the link, took a deep breath, and then turned in the chair to speak to Mechter.
"Mr. Mechter -- " she began.
Moving with speed and ferocity, Mechter spun her right round, slammed the chair to a halt, and grabbed both of its arms, trapping Steyn in her seat. He leaned in close. Steyn stared up at the greens of his eyes and then down at his well-cut cuffs. Lissepians did have the edge when it came to polished villainy, she thought, with a certain fleeting admiration.
"Steyn," Mechter hissed, "you lowdown, cheap, third-rate excuse of a pirate, I am going to gut you from neck to tail like a copperfish."
No, Steyn thought, he really wasn't happy.
Copyright © 2005 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Posted September 1, 2011
If you use a standard Nook the indentation on this book squeezes the paragraphs together making the number of words on each page much smaller than they have to be. Lots of unnecessary page turning. Don't pay anything less than a deep discount for the digital book, get a paperback or hardcover.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.