I. NECESSARY EVIL
There was a vague familiarity about the girl which he could not quite identify. It would come to him soon, Dukat had no doubt about. After all, they had started to train his memory when he was five.
Still, there she was, having been identified by his new chief of security as the one who had murdered the apothecary. Which proved that Dukat's judgement about the shapeshifter had been right. Odo was wasted in the Bajoran laboratories, or as a performer entertaining the troups. All that intelligence and almost Cardassian sense of order could be put to better use. Odo looked most uncomfortable next to the young Bajoran, to be sure. She ignored him, radiating contempt.
"Excellent work," Dukat said, and tried out the new title he had come up with, "Constable. A good start for what I hope will be a long and mutually beneficial collaboration."
He didn't miss the small flinch in Odo's figure, though that odd, unfinished face remained immobile.
"She committed a murder," the shapeshifter said primly. "She deserves to be punished. Nobody else should be punished in her place. That is all. I do not intend to work for you."
The contempt Dukat sensed coming from the young woman deepened. Her lips curled ever so slightly, and she said, not looking at either of them:
"Aren't the two of you finished yet with your little play? Should I applaud now or later? Just shoot me and be done with it."
Now he had it. She reminded him of the woman he had seen years ago, at Meru's side, not too long after taking command of the station. It had been a brief encounter, but given that this woman had in all likelihood been trying to kill Meru and himself, only reconsidering at the last moment, her features had remained with him, albeit buried with all the other memories of people trying to kill him. Too many. He felt a brief touch of weariness.
That woman had looked several years older than this hellcat, just the right age to be her mother. He would find out soon, undoubtedly. The name this prisoner had given to Odo was almost certainly a lie, but the cool, level- headed way the apothecary had been executed pointed to experience. If she was with one of the resistance groups, they would have a file on her.
"But I am in no hurry," Dukat replied to the young woman, smiling at her, then motioned at Odo. "You can go now, Constable", he said. Odo curtly nodded and, after a final glance at the prisoner, turned and went, without, Dukat noted, another protest against the title. Yes, Odo would serve him well.
"You shouldn't have sent him away," the woman said, and the contempt in her voice was mixed with aggression and a certain challenge now. "Not without calling more of your minions in. I'm to die anyway, so I might as well try to take you with me, and *you* certainly couldn't stop me."
It was an empty boast. Odo had left her handcuffed, and the energy barrier she had passed when entering his office had made sure she carried no weapon. She was still trying to provoke him into killing her swiftly, and it was not hard to understand the reason. No matter how much she had prepared herself for an interrogation, she must know that they all broke, sooner or later, and she didn't want to betray her comrades.
"If that was your intention," Dukat said slowly, looking at her as she refused to avoid his glance, "you wouldn't have told me. You'd have just attempted it."
"I would have done it," she corrected, her eyes narrowing, which was a pity. They were one of her most attractive features, he thought, shaped like Cardassian Tiranis and sparkling with a rare vivacity. He had her complete attention now, and all that hostility directed at him was flushing her cheeks. For a terrorist, she was remarkably unscarred. Such a thin, fragile thing, Bajoran skin, hardly suited to protecting blood vessels at all. He remembered how startled he had been when he had first touched the cheek of a Bajoran woman, having subconsciously expected it to break at the mere contact.
"I don't mean to disparage your skill as a murderess," he said to her, amused. "After all, I have seen your work. But I think you would have found I can protect myself."
"That is what you have your minions for," she returned sharply. "And you are the murderer here. What happened to that traitor was justice, and saved a lot of Bajoran lives."
He had heard similar things from dozens of people, hundreds, certainly, and not all of them Bajorans. "You must not mourn for your father," his old superior had told him, when wild grief and hate every bit as burning as the loathing he saw in the Bajoran terrorist had nearly choked him. "What happened to that traitor was justice, and saved a lot of Cardassian lives. Thank the Gods for the Obsidian Order."
Dukat had not believed in universal justice ever since. He did believe in his own laws.
"You do have an interesting concept of justice, my dear," he replied. "It obviously would have allowed you to stand by and let others die for your...noble deed, if the good Constable had not caught you."
"They would have died for Bajor," she declared, unerring in her zeal. Suddenly he felt weary of the whole thing again. She would die, and then the next terrorist would come, kill his share of Cardassians and Bajorans, be arrested, make similar proud speeches and die as well. Sometimes he wished he had never heard of the planet.
And yet there were ways to reach the Bajorans, at least some of them.
"What if I gave you a chance?" he asked suddenly.
"A chance to do what?" she shot back. "Declare how sorry I am so you can use it in your propaganda to discourage other patriots? A chance to become a collaborator like the apothecary or that pathetic shapeshifter?"
"A chance to kill me," Dukat said. "Since you are so sure you could do it."
For the first time, he saw her looking stunned. She didn't say anything. The unguarded surprise in her face suited her as much as the anger and zeal earlier had done. Suddenly he wondered how she would look if he were able to make her laugh, not in mockery or defiance but in genuine amusement. There was a softness in a woman's face which only laughter seemed able to evoke, though he doubted there was anything soft left in the young red- headed woman now silently staring at him. He wasn't even sure whether he wanted it to be there. He rose from his chair, circled the desk and stepped closer to her, stopping when he was just out of arm's reach.
Slowly, her eyes still flickering in hate and disbelief, she held out her cuffed wrists.
"Ah, no," he said. "First things first. If by some remote chance you could manage to kill me now, you would be able to wreak all kind of havoc in my office, and we can't have that now, can we? We'll have to find a more suitable environment for this particular little experiment."
This close, he could smell the scent of her; sweat, the dirt and grime of the orb processing she had pretended to work at, but also, unmistakably, traces of a spice mixture he recognised. She must have eaten hasperat before Odo had arrested her. He wondered what she would smell like if someone gave her a bath and washed her hair. Not that he would ever find out, even if things went his way. He was curious, somewhat interested and yes, attracted, but hardly suicidal. Keep her alive for longer than a few hours at most and she *would* kill him.
"What kind of environment?" she asked, sounding suspicious.
He let his smile reach his eyes.
"What do you think?" he asked.
With a bat of her eyelashes, her uncertainty was gone and her boundless contempt was back.
"I'd rather die," she spat.
"Oh, your life is not at stake here," he said. "At least not in the way you seem to assume. Nor, just to make this perfectly clear, is anyone else's. I'm not offering you a collection of Bajoran prisoners or your own freedom as a reward for spending the night with me. Just a competition."
Now she looked irritated, but obviously would not deign to ask for more explanations.
"You. Me. No weapons," he said. "And no witnesses. You might manage to kill me this way. But then again, you might learn a thing or two about life before you do."
"You are sick. Even for a Cardassian. Do you always play such elaborate games before raping somebody?"
"This is getting tiresome. Let me spell it out to you again. I will not force you to do anything, no matter what you decide. But in one case, you will have the chance of playing the Bajoran hero one more time, and in the other, you get executed right here and now for murder. So, do you want to become a martyr now, or try to kill another Cardassian, the prefect, no less, before you do?"
"You aren't just sick, you are insane," she declared, and he knew she wasn't able to resist the opportunity, or the challenge.
He had originally planned to let her go in front of him - handcuffed or not, he certainly didn't trust her at his back - but she fell into step with him as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It was an arrogant presumption of equality, but he found he did not mind. They walked back to his quarters in silence. His officers, if they reacted at all, shrugged; he was hardly the only Cardassian with a fondness for Bajoran women, though he was one of the few who had not even tried to bring his Cardassian wife with him. The Bajorans who spotted them undoubtedly would gossip, which was not bad, either.
Making an example out of the girl by letting her go through a trial would have exposed some of his sources among the population, so that was out of the question, and if he had had her executed on the spot, she would have been one more martyr for the Bajoran terrorists, one more flame to fuel their insane, bloody, and unending resistance. To some, she would still be this tomorrow, to most, her martyrdom would be flawed after a night in his quarters, even if they spent that night just staring at each other. Zealots had no taste for any kind of ambiguity, or doubts. This woman at his side was too young to understand that, or to understand how quickly a reputation was tarnished, how easily a single doubt about motives and results could overshadow a lifetime of service.
Dukat, on the other hand, understood only too well. He was his father's son.
In his quarters, he gave orders not to be disturbed for the next few hours, and sealed the door with a series of codes which presumably the resistance hadn't gotten its hands on, but then one could never be sure about these things.
"That's nothing I couldn't have cracked when I was seventeen," she commented acidly. He shrugged, and removed her handcuffs, which were similarly coded. They fell to the ground, but any noise they made was swallowed by the thick carpet he had had installed.
He had expected her to use the first opportunity to attack him, but she must have been aware of this, or maybe she suspected another trick. His respect for her as a tactician grew.
"No immediate attempt to break my neck?" he asked. "You *are* full of surprises, my dear."
"Just death is too good for you," she said coldly. "You do need one lesson before you die."
"Now that does sound interesting," Dukat said, letting the words linger on his tongue while he tried to guess what her next move would be.
It was her turn to step closer, her arms wide spread in a mocking gesture of harmlessness. He still expected her to make a sudden attempt to snap his neckbones, and was prepared for this. Instead, she took another step towards him, her hands still wide apart. He had not really noticed how small a woman she was until she tilted her head towards him. Somehow, she had managed to convey the impression of height. His own arms as uncommitted as hers in anticipation of whatever she was planning, he permitted himself to react to her move, bowing his head slightly.
Her mouth was a surprise, not least because he had not really expected her to let things go that far. He had imagined her lips to be dry and hard, because Bajorans needed time to adjust to the heat of Terok Nor, which had been build for Cardassians, and because somewhere between her declarations about justice and death for the cause he had decided this woman could never have been kissed properly in her life. Instead, he found her moist and driven by an angry hunger, not the bitter little virgin he had imagined at all. Somewhere between noticing yet again an odd sense of familiarity and wondering, as her tongue teased him, whether he shouldn't keep her alive after all, he nearly forgot to pay attention to her arms, which were still wide open.
And that was when she used her legs for a quick, decisive kick that had him double over in pain. Before he could recover, she had him falling on that thick, sound-absorbing carpet. Fibres and blood mingled in his mouth when she did break his neck, and he heard her voice, sharp and clear, floating over his head.
"It's a very simple lesson, really. You. Are. Not. That. Good."