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A Step in the Right Direction

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Arati Mhevet’s skimmer slowed to a crawl as she approached the property. She had taken a wrong turn when leaving the road running between Tarlak and Coranum, and had had to circle back. The first she saw of the property was therefore the memorial garden. In the early morning light, the pillars of concrete, brick and metal looked like naturally formed cliffs, weathered into shape by the winds. It was hard to believe that the same man who had built those strange constructions had also built the house beyond. It was a pleasant two-story building with a patio at the back for sunny days. There were potted plants in every upstairs window.

When she stopped in front of the house, the door opened. The figure raised his hand in greeting. It was not until Mhevet stepped out of her skimmer that she realised that it was the Castellan-elect himself.

‘Investigator Mhevet, good morning,’ he called to her. She climbed the steps that ran through the terraced front-garden.

‘Good morning, Ambassador.’

Garak smiled.

‘I’m glad someone remembers my title. Some people insist on calling me Castellan already. Most disconcerting.’ He stepped aside. ‘Please, do come in.’

She followed him into a study, its windows facing east.

‘I have always found morning sunlight particularly invigorating,’ he explained. ‘That’s why I chose this as a work-space.’ He waved to her to sit down in one of the armchairs and turned to a sideboard to pick up a tray. ‘I understand this has become a favourite of yours?’

Mhevet smelled it before she saw it. On the tray stood a steaming silver coffee-pot.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ she said, trying to hide her excitement. She had not had a good cup of coffee for days.

‘I have never really developed a taste for coffee, myself,’ Garak admitted as he set down the tray and filled the two cups. ‘During my first few years with the Federation, everyone I knew was either an avid tea-drinker or only drunk that horrid Klingon coffee. I came to appreciate the taste in Paris, though.’

Mhevet raised her cup and smelled it. She sighed with delight.

‘Thank you,’ she said, meaning it. ‘It’s not that easy to get hold of coffee anymore.’

‘I will happily put you in touch with my supplier,’ Garak said. ‘In fact, I have a bag of ground coffee that I doubt I’ll be able to get through before it goes stale, so you can have it.’

Despite herself, Mhevet grinned. She knew this was a political meeting, and the coffee was probably no more than a way to make her lower her guard, but it was hard not to appreciate the gesture. She was still trying to figure out whether she trusted Garak, but she thought she did like him.

They sat in silence for a while. Mhevet was enjoying her coffee, but did not take her eyes off the Castellan-elect. He in turn was looking out of the window. The morning light was pleasant, but apart from that Mhevet thought it was a rather unappealing view. They were overlooking the lower dales of Coranum and beyond them, the concrete blocks that now made up Paldar. It was quite different from what the sector had once looked like. Perhaps that gave him some motivation.

Garak turned away from the window and met her eyes. Without preamble, he spoke.

‘I’m sure you know why I invited you.’

Mhevet put down her cup.

‘I can guess,’ she said. Garak smiled. For a moment, Mhevet was reminded that he was almost old enough to be her grandfather. Then the impression passed, and he seemed ageless again.

‘With Reta Kalanis moving to the CIB, there is a vacancy at the top of the City Constabulary,’ Garak said. ‘This will naturally not be official until after the inauguration, but I intend to recommend you for the position.’

Mhevet pulled herself up. It was just as she had thought.

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘However,’ he said, raising a finger. ‘I must know that we understand each other.’

‘In what way, Ambassador?’ Something about that had put Mhevet on edge. She had seen what politicians might use the police for. She would not be party to that.

Garak folded his hands over his knee.

‘The United Federation of Planets,’ he said. ‘What is your opinion?’

She hid her surprise.

‘Positive, generally,’ she said. ‘They helped Cardassia when we really needed it. They’re not without flaws, and they don’t seem very good at acknowledging that themselves, but I think their goals are admirable.’

‘Could you see Cardassia becoming a member of the Federation?’

Mhevet was glad she had set down her cup.

‘Is that what you’re going to aim to do when you take office?’ she asked. Garak laughed.

‘No, not at all,’ he said. ‘That would be premature. But… In the future. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but maybe in yours.’

Mhevet had to stop and think. She had never considered it. The first thing she felt was a twinge of worry of what would happen to that purely Cardassian spirit, but then she caught herself, remembering that the homogenising force of the Federation was, at least largely, a myth. It was a strange thought, imagining a Cardassia where humans, Vulcans, Andorians, Tellarites, Trill and all those other species might be seen. It was an even stranger thought that she would be able to travel to other planets, far beyond the reaches of Cardassian influence, without the need for lengthy applications for permits or probing interviews into her reasons for leaving.

‘It would be good for Cardassia,’ she said finally. ‘We have much to learn, and much to give.’

Garak smiled.

‘Then we do understand each other,’ he said. ‘Much has to change before we can even apply for membership. The death penalty must be abolished – that at least is underway. We must be able to prove that we have a free press and that we are a functioning democracy. We may have free elections, but we need checks and balances. We need to show that we have a reliable judicial system.’

‘I promise you, Ambassador, I will take a firm line with any corruption.’

‘Good,’ Garak said, but he sounded almost absent-minded. ‘I had no doubt about that. The issue I was considering was more about the law that is being implemented.’

Mhevet frowned.

‘I don’t understand, sir. The constabulary has no authority over the laws.’

‘But you enforce them,’ Garak said. ‘You set the priorities.’ He leaned back in his chair, then looked straight at her again. ‘Investigator Mhevet, let me ask you this. Would you actively enforce a law that you consider morally indefensible?’

‘I don’t have that choice,’ Mhevet said. ‘If I start deciding which laws to observe and which to turn a blind eye to, that’s just another kind of corruption.’

‘But do you believe that a law, however well-established it is, legally speaking, can be morally indefensible?’

She stopped to think of an example.

‘The old laws on seditious speech were morally indefensible,’ she said. ‘But they’re not on the books anymore.’

‘What about the Immoral Practices Act of Union Year 580?’

Mhevet’s first thought was that she had misheard him. Then she realised she had not.

‘Is it, in your opinion, morally defensible?’ Garak asked.

Mhevet took a gulp of coffee. It had started to go cold, but it was a welcome excuse not to answer at once. It passed far too quickly. She put down the cup again and answered:

‘It isn’t.’

Garak nodded slowly, as if to himself.

‘As soon as it is politically possible, I intend to propose to the Cardassian Assembly that that law should be abolished,’ he explained. ‘Until then, I believe that those cases should be given lower priority.’

Mhevet struggled to find the right words. The idea of the Immoral Practices Act no longer being on the books made her heart pound faster, but at the same time, her training was pushing back.

Seeming to sense her internal conflict, Garak spoke again.

‘I don’t mean a complete ceasing of investigations,’ he said. ‘I was thinking rather… perhaps the constabulary’s stretched resources would do more good on operations other than raids on invert meeting-places?’

‘That is possible,’ she said. It was not untrue that the constabulary was severely underfunded, and they needed to be better at prioritising their investigations.

‘Good,’ Garak said. Then, he smiled and stood up. ‘More coffee?’

‘Yes, please.’

He refilled her cup, but left his own empty. Again, they sat in silence for a while. It was Mhevet who spoke first this time.

‘Is the Immoral Practices Act a large hurdle for Federation membership?’

Garak nodded.

‘Yes. With that law, we will not even get close to started the application process. Abolishing it is not enough in itself, but it is a step in the right direction.’

He rose and went over to the window. He seemed to be looking for something. Not finding it, he turned to face her.

‘Is it your personal belief that sexual acts between consenting persons of the same sex should be legal?’

She remembered what she had heard about Garak’s past – that he had been a member of the Obsidian Order, the best interrogator they ever trained, even, according to some, the illegitimate son of Enabran Tain himself – and wondered if she knew what she was thinking. She tried to banish the thought of Kamara from her mind. But perhaps it was not a case of her thoughts showing up on her face. She might be a high-ranking police officer, but he had the entire CIB and probably plenty of other resources she did not know about. All it would take was to put a tail on her one of the days when she took the skimmer not home but to the attic apartment that Kamara had as her home and her studio.

She pushed aside her fears.

‘They should be legal,’ she said.

Garak nodded, pleased with her answer. It was then she spotted it: the mask had slipped a little, enough that she saw something truly genuine. Relief.

The pieces fell into place now. He had as much to lose if this conversation went wrong as she did. She saw the subtle clues in his face, his clothes, his mannerisms, all of the type that by themselves were insignificant but together were telling. What was more, she remembered meeting the ambassador’s personal physician, an elderly man who came across as both delicate and implacable. She had liked him, recognising some kinship between them, but she had not thought it had anything to do with the ambassador himself. Now, what she knew meant something altogether different. She knew that arrangements had been made for Doctor Parmak to live at the official residence of the Castellan. Mhevet had thought it made sense to have a doctor on hand, in case something happened. As far as she knew, Castellan Garan had had a physician in residence too. Now, it was clear as day to Mhevet that Doctor Parmak was going to stay there not as the man tasked with ensuring Garak’s continued health, but in a far more intimate capacity.

For no longer than a second, they looked each other in the eye.

Then the spell broke, Garak clapped his hands together and stood.

‘Investigator Mhevet, this has been a most productive meeting,’ he said smoothly. ‘But I’m afraid that I have a very busy schedule.’

‘Of course.’ Mhevet rose too. ‘Thank you for the coffee, sir.’

‘You’re welcome. I’ll make sure to send over the bag I mentioned.’

‘Thank you, Ambassador.’

They shook hands. Garak walked her to the front-door, but stopped before opening it.

‘You will give some thought to the topics we have discussed?’

Mhevet nodded.

‘Of course.’

‘I appreciate it.’ Garak opened the door to her. ‘I will see you soon, I am sure.’

‘Thank you for your hospitality, sir.’

‘My pleasure.’

Mhevet descended the first steps leading to where she had parked the skimmer.

‘Oh, Investigator Mhevet?’

She turned. Garak was still standing in the doorway, an easy smile on his face.

‘Do give Kamara my regards. She’s a very talented sculptor.’

With those words, the Castellan-elect turned and went inside, leaving Mhevet staring at the closed front-door.