Standing above the replimat on Deep Space 9, Nereda lamented the extraordinary discomfort of the Cardassian military uniforms of the era. Compared to the polymorphic weave of her time, the armored pauldrons and chestpiece were horribly constricting. Of course, Cardassian uniforms of that period were designed partly for functionality and partly for intimidation value, not for comfort. Subordinates who complained were simply never promoted – after all, if you couldn’t deal with the minor annoyance of body armor, you could hardly be trusted with important problems. The shoulder assembly in particular chafed against she scaly ridges along the sides of her neck. She tried to put it out of her mind for the moment. Commander Drij, in the replimat below, had the opposite problem: the Orion attire of the day had distinctly less clothing. Nereda ultimately decided that both problems were bad, just in different ways. At least there was still local kanar.
Drij’s smooth voice broke her from her reverie. “Eyes on target,” Drij whispered, transmitted into Nereda’s hidden earpiece. Nereda shifted to see where Drij was looking, and double-checked her route to the lift that would take her down to the floor level.
Drij stood fluidly and moved to intercept the interloper, who was, to all appearances, a nebbishy human man in a multicolored jacket of apparently Ferengi design and a crumpled hat. The man was jowly and ambling, looking very much like he didn’t know where, exactly, he was going. Nereda headed promptly for the lift.
As Nereda stepped out of the lift she saw that Drij was already at work. Having intercepted the man, she had engaged him conversation, which came clearly through her earpiece.
“Excuse me, Mr. Borucki? Barry Waddle said that I could find you here,” Drij said in an inviting tone.
Though Nereda was still in the lift and couldn’t see his reaction, she heard him say, “Um… yes? Barry… I haven’t seen him in quite some time. I think he was headed to Cardassia, actually.”
“Quite so,” said Drij in a soothing voice. “I just wanted to talk about a little business with you, though.”
The lift completed its trip and Nereda stepped out briskly. She whispered into her implanted transmitter, “Bad legate en route.”
Drij casually stepped to one side and smoothly took Borucki’s arm, thereby obscuring Nereda’s angle of arrival. Nereda came up behind the man and said sternly, “Mr. Bork!”
The fellow nearly jumped, grabbed his hat comically, and attempted to turn to face her, but Drij had his arm firmly in her grip. “Borucki,” he said, half exasperated, half frightened. “It’s Borucki.”
“I’ve no time to waste on the particulars of your human name,” said Nereda with a snap. “Your accomplice Waddle was intercepted on Cardassia Prime, trying to pass off low-grade ore as refined trellium. We have him incarcerated and he has pointed to you as part of his supply chain.”
The man finally pulled away from Drij and, looking flustered, he said, “I… I don’t… Barry? I haven’t seen him in ages!”
Nereda practically snarled as she said, “We have recording of you meeting with him less than a month ago. Where were you headed now? If you give up the rest of the supply chain, Cardassian justice might overlook your presence. If you leave immediately afterward.”
Borucki replied, “I was just going to the tailor! This jacket is awful.”
Nereda pushed him and Drij pulled, dragging him across the aisle as passersby scrambled out of the way. The pair manhandled Borucki into Garak’s shop.
“Ladies! Sir! I’d ask how I can help you today, but from the look of that jacket, the question answers itself,” the tailor said smoothly as he emerged seemingly from nowhere. He hesitated for the merest fraction of a second, then said, “And have we met before, legate?” to Nereda.
Nereda paused. She had run afoul of Garak once before, and it was prior to this event in his timeline – but by subjective time it had been years for him. She decided to redirect the conversation and turned to face him. “Stay out of this, tailor,” she said. “This is legal business and you don’t want to get entangled.”
Garak blinked, then said, “I dare say with that kind of flirting I would be required to give you a discount. Let me show you a few choice pieces.” With that he casually pulled over a clothing rack that conveniently obscured the entire scene from outside view.
Borucki blanched as he realized that he was boxed in. He looked to Drij and said, “Uh, lady, you know Barry, right? You can help sort this out, right?”
Drij gave him a sad half-smile as she put a hand on her hip and said, “Actually, I’m with her.” She gestured leisurely to Nereda, then leaned in and whispered, “But if you just tell her what she wants to know this might be simpler.”
Nereda watched his pupil and nostrils dilate slightly as Drij’s narcotic pheromones took effect on the human. Assuming her “all business” posture, Nereda said, “Tell me who is Barry’s supplier for the trellium.”
Borucki stammered momentarily, then said, “It’s an Andorian merchant named Theless, operates near the old Delphic Expanse area. But I’m not part of the supply chain! I don’t know anything about that business!” Borucki wrung his hands miserably, then appealed to Drij once more. “You seem nice, can’t you help me out?”
Drij patted Borucki’s chest and said, “You already helped yourself, mister Borucki. We’re just following wherever the leads take us.”
Nereda snorted and said, “Don’t leave the station until we confirm the existence of Theless. You will remain here for at least the next forty-eight hours. Don’t make me come find you.”
Garak puckered his lips in a slightly amused fashion and turned to deal with some imaginary lint on the clothing rack.
Borucki nodded his head and said, “Thank you! Thank you! I won’t! You won’t!” Then, with a half-hearted smile, he elbowed his way past Drij and Nereda and back out to the promenade.
“Well,” said Garak, “Good luck in your continued manhunt. When you need that uniform fitted a bit better, drop in again.”
Nereda paused, then decided not to push her luck. With the Cardassian memory, Garak almost certainly remembered her. Best not to contaminate the timeline any further. She assumed a haughty pose and pointedly ignored him as she strode out of his shop. Drij followed, and the pair quickly stepped into one of the lifts. Drij activated her transponder and both of them vanished out of time.
In the operations room on New Khitomer, Drij smirked as Nereda reviewed the results of their incursion. “Minimal alteration,” said Nereda. “This time Mister Borucki survives, and he never even realizes that he was carrying another bomb for Arne Darvin.”
Drij said, “I wish we could’ve gotten him somewhere other than Garak’s. You know he’s too risky to be around.”
Nereda rolled her eyes and said, “He’s charming to everyone, Drij. And even if he doesn’t know who we are or what we are doing, he knows enough to recognize a covert operation when he sees it. We could count on him to help protect us from prying eyes and… you know why I did that and you’re just teasing me now, aren’t you.”
“Pretty much,” said Drij with a shrug. The Klingon uniform that she had changed back into gave off the creaking of fresh leather. “I will admit it is a far better solution than trying to seduce Borucki.”
“Arguable,” said Nereda. “If he had to be killed in a shuttle explosion instead, it would still be a better way to keep the timeline intact.”
Drij said, “I won’t argue the morality of it. We both know that temporal incursions can’t be bound by utilitarian morality but rather by risk minimization. If he dies but it keeps the timeline from unraveling, that’s the price that he has to pay. Us, too. We get the best we can, while avoiding the big changes that would turn the Temporal Cold War into a full-on hot war.”
Nereda said with a hint of sharpness, “It’s not as if he had a Genesis device in his pocket. Just a high compression triolic bomb that would’ve destroyed the Orbs as well as taking out a large chunk of the Promenade. Certainly, Commander, we could contain that kind of damage.”
Drij chuckled at Nereda’s tone and replied, “Oh, Garak’s been a bad influence on you. Now you’re flirting with everyone. Sure, it’s good that we prevented the loss of life, but we’re lucky. Not every situation we go into will be able to bear the strain of that kind of change. As our missions with unwitting catspaws go, though, this was straightforward. Remove bomb, protect integrity of all time from the possibility of retroactively removing the influence of the Prophets from Deep Space Nine and leaving Arne Darvin with the only functioning Orb.”
Nereda glanced back to Drij and said, “By the way, where did you hide the bomb after you picked his pocket? You didn’t exactly have a lot of places to conceal it.”
Drij straightened, smiled, and said, “That’s my secret – Orion’s prerogative.” The smile turned into a smirk as she headed for the door, trailing off with, “See you for raktajino tomorrow!”
Nereda grumbled under her breath, “Now I know how Ben feels when I taunt him.” She glanced at the computer console again, then said to herself, “And where did I leave my mission recorder?”
In the 24th century, on Deep Space Nine, Garak twisted a small metal cylinder between his fingers. He produced a piece of twisted wire marked with very tiny circuits and tapped the cylinder, which emitted a slight chime.
“Let’s see what you have to say, shall we, my dear?” he said nonchalantly as he started to download the contents of the mission data recorder that he’d lifted from Nereda during the altercation.