“His own vice-president said Palmer was soft on terrorism in his inaugural speech upon ascending to the presidency.”
Fitzpatrick held a PADD with the information he was paraphrasing to Bashir. Both men were on their way to the mess hall during their coffee break.
Julian threw up his hands almost as if he was surrendering. While Julian often had an optimistic view of the future and chose to see benign intentions in important historical figures, Raul was often more skeptical. These different views sparked interesting, and often heated, debated between the two.
“I get it, Raul,” Julian huffed. “Wayne Palmer did not measure up to his brother. David Palmer became a martyr after his assassination, coupled with the fact that the incumbent candidate was his corrupt predecessor’s vice-president.”
Their discussion was interrupted when the inside of the officer’s mess caught them off-guard. What was normally the officer’s mess was a communal bunkroom with four bunk beds lined up in a row. “What the bloody hell is this?” Fitzpatrick demanded of the four Military Assault Command Operations officers.
The MACO’s were identified by jumpsuits made of a thick black fabric that made them more resistant to phasers and hand-held plasma weapons. The three male officers’ uniforms had a gold stripe on their uniforms across the torso. The lone female, who had been facing away from Bashir and Fitzpatrick while speaking to one of the other MACO’s, turned around. Her uniform had a red stripe indicating here status as unit commander. “Raul Fitzpatrick,” she said with a smile. “I’d recognize that voice anywhere.”
Lisa Neeley rarely ever smiled, in fact almost never as far as Bashir was concerned when she served as the original Defiant’s chief security and weapons officer during the early months of the war. She spoke with a dispassionate tone of voice both on and off duty. “Captain Limis requested us, she explained. “Quarters would be close, so Commander Vaughn approved converting the mess hall and the shuttle-bay into bunkrooms.”
“So where the hell am I supposed to get a raktajino?” Fitzpatrick asked.
“That’s your problem. Klingon coffee isn’t on the top of this mission’s priority list.”
“The point is, darling, I would have appreciated being consulted about the addition of new security personnel.”
There was more to this than just a clash of personalities, Bashir began to sense. He interceded at that moment saying, “We probably should go somewhere else.”
Fitzpatrick did not budge as Neeley responded to his last remark. “Ross ordered your captain to take us aboard. Our primary mission is the rescue of the hostages. Despite what you may think, I care about those men and women.”
Bashir and Fitzpatrick left the mess hall turned bunkroom. Raul then explained to Julian that he and Lisa were romantically involved for three months before the war started while serving together on the Veracruz. She had seemed distant, possibly a fear of commitment from the risks of serving in Starfleet. When the relationship became more intense, the war began and Lisa did not wish to become too emotionally invested.
Because the mess hall was also used for staff meetings, Limis’s briefing was convened on the bridge. All senior staff officers were seated at their stations. Vaughn occupied the center seat. Limis was operating a control console next Dax’s communications station to control the viewscreen.
“Since we are entering a volatile sector of space,” Limis began, “Admiral Ross suggested you all be familiarized with the factions we’ll be dealing with, and Captain Vaughn agrees,” She never understood that Earth military tradition of referring to a ship’s CO as captain regardless of rank, but it seemed convenient for this mission.
“The new head of state,” she continued, as the image of a middle-aged Cardassian male appeared on the viewscreen, “is Alon Ghemor, First Castellan of the provisional government.”
“Tekenny Ghemor’s nephew according to Garak in one of his communiqués,” said Bashir. “He’s the leader of the Reunion Project.”
“Correct, Doctor,” Limis replied. “’Plain and simple’ Garak knows almost everyone worth knowing. Both Ghemors played important roles in the dissident movement.
“Cardassian culture and politics preaches loyalty to the state. In theory, the military and intelligence answered to a civilian legislative body. Over time, the Detapa Council was just a puppet of the Central Command and the Obsidian Order. The decision to free Bajor was controversial in that the Council had no direct authority over the military in these matters. Tekenny Ghemor argued that the people had no obligations to follow two organizations with no legitimate political authority, and used his position in the Central Command to encourage dissent. Natima Lang represented the radical wing of the Underground.”
“This is all very interesting, “said Vaughn, “but what does this have to do with the current political situation?”
“I’m getting to that,” Limis explained. “The members of the Cardassian Underground who eluded capture when the Dominion took over formed a rebel government. The younger Ghemor’s ascension raised concern that his leadership will not fairly represent other factions.”
Limis could see a look of fascination on Bashir’s face. Julian had been intrigued and frustrated at not being able to get straight answers from Garak. Limis wondered if she should let Bashir take over the briefing.
“The other major political faction is the Directorate. They form an influential minority representing conservative elements within the military. The Directorate and the Reunion Project held a voting competition with the Reunion Project winning four of six districts. The Directorate has since tried to use the principles of democracy to its advantage.
“The xenophobic group called the True Way is the more radical branch of the Directorate.” An image of Gul Revok appeared on the viewscreen. “Revok is one of the architects of an effort to remove all outside influences. The True Way played a role in making the Cardassian Union a Dominion protectorate. We have limited intelligence on which members remain loyal to the Dominion.
“Finally, the Oralian Way has become more prominent in recent months.”
“Garak told me about them,” Bashir chimed in. “They’re a deeply spiritual group, persecuted for what are considered primitive beliefs. Garak knows of a few Oralians willing to aide in our rescue.”
“Of course,” Limis warned, “some Oralians are out for retribution. A few religious extremists suicide bombed a supply depot last week.”
“So we’re dealing with Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds," Rashid offered.
“Pardon?” Vaughn asked, not quite sure of the analogy to Earth history.
“The two sects of Islam,” Rashid explained, “and Kurdish separatists in Iraq were held at peace at gunpoint under Saddam Hussein. Once he was removed, chaos erupted among those factions making a negotiated peace difficult.”
“Then we should probably familiarized ourselves with that aspect of Earth history,” Fitzpatrick sarcastically suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea actually,” Vaughn suggested. “ETA at Cardassia Prime, Ensign Tenmei?”
“Four hours, thirty-six minutes,” Tenmei responded.
Ezri had been skimming through Federation historical database files as Vaughn suggested. How did Fitzpatrick not see the historical parallels Rashid pointed to, she wondered. Three factions with three separate agendas were kept in check by a dictatorial government. With that government gone, unresolved conflicts resumed.
She came across something peculiar while looking at information on prominent terrorist leaders in Earth’s Middle East region. She summoned Bashir, Rashid, and Fitzpatrick to her station. “You’ll never believe what I just came across when I looked up Hamri al-Assad.”
A photograph was included in the biographical profile of the long-dead Assad. The face looked all too familiar. Pictured was Bashir with a full beard.
“That’s you, Julian,” Rashid observed.
“Or rather, an ancestor,” the wide-eyed Bashir corrected. “I had no idea.”
“In orbit of Cardassia Prime,” Tenmei reported from the helm. “Castellan Ghemor has approved our request for beamdown.”
“Very well,” Vaughn acknowledged. “Inform Captain Limis and Lieutenant Neeley to join us in the transporter room. Away Team with me.”
Ezri vacated her station to assume the center seat. Fitzpatrick took one last glance at the on-screen display before exiting the bridge with Vaughn, Bashir, and Rashid.
A thought went through his mind that he quickly dismissed. He remembered the notorious superhuman Khan Noonien Singh went into suspended animation after his downfall. Could Assad have done the same? Were Julian Bashir and Hamri al-Assad the same person? Of course not. Assad had died in his attempt to assassinate one of his enemies.