In which Cal shoots Ben, Ben shoots Cal, and Quark earns a place in the diplomatic corps.
Where we left off: A cardassian ship blew up and Sisko’s got to investigate. A vulcan is trying to buy weapons from Quark. Dukat showed up to guide Sisko to The Truth(tm) and there’s a big old fight regarding the Cardassian borders and the colonists who didn’t get to choose which side of them to live on. We ended with Dukat getting kidnapped by The Maquis and Sisko finding out that one of their leaders is Sisko’s old friend.
Sisko makes a crack about seeing his friend out of uniform that seems a little more than a crack. It’s personal. This is important. Cal Hudson admires what the colonists have done without Federation backing, and is a little disillusioned about Federation Central Politics out in the bordermarches. Sisko is still here to take Dukat back and avoid a war, and Cal no longer does.
Something to note here – they still use a lot of idioms that shouldn’t mean anything anymore. The treaty is ‘just a piece of paper’ this far out. Sisko is going to put Cal ‘behind bars.’ Chill guys, you’ve used force fields for like a century.
Anyway, Cal has despaired of finding a diplomatic solution because Cardassian CentCom is smuggling weapons. Sisko reasonably offers to go get proof of this, but Cal refuses to even allow the attempt, and it’s pretty clear that Cal isn’t interested in a diplomatic solution that has a chance of working. He doesn’t come across as reasonable fatigue with a system which doesn’t work, it comes off as somewhere between self-deluded rationalization and outright disregard for justice in favor of vengeance. With compromise impossible, Cal stuns everyone and moves out, because even as beyond the pale as he is, he can’t quite kill a Starfleet officer who happens to also be his best friend.
When Sisko gets back to DS9, diplomatic things are happening. Nacheyev is on-site to deliver the high-level diplomatic overview and to throw shade at Odo. Also to disparage someone’s decision to let colonists remain on the Cardassian side of the Demilitarized Zone. Looks like the two of them can bond over their distaste for Picard. The funny part is that Nacheyev tells Sisko to remind the Maquis that they are citizens of the Federation, when I’m pretty sure that the ones who remained on the Cardassian side did so under a structure that forced them to renounce said citizenship.
When Nacheyev leaves, Sisko starts ranting at Kira because she happens to be there. The problem is that Earth has no poverty, disease, or war, and has completely forgotten that anyone else deals with such things. Sisko’s very much a contrarian – preaching Federation gospel to Cal and his Maquis, and complaining about the realities of the border to Nacheyev. Fortunately, now he’ll have the chance to vent at Quark, who’s been caught by Odo in connection with the kidnapping of Dukat. This is the kind of trouble so bad that he’s even confessing to the arms dealing, or at least making the introductions. He’s all cooperation now.
The Cardassian Legate Parn, who is very obviously a desk jocky. Parn has been sent to tell Sisko and the Federation that Dukat has been supplying weapons to the Cardassian settlers in strict defiance of Central Command’s edicts, and they are ready to wash their hands of him. Central Command has no desire to go to war with the Federation. We can read this one of two ways – as truth, or as Dukat being a scapegoat so that CentCom can continue to use the treaty for whatever purposes they had in mind. Recall that Cal doesn’t trust their motives as far as he could throw the station. Then again, he’s biased too. Isn’t it fun not having a point of view to take as gospel?
Violence is escalating on the borders, and O’Brien has plotted the course of the ship that took Dukat, but they’ve passed close to an improbably large number of M-class planets. Kira argues against wasting time and effort finding Dukat. It’s easy to see her point – would you leap to rescue Space-Hitler if he were kidnapped by, say, Aldo Raine and his commandos? I have to say I probably wouldn’t. Sisko’s counter is, of course, that if Central Command wants Dukat dead, he’s probably worth more to the Federation alive.
The Vulcan, Sakonna, is mind melding at Dukat. It’s proving difficult, as of course it must be. If Cardassian children are really given mental exercises to train them up with eidetic memories, they probably also have occlumancy interrogation resistance lessons too. Dukat doesn’t seem to be particularly bothered basically at all, and start taunting them with how good Cardassians are at interrogation by comparison. Let’s not forget that one of the Maquis didn’t survive Cardassian interrogation. He’s basically daring them to start cutting on him.
It is at this point that Sisko shows up with Odo and Bashir in tow. Sisko refuses to open fire until Dukat forces his hand, and he sends a message to Cal Hudson with the one remaining Maquis that there’s still time for Cal Hudson to come back. Agian, Sisko is taking a big cosmopolitical mess and reducing it down to a personal thing. Offering Hudson clemency isn’t going to do much unless it comes with a blanket pardon for everyone else – Cal may have abandoned the uniform, but he probably maintained the collectivist morality.
Dukat talks a bit about how Cardassian trials work. They are entirely for show. The verdict is decided before the trial begins, and it only occurs at all to show the people justice triumphing over evil. When asked about what happens if an innocent person is brought to trial by mistake, Dukat assures us that this never happens. Cardassians don’t make mistakes. Whether Dukat believes his own hype is left as an exercise to the viewer. In return, Sisko gets a rather pernicious delight out of telling Dukat that Central Command was going to put him on trial for supplying arms.
Assigment: Compare and contrast Dukat’s speech here to Marritza/ Darheel /Marritza’s show-stopper earlier. Dukat was soft for not killing all the Bajorans when he had the chance. And the implication is that if Central Command had bothered to keep Dukat in the loop about their plans, he wouldn’t have come to Sisko in the first place. He’s only sticking around because he’s on the outs with CentCom.
Quark’s list indicates that the Maquis are getting ready to launch a larger attack, and after trying to interrogate Sakonna, I’m pretty sure Odo is in love. Dukat also offers some hitherto-unknown information about Cardassian smuggling intermediaries. Like any good evil empire, they have third parties to act as intermediaries when goods need to be transferred under the radar. The Zeppolites, in this case, have never been caught, due to sensor-reflecting hulls. They also have Warp 9.8m but aren’t a major power because their shields can be menaced by a Federation runabout.
Sisko gives them a warning shot and an ultimatum, and Dukat steps in when the Zeppolite captain resists, and takes more perverse pleasure it watching Kira try to figure him out.
Quark chats with Sakonna in the brig, and teaches her a little something about logical business operations as they apply to war and politics. If Sakonna claims her faction wants peace, they should pay only what they have to for it. Since peace is cheap now, what with the Cardassians having been caught smuggling weapons and having their own reasons for not wanting to provoke the Federation, they should buy now instead of paying even more in ships and lives. Apparently, Vulcans do not get economics lessons. This makes sense, because economics is by and large a farce of logic because nobody is actually a rational actor (if people were by nature rational actors, you wouldn’t need an economic system). Ferengi philosophy may not be broad, but in this area it’s deep.
With that laid out, Sakonna has offered as much as she has on the Maquis next target – a weapons depot hidden in a civilian population. We don’t know where, but Sisko has a plan. It involves going back to that familiar-looking border planet, bluff super hard, get ambushed, and deliver Cal Hudson’s uniform. Which Cal vaporizes in a final parting shot (ba dum tssss).
Reminder: Sisko is a commander. Nacheyev kept a much closer eye on Picard’s policy decisions, and Picard was a full-on captain, Starfleet celebrity, and accomplished diplomat. Two years ago, Sisko was considering resignation before some farmers made him the space-pope. He’s now being trusted to run a delicate military-political operation. Things like this are why it’s vitally important not to file your report until after the action.
His plan pans out, at least in the beginning, and he tries one more time to talk Hudson and their Federation strike craft down from the brink. I point this out mainly because outside of the Nova Squadron incident we’ve literally never seen the Federation embrace the doctrine of small maneuverable platforms before. They’re probably easier to maintain than full-on starships for the border colonies. The engagement between strike fighter and runabout turns into a stalemate and Cal runs off with Dukat angrily trying to get Sisko to kill him. The situation is resolved for today, but notably this isn’t a resolution to anything broader. The Maquis are still out there. The war isn’t breaking out today, but it seems just as likely tomorrow.