In which the bill for paradise comes due.
Sisko narrates a personal log, something of such moment that he doesn’t even know what day it is. He’s tired, and has clearly been too busy to stop for long enough that he’s not sure what the first digit of the stardate should be. It’s been two weeks, but clearly feels like longer. And he’s done something terrible, that he can’t tell anyone. So he’s going to tell his diary. Sisko tells us that things ‘started going wrong’ during one of the regular casualty reports, because the war is going badly enough that they have those now. Every week, someone loses somebody, not even necessarily killed in action, just missing. And it’s made worse because the Romulans have a non-agression pact with the Dominion.
Bashir cuts right to the heart of the matter. If the Romulans are fine with the Dominion abusing their nonagression treaty, the Federation needs to bring the Romulans in so that border closes. That trifecta of power would help the Federation and the Klingons, but the Romulans have no reason to join up… yet. So Sisko decides… decided… to do something about it.
He discusses strategy with Dax, and determines that the approach here is to somehow convince the Romulans that joining the Federation and Klingons will be ultimately beneficial to themselves. The two of them walk through various exercises, and come to the decision that what they need is proof that the next stage of the Dominion’s plan to take over the Alpha Quadrant would be to turn on the isolated Romulans. The question is – how could anyone find such evidence? If anyone was so foolish as to commit it to data, it would be buried in high-security, on Cardassia prime.
Enter Garak, who wishes he could help, really, but it simply isn’t possible. Not without calling in every single favor he has and cause a huge mess and a lot of deaths. Garak asks if Sisko is prepared for that, and Sisko responds he’ll do whatever it takes. WIth that proclamation, Garak is in, and Present Sisko, looking back, declares that this was the first stone he used to pave the road to Hell.
In the middle of the night, Sisko gets word that the Dominion had invaded Betazed. The Federation was caught completely with its pants down, and this positioning puts the Dominion within striking distance of other core Federations worlds. And Betazed was lightly defended, because Starfleet Intelligence deemed it outside of striking range of the Dominion supply lines. I guess there’s a reason Sisko’s not going through them.
Garak has made progress, of a sort – everyone he reached out to was eager to help, but every one of them died within a day of contact. Dominion internal security is quite tight, particularly after their Ketracel facility was destroyed. However, this is not the time to give up. Garak has a backup plan – fake the evidence. Present Sisko thinks on this moment as another chance he had to stop it all from spiraling out of control, but Past Sisko didn’t take that chance.
Their target is Vreenak, a key player in Romulan-Dominion political intrigues. He’s also a strong pro-Dominion voice. Garak wants to secretly divery Vreenak to DS9 for a meeting. There, they will show Vreenak a secret holo-recording of a Dominion meeting planning the invasion of Romulus. It will be suspected of being a forgery, but they’ll use a super-special write-only secure datastick manufactured under the tightest of security on Cardassia Prime. When he examines it, he will find out it’s genuine… at least, the datarod will be genuine once they obtain it. The recording will be a forgery. And Sisko will probably get Starfleet approval, not least because Lwaxana is almost certainly already halfway to Starfleet headquarters with the Sacred Chalice of Riix.
Sisko will, however, need to (and immediately does) rescue the forger, Graython, from Klingon Death Row. The forger is kind of an unpleasnat person, but he’s got a working relationship with Garak. The kind that abruptly ends all the questions, at least until Graython stabs Quark after a drunken altercation where Quark came to the defense of one of his Dabo girls. Sisko wants it kept quiet, but if Quark presses charges Odo will have to follow up. Thus, Sisko must make a deal with Quark. An extremely distasteful deal, that made Past Sisko start to suspect he’d made the wrong choice. But then he got another casualty list. We’re halfway to Sisko making his confession.
Garak may or may not have rigged Graython’s door to explode in order to keep him out of trouble. Garak’s source for the datarod is a man who wants two hundred liters of biomimetic gel. A substance which half a gram can buy a whole ore shipment. A substance used to make biological weapons, and for which the Federation is the only manufacturer. Two hundred liters going to the kind of shady character who can deal in stolen high-security datarods is a big, big deal. Garak suspects genetic experimentation, in fact. But this is the only source. Sisko is reduced to haggling over the quantity. Bashir is not particularly pleased about packaging 85 liters of the stuff for unknown purposes and demands an order in writing and notes an objection in his log.
The forgery looks good, albiet with some personal touches from Garak to fill in some petty bickering between Weyoun and Damar. The program is satisfactory just in time for Vreenak’s arrival. Sisko’s also keeping Graython under supervision until the datastick is accepted. The forger’s worry is the kind of thing that a seasoned operative should pay more attention to, but perhaps they’re too pressed for time regardless.
Whatever happens, Starfleet agreed to the plan, so Sisko isn’t in trouble for lying to a foreign Senator. Sisko will be occupying him in the wardroom while Garak will search the ship for anything else of use. When Sisko brings Vreenak’s ship into the docking bay, it’s fully cloaked until the docking bay closes over it. Handy, that.
Vreenak is certainly up on his records of Sisko, as well as his history of who properly gets the blame for starting the war. He’s also doing that thing foreign powers do in order to piss off Federation officers to get them to tip their hands. Sisko’s first attempt is ‘hey, if you joined us we could make better blue brandy.’ Mostly as a gentle barb. Vreenak states that what is most important is that the Federation isn’t prepared to do whatever it takes to win the war. After this, Sisko lays down the real argument, and Vreenak is, at least, willing to listen to talk of an existential threat from the tiger they’re riding. Thus, the datarod, and the record ending with the official Cardassian seal. Vreenak asks to examine the datarod, but he’s not smug anymore.
So Present Sisko relates all the pacing he did waiting for Vreenak to verify the datarod. Failure comes with all kinds of ramifications, like the Romulans possibly joining the Dominion outright. And unfortunately for Sisko, it is, in fact, a fake. Vreenak leaves in a huff, or maybe a minute and a huff. Sisko made all those compromises for nothing. Though, at the next casualty report, things are looking up – nobody they directly knew got killed.
Starfleet Intelligence also reports that Senator Vreenak’s shuttle blew up, and the Tal Shiar suspect that the Dominion blew up the shuttle. Sisko understands what happened immediately, and goes off to deck Garak. Garak also killed the forger, because if you have a loose thread, you cauterize it. Also, the Tal Shiar investigation will find the datarod, burned but intact. Burned just enough to make it impossible to tell that it’s a forgery. And this is why Sisko went to Garak in the first place. He just didn’t know it.
What’s the price of billions of lives, after all? Was it worth it? Sisko, dictating his log after the formal declaration of war between the Romulans and the Dominion, decides that in the end, it was. And the darkness we’ve been seeing grow in him shows exactly how far he’ll go. Although we can ask ourselves just who he’s trying to convince, in the moments before he erases the log.