In which Bashir’s probably never going back to his James Bond holonovels.
The administration aspects of the war proceed, and the Romulans representatives are not pleased that Romulan ship repairs are delayed in favor of Klingon and Federation ships. The justification for this is that Klingon ships tend to fight harder and more tenaciously, leading to greater battle damage. To appease the Romulans, Kira orders Martok’s ship bumped. In a counter-concession, the Romulan ambassador offers to forego shore leave and leave the carousing to the Klingons, although she can’t resist turning that into a dig, too.
Garak is filling Bashir in on Romulus for his trip, presumably to the conference that Kira just mentioned. Garak was posing as a gardener on Romulus some time ago, and complains about how grey it is. Bashir will be giving talks on bioweapons, ketracel white, and medical administrata. Garak wants to make sure Starfleet isn’t letting this ball sail by, but Bashir is sure Stafleet wouldn’t do that.
Bashir wakes up that night to find Sloane in his quarters. Sloane has disabled comms and has enough of a psych profile to be pretty sure Bashir won’t call for help in an undignified fashion. Despite Bashir’s refusal to be a member of Section 31, the organization counts him among its ranks, so they have an assignment for him. It’s human-intelligence gathering, polling Romulan leadership to get a sense of their motives and goals to plan for the end of the war. The projections are that with the Cardassians occupied and the Klingons nursing their war-wounds for a decade, the Federation and the Romulan empire will be the two dominant powers, and it would be important to know where they stand.
And if you could trust Sloane in an episode named “in times of war the law falls silent” that would be both a perfectly ethical and reasonable mission. Hell, even if you didn’t know the episode title and remembered how he recruits people, you couldn’t trust him. Once Sloane leaves, Bashir grabs a phaser to go after him, but the man knows how to make an exit.
Sisko had a plan for what Bashir should do when Sloane showed up again – do what he says and try to ingratiate himself. Admiral Ross agreed, and they want to turn the inquest into Section 31 that Starfleet has quietly dropped into a pet project.
The trip to the conference is taking place on an Intrepid-class, because they had the set hanging around. Admiral Ross seems to be a Good and Loyal Officer and has never had Romulan ale due to its illegality in the Federation, despite everyone else having some and nobody really caring. Political trade embargoes, go figure. As they discuss light matters, Sloane pops in to establish himself and, apparently, test Bashir’s poker face. He’ll be micromanaging Bashir, and has a PADD with instructions for him.
Bashir has some holographic flashcards to go through. Apparently the newer non-prototype Intrepids have holo-emitters everywhere, or Sloane has a semi-portable copy. One of the people he’s studying, the head of the Tal Shiar, is opposed to the Federation alliance, which hurts him politically. One might expect the head of the intelligence services to be suspicious of an alliance based on a damaged recording and a dead senator. He’s also ill with a neurological disease. This is what Bashir is here for – make a diagnosis, without equipment, to try to confirm or deny those rumors.
Bashir’s dress uniform for this function is way less dorky than they usually are, and he manages to find Koval, the Tal Shiar leader, pretty quickly. They discuss the Quickening virus, and its vaccination potential. Well, that’s what Bashir assumed. Koval is more interested in deploying the virus. He was sitting in the front row for the lecture, too. After that, Sloane doesn’t care how interested Koval is in deploying bioweapons, he just wants to know the diagnosis. Bashir can only confirm that if Koval does have the disease, it’s very early days, and has a 25 year life expectancy. And Sloane very clearly wants to know how to… speed that along.
Bashir has a suspicion that Section 31 has an operative inside the Romulan forces, and in explaining how he knows that reveals to Admiral Ross the easiest way to trigger Koval’s disease to accelerate. Then again, if they can’t trust Admiral Ross, they’re basically already screwed in this power dynamic. Still, if I were Sloane I would have tried to bug Ross’ office.
Next thing we know, Bashir is overhearing that Admiral Ross has had an aneurysm, while Sloane toasts cheerfully. Bashir has to take his concerns to Senator Creetak. His concerns regarding the assassination attempt on Koval. To Koval’s chief political rival. Who has an unusually close working relationship with Starfleet. She confirms that the Romulans also suspect a traitor in the senate. Bashir asks for Koval’s personal database full of classified Romulan intelligence to help narrow down the suspects.
I wonder, if you actually sincerely agree to be part of Section 31, at what point they stop setting up elaborate triple-bluffs to game you into doing their dirty work and start just telling you the real plan.
Bashir tries to buy time, but only succeeds in getting Sloane to put some glue on his hand so Bashir can get a skin sample. Bashir manages to get that quickly, and afterwards get invited to a private chat with Koval. Well, “invited” may be a strong word. It’s in a bare room with a steel chair and a couple of guards and a bright light. Koval has some suspicions about Bashir’s real agenda, and has some mental scanners to help the conversation along.
Bashir’s genetic enhancements render him immune, so he’s dragged into a senate hearing that doesn’t look like it’s going well for Creetak. She’s on charges for trying to get Koval’s database, and Bashir is a witness. Here, in court, Bashir believes in the old adage that a Starfleet officer’s first duty is to the truth. I have to wonder whether Bashir indicating that he can trust Creetak is a point for or against her in this hearing. Koval, though, has another surprise witness – they’ve beaten the snot out of Sloane in addition to probing him.
Koval tells us that Sloane made up Section 31 as a front for Bashir, and in fact just works for regular old Section 31, and has a vendetta against the Tal Shiar for potentially assassinating his mentor. This puts an entirely different spin on things. This reveals Sloane to be a lone actor, and raises a lot of questions. Like ‘was he rogue when he had all that help to run Bashir through the inquisitorial wringer’ and if so, ‘has he managed to convince anyone else that Section 31 is real and in so doing, make it real.’ Also ‘just how reliable are those mind probes, anyway?’ If they can be defeated by a slightly modified human brain, can they be defeated by a trained one?
The committee finds Creetak guilty of treason, Bashir kicked out of the conference, and Sloane to be taken by the Tal Shiar and probably tortured to death. He opts to go for a weapon and get disintegrated, instead.
Looking back over the whole thing, Bashir is troubled, and goes to Admiral Ross, who’s back at work. Suspiciously so, to Bashir’s trained medical mind. Ross is, in fact, in on Sloane’s whole shebang. And Sloane is very much alive. Bashir gets his parlor scene – getting caught by the romulans is inconsistent with the Sloane that Bashir knows, but perfectly consistent with a Sloane designed to feed Romulan superiority complexes. And all the orders leaving Bashir flapping in the breeze came from Ross. Sloane was supposed to beam out just before getting shot by his accomplice – Koval, who is now on the Romulan Continuing Committee instead of Creetak.
And Ross is okay wit it because Creetak is a patriot. Ross said it before, but what that means is she’ll do what’s best for Romulus, not for the alliance. And now Koval, who has survived a ‘Federation assassination attempt’ is above reproach if he wants to reject a Dominion peace offer. Ross is okay with it because he’s sick of ordering people to their deaths. Leaving Bashir to ask what it really means to ‘save’ the Federation.
Sloane shows up for his last licks. To thank Bashir for being predictably ethical. For being the kind of person that fuels most of the Federation – and the kind of naive idiot that they exist to protect.