DISCLAIMER: Star Trek, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine and its characters are copyright Paramount and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan 1997.


(aka The Alternate Empok Nor)

The first moves in this intriguing game I now find myself engaged in were really quite simple, innocuous even. I had no idea of the fascinating possibilities which would be opened up to me as the subsequent play unfolded. It was a straightforward enough gambit by Captain Sisko when it transpired that he needed my co-operation... But to explain the situation I should perhaps go back, before I was even aware that there was a game worthy of me waiting to be played.

It had become apparent that certain components of the power systems in Deep Space Nine's infirmary were failing - Doctor Bashir had done little else but complain about the inconvenience during several of our recent lunches - and the spare parts required to effect repairs were, of course, more or less unobtainable following Cardassia's decision to ally itself with the Dominion. Suspicious minds might even have considered the possibility of sabotage being involved. But whatever the cause of the problem Chief O'Brien suggested as a solution a foray to the abandoned Cardassian station Empok Nor - a twin to the erstwhile Terok Nor, now DS9.

To give the engineer credit it was a good idea, but, as Constable Odo was quick to point out, my race does not leave its property - even that which has outlived its usefulness - without certain safeguards. And this, not unnaturally, was where I came in. A little - incentive goes a long way, as any accomplished strategist will tell you. Captain Sisko wanted my help. In return he offered me additional space for my shop, something he had learned I wanted - a fair opening exchange of moves.

Thus I found myself aboard a runabout, with four unfamiliar members of the station's Star Fleet personnel and the mechanically proficient but personally tiresome Chief O'Brien, preparing to leave for Empok Nor. It promised to be a perfectly unremarkable, even dreary, trip - until he appeared at the door of the runabout, announcing his intention to accompany us. To elaborate, by he I mean, of course, Doctor Bashir. He pointed out, reasonably enough, that our mission was crucial to the continuing operational safety of his infirmary - and by extension to the wellbeing of his patients, always the young man's paramount consideration - and that he had insisted to Captain Sisko that he be allowed to join us.

Chief O'Brien warmly welcomed the doctor's company - not that I was complaining myself, you understand. Now, why did the engineer's pleasure at Bashir's presence not surprise me? Ah, Mr O'Brien, I found myself thinking somewhat uncharitably, do you realise how transparent you are to those with eyes to see - as I pride myself that I do? Perhaps not, humans can be so adept at self-delusion! Still, be that as it may, as we left Deep Space Nine headed for Empok Nor the board was set - all the pieces now in their rightful places.

Somewhat later on our journey the good doctor was seeking a means to pass the time and so I suggested a game of kotra. He accepted the challenge readily enough, declaring that perhaps today would mark his first victory against me. I have been trying to teach Doctor Bashir the intricacies of the game for some time now, but in all honesty he simply does not have the instincts to become a true master of it. He seeks always to play defensively, unwilling to risk his pieces against the promise of future gains. It is a strategy I have never been able to understand. He treats those small counters as carefully as if they were flesh and blood men, ignoring opportunities to further his cause if they might be thrown into danger as a result of him moving onto the offensive. I, on the other hand, have no such compunction and so I found myself making steady gains against the doctor.

With my mind thus only partially occupied by the game I sought a little entertainment at Mr O'Brien's expense. Normally I would consider such behaviour beneath me, but it is a fact that certain people do bring out the worst in one! Having gently derided Doctor Bashir's defensive maneouvring on the kotra board I casually suggested that the Chief, the hero of Setlik 3, no less, might prove a more challenging opponent for me. I could sense the doctor's uneasiness at my comments - O'Brien is his friend I admit - but in spite of this I elected to pursue my strategy. As the Chief disclaimed his status as a soldier I reminded them both of the seemingly endless hours they spend together in the holosuites re-enacting ancient battles. Why would they give so much time over to these pursuits if not to indulge their aggressive instincts?

Mr O'Brien was on the defensive at once, claiming that their holosuite adventures were merely for fun; that it was a game - and, of course, I had won my point, albeit a minor one. They both realised it as I reminded them that kotra too was simply a game and that I would welcome the chance to play a man like O'Brien. For Bashir's sake I left the rest of the words unsaid, but it was clear the Chief understood my implication. He knew I wished to test his mettle - the soldier who, when faced with Cardassian opponents before, had proved himself to be quite familiar with life and death strategies...

I was not entirely surprised when he declined my invitation and so I returned my attention to Doctor Bashir instead as he pondered his next move. A stimulating companion the good doctor, and a worthy challenge intellectually I concede. However, he lacks a certain inner fire, that particular impulse to go on the offensive, to attack, which makes an accomplished soldier - or kotra player. Still, his company has provided the brightest moments in my life on Deep Space Nine and it has been the doctor's gentler traits which have made it so. He is one of those rare souls who have the grace, the trust to accept another for who not what they are. To those lesser people, like Mr O'Brien, I will always be, first and foremost, a Cardassian. Not so with Doctor Bashir, to him I have always been only Elim Garak - nothing more was important.

Even with only half my concentration focused on the kotra board I managed to defeat the doctor easily. And yet, when he looked up at me out of those wide, brown eyes with an apologetic smile on his lips and declared that he was sorry to have been such a poor opponent, why did I feel as if he nevertheless had the victory over me?

To be continued?

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