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Infection

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The unknown virus, in its clear specimen receptacle, is beautiful. It is a perfect, elegant killer. There is nothing unnecessary in the tiny bit of biology. Less than life, but more than the mix of chemicals that shape its composition. The deadly little bit of not-quite-life is displayed on my computer screen, in artificial color, to highlight all of its lovely architecture. It almost seems a shame to expose it to the radiation that will destabilize its proteins.

The disease is rare, only a handful of people have fallen victim, although, many more have been exposed. There is not even a name for it yet. Cardassians love to classify, and document, and name things. Soon enough they will have a label for it, but for now, I am the only one that knows about the secret killer in their midsts. I don’t mind letting things remain nameless. It started in the sparsely populated mountains of the Northern Continent. It is going to spread like a wildfire through the decimated world. The war has left the survivors on Cardassia malnourished, without shelter, clean water, or proper medical care. This little piece of orphan DNA, will likely double the Dominion War’s death toll, the first year.

I do not care much, one way or the other, about Cardassia. Species develop, and die off every day. The universe is a cruel place. The Cardassians have a unique literary history, and some particularly vivid paintings, but I have no personal concern about them. I do have an interest in Jules, and he has an interest in Cardassia. In addition to his universal hatred of suffering and death, he is in love with a Cardassian. Garak left him alone on the space station, to return to his people. And Jules is failing to move on. He is spectacularly bewitched by this man.

I collect the documentation and prepare to find Jules. I need a way to approach him, that will annoy him the least. As children we were devout confidants, he was my first, and only friend. Now he finds my presence uncomfortable, I remind him too much of his more flexible morality. He does not mind so much, what I do, and he hates that he does not mind it. I like his goodness, it is an enduring quality. He slips sometimes, as all things do, but he always returns to that single consistent trait. He wants to help, to improve, to benefit. He is an idealist all the way to his soul.

I don’t object to staying away from him. I follow his name in Starfleet’s records, I read the papers he publishes. They were always interesting, but since his augmentation was discovered, they have become genius. I may also be reading his personal messages. And his private log. I can give him space, but I can’t just stop being concerned about him. He gets himself into an abnormal amount of trouble. His mind is flexible, he finds patterns and relationships in biology that are invisible to everyone else. For his sake, I hope his curiosity, and medical brilliance, will be enough to find a way to stop this oncoming plague.

I have seen him in person a very few times since Adigeon Prime, only twice in fact. The last time, he called me for help, and came to stay with me for a few months. He was uncharacteristically quite during that period. His usual sparkle was dimmed. I am not sure if it was because of his, admittedly expected, rejection from the Federation, or his lingering anger at my shooting of his paramour. To be fair, Jules shot him once too. It was just a stun, but he hit his head on the door, and sliced it quite deeply. I had no way of knowing he would stumble around bleeding for hours. He had hidden a transmitter in the room with him. I assumed he would simply call for help. If his Garak dies of some post-war pestilence, that could have been stopped, Jules will likely loose that sparkle forever. The thought of it leaves me feeling... something.

I dock my little ship with falsified records, and make my way to his quarters. He is not there, so I let myself in, to wait. His rooms are filled with relics and tokens, I find his stuffed bear, Kukalaka on the bed. “Hello little friend” I wave to him. I have known Kukalaka almost as long as I have known Jules. He had the bear with him the first time we met. It was only a day after his procedure. I crept through the air ducts to catch a glimpse of the boy that had been brought in by his parents. He was laying across the large hospital bed running his fingers along a paper astronomical book. When the nurses left the ward for the night, I jumped from the air duct and sat on his bed.

I liked him immediately. He was kind and eager. He was like nothing I had ever experienced. We read his book together each night. In the beginning, I read to him while he offered thoughts on the shapes, and colors, of the pictures. By the time he left he was reading it to me, describing the phenomena he had seen on his trips with his parents. At that time I had not yet been outside the hospital walls. He left me the book and I read it and reread it. I had many other, more complex textbooks, but this one was forbidden, that made it special. It was the first gift I had ever received. It was lost when the hospital burned down. Well, when I burned the hospital down.

Jules is upset. Perhaps I should have sent him a message, to warn him I was coming. In retrospect, that would have been a good idea. He is pacing his bedroom talking about “respect”, and “privacy”, and “putting him in an awkward situation”. He probably would not like to know how much of his privacy I actually invade. When he has finished his monologue , I ask why he did not go to Cardassia to assist with the relief effort. I do not understand what is tying him to this station. His answer is vague, I don’t think he knows the answer.

I suppose I might as well get to the business at hand. I pull out the padd full of files and show him the virus. “Where did you get this?” He asks. That is not really the right question. I flew to Cardassia and collected the sample myself. A volunteer doctor from Vulcan mentioned, in one of his reports, a Cardassian woman dying. He believed it was a mutated version of a common virus. It pinged my Cardassian communications alert, on possible viral mutations. The doctors were overworked and even a meticulous Vulcan was bound to overlook something. He diagnosed it as dePar disease, a common childhood illness that is very readily transmitted by touch and only rarely fatal. It was clearly not dePar. I found several other similar reports, and made a slightly clandestine visit to the planet. It is not really hard to sneak onto a planet with no security to speak of. They only have one working satellite. “I came across it in some communications I was monitoring” I answer. It is nearly the truth.

He spends the rest of the night, pouring over the information. I am reminded of him as a child with his paper picture book. I let him take his time. “This is going to kill millions of people.” Is his final, early morning pronouncement. “Yes, probably” He glares me for a moment, and goes back to the padd. “If this information is correct, the disease is undetectable for months, and is extremely transmittable during that time.” “Yeah.” “I have to...I have to warn them” He is becoming distressed. “I have to contact Elim.” I return to my original question “Why didn’t you go with him to Cardassia?” “Claire, its complicated” he doesn’t want to talk about it. I suspect it isn’t very complicated at all.

If he goes to his superior officer with the information I gave him, he will have to tell them where he got it. He is able to keep his position on the station, despite his augmentations, in part because he is “safe”. He is the safe augment, the good augment, their augment. If they knew he was fraternizing with a “bad” augment, he would be much more suspect. I am certainly the thing they fear. I don’t want to take over the federation; that sounds tedious. Instead I nudge them gently into the shape I want. An assassination here, and a misdirection there, is enough to keep them from my door, and that is all I really want from them. A kidnapping and some blackmail allowed Jules to return to his beloved space station. I am an apathetic monster.

Once he begins talking about his Cardassian, he seems unable to stop. I already know most of what he reveals. His personal log is a treasure of his deepest secrets, especially if he has been drinking. “Garak just left, he told me about it less than thirty minutes before he caught a shuttle.” “Ha, that sounds familiar” He is not pleased with my comparison. “I’ve written him, but I never hear back.” “Maybe he is desperately trying to survive, while rebuilding his entire world. Also I don't think they have reliable communications yet.” He knows all of this. “It’s been a year”, he adds lamely. I am going to have to be a little more aggressive to keep him on schedule. There is a Romulan science vessel that came across an interesting piece of technology, on a barren asteroid. I intend to get a peek when they stop at the Romulan outpost, near my little mining planet. I have three days.

“Jules Bashir stop feeling sorry for yourself.” His eyebrows arch in surprise. “The man you love, left you here, on this station, with your cushy job, and your replicators, and your jumja stick stand. You have running water, and temperature controls, and clean clothes. Of course he didn’t ask you to go with him. He loves you. He would never ask you to give up the life you live here, to suffer on a destroyed world.” He looks forlorn. “Have you seen the news feeds about Cardassia? It’s been a year, and they haven’t even finished burying their dead.” He has his hand over his mouth now. His eyes are downcast. “The plague that is coming down that mountain, is going to decimate the remaining population. Are you going to watch it happen from here, or go help them?” He is already standing, gathering padds and instruments from the table in front of him. “I have to talk to Kira” he says suddenly, “I’ll be right back.” He nearly runs out the door. Ah, it seems I am back on schedule.

In the end it takes him less than 26 hours to be ready to leave. The station is not as busy now, and his position is mostly research. Most of his friends have moved on, or died, so he has very little to stop him from leaving. Kira agrees to store his belongings until he returns. He warns her it may be a few months. He has a large amount of vacation time saved up. He decides to use that first, then ask for a leave of absence when he is on Cardassia. That will make it more difficult for them to refuse. We both know he will not return. He packs a bag with clothing, his bear, and a few of his personal padds.

On a shelf, next to photos of some of his crew mates, I spot the box I had given him when he stayed with me. I pick it up and toss it to him. “I couldn’t figure out what it is” he admits. “Just hang on to it.” He slips it into his bag and we head for my ship. He leaves the station quietly. We slip out of the docking ring, into the ship, and begin the process of taking off.

During the flight, a few messages are sent, one to the Orion contact, and another to the contact Garak used when he worked on Deep Space 9. He gets no reply. He sends several more to the medical volunteer centers. These do get a reply, but they are garbled and damaged. We make a short detour to stop at a Ferengi supply station. Jules has a few credits saved and I have some interesting, and useless technology to trade. In the end we have most of what he needs to do research in the middle of a devastated planet. Power supplies, water filters, an array of medical devises, a tiny stasis unit, a rather nice, portable, medical grade replicator, and number of antiviral drugs that are more likely to be be suited to Cardassian physiology. As an afterthought he takes twenty cases of emergency rations, and chocolate bars.

He is chatty for the remainder of the trip. He talks his way through possible treatments for the virus. It is a stealthy thing, extremely transmittable in the early stages, but nearly undetectable, and always deadly to Cardassians. It does not seem to be able to survive in humans, at least from my testing. When Jules is focused he is tenacious. The very universe bends, just a little, around him. I find myself becoming ensnared in his desire to help these people. I do not care for it.

We land at the station, in the capital. Despite their recent ruin, bureaucracy still thrives here, it takes several hours to be allowed to dock, and another one before we can leave the ship. I must admit I admire their dedication to cultural norms, although it was much easier to just slip by and land in the mountains.

When we finally step foot on the planet, there is a small group of delegates to meet us. Several are clearly from the hospital, they are eyeing the boxes, and equipment, with hunger. One is certainly a politician, he likely worked as a sort of ambassador. He is shaking Jules’s hand in a very human way, and smiling the most artificial smile I have ever witnessed. He reminds me of an alligator, showing its teeth. Behind the small group is Garak. He is waiting, with his jaw clenched, and his hands shaking slightly. Jules always described him as unreadable, but his feelings are clear. When the alligator finally releases his hand, Jules rushes forward in a completely undignified manor. They hold their palms together in silence. Good enough for me. I set the last box on the platform and head back to the ship’s controls.

Leaving is much easier than landing. I am given permission to take off within a few minutes, and I am back at warp in less than half an hour. I will need to hurry to make it as far as the Romulan outpost before the ship carrying my, possibly-Borg artifact, arrives. It was a good time to leave them anyway. I very much doubt Garak would like to invite me to dinner. Their sweet reunion will be somewhat soured, when Jules tells him why he came. In a few weeks those who are infected, will begin to show symptoms, and the true threat of the nameless virus will become apparent. Any story can have a happy ending, if you leave at the right time.