"You have to admit, my dear doctor, that mammals are a mishap of evolution."
"Like buggery they are." Bashir hissed angrily. He tried to put up the best show of exasperation he could muster in this debate that had started some time ago, when Garak, out of the blue, had pronounced mammals to be 'a veritable misconstruction'. Bashir had retorted by enumerating the several shortcomings of reptiles - what with this impractical semi-exothermic blood circulation of theirs that turned them into lethargic blobs once the temperature fell ever so little under the suffocating level - but Garak had remained haughtily unconvinced.
Presently Bashir watched his lunch companion decapitate the chocolate top of a Black-forest Cherry cake, then deftly pick one fruit from its creamy biotop and pop it into his mouth. All the time Garak was completely at ease with his own impertinence and entirely unperturbed by the doctors furor.
"Just take a look at yourself!" Garak continued with a mock frown that caused a genuine frown to appear on the doctor´s brow. "You sport a pair of nipples that is completely useless. Don´t give me that annoyed look, please! I mean, you have to admit, if a baby sucks them would it be rewarded with any milk? Not a droplet! So why do you have them in the first place?" Another cherry vanished behind the tailor´s gray lips.
Where were Garak´s usually impeccable manners? Julian considered slapping his companion lightly on the hand to admonish him, but then decided against it. Former members of the Obsidian Order probably didn't take kindly to any form of physical assault. As if having read his companion's rather helpless thoughts, Garak continued smugly.
"Or this ridiculous business with your genitals." Bashir flinched and Garak's already broad smile widened even further in triumph. "Honestly, doctor. Why would those organs that fulfill more than just a minor part in the scheme of life be outside the body? Without a chance of retracting them to safer quarters?" He raised his eyeridges and gave the doctor a pointedly questioning look. What he got in return was a derisive snort.
"I see, I have to become more graphic, as much as I hate such rudeness." Garak took a sip from his tea, then continued.
"Just imagine, doctor, an attacker with a knife! He slashes across my groin - but the ridges along the genital cleft prevent any serious damage - all I get is a shallow cut and a little pain that you will immediately kill with the proper medication." Cherry number three went the way of all food. "If, however, our devious attacker chose you for target, I'm afraid the damage would be both severe and lasting."
Bashir didn't bother to look at Garak anymore. He merely moaned in despair. So he missed Garak's devilish grin.
"I don't know about you, doctor, but I always shiver when I envisage my penis suddenly dropping into my pants -"
"- not to speak of the effusion of blood that ruins even the sturdiest garment!" Garak virtually beamed at Bashir. The doctor inhaled deeply, than turned an icy stare towards the tailor.
"I'd appreciate if you changed the - object of our discussion," he said tightly.
Garak shook his head. "Human males are terribly touchy about their organ!"
"I have only got one!"
"So do I. But do you see me squirm in discomfort?"
Bashir's features brightened visibly. "My dear Mr. Garak, if you spread fairy tales on your anatomy, please take care that no doctor is present to come up with the science."
Garak sighed. "Well, the fact that my reproductive organ is biforked doesn't make it double. Not technically, at least."
"Listen, Garak, I know perfectly well-"
"What do you know of Cardassian sexuality?" Garak bent forward to emphasize his question.
"Fairly little," Bashir admitted, "thanks to your general uncooperativeness on this matter."
Garak sighed again. He gave the impression of a man lecturing a nice, but horribly backward child. "Believe me, my dear doctor, I´d love nothing more to introduce you to the more refined techniques of lovemaking. Unfortunately, you stubbornly cling to your primitive assumption that the goal of copulation is to ejaculate as hurriedly as anatomically possible."
Bashir´s chin came up defiantly. "That's perfectly normal for a human!"
"It clearly indicates that your entire sexual drive is still inadvertently bound to procreation." Garak shook his head in disgust. "How unrefined. Every stupid lowborn insect engages in sexual intercourse to impregnate the female. I see no reason whatever why a supposedly intelligent man like you hasn´t gotten beyond this stage."
"If I'm just bedding women for producing offspring, where are those bastards of mine, who by now should inundate this station?" The initial playfulness was gone. Bashir was attacking to wound.
But Garak refused to live up to the bait. "Hurrying through sexual courtship, stimulation and copulation within the meager time span of twenty minutes maximum is hardly the behavior of an sexually adept adult male."
Bashir's voice began to hint at some genuine hurt beneath. "Spare me those insults, Garak. Mammals have a different sexual rhythm than reptiles, as you well know."
"So you're telling me that your frantic sex acts are to your and your partners' fullest satisfaction?" The mockery in Garak's tone was unmistakable.
"They never complained."
"But tried to put as much distance between themselves and you after a mere couple of encounters. By the way, how's Leeta?"
Bashir looked uneasy. "I didn´t check."
Garak wagged his spoon in the doctor´s general direction. "Quite happy with Rom, rest assured. Have you really never asked yourself why a not very bright, but undoubtedly pretty woman chose an ugly, clumsy, greedy gnome of a Ferengi over the beautiful, adroit, respected doctor?"
"Strange as it must sound to a cold cynic like you, but probably she loves him." Bashir knew that he walked on shifting ground now. The rancorous but still amiable banter about the relative merits of reptiles over mammals had turned to something more personal. Too personal, in fact, for the doctor's taste.
Garak put down his spoon and leaned back in the chair. When he spoke his voice held a new undertone of menace. "Probably she was just sick of serving as the receptacle where you discharged your semen."
"Angry that you weren't this receptacle?" In the moment the words were out, Bashir already rued them and frantically searched for an excuse or at least some words to take the sting out of what he had just said. He failed to do so.
Garak said nothing for some time, only his lips twitched with barely controlled ire. When he spoke again, his voice was deceptively even. "Do you honestly suggest that I might be miffed because you failed to choose me as the object of your puerile erotic attention?" He inhaled deeply, betraying the anger he felt. "If you need to get rid of some excess body fluids the right location to do so is the lavatory, not my bed!"
"My, how vulgar you are!" Bashir spat contemptuously.
Garak nodded in agreement. "The truth is usually vulgar, doctor. That's why decent people like myself prefer lies."
For some time both men said nothing. Bashir finished his dessert, while Garak sat quietly, his hands in his lap, his eyes thoughtful.
When the doctor spoke again, he sounded resigned and a little bitter. "Listen, Garak, if you dislike those lunches just tell me and I won't bother you anymore, okay?"
"On the contrary, doctor, I enjoy our meetings immensely. In fact, they are the only events I look forward to on this dreary station. I just have found it difficult to engage you in a spirited conversation recently. Since you didn´t react to an intellectual approach, I chose something a bit more primitive."
Bashir smiled weakly at his friend. "I´m not in the mood for extensive talking. There´s a war out there, and I´m seeing too many comrades die in pain each day. Being a doctor isn´t a job as cozy as yours."
"Cozy?" Garak seemed offended. "My dear doctor, your customers at least don't complain that their skin is too tight or too short or the wrong shade of pink!"
Bashir collected his cutlery on the plate. When he answered, he tried to give his words a placating tone. "Listen, Garak, making fun of everything people hold dear doesn't exactly make you popular. On this station or elsewhere. Why don't you tone down your sarcasm a bit? The war is hurting us enough. We really don't need the piquing words of an exiled Cardassians spy to add to our misery!"
Garak shrugged nonchalantly. "I was unpopular from the moment I was born. I'm used to it. In fact, if I ever became popular, I would have the distinct feeling that I had betrayed myself!"
'Yes, Garak, that´s the core of your problem,' Bashir thought. 'You shrink from affection, because if you suffer you live in the illusion that you make a sacrifice for Cardassia. But Cardassia has forgotten you, if ever it knew you, you, the chief interrogator, the brilliant assassin, but always in the shadows. Your father's associate, his protégé, and what nobody dared to say - what you will not admit to yourself - his puppet. A soulless automaton dancing from invisible strings of love and hate - and some rumors say of lust - and now, when the strings are cut forever, yearning for them instead of enjoying the newfound freed-’
"Ouch!" Julian snapped out of his reverie, just to see Garak retrieve the fork with which he had poked the doctor's hand. For a moment Bashir was utterly speechless. Even Garak - no, correction, especially Garak - never employed such uncouth means to win back a partner's attention. Unless - unless the situation warranted it. Julian nodded meekly. He just had forgotten the cardinal rule of formal Cardassian conversation. The first and foremost responsibility of any conversationalist is to listen to his partner and provide him with the most carefully chosen phrases, so his mind can ignite both on the words and the themes. Julian had become so adrift in his own thoughts that he had virtually forgotten that Garak was still sitting opposite him. Obviously he had even overheard a comment. That was extremely rude and of course warranted an equally rude rebuke.
Out of politeness, Julian repeated his last sentences, as best as he remembered them.
The tailor smiled graciously. "And what do you mean, my dear doctor: Making fun? Of what? Oh, I'm afraid there's a misunderstanding. I haven't been joking about mammalians those last weeks. I was perfectly serious. Frankly, the idea that you use the same organ for sexual concourse and for shedding your liquid body wastes is disgusting."
The doctor chuckled softly. "I can't undo evolution. In fact, I grew up with the hypothesis that segregated channels for different body functions are a clear-cut indication of a higher level of physiological development."
"Said the quera mouse and became extinct!" Garak bristled with indignation. "My dear doctor, whoever filled your receptive juvenile mind with such crap?"
Bashir sighed with relief. He had to admit that, even if all of the station was irritated by Garak´s sardonic observations, he, Julian Bashir, knew after seven years of experience that he could handle an abrasive Garak much better than a morose one. Before he could properly castigate Garak for this new verbal attack, however, his commbadge came alive: "Medical Emergency. Dr. Bashir to the Infirmary."
The doctor bolted out of the replimat, but not before he had put his left hand on the center of the table, palm down, fingers strictly aligned. Garak inclined his head courteously.
Three years ago the doctor would not have called off the conversation properly - not for lack of knowledge of the procedure, but simply because he saw no reason for such a gesture - and seven years ago he hadn´t even known how to engage in a conversation that merited its name.
Garak had some reason to be proud of himself. Humans were not only suffering from their mammalian peculiarities, but also from a lamentable lack of culture. He had taken it upon himself to instruct the adorable Dr. Bashir in the finer art of living, succeeding here, failing there.
Failing most poignantly in the vast realm of carnal pleasures with all its terrifying ramifications. Yes, terrifying. Even with Tain dead, Garak dreaded the day when he no longer would be able to put Julian off with words. True, his father could not send paid killers after every man and woman anymore who dared so much as cast a desiring glance at Garak. But the Order indoctrinations, hammered into every member since his initiation - what in Garak´s case meant since he was a boy - outlawed any physical contact between the sexes, allowed emotionless acts between two men or two women solely for the purpose of preserving health, and in addition Tain had commanded his agents to entirely abstain from expression of the sexual drive, but rather channel this subdued energy into aggression towards their victims. Garak could find no fault with his father's reasoning. Never before in its century-long history had the Order brought forth so many exquisite interrogators, deft assassins and successful spies.
And Garak had been a premium player in all three disciplines.