Garak, the station’s resident Cardassian tailor, is intrigued by a young Cardassian boy dressed like a Bajoran.
Bashir has no sooner told Sisko the youngster bit Garak than the unctuous Gul Dukat contacts the station, seeing in the incident evidence that Bajorans are teaching Cardassian war orphans to hate their own kind.
The adoptive father says he loves young Rugal, and admits he told the boy that Cardassians did hateful things.
The humanoid who accompanied the pair to DS9 tells Bashir that the boy is “hated by the people he thinks of as his parents” and beaten (but he doesn’t want to get involved and barely pauses his dabo game).
This allegation is enough for Sisko to relocate the boy to stay with the O’Briens. Upon learning that Bashir thinks they are helping Dukat recover lost war orphans, Garak reminds Bashir that Cardassians are fastidious record-keepers, and suggests the orphans were not abandoned.
Sisko asks for Dukat’s cooperation in identifying the boy’s Cardassian family. Bashir crashes the videocall and gets Dukat to admit that he was ordered by Cardassia’s civilian leaders to leave the orphans behind.
O’Brien is surprised to learn that Keiko let Rugal play with Molly, and lets slip a bigoted remark, but soon finds himself telling the boy there’s nothing wrong with being a Cardassian.
Garak wakes Bashir up in the middle of the night and says they need to go to Bajor, which means Bashir has to wake Sisko up to ask for a runabout. Bashir can’t quite articulate why, but Dukat supplies the reason when he makes a late night call to Sisko, identifying the boy’s father as a prominent politician. Sisko mentions in passing that he can’t find the man who alleged the boy was abused… since we last saw this man gambling in Quark’s, the implication seems to be that he was bribed to tell a false story, but I didn’t notice that when I was watching — I only noticed that now as I was writing up this review.)
At an orphanage on Bajor, children run away from Garak, who expertly fixes the computer workstation. There’s no record of Rugal’s adoption, but Garak quickly downloads all the orphan records in the province. A little Cardassian girl asks if he’s come to take the other orphans back to Cardassia. “I’m afraid not, child,” says Garak, who seems touched.
Garak doesn’t exactly spell it all out, but guides Bashir to observe the mysterious coincidence that the boy’s real father is a civilian leader who was directly responsible for ordering the military to withdraw from Cardassia, thus putting Gul Dukat out of his job as prefect.
O’Brien prepares Pa’Dar to accept that the boy may not respond well to the proposed reunification. Pa’Dar feels he has disgraced his Cardassian values by assuming the boy was dead and letting him be raised by Bajorans. (The meeting with Rugal does not go smoothly.)
Both fathers agree that Sisko will arbitrate the matter, but Dukat’s arrival on the station makes Sisko suspect he’s being played.
Garak and Bashir haven’t been able to find a file on Rugal’s adoption, presumably because Dukat deleted it; but Garak does find the name of the person who created the file. She recalls that, Rugal was brought in by a military officer attached to “the command post at Terok Nor” — which I recognized as the Cardassian name for what we know as Deep Space Nine, but I guess that was new information revealed for the first time in this episode, because Bashir has to dramatically draw it out of Dukat during the custody hearing.
The upshot — that Dukat seems to have arranged for Pa’Dar’s child to be presumed dead and stowed in a Bajoran orphanage, so that years later he could produce the child in order to humiliate Pa’Dar and end his career — shows Dukat is playing the long game, using Cardassian children as pawns.
Sisko’s decision differs from the one Picard made in a similar situation (s4e4 “Suddenly Human” — which is incidentally also an aggressive militaristic society), and which might possibly have been a template for the Cardassians, who are introduced about eight episodes later).
We’re left with the impression that Pa’Dar probably won’t ever act on the gratitude he expresses to Sisko. The episode nicely fleshes out Cardassian culture, gives O’Brien room to grow, shows Sisko learning to appreciate Bashir’s over-eagerness, and suggests we’ll see plenty more shenanigans with Garak.