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Nerys Ghemor September 18 2009 04:18 PM

Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Since I didn't get anything that inspired me for the TBBS challenge this month, I decided to go ahead and enter this Sigils and Unions story I've been wanting to tell for quite some time. The challenge topic was "Nobody Wins All the Time"--so immediately my mind went to Septimus III.

What I did not expect was Gul Rebek wanting to speak up about something early--something I thought I could wait on until I reached a place in The Thirteenth Order where I could say it. But she decided it needed to come out now, assaulted me with impeccable logic...and so here it is. You've had a look into Macet and Berat's motives--now you get to see what it is that drives Rebek.

(There are minor spoilers for The Thirteenth Order, but nothing so major that I think you can't read the stories out of sequence.)

-----------------

2375—The Dominion War

Permanent Documentation File—Rebek, Gul of the Romac



They’re not coming. I was on the call with Berat and Igrun when Legate Met’Orn told us that Klingon forces were inbound. Met’Orn never spoke the words, of course…such would be sedition, especially in these dark days of Dominion rule, but the great irony of the Cardassian people, of course, is that the very instincts our leaders like to play to, to control us—that selfsame power, you might say—are the very same ones that belie the words and scream the truth in moments like that.

Scientists have extensively studied the hierarchical instinct, picked apart the parsing process that our brains are hardwired to undertake of every tone and movement of those we work with, and the reverse process of inborn responses…it’s easy to read it on paper, how we are likely to feel we should respond or maintain our silence at any given time, but when you actually feel it—there really are no words. You simply…feel: this act makes sense, this one is dissonant.

That’s what I felt when Legate Met’Orn talked…and I’m sure he meant it to be felt; you don’t get to that rank without being well-versed in the art of speaking-without-speaking. Those who are born without it, or who are never properly socialized—they practically drown in our society, helpless to negotiate the ebb and flow of position and power, text and subtext. And in the modern era…all the worse, for one misstep, one sign of submission not given, one failure to distinguish the truth from the lie, very often means death.
He said reinforcements were coming and immediately I felt it rise in my gut and in my mind: the link above him—the connection that tied him to the Dominion—was broken. He was a man adrift. And so too we were to be left adrift, against his will...the three of us: the Romac, the Sherouk, the Prenkar, were the only defense Septimus III would have against the oncoming Klingon horde.

My breath caught. My microscales clamped down tight against my body as all the heat leached out of me. I never liked The Never-Ending Sacrifice. But those words were the only ones running through my head in that moment: our lives, Cardassian lives, our three ships, the Eleventh Order, all to become a living sacrifice to that which passed itself off these days as Cardassia. For so long as a species our rivers had run north—and now we would face the eternal tundra while still in the flesh.

Indeed, I remember that thought.

I remember every moment.


I cannot do otherwise.

And I never, never expected that thought to play out to the letter.

The Klingon vanguard appeared on sensors less than an hour after Legate Met’Orn’s communiqué. I was ready; I’d been on the bridge ever since that dreadful message. The Vorta Aleen stood upon the command platform over me. I sat in my chair, of course, but by his towering over me, there was no mistaking what signal it was he intended to send. I did not want to look at his face; I knew what I would see. I’d seen it before, preceding every other beating we took at his behest: eyes wide like a child anticipating a ride in the amusement park of Lakariy’ane. As if we weren’t on a trip to the slaughterhouse.

My face, my tone—all of these I controlled only by tight discipline and meditation, no matter how badly I wanted to draw my weapon and vaporize Aleen right then and there. One overt act and my entire crew would surely perish without even the chance, however infinitesimal, to make a difference here. My hands, however, gripped hard against the armrests: this was my sign. My dissonance. They had to know—my crew had to understand the situation they were getting into, without illusion. As their gul, I owed them no less.

Igrun, Berat, and I had remained in orbit of Septimus III; our only slim hope of surviving came by staying within range of the planet’s antiquated defense systems and delivering our barrage in concert with theirs: anything else and the Klingons would simply have shredded through us before they even had to think about the planet. As it was, they had only sent their vanguard while we remained…we were nothing but toys to them, a quaint little appetizer before the main course below. Even that was deadly enough.

But then…it was time to move into a higher orbit.

And so we set our sights upon the metaphorical orb of blood just as our people’s old sailing legend had once told—of sailors so disoriented, so far from home that they set their course straight into the setting sun and burned up in its blood-red fury when they reached the edge of the world. Except this time, it was the miniature red orbs of Klingon photon torpedoes.

The instant the Klingons opened fire, interceptor missiles launched from the planetary defense batteries—but lacking proper orbital platforms as did systems like Chin’toka or Cardassia Prime itself, the reaction was slow: every missile had to work against the resistance of the atmosphere in its ascent, had to target and launch from a distance, and worst of all, there simply weren’t anywhere near enough interceptors to prevent even half of the torpedoes from reaching their mark on the surface. Or on our shields.

The Romac barely had time to finish being jolted in one direction by a Klingon torpedo when another would splash upon our shields, and another. Our shields were collapsing—one more distress call to add to the ghastly cacophony emanating from the planet below—and now from the Prenkar

Then the plasma conduit underneath the command platform blew.

I’m not exactly sure what happened next, what the Vorta’s last orders were before the blast catapulted us clear across the bridge. I don’t know whether it was the words he spoke, the words the Jem’Hadar First inferred, or both or neither. All I know of that slice in time is the tongues of fire warping my armor, licking down my back in a grotesque parody of a riding hound’s affectionate ‘kiss,’ and the flash of a Jem’Hadar kar’takin blade somewhere in my peripheral vision just at the ridgeline.

I was stunned. Terrified. This was it. And yet…at last the final answer—I would know what it had all been worth: family, Cardassia, this…life



I woke.

My eyes flared wide in disbelief—hope, despair, joy, and the absolute abyss of sorrow. Then I squeezed them shut against the light. Against the dreadful pain where the fire still seemed to burn, never ceasing.

A hypo pressed against the left side of my neck just below the ridge and the agony receded—at least, for the moment. It was only then that I learned the rest of the story…

I learned how the Vorta had fallen comatose and lay in stasis still after the explosion on the bridge. How the Jem’Hadar had run rampant through the corridors in the midst of the Klingon barrage on a genocidal rampage until Glinn Meray fused them into the decks with the transporters. How some of the poor ghentregă’ămsthe were still alive, still struggling like a crushed insect, genetically unable to cease their struggles, unable to properly feel or respond to the pain that should have overwhelmed any other sentient creature, and how my troops were hunting them down one by one to put an end to it…

I learned how my dear friend Tayben Berat with his mind of caged lightning had faced the grim moment of choice between us, the Prenkar, and the Eleventh Order below. How he had in an instant chosen us—caught our ship with his tractor beam as the shields failed and run the numbers in seconds in his head, warped away through the polar escape the Klingons had deliberately left us as the Prenkar wheeled helplessly end over end down into the planet’s atmosphere. I heard how the ship had shuddered, how its frame had groaned and seals burst inside and out as Berat engaged his warp engines in the gravity well for that brief moment and towed us out, and now we truly were adrift in space, only alive thanks to the Klingons’ twisted ‘mercies’…

And I heard about the fate of the Eleventh Order. How the Klingons beamed their troops down to slaughter the men and women of the Eleventh Order just so they could claim their blades had tasted Cardassian blood. How they desecrated the bodies of the dead, slicing into their necks and the hooks of their eye ridges with the daggers and pulling out the hard, bony pieces of cartilage as trophies to mount to their baldrics. And then they beamed away, leaving the few terrified survivors to emerge and behold the mutilated necks and faces of their dead comrades. The camera footage of Met’Orn—he was as unrecognizable as a dead Ferengi chopped up and sold on the auction block…

And I heard about the planet. Somehow, after everything else I had been told, it was the hardest to make real to me, the hardest truth to grapple with exactly because it was so surreal. I heard how the Klingons opened fire from orbit again after we were away, as if this were a weapons demonstration put on for our benefit like the annual fleet review that three hundred lucky citizens were always shuttled up to Cardăsa Nor to view up close…how they bombarded every building, every weapons platform, everything of possible value, and then proceeded to rain quantum torpedoes with wanton abandon upon empty forests and fields. I heard how within a matter of minutes the radioactive dust and ash rose up into the atmosphere and the volcanoes of the planet itself vomited forth in the agony of this violation, blanketing the planet in the choking clouds of quantum nuclear winter. Cardassia would not have this world today. Cardassia would not have this world as long as even a single one of us still breathed, for it is now for a thousand years destroyed, given over to the eternal tundra while still immersed in the river of this time and this space…

Some alarm I had never heard before—at least, never heard sounding over me before—wailed. Dr. Pethec’s hand…the hiss of another hypo…and I slept again.



The Romac is now underway for Lessek, being towed under Berat’s watchful eye and steady will. I woke again three days after those first dreadful moments and this unconscious interlude is only the beginning of a salve upon my pain.
Remember, Cardassia. If someday I am no longer there to bear this dreadful burden…remember. This is where the centuries have ultimately led. This is what compelled us beyond any legate, any Founder, why we took this fateful leap.

To the rest of the galaxy, if you should hear this—remember. This, but for the hand of grace, could have been you. And it is only by grace that it shall not become you, for the demon waits upon your own threshold as well to see what you decide. Evade or confront, as the Ferengi say: it is your choice, and that choice will come to define you.

I know now that my decision is made. This can no longer stand. When the time comes—at Lessek, we shall strike and the Dominion shall learn that Cardassia still has some life left yet. Va’Kust and the others will be ready. Soon they will make their case and win—and they must, for there is no other hope.

What we’re about to do…there are far, far worse causes to die for; I’ve seen that. I don’t say that, of course, to slander Igrun or Legate Met’Orn: no matter what the Dominion thought they were dying for, I am absolutely certain they did not perish with the Vorta’s false gods upon their hearts. It was for family. For their brothers and sisters in arms. For Cardassia.

I know because those were the last thoughts to flash across my brain as that conduit blew. The only difference is that I was ‘lucky’ enough to survive.

And what I am about to say—I have never dared say except in the sanctity what I’ve had to hope were the most sheltered, secure circumstances possible, but after what happened in orbit of that ravaged planet, the course we are about to set will condemn me for sure if we fail. This, therefore, becomes simply an aggravating circumstance on a crime that already means death. But what means death for a righteous cause to one whose soul…no mere figure of speech…can never be held back by the grave?

Someone has to know this now, so listen. Like most Cardassians, I don’t believe in luck…at least, not the blind sort of fate we speak of so casually. No…Fate is not the cold, heartless arbiter of our lives—rather, it is guided by something far more than we will ever understand. That is what I believe.

That is what I stand for.

And that is why I am not afraid to lay down my life.

CeJay September 18 2009 09:49 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Ok, so seeing this war from Rebek's perspective it's kinda difficult to tell who the good guys are. Clearly not the Klingons and their needlessly brutal tactics, obviously not the Vorta and their Jem'Hadar puppets. And the Cardassians? Here they look as if they do nothing more than try to defend their homeland. But that isn’t the entire story now, is it?

I never felt particular pity for the Cardassians, at least not until that Founder ordered near genocide towards the end of the war but you do a continuously amazing job at 'humanizing' them and Macet and his gang in particular.

Great little vignette.

Nerys Ghemor September 18 2009 10:10 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Rebek and Berat, of course, are members of Macet's cabal planning to rebel against the Dominion (along with Speros, but we all know what a little pill Speros can be!).

There are awful people among the Cardassians, make no mistake. Dukat above all, and all of his little minions who are just as cruel as he are.

But there are others who just got caught up in this because their society doesn't give them an out. Macet, for one, is a noble soldier with a sense of honor that tells him that what the Union has been doing is wrong. Berat's about as close to a nonconformist by nature as you can get with a Cardassian. And Rebek--she's a religious dissident.

And my personal reaction, when I first heard about Septimus, was to be utterly disgusted with the Klingons. I have to be honest...TNG Klingons, aside from Worf, I do not respect at all. And I do not understand why the Federation is allied with them except for expediency and out of fear of what they might do if the Khitomer Accords weren't in effect. It surely isn't principle.

Thank you very much for reading. This wasn't an easy story to tell, but Rebek really felt it needed to be told.

Deranged Nasat September 18 2009 11:14 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
As usual, NG, your writing astounds me. You really are good at this. :) These characters are so convincing to me, so human yet with a definitely alien, distinctly Cardassian feel as well. Your interpretation of the Cardassians is always fascinating, and you really capture what strikes me deepest about this culture, how great a people they are underneath that terrible police-state cultural mentality. The nobility, the idea that one can be extremely proud to be Cardassian, is always there, yet tragically buried under what they've become...but in characters like Rebek it's finding a way to come out.

I'm surprised just how quickly the character of Rebek has, well, "found a place in my heart" shall we say? It really speaks of your talent that I find her every bit as fascinating and interesting as the best characters in the official novels.

Gibraltar September 19 2009 02:33 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Bad enough to have to face the full might of the Klingon Empire in battle. It is infinitely worse to do so knowing that your worlds and people are simply cannon fodder for your corrupt leadership and the foreign overlords they serve. To suffer all that and still stand and fight takes a particularly stiff backbone... the like of which Rebek, Berat, and Igrun obviously possess.

This is a wonderful precursor to the creation of the Thirteenth Order. Well done.

Supreme Dittodrone September 19 2009 04:33 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Excellent work, Nerys. A solemn tale, full of emotion and substance.

For my part, I understand (though not, in this instance, necessarily condone) the POV of the Klingons: break the will and spirit of your foe--shock and horrify them into submission...and their strength is broken down, as well.

Case in point: the atom bomb on Hiroshima (which, BTW, I believe was completely neccesary--regardless of how I feel about the attack portrayed in this tale....).

Still...there is an infinite tragedy in this merciless kind of tactic, as well, as you put yourself in the shoes of the other side. You portray this beautifully. Well done.

Nerys Ghemor September 19 2009 05:23 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Rush--I definitely considered the Hiroshima parallel when I first sat down to write this, but I think you're looking here at a very different tactical scenario than the choice the Allies were facing at the end of World War II (do a D-Day on the Japanese homeland or drop the bomb). The closer Dominion War analogy would have been the choices that might've faced the Allies had the Founder not been convinced to surrender, and they were left facing the grim prospect of fighting street to street on the entire planet of Cardassia Prime and throughout the Union, to stop the genocide and kill every single Jem'Hadar.

I think in a lot of ways, too, the biogenic weapon situation was the A-bomb parallel and I see similar debates on it in the DS9 forum sometimes.

But in the case of Septimus III, you had a finite number of people and weapons, on a planet that I think was pretty much a military base and nothing else.

I think there was another tactic that could've knocked the Eleventh Order out of the war that would NOT have included the hideous things the Klingons did. I would've been fine with bombing the planet back into the Stone Age, given that there wouldn't have been a lot of noncombatants here. The infrastructure, unquestionably, had to go: all the missile interceptors, SAMs/SSMs, etc. Anything with warp, impulse engines, or weapons would have to be destroyed, too. I would've followed that up by detonating an EMP device in the upper atmosphere, shorting any electronic device in the area. Any survivors would be in primitive conditions, but seeing as you have a largely unspoiled planet aside from the base, they would've at least had a chance to live off of the planet hunter-gatherer style for the duration of the war. The effect of knocking an entire Order out of the war would still be there, on the Cardassian people, and make no mistake, there would still be a lot of casualties. The fact that the Dominion sent no reinforcements would've still made a major impression with Damar, Berat, Rebek, and everyone else.

But here's where I think the Klingons went too far. When they decided they were going to kill by the sword just for the hell of it, and desecrate the bodies, that was overkill. When they decided they were going to destroy the entire planet's life-bearing capacity for a thousand years, that was MAJOR overkill and an atrocity.

Gibraltar--Thanks for reading. One thing that the Cardassian government has often abused severely in its people is their sense of duty, that instinctive need they have for belonging to their "pack" and for obedience. And yet I think in this case, the decision to take a stand was because in the end, they decided that duty was not to the corrupt leadership, but to Cardassia in the abstract, and to the particular men and women who fought at their side--their band of brothers, so to speak. I don't know if you've ever read All Quiet on the Western Front, but that's kind of what I was going for as far as the feeling of it.

DN--What a surprise to see you here in the fanfic section! :) Your words about Rebek are most kind, and I'm very glad to know that you like her! Cardassian culture, as I see it, is VERY much two-sided: there is the way it's become twisted, and what it could've been. Yet as much like 1984 as Cardassia sometimes seems, the thing is--Cardassia is NOT a hermetically-sealed system as the 1984 society is implied to be. And that means it can't be a "perfect" dystopia. Things break. People escape. And ideas and nobility still live, however oppressed.

BrotherBenny September 20 2009 12:21 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Every dystopia has a utopian resistance.

The majority of Cardassians have been so blinded by duty to the State that they can accept no other state of affairs, but there are a slim majority who are capable of seeing through the darkness to the light beyond.

Nerys Ghemor September 20 2009 01:38 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
One thing that I think helps is contact with areas outside the Union. That always opens up the chance of running into something that forces re-evaluation. Two of them that I know of (Macet and Berat) have had prior dealings with humans, before the Thirteenth Order. Rebek, as I mentioned before, is a religious dissident, so undoubtedly when she got old enough to be able to restrain herself and not just blurt it out, she would've been exposed to other ideas besides just what was state-sanctioned--and chose belief in Oralius.

As for Speros...what makes him tick is more complicated--and I don't know that I really want to spoil it. Though if anyone feels like guessing, they can PM me. ;)

Aaron McGuire September 20 2009 06:09 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
I've never read any of your other Thirteenth Order stuff, Nerys Ghemor, and I see from this story that has been a horrible mistake. Well done.

Aaron McGuire

Nerys Ghemor September 21 2009 12:14 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Thank you very much for reading--always glad to have new readers! :)

There should be a new section of The Thirteenth Order up later tonight. :)

Supreme Dittodrone September 21 2009 01:11 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
^Yip-yip-yip--YAHOO, as my namesake would say!

Looking forward to it! :)

Nerys Ghemor May 29 2010 05:34 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
I am bringing this thread up again because I found a song that is PERFECT for the mood the story evokes (right down to the prayer chant that goes throughout it), of what it was to fly right into the Klingon divisions, knowing full well what was coming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7GiF...x=4&playnext=1

I am also bringing it up in honor of all soldiers who have sacrificed so much IRL on the battlefield.

mirandafave June 5 2010 11:29 PM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
No harm this coming up again as I never reviewed it here. But I remember it being a powerful piece. So from Ad Astra I'll just repeat myself:
I'm use to expected powerful and thoughtful pieces from yourself, Nerys. But the voice here, in the first person, is crystal clear. I feel as though I'm inside Rebek's head, lying in rest, recupperating. Although, it seems clear that the recupperation is going to take some time and some degree of pay back for Rebek to fully come to terms with the cost of that day. Not that hatred seems to tear her up but certainly she's not afraid to lay down her life. Really good stuff and a terrific meet for the challenge. Rebek truly has risen from the loss and not faltered.

Nerys Ghemor June 6 2010 02:30 AM

Re: Ad Astra Challenge Entry: Those Who Remain
 
Good seeing you again, and thank you very much. :)


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