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Nerys Ghemor July 10 2009 08:20 AM

July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
“A Stone’s Throw Away”

Author’s Note: As some of you may already know, the character of Tayben Berat actually originates in Lois Tilton’s novel, Betrayal, which comes from back in the day of the numbered novel. Known there only as Glinn Berat, he suffered tremendously—and what we see there is a hunted, haunted, desperate and terrified young man that may seem to some readers to be a far cry from the strong, confident Gul Tayben Berat depicted in Sigils and Unions. This, then, represents my first chance to bridge the gap. (Please also note, Sigils and Unions readers, that this story takes place three years before Volan III. Therefore, if you see anything that seems as though it should be impossible for Berat—it’s not, not now.)

Special thanks go to SLWatson, who did a wonderful fanart of Berat that inspired what I’m about to share with you. I’ll post that at the end of the thread.

If you want to read a summary of the events Glinn Berat is remembering, please visit this link; you may find it helpful. Just beware: spoilers for Betrayal abound.

PS: Not counting this author’s note, I'm under the limit by 49 words.

2369—Two weeks after the end of the Fist of Revenge coup

The moon shone silver over the city of Lakat, reflecting the light of the hidden star, Verkoun. This same light was reflected in turn by the eyes of the few people who were out now, less than an hour before curfew. A human walking along these city streets this late at night would have found them barely navigable, for the street lights shone up from the sidewalks at a level barely greater than that of the starlight above—but to a Cardassian, whose retinas had a reflective coating something like a cat might possess, this was just enough.

Not very many people were about at this hour, and those who were generally resided in the immediate vicinity, for the curfew had been an unassailable fact of life for the past five hundred years. It existed for the good of Cardassia, of course…except for those who had a very solid reason—and usually a permit, those who felt the need to venture out when decent men and women slept generally did so for less than savory purposes. Therefore for the average citizen, the right to amble about at all hours of the night was a small point to yield for the comfort of knowing one need not fear the kinds of threats to property and security people on other, less civilized planets had to contend with.

Given that fact, those who caught sight of Tayben Berat making his way across the Dra’amek Footbridge would have turned for a second look—he wasn’t one of the locals, at least not to this sector, and that meant he might risk a very long, unpleasant interrogation in the headquarters of the street patrol if he overstayed. No one would have ever guessed, to look at this thin, haunted, pale-eyed young man, that he was in fact a glinn in the Cardassian Guard...a man who ranked high enough to be just one step away from command.

He wore a long, black overcoat that came up almost to the highest point of his neck ridges, drawing himself into it with an almost convulsive shiver. A steady breeze blew over the footbridge and through to the streets on the other side…and he’d already been out walking long enough that the wind had begun to perturb his carefully-arranged, state-regulation hair, blowing another strand out of place every time he took a step. It also chilled him right down to the very core of his body. Yes, it may have been 25 degrees Celsius, according to Federation reckoning, but for a Cardassian that was jacket weather.

Especially a Cardassian who had only just started to gain back all the weight he’d lost from a month of malnutrition. He wasn’t all skin and ridges anymore, at least…but he still had some distance to go before he could be considered truly healthy again. Before the chaos of that week on Deep Space Nine, he had spent a month aboard the Ghedrakbre being beaten, overworked, and half-starved under the calculating eye of Gul Marak and the lean, vicious pack of hounds he kept aboard his ship. Before that, it had been two weeks in the lightless, hopeless hell of a Central Command prison, wondering when his trial and execution were scheduled.

Hands grabbed roughly at his arms, trying, it seemed to wrench his shoulders out of their sockets.

So, traitor, would you like to see the light again?

He could see nothing. The neural blockers they administered every morning and every night made sure of that: there might be light a thousand times brighter than the sun flooding his cell now and his open eyes would never see it. Still, he remained silent at first.

A steel-tipped boot connected just below his ribcage, knocking the wind out of him. The voice spoke again, harsher this time, an interrogative for which it was clear this time there could be only one answer permitted.

I said, ‘Glinn’ Traitor, would you like to see the light again?

He would be dead soon, he knew. What did it matter, this close to his end, to obey?

Yes, I would, Berat hollowly replied, fixing his blinded eyes as well as he could on the source of his torment.

Take him! snapped the lead guard to his subordinates. You know where to go. Once you get there, give him the reactivation shot…make sure he sees everything. Don’t let him miss even a second!

With pleasure, dalin.

Berat’s heart sunk down to the soles of his feet. He wasn’t entirely sure what they were planning to do, but a bitter, malevolent part of him whispered within the darkened milieu of his mind that it knew.

I should have said ‘no’…!

For just a moment, Berat leaned on the railing and pondered the river below, which bisected the city of Lakat. The Dra’amek footbridge was an ancient stone structure that predated the Cardassian Union, stretching from bank to distant bank of the Great Iyven River. Though sparing and contemplative in its architecture not unlike the austere architecture of modern day, the stone archways harkened back to a time before the Cataclysm, subtly depicting images of flora and fauna that no longer existed—images only visible if the sun or moon happened to reflect on the structure of the bridge just the right way. Seeming to sprout from each support pylon were three globe lights mounted like candles on a candelabra, made of orbs of twisted glass surrounded by six bands of iron tracing longitudinal lines across their surface.

Fog rose around the bridge from the Great Iyven as the cooled nighttime air collided with the water, which still held remnants of the warmth of the day, creating an eerie fluorescent miasma between bridge and river as starlight and artificial light blended into one. Enshrouded thus, Berat felt very much like a wraith among the living. And two weeks ago, he thought grimly to himself, I might well have hurled myself into the river.

He felt no such urge now, no matter how disconnected he felt, how far removed from everything and everyone he had ever known or cared about, even in the familiar surroundings of his home city. He no longer burned with the terror-fueled desperation that had kept him alive at first and then, like antimatter whose magnetic bottle had degraded to its critical threshold, had begun to leach out and corrode him from within until there had hardly been anything left but the cry of the captive animal within him—uprooted, degraded, surrounded, and caged.

And every time he managed to break free, he had simply transferred from cage…to cage…to cage…until the Starfleet security officers burst in with the threat of Marak’s carrion-rippers not far behind them—and there had been no choice, it seemed, no choice but capture or death by his own hand, a death far better than the slow, pinprick bleeding of the life to which Marak and his cronies had condemned him. He had turned his weapon on himself then, and that it converged with the Starfleet officer’s stun beam as it did…

I shouldn’t be alive, he thought. I shouldn’t be so close to healed. But he was…at least in body. And a softspoken voice within him acknowledged that on the most fundamental level, he was grateful that his heart still beat within him. And the memories of three faces, their eyes filled with kindness, floated to the surface: the Siskos—father and son, and the engineer, Chief O’Brien…for just a moment, his lake-blue eyes lit with their customary spark, and he smiled.

But that smile quickly faded. Filling the vacuum left by the dissolution of his terror, remembering how to live again…that was a different matter entirely. That was why Gul Dukat had arranged for him to take a one-month leave of absence before assuming his next post, as chief engineer of the Vrokind, a Gălor-class cruiser whose own engineer was being promoted, and the man who ordinarily would have taken her place had been executed in the purge.

Something had struck a false note in Berat about the boastingly magnanimous manner in which Dukat had proclaimed his new assignment, and his temporary reprieve—but he hadn’t been in any position to argue, and accepted anyway. For it wasn’t just his body that needed time to recover—and the neurostabilizer sessions he still endured daily, and probably would for the next two weeks if he maintained his current rate of progress, were going a long way towards that.

There was somewhere he had to go, something he had to do, if he were to ever have any hope of finding some sort of peace. Time was short. He resumed his progress across the Dra’amek footbridge, two questions scrolling in a continuous marquee through his mind.

How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

Each leaden pace, once he set foot upon the opposite bank of the Iyven, was a progressively more daunting act of will. One more step forward…one more…one more…

And then he was through the iron gates.

The elliptical courtyard of the Memorial Square gaped wide before him, surrounded by the foreboding hulks of bespired government buildings, the lights in their windows still burning as a reminder to the populace that the forces of governance never slept. There might be far less activity here now, but never, never were they dormant. At least now, they were—insofar as one dared to presume—predictable now that the bloody unrest of the coup had subsided.

But as his eyes locked upon Akleen’s Obelisk—a tall, thin structure topped by the Union sigil that reached like singleminded purpose towards the stars…oh, the raging cries like sonic waves through the crowd, which pulsed and undulated as one, united in one bloody purpose…

The hastily-erected gallows flanked the Obelisk in a grotesque parody...and the ghastly sight—it had burned irrevocably into the very structures of his brain.

His grandmother, his mother, his aunts, and sister…they were already dead, theirs the relatively cleaner, and far less public death granted to those who associated with traitors as opposed to those who were themselves traitors.

The Union was not the Union. Its guardians were not guardians. Everything was twisted now…how else could they have erred so drastically? He had signed the denunciation, of course—they had forced him to it, and however grudgingly, he had done it…surely everyone would know, once order was restored, that this had been a perversion of justice. They were just words, just words…!

Yes, his uncle Halav had been on the Detapa Council when they had demanded the withdrawal from the Bajoran sector—but how could Halav, or anyone else, have known about the wormhole? It was Dukat who should have known, Dukat and Kell both…they should have been the ones dangling from the noose, not his brothers Mesak and Varec, and Uncle Halav and Uncle Garuj…

And not Father!

Never him, that magnanimous soul!

He could not shed a tear in the natural way: one tear and they took the life that no longer belonged to him. Three days it had been—three days of his kin hanging meters above the ground from steel cables. And the soldiers wouldn’t even allow him to collapse from exhaustion: one sign of fainting and they pumped him full of the same stimulants they did the condemned men on the gallows. Every second—indeed, they had meant every second. Watch! they commanded every second his eyes tried to seek refuge elsewhere, grabbing a fistful of his hair and wrenching his head around violently back to the gallows. Never forget! Never forget!

And indeed…he would never forget.

They struggled only weakly now despite the chemicals coursing through their systems, but they were strong men and they still would not surrender, would not die…!

Acid rain began to pelt the crowd of sanctioned savages, itching wherever it crept between Berat’s microscales. And like a twisted version of the signs the Hebitian believers had spoken of, the executioners took nature’s shift as a signal to let the stoning begin. Soldiers materialized around the edges of the crowd and issued jagged rocks to the gathered crowd like rations to the famished.

And indeed…all except for one, they were indeed hungry—not for the force of life, but for death…

The chief guard grinned rapaciously, and thrust a particularly brutal-looking stone into the terrified young man’s hand. Its weight pressed down upon Berat’s hand like a mass of neutronium. For several seconds, Tayben Berat just stared at it, his eye ridges gone wide with frozen horror.

Cast it!

His plea welled up voicelessly from the very depths of his heart.

No! ‘No son shall bring harm to his father…!’

A lot of care he showed for his children when he sold the wormhole to the Bajorans—if you’d meant anything to him, he would never have betrayed Cardassia.

Berat’s eyes darted around desperately, looking for any alternative, anything. YOU throw it! At least then it wouldn’t be him, at least then he wouldn’t have to carry this into the bowels of the Ghedrakbre for his final mission...!

The guard leered hungrily. You’re not soft on traitors, are you?

Everything in him went blank. White. The crowd screaming…

He tensed…drew back...

Snap—like a catapult…

It sailed wide. His aim had been true.

And that was the only part of him that had been. Acid rose to the top of his throat…he was going to throw up—he dared not throw up—he wanted to cry—he was choking—screaming at the top of his terrified inner voice: no—no—no, no, nonononoNONONO…!


And burning raindrops drummed relentlessly as they fell from an iron sky.

Silence reigned now—silence and picture-perfect memory. Glinn Berat shivered violently now, pulled his overcoat around himself like a toddler seizing at a blanket. He still could not kneel in this place, could not weep as was natural for a Cardassian man at the violent loss of kin, for even though the true government had been restored, he still dared not draw that sort of attention to himself, and something in him…had to survive, no matter how badly it hurt.

How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

He could never voice it lest the denizens of the offices that surrounded him condemn him once more for a traitor, but he envied few living believers their certainty. She would have known what to do then, what to say, even if only with the voice of her mind, how to atone. As for him…he had nothing but memory.

Father… His silent voice shook tremulously like a child’s. There was no way he would ever be heard, he thought—and yet the words came anyway as he stared hollowly at the Obelisk. I failed horribly in my duty as your son…failed in the worst way possible. Did you know then? If you did…I would understand if you went to your grave despising me. I can say they made me, but I did it, I cast that stone! I don’t know how, I don’t know what went so wrong in me… I love you—I never meant it—I never meant it…!

Forgive me!!!

The scene before his mind’s eye shifted with no conscious volition to a place so incongruous with this horror, so unexpected…he was seven years old and he stood in the entryway to his family’s house. His father was just coming home from work, and Mother had commanded him to wait at the door for that dread moment when he would deliver his punishment in person for what he had done. Tayben had broken one of Mother’s heirlooms, recklessly disregarded the rules of the house, and above all, willfully disobeyed his parents in the act. He was guilty. He deserved his sentence and he knew it.

He hung his head in shame as Father stepped through the threshold and immediately began the expected, stern sermon on filial duty and the terrible penalties that awaited those who did not answer to normal instinct and still disobeyed despite rules and breeding…

But then, after it was all over, Father had knelt down and pulled Tayben into his embrace.

I know you. I love you. You can be better; you are my son and I have every trust in that. Just go forward…and do it.

Glinn Tayben Berat had had enough of this place and the dreadful, sickening pall it cast over his heart and mind. He turned his back and left, his pace brisk and purposeful now, for he had only thirty minutes to get back across the bridge and back to the boardinghouse where he was staying. He wanted to laugh, wail, prostrate himself, and leap in the air all at once; there was no rhyme or reason in what he felt now. There were answers, there were hints of peace to come…but for now, all he could do was keep his eyes to the ground just ahead of him and put one foot in front of the other until one day he could look up to find himself in a different place.

How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

What have I done?!

I know you. I love you. You can be better; you are my son and I have every trust in that. Just go forward…and do it.

The giftart drawn by SLWatson, that inspired this story:

CeJay July 10 2009 08:08 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Dark and brooding story about one of the worst possible breakdowns a man can go through.

Also, great image to go with the story. You can see the pain he feels in his eyes.

Well done.

Nerys Ghemor July 10 2009 10:54 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Thank you SO much for reading.

And thank Steff (SLWatson) for the image. She did a WONDERFUL job, that's for sure.

SLWatson July 11 2009 04:12 AM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away

CeJay wrote: (Post 3174827)
Also, great image to go with the story. You can see the pain he feels in his eyes.

Well done.

Thanks so much, CeJay. But the story owns the picture any day.

Nerys Ghemor July 11 2009 07:13 AM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
But the story, of course, would never have happened without the picture (AND THOSE EYES!!!) to inspire it. So credit where credit is due! :)

trampledamage July 11 2009 06:13 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
I dare you to do better

It is difficult to describe a story so sad as "wonderful" because that seems to be too happy a word. You had me in tears. But it is also a happy story, so maybe wonderful is the right word.

The way you piece the two together, his memories and his current situation was very well crafted - leading us to the memory distant from this pain, of his childhood and his father how his father would want to be remembered.

But then I'm a real sap when it comes to stories of parents and children :)

Nerys Ghemor July 11 2009 06:43 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Thank you so much for reading--and I am very pleased to know it could mean so much to you.

And the quote you begin with...that definitely fits Berat's father. He was very firm as a parent--which is what's expected in Cardassian culture--but ultimately he was still willing to show affection. I think that if he were to speak to his son after this, if he DID know what had happened...he wouldn't pretend it didn't happen, but his love for Tayben is such that what he would want would be for him to take the lesson from it and move forward, not destroy himself over it. I think that in the end, that strength from early on will help him to do just that, and shapes him into the person that I've tried to portray in my later stories like The Thirteenth Order, and "Let He Who Has Eyes See."

DavidFalkayn July 12 2009 04:19 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
A dark, painful, yet beautiful story. What a father most wants is for his children to be better and what a son most wants is to earn his father's respect--he already knows he has his love, but when a son earns his father's respect, that's when he knows he's a man.

Nerys Ghemor July 12 2009 09:07 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away

DavidFalkayn wrote: (Post 3180426)
A dark, painful, yet beautiful story. What a father most wants is for his children to be better and what a son most wants is to earn his father's respect--he already knows he has his love, but when a son earns his father's respect, that's when he knows he's a man.

I'm glad to know you feel like I captured that. I definitely feel like that foundation of love is important: that's what I think gives any child, whether they are a son or daughter, the confidence and the inspiration to go that extra mile and to know that even if it DOES go wrong, even when they do fail, they can start over again without fearing they're cut off forever.

Berat will tell you he had a terrible moment of weakness and made an awful choice, one that he regrets down to the very depths of his soul. The Cardassian mindset, furthermore, does not really make allowances for actions taken under duress: what you do even in such extreme situations, they believe, speaks to something in you and therefore is not to be cut (much) slack. That's how he sees what he did...yes, he was tortured, yes, he was being coerced, but in the end he made that decision.

He destroyed respect, he destroyed trust with that act (certainly, if his father had survived somehow, these would have been very possible consequences)...but in the end, when we've lost all of that, sometimes that love is all we have left to fall back on. And if that's NOT there anymore--that's when we're truly and irrevocably lost. I think there's a reason that in our own culture, the story of the Prodigal Son has continued to strike so much of a chord.

In a way, that's what Berat is right now: the Prodigal Son returning home. He frakked up BIG time...and yet I think he's fortunate to know that there IS that foundation to rebuild even when as far as he's concerned, just about everything else he ever had was either taken away from him, or destroyed by his own hand.

Rush Limborg July 12 2009 11:04 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Excellent tale. Tragic and dark, almost Shakesperian in its power. And it really helps the reader to understand this man...and why he was this close to giving up and shooting himself on DS9.

A child seeing his father stoned before him is traumatic enough--but to have him be forced to cast the stone--

(Shudder!) Trauma doesn't begin to describe it....

Nerys Ghemor July 13 2009 04:50 AM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Thank you for reading!!

I can hardly imagine what it would be like to be put through what Berat really was awful indeed.

And Berat actually DID shoot himself on DS9. That's the even more difficult thing to remember about it: he actually survived a suicide attempt WITH A DISRUPTOR, by a fluke. I have heard this said about suicides: the method tells how serious you really are--whether what you want is help, or to END IT. And those IRL who use a gun...well, you can guess what category THAT is.

So the depths he's having to come back from...they're very deep indeed. And yet that seems to be the basic nature of this character, as he was in Betrayal--he has a remarkable capacity to endure and to bounce back.

Given how far he's come by "Let He Who Has Eyes See," and The Thirteenth Order--and this after having suffered a permanent physical loss as opposed to the temporary setback on DS9--I wanted to try and show the beginning of how he really came into that strength.

I'm hoping this does seem, dark as it was, like the start of a bridge between Berat as we saw him in Betrayal, and Berat as I portray him in my own stories.

BrotherBenny July 13 2009 11:23 AM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away

I'm not saying anything else.

Kaziarl July 13 2009 01:55 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
You have captured this mans pain magnificently. You might want to start coming up with ideas for next months challenge.

Mistral July 13 2009 08:44 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Excellent job. More kudos at Ad Astra.

Nerys Ghemor July 13 2009 10:19 PM

Re: July Challenge Entry--A Stone's Throw Away
Thank you very much for reading, guys!

But if I were you guys, I wouldn't call the contest prematurely. You never know what's going to happen!!

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