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Old November 10 2008, 01:19 AM   #111
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
Re: Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--The Thirteenth Order

Next section! It's much shorter than the previous one, but I hope you'll enjoy it. For any readers of pre-relaunch DS9 novels, a little treat (I hope): a character you might remember officially announces his return, in rougher shape physically but MUCH stronger shape psychologically than he was last seen. Please note I had an error in the previous timeline I gave to him--I have now placed that first appearance in 2369 and his promotion to gul in 2371.

Again, expect the wait time to the next section to be two weeks or so. The section I'm writing now (three chapters ahead) is quite difficult and if I don't feel I've gained sufficient ground, the next post will be held back.

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Spirodopoulos and the gul of the Sherouk strode side-by-side along the perimeter of the mess hall where the guards had once patrolled. The Cardassian carefully supported his kănar glass with both hands, the left clasping it the usual way and the right hand underneath. Spirodopoulos had left his behind, empty. “I believe I’ve noticed some concern about me on your part,” the gul said. “It’s all right—you can say it.”

“I…” The Starfleet officer drew in a breath; despite his observations of Cardassian culture over the past month, he had no idea what his people would and would not regard as offensive in such matters. “I was wondering if you were ill. You seemed a bit…”

“Unsteady?”

Spirodopoulos winced. “Not the word I would’ve chosen.”

“I’ve just about heard them all by now; there isn’t much a man concerned with tact as you are could say to offend me.” The gul rolled his eyes; Spirodopoulos suspected he would have accompanied this statement with a dismissive wave had he not required both hands to support his drink. “I want to assure you that you needn’t worry about my health…and I think for the sake of trust between allies you should be able to give a truthful answer to your men if they ask why I lack the full use of my hands. I hope the term will translate properly—it’s called phaser-induced peripheral neuropathy.”

“Stun-shock,” he replied, one of the names by which the condition was known in the trenches. “You’ve been shot.” On AR-558, Spirodopoulos had seen a number of soldiers pulled off the front lines after taking one too many phaser bolts, consumed with convulsions and agony far beyond what the intensity of the blast should have occasioned. During peacetime operations, the usual policy was to head off such cases before they could occur; anyone who showed the warning signs was typically restricted to shipboard-only duty until the CMO determined sufficient time had passed that he or she no longer risked permanent damage if hit again.

These days, however, when reinforcements were so few and far between, especially in more isolated locations like AR-558, the incidence of stun-shock, or nerve burn, had skyrocketed once more. In the most tragic case he had personally witnessed, extensive, irreparable neurological damage left a young Xindi-Primate crewman with limited cognitive function and, according to the most recent communiqué he’d heard, a cloudy prognosis from the best neurologists Starfleet Medical had to offer.

Most stun-shock victims, however, regained sufficient function to continue a successful planetside career; Spirodopoulos had encountered several such veterans in positions ranging from computer network administrators to architects to Starfleet Academy professors. But even Starfleet usually gave pause before approving a shipboard posting. The Cardassian Guard was certainly not known for its forgiveness—persistent soldiers’ lore even suggested they experimented upon the wounded and disabled among their own ranks. Though Spirodopoulos had given the lurid tales no credence even before this night, the emergence of such rumors certainly pointed to a harsh attitude towards people in this man’s position. That he retained his rank and command in spite of everything spoke strongly on his behalf.

The Guard officer nodded. “It wasn’t the first time. But this happened on Volan III.”

Spirodopoulos stiffened, stopping in his tracks. He didn’t have to be Maquis to disapprove of what the Federation had done by forcing those colonists to either leave or forfeit their rights as Federation citizens—and just as vehemently he disapproved of how the Cardassians had reacted to that horrible situation. “You’ve been in the DMZ?”

“Cardassian civilians were dying every day from Maquis terrorism,” the gul passionately insisted. “It was clear Central Command’s tactics were doing nothing to stop the insurgency, so they decided to try something new—to not just deal with the legitimate governments of those worlds, but to forge direct relations with the ‘expatriate’ population. The idea was to provide more meaningful assistance than the Maquis ever could, the kind that would actually make a difference in their lives…a positive incentive for cooperation instead of the constant terror-and-reprisal.”

An early 21st-century phrase sprang to mind: ‘winning the hearts and minds.’ It was not the sort of philosophy Spirodopoulos would have expected from the halls of Central Command. “That could well have undercut Maquis credibility…not to mention the impression it would have made on our side of the DMZ. Heck, it makes you wonder where our peoples could’ve been instead of at war with each other.”

“Exactly!” The Cardassian smiled.

Maybe
, Spirodopoulos narrowly avoided saying, the Federation would have really gone to the mat for the Cardassian Union instead of being so eager to patch it up with the Klingons. And there might not have been any Dukat-the-avenging-angel-of-Cardassia…

“If something like that had really gotten off the ground, it would’ve made the news,” Spirodopoulos mused. “Information flows freely in the Federation…we would’ve known. That it didn’t…sir, am I right that it has something to do with your condition?”

“That’s correct.” The gul’s dark-ringed, sapphire-light blue eyes stared out brilliantly across memory in their strange mixture of placidity and intensity. His face was solemn now. “Not five minutes after I beamed down to the surface, I had started out on a tour with the colonial governor’s staff and the next thing I knew, I was curled on the ground with fire burning through my spine into every nerve of my body. My officers were split between pursuing the sniper and stabilizing me for transport. I went into seizures and lost consciousness as soon as I made it back to the Sherouk. I was dying—one seizure after another, and it’s a credit to my crew that I survived.”

Status epilepticus
, Spirodopoulos thought with a chill: this Cardassian had come within a hair’s breadth of going the way poor Megris had, or worse.

And if I wanted to…my God, with what I know now, I could take this man’s life just like that, with nothing more than a stun bolt. Yet here he is off his ship, walking alone amongst a bunch of armed Starfleet soldiers and admitting the truth of his condition, when he easily could’ve denied everything or excused it as something else. He found no suitable reply to such a humbling trust within him; in silence the Greek officer let the gul continue.

“When Dr. Hetalc finally restored me to full consciousness, I found out Gul Evek was inbound with shock troops, that he’d deploy them in the streets within the week. I tried to stop it—I told Central Command I was willing to go back once I was in reasonable shape; I argued my return could be exactly the statement we needed to curtail the hostilities. I still believed in my mission; I still felt I had a chance of making it work. I had a few prominent backers...Legates Turrel and Ghemor tried, but it became very clear it would be a losing battle. Central Command was convinced what happened to me demonstrated the futility of reasoning with the colonists. Evek went through with the crackdown while I was still recuperating …I don’t know what came of it. I didn’t want to know.”

Spirodopoulos shook his head with disgust. “All of that for nothing. If they’d only listened…”

The Cardassian officer slowly lowered his drink and set it upon a windowsill. He thrice flexed his stiffened fingers, massaged the palms with his thumbs to work them as loose as he could. Then he held his grey hands before him, palms down, fingers splayed. The tremors had intensified slightly in the wake of sustained effort and high emotion. “No,” he decided as he lowered his hands, returning them to their usual rest position folded behind his back. He glanced up at Spirodopoulos with that same quiet, appraising expression as before. “It wasn’t for nothing.”

The human met his eyes and quietly inquired, “Is it difficult for you, working with us?”

“It brings back the memory,” the young gul acknowledged. “I was almost certainly wounded by someone who used to be a Federation citizen. But…the person that did this was not willing to face me, to know the person he was trying to kill. I was just some Cardassian gul in his eyes—species and rank was all he thought he needed to know and as far as he was concerned, that was enough to convict me. Your people, though…you seem to resist your instincts.

“And I have…certain reasons…older than this ‘stun-shock,’ as you call it, to believe we have a second chance to prove I was right.” Something in the Cardassian’s expression suggested to Spirodopoulos that he ought not inquire of said reasons.

“I’m…honored.” Spirodopoulos smiled, bowing his head after the Cardassian fashion.

“By the way,” the Cardassian added in a decidedly lighter tone of voice with a knowing smile, “I am also quite capable of telling when someone has forgotten my name and is afraid to ask.

“It’s Berat.”

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Written with thanks to Lois Tilton for the wonderful work she did in Betrayal, shaping Berat into a character I remembered for years afterward.

Curious how I retconned Berat and the events of Betrayal into the Sigils and Unions universe? Here's my article on Tayben Berat over at the Star Trek Expanded Universe wiki.

(Oh...and you might be interested to know--when I'm describing his eyes, picture Cal Ripken, Jr. and that'll tell you just how intense I'm talking.)
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Last edited by Nerys Ghemor; November 10 2008 at 03:48 AM.
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