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Old February 7 2009, 07:53 AM   #1
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
February Contest Entry: The Guide

Author's Note: This story takes place in the "Catacombs of Oralius" universe featured in my past three contest entries, a world where the Cardassians, believers in the Oralian Way, suffer under Bajoran occupation. This story takes place a few months after the events of "Exits in the Haze." The main character here is one who leads a double life--and one you've seen before in the canon universe, wearing a very different sort of mask.

Thank you to CeJay, for clarifying that this sort of double-life thing was OK. And wow...I sure lucked out. This is the character and the story I really wanted to write even before I got the challenge!

Star Trek:
Sigils and Unions

Catacombs of Oralius: The Guide

26 Ma’avoun, Twelfth Year of the 371st Ăstraya

[Federation Year: 2351]

He could hardly remember the way it was before. He’d barely been three when the invasion force landed…he remembered the fear in his instructor’s eyes when another teacher burst into the room crying that the great Gălor had failed and the Bajorans were landing troops. Ever since that day, his life had been like that of most Cardassians…desperate, hungry, and exhausted from constant servitude and the constant fear of what those devil-driven overseers might do next.

He was somewhat lucky, for the Bajorans had discovered he had the eye for detail, even more so than most of his people, who studied from the earliest age to refine their memories to where the best of them could hold the entire Hebitian Records, and scholarly commentaries, in their heads. And for his gift of meticulous exactitude…his ‘reward’ was to while away his waking hours placing stone by tiny stone in their temple’s alien mosaic, shaping a design that surely exalted the enemies of Oralius and blasphemed all she stood for.

His only solace was the knowledge that every time he placed a stone into the mosaic, he silently consecrated it to Oralius, that he might leave a relic of the enemy of darkness in this place. Even if they killed him, destroyed every last Cardassian believer, those consecrated stones would remain, disturbing the flow of power through the demonic designs and confounding the Bajorans’ cries to the accursed beings they called ‘True Prophets.’

Just now, something in the alien design caught his eye—a misplaced stone that morphed this glyph into that…minor, maybe, but enough to send the overseer into a fury whenever he noticed. Who knew…maybe it was scripture, or the Bajorans would claim it to be—and once they ruled you guilty of desecration, they took you away for Oralius knew what sort of torture. Maybe they killed your family, too. Maybe they took your children, sent them to that damned indoctrination center in Culat, taught them to hate themselves and their faith, killed the ones that refused to break.

He couldn’t read the Bajoran ideograms, but he had caught a glimpse of the full diagram once when the Prylar wasn’t there—and that stone most definitely wasn’t part of the plan. “Madar!” he hissed to the ‘official’ foreman. “You missed one…see there? You might want to fix that before the Prylar gets back.”

Madar squinted at the design. The Bajorans had no idea the foreman they’d chosen was half-blind—a defect of the retina that gave him too thick of a tapetum lucidum, the vestigial layer of reflective cells that granted Cardassians their night vision. It made the light of day near-unbearable for him and blurred details beyond recognition. His condition could easily have been treated in pre-Occupation days—but medicine for Cardassians was a primitive, sometimes barbaric art these days. So Madar had learned to cope with his disability, and did well enough hiding it most of the time…for if the Bajorans ever figured it out, it would earn him a death sentence—or something worse. He accomplished most of his work here on the mosaic by touch, but when the designs grew too complex and the colors too diverse, he didn’t stand a chance. Madar shaded his eyes, squinted some more…then shook his head.

“It’s all right.” The young observer reached over, pulled the right stone from a bucket next to Madar, then reached up and plucked the offending blue one out of the mosaic. Deftly rolling the two in his hands, he inserted the correct stone with the ritual words ringing in his mind and heart: Her heart becomes my heart—her hands become my hands. And so the hand of Oralius laid another stumbling block in the path of her enemies.

It wasn’t long before the Prylar returned to dismiss the day’s work crew—if the starry blackness in which they began and ended their work counted as ‘day.’ He, along with the others, cleaned up his workspace and slung his rucksack over his shoulders, then stood at their command.

And then it hit him.

It wasn’t the Prylar who caught his attention—it was the young Bajoran acolyte standing in his shadow a pace behind him and to his right, head down, hand over her stomach in a reflexive gesture she probably didn’t realize she was making. His keen eyes absorbed the detail just as they did the patterns in the stone, and he might have come to the conclusion by thought alone…but the anguish radiated from her cassocked body in waves that threatened to engulf him. He didn’t hear the words, precisely, but he felt everything, suffered her pain as if it were his: My little boy…what if he kills him? What if he turns out like him? What if he doesn’t? What will he do? What will he DO?

Bile rose in his throat and the temperature in his mind rose to the point where he was about to break into a sweat—which for a Cardassian was rare and indicated either serious fever or the onset of heatstroke. And the fear, the shame, the aching of the soul…he felt the impulse to curl into a ball, to hide under something and cry for her misery, Bajoran or not, acolyte or not, to exorcise her suffering through his own…

He lowered his gaze, and the impressions subsided somewhat. The avoidance of eye contact helped somewhat, kept his insights from overpowering him completely, though it couldn’t stanch the flow completely. That was the other thing about his work during the day, for which he was grateful: it kept his mind occupied enough that he couldn’t feel…not to this intensity.

Anyone watching him as he made his way back to his barracks would have seen an unassuming young man with the perpetual appearance of youth despite his already being thirty, with yielding, unremarkable features, eyes downcast and looking for all the world like his spirit had already half-departed for the tundra—but it kept their attention away from him, and that, too, helped.

Finally, finally, he sat on his narrow bunk in his barracks, head in hands, fingers rubbing the insides of his eye ridges to drive off an oppressive headache and praying he wouldn’t succumb to nightmares this time—or if he did, that at least he wouldn’t cry out, not after that awful night nine months ago.

He’d woken up screaming nonsense about demons ‘stealing the life and the mind’ and followed it by crying out, Dukat!

That he’d disturbed his barracks-mates’ precious few hours of rest was bad enough—but that he’d had the temerity to howl the missing Resistance-leader’s name was far, far worse. Fearing what the Bajorans might do if he were allowed to continue, they had beaten him…and the first thing his mind had registered as he came back to full consciousness had been a jumbled amalgam of their terror and his own, fierce enough to drive away all memory of whatever terror he’d experienced during the vision.

Mercy comes in strange guises, he thought.

And after saying his nightly prayers, he laid back to the sound of…silence.

That was the signal: the Resistance had urgent need of him.

His contact had tightened the screw that held the flimsy frame of his bunk together, preventing the tiny creak he usually heard as he laid down. It was an ideal way of contacting him—who, in their own exhaustion, would notice the absence of a noise they were so accustomed to…except for one who knew to listen for the difference?

He feigned sleep—only barely staving off the real thing—until the slow, regular breathing of his barracks-mates assured him of their unconsciousness. Then he reached one hand into his rucksack, pulling out a long, grey, skin-colored cloth he used to brush away his fingerprints and any stray microscales he might have left behind on the mosaic stones. He wound the cloth around his neck ridges and the lower half of his face…for one such as him, it was too dangerous even for his comrades and congregants to recognize him in the day for who he was, save for a rare few: a male Guide was remarkable enough as it was—especially a vision-prone, near-empath like him.

Such gifts were rare, even in an era that once again saw miracles as Cardassia had in the ancient days, rare enough that when it had first started, he’d never believed he could have been touched by Oralius. That was something you read about in the Hebitian Records, never experienced in the technological era. Now, as a Guide, he understood. Complacency doesn’t breed miracles. In comfort we’re unwilling to see—and Oralius will not force herself on the unwilling. And it doesn’t matter how much anyone else insists on their miracle…that’s the strange thing about them. You can never share them—only experience them.

Silently he stood, slinking out of the barracks, eyes wide to the light of the stars. They might hear him coming before he heard them, but he would surely see any Bajorans, with his superior night vision, well before that point. And the sufferings they inflicted and received—those, too, preceded them. But still he shivered…all it would take was one Bajoran to see him, to notice his masked face and haul him in for questioning…

Out of the outskirts of the settlement and into the barren hills he wandered until he reached a certain recess in the rock face barely wide enough to admit a man sidling in sideways. With an apprehensive swallow, he did exactly that, pushing himself through the narrow opening and into the darkness. After a few seconds of groping along in the darkness, his eyes adjusted and he caught the flickering flames of the Resistance.

One of them, the man known to the rest as the Glinn, bolted forward as he caught sight of his Guide. “Thank Fate you’re here! He should be back with us in minutes.” He pursed his lips, heavy ridges knitting just above his eyes like the jutting edge of a cliff. “Someone has to tell him. I thought it should be you. And the Bajorans, what they’ve done to him…!”

The Guide drew in a deep breath, then nodded. Such was the work of Oralius in these days, to break the endless litany of bad news to the living…and in whatever small way, soften the blow. “I understand,” he said, voice as soft as in the day, but his eyes burning with the decisive intensity he never revealed aboveground. “If you’ll please excuse me…I need to meditate.”

The Glinn swept a hand towards the flame. “It’s all yours, Guide.”

“Much obliged,” he replied with a bow as he turned his attention towards the cooking fire, lifting his hands toward its heat and closing his eyes. It was a simple and quintessentially Cardassian gesture, this act of drawing from the environment the warmth the body created only haltingly—but to the Oralian believer it was a centering gesture, reminding one to draw upon her strength where one’s own would not suffice.

A hoarse, tormented voice jolted him out of his trance. “You cannot keep this from me, Akellen! Where are they?!

The Guide stood, biting his lip as the cousins, reunited at last, rounded the corner. “Skrain…I…”

For an instant, Dukat’s eyes lit with joy as they took in the sight of his veiled spiritual mentor. “Thank Oralius!” Then he looked closer. “Tell me I'm wrong…”

“I'm afraid not,” whispered the Guide. “The Bajorans…executed your wife and children, three weeks after you were captured. I’m sorry…”

The Resistance leader’s shoulders sagged, but before the energy drained all the way out of him, he turned towards his bearded cousin. “Please—take her.” Macet reached out for a bundle in Dukat’s arms, which emitted a tiny gurgling noise. The shadow of a smile crossed Dukat’s face and faded as quickly as it had come. He turned to the Glinn. “Corat—please…go.”

Macet glanced sidelong at his cousin. “Would you prefer I leave as well?”

Dukat could not answer at first. “You can stay,” he decided. Then he turned and faced the Guide, who lifted his gaze and looked him straight in the eye.

The dream…the demon…!

And though he remembered nothing of the nightmare, only the words of his half-conscious ravings—there it was, that same residual of terror, anguish, and humiliation he’d sensed from the Bajoran girl that evening. He knew...and Dukat’s eyes revealed his awareness of the Guide’s understanding.

The Guide reached up and pulled the cloth from his face—Skrain and Akellen knew him; from them he had nothing to hide. Then he bowed: not the quick bow of greeting or thanks, but deeply as if receiving a Castellan from the days of old. “Lorhoc šadav-ra edek.” I honor you.

Dukat stood transfixed at first, eyes reflecting numb disbelief that such could be meant for him. The Guide held his gaze. It pained him, yes…but compassion served to blunt the impact enough that for the moment, he could function. Finally…the great Cardassian Resistance leader did what he had been unable to do for the past nine months. With a great shudder, he let out a moan, clutched his spiritual mentor in a viselike embrace, and wept for everything that had been stolen from him.

And those precious few things returned to him.

This time, at least, simply by his presence the Guide could start the work of healing the wounds in which he shared.

Tears ran freely down his friend’s cheeks as he whispered, “Aamin…thank you.”
Are you a Cardassian fan, citizen? Prove your loyalty--check out my fanfic universe, Star Trek: Sigils and Unions. Or keep the faith on my AU Cardassia, Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius!
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