This short story spans from late 2374 to just a week before the Septimus Massacre in 2375. There are spoilers for some sections of The Thirteenth Order
, as well as major spoilers for Lois Tilton's DS9 novel, Betrayal
Gul Tayben Berat is indeed the same character from Tilton's novel. But his history from that point (and the retconning of his history from Betrayal
) is my own. If you'd like to jump straight to the spoilers and see how I have woven Berat's history together for my own universe, please go to this article
. And this one
will also give you an understanding of the neurological condition that plays such an important role in the plot of this story. (If you've read The Thirteenth Order
so far, you'll have most of this information already.)
2374—The Dominion War
Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk
Sigils and Unions
“Let He Who Has Eyes See”
Gul Berat sighed…quietly enough that only Yejain could hear, but a sigh nonetheless. True, if
this Dominion technology did as advertised it would be quite a boost for the Sherouk
and its crew—but he still couldn’t shake his disgust. Both the gul and the part of him that still remembered what it felt like to hold a hyperspanner in his hands were revolted. Those Vorta and Jem’Hadar lab experiments were going to have their paws all over his ship
As a Cardassian he assigned no gender pronoun to his ship—no more than his language allowed for any other inanimate object, animal, or even person. That did not, however, erase the mental need to shower when he contemplated what these Dominion abominations were about to do. Though he could not verbalize it with quite the succinctness of a grammatically gendered language like Vedrayçda
, the fact remained: it felt…indecent
He had been fortunate until now: a junior gul with no other fiat than his own vessel, always serving in the company of other vessels and their older commanders—the Dominion hadn’t seen fit to spare manpower to put a team aboard until word came that the Sherouk
, along with Macet’s Trager
, would be among the first twenty ships in the Cardassian fleet to receive Dominion upgrades.
Berat faced the transporter officer and ordered in as neutral a voice as he could muster, “Riyăk
The young officer initiated the transport sequence. Through the krilătbre-yezul
—the inverted teardrop-shaped protrusion at the center of the Cardassian forehead, he sensed the building energy columns in the room just as any other Cardassian would—but for him, the neural stimulation coupled with his misgivings to send a shot of pain radiating from his forehead to a point just behind his eyes. It felt like being stabbed—but he was well used to these intermittent pains by now and only the most astute observer would notice the tension around his jaw ridges as he focused it into submission.
The transport proceeded perfectly—much to Berat’s disappointment. The gul focused on the Vorta male and stepped forward. “Dasreen,” he said in his most formal phrasing, “on behalf of my crew I welcome you aboard the Sherouk
.” He bowed slightly—but it was hardly more than the incline of the head he would give to acknowledge one of the junior crew.
The tall Vorta had what a terhăn
might describe as patrician features and a smug demeanor to go with it. He glanced down his long nose at the Cardassian gul, who stood arrow-straight with hands folded carefully behind his back. “Tayben Berat…your reputation precedes you. I understand you have…a certain experience in interspecies diplomacy.”
Berat stiffened, and so did Yejain. Does he mean what I
think he does?
“I have undertaken such missions in the past, yes.”
“I imagine you would find such skills useful in an endeavor of this nature,” Dasreen replied. Berat let his shoulders relax before the consequences of the sustained tension could manifest; this sounded diplomatic enough. Then the Vorta just had
to append his remarks. “The Dominion, after all, is founded upon harmony between its component species, and you certainly understand the repercussions of upsetting that harmony. I expect you to employ that skill to the fullest extent; you will certainly need your crew to carry out your will as effectively as if you were doing it yourself.” Though the subtext of translated speech could be difficult to interpret at times, Berat was almost a hundred percent sure he detected a measure of contempt in the Vorta’s eyes as he spoke that last sentence. And he had a dreadful suspicion as to why.
“I have full faith in my crew,” Berat said—and it was absolutely true. “You will find their qualifications more than sufficient to your project.”
“But…” Dasreen let the word hang there for a second. “What about their commander?”
“You needn’t trouble yourself on that count,” Berat curtly replied. “I intend to be present as well—I know my ship very well and I’m certain I can contribute my expertise.”
Dasreen’s features hardened. “My team is well familiar with your systems; we need only carry out our labor. A ‘presence’ is not necessary.”
“With all due respect,” Berat quietly pressed for the sake of the Sherouk
and his crew, “each ship is the product not only of its schematics but of its individual history, both in drydock and in space. I know that history intimately. I know those subtle things that differentiate the Sherouk
from its counterparts and I can prevent you from wasting any of your labor.”
“If your contribution is one of knowledge, that can be had from a multitude of sources to include your computers and your chief engineer, and does not require your physical presence. Unless you believe you can make a more substantial contribution—” Dasreen’s eyes gleamed with malicious delight now; he was about to spring his trap and Berat had had no other choice but to walk right into it. “Show me your hands.”
really want to see them, do you? Why, I would be
Berat ground his teeth, picturing a particularly obscene gesture he was reasonably sure he still had the dexterity for: the fingers of each hand formed a circle with the thumb, littlest finger of each hand extended—and a thrust of the right hand quite graphically suggested what act the offending party performed on his off-duty hours.
Berat seethed, knowing full well his barely-restrained anger would only enhance the impression he was about to give this supercilious, genetically-programmed tree-ape. He could already feel it; it was a foregone conclusion. So he gave Dasreen nothing other than strict compliance with the order—certainly not the submissive ‘gorhoç edek
’ one said to a legate, nor even the bow one gave a more senior gul. His face, his eyes became utterly devoid of affect as he unfolded his hands from behind his back and held them, palms inward, before the Vorta.
The tremor was quite pronounced, as Berat had expected. I suppose it could’ve been worse
, he thought as Dasreen pursed his lips and raised a thin eyebrow that Berat suspected—though such things were far from his realm of experience—had been meticulously trimmed into that shape rather than having grown that way. It could have been evening and I could be exhausted on top of insulted, mortified, and furious
Then Dasreen pronounced his verdict.
Berat’s jaw and neck ridges burned in concert and as much as he would have loved to let the fury crescendo to a fevered wrath, he knew he couldn’t afford it—the cost in pain was too high, especially now, in this supercilious creature’s view.
The Vorta wasn’t finished. “I had heard you Cardassians were a paragon of efficiency; I see now that your people’s standards are…rather below what I would have expected of a race so famed for its willingness to make the hard decisions needed to allocate its scarce resources.” He gave a derisive, haughty bark of a laugh. “Ha! Any Jem’Hadar or even Vorta in your condition would be euthanized immediately—and if I were in your position, I would gladly
offer myself up to the mercy of the Founders.”
The eyes of the riyăk
manning the transporter console positively burned by now, enough so that Berat feared for the young man’s safety. Even the ordinarily placid Glinn Yejain had a dangerous, steel glint in his own eyes that Berat rarely ever saw during his first officer’s tenure on the Sherouk
. Yejain might seem like a slight man—wiry in build, but he was a martial arts master of the highest order. And when he had reason to unleash that aspect of himself…the results even struck fear into Klingon warriors. And now he wore the same look he’d had the instant before he snapped the neck of one such Klingon with nothing but his bare hands, when they had tried to take the Sherouk
during the fight to hold the vicious berserkers out of the Cardassia system.
But right now, there was nothing either of them could do about the insufferable little skrăgh
standing before them. If only I could snap his scrawny little pole neck!
Berat fumed. As it was, he pointedly folded his hands back behind his back and stood as tall as he could, fixing Dasreen with a frosty gaze that to those who knew him would have seem strange in his ordinarily kind pale blue eyes. “We Cardassians aren’t cloned in a lab somewhere with convenient little memory transfers when we die. And that means we value
our lives. I may not conform to your sterile ideal, but I happen to like
being alive, thank you very much!”
“How predictable,” Dasreen sneered. “Typical Cardassian narcissism…you value your own miserable little life and yet I have seen what your people can do when you believe yourselves provoked—or when you feel entitled to something that belongs to someone else.”
There was no rebuttal: his personal record simply could not erase the ragged, blood-soaked truth. Berat could only glare as Dasreen finally stepped down from the transporter pad and the Jem’Hadar contingent filed down the hall behind him, not pausing once to ask for permission or even directions.
In fact, for all the Vorta cared, Berat might as well not be there.
The instant the Dominion contingent left the room, Berat exploded. “Ghencardă’ăsca!
” And almost immediately he regretted it. It was not a word Gul Berat would ordinarily ever contemplate using…in fact, he found it distasteful in the extreme: he knew how varied the minds and motivations of non-Cardassians could be. He had no tolerance for it when fellow guls branded other species as ghencardăst
—sub-Cardassian…and now, in his fury towards the Vorta, he had trampled all over his principles. And as every Cardassian well knew…a crime of passion spoke to what lay within just as loudly as any planned act, and therefore deserved no amnesty.
Berat flushed—not visibly, under the pale grey scales that covered the top layer of his skin, but he suspected that as close as Yejain was standing, the glinn could sense the bioelectric fluctuation that accompanied the increase in circulation. “Forget I said that,” he snapped at Yejain and the transporter operator alike. “That’s an order!”
He stalked out of the transporter room, thoroughly disgusted at himself. Silently he swore an oath upon the lives of any future children: That will be the
last victory Dasreen ever gains over me!
2375—The Dominion War—Two weeks before the Septimus Massacre
Gul Berat and Doctor Hetalc sat cross-legged in an intersection between maintenance conduits across from Glinns Yejain and Motreln. A sly grin spread across the gul’s face as he announced, “I believe I have a solution to our Jem’Hadar problem...that is, provided the Dominion modifications to ‘their’ areas haven’t been so extensive as to disable the fire suppression systems. They were foolish to take over a cargo bay; I intend to exploit that.”
“I like the way you think, Gul.” Glinn Motreln mirrored her commander’s wicked smile. “Don’t tell me…level three suppression protocol?”
“Exactly! We alter our cargo manifests to trick the computer into thinking we’re storing something extremely flammable in that bay—something like trilithium resin that could generate flames hot enough to burn through the deckplates in a matter of seconds. Then we send a false indication of fire…and just like that
, the entire bay vents to vacuum, sweeping every single Jem’Hadar out to space.”
“Excellent,” commended the gray-haired Dr. Hetalc, “but I have one request.”
“Go ahead, Doctor.” Berat’s smile warmed immediately; this was, after all, the man who had brought him back from the brink of death four years ago. Provided the favor wasn’t any more extreme or risky than the overall plan, he would be more than happy to oblige.
“I want the bodies. I want to understand how it is the Founders have programmed actual beliefs
into these creatures, what neurological structures they’ve created to accomplish that,” Hetalc said, for he had taken a great interest in the discipline of neurology since the Volan III incident, the better to manage his commander’s condition. “But it’s not just scientific curiosity. I’m concerned with how
the Founders accomplish what they do. I want to know if it’s all done at the moment of conception—cloning—whatever it is—or if it’s…something else. Something they could spread straight into the Cardassian population if they ever get it in their heads to try.”
That put a chill down everyone’s spine; Dominion bioweapons expertise was chilling, to say the least. He’d heard about the slow genocide to which the Dominion had condemned the Teplan people for disobedience. Who knew what else they were capable of? Perhaps a gene-altering pathogen wasn’t so far-fetched a fear after all. “Request granted,” Berat decided. “We’ll set the forcefield to let air pass—but not organic matter.”
“Just one question,” put in Glinn Yejain. “I understand the plan to eliminate the Jem’Hadar—but Gul Macet was quite clear about the risk of killing the Vorta. We can’t allow that termination implant of theirs to send any signals. That’s a problem…Dasreen can’t be in that cargo bay with the Jem’Hadar, but they can’t be allowed to suspect anything is amiss. Unless replacement is an option?”
Hetalc shook his head. “No one on this crew is a close enough match in build, facial features, and voice to chance it.”
“So we use synthesized audio to call them…and holography,” said Glinn Motreln, “when we have to communicate with other ships. But Gul…I’m curious as well—how do we incapacitate Dasreen? They control the transporters, the Jem’Hadar bodyguards are there at all hours…how do we isolate him?”
will,” Berat declared with a fierce glare.
Motreln’s eye ridges widened as far as they could. “Brocol lerayt edek?
”she asked. “Çada?
” Did I hear correctly? You?
Berat took no offense; their hearing, like all Cardassians, was weaker than most galactic powers. Though the deficit was far from extreme, their people still gave less trust to their hearing than most cardasdanoid species and showed far less embarrassment about asking for repeats of potentially misheard statements than did species like the terhăn-çăs
“You heard correctly,” Gul Berat replied. “There is no other way.”
His officers fell silent and he understood exactly why. The situation of the Sherouk
was completely unique in the Cardassian Guard and perhaps any other galactic military, with the Federation as one of the few possible exceptions. All on the highest levels of the command crew were there because they wanted to be, there because they believed in Berat’s cleverness and drive, and honored the faith that he
had in them
. But all of them did so knowing exactly what the risks were. He had spoken to them about it in the frankest terms possible as soon as the announcement came down that he would retain his command, offered a one-time opportunity for anyone ranked dalin
or above who wished to transfer to another command to do so without prejudice. No one had taken it, but Berat had to wonder if any of these three would be questioning their decision now.
Hardly ever were the risks more extreme than now. Their gul could never fire a weapon and had a dangerous, almost certainly lethal hypersensitivity to others’ energy weapons, even on their lowest stun settings. His reaction time for anything requiring great coordination was compromised and his stamina in hand-to-hand combat doubtful at best. And for a man with limited use of the hands, manipulating tools and sometimes even computer consoles presented significant difficulties.
What Berat was proposing to do was to face the Vorta alone with only his words, his wits, and his courage as his weapons. And even as they admired him for it…he knew what all three of them surely imagined. The thought had crossed his mind too—far too many times.
“I have a few more questions for each of you,” Berat continued. “Doctor…do you know if Vorta are capable of seeing the ghenorev