I struggled fiercely with all of this before I ever joined Starfleet
, he wrote again even though he had done so in the past, even more so with the fact that we couldn’t be together to discuss this in person as a Cardassian child and his parents should. My brothers thought I was crazy. After all, the Federation has never officially lifted a finger to help us. Certain civilians like Mr. Singh have—and I’ll always be grateful to him for getting Arjan, Lopar, and I out of Bajoran space. But there’s never been anything official.
Arjan still barely speaks to me. All we have left of home is each other and he has quite literally turned the power that runs through him against his brother and driven me away from him. I can only wonder if this grieves him as much as it does Lopar and me.
Yet the questions he asks are real.
Why would I commit my life to another power when Cardassians are fighting and dying in the resistance back home, making a real difference? Is that not my place instead of the military of the Federation?
How could I give my talents to a government that has done nothing for us, and would probably arrest the ones who have, if they ever got caught?
And could I give my service over to a society whose dominant world maintains a veneer of tolerance towards aliens, and our beliefs, but to not its own people when they hold to the old faiths like Sam has? Would I in doing so betray not only Cardassia, but Oralius herself? Does she not grieve when those who would seek after that which is beyond are turned aside by the habitual dismissals of her children?
The expression on Ensign Sam Lavelle’s face when he’d first caught a glimpse of the new ensign in the break room nearest to the bridge had been quite unlike the curious glance and coolly polite reception he’d received from most of the non-Cardassians upon his arrival: the brief nod and introduction, if they felt so inclined, the handshake from the humans whose unintended bioelectric intimacy warred with the impersonal nature of the gesture.
He had just been finishing his thanksgiving prayer over his lunch when the doors swished open to admit the human. Mendral prayed with eyes open as Cardassians often did for their simpler prayers, his hands extending out past his plate, not quite touching, palms out as if drawing in the warmth of a candle flame. As he finished, he briefly inclined his head as if for the bow of leave-taking.
Only then had he allowed himself to register the quite literally alien presence in the break room. Glancing over, he’d seen a pale human man with brown hair standing silently just inside the door. Undeniably human, yes…yet how that wistful mixture of recognition and time-dulled grief resembled the look his brother Lopar got whenever the discussion turned to Cardassia. The expression faded as quickly as it had come; he seemed not to realize how much he’d betrayed of himself in that first instant. Still, he did not speak until Mendral issued the invitation. “It’s all right,” said the Cardassian. “I’m through—you’re not disturbing me.”
“Saying grace over a replicator meal,” the young human mused. Then he smiled. “I like that.”
“It fills my stomach and nourishes my body,” Mendral replied, careful not to burden this new acquaintance with too many of his travails. Some, he had learned, found that sort of sharing unnerving when issued unprompted…even offensive, like unwanted proselytizing. “That’s always
a thing worthy of gratitude…even when your meal was organic fertilizer in its previous life.”
“Yuck,” the human replied in a wry pro forma
display—it wasn’t like anyone on a starship was ignorant of the process. Then he proceeded to order his own meal. Once it materialized, he asked, “Mind if I join you?”
Mendral gestured to the chair next to him. “Not at all. Now, what was your name again?”
“Oh—sorry!” His cheeks blushed rose. “Sam…Lavelle,” he stammered.
“Don’t worry about it, Lavelle,” he replied with an affable wave of the hand, though he took the human’s surname in Cardassian fashion. “My name is Mendral.”
Ensign Lavelle sat. “Thanks for letting me join you,” he said. Then he lowered his voice, even though there was no one else in the break room with him. “I…appreciate feeling like I’ll have a chance to eat without being judged for my practices.” He mumbled the last few words as if speaking of a serious disease.
And suddenly Mendral understood the expression Lavelle had worn when he first beheld the Cardassian praying: the young man believed
. In an alien god or gods, to be sure, but such things were rare among humanity—or at least, rarely spoken of in the open. He’d seen it in that Phoenix high school…those who did often found themselves isolated from their peers aside from those who shared their convictions, or those similar. True…the Third World War had been just as devastating as anything the Bajorans hoped to do to the Cardassian people, but the tragic overreaction, in its own slow, silent way, had left its own unspoken wounds on the psyche of a people.
,” Mendral swore, strong and solemn. “You don’t have to hide a thing from me.”
And he’d meant it down to the fiber of his being: it felt like a sign straight from Oralius—he had understood her correctly after all. Now he knew—he truly was in the right place.
I prayed long and hard
, Hirhul wrote of long years before that confirmation. But ultimately I couldn’t escape the conclusion: yes, the Federation and Earth in particular had—and has—serious problems.
This, however, is what she showed me in the end: I solve nothing by running from those problems. I change nothing by hiding my soul in a cave. About that Sam has a very apt saying…to be “in the world but not of the world.” There is much truth in his alien wisdom: I pray to Oralius that I never become so immersed in this place that I cease to be aware of its ills…and yet she would not have us withdraw from our surroundings, for in doing so we cut ourselves off from the ways in which she might move through us to serve others.
And that is a very Cardassian thing: service. I could no more tear out that need to serve something greater than myself than I could rip the macroscales from my own neck ridges. And Oralius knows that nowhere is service in her name more needed than the places where her warmth reaches as few hearts as Earth’s cold winter sun. In such places we must be her warmth to others. For now, especially while I’m young, that’s all I can really accomplish. Yet I know this is part of her purpose for me, and I must be patient and serve in the moment.
Faith, service, hope, and love: the four things to which we Cardassians cling in these desperate times for our people.
And those are what ultimately carried me into Starfleet though in the eyes of Arjan they should have turned me away.
There were times I feared nothing would change, just as Arjan surely does—and nothing but my sense of duty and faith to the way of Oralius kept me going. Even when we would skirmish with the Bajorans I never felt the urgency, the recognition that evil must be opposed.
Or even that evil exists.
And yet something seems to be happening here in the Federation as of late. At least, it is on the
Enterprise. They look at me and the other Cardassians in the crew in a thoughtful way now, now that they’ve endured the Bajorans’ naked aggression in something more protracted than a mere border skirmish. I think they’re starting to see now: if this is what they do to a powerful enemy like the Federation, how much worse they must do to the conquered!
The Bajorans’ zeal to capture this sector may bring about a war—the sort that would make all Bajoran territories, including the worlds of Cardassia, fair game for Starfleet. Commander Worf especially favors decisive action, and I think Captain Riker is coming around to his view. And with Riker as an advocate, others in the fleet may follow and put pressure on the admiralty from the field.
I hate to hope for a war…but I have seen what the status quo of peace looks like and it’s killing us. There was a human economist that referred to the idea of “creative destruction”: there are those rare cases where what has been must be destroyed to make way for the new. Or restoring ancient traditions and truth…giving our people the right to our souls once more.
I have real hope now that attitudes may be turning. The Bajorans have walked a careful line until recently. They know that if the situation turned to outright genocide on Cardassia, the public outcry in the Federation worlds might force the Council’s hand and finally compel them to drive the Bajorans out of our space once and for all. But how many people would have to die before they finally acted?
If we are fortunate, Starfleet will move before that happens. And on the
Enterprise…I may have the chance to witness firsthand the liberation of our people, perhaps even take part in it. And if Oralius wills it…if you live, perhaps I’ll have the chance to see you again.
Until then, you have my love and my prayers.
Your faithful son forever,
The robed Cardassian ensign set down his pen. Finally his body had begun to acquiesce to what his mind had been telling it for over an hour now. His eyes burned with fatigue, and he squeezed them shut for several moments, rubbing the outsides of his eye ridges.
His hands sought the warmth of the candle flickering on the desk nearby. Without even looking, his hands located that space just beyond the perimeter where its heat would burn if he remained there too long. And in this position, hands outspread to draw in the candle’s warmth as he drew upon the spirit of his people’s deity, he prayed for his colleagues aboard the Enterprise
and for Sam by name, for Arjan and Lopar in their shared exile on Earth, for his parents—wherever they were, and above all for every Cardassian who still lived in slavery.
And for one brief moment, just as he extinguished the candle and slipped wearily under the covers, he could feel it: hope edging ever closer, though still faint as the cosmic background radiation that echoed the wild glory of the First Day.
Where I have brought you is where you are meant to be.