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Old October 16 2009, 07:47 PM   #1
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
October Challenge Entry: Those Who Live in the Shadow of the Night

"Those Who Live in the Shadow of the Night"

A collaboration between PSGarak and Nerys Ghemor in which PSGarak's version of Garak is transported to Nerys Ghemor's Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius alternate universe.

Hebitian Ruins outside former Lakarian City

Garak sighed and stepped out of the ashen, sullen daylight downward into inky darkness, following in the footsteps of one of the last living experts on Hebitian culture, Doctor Sindra Remal. How had Alon Ghemor talked him into this again? Oh, yes, by reminding him of how badly they needed some good news, any good news, to help prop the newly founded democratic government. It wouldn't hurt if they found something valuable to help fund the recovery. So now I'm a treasure hunter? he thought with dry irony.

Once the entire team reached the base of the steep incline, Remal activated her palm light. “I can't tell you how pleased I am that Castellan Ghemor is interested in our research,” she said to Garak. “Thank you again for coming at such short notice.”

“It's my pleasure to be of service,” he said. How quickly you've fallen into the role of the loyal advisor, he thought. The weight of the cavern above his head tried to close in on him. Some fears were never far at bay.

“The structure is this way,” she said, gesturing with the light. The small group of six walked deeper into the ruins. Shadows flickered over bas relief sculptures of fecund life and half naked beings that looked much like modern Cardassians, except that they were happy. Garak had never felt more disconnected from the past than in that moment.

“It has taken us a long time to find the last piece,” she informed him. “We've waited to add it until someone from the government could see for themselves that this is truly ancient technology and not something we concocted ourselves for publicity.”

“Of course,” Garak said graciously. They emerged from the tunnel into a wide chamber. The meager light didn't reach the ceiling or any of the far walls, giving the odd impression of existence in a blue-white bubble. The structure in question rose above them in a graceful arch. The stonework looked too fine to support what must have been massive weight, and yet there it stood, miraculously intact even after nearby Lakarian City had been turned to nothing more than a glassy crater. “What do you suspect it does?”

“We think it could be some form of view screen,” she said. She signaled to one of her students who stepped forward with a wrapped bundle. Taking it carefully, she beckoned Garak closer and unwrapped it, revealing a translucent, dark blue crystal rod. “Or perhaps a recording device. This could be one of the earliest known data recordings on Cardassia Prime.” Excitement thrummed in her pleasant alto voice. “Would you care for the honors?

“I wouldn't dream of it,” Garak said. “This is your project. Consider me nothing more than Castellan Ghemor's representative witness.” He followed behind her as she approached the archway, his curiosity piqued. She smiled over her shoulder at him and carefully inserted the rod into a slot perfectly shaped to receive it. Nothing happened. The woman's look of disappointment bordered on crushed. Garak stepped forward, words of consolation on his lips, only to feel as though he were suddenly being turned inside out. He had no breath left to scream his agony, and his consciousness fled.

He awoke in utter darkness. The old panic rushed in to fill the void. “Hello!” he yelled. “Can you hear me? Where are you?”

He heard nothing but the faint sound of wind from somewhere behind him. He climbed to his feet and followed it, both hands extended in front of him. It seemed he walked much further than on his way inside, but it could've been his phobia playing tricks on him. In time, a dim glow grew to bright light, much brighter than the blighted sunlight of post-war Prime. It shone through a hole a little bigger than his head. Fortunately, the dry earth yielded easily to his bare hands. He dug himself out, only to find himself standing in an arid, wind-swept desert beneath a pitiless blue sky.

Bereft of easy choices, he began to walk, for to stay would likely mean a slow death in a black prison beneath the sand. If he had to die, he'd rather it be in sunlight. How far he walked, he couldn't say. By dusk, he had been engaged in a hallucinatory conversation with Enabran Tain for at least an hour, too dehydrated to realize how in trouble he was. If only Tain weren't so stubborn, they could've sat down to rest for a while. Finally, he stopped. “I don't care,” he said heatedly. “I'm tired, and it's getting dark. You go on if you want to.”

He squinted into the distance, thinking perhaps he saw light. Perhaps not. Everything wavered as the planet began to radiate all the heat it hoarded during the daylight. “That has always been your problem, Elim,” Tain sighed. “You fear the darkness.”

“Whose fault is that?” Garak snapped. One or maybe two figures seemed to be approaching. If only he could see better. All of that sun must've done something to his eyes. He tried to call out, but Tain covered his mouth with a thick hand. He struggled, feeling all of his strength leaving him. Just as his eyes slid back into his head, he could've sworn he saw Skrain Dukat, but that was impossible. He had been missing for over a year.

6 Tegalăr, Twenty-Second Year of the 371st Ăstraya
Federation Year 2369

A bad sign, the resistance fighter assessed as he caught sight of the stranded traveler their stolen sensor grid had indicated just a moment ago. He’s definitely delirious. The other man’s path had grown more and more erratic as they’d tried to track him and now that they’d finally caught up to him, Dukat could just make out the sound of him murmuring under his breath to some being unseen. It wasn’t Oralius—at least, he didn’t think so, because there was something much too bitter, too adversarial about this one-ended conversation.

“He’s in a bad way,” he whispered to his daughter—for in the silence of the desert such sounds were audible to the Cardassian ear. He spoke quietly, for the last thing he wanted was to agitate the stricken man and drive him to expend whatever last energy remained to him. “However he got here, he wasn’t prepared for the desert at all…no water, no supplies, nothing.”

“And the way he’s dressed—just look at that suit,” Ziyal added. “That had to have made it worse.”

Dukat nodded his agreement; the man’s thickly-woven clothing clung far too closely to his skin…there was nowhere for a layer of cooler air to insulate him from the heat. Especially with his daughter, who could not withstand the heat as well as a full-blooded Cardassian, that was something they had to take great care with—for difficult as it might seem, it was indeed possible for a Cardassian to suffer heatstroke. Accordingly, they wore light, layered desert robes after the way of the nomadic Kurabda tribes.

This man was not at all prepared for the desert—he was dressed wrong, lacked supplies, and apparently had traveled in the worst of the heat. Perhaps he’d escaped the Bajorans. Or perhaps they’d dumped him into the sands, hoping he would die.

“Whose fault is that?” the traveler snarled in a sharp voice as they drew close. He drew in breath to cry out, anger and thinly disguised terror lighting his cold blue eyes, but Dukat clapped his hand over the other man’s mouth. Sound, after all, carried far across the desert sands. Maybe the Bajorans were already searching for him—and if they were anywhere around, their unnaturally sharp ears might well catch hold of his voice.

But the instant he made contact with the traveler’s skin, it was as though he’d hit some sort of hidden power switch. With a sigh, all volition fled his muscles and he would have fallen backwards into the sand if Dukat hadn’t caught him. “Let’s go!” he whispered urgently. “He doesn’t have much time left.” Thankfully they weren’t far from the base—only ten minutes’ walk or so under normal circumstances, a bit longer carrying this unconscious man. He just prayed it would be enough time.

Almost the instant they ducked through the rock-ringed entrance to Skrain Dukat’s underground home, the traveler emitted a weak groan. His eyes were squeezed painfully shut as Ziyal switched on the light. Ziyal quickly brought the sitting mats together to give her father a place to lay the traveler, a smaller pillow at the end to support his head; as her father knelt next to the cushions and carefully laid the traveler on his back, she darted off to get a glass of water.

As soon as she returned, the traveler tried to stir from his place, but he was too weak. Dukat, still kneeling at his side, gently slipped his left hand under the man’s head, bringing it forward to where he could drink comfortably from the glass he held with his other hand. “How did you…?” the traveler mumbled as his eyes opened and fixed upon Dukat’s face.

The resistance fighter didn’t let the traveler finish. “You’re safe now…it’s going to be all right,” he intoned in a low voice. He offered a calm, reassuring smile, though he did not give his name quite yet—his was a rather notorious one to their Bajoran occupiers and he’d need a better sense of the traveler’s story and intentions before he revealed it. “We can talk soon…but right now you need to save your strength, and drink. It’s only by the grace of Oralius that we found you in time—you were almost too far gone.”

With the hand supporting the stranger’s head, he felt the barest hint of a nod. Slowly he tilted the glass towards the man’s pale lips. You must come from the northern latitudes, Dukat thought. Lakat, maybe. But how did you wind up here? That was something he could learn later, though. Right now, the most important thing was getting this man re-hydrated.

The stranger’s upper lip curled at first when he got a taste of the solution Ziyal had mixed into the water: salt and sugar, the essential ingredients of a homemade re-hydration therapy. “I know,” Dukat murmured sympathetically. “You’ve lost a lot of need this.”

The stranger still appeared wary, suspicious, almost. Understandable, Dukat thought, figuring he knew the man’s other concern. If I found myself somewhere I didn’t know, where there was no running water, I’d be thinking the same thing. “Don’t worry,” he added. “It’s been boiled.”

This seemed to comfort the traveler—but only slightly. He sipped now at the water in the glass Dukat held for him…not exactly greedily, but steadily, at least.

How do you like your sugar water, sir? Garak thought, still close to delirium. Boiled, of course; it's the best way! Desultory laughter shook him in weak spasms. He sputtered and tried to lift a hand to apologize, but it was as though his body belonged to someone else. Nothing worked properly. Where was Enabran? No, that wasn't right. Tain had been dead for years. So this was delusion? Right, I've always secretly desired to be tenderly ministered to by Gul Dukat, he thought. The laughter came again, a bit stronger now, his efficient Cardassian system absorbing the water and electrolytes at speed. He stopped himself as soon as he could. It was almost like being drunk on kanar. He must have been very dehydrated indeed, he realized.

He took in his surroundings such as he could with the man's head and shoulders blocking much of his line of sight. There was a girl hovering in the background. He hadn't seen her clearly yet. He appeared to be in a small cavern. The air felt somehow processed, reminding him oddly of Deep Space Nine, and the light was artificial. There was an altar. Now that looked familiar. It wasn't so different from his own. By the grace of Oralius, Dukat had said. Dukat? he wondered, focusing intently on the man's face. The features were almost identical, younger though. The demeanor was all wrong, reminding him much more of Akellen Macet than his old enemy. “Do I...know you?” he rasped carefully.

Dukat paused. For one thing, the traveler’s reactions were still quite off-kilter, to judge from that laughter. There was no telling what answer might set him off if he still wasn’t entirely clearheaded yet—and he still knew nothing about this man and his circumstances. On the other hand…it didn’t sit with him well at all to lie to someone in a state like this. So he slowly shook his head and truthfully answered, “I don’t know. Your face is unfamiliar to me. You?”

It was the truth in his eyes that decided Garak. Whatever was happening, this was not Gul Dukat, a fact which also led him to believe it was not delirium. He had no reason, not even at the base of his subconscious, to try to turn Dukat into anything but the deluded madman he had been by the end. “No, I don't know you,” he murmured, closing his eyes and lying back to rest. “You'll have to forgive me. I was...seeing things.”

“That’s all right,” Dukat softly replied. “You had quite the ordeal out there.” The traveler was getting stronger now that he had finished his first glass, he could see, but right now he lay back, staring disconsolately at the ceiling. Ziyal had gone back to mix him another glass. “Do you remember what happened? Did the Bajorans do this to you? It’s all right if they did,” he added, the shadows of that deep and terrible old pain settling across his face. “I know what they do to those who resist. You have nothing to fear from me if you’re a rebel.”

His eyes darted to the man's face when he said, “Bajorans.” The pain afterward in the stranger's features was unmistakable, and he immediately felt the resonance of its echo after all the deaths on Prime. His eyes stung. Oralius, does our culpability run so deeply that in every world we are hunted and hated? Are there no free, happy Cardassias? He opened his mouth to speak only to have his throat close over the words. Why was he here? Why was he being shown such terrible things? “I'm sorry,” he apologized when his control reasserted itself, a hitch in his breath. “I've been through a great deal over the past year. Seen...too much death.” There was no need to feign a haunted look. It was as common to Cardassians of his world as their distinctive ridges and scales but he hoped not as permanent.

He struggled to sit. He had to pull himself together. He couldn't figure out what to do next if he allowed himself to be one raw nerve. Then he saw the girl coming out of the kitchen with another glass of water and he barked a sharp sound, equal shock and dismay. He lay back again, turning on his side away from the man and quickly covering his face with both hands so neither of them would see what the sight of her did to him. “I sat up too quickly,” he said, his voice thick and choked.

This isn't possible, he thought. He couldn't lie to himself for long. Was she any more incongruous than this compassionate Dukat at his side? The universe doesn't hate Cardassians, Elim, he thought dryly. Just you. He took three deep, calming breaths and sat up a second time. The iron control that used to come to him so easily had been eroded by his year post-war, but it was still there, and it was finally answering to his call. “Thank you. Both of you,” he said in his normal voice. “I believe I've recovered enough now to be myself again. I don' I got out there,” he said honestly. “My last memory is of being in a cave.” That part wasn't true, but he said it no less sincerely.

Dukat’s breath caught. For a fleeting second, heat flashed all the way up his jaw ridges and into his ears—and as close as this traveler was, he feared the reaction might have been so intense that even in his weakened state the man might sense the surge in his bioelectric field. He’d seen it, the instant the stranger’s eyes took in Ziyal, the awful intensity of his reaction. And then…he wasn’t quite sure what. Suddenly the man’s voice was almost—stronger than it should have been, more genial. He shouldn’t have suddenly been so…calm in these circumstances. It was a wall, a mask. Nothing the man said seemed implausible, nor had his tone wavered—but that was exactly the thing that bothered Dukat: there was no longer any way to tell.

And that first instant for Dukat, when his mind settled upon the likely cause, was fury. How dare he judge, and in front of her, no less! But reason quickly reasserted itself. Of course…if this man was indeed in some sort of trouble with the Bajorans, seeing Ziyal might well lead him to the wrong conclusion. And he might well fear for his safety.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me for a moment,” Dukat said, rising to his feet.

Ziyal, for her part, had seen it too. There had been something so strange, so compelling about this man as he’d begun to speak—the intelligence, the depths of pain he’d witnessed…and then that change. The guardedness. She’d seen it enough times…she knew why it was. The Bajorans who caught sight of her during their operations—it never changed. With Cardassians…they often came around, learned to see her as a person—but that didn’t stop it from smarting. He couldn’t see her for who she was…and for some reason it bothered her more this time. Yet it shouldn’t have, because that sudden defensiveness, that sudden shield between the man and everything around him…what was a relationship without trust?

Her father put a hand on her shoulder and indicated with a gentle pressure that she should step aside with him. “I’m very sorry, my dear,” he whispered. “I don’t think he even knows of me, or at least, if he does, he doesn’t know my face. This is my fault, Ziyal…I should have explained things to him better than I did. I wish I didn’t have to ask this, but—”

“You want me to go to the other room,” she said, her posture and tone ever dignified, but resigned.

“Only for a moment,” Dukat confirmed with a regretful sigh. Then his tone grew stronger—still soft in volume, but rather more defiant now. “I want him to meet you properly. And that will be very soon. But right now…I need to set things right.”

Ziyal gave a wordless Cardassian bow and made a move to leave. But before she could retreat, Dukat pulled her into his embrace and kissed her on the top of her head. “I love you,” he whispered.

Dukat crossed the room with a few long strides and knelt back at the stranger’s side. “I didn’t even think,” he admitted in a quiet voice. “To me, she is no different than if she had been born fully Cardassian. But for you to just wake up here after whatever you’ve been through…I—I suppose I understand why you may believe me to be a collaborator.”

For just a second he closed his eyes and offered a silent prayer to Oralius, a plea for strength to say what he had to say. When he opened his eyes...he knew. He had to take the chance. “My name is Skrain Dukat. It’s quite possible you’ve heard of me, maybe even heard what happened—I don’t know. It is true that I have been a Bajoran prisoner. But never a collaborator.” His voice shook with emotion…this never got any easier to say, no matter how much time passed. He had simply grown better at saying it despite the pain. “Never did I…act willingly. Her mother may have sinned…but I could not—could not—let them make her into sin. I couldn’t abandon her. Maybe she would have been more ‘comfortable’ there, but she has the right to know her creator. She is my daughter, a gift from Oralius. And I love her.”
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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