At long last--Part II! Remember, this is not the same version of Skrain Dukat you knew from Deep Space Nine...
(BTW, the Cardassian name for the Klingons is a tribute to John M. Ford's take on the Klingon culture in his TOS novel.)
Finally—Skrain Dukat had a moment’s respite from the unbelievable motion and noise. That was to say, he at least had a thin set of walls and a door between him and the noise, and his small single room all to himself. Wild rumors of every possible variety were already flying, and without any confirmed communications from the Castellan or his Councillors, there was nothing but fear: the capital had fallen to enemy bombardment, a special team of assassins had beamed into the Castellan’s office…truth was a hard commodity to come by.
He hovered for a moment over his open suitcase. What do you pack for
True, this might not be the
Day of Sorrows, for predictions—even in the midst of crisis—brought swift condemnation by the Guides of most mainstream sects, including from Astraea herself, the chief Guide of the largest sect. That said, this could easily be the closest he’d ever come to experiencing that in his lifetime.
He’d read numerous tales of world-sweeping invasions, all the way from seven-hundred year old tales from before Cardassians…the Hebitians then…had any idea they weren’t alone among the stars, to tales from the past decade warning what might happen if the Klin’ça
threat wasn’t taken seriously.
No one back then had foreseen the Bajoran incursions.
That notwithstanding, he still found himself flashing back to those stories...maybe that would help this all to make some kind of sense
. Travel lightly
, he thought. Take just what you need.
He certainly wasn’t planning on leaving civilization, but with traffic tied up in the school evacuations and the inevitable military and police disruptions, he couldn’t count on making it to the family home on the first day and in the worst case, he might end up having to live out of his landskimmer in the meantime.
But, Dukat admitted to himself, his imagination was getting ahead of him. Still, it seemed like a good idea to stick to just a suitcase and a rucksack—any more and it would be too difficult to move around freely. Clothes…
he thought to himself, rattling off the same list he went through when he visited his parents on the weekend, toiletries, textbooks, recitation mask, Hebitian Records…medication!
He wasn’t due to have his implant reloaded for a good two months from today; he’d just seen his doctor a few weeks ago, but something told him to pack his emergency cartridge anyway. The recommended practice was to precede each reload with physical, mental, and spiritual assessments, but in the worst case, he could make the switch himself with a special hypospray designed to work exclusively with subdermal implants like his.
Dukat also grabbed the emergency food kit he, like most students this year, kept in his dorm in case of power failure; inside it was a water purifier fit to handle the worst nature on Cardassia Prime could dish out, and rations enough to last him a week or so if need be. Even without infrastructure destruction, a run on pre-replicated and non-replicated foodstuffs was almost inevitable in emergencies…even for Cardassians, the command from leadership to avoid such behavior would only last so long should communications between them and the people be lost.
Just before he turned to leave his dorm room, he glanced at the sleeping mat, with its plethora of pillows and blankets. That reminded him of one last item he needed—yes, he’d have to use his laundry bag to accommodate this, but he stuffed a quilt made by his great grandmother as quickly as he could into the bag. For Cardassians, hypothermia was a serious matter, and if there was even the slightest
chance he might end up sleeping in an unheated environment, he would need all the warmth he could get.
, he thought sadly, looking at his quickly-ransacked room. He hoped to be returning soon—but for some reason this had such a sense of finality. If the Bajorans did indeed seize the universities the way Inquisitor Osenal predicted, there was no telling how long it would be…or if
…he could safely return from his parents’ house. The education he’d worked so, so damned hard to earn the chance for could well become in this new environment a danger to his safety, sanity, and life.
he pleaded from the longing deep within his heart, don’t let it all just evaporate like this
. He felt a tear at the corner of his eyes, and it was only with great effort that he held it in. For a man of Cardassia, grief had its time to be fully known and released from the body. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it. This was the time for focus.
The traffic was unbelievable. Even though by the looks of it, Dukat had been among the first twenty-five percent of the student population to begin the evacuation, even at the head of the line it was bad enough. He’d just barely passed through the university gate, a great, elegant stone archway some four hundred years old, bearing the words Yavenn Pretam University, Culat Campus
in an old-fashioned common-tongue script that these days had nearly fallen out of use except for ceremonial documents and the hulls of starships.
If we even have any starships left
, Dukat grimly added.
He had intended to set a course for the Rukreved District where his parents lived and his younger brothers and sisters went to school; he’d chosen a surface-street course he’d hoped would be less congested than the main highway routes, but to no avail. The autopilot had received its directions straight from the city’s central navigation computer and instead insisted on routing him to the city’s outer beltway…along with what seemed like every single landskimmer from Yavenn Pretam University. At this rate, there was no telling how long it would take him to reach his home district.
He’d heard the Prefect’s warning about the use of unjammed radio frequencies…but his parents had to know their son was alive. And he had to know if indeed he was needed to bring his brothers and sisters home. He had
to try. Even if not the frequencies restricted by the provincial Prefect—he had
to find some way to get a signal through to his parents, and now that he was secure in his landskimmer, he had an opportunity…he hoped. Vehicle transmitters, especially in this city, so near to the desert, typically had more in terms of sheer power than the home kind, as an emergency precaution, so if there was anywhere he’d have a chance of getting through, it was here.
But every time he tried to make a connection, the call was flatly rejected—it didn’t even go to the familiar messaging salutation in his father’s rich, resonant voice that he’d heard since childhood: You have reached the mailbox of the Dukat family. Please leave your name, contact information, and message and we’ll get back to you as soon as Fate permits.
Instead, there was nothing but silence.
,” he muttered to himself—chaos
. Just how bad
is the jamming?
he thought—then hit upon a way to find out.
“Skimmer,” Dukat questioned his vehicle, “how many public-broadcast stations are currently airing within range?”
“Two stations are currently broadcasting
,” the onboard computer replied.
Dukat gulped. Never in his memory had the airwaves and subspace frequencies of Culat been so devoid of life as they were now—if he was right, every civilian subspace, satellite, and terrestrial radio station was off the air, save the official ones. “Name those stations and state their types.”
“Culat Provincial Radio—terrestrial RF informational station, state-operated. Culat City Public Radio—terrestrial RF informational station, state-operated.
So the government and military had either shut down or taken over every other frequency for the duration of the crisis. And the Bajorans, of course, were still jamming subspace. Nothing to do but pray and wait
, he thought as the landskimmer lurched forward on autopilot another two whole skimmer-lengths ahead and then went stationary once more. He thought about ordering the skimmer to play him a meditative trio…maybe a piece by Tanet or Krasor, but decided against it. Keep your senses sharp
, something urged him. And indeed, the Cardassian ear could only focus on so many things at one time…and who knew just what he might need to be listening for at a time like this?
In the end, though, it wasn’t Dukat’s ears—but his eyes that caught the first signs of something far worse. Even the youngest Cardassian children, once old enough to speak, could recognize that red flare from high in the sky for what it was: a spacecraft on re-entry. But this wasn’t the ordinary, controlled re-entry of a passenger transport, or even the high-speed dive of a military fighter in exercise maneuvers. Instead of remaining constant, the heat of re-entry dispersed evenly across the ship’s shields, the growing flare pulsed with a disturbing, irregular pattern as each new piece caught fire—
—and from the shattered piece of metal that fell straight down into the city of Culat, perhaps twenty kilometers away from Yavenn Pretam University came a unmistakable flash of ochre. And the same common-tongue script as the university sign. The shape of the wing reminded Dukat of the old Verkoun
-class cruiser. Perhaps someone had brought this ship out of storage in a last-ditch effort to beat back the Bajoran invasion—
” Dukat screamed hoarsely in the cabin of his landskimmer, surrounded by what had to be thousands of others in their vehicles, many with eye ridges wide in the same distress Skrain Dukat felt in that moment…but right now their presence didn’t matter. Each of them was a world of anguish unto itself. Hundreds of Cardassians—dying…dead…! “Please, Oralius—no, no, no…!
And words dissolved into an awful, hollow moan of despair that started deep in his chest but by the time it made it out of his mouth was just…minuscule. Several seconds later, after the wing fragment plunged below the skyline, the earth shook—faintly, at a distance, but he could feel it nonetheless. Impact.
He couldn’t even weep…not yet. All he could do was just stare at the place where the dying ship had traced its final course through the atmosphere of Cardassia Prime.
That ship—it had been an antique…one of the newly-launched…and Akellen had just been transferred from his old assignment to the capital city to go somewhere
; Dukat had no idea where. Had he already arrived at the capital before all of this? Could he have been deployed already to a ship of the battered, crumbling reserve fleet? That
Finally he managed to tear his eyes away from that awful, too-clear sky. He bowed his head, his lips moving soundlessly in prayer.