Gul Berat was waiting for Spirodopoulos as he rematerialized aboard the Sherouk
, his lake-blue eyes grave as he prepared to deliver the unfortunate news. “This way,” Berat said right away with a flick of the eyes towards the transporter room door; it was clear to Spirodopoulos, though the gul made no other gestures, that he meant him to follow. “Dr. Hetalc and your nurse have been unable to stabilize Lieutenant T’Ruveh.”
Even before departing the Lessek system, Gul Rebek had seen to it that the injured Vulcan be routed to the Sherouk
: with Dr. Hetalc, who by necessity had become a skilled neurologist as well as trauma surgeon, she had stood the best chance of recovery. There had been no Federation doctors in the Thirteenth Order, but there had been a handful of nurses and medical technicians, to include the nurse Laen, an unjoined Trill man who had fortuitously ended up aboard the Sherouk
As they walked, Berat fixed Spirodopoulos with a concerned, searching gaze. “She was going in and out of consciousness…and she requested Cadet Subek’s presence just after I was notified you were preparing for transport.”
The human officer’s throat went dry. “Did she say what her intentions were?”
Berat pressed his lips together for just a moment, as if wishing to hold in the words he knew he had to speak. “She says something of herself can be transferred from her own body to his. The term translated for Hetalc and me as ‘neural engram’…her word was ‘katra
.’ I was just notified while you were preparing for transport. I don’t know what Starfleet requires in circumstances like this—so I have had Subek brought aboard, but given the risk involved in something like this…I felt you ought to be consulted, as her commanding officer.”
Even back on AR-558, it would have been a simple matter—living wills could be consulted, and as long as the Vulcan receiving the katra
gave his or her own consent, then there was no question about it whatsoever. Here…he had no such access. And considering the nature of T’Ruveh’s injury, there was no telling how lucid she truly was, Vulcan resiliency aside. But I have nothing else to go by
, he thought. Some Starfleet doctors would have used their position to override the patient’s statement in favor of their own judgment in a case like this…but Spirodopoulos couldn’t do it. He gave a solemn nod. “If Subek consents…they can go forward.”
Gul Berat nodded—though if his silence was any indication, what was about to happen deeply unnerved him. Which makes perfect sense
, Spirodopoulos grimly thought: Cardassians were taught almost from birth to despise and resist any form of mental intrusion. By the time they turned ten, their emotions became unreadable to an empath, who from then on received only a faint indication of presence—and by adulthood, there were some capable of resisting a Vulcan mind meld.
As they continued their way down the corridor from the transporter room, Spirodopoulos caught sight of a few of the Sherouk
’s crew working their way in the same direction. These were the walking wounded, he realized—men and women who had deferred their treatment until after the more critical cases were seen. Some of them still seemed to be in untreated pain. Even so, they still dipped their heads for a moment in acknowledgment of their gul’s presence.
Berat gave his own, slighter nod of recognition—lesser in degree because of his rank, but he accompanied the gesture with a smile…a weary, grieved expression, but nonetheless, his blue eyes held that undisguised kindness that Spirodopoulos would not have expected less than a week ago from a Cardassian man of Berat’s rank. They seemed to respond to it just like any Starfleet crew would, seeming a bit buoyed by the presence of their gul even in their pain...though it seemed a little odd that none of them—not Berat nor his crew—said a word as they interacted. Had this been Captain Yvaaz!ta visiting Sickbay aboard the Petraeus
, it likely would have exchanged a few brief words with its crew, and Spirodopoulos would have done the same.
This was far
from telepathy, of course…it had to be the help of the hierarchical instinct instead. The human commander wasn’t entirely sure he understood what it meant, exactly, to feel what a Cardassian did, but the best he could wrap his mind around it, the instinct not only gave Cardassians an innate reward for leadership or compliance as their position and the situation demanded—it also made them a bit more attuned to the nonverbal behaviors that were expected according to one’s role. It was somewhat akin to the way Earth’s canines read each other’s mannerisms, but with a powerful, fully sentient mind at the helm.
Berat, it seemed, had felt there was no time to hesitate in escorting Spirodopoulos to T’Ruveh’s side, no time to speak…yet between Cardassians, what he had ‘heard,’ what he had used his people’s innate aptitude to ‘say,’ had to have carried an additional resonance, something that spoke to them on the deep levels of the subconscious mind. The message was sent…I am here. I stand with you.
The words would likely come in a short while when there was more time.
The doors to the Sherouk
’s sickbay swished open to reveal…not chaos, for the most serious casualties had either perished or been stabilized, but a definite sense of focused urgency. A Cardassian nurse, clad in the long-sleeved brown work scrubs of the Guard’s Medical Corps with gold writing not unlike that on a soldier’s cuirass, glanced up from the comrade whose dislocated shoulder he had just set back into place.
“Gul Berat,” he greeted with a quick bow. Spirodopoulos looked closer. Despite the color of his clothing, he could make out the dried remnants of multiple species’ blood on his shirt. The remarkable thing is
, Spirodopoulos silently observed, there’s no way to tell apart human and Cardassian blood
. It had been quite the surprise to discover, during the battle on Lessek, that for all of the differences between their species, both internal and external, Cardassian blood was iron based—and red—just like his own.
The nurse’s features were worn, his head tilted down slightly to allow his eye ridges to shield his weary eyes from the overhead light…which to Spirodopoulos wasn’t all that bright, but apparently Cardassian eyes were more sensitive than his. He added a perfunctory, wordless nod at Spirodopoulos, unsure how to address this Starfleet officer clad in the uniform of the Cardassian Guard. “They’re in the next room,” he said, pointing a grey finger at the door to what Spirodopoulos assumed to be the intensive care suite. “The decon field’s active…you can go straight in.” With that, the nurse turned his attention back to his patient.
As soon as Berat and Spirodopoulos stepped across the threshold, a tall, grey-haired physician of ample girth, wearing the more elaborate brown doctor’s suit, looked up at the two of them and met eyes with his much younger commander. For just a moment, a look of almost familial affection passed between the two, and he decided: This must be the man who saved Berat’s life
. Then the Cardassian doctor’s lined features grew solemn again.
But it was the Trill nurse, Laen—still wearing his armor from the surface—who spoke first. “We haven’t got long, Commander. If Subek’s going to have any chance at this, he’s got to start now.”
Spirodopoulos took stock of the two Vulcans. Lieutenant T’Ruveh, also still in her Cardassian uniform, though sans cuirass and boots, stared blankly into space—evidently the damage had been too severe for her to enter a healing trance. And severe enough that she could not react to the new arrivals, either. Subek stood at T’Ruveh’s bedside opposite Hetalc. His face would have seemed completely impassive to the casual observer…except for the quick glances he occasionally darted in T’Ruveh’s direction: a trace of unease about her impending death, and what he was about to do, perhaps?
Dr. Hetalc spoke up now. “While this is something I’ve never witnessed before…Gul, Commander, it’s my professional opinion that this depth of telepathic intervention may compromise Subek’s safety as well as whatever effects it has on my patient.” He turned his head towards head towards Cadet Subek, his grey, ridge-ringed eyes speaking the wariness of deep concern. His voice grew more gravelly than before, his unease evident. “I could lose you both. Laen and I have discussed it, and you’re running every risk ranging from death to degenerative disease of the central nervous system, even winding up in a minimally-conscious state for the rest of your life…especially if you’re still connected when she passes, and even before that point. Even if this transfer is
successful—there could be major side effects until her engram is extracted from your mind.”
“Understood,” Subek calmly replied. “Those are all risks I am willing to undertake. With your permission, Commander…”
Tensely, Spirodopoulos nodded. The Cardassians’ faces set into similar, ever so slightly disconcerted expressions of resignation and concern. “I will monitor her vital signs. Laen,” Hetalc said, pronouncing the Trill’s name La’en
, “you shall take Subek.” He addressed the Vulcan once more. “I will allow this—but I must
ask that you wear a cortical monitor during the process.”
“That will not be necessary—”
“You are proposing to link your mind with an individual with severe head trauma,” Hetalc insisted—forcefully, but no more threateningly than a Starfleet doctor might have delivered the same words. “I should hope it won’t be necessary—but I insist on taking all
caution with sentient life.”
Spirodopoulos made no objection; he agreed completely with the sentiment of the Cardassian physician. That was all Hetalc needed to act, quietly slipping around to the other side of the bed and placing a small, grey-brown device just underneath the base of Subek’s ear, then handed Laen a device that must have been the Cardassian equivalent of a medical tricorder. “I’ve converted as much of the text as I can into Vedrayçda
,” he explained, using the Cardăsda name for Federation Standard. “Can you function with that?”
Laen nodded—a touch hesitantly, but still, he decided, “It’ll do.”
Sensing this, Hetalc took up a position next to Laen. “I’ll stay with you. But we had better begin now, if we’re going to do this.”
With that, everyone in the room, Starfleet and Cardassian alike, fell into a tense silence. Subek took a chair next to the biobed and lifted T’Ruveh’s motionless hand towards his face, gently pressing her fingers to the pressure points on his own temple and under his eye. Then he closed his own eyes; the rhythm, though not the tone, of the sounds emitted by the Cardassian cortical monitor shifted in response.
Suddenly Subek’s eyes snapped open. He spoke not a single word—though his gaze wandered slowly across the room…from Laen, to Hetalc, to Berat and Spirodopoulos. The lone human in the room shivered even in the heat of the Cardassian vessel: Whose eyes are those, looking at me now?
Time seemed to stretch and dilate like it would for a ship that entered extreme impulse speeds without the low-level subspace field that shielded the vessel from pronounced relativistic effects. Even though he wasn’t a part of the meld, Spirodopoulos felt as though he were losing his chronological sense. He could not break his gaze.
Then Dr. Hetalc’s urgent voice cut through the silence. “Her vitals are dipping…Subek, you’ve got to break off now
.” Indeed—the sound of T’Ruveh’s respiration was growing ragged, erratic.
“Subek!” Laen hissed in the Vulcan cadet’s ear, but he received no response.
Hetalc stole a worried glance over Laen’s shoulder at the tricorder readout—then clasped Subek’s shoulders from behind, hard. “Subek, you’re out of time!
At the sudden pressure, Subek’s hand instinctively released, and T’Ruveh’s arm dropped limply. He gasped hard at the breaking of the link, blinked open-mouthed several times before regaining his equilibrium. The Vulcan’s jaw worked once, twice without sound, before he managed to stammer out a few words: “I—I…I have completed the transference.” He turned to stare at the Cardassian physician, eyes visibly wider than normal. “Doctor…” He paused, as if he could not remember the man’s name. “You may withdraw artificial life support.”
Even the best of Federation science had yet to answer the question of what happened during a katra
transference. Was this simply a data backup of sorts, or were the Vulcans somehow capable of transferring their immortal souls before they could move on to dimensions unseen? Who spoke now? Subek? T’Ruveh? Some combination of the two?
Grimly, wordlessly, Dr. Hetalc keyed in a few commands on his console. It took only a few more seconds for T’Ruveh’s shallow, arrhythmic breathing to cease. The elder Cardassian gently lifted the dead Vulcan’s hand, which had hung disconcertingly off the edge of the biobed, and laid it over her stomach in a gesture of repose, and delicately posed the other arm to match, carefully laying one hand over the other.
Then he looked over at T’Ruveh’s last commanding officer. The loss pained the Cardassian physician; that Spirodopoulos could clearly see. But there was something else in the doctor’s expression—something very subtle that he suspected would have manifested more plainly on a man from a species less schooled in hiding their emotional reactions when they so desired. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper. “She’s gone. I’m very sorry.”
His eyes flicked over towards Berat, seeming to seek support from the young gul before he spoke his next words. Hetalc almost looked to Spirodopoulos’ eye as though he were not just dejected, but a touch…wary of the human officer in this moment. Almost as if he feared reproach. As if he felt he deserved
reproach. “I…shall make my full record available to you, Commander. The same for any others of your people that I or my staff have treated. It is important…that you know that I—we…”
…that I really did try. That we’re not all like
Spirodopoulos realized then where he’d seen the image of the uniform this man and his staff wore: in footage of the infamous Crell Moset. Hetalc had known what Spirodopoulos would see. And to stand before this human next to the motionless body of a Starfleet soldier…yes, Spirodopoulos thought. Hetalc was dreading the impression he might get.
“Doctor,” Spirodopoulos said simply, leery of mispronouncing the man’s name, “I thank you for notifying me. For all of your efforts.” And he bowed quietly. Then he turned to Laen. “And thank you as well, Lieutenant.”
Then Hetalc spoke again. “Please rest assured we will care for what she leaves behind until she can be returned to her home,” he sought to assure Spirodopoulos, though he clearly felt this was but a meager offering. “This is no less than we would do for our own.”
Subek met the Cardassian doctor’s eyes. “While we do not bury our dead, the family will undoubtedly find the gesture…meaningful.” Hetalc inclined his head in silent, thoughtful acknowledgment.
“I will help you, Doctor,” Gul Berat quietly put in. “I hope we won’t have cause to use much of it after this—but I’ll dedicate an appropriate space to your fallen, and have the stasis fields put into place.” The commander of the Sherouk
bit his lip slightly after his own statement, glancing away from Spirodopoulos. The Greek officer thought he knew why: to most Cardassians, it was something of a ‘sacrilege’ for people of other species to view the bodies of their dead. He wasn’t sure whether Berat was simply concerned that the traditional restriction might offend his Starfleet allies—or whether he actually disapproved of the prejudice.
Spirodopoulos spoke. “How are you doing, Cadet?”
“I am…within satisfactory parameters, given the circumstances,” Subek replied. “However—I must unfortunately request to be placed on limited duty until I can make a fuller assessment of the effects of the transference upon my performance capabilities. I endeavor to return to full duty as soon as possible, of course.”
The commander nodded—reluctantly, perhaps, but acknowledging the sensibility of the request nonetheless. “Of course,” he echoed. “You’ll see Laen and the doctor if you have any
“Sir,” Subek acknowledged with a noncommittal nod.