“I thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen,” Gul Berat said to the gathered crowd of mostly terhăn
colonists. Indeed, no one had ordered these people’s presence, as might have been done under other circumstances—they were all here by choice. He had just outlined the same proposal to the colonists, and now he was ready to do something that Cardassians rarely did before aliens. “Now…I’d like to hear from you.”
His gut twisted. All of it was
being recorded, of course. Allowances were to be made, if the violence subsided—their words would not convict them as they would a Cardassian citizen. Of course, that was contingent upon the cessation of violence…and based on what he’d seen aboard Deep Space Nine, he wondered if these people, accustomed to a much different society, truly realized what a fine line they and Berat treaded together.
“What about the Cardassians who have been attacking us? What happens to them? You
armed them!” one colonist accused, his finger stabbing at Berat as a representative of the Cardassian Guard.
“We will only permit self-defense,” Berat evenly replied. Arming the Cardassian colonists had been a mistake, not to mention a treaty violation, but acknowledging it could be his death. “Unprovoked attacks by Cardassian settlers will be punished.” The questioner muttered something under his breath beneath the range of Cardassian hearing in reply, and Berat continued as though he hadn’t noticed. “We also want to see the abolition of terhăn
zones and Cardassian zones on this planet.”
“You want to kick us out of our homes!” a woman screamed.
“You will not be dispossessed,” Berat clarified. “Some of us want to join your community instead of living separately. They are the ones who will move, not you.” Then he said it. “Your Federation has already asked that of you once. No one will ask it of you again.” He wasn’t authorized to say any more…to condemn the Federation’s part in the treaty would be to condemn the part Central Command played—but he hoped…how he hoped his tone would convey the truth…!
Another voice drifted out over the crowd. “So you’d be giving us Cardassian credits…money
,” she corrected herself. “That’s nice, but are your merchants actually going to sell
“Yes,” Berat said. “You’d even be able to buy the most exclusive kănar
straight from the fields of Ekidor in Nevot—” Looks of disgust flickered through the crowd. “I see we still have a little work to do. It’s all right…I still have to work on my taste for grayp
-wine,” he admitted, flashing a sheepish, crooked grin at the governor and the gathered crowd.
This time, he got a muted laugh.
Berat cheered. Maybe, as they got to know each other more, this really would—
A flash at the corner of his eye as he turned to address another question—
Fire exploded from a spot on his back just below the right shoulder blade—a horrible scream—whose voice? His…!
Every nerve jolted, every muscle rebelled, his breath came in gasps that couldn’t be called breathing
, his heart galloped out of rhythm, out of control, and the flames
burning inside him—it wouldn’t stop—it wouldn’t stop, why wouldn’t it stop
He saw motion, heard the voices, some in words he understood, others he didn’t. He heard his name but couldn’t answer…his voice no longer worked even for screaming. His mind formed no words—just one shriek of agony as the lightning that had shot from shoulder to toes reversed course and ran through his body again and again—
This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen! The beam was supposed to vaporize instantly, before the enemy even realized what was happening. Yet that terrible cry still rang in his ears, even after he was silent. He chanced one more look as he scrambled for the branches.
The Cardassian gul convulsed now, one unending seizure…the woman crouched over him, shouting into her wristcomm, the bodyguards surged out into the crowd—
He shot off the wall with an explosive leap, almost missed the branch.
He caught hold with his gloved hands, scrambled down the tree, threw himself at the ground as soon as he could. He clambered up to his feet, running, running, running, his hands working even as he ran at the phaser. There was the swamp—he threw the replacement collimator and battery into the swamp, where any residual DNA traces would be erased, and then he ran some more until he found the cave where he’d planned to hide, and he collapsed into a heap.
No transporters whined. No footsteps pounded. No voices rang out across the forest.
He’d done it. No. He’d done…what?
In the silence the Cardassian man’s agonized shriek rent through his mind again and again and again and in his mind’s eye there he was—dying, dying, dying by centimeters—
And in silence he wept, his fingers wrapped around the dead phaser’s grip with the stiffness of rigor mortis, its minuscule weight turned to neutron star density as it seemed to pull him down, down into the planet’s core.
Golden light paralyzes, seizes as storms of the consciousness rage, their fury frozen for one isolated moment and released again. His world is made of fire and knives. Everything is slipping out of alignment. A choked cry wracks his body as they draw near—even a bioelectric field is agony. The
Sherouk—its power too is agony to his heightened bioelectric sense…too much, too much…!
Frantic energy abounds—everybody who can stand is running, running in a strange and infinite loop…it wasn’t like this the last time. Last time the instant came, the fire ripped through him and cast him into oblivion. This time—everything is endless and wrapped in agony.
Another current rips through his body, starting from within this time—a tiny moan escapes his lips and unbidden tears roll down onto his eye ridges.
With a hiss by his ear, everything fades…
2371—Two weeks after the shooting
He had left a change of clothes, some food and water, and some Starfleet-style bath-in-a-bottle in the cave before…what he did. His parents had believed he was on a camping trip for the next few days; they hadn’t been expecting to see him at home the day—the day…that
He had thought it would be easy. He hadn’t planned on the terrible ringing in his mind as the sun rose and set once more. He’d planned to return, report what he’d done to the cell leader, accept the Maquis membership he deserved…
Instead, the boy had returned home in silence. The hollow horror in his eyes when his father informed him of the disaster with the Cardassian was real. So too was the dread…Gul Evek was inbound again, that bastard Evek, and God only knew what he planned to do when he got there. And it was all because of him.
They said something really had been different about the other gul. He’d been young, enthusiastic…and he’d spoken with them, not just at them. Maybe things could have really changed—they’d been right on the cusp—and they would never know.
That phaser—repaired now—was back in its case, locked away. And all he could hope was that if the Cardassians searched, the modifications would be enough. And that his father—revolted, disgusted by the shooter…by his own son, though he still didn’t know it…wouldn’t suffer for this. So many would
He hadn’t just killed the gul. Killed a man
. He had tortured
him. He’d hated the Cardassians for that. For being what he
He still wanted nothing more than to get away from the life the Federation had condemned their people to, under the durasteel heel of the Cardassians. The difference was that now, he had no idea where to go—because even if no one else ever realized, he
would always see that flash of blue…the man’s eyes, he knew now, eyes like the sky and the lake that now concealed the phaser parts. And that death cry would always echo between his ears.
2371—Three weeks after the shooting
Gul Tayben Berat collapsed onto the biobed, exhausted. Pain roared to life once again on impact—the deep neuralgic pain that had been his constant companion for the past two weeks since Dr. Hetalc finally brought him back to full consciousness. There was nothing Hetalc could give him for the pain that wouldn’t dull Berat’s mind beyond recognition…it would be with him forever. Hetalc was instructing him now in biofeedback techniques that might help him to function again—but it would be slow going.
Today was the first day he had tried to walk again. The therapy he’d undergone the first time he was shot had nothing
on this. It was as though his body had forgotten everything except, thankfully, how to breathe, eat, and speak. His tremor-wracked hands couldn’t keep a grip on the metal bars patients usually supported themselves on as they learned to walk again—Hetalc and one of the nurses had to support him instead as he’d struggled to his feet, tried to put one in front of the other. He would manage a few steps in this fashion—then his muscles would spasm or his nerves would flare and his legs would go right back out from under him.
This part would get better over time, Hetalc had assured him—there was no reason he wouldn’t walk or even run again. But his hands…the tiny nerves had suffered too much damage, and he would never have full use of them again.
Central Command had already sent the discharge orders. Dr. Hetalc had also informed him that his first officer, Glinn Drevot, had had the two young soldiers and the Federation specialist sent back to Cardassia for trial—for failing to protect their gul.
Tebal and Mavrit don’t deserve that!
Berat fumed. He had a feeling he knew how the attempted murderer had done his deed…that phaser, with its defective collimator and battery would have powered up for only an instant, and at partial power, before he fired, and then gone dead. No one could have detected it…no one could have stopped it. He had already sent a strongly-worded statement to Central Command about that, trying to save all three…not that he really wanted the Obsidian Order plant back, but if his attempt to save the young men was to succeed, he had to include the operative. He hoped against hope that they wouldn’t be announced in the docket soon, because the moment their trial was announced—that would be it. It was almost certainly a lost cause, but he owed them that much, even if his own appeal failed.
The traitors of the Fist of Revenge had already tried once to disgrace him, to strip him of his rank and send him away to die…and they had failed. This Federation assassin had tried as well, and failed. And even if Central Command tried—he shuddered, this time not from the neuropathy, but at the startling, maverick thought taking shape. They’ll fail too, or I’ll die trying
He could go back to Volan III—he’d learned much about how terhăn-çăs thought, aboard Deep Space Nine, and to see him return and reach back out toward even with the tremors in his hands…he could do it. He could make peace. But Central Command had dismissed that idea out of hand. Gul Evek was already there, and that would scar the colonists far deeper even than the phaser beam that had seared him right down to his bones. Their own people had betrayed them, and now one of their own had betrayed them yet again and all of that hope he’d presented them was gone.
Part of him offered up the sardonic remark that perhaps the hardliners in Central Command liked
how this had gone—they had their excuse now. That had to be the only reason he hadn’t heard anything about a trial and execution for Legate Turrel.
And there was something else he still hadn’t received word on. He hadn’t heard anything about his appeal for reinstatement. No shuttle had arrived from Cardassia Prime to take him back to the homeworld, nor had a summary execution order arrived for the failure of the mission.
A faint smile traced across Berat’s face. No one had ever averted the automatic discharge that came with this sort of injury. No one had ever commanded a starship of the Cardassian Guard with any sort of disability. And challenging the edicts of Central Command, even in the best of times, carried stiff penalties to say the least. Still…
Maybe someone’s actually listening.
dare anyone to tell me that’s impossible!