…steel surrounded him. A ship of the Guard, he understood. He had seen pictures, and had toured the museum ships on display in Culat, but never set foot on one of the modern vessels. He had no perspective here—he couldn’t tell how this ship compared to the ones he had visited on that childhood field trip. He moved through the corridors at a brisk pace, walking as though he had a concrete destination in mind, but he didn’t…it was really more of a
knowing, something like the tugging of the conscience or the guidance of the hierarchical instinct, something that couldn’t quite be put into words.
wrong about this ship. He didn’t know much about military vessels—or any sort of starship, really—but it was hard to miss the inconstancy of the ship’s lighting, fine one moment, browning out the next. The air tasted stale. And occasionally he heard a deep groan from within its frame. The sounds grew louder and more frequent the further he progressed towards—whatever awaited.
He was alone in this place. There seemed no sense in it…he would have expected a great commotion in the wake of an emergency like this. Was he the only one aboard this ship? If so, for what purpose? If not…what would he find?
He reached the end of the corridor. Branched common-tongue script proclaimed this as the ship’s cargo bay…the only one, if he read it right. The circular burgundy warning seal on the door blared the risk of direct exposure to vacuum—structural integrity was compromised here; all who entered here depended on a fickle forcefield to survive.
This was the last place he wanted to be, this close to space. He had no desire to walk this close to the cold, to the embodiment of the tundra that curled its way around the planets and stars, leaching away their heat and drawing each part of the universe closer to absolute zero…that point at which all life and change and motion ceased and only that which had gone to be with Oralius would in any way survive.
But he had to be
here. His path drew him
here. And everything would be explained
Slowly, gingerly, he stretched his long, grey fingertips towards the control panel. And he tapped.
The door yawned open with a moan. He stepped across the threshold and the door slid shut behind him. A tiny hiss signified that like an airlock, the door had formed a seal. If the room depressurized, it offered no escape to the relative safety of the ship’s bowels.
A gaping hole in what should have been the loading bay door leading to the outside, guarded by only the faintest shimmer of sunset-gold energy, which flickered and sputtered every so often at one tiny impact after another, betrayed what had already happened here. And just how close they were to all of it happening again. He could see the stars sparkling faint and far between in protest against the darkness.
He spun around suddenly as a terrible sound assaulted his ears—the sound of someone retching violently as though between sobs.
Then he saw it: three corpses sprawled in a grotesque tangle, their forms simultaneously frozen by the vacuum and seared on one side like meat on a grill. Blood was everywhere, issuing from impossible places and sprayed all across the room, painting it like an ancient slaughterhouse. Acid rose in his throat and he almost echoed the one living man in this impromptu charnel house.
how he understood, he knew exactly what had happened: the ship had suffered some sort of impact—maybe a weapon, maybe some sort of space debris—and resulted in a partial loss of the ship’s structural integrity field, the field that simultaneously protected the ship from micrometeorite impacts even when the main shields were down, and helped to buffer the hull against the impact of the extreme speeds at which faster-than-light vessels traveled. Only a few generators had failed, maybe, or perhaps the whole thing had failed but re-established itself just fast enough that these three men had not been sucked out. They’d hurtled towards the hole as the atmosphere vacated—but slammed up against the reconstructed forcefield. That was where the burns had come from. And life support must have failed in this area as well, or atmosphere would have been re-established soon enough that even after this horrific accident, they might have stood a chance of survival.
The living man—a tall, thin Rivšalda man in the armor of the Cardassian Guard, his hair cut in the traditional military fashion, had an antigrav gurney at his side. He reached towards the dead men, perhaps to lift them onto the cart. Each time his hand drew near, another wracking, nauseous sob convulsed his body. It sounded as though he were fighting it, not mourning openly as was right for a Cardassian at the sight of such horrors.
Loathing, he thought, though the choice of words surprised him. What kind of loathing? Of the situation? Of those around him? Of himself? There was something about the man’s posture—what? He couldn’t see his eyes, and yet the feeling was so strong.
Hardly knowing what he was doing, he strode forward. Even as the corpses revolted him, his heart cried out for the poor soul left alone for whatever reason to carry out this grim task without a single other to help him. And gruesome as this was—he burned to help. Absorbed in the horror as he was, the man did not turn, not even as he approached where the outer edges of the other’s bioelectric sense should have signaled his presence.
Please, Dukat pleaded with him through his silence,
don’t try to do this alone! We’ll do this together—I’ll help you! He did not remember in this place why he had no voice even though he knew in vague memories what it meant to speak…all he knew was that this was a power he did not possess.
The other man still gave no acknowledgment. And with the way he’d positioned himself relative to the corpses, there was no other good way to approach him. With no other choice left, he reached out, his fingertips barely making contact with the armor of the man’s upper sleeve—
The other whirled around in a blur of black and grey, drove his fist hard into Dukat’s jaw.
Even as pain exploded white in his consciousness, Dukat caught a flash of gold…the man’s rank inscription.
He had no time to wonder why the first officer of this ship—and somehow he knew it was the first officer and not the chief engineer—had undertaken this duty with no one else to help him. He backed off as quickly as he could…he’d run the risk the instant he’d touched the distressed glinn—the Cardassian startle reflex was strong, and the law even forgave such unintentional assaults in times of extreme duress as long as the attacker quickly realized what was happening and disengaged.
Now was the time to get his message across. Dukat gestured once at the corpses waiting to be loaded on the gurney, circled a finger between himself and the glinn, lifted his eye ridges in silent plea.
It’s all right…you’re not alone. Let me help you with this!
Eyes fixed upon him—eyes so, so distressingly familiar—furious, narrowed, and his face writhed with fury, hatred, and
“Get out!” the glinn snarled as though he beheld the great enemy. All hint of mourning, all hint of tears and nausea were gone. “Get OUT! You can’t be here! You CAN’T! I won’t let you do this to me!
I won’t allow it!”
? Dukat thought, horrified.
I’m not here to harm you!
And the glinn launched himself at Dukat again…deliberately this time. He
knew what he was doing. He meant to kill.
Before Dukat could sidestep him, the glinn slammed full-force into his body, knocking him flat to the deck. Strength matched strength. The armor of the glinn’s cuirass dug into him, and he caught a glimpse of the man’s face again and suddenly he saw nothing—only felt it as the glinn sat up for a bit and slammed the point of his elbow hard into Dukat’s windpipe, crushing, choking, destroying—
And for just a moment, Dukat stood where he had been before. So too did the glinn. The scene seemed to have reset itself. But this time, the glinn straightened himself with a single breath after he finished retching, and attended to his task, his posture betraying nothing.
He had no wish to see the glinn’s face. There had been something wrong…so terribly wrong…and he could no longer remember what it was. All he understood was that a universe had collapsed in on itself in this time and place. Like a spirit of dead in vigil for those yet to cross, he knelt, both unheard
and unseen now as tears rolled down his cheeks, mourning—he could never draw close again, never quite touch, never make his compassion known except maybe in a distant memory that would never quite claw its way back up from its premature grave
A jolt shot through Skrain Dukat’s supine form and he sat up with a violent gasp, throwing his covers and pillows as though they embodied the corrupted spirit of the glinn, the man who looked…who looked like—
A drop of sweat ran down the back of his neck, suddenly frigid in the desert night. What was it that had horrified him so much about the officer’s face? He couldn’t remember
What he did
comprehend was that this had been no ordinary dream. This thing
he had beheld—it carried significance…this was something he’d been meant
to see. He couldn’t let any more of it slip away…he needed every detail to help him understand why Oralius had allowed him to witness such terrible things. Was it a trial? Was this meant to warn him away from something? Was this fate? For whom? He had to know now
, though he hadn’t the slightest idea where to begin…
Quickly he gathered his hair in his hand at the base of his skull where he usually tied it back, holding it tight as he ran his fingers through it to work out the knots in hopes of making it halfway presentable. Then he let it fall down his back as he reached for the cord sitting next to his sleeping mat. Once he had his hair tied back into its customary queue, he pulled on his outer robe and sandals and ran out of the tent as fast as his legs could take him.
He was the only one about at this hour. Starlight bathed his face—beautiful as it could only be in the desert wilderness…or the wilds of space. It reflected off the spire of the chapel tent as he skidded to a stop in the sand, threw the entrance flap open and stumbled into the sanctuary, searching frantically for—
He wore an apologetic expression, bowing his head slightly. He hadn’t intruded upon her sleeping area—not quite, but he had to admit his clap, standing just beyond the ornate tapestry that separated Rulaahan’s private area from the main sanctuary, had sounded to his own ears like the crack of a bullet from a Hebitian projectile weapon. No doubt it had shocked Rulaahan out of a sound sleep just like his vision had.
The Guide stepped slowly out into the sanctuary where oil lamps still burned. “What’s happened, Dukat? Are you well?”
I don’t know!
Dukat thought, spreading his hands wide. He had nowhere near the signs he needed to explain what had happened—but he couldn’t wait however many months it would take to acquire the vocabulary he’d need to relate everything he’d seen. He needed answers now. He needed something
–I...— He wasn’t sure of the correct sign, but gestured as though he were laying his head on a pillow. –I…sleep. I see
…— He let his eyes go wide, his gaze far distant as though the images lay somewhere beyond the horizon.
“You were asleep. And you dreamed,” Rulaahan supplied, signing the verb Dukat had wanted.
—Yes!— Dukat nodded, fixing Rulaahan’s eyes, lips slightly parted as Kurabda signers seemed to do sometimes for emphasis, a sort of voiceless expostulation. He still wasn’t quite sure how the Kurabda indicated the tenses, wasn’t sure what tense Rulaahan had signed the word in, still had only the most tenuous grasp upon the grammar of this language and he knew it. —I dream
,— he mimicked as best as he could. —Oralius want, I see…—
Then he made one more sign, something he had seen Rulaahan say once as she taught him another of the traditional prayers: crossed his arms with clawed fingers, then drew his hands violently towards the center of his chest where the Cardassian heart lay. —Afraid
. I dream, not understand…I…afraid.—
Rulaahan reached up, her right palm hovering just above his heart. She had to sense the rapid cycling of his bioelectric field; she waited for his nod before she set her hand upon his chest as Guides often did to calm a frightened disciple. “The spirit of Oralius is not the source of fear…she has no wish for you to cower at her presence. When we fear the visions we experience, it’s often because we
have created that fear within ourselves. There is something to learn from this, Dukat, and that lesson will dispel the fear.”
I can’t imagine what I was supposed to learn from that man trying to kill me
, Dukat thought, too exhausted for sarcasm.
“We’ll pray together,” Rulaahan intoned. “I know we cannot discuss this tonight—but perhaps Oralius will help you to find some understanding.”
—Thank you,— Dukat signed with a smile of gratitude. He wasn’t sure what insights the deity might bestow upon him at this time. But at least I won’t be alone.
He felt so small and childlike in Rulaahan’s presence…and that she smiled upon him with compassion as she would a distraught boy, and without the slightest hint of condescension…indeed, he witnessed in the Guide the reflection of the spirit she lived for. Stern though she might be in the day, all
of it, he understood, was an act of love.
Rulaahan let her hand fall to her side and swept a hand towards the center of the sanctuary in an echo of his silence. They knelt together at the center of the sanctuary in front of the three watchkeeping lamps that would be used to light the meditating fire at the time of worship…and to his surprise, though she extended her hands towards the fire, drawing from its warmth to symbolize the way the mortal spirit drew from that which sustained it, she offered no words, simply a presence.
, Dukat prayed, help me understand
why you have shown me such things
. He slipped back into the memory of the dream, striding through those corridors, entering the scene of carnage and burning it into his eidetic memory before time warped the details.
He still could not see the glinn’s face in his mind’s eye. Whatever he had seen—whatever had intensified his terror at the fury and hatred in the man’s countenance—it was irretrievably gone. And to a mind accustomed to forgetting nothing, that was frustrating
. But there had
been something about the man’s form, something familiar.
he wondered sadly. The glinn’s physique had resembled Akellen’s—the same tall, lean build. Had his cousin launched with the First Order on the day of the last battle? Was this what Akellen had beheld in space, and had he carried this to his grave? Yet to behold such fury on his cool, collected cousin from Hăzăk—where
had this man been from, anyway? Dukat couldn’t quite remember…had there been any beige in the man’s skin? He thought he remembered Rivšalda grey—but could he be sure?
There was only one thing he knew. Please don’t let me become like that
, he pleaded, sealed in there all alone with nothing but my contempt to sustain me. I want to
see…I want to
feel, and understand, to know what it is to draw close to you and reflect the light of your flame. Don’t forsake your children—don’t withdraw your spirit from our hearts in our time of trial…and please, let us not forsake you.
No further insight blossomed in his mind. But at least for now, as he prayed, he felt something like a cool, driving rain through his spirit. The dream and its warning…if that was indeed what Oralius had intended him to see…did not recede—but slowly, slowly, the immediacy of his fears was washed away.
There was something to hope for. He had to hold on to that…he just hoped that someday, Oralius would show him a sign.
So...does anyone believe they understood what AU Dukat saw?