Author's note: This story takes place in the Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius alternate universe where Cardassian and Bajoran roles are reversed. This story is the direct sequel to "Exits in the Haze," which details AU Dukat's capture and torture on Bajor by Vedek Tora Naprem, and his escape from Vedek Tora's compound. Now we see his first few hours in relative freedom, in hiding in the home of a Bajoran woman. AU Dukat isn't the only one who could have been different...
11 Hedorăk, Fifth Year of the 371st Ăstraya
Catacombs of Oralius: “A Door to the Soul”
[Federation Year: 2352]
“We’re going home, Ziyal,” the cloaked Cardassian whispered aloud to his daughter, cradled in his arms. Please let it be so
. He had yet to remove his cloak—it was cold in here, as it always was on this forsaken planet, but now, at least, he was free from the constant insistence that he don and shed his cloak at her
command. That in and of itself was a tiny victory.
The hood still sat upon his head, creating the image of a spindly grey wraith sitting in a gnarled old wooden chair…or whatever passed for wood on this planet…like a ghost of the unrequited in the old legends his people had never quite shed even when Oralius erased their fears of the shadows. He would have preferred to lower the hood and untie his hair, letting it flow down over his ears and neck ridges to keep them warm—but that was impossible with the severe, cropped Bajoran hairstyle she had forced him to wear, taking him every month to have his hair cut just as one might take a polar hound to the groomer. And he had sat there mute, allowing her to have her way in dread of the price she might exact from him if he refused. Or that he might lose contact with Ziyal once and for all.
Never once, as he had gone silently through public indignity after public indignity, had he contemplated the possibility that there might be so many dissidents on this shadowed planet where the spirit of Oralius seemed to have no other beachhead except in his own soul—even in the Vedek’s own household. Not until Sulan had revealed herself the night before and given him the brooch with instructions on where to flee had he dared hope that his prayers might really and truly be answered this time.
And this woman…he had no idea what to make of her. She worked studiously in the kitchen of the small row house, back turned as if to shield the Cardassian refugees from her sight. “Your name…what is your name?” he asked in his thickly-accented, rudimentary Bajoran. There was no translator here as there had been in Vedek Tora’s house...he hadn’t thought about that as he’d planned his escape. She had kept it that way, intending for his accent and his lack of fluency to mark him just as surely as his grey skin and facial ridges.
She turned almost sharply at first, set down the…spatula—at least, that was what it looked like, weighing whether or not she ought to answer the question. “Adami,” she finally decided.
“Adami,” he repeated. The name was simple enough. “My name is—vešok edikouv
—Skrain Dukat,” he said, pointing to his chest as best as he could with the child in his arms. “I am Dukat.”
“Wait,” she demanded. The tone wasn’t like Vedek Tora’s, not quite. She commanded—but she at least sounded as though she were speaking to a sentient being and not a riding hound. There was something different about her abruptness. Conflicted
, Dukat thought, though he wasn’t exactly sure what gave him that impression. Adami pulled the Prophets’ sigil back out of her pocket, the one Dukat had used to find his way to the safe house, and inserted what looked like a minuscule power pack into its back. “Is this better?” she asked—and this time her words sounded to him as though they were in clear Cardăsda.
Dukat nodded, and she returned the ornament…the translator. Her hand brushed against his—the strange, too-quick bioelectric field, the unnatural warmth—
She breathed upon his neck ridges, forbidding him to move…her possession, her statue. She did nothing this time…she had done nothing since that first night, not in
that way, but she reminded him always—she had the power, she had the hypo, she could send him out of his mind and into her hands any time she wished. Any time…
” A cry ripped out of his chest, consuming all but a tiny portion of his soul just as surely as her drugs, his mania. He had to be quiet. He couldn’t
be quiet, not now when all the screams of nine months finally had their leave to escape. “No! No! Get away! Get AWAY!
He twisted violently away with that primitive howl, a motion that would have been far sharper without Ziyal in his arms. Even so, he still managed to curl into an almost fetal position while seated—shaking, breath coming in rapid spurts. Ziyal whimpered and he came back to himself, stabbed through the heart. “Don’t
…do that to me!” he hissed, fighting with all his might not to raise his voice again, not to upset his daughter any more than he already had.
Adami had reeled back, almost flat against the wall, staring at him aghast, the connection between the soul and the eyes shutting off for a moment and then opening again, cautiously, temporarily. She wanted to berate him, to turn him out, he was sure—but there she remained, frozen in decision…
He rocked back and forth, consoling Ziyal, consoling himself, whispering voicelessly. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…” He hadn’t meant to do that. He’d had no
idea—when Sulan had reached out to him, he’d been so caught up in the throes of the escape that it hadn’t fully registered, not like this. And this
…it had been too much—too much…oh, Oralius, what had that demon woman done
The Bajoran woman that faced him now moved at last. She knelt down on the floor as far as she could from him, where her fingers could still stretch out to the translator. They wrapped around the gold sigil, and set it wordlessly on the end table next to where Dukat sat.
“Thank you,” Dukat rasped. “Forgive me…” This thing
inside of him—he wanted to explain, somehow…but there were no words for it.
Another hesitation. “The Prophets forgive you, child.”
But what about you?
Dukat wondered even as he inclined his hooded head. Somehow he suspected Ziyal was the only one in this room who wasn’t
doing battle with his or her own soul.
Adami returned to the kitchen. After a few minutes, something sizzled—it smelled like veklava
to him, one of the few Bajoran foods he had managed to do more than simply tolerate. Vedek Tora had rarely ever served it to him…especially after he’d made the mistake of showing a little too much pleasure the first time he caught a whiff of it. Dukat finally spoke up, succinctly. “It smells good.”
“Thank you!” This was spoken with far more enthusiasm than anything else Adami had managed up to this point. “It’s a family tradition. My mother used to serve it whenever we had to shelter guests. I can’t understand how
the neighbors never figured out the smell of veklava
meant we had someone in hiding…but they never did.” A hint of bitterness crept into her voice. “That
wasn’t how they caught her, anyway.”
Fear burned deep in Dukat’s gut as he contemplated his own family, back home. He had been preparing himself for nine months, praying for the best, but steeling himself for the worst—but he’d found the latter task impossible. He didn’t press…if Adami wanted to share, then she would. If not…then it wasn’t his place to cause her any more distress than he already had.
“Her armband slipped off in public. Everything she did for the Prophets and all the people she saved, and that stupid, senseless
thing is all
it took to bring her down! She wouldn’t make the ‘sacred’ knot…do you understand the meaning of that, Dukat?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied. He, too, had refused—for the particular method of tying the armband of the Pah-Wraiths specifically signified the binding of the demons into one’s very soul. Done properly, tied tightly enough that it only barely avoided cutting the circulation, the knot hardly budged except with hard work at the end of the night. For the armband to have slipped…it was a dead giveaway. As for Dukat, everything Vedek Tora had done to him, she had had to do by coercion. He would not wear the earring on his own…she had forced it on every morning, taking obscene pleasure in fingering his ear ridges and breathing nearby as she put the pin through the holes her ‘doctor’ had driven into the cartilage, squeezing the clasp and sending a jolt of pain through the perpetually inflamed area. And every morning when she took him out in public, she tied that armband on him herself, as though dressing a doll.
Adami carried two plates to the table in the great room, setting one at the far end of the table, and her own at the other end. She then filled two glasses with water. Dukat did not rise; he wasn’t sure how she would take an unprompted movement from him after his outburst. She froze, appearing to struggle within herself for what to say to the Cardassian fugitive. Her eyes fell once more upon Ziyal. “She’s still nursing, isn’t she?”
On cue, Ziyal whimpered again, squirming in Dukat’s arms; it was nearly enough to bring him to tears, for this was the one thing he couldn’t give her. He looked up plaintively. “Can you help her, Adami? She’ll need milk or formula…and she also needs supplements—there are things her Cardassian half needs, that she can’t get from a Bajoran.” This would become easier once she was old enough to wean, back home on Cardassia Prime, he prayed: he’d heard of hybrids born to women on his homeworld, whom the Bajoran troops had violated, and as long as extra care was taken with their diets, they could live on ordinary Cardassian fare. Vice versa, though—that wasn’t quite as easy. Even he was at risk for malnutrition if he remained here too long without the supplements Vedek Tora had put in his food as well.
“I already have someone on the way with formula; she’s supposed to be here within the hour,” Adami supplied. Dukat smiled gratefully. “Your kind of supplements…it might be harder. But there are other households that have Cardassian servants—I should be able to get something from one of my operatives. For now…will the formula be enough to get her through the next day?”
Dukat nodded. “I don’t want to go any longer than that,” he insisted. “I’ll
tough it out if I have to—but she’s still growing…”
“Of course,” Adami replied as she brought one more thing into the room: a large, wicker basket, with blankets overflowing out of it on all sides, shielding all of the sharp edges. “She can sleep here for now. As for you…come and sit, Dukat.”
The escapee rose at last and walked over to the basket Adami had provided, and after carefully testing the inside of it with his hand, searching for anything that might poke through the blankets, laid her inside. Ziyal cried unreservedly now, reaching out with her tiny, ash-colored hands for her father. “I know, dear,” he whispered, then pressed his lips together for a moment, feeling the full extent of his helplessness to satisfy this demand. “We’re working on it…we’ll have something for you soon.”
His own appetite wasn’t so robust now…but he knew he had to eat, in preparation for whatever lay ahead. Adami looked ready to dig right in—but for Dukat, there was one more thing that had to be done before he could eat. There was no candle here…but he hadn’t had one for over nine months now, and at least he had the freedom now to speak his prayers aloud. Adami may not have recognized his gesture, as he extended his hands, but she seemed to recognize his reverence and she held her silence as he closed his eyes and delivered his simple prayer.
“I thank you, Oralius, for freeing us from captivity. I thank you for the sacrificial kindness of Sulan, and of Adami, for caring for us…please bring your blessings upon this home. And your comfort upon Adami. May Fate be so guided.”
When he opened his eyes again, Adami scrutinized him from across the table once more, but her demeanor was entirely different this time. “I speak of the Prophets…but I haven’t really
spoken with them in so long,” she whispered. “But you still speak to your deity, after everything…there’s something about you that’s just…I don’t understand it.”
Dukat nodded at the basket, where for a moment Ziyal squirmed more quietly. He reached in, allowing his daughter to wrap her tiny hand around his finger. “When I look at her…I can still see Oralius’ blessings.” As for Adami, though…he wondered. Has she really lost her faith? Yet she still helps us…
“Why are you doing this?” he asked as gently as he could manage.
Adami shook her head. “I don’t know anymore. I’ve been so close to giving up...my mother spoke with the Prophets all the time. And she said she’d heard their voice in return. But all my life I’ve never seen anything, never felt
anything…” She rolled her eyes suddenly, seemingly at herself. “This won’t make sense. You don’t know about the Prophets.”
“I don’t,” Dukat carefully replied. “I’ve known people who have had experiences with Oralius I can barely even begin
to imagine.” He did not mention that he himself had experienced a vision in the Desert of Kurab…mainly he remembered his Guide back home, Aamin Marritza, a man whose unique gift of the spirit allowed him to penetrate the hearts of those around him with a mere gaze. “Yet I also know from my own experiences that it’s not always about what we feel
. If that were all there was…” Ziyal gave his finger a particularly vigorous squeeze. “I wouldn’t be here, not after all that’s happened. I likely wouldn’t even be alive. And right now, I see two
signs of hope in this room…thank Oralius.”
Adami smiled—and for just an instant, she had nothing to say.
“Thank Oralius,” she finally echoed: the words foreign upon her tongue but the conviction the deepest of anything she had offered to this point. “I will
find a way to get you two home. Now…tell me about Cardassia. Tell me about your people. There’s so much I don’t know…”