This wasn’t the Bajoran landskimmer.
For just a moment, the tingle of the transporter beam had abruptly…stopped, and in this moment he was whole. He stood in his resistance group’s underground abode. He heard the hum of people milling around in the nearby chambers, but none were visible in the “gathering hall” where Dukat stood, just outside the sanctuary where his people worshipped. His ears weren’t sharp enough to pick up much of their words, except for his name, whispered with what he thought was a tinge of disbelief.
And just as suddenly as he had appeared in this place—a man stood before him in a nondescript outfit reminiscent of a Starfleet uniform, though a strange version with grey at the shoulders and no sign of a Starfleet insignia anywhere on it. Dukat nearly jumped…the stern, imposing figure had almost looked Bajoran. But he wasn’t…no ridges stood out from the rich tones of his skin.
After a moment of scrutinizing the Cardassian—the human smiled as if amazed by the words he was about to speak. “Welcome, Dukat. I must say, this is an unexpected potentiality. And a pleasure.”
Dukat tilted his head as he tried to place this man and quickly gave up. “Who are you?”
“I am Sisko. And I am of…” The human paused, his smile dimming slightly. “I am of another potentiality,” he decided. “One where you and I were not fortunate enough to meet in this way.”
Dukat remembered what Jarol had said about visions…and a certain human man…and he thought he understood. “You’re a Prophet.” He wasn’t sure how that thought made him feel: awed? Repulsed? Shaken?
Sisko shrugged. “In a manner of speaking. Listen…Dukat, you were right that this kind of power is beyond what can be safely handled. The Orb that brought you here has…a history—one that on one occasion did a world catastrophic damage from which it may never recover. The Bajorans in your universe suspected this in some way, and they hoped to harness what was left of this Orb. But there has been an intervention, and because of it, they failed. Even so—Dukat, the Prophets want your memory to be erased.”
To Dukat, it seemed as if the temperature in the room had dropped to match the chill of the void. “No…” he whispered, with a vehement shake of the head as if to dislodge the remembered hiss of a hypo. “Don’t do that to me!”
Sisko reached towards Dukat, though he kept his hand just beyond range. “I told them you would want a choice. That you
deserved a choice. It is still too dangerous to let anyone carry the knowledge into your universe that the weapon created a fissure…even you. But there is a compromise I can offer. You can keep the core of the memories—things you felt, what it meant to you—but with…a loss of detail, like something experienced while your disciplines are not in operation.”
“A dream. Or a vision.”
“Close enough,” Sisko replied. “The essence would remain true. But the lost Bajorans
cannot be allowed to know what they have wrought.”
Dukat’s eye ridges lowered in dread. “How much will I lose?”
“Your mind is…quite resilient. Some will surely remain. But names—details…the understanding of where you have truly been…those will fade.”
last thing Dukat wanted was to accept even the slightest tampering with his memories. With his awareness. But this was different—this Sisko, whoever, or whatever he was, had offered him something else. Consent. Dukat contemplated in silence. He relived moment after moment in full clarity for one last time, and Sisko waited without the slightest trace of impatience, as if time held no meaning to him. He debated the merits and the consequences to himself…to his world. To his family.
A tear hit the hook of his eye ridge, and slid off of his cheek. “Very well. I will let you do this. Just one thing—please." Sisko nodded. “There is one detail I would like to be sure I keep. I can’t think of any way it could do any damage…” Dukat leaned over and whispered it into Sisko’s ear.
After a moment’s consideration, the human…Prophet?...nodded. “Done.”
“I thank you, Sisko.” The other entity’s lips pulled into a gentle grin of amusement.
What was it with people thinking those words were so funny? Admittedly a Bajoran might have had some difficulty with the idea of his offering a blessing, through his people’s phrasing, to a Prophet—
Dukat had one more question. He knew he likely wouldn’t remember the answer, for he had already used up his one chance, but he still had to ask. “What are the Prophets?”
Sisko’s face grew solemn, as he offered only two words: “We
After a moment, Sisko declared: “It must be done.” But for just a second, a glint of humor shone through on his grave features. “By the way, you might want to turn your head when you wake…”
The cave faded.
Dukat woke with his back against the bulkhead. He felt sore where his body had flown into the wall, but the pain seemed dulled somehow, as though a few days had passed since these latest of his battle injuries. Just how long have I been out?
Something had happened—he remembered…a vision…
Feet thundered into the transport. “For the love of all that’s holy!” Corat’s voice. “What did you do?
Dukat’s eyes popped open, and before he even had time to push himself to his feet, his hands were already moving in the military dialect of the common sign that Corat Damar had learned from his father. —Take care! Don’t speak where your voice can be recognized!—
Corat bowed his head. —Forgive me. But…behind me…there is a Bajoran. At least, I think
so. He looks like flatbread! And before I got in the cockpit and took out the drivers, I saw what looked like a signal flare punch through the roof. Except it didn’t fall back to the ground…it kept going like it was trying to break orbit! And now…— Here he spun around to glance behind him and then back with a shudder. —That!
— he gestured by means of a finger jabbed back towards the…whatever it was…that his body was blocking from Dukat’s view.
Dukat climbed to his feet, turning his head towards the landskimmer’s exit. —We must destroy this skimmer,— he signed. —We cannot leave any records here. It wasn’t an Orb of the Pah-Wraiths they had here…the Bajorans have tried to weaponize a piece of an Orb of the Prophets. The weapon hit me, but it must have backfired somehow…it doesn’t seem to have done what they wanted it to do. But if an Orb weapon succeeded…— He didn’t have to say the rest…the consequences could rip a hole in space all the way from Verkoun to B’hava’el, for all he knew.
—Did that weapon cause…that flatbread
back there?— Corat signed, his face contorted in a macabre blend between the irrational desire to laugh and the very rational desire to throw up.
Dukat nodded. —It seems like it. I had a vision as well.— Corat’s eyes widened. —But we don’t have time for that right now. The Bajorans may have already detected an energy discharge at our position, if that Orb fragment escaped the way I think it did. Have you pulled the ship’s transponder array?—
Corat pointed off to the side. —I’ve already got a text message programmed into it.—
The robed man smiled at Corat’s forethought. —If you haven’t sent the message yet…tell the Bajorans that their weapon backfired and killed their own man. Tell them that the Orb fragment refused to bend to their will. They may not believe the rest…but when they see that the fragment is gone, I guarantee there will be repercussions all the way up the hierarchy. We let it get its message out, and then we blow it up with the skimmer.— And all the evidence of our DNA
, he added to himself.
Corat finished his work, flung the transponder down at his feet, and made one final sign. —Let’s do it!— Dukat needed no more encouragement. This may not have been the relic they sought to rid the Bajorans of—but it would certainly do. As for the rest…that would require time to sort out.
A thigh-high streak of ashy grey tore out of her ‘Uncle’ Aamin’s arms, down to the floor with a thud— thankfully feet-first, her arms spread wide open. And when Skrain Dukat scooped up his only living child, and those arms wrapped gleefully around him, just clear of his neck ridges, he let out a joyous laugh just like hers, except a bit deeper. “Ziyal! How’s my girl?”
Ziyal beamed. “Uncle Aamin let me pet a vompăt
“Very nice!” Dukat smiled. For obvious reasons, there weren’t very many pets among the resistance fighters—but given the nature of their Guide’s peculiar gift, it was a matter of therapy and possibly even sanity for the man. The tiny animals had been Dukat’s idea to help Aamin, in fact…one he was pleased to see was well-appreciated. “Maybe Uncle Aamin will let you see them again someday.”
He raised an eye ridge at the Guide, who nodded in acknowledgment. And in that brief moment of eye contact, Aamin’s eyes widened in concern and curiosity. Dukat shaped the words on his lips: We’ll talk.
“Right now,” he said aloud to Ziyal, “it’s time for you
—” And Daddy!
“—to get some sleep!”
,” Ziyal pouted in singsong…but her heart wasn’t all the way in it. Now that her father was home again, her little body was starting to relax in spite of itself and she began to settle in Dukat’s arms, saying little as he walked her back to their home.
Meanwhile…Dukat’s mind still whirled with a haunting vision of a broken Cardassia filled with broken hearts. To see those faces in his mind, hear what remained of their anguished voices…it wasn’t hard to picture the heaviness that weighed upon the shoulders of Sulan and Adami back on Bajor, neither of whom wanted the horror their world visited upon others—and itself. Were there even those among the Bajoran Army who wrestled against their consciences as the strange Cardassians in his vision had?
Dukat gently shifted Ziyal’s weight in his arms as he reached for the handle of their door—and he felt the answer rising up from deep within his soul. He knew then why it was he had seen whatever that was he had seen while he lay unconscious in the landskimmer. This was for his soul, yes—but especially for Ziyal’s.
After getting her washed up and into her pajamas, Dukat carried his daughter into her room and laid her on her sleeping mat. She looked up at him with wide, sleepy eyes. “Daddy…” This sounds serious
, he thought at her tone of voice. Why do these questions always come to children’s minds late at night?
“Why’d I get a Bajoran nose? Did Oralius get mad at me?”
“Oh, no, no, Ziyal—never,” Dukat whispered, his eyes glistening. Now he was sure
why he had seen the things he had. “She knows you…and I’m sure she knows you’re a good girl, just like I do. I’m going to tell you a story now…but right now I can’t talk about all of it, and I can’t answer all of your questions. You’ll learn those things when you get older.” And when maybe…I don’t know how…I’ll be ready for it.
Right now…the only thing he could do was pray that the story he had ‘written’ in his mind for her, for the first time she asked this question, would be enough to satisfy her five-year-old curiosity without introducing her to ideas that were far, far too old for her. Or anyone, really. But there had
to be truth in some way…her memory was developing so fast that he knew very well these words could be with her forever.
“One time, the Bajorans found me and they took me to Bajor. And there was a woman there on Bajor who wanted a child…but she was a very mean woman who didn’t want to do anything that you’re supposed to, to be a good mother, or a wife. And she did a lot of very, very bad things. Then she told me I was going to be a daddy. I was scared, because she didn’t ask me first, like a real
mommy is supposed to. I don’t know why she did that. But the first time I looked at you, when I saw your little smile and your tiny scales and nose…I saw what a cute little girl you were. It felt like just the first time I saw your brothers and sisters, and I wasn’t scared anymore because I knew I could be a good daddy to you. And I felt Oralius telling me that I had to bring you home, so you could grow up with someone who loves you very, very much.” And with that, he leaned down and kissed Ziyal on her little ridged nose.
Before Ziyal could think to ask too many questions, Dukat continued. “I know there are a lot of Bajorans who are doing bad things to Cardassians, and I have to fight them. But sometimes they also hurt other Bajorans, who believe it’s wrong to treat other people that way. And I think there are a lot of boys and girls on Bajor who are scared because of what the grown-ups are doing, and we shouldn’t be mad at them. Why don’t we pray for them tonight, while we say our prayers?”
Ziyal nodded. Dukat knew she’d heard people refer to her as half-Bajoran before, and now she was beginning to understand that her nose really had come from Bajor. She knew she was connected in some way to that world…and she had to know that it didn’t mean she carried their evil within her. Or even that all Bajorans carried it. Tonight…this shared prayer…it was a start.
And as he led his daughter in her prayers, another name drifted up from the depths of his soul, though he couldn’t remember enough of his vision to know why.
Silently he lifted the mysterious name to Oralius.