22 Mišoun, Thirty-First Year of the 369th Ăstraya
Skrain Dukat stood before the door to Nejran Yidal’s room, on the upper floor where the children in the most serious conditions resided. It had been a long-standing custom for centuries at Tirhem Farms that those whose condition permitted them to do so joined their own prayers to the prayers and skills of the medical staff and the Oralian clerics and acolytes. One group of patients, led by Dr. Rhulat, even sang in the upper halls. Skrain had considered joining them, but lacked the confidence in his voice to try. Still, he could offer his prayers.
Tonight, he couldn’t seem to settle his mind even though he knew he had only half an hour left before lights-out, and he was tired of trying to sort out the tangled knots of guilt and illness, tired of trying to tell which was which. So instead, he had come up here to pray for Yidal. This
kind of prayer, he had discovered, also relieved his heart of its own troubles as he sought relief for another. If only Yidal could rouse himself—could begin the process of knitting his soul back together…even Skrain’s own halting progress would be a blessing of inestimable worth.
As Skrain concluded his prayer, something hummed quietly at his feet. It was a hekant
, he realized. “Shouldn’t you be back downstairs for the night?” Skrain whispered to the timid creature…exactly the words that should have been addressed to him
, he realized with a touch of irony. Animals weren’t supposed to roam freely after hours the way they did during the day, with a few exceptions; they were supposed to be back in their kennel areas at night when only a few nurses were about. Especially
not on this floor, where they should have had the eyes of a staff member on them at all times. This hekant
wasn’t going anywhere, though. The furred therapsid sat on…his?...her?...haunches and sniffed at the air, limpid green eyes gazing at the cracked door to Yidal’s room.
That wasn’t supposed to happen, either. If he
wanted to open his door to the hall at night—not that he wanted to hear the little sounds of running water pipes, and the footfalls of the few who were still up and about, nor did he want the light gushing into his room—no one was likely to say much of anything. There were differing degrees and types of illness, and the staff was by and large sensitive to the individual situations of each boy…or girl, in the other wing of the domicile. But up here, where such things could potentially cause much greater distress, or someone might wake and wander without realizing exactly what they were doing, it wasn’t
Skrain mouthed one more prayer for Yidal and lifted his hand to pull the door to. But the hekant
leaned forward at the motion with a tiny, interrogative chirrup. Towards
the door, rather than away. That was odd—he’ekant
weren’t normally all that keen on sudden motions. They were
prey animals, after all…they barely even knew how to nip when frightened, only to leap away.
Now Skrain’s heart skipped a beat. The hekant
slunk forward—in a defensive posture, yes, but still…nudging the old-style wooden door. Not enough to slip through the gap…but still, the intent was clear.
Skrain’s entire body tingled, from toes to neck ridges to the tip of his nose—even to the end of the long, black hair, loosely tied back at the base of his skull, had there been nerves there. Was this a sign? Did it mean the doctors or Guides might find a way to get through to Yidal? One grey fingertip made contact with the door, and pushed it ever so slightly…just enough that the hekant
could move freely in or out. “If you’re going to go,” he whispered voicelessly, “you’d better go now.”
He turned back towards the end of the hall. He still had a few minutes before he’d be expected to be in his own room asleep, but his stomach still twisted in a knot with as he opened the door to the stairwell and began his descent.
“…can’t take her out of there,” Skrain overheard Dr. Mezrin insisting in a low voice—far from furtive, but not meant to carry across the room the way the acoustics of the great central area of Pearl Domicile were allowing in this moment. “It’s working
, and I’m not about to argue with success.” Mezrin paused. The moment of eye contact almost made the nerves in Skrain’s krilătbre-yezul
buzz as though the man were standing right there next to him. Oh, Oralius—he knows
. The doctor turned to the robed cleric at his side. “Guide…perhaps you could handle this?”
Inclining her head, Derava rose softly, purposefully from her seat…right towards Skrain. “May we talk?” she asked as she met his grey eyes. Her tone was gentle—but her stride spoke her purpose and full authority as a woman in the service of Oralius.
Skrain bowed…not just the polite message-received signal Derava had employed towards Dr. Mezrin a moment ago, but a true gesture of submission. Derava swept her hand at the same couch where they had sat the day before. “I have news for you,” she began once they sat. “It’s very early to say for sure—but Nejran Yidal showed the first signs of improvement today that we’ve seen since he got here.”
“That’s wonderful!” Skrain burst out. “It’s an answer to my prayers. To all
our prayers,” he quickly amended. So that
was a sign!
he rejoiced, barely holding back a jubilant laugh. Finally, some treatment, some therapy had worked!
“Indeed,” Derava confirmed. “Oralius has provided! Early this morning, one of the he’ekant
was found on Yidal’s bed. And…it’s not much yet, but he’s actually spoken a few words to her. It’s the first time any
of us have heard him speak since he got here, Skrain. It’s the first time he’s shown any interest in any living creature. I thought you’d want to know that.”
Now she met Skrain’s eyes with a meaningful look. “I know you were up there last night. It’s not that we want
to be intrusive, but we did have to understand how the hekant
got in there. It’s important that you realize…while we very
much appreciate all of you who visit with and pray for your peers upstairs, you need to be with a doctor or a Guide when you do that. That way if something is
out of place, there’s someone there who can handle it appropriately—according to professional
judgment. Do you understand, Dukat?”
Shame coursed through the teenaged boy and his face burned from jaw ridge to ear tip: the involuntary response of the hierarchical instinct to being chastised by a woman of such authority, however gently. Keeping his eyes down as instinct and custom both required in a moment like this, Skrain succinctly replied, “Yes, Guide.”
“You can look now,” Derava assured him in a tone bereft of the firmness that had seemed so alien to her voice. “I’m finished with what I had to say. My question now is of a very different nature.”
“What is that, Guide?”
Her eyes were gentle when he met them again, adding their own smiles to that of her mouth. “Did Oralius speak to you?” When Skrain didn’t answer right away, she added, “No one is going to take your answer the wrong way.”
Skrain’s eye ridges lowered as he pondered, his head canted slightly to the right. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“That’s very rare, to actually hear her speak with a voice like one of ours, unless she is speaking through
happens quite often if you listen closely. For my own part…except for through others’ voices, I can’t say I’ve ever heard Oralius speak aloud with actual sounds.” Derava smiled. “Being a Guide doesn’t mean you get a direct commline to her, even though people think that of us sometimes; it means you’re still learning
how to hear her just like any of us. It just means we’ve given our lives over to that learning in a different way than most. But even though I’ve never heard a voice
, I can still say with certainty that I haveheard her sometimes…not even using words, sometimes, but feelings
, certainties deep in the spirit.”
Skrain was already nodding before Derava finished her last sentence. “I did
feel something—all over my body. I don’t know how else to explain.”
Derava nodded knowingly. “That sounds like it. I had a feeling something like that had happened…so many pieces came together, all at once…” She reached out with one hand, pausing with her fingertips just inches from Skrain’s chest, waiting for him to accept the ritual gesture. Skrain nodded, and she pressed her hand to his chest, in the center just below the collarbone, where the Cardassian heart resided. “This
is who you are meant to be, Skrain. This
is who you are.”
Afterword: I hope there really are places as warm as Tirhem Farms out there. And if there are not, I pray that there will be, someday very soon. I also hope readers will understand that Skrain’s charges against himself were without basis and that I do not think that way of people who struggle with mental illnesses.
camayrit is based on the Earth gharial, a wonderful, but critically endangered species. Gharials are rather shy creatures that, like the
camayrit, are incapable of taking down a human, though they can nip or slap you with their tail.
Adult gharial: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gharial
camayrit most closely resembles a baby gharial; like most domesticated animals on Earth, the domestication process resulted in neoteny, or the retention of a species’ infantile features.
Camayrit-šăs, however, do not possess the bulbous “ghara” on the nose, the way a male Earth gharial does. They do possess the
krilătbre-yezul, the protrusion on the forehead that is responsible for the Cardassian bioelectric sense (which originally evolved for use in the water), but no eye ridges because while predators, they must watch out for larger creatures. Because of a quirk of Cardassian evolution, domestic
camayrit-šăs may appear on the outside like Earth reptiles, but their affectionate temperament (and “thrumming,” which human ears, unlike Cardassian ones, would probably hear) would remind a human of a purring cat!