Inquisitor Kunn Dorak was worried. The Trill captain, Ronus was his name, had managed to convince him that he would be safe aboard that Cardassian station, he had guaranteed it and had given his word, but Dorak was not so sure it would mean anything if the station’s gul, whoever might that be, would decide to arrest him and his children.
The children. He hoped that if it came to the worst, he would be at least able to bargain their freedom. They were innocent, they had been so young when he had had to run away...but did it ever meant anything to Cardassian authorities.
Glinn Borad entered the small compartment in the back of the Hideki, where Dorak and his family were, and looked at the inquisitor. “Sir, Legate Jarol would like to meet you personally when we arrive to the station.”
Dorak didn’t answer. Jarol. From all people, did she
have to be on that station?
He looked at his son, who had been only four when they had left Cardassia. After publishing Dorak’s political essays on political responsibility, the Central Command had set a high price for his head. From an inquisitor at a university he had become an outlaw. And then the Detapa Council had come, but before he had packed his things to return home, the Dominion had taken over. His hopes had risen once again after the war, but then another set of monsters had taken over. She was one of them.
What could she possibly want? To threaten him? To arrest him?
This was a mistake. A grave mistake. Whoever was in command of that station, he might have let them go, but with her present? Impossible.
What was a legate from the Central Command doing there anyway? An inspection? Well, she just won the big prize: to bring one of dissidents back to Cardassia to hang him.
He would agree to everything if she let his children go. They weren’t guilty of any crimes against Cardassia, they didn’t write any political essays.
He knew that shortcut was a bad idea. He knew he shouldn’t have taken it. He knew it was too close to Cardassian territory. And now he was going to pay for ignoring his instincts.
“Father, look at that.” It almost pained him to hear admiration in his daughter’s voice. “Look at that station, it’s so beautiful!” At least, she could appreciate Cardassian tastes. If only they weren’t expressed through this construction of aggression and evil.
They docked and Glinn Borad returned. “I will take you to Legate Jarol. They will be taken to your temporary quarters.”
“Will they be harmed?” Dorak asked directly.
Borad seemed surprised. “What? Of course not! You can move back to your ship as soon as we repair it sufficiently to be safe to stay there.”
Dorak thought that this glinn seemed like a decent man. “Take me to her, then.”
They arrived to her office within minutes. On one hand time flew fast, too fast, as Dorak feared that meeting; on the other hand he knew it took quite long, which was proof of the station’s size.
Her office—Dorak realised with dread that she
was in command of the station—was smaller than he expected. After huge operations centre, he though he would see a vast and heavily decorated room; he also expected her to have a bad taste. There was almost nothing there. Padds on her desk, a monitor.
His attention was drawn to a small sculpture over her head. It was a sculpture of a mar’kuu, if he wasn’t mistaken.
Glinn Borad introduced him and left the office. And she looked at him.
He expected a hateful reaction. He expected sharp words, being called a traitor and threatened with the worst what Cardassian torture had to offer...
But she smiled. Her eye opened wider, as she rose from behind her desk, she opened her mouth and he had an impression that this was a reaction of owe, not contempt.
“Inquisitor,” she said in a quiet and gentle...respectful?...tone of voice. “It is a great honour to have you on my station.”
He stared at her with his mouth open. Was this some kind of sick game?
“Honour?” he asked.
She approached him. “Please, take a seat.” She pointed to a guest chair. He sat and she sat in the other guest chair, not behind the desk. He noticed that she wore ordinary armour with gul markings, not legate’s. “When I learnt it was you aboard that ship, I wanted to talk to you. I just couldn’t let such an occasion slip. I hope you’ll forgive me. I imagine you are a busy man, but rest assured the repairs are already in progress and you can continue your voyage as soon as they are complete.”
This was very, very strange.
“Why am I here?” he asked.
She lowered her head for a moment and then looked back at him. “For two reasons. One, personal and egoistic...I wanted to talk to you. To have that honour. The other one more official. You deserve an apology. You couldn’t have returned home for such a long time because we locked the borders. We knew we were locking out many great minds, too many, but we had to do that. Too many petty minds tried to destroy us.”
Apology? Great mind? Was that woman out of her mind?
“After my ship is fixed, will I be allowed to leave?” he asked.
“Of course. I hope, though, that you would choose to visit Cardassia some day. I suppose you have built a home somewhere else and might not want to return, but if you’d pay a visit...it would be a great day.”
So, all that was to lure him to Cardassia. Did she think he was that stupid?
“Why would it be a great day?” He had to play her game, he knew it would be too dangerous to reveal that he saw her through.
“Inquisitor Dorak, your essays on political responsibility of those who are in power are an obligatory read at every university, especially at the Military Academy. Every glinn that is just about to be promoted to a gul must pass an exam and prove that he or she understands your philosophy. If they fail, they stay glinns for the rest of their lives. No second chances, no second approaches to the exam. They either understand their responsibilities, or not.
“A visit of the man who wrote those essays, who created that kind of requirement for our military and, subsequently, the Central Command legates would be a great honour for everyone on Cardassia.” Why did she sound so honestly, why couldn’t he detect any sign of deceit in her voice?
“I am a dissident.”
She smiled...like a mother that gently chastises her child. “There are no dissidents on Cardassia, Inquisitor.”
“You killed them all?”
She straightened. “You don’t know anything about the changes, do you?” she said. He wasn’t sure she was more surprised...or hurt. “How could you know,” she continued. “You had no contact with home for so many years and we allowed that contact only recently.”
He didn’t trust her. At. All.
“So you’re trying to tell me that I am a hero, not a traitor?”
She smiled. “Yes,” she said simply.
“I don’t believe you.”
A shadow passed through her eyes but quickly disappeared. “You are free to go wherever you were going as soon as your ship is safe for travel. But I hope you would at least try to check my story. You don’t have to believe me, but don’t punish whole Cardassia for mistakes that its former rulers made.”
“Oh, and you are a ruler that made none,” he snapped.
“I didn’t say that.”
“What did you do that they kicked you out of the Central Command and forced to take command of this station on the edge of the empire?” he attacked. He knew it was risky but he couldn’t stop himself.
“I have stepped down. It was my time to leave. I wanted this command and this station.”
Did he believe her? Did he believe that she resigned voluntarily? He had written that when a ruler feels his or her work is done, he or she should step down, but this woman didn’t appear to him as someone who would follow that advice. She looked like a power-hungry warlord that wanted to rule everyone’s lives and souls
“Why did you want a station that was the first step in Cardassian-Federation peace? I’d expect you to oppose this non-agression treaty with all your heart.”
“I have negotiated
that treaty, Inquisitor,” she said calmly, looking him in the eye. “This is something you can check very easily, if you don’t believe me. Check the Federation archives, I think you would find that a reliable source of information.”
She got defensive. Defensive as in ‘falsely accused.’ She was good, really good, but he still didn’t trust her. For all he knew it was all a plot to lure him to the Cardassian territory and arrest him there, where the Federation eyes didn’t reach.
“I will check that, rest assured,” he said, raising from the chair. “Now, if that’s all...”
“One more thing.”
Why wasn’t he surprised?
She handed him an old-fashioned book and a marker. “Could you please sign it?”
“Why?” Did she later want to forge his signature on some fake confession?
“If you could transcribe it to ‘Brenok.’ He is my friend and he loves your poetry.” Her voice was soft and...pleading.
Dorak, hesitantly, took the book—a many times read book with bent corners of the cover. He opened it and looked at the title page. There was his name there and a title, but his eyes went to the date of publication; the book was printed twelve years ago, on Cardassia Four. If this was a forgery, then it was perfect.
“Who is Brenok?” he asked.
“My dear friend. You are one of his favourite poets.”
“How did you get his book here?”
“It’s my copy. I’m sorry it’s in such a worn out state but I like re-reading my books. I am sure he wouldn’t mind it if it were signed by you, though.”
Was it all a mystification, or was it all the truth?
He took the marker. “What’s his full name?”
“Where is he from?”
Dorak looked at her. A Lakarian. “What is there now?” he asked quietly.
“Lakarian City. We have rebuilt it.”
He wanted to see, oh, he so wanted to see it. His late wife was a Lakarian and he remembered her tears when the news about the city’s destruction had reached them on Andor.
He wrote ‘For Arenn of La’kar’ia’—the traditional way of signing books.
“Thank you,” she said taking the book back.
He left her office, puzzled. That was not what he had expected. At. All.
Gil Yamuc turned to Toral. “Sir, we are being hailed from the surface.”
“On screen.” Toral rose from his chair and a moment later he regretted that; his legs almost gave under his own weight.
Sub-Archon Demok, who was looking at him from the screen, didn’t wear his EVA suit.
“Gul Toral, we have a new development,
” he said.
“So I can see.” Toral wished he could see anything but that. What a waste! He should have been more firm and not let Demok go to the surface. And now this young, talented man... He couldn’t think about it...
“Obviously, I will stay here. Medic Boreep is already in the local laboratory, working with other scientists.
” Toral could see Krause behind Demok. Oh, how he wished to chop the human into tiny pieces. “Our EVA suits were damaged during the emergency landing, so we both are infected. Please, set up a direct communication line between the laboratory on the warship and on the planet.
“Of course.” That was all Toral managed to say.
Demok seemed like he wanted to say something more but didn’t. He looked away and the connection was closed.
Korel looked at Toral. “What are we going to do?” he asked.
“We? We can only wait. Let’s see what Albek and Jabat can tell us.” With that he headed for the door.
Both medics very busy. The laboratory was full of life: the medics employed nurses and lower ranking medics to work on their problem, even Garesh Aladar was helping, carrying padds with results from one person to the other.
As soon as Aladar saw Toral, he came to the gul. “How is Sub-Archon Demok?”
“On the planet, without EVA suit, most likely already infected and getting sick.”
Aladar was clearly very nervous. Toral was not surprised. The garesh’s job was to protect the sub-archon and he failed completely. Not that it was totally his fault, even he, Toral, couldn’t stop Demok from going to the planet. Aladar would be no more successful in this task.
Aladar glanced at Albek, who was leaning over a console, studying readings on its display.
“Did you check it yet?” Jabat approached the station’s medic.
“Twice. The same result,” Albek answered, raising his head and just then he noticed the gul. “We have something, sir. You’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t think there is anything I wouldn’t like more than the fact that someone created a virus to kill Cardassians.”
“That someone was...” Albek just shook his head. Toral approached him. “We know why the virus doesn’t attack children. It is unable to attach itself and use a cell of which DNA’s telomere has a particular number of base pairs. That number blockade is artificially set. The virus has been designed not to even stay in an organism that has a high number of base pairs, that’s why children are not even carriers.
“It has mutated and now attacks all organisms but that one characteristic is still the same. There already are many different variants of the virus, each for different species and contact between those species—and in result—between different variants of the virus speeds up occurrences of new mutations.
“Now, if we are fast enough, we may find a cure before the virus mutates and starts to ignore its limitation. However I suggest we take all children from the planet immediately.
“We have determined the exact base pairs number that must be present in a telomere to protect a person. While that number is set, each organism ages a bit differently, so we are unable to set a certain age of a person—”
“Albek,” Toral interrupted, raising his hand to his forehead. “You’re giving me a headache. Short and in Cardassian.”
“We have to take everyone, whose telomeres are long enough not to be infected, from the planet. Now. Then we will worry about the cure for the rest.”
“You mean...someone created that virus to kill Cardassians but decided to spare children?” Aladar’s voice was merely a whisper. Albek nodded. Aladar looked at Toral. “We have to find out who did this,” he said.
“I intend to.” The gul looked at Albek and then Jabat. “Are you sure that children are not carriers?”
“We should keep them under quarantine for some time,” Jabat replied. “But we are sure.”
“It would be simple with very young children,” Albek said. “But we would have to test DNA of every older kid.”
“Does the difference in lifespan also make a difference in those...telemores?” Aladar asked.
“Telomeres,” Jabat corrected him. “Yes. Cardassian telomeres are longer. Human children have the shortest ones.”
“How do you propose to organise the quarantine?” Toral asked Jabat.
“I believe cargo bay three, with forcefields in bulkheads it should be sufficient. We can beam everything needed—food, water, blankets—directly there, without any personal contact with children.”
“Who will take care of the youngest ones?”
“We were thinking about starting from older children, teenagers, to explain everything to them and let them explain to the youngest, after those are separated from their parents and taken here.”
“Do we have enough space for them all?”
“No” Jabat rubbed his forehead ridge. “You should contact Cardassia and ask for transport ships.”
“I’ll do that. Anything else I should know about it before I talk to Demok and Krause?”
Both medics looked at each other and then back at Toral. “No,” Albek said.
“If we think of something, we’ll let you know immediately.”
“We already have a small team ready to start testing DNA and telomeres for older children, so please tell Krause to start sending samples.”
Toral returned to the bridge with mixed feelings.