The ship lurched violently, wrenching Dukat once more out of his meditations. Two days they had sat in this damnable pod, barely removing their masks except to eat a few awful ration bars designed for Bajoran taste buds--and even that
questionably so, Dukat suspected--and drink some water. He and the pilot still had not spoken since that exchange on the landing pad.
Now the pilot growled out two words, muffled and just barely audible through his breathing mask: "Hold on."
Warning klaxons sounded in the pod and presumably throughout the Bajoran vessel; he didn't have to know their language to understand that they warned of an imminent warp core breach. Dukat clutched his sleeping daughter in one arm and a phaser pistol in the other in case some of the Bajorans decided to try and board his escape pod before the automatic ejection.
Lantis had assured him this ship was running with only a three-person crew and that they shouldn't touch any of the extra pods in the ventral section. But that did little to make Dukat feel any better as boots clanged against the deckplates above their heads, loudly enough to be audible even through the sealed hatch of the escape pod.
Finally the boots went silent. Dukat hoped they'd found another pod and weren't just lying in wait while someone ran to get reinforcements against the Cardassian stowaways.
Only when the escape pod blew free of the doomed Bajoran transport did Dukat allow himself to relax--a little.
He thought about tapping the sedative pump on Ziyal's arm, letting the device begin to taper off her dosage and wake her up. Oh, Oralius, he wanted to so
badly. But he dared not...he dared not until they had landed.
The pilot sprang into action, inserting an isolinear chip into one of the pod's ports and replacing some of the Bajoran glyphs on the consoles with Cardassian script. He scanned the consoles for a moment, then keyed up a new display on the main monitor. Gruffly he pointed at the pinkish blips on the screen. "Those are the other pods," he said. "We'll wait for the others to set course and then we'll start our descent. These coordinates Jarema gave me had better be good," he warned.
Dukat nodded, but did not open his mouth. Jarema must have been one of the Bajoran dissidents; after their lapse of judgment with regard to the pilot's wife, Dukat wasn't sure he trusted them all. But it wouldn't do to reinforce the pilot's memory, nor his bitterness, especially not now, as he frantically keyed in the course that would take them down to the desert sands of Cardassia Prime.
At last the pilot spoke again. "That ought to be enough time. You might not want to look," he warned. "We're going to tumble until we reach atmosphere. Don't see any other ships in the area yet, but I don't want to make it look like anyone's flying this thing, of course."
,' Dukat thought to himself, again replying with a simple nod. He might not have ever been in space other than his capture, and he'd slept through that flight just as Ziyal slept now, but he wasn't stupid.
Oh, Ziyal...he clutched his daughter close again. The pilot's eyes lingered for a moment before abruptly cutting away.
And they started their fall.
At first Dukat closed his eyes. Then the roar of re-entry swelled louder and louder with a yellow-orange flare of fire onscreen. The inertial dampers went off and the pilot tapped furiously at the console, firing reverse thrusters again and again until their speed dropped to something saner.
Dukat counted the seconds to himself until at last the landing antigravs kicked in, the deceleration completed, and they eased their way back down to the sands of Cardassia Prime at sunset.
The pilot keyed open the hatch, ripping his mask off as a blast of warm air greeted them. Dukat followed suit for himself and Ziyal, and then drew the arid atmosphere of home
into his lungs.
Robed figures ran towards the "crash" site, shouting in a language Dukat recognized, but barely understood in its spoken form. The pilot's eyes went wide in alarm.
"They're Sokol-haaf," Dukat hurriedly explained. "Kurabda. I can talk to them."
Reluctant as he was to relinquish Ziyal, especially not to this man after what he'd said about her, he thrust his infant daughter into the gruff pilot's arms. Then he raised his hands to sign.
His fingers moved as rapidly as his heart pounded; he saw the hands of the Sokol-haaf edging towards their weapons. --I am Dukat of the resistance against the outworlders,-- he said in Kurabda sign, --known to the tribe of Kekil-haaf. The three of us have been prisoners on their world. We need your help returning to our place near the lands of the Kekil-haaf. We first need to move away from here,-- he warned. --I do not want this craft to endanger you if the Bajorans come looking for us.--
One of the Sokol-haaf men began to speak.
--I understand little,-- Dukat replied. --My friend understands none. If you could please sign...--
--We will take you,-- the tribesman confirmed. --The outworlders have become more and more of a nuisance to us, even here. There was an attack last year in the Kekil-haaf lands, and the rebels there moved to another cave we showed them. The Bajorans just burned the bodies with their weapons, did not even bury them.-- The tribesman shook his head at the barbarity of it.
"Oh, Oralius," Dukat moaned aloud. That had to have been his people. The Bajorans had attacked the base after he was captured...who had lived? What had they done? His wife...his three children with her...had they survived? --Let me translate for my friend,-- he signed, buying himself some time to cope with the news.
"The Sokol-haaf will take us to our base," Dukat said, "where we'll keep you safe until your wife is brought to us. But they said our base was attacked and has been relocated close to here." He didn't want to speak the words at first. But he was trembling now and couldn't hold them in. "I'm scared the Bajorans did it because of me. They took DNA from me when they captured me. And if they'd wanted to destroy all of us, they could have. Riyăk
, my family...I don't know what they did but I just can't stop thinking--"
The pilot's lips pressed together in a thin line, his countenance turned to stone. Finally words emerged. "Let's pray that's not so." He cast his eyes at Ziyal one more time. His voice softened a bit more. "If you're sure we can trust these people, I think it's time to start waking her."
Dukat nodded as the pilot handed his daughter back.
She might be all he had left.