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Old February 2 2010, 06:08 AM   #31
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

The council of tribal elders had convened almost immediately upon the return of Dukat and Gharumef. Sitting robed and cross-legged in the chapel tent, these grey-haired men and women reminded Dukat very strongly of a panel of federal archons listening to oral arguments. Though he wondered just how much medicine these people practiced, in comparison to city dwellers, the youngest of them seemed as though he must be a century old, and the eldest—a woman who had been carried into the tent in a shaded palanquin, who appeared as though she’d lived in excess of 180 years. This he hoped to find out later; if tribal society was anything like his, such years were a mark of honor and people became quite generous with that information, the older they got…quite unlike Dukat, who at a mere twenty years would have been uneasy with the question and the judgment his answer might bring.

The more he listened, the more evident it became that just as Gharumef had hinted in that first meeting, before Dukat surrendered his voice to Oralius, that the people of Kekil-haaf had much more of an understanding of the modern world—and even the galaxy at large—than their archaic way of life might lead one to believe. They had a radio for news…or at least they had, until Cardassia’s radio stations had stopped transmitting.

The only piece they were lacking that actually meant something, as far as he could tell, was any kind of vidscreen or computer terminal that might have given them a visual frame of reference for the concepts they spoke of with such unexpected ease. Perhaps some of them had studied in the cities and seen those things—but they saw no need to bring them into their encampment. Because of this, Gharumef had sought formal confirmation from Dukat as a matter of record.

He had bowed then, as befit a man so young preparing his testimony to such venerable men and women. His testimony would be without words, of course, but it would be entered into consideration nonetheless.

Could he affirm with certainty that the appearance of the ship he had seen passing over the Noumara Mountains matched the appearance of the ships he had seen on the news as the Bajorans invaded the rasgă’ălour?

Yes, he had indicated formally with both a nod and another bow that at once demonstrated respect and solemnized his response as sworn testimony in place of a spoken vow.

Had there been any Cardassian ships present, either in the formation or harassing it as it passed, or any other evidence of resistance, to include the use of surface-to-air or space-to-air weaponry?

No, he had signaled, an expression of mourning upon his face. There had been no resistance…no sign the Cardassian Guard still fought. Little hope that Akellen—if he hadn’t already perished—had enjoyed even the slightest taste of victory, wherever he fought. On the other hand, he had reflected, I saw no sign of compliance on our part, either. And that was good: whatever they wanted to take from Cardassia—though it was hard to imagine what, beyond their minds and souls, might be of any value…it would come at a cost.

Though there might have been other questions the council might have asked him under different circumstances, the eldest among them had released Dukat back to his place at Gharumef’s side, on the grounds of his inability to answer any further questions.

From there, the debate had turned to the possible troop levels the Bajorans had massed in the intervening weeks since Dukat’s arrival, whether they commanded sufficient resources to afford a foray into the desert to harass a nomadic tribe. Close proximity to the city, Gharumef had argued before the council like a defensive nestor, increased the chances the Bajorans would consider it worth their while, given the tactical advantage of forming a resistance to the invasion in otherwise unpopulated territories that would likely prove hostile to those lacking intimate familiarity with the land. And, Gharumef had added, these aliens’ bodies might not withstand the rigors of the desert as a Cardassian would.

With that, Dukat had had to concur with a nod he doubted the council had taken any notice of. He well remembered his biology lessons, and the Bajorans—like so many of the galaxy’s dominant species—most resembled the creatures of Cardassia Prime’s northernmost climes…mammalians, not therapsids, creatures bred to survive the equivalent of a Cardassian polar winter, beings who overheated easily and relied far more on sweating to cool themselves and therefore dehydrated more quickly than a Cardassian would under the same circumstances.

However, countered a merchant woman by the name of Hraadenir, there was also the risk that an unexpected migration, without an obvious trigger like a storm, the need to leave a particular area fallow for some time, or any other apparent reason besides the overflights might catch the attention of Bajoran sensor operators. Even from a ship, while individual lifesigns might be difficult to distinguish when the subject wasn’t wearing a wristcomm or other tracking device, the migration of hundreds might be sufficient to draw attention. It might even read like troop movements and bring down the wrath from above.

But that wasn’t right, Gharumef had countered—surely those same sensors could detect active power sources, which put out far more of an energy signature than the Cardassian body could? The Kurabda had few powered devices, and those they did possess, such as their radio, and Dukat’s disruptor, could be switched off over the course of the day when the tribe prepared to travel, if they weren’t already powered down. Done gradually, this would hopefully avoid tripping any alarms.

Dukat, for his part, had sided with Gharumef and burned for the means to provide his opinion…but to his surprise, about halfway through the meeting, a sense of calm had come over him: yes, he had lived in the modernized world until recently, but he’d been training as a nestor then, not a tactician or warrior. What could he truly offer that would be based on any greater credentials than Gharumef, Hraadenir, Koremaad, Rulaahan, or any of the other people of Kekil-haaf, who were certainly no intellectual pushovers themselves? And what did he really know about what the Kurabda could accomplish with the means their custom allowed?

He did not have all of the answers, and idle speculation would contribute nothing of use other than to draw attention to himself that, while it might give him some sort of thrill to think that his words were the testimony upon which this massive decision might ride, would be an illusory one at best.

In this moment, anyway, he did not have to have all of the answers—though he knew Cardassian nature, and his in particular, well enough to be sure the yearning would return in short order. But right now, he was here to listen and to pray for the wisdom of those older and more experienced than himself, who knew their strengths and the piece of the world in which they lived.

Rulaahan had donned her recitation mask and spoken a blessing over the elders and everyone gathered there inside the chapel tent. And eventually, after a few moments of conferring amongst themselves, and several more moments of silent prayer together, those elders who could stand on their own rose. The most venerable among them was lifted by the young palanquin-bearers who had brought her into the chapel tent.

It was this eldest who delivered the decision: tomorrow, the tribe would break camp and set course by the stars for the foothills on the far side of the Noumara Mountains, where no ah’tekel cities or bases lay near and the Bajorans—barring a complete lack of reason—would see little need to interfere with them while they made their efforts, by contact with those of other Kurabda tribes, to piece together a better picture of what had happened and determine what, if anything, they might be able to contribute to the freedom of Cardassia Prime.

With that, the calm in Skrain Dukat’s heart evaporated almost completely. Filing out of the tent behind Gharumef, he cast a sorrowful eye behind him, feeling the tension in the long tendons of his neck ridges as he turned his head. He had lost the lights of Culat long ago, when his aimless flight into the desert took him farther than he’d ever believed the Cardassian body could carry a man without giving out. Now even the slightest final semblance of closeness to home, to the place where he prayed his family still lived, was to be cut away from him, too.

The Guide Rulaahan saw this and laid a hand upon the young pilgrim’s shoulder. “Just because there is a beginning,” she intoned, “does not mean there is always an end before it. We do not always see where the thread goes when it disappears beneath the cloth, but that does not mean it will not appear again.”

Dear Spirit whose hand rests upon Fate, Dukat prayed once he thought he understood, please let that be true for the ones I love, someday.

“Come with me,” she invited—though it was more of a command. “We will pray together.”
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Old February 2 2010, 05:44 PM   #32
Rush Limborg
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

And now...the plot thickens.

Great use of the Bajorans--reminding us of the danger, to keep the tension going.



BTW, Nerys, I see the irony you were talking about:

The thought unnerved Dukat on some level...to break an animal until it wanted to do something against its nature because no other option was left--it didn't feel right somehow.
Ironic, because of Prime Dukat's line that "A true victory...is to make your enemies see that they were wrong to oppose you in the first place."

He loved to break his enemies, that they would follow him williningly.

This Dukat is different.
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Old February 2 2010, 06:29 PM   #33
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I think that this Dukat would tell you, if he were not under the vow of silence, that to make a point and convince your opponent is worth something, and I think he always liked the thrill, in debates, when he was able to deliver superior logic and his adversary would concede. That part of them, I think, is the same, and I think it's what drew AU Dukat to the idea of being a state prosecutor (called prosecuting nestor, in his world)--he'd get to deliver a verbal smackdown in a venue where it's appropriate. What's different is that this one would be disappointed at a loss, possibly still think in some cases that his opponent is being obstinate and refusing to see the evidence, but breaking a person...that's something that he finds repulsive. And I think a lot of that has to do with how he was raised, and the faith that he holds...it's given him a guiding star and a reality check outside of himself that the canon Dukat didn't have.

I figured as an alien, he might not understand what goes on with horse training (and other species that use prey animals as their mounts), or may have only seen the most flagrant examples. The relationship between a Cardassian and a riding hound is, when you get down to it, a predator-predator relationship rather than a predator-prey one, and that's fundamentally different in the way that the two creatures relate to each other. That's why he looks at the process on other worlds--Earth would be included--and sees only terrorizing an animal (even though like I said, I know that when done RIGHT, training a horse is about establishing trust and confidence in the animal rather than breaking its spirit)...and in his alien perspective, he doesn't think that's right.
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Old February 3 2010, 05:13 PM   #34
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I for one found the Cardassian-hound relationship very well thought out. As you say, having a predator as a riding beast where humans have prey animals changes the dynamic somewhat. A good rider knows their animal and knows how the relationship should work, and that will of course be subtly different when the mount is a carnivore. It's another example of the careful consideration that makes your Cardassia so convincing; you don't take anything for granted, and the thought put into it makes it seem very "real".
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Old February 3 2010, 08:52 PM   #35
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I'm so glad you liked it!

That's what the deal is with the whole food ritual...especially since a hound is bigger and stronger than a Cardassian, there has to be SOME kind of control mechanism, some way of establishing that the Cardassian holds the higher rank. I figured something like that would be a humane way of sending that signal (and besides, Cardassians are more generous to their steeds by FAR than what an alpha riding hound would do...an alpha hound would eat its fill and leave the scraps instead of just taking a symbolic piece and leaving the rest.).
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Old February 22 2010, 03:06 AM   #36
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Small update--at this link you can keep up with a WIP I'm doing right now of Ratoukhit the riding hound!

http://trekbbs.com/showthread.php?t=115137
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Old April 6 2010, 01:48 AM   #37
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Part V: Signs

In the morning, the people of Kekil-haaf started breaking camp. It wasn’t that this was an unaccustomed act to them—rather, the strange part of it for them was that they migrated ahead of the usual season. But while that might mean a bit of hardship, arriving to the grazing lands in the foothills before they were quite ready and having to hope the za’abou wouldn’t eat through the available grasses too soon, this was a chance the tribesmen were ready to take. Better that…a risk they knew how to deal with…than staying in the path of the Bajorans.

And another pair of Bajoran ships had crossed overhead in the morning—again unobstructed, again heading for Culat. If anyone had doubted their decision, they offered no resistance now.

Lehnedrel had come by to help Dukat break down his tent; from there, all of his belongings except for those he carried in his rucksack would be loaded onto the hound-pulled sand-sleds. Their design was really quite ingenious, Dukat thought—once they crossed onto harder soil, a set of axles ran parallel just above the skids to which wagon wheels would be attached.

Dukat nearly had his belongings collapsed and ready to be loaded onto the sled when Rulaahan approached, wearing a hooded robe with far less beadwork than any of her other robes before. A traveling robe, Dukat supposed. Head dipped to shade his eyes but still squinting against the sun reflecting in the sand, Dukat offered a welcoming smile and wave to the Guide.

“A good morning to you, Skrain Dukat.” Rulaahan had yet to pack—for as Akellen and others in the Guard would say, wherever her children went, Oralius was always the first one in and the last one out. Now what’s got her smiling like that in the middle of all this commotion? His own smile broadened. He wouldn’t have to ask; he would know soon.

“I have news to rejoice in,” the Guide announced. “I have prayed much about this—and there is a gift that Oralius allows me to give you, that I believe will give you much to celebrate. You must use it wisely…”

Dukat’s eye ridges shot up and the tips of his fingers flashed to his throat. My voice?

“Not quite,” Rulaahan clarified with a shake of the head. “But not far. We will now teach you our sign language. It will take you much time—and in the spirit of your oath, you must use it…” She searched for the word in the common tongue. “…judiciously, without idle chatter. But it is right that you begin now.”

The young pilgrim grinned so hard that the skin where the macroscales of his jaw ridges began actually started to hurt. Grateful, he gave his most formal bow.

“I think I know what you want to say,” Rulaahan acknowledged. “And it is a good place to start.” The Guide pressed her palms together, thumbs against her chest at first, then swept them forward towards Dukat, pointing at him like an arrow. “That is how you sign ‘thank you.’”

Dukat nodded, slowly repeated the sign. He had learned a few key signs from the common sign language growing up, as most Cardassians did, but never pursued the subject as he hadn’t thought he would need it in his chosen field as might a soldier or construction worker who worked in an environment where speech sometimes became impractical. Now he regretted that omission. Even though Kurabda sign was a language unto itself, he imagined it would have made the coming acquisition process much simpler for him.

Almost every Cardassian culture had its own sign language, in some cases for as long as history recorded—even some of the older space colonies had developed their own dialects over time. And at the same time as the worlds of Cardassia adopted a common tongue for business and government, no one had thought anything of the need to select a planet-wide sign language as well. But until their first contact with other cardasdanoid races, even most of the speculative fiction writers had never suspected the rest of the quadrant would find anything unusual about this. It still felt a bit…awkward, Dukat admitted to himself, knowing that the vast majority of species similar to themselves could hear better than the Cardassian species—that what was perfectly normal to him would border on deafness to some species. He could only imagine what the Bajorans thought of it.

But how many species without telepathy had two truly diverse ways to communicate, known to such a percentage of the population? And there were those of other peoples who had marveled at that…that because of this, even in some of the most ancient Hebitian cultures, those who could not hear or speak had lived such different lives than the ancients of many other races. Oralius may not have given her beloved children the same acuity of hearing that other species were blessed with—but her people, living with the many talents they did have had given the gift of true participation to those who might not have had the same chance until later eras on their own worlds. And still weren’t given, on some worlds…Bajor likely one of them.

Now it was Dukat’s turn to enjoy the benefits of this particularly Cardassian heritage. If the Kurabda were anything like those of his own culture, a sizeable percentage of the adult population would understand him. Maybe even more, in this place, he thought.

He repeated the sign Rulaahan had taught him, quicker, more confident this time. —Thank you!—

“You are very welcome,” the Guide said. Then she signed something else—a variation on the first, but this time she opened her hands, touching her fingertips first to her temples, between the hooks of her eye ridges and her hairline, and then swept them up, fingers splayed towards the horizon.

That sign needed no spoken translation, and Dukat repeated it as well, with gusto.



Darkness spread across the desert of Kurab, canopy of sky opened to reveal the stars from whence the enemies of Cardassia came. Sad, Dukat thought to himself, not for the first time on this two-week journey. To think what it would’ve been to witness beauty of such magnitude without having to fear—I wish I could’ve seen this for the first time when I’d never even heard of a Bajoran. He wasn’t sure which star was the Bajoran primary, or if it could be seen from this hemisphere, but he knew it was close enough for the unaided Cardassian eye. It hadn’t been one of the brightest stars—not one of the named ones that belonged to the constellations the Kurabda were teaching him to recognize—yet such suffering from an origin so unassuming…

Gharumef tapped his arm…he’d managed to get so absorbed in his own musings, even now, sitting on the back of Ratoukhit the riding hound, that he hadn’t heard a word the man said, hadn’t even noticed the sensation of his bioelectric field. “Dukat—show me what direction we now travel in,” ordered the warrior who walked alongside Ratoukhit, gripping his harness.

This time as Dukat scrutinized the stars, it was information he sought. There was Vornon the Thresher straight ahead, Sherouk the Starcatcher at Vornon’s left shoulder, so named for what resembled an upended basket that poured tiny ‘stars’—meteors—on the world at the right time each year…

And there to Sherouk’s left was Yartek’s Eye, the constellation completed at the right time of night by the world aliens often called Cardassia IV. To Dukat, this world was Yarte’krinek—Yartek’s Spark. It had been a seminal moment in Hebitian history when nine hundred years ago, the scientists staring at the stars realized that the light that winked at them from the center of Yartek’s Eye when the conditions were right was more than just a ball of rock in the sky. It was a whole other world—a cold world by their standards, to be sure, but a world with an atmosphere capable of holding heat that with the right kind of cultivation might well be made habitable.

That dream had been accomplished six centuries ago. And when their world became Cardassia, the success of the settlements there, throughout the Cardassia system, and beyond became a beacon of hope for a people struggling through the Cataclysm. And when Yartek’s Eye was complete, that beacon pointed the way…

—South,— Dukat signed.

“Correct,” Gharumef replied aloud. “Now,” he said, testing Dukat’s memory, “can you show me where the Kekil camp was?”

This time Dukat had no particular sign with which to reply; his vocabulary was scant so far. He simply focused for a moment, then pointed.

“Almost,” Gharumef acknowledged. “But a bit further east.” He pointed only a scant few degrees off from the direction Dukat had indicated. Both men had the same eidetic memory, for the Kekil-haaf had kept the memory techniques that formed the backbone of early public and private education in the urbanized world. But Gharumef’s memory was far more accustomed to this sort of information than Dukat’s…and if Dukat hoped to fight the invasion, it would grant him a critical edge to find his way according to nature and not a hand-scanner.

Dukat bowed his head in acceptance. —Thank you,— he signed. The gesture was a bit sharper than he would have liked…for right in that moment, Ratoukhit stopped suddenly, emitted a tiny, discreet whining noise for his master to hear.
Bekhih,” Gharumef commanded in Kurabda. Stay. Whatever it was that had distressed Ratoukhit, the last thing Gharumef wanted was for the hound to throw the inexperienced rider who could give no vocal commands of his own.

Cautiously Gharumef swept a path in front of the hound with his walking staff—and suddenly something hissed. “Mraafet,” Gharumef warned. “Stinging beetle nest,” he translated. With his staff he gestured towards a scraggly shrub that clung to life in the Verkoun-baked soil here in the high desert of the Noumara foothills. Just underneath the bush was a construction of an almost paperlike consistency…a small mound that didn’t look like much, but the creatures within, if provoked, were prone to swarm on their victims. A single bite wouldn’t kill, but an entire nest of them could drop even a thick-skinned steed like Ratoukhit, and the clever riding hound knew it.

The rest of the caravan had halted with Gharumef and Ratoukhit—now he directed them with sign lest the vibrations of a shout perturb the nest. Dukat only understood a few of the signs—the directional ones—but the rest of the caravan, with their species’ night-adapted eyes, had no trouble interpreting his instructions.

Gharumef took one last moment to stroke Ratoukhit’s neck and whisper words of reassurance in his ear. Only then did he guide the hound around the nest. “These nests are common here,” Gharumef explained a few minutes later. “But they do not like the areas further in the hills. We will be safe there, where we camp.”

I’ve lived on this planet all my life and I thought from all the documentaries I watched that I really understood this place, he thought. I can only imagine what an offworlder might make of it! Dukat’s lips quirked up—in his mind’s eye one of the goggle-eyed Bajoran soldiers, ignorant of what to look for, blundered too close to the nest and fell prey to a vicious beetle-swarm.

But Dukat’s mind latched upon something else, once Ratoukhit resumed a steady gait. —Camp,— he signed. —Where?—

Gharumef didn’t see him at first; his eye ridges were in the way. Cautiously, gripping Ratoukhit’s saddle with his left hand, Dukat leaned over and swept his right hand close to the warrior’s shoulder. The tribesman turned this time, and Dukat repeated himself.

“Not far now,” Gharumef replied, a faint smile tracing across his craggy features. “We sleep one more night under the stars. And then we will set up camp. You will like it here Dukat…this is where you will learn to hunt.”

—Thank Oralius!— the young pilgrim rejoiced. He’d only barely accustomed himself to sleeping in a tent with nothing but the pillows over his ears to block out the noises outside…sleeping outside in a cocoon of blankets and another rolled under his head was even worse. Impossible, more like it! Too much light, too little heat—I don’t think I’ll figure it out even if I have to spend my entire life doing it! But to know, too, that here he would take his first step towards truly being a warrior…

Gharumef nodded, comprehending his meaning well enough.



The entire tribe, Dukat included, awoke to the prayer songs of Rulaahan’s acolytes just before sunrise, raising up their voices as they lifted the center pole of the chapel tent, stood it erect, and as the first light broke over the horizon, drove it into the soil where the gold spire caught the brightening rays of Verkoun and reflected them back at their source in a sort of natural thanks for the world around them. Once the entire tribe recited the Invocation—though Dukat did so silently and in another language—the rebuilding of the chapel tent commenced. And with Rulaahan, her acolytes, and the entire tribe pitching in, the house of worship stood resplendent in the desert in less than an hour. From there, Dukat proceeded to raise not only his own tent, but to help with those of the camp’s seniors and widows as well.

Still, the sudden weariness stunned Dukat as he opened the flap to his tent. It reminded him so much of the feeling that came over him every time he came home on the weekends to his parents and siblings, and threw his bag onto the floor in his room next to the sleeping mat he’d had since he was sixteen. How could he respond to the sight of this tent, this symbol of just how far his journey had taken him away from his home, evoke this sort of response? His home was in the Rukreved District of Culat, with the ones he loved. And he still belonged there, for that was the Cardassian way—to move out into the world for university, but return to the family domicile afterwards, only moving out…and only sometimes…upon marriage.

Yet his body responded to the sight of this Kurabda tent as though it were really some sort of home. His memories of home—of Culat—were undimmed, of course…yet he still felt a sense of ownership of this life somehow. And now that they had stopped moving, that feeling reasserted itself with a vengeance.

He dropped his rucksack. There was barely any energy left in him to remove his sandals and outer robe before he crawled between the covers, pulled them over his body, one pillow below his head, one above it. It wasn’t long before he drifted off…
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Old April 6 2010, 01:49 AM   #38
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

steel surrounded him. A ship of the Guard, he understood. He had seen pictures, and had toured the museum ships on display in Culat, but never set foot on one of the modern vessels. He had no perspective here—he couldn’t tell how this ship compared to the ones he had visited on that childhood field trip. He moved through the corridors at a brisk pace, walking as though he had a concrete destination in mind, but he didn’t…it was really more of a knowing, something like the tugging of the conscience or the guidance of the hierarchical instinct, something that couldn’t quite be put into words.

Something felt wrong about this ship. He didn’t know much about military vessels—or any sort of starship, really—but it was hard to miss the inconstancy of the ship’s lighting, fine one moment, browning out the next. The air tasted stale. And occasionally he heard a deep groan from within its frame. The sounds grew louder and more frequent the further he progressed towards—whatever awaited.

He was alone in this place. There seemed no sense in it…he would have expected a great commotion in the wake of an emergency like this. Was he the only one aboard this ship? If so, for what purpose? If not…what would he find?

He reached the end of the corridor. Branched common-tongue script proclaimed this as the ship’s cargo bay…the only one, if he read it right. The circular burgundy warning seal on the door blared the risk of direct exposure to vacuum—structural integrity was compromised here; all who entered here depended on a fickle forcefield to survive.

This was the last place he wanted to be, this close to space. He had no desire to walk this close to the cold, to the embodiment of the tundra that curled its way around the planets and stars, leaching away their heat and drawing each part of the universe closer to absolute zero…that point at which all life and change and motion ceased and only that which had gone to be with Oralius would in any way survive.

But he had to be here. His path drew him here. And everything would be explained here.

Slowly, gingerly, he stretched his long, grey fingertips towards the control panel. And he tapped.

The door yawned open with a moan. He stepped across the threshold and the door slid shut behind him. A tiny hiss signified that like an airlock, the door had formed a seal. If the room depressurized, it offered no escape to the relative safety of the ship’s bowels.

A gaping hole in what should have been the loading bay door leading to the outside, guarded by only the faintest shimmer of sunset-gold energy, which flickered and sputtered every so often at one tiny impact after another, betrayed what had already happened here. And just how close they were to all of it happening again. He could see the stars sparkling faint and far between in protest against the darkness.

He spun around suddenly as a terrible sound assaulted his ears—the sound of someone retching violently as though between sobs.

Then he saw it: three corpses sprawled in a grotesque tangle, their forms simultaneously frozen by the vacuum and seared on one side like meat on a grill. Blood was everywhere, issuing from impossible places and sprayed all across the room, painting it like an ancient slaughterhouse. Acid rose in his throat and he almost echoed the one living man in this impromptu charnel house.

Without knowing how he understood, he knew exactly what had happened: the ship had suffered some sort of impact—maybe a weapon, maybe some sort of space debris—and resulted in a partial loss of the ship’s structural integrity field, the field that simultaneously protected the ship from micrometeorite impacts even when the main shields were down, and helped to buffer the hull against the impact of the extreme speeds at which faster-than-light vessels traveled. Only a few generators had failed, maybe, or perhaps the whole thing had failed but re-established itself just fast enough that these three men had not been sucked out. They’d hurtled towards the hole as the atmosphere vacated—but slammed up against the reconstructed forcefield. That was where the burns had come from. And life support must have failed in this area as well, or atmosphere would have been re-established soon enough that even after this horrific accident, they might have stood a chance of survival.

The living man—a tall, thin Rivçalda man in the armor of the Cardassian Guard, his hair cut in the traditional military fashion, had an antigrav gurney at his side. He reached towards the dead men, perhaps to lift them onto the cart. Each time his hand drew near, another wracking, nauseous sob convulsed his body. It sounded as though he were fighting it, not mourning openly as was right for a Cardassian at the sight of such horrors. Loathing, he thought, though the choice of words surprised him. What kind of loathing? Of the situation? Of those around him? Of himself? There was something about the man’s posture—what? He couldn’t see his eyes, and yet the feeling was so strong.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, he strode forward. Even as the corpses revolted him, his heart cried out for the poor soul left alone for whatever reason to carry out this grim task without a single other to help him. And gruesome as this was—he burned to help. Absorbed in the horror as he was, the man did not turn, not even as he approached where the outer edges of the other’s bioelectric sense should have signaled his presence.

Please, Dukat pleaded with him through his silence, don’t try to do this alone! We’ll do this together—I’ll help you! He did not remember in this place why he had no voice even though he knew in vague memories what it meant to speak…all he knew was that this was a power he did not possess.

The other man still gave no acknowledgment. And with the way he’d positioned himself relative to the corpses, there was no other good way to approach him. With no other choice left, he reached out, his fingertips barely making contact with the armor of the man’s upper sleeve—

The other whirled around in a blur of black and grey, drove his fist hard into Dukat’s jaw.

Even as pain exploded white in his consciousness, Dukat caught a flash of gold…the man’s rank inscription.

Glinn.

He had no time to wonder why the first officer of this ship—and somehow he knew it was the first officer and not the chief engineer—had undertaken this duty with no one else to help him. He backed off as quickly as he could…he’d run the risk the instant he’d touched the distressed glinn—the Cardassian startle reflex was strong, and the law even forgave such unintentional assaults in times of extreme duress as long as the attacker quickly realized what was happening and disengaged.

Now was the time to get his message across. Dukat gestured once at the corpses waiting to be loaded on the gurney, circled a finger between himself and the glinn, lifted his eye ridges in silent plea. It’s all right…you’re not alone. Let me help you with this!

Eyes fixed upon him—eyes so, so distressingly familiar—furious, narrowed, and his face writhed with fury, hatred, and contempt

“Get out!” the glinn snarled as though he beheld the great enemy. All hint of mourning, all hint of tears and nausea were gone. “Get OUT! You can’t be here! You CAN’T! I won’t let you do this to me! I won’t allow it!

Do what? Dukat thought, horrified. I’m not here to harm you!

And the glinn launched himself at Dukat again…deliberately this time. He knew what he was doing. He meant to kill.

Before Dukat could sidestep him, the glinn slammed full-force into his body, knocking him flat to the deck. Strength matched strength. The armor of the glinn’s cuirass dug into him, and he caught a glimpse of the man’s face again and suddenly he saw nothing—only felt it as the glinn sat up for a bit and slammed the point of his elbow hard into Dukat’s windpipe, crushing, choking, destroying—



And for just a moment, Dukat stood where he had been before. So too did the glinn. The scene seemed to have reset itself. But this time, the glinn straightened himself with a single breath after he finished retching, and attended to his task, his posture betraying nothing.

He had no wish to see the glinn’s face. There had been something wrong…so terribly wrong…and he could no longer remember what it was. All he understood was that a universe had collapsed in on itself in this time and place. Like a spirit of dead in vigil for those yet to cross, he knelt, both unheard and unseen now as tears rolled down his cheeks, mourning—he could never draw close again, never quite touch, never make his compassion known except maybe in a distant memory that would never quite claw its way back up from its premature grave



A jolt shot through Skrain Dukat’s supine form and he sat up with a violent gasp, throwing his covers and pillows as though they embodied the corrupted spirit of the glinn, the man who looked…who looked like—

A drop of sweat ran down the back of his neck, suddenly frigid in the desert night. What was it that had horrified him so much about the officer’s face? He couldn’t remember.

What he did comprehend was that this had been no ordinary dream. This thing he had beheld—it carried significance…this was something he’d been meant to see. He couldn’t let any more of it slip away…he needed every detail to help him understand why Oralius had allowed him to witness such terrible things. Was it a trial? Was this meant to warn him away from something? Was this fate? For whom? He had to know now, though he hadn’t the slightest idea where to begin…

Quickly he gathered his hair in his hand at the base of his skull where he usually tied it back, holding it tight as he ran his fingers through it to work out the knots in hopes of making it halfway presentable. Then he let it fall down his back as he reached for the cord sitting next to his sleeping mat. Once he had his hair tied back into its customary queue, he pulled on his outer robe and sandals and ran out of the tent as fast as his legs could take him.

He was the only one about at this hour. Starlight bathed his face—beautiful as it could only be in the desert wilderness…or the wilds of space. It reflected off the spire of the chapel tent as he skidded to a stop in the sand, threw the entrance flap open and stumbled into the sanctuary, searching frantically for—

“Dukat!”

He wore an apologetic expression, bowing his head slightly. He hadn’t intruded upon her sleeping area—not quite, but he had to admit his clap, standing just beyond the ornate tapestry that separated Rulaahan’s private area from the main sanctuary, had sounded to his own ears like the crack of a bullet from a Hebitian projectile weapon. No doubt it had shocked Rulaahan out of a sound sleep just like his vision had.

The Guide stepped slowly out into the sanctuary where oil lamps still burned. “What’s happened, Dukat? Are you well?”

I don’t know! Dukat thought, spreading his hands wide. He had nowhere near the signs he needed to explain what had happened—but he couldn’t wait however many months it would take to acquire the vocabulary he’d need to relate everything he’d seen. He needed answers now. He needed something.

–I...— He wasn’t sure of the correct sign, but gestured as though he were laying his head on a pillow. –I…sleep. I see…— He let his eyes go wide, his gaze far distant as though the images lay somewhere beyond the horizon.

“You were asleep. And you dreamed,” Rulaahan supplied, signing the verb Dukat had wanted.

—Yes!— Dukat nodded, fixing Rulaahan’s eyes, lips slightly parted as Kurabda signers seemed to do sometimes for emphasis, a sort of voiceless expostulation. He still wasn’t quite sure how the Kurabda indicated the tenses, wasn’t sure what tense Rulaahan had signed the word in, still had only the most tenuous grasp upon the grammar of this language and he knew it. —I dream,— he mimicked as best as he could. —Oralius want, I see…—

Then he made one more sign, something he had seen Rulaahan say once as she taught him another of the traditional prayers: crossed his arms with clawed fingers, then drew his hands violently towards the center of his chest where the Cardassian heart lay. —Afraid. I dream, not understand…I…afraid.—

Rulaahan reached up, her right palm hovering just above his heart. She had to sense the rapid cycling of his bioelectric field; she waited for his nod before she set her hand upon his chest as Guides often did to calm a frightened disciple. “The spirit of Oralius is not the source of fear…she has no wish for you to cower at her presence. When we fear the visions we experience, it’s often because we have created that fear within ourselves. There is something to learn from this, Dukat, and that lesson will dispel the fear.”

I can’t imagine what I was supposed to learn from that man trying to kill me, Dukat thought, too exhausted for sarcasm.

“We’ll pray together,” Rulaahan intoned. “I know we cannot discuss this tonight—but perhaps Oralius will help you to find some understanding.”

—Thank you,— Dukat signed with a smile of gratitude. He wasn’t sure what insights the deity might bestow upon him at this time. But at least I won’t be alone. He felt so small and childlike in Rulaahan’s presence…and that she smiled upon him with compassion as she would a distraught boy, and without the slightest hint of condescension…indeed, he witnessed in the Guide the reflection of the spirit she lived for. Stern though she might be in the day, all of it, he understood, was an act of love.

Rulaahan let her hand fall to her side and swept a hand towards the center of the sanctuary in an echo of his silence. They knelt together at the center of the sanctuary in front of the three watchkeeping lamps that would be used to light the meditating fire at the time of worship…and to his surprise, though she extended her hands towards the fire, drawing from its warmth to symbolize the way the mortal spirit drew from that which sustained it, she offered no words, simply a presence.

Please, Dukat prayed, help me understand why you have shown me such things. He slipped back into the memory of the dream, striding through those corridors, entering the scene of carnage and burning it into his eidetic memory before time warped the details.

He still could not see the glinn’s face in his mind’s eye. Whatever he had seen—whatever had intensified his terror at the fury and hatred in the man’s countenance—it was irretrievably gone. And to a mind accustomed to forgetting nothing, that was frustrating. But there had been something about the man’s form, something familiar.

Akellen? he wondered sadly. The glinn’s physique had resembled Akellen’s—the same tall, lean build. Had his cousin launched with the First Order on the day of the last battle? Was this what Akellen had beheld in space, and had he carried this to his grave? Yet to behold such fury on his cool, collected cousin from Hăzăk—where had this man been from, anyway? Dukat couldn’t quite remember…had there been any beige in the man’s skin? He thought he remembered Rivçalda grey—but could he be sure?

There was only one thing he knew. Please don’t let me become like that, he pleaded, sealed in there all alone with nothing but my contempt to sustain me. I want to see…I want to feel, and understand, to know what it is to draw close to you and reflect the light of your flame. Don’t forsake your children—don’t withdraw your spirit from our hearts in our time of trial…and please, let us not forsake you.

No further insight blossomed in his mind. But at least for now, as he prayed, he felt something like a cool, driving rain through his spirit. The dream and its warning…if that was indeed what Oralius had intended him to see…did not recede—but slowly, slowly, the immediacy of his fears was washed away.

There was something to hope for. He had to hold on to that…he just hoped that someday, Oralius would show him a sign.

---------

So...does anyone believe they understood what AU Dukat saw?
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Old April 6 2010, 02:08 AM   #39
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Is it just me or did AU cross over to 'our' Dukat's universe and witness Glinn Skrain Dukat dealing with the aftermath of explosive decompression on the Kornaire? Seems like he was faced with a stark choice, face the truth of who you are or become like the bitter hate filled Glinn.

Or were you referring to the signage that the Guide performed?
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Old April 6 2010, 03:44 AM   #40
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

AAAAAND we have an early winner!!!

Yes...AU Dukat just witnessed his canon counterpart dealing with the aftermath of the decompression incident. Now, I took liberties with how I imagined it REALLY happened, given that AU Dukat is having a vision. Even though he can't quite remember exactly what he saw, yes...AU Dukat saw what he could've become, and his spirit recoils against it.

And the canon Dukat...I think he was already started down his path of decay, but that moment on the Kornaire--I figured it had to be a key one for him considering that it came to mind while he was losing his sanity again in "Waltz." And I think that the canon Dukat's reaction to his AU counterpart in that moment is very, very telling about him as well as the AU one.
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Old April 8 2010, 12:46 PM   #41
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

That was a very atmospheric vision- I really felt the aura of lonliness and bitterness around "our universe" Dukat, and the way in which he cannot even find solace or meaning in "himself". He's cut himself off from all his promise, from all that we've seen through this AU that he could have been if he had taken things differently. I also like AU Dukat's preoccupation with his visionary experience and yet distance from it- the whole "was it Macet?" idea, for example, which keeps him grounded in his reality and his circumstances so as not to detract from this Dukat's status as distinct from "our" Dukat. It also underscores nicely how divergent the two are becoming- which is a good development for AU Dukat but is also to us tragic because we can see what this sundering means for "our" Dukat. He is truly becoming lost to us- and to his other self. Very effective.

I'm really interested in the vision of "our" Dukat- I have no doubt it was "accurate" within context, but I'm wondering: did "our universe's" Dukat also experience something? Was this intended as a one way lesson for AU Dukat or was it a two-way encounter, in a sense? Does Oralius work upon all Dukats, only given the cultural background and different choices of "our" Dukat he cannot hear or understand? As engaging as this AU Dukat always is, you presented "our" Dukat so strikingly I'm wondering what it was like on his end- if there was a "his end" involved. If this came truly from Oralius, I imagine there may be. I doubt there was an actual "presence" for him- I'm guessing it's spiritual and/or psychological so not exactly as it seemed to play out- but was "our" Dukat confronting possibilities in a similiar way- though rejecting the possible lessons rather than learning from them? Was his attack on AU Dukat representative of an actual internal process undertaken by "our" Dukat, an active rejection in that moment of himself and other paths he could take/have taken?

That said, I think the answer being uncertain helps the overall scene- again, it shows how "our" Dukat is being lost even as AU Dukat is finding himself, so to speak. We can see this Dukat grow into the man we already know from other "Catacombs" stories, but the sacrifice for us as readers is the uncertainty and loss of another Dukat we know who we can't seem to stop from taking himself in a very different direction to this Dukat...
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Old April 8 2010, 07:16 PM   #42
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

All of this AU Dukat experienced in a partially symbolic fashion.

Oralius kept AU Dukat from realizing exactly who he saw, because it would be too painful of a burden for him at this point in his life. (Remember, AU Dukat is only 20 years old...by AU Cardassian legal standards, he does not become a man in the eyes of the law until age 24.)

AU Dukat was not physically present in "our" universe, nor do I believe the canon Dukat was aware of the crossover in a fully conscious sense. I do think that subconsciously, he definitely experienced the moment. The lashing-out that AU Dukat experienced as an attack on himself, subconsciously that was the canon Dukat attacking and attempting to kill the part of himself that is like this AU version.

I felt like the canon Dukat came back to the Kornaire incident for a reason, as his mind was breaking down again in "Waltz," that it had to be significant. The way he described it--that it haunted him for days on end--made me think that maybe, just MAYBE it was the very last time in his life when the other part of him might actually have been strong enough to try to break through to the surface. (A little something survives in him, until he takes the Pah-Wraiths into his spirit. But that part of him has been beaten within an inch of its life and can no longer make a meaningful difference.)

As for Oralius trying to work on all Dukats--yes. However, I carry from my own faith the principle that deity will not work on an unwilling heart. AU Dukat accepted Oralius' influence...the canon version did not. And I DO think there is the possibility of Oralius working on someone's heart even though for whatever reason they cannot acknowledge her by name. Tekeny Ghemor and Tayben Berat are examples of this...they ARE receptive even though their culture has conditioned them against actually recognizing what's going on as spiritual. (CS Lewis does something similar in The Last Battle, with Emeth.)
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Old May 3 2010, 03:47 AM   #43
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

THIS IS IT...with Parts VI and VII, "The Desolate Vigil" is finished!

Part VI
Trust

Dukat squinted against the light of Verkoun—head slightly dipped to let his eye ridges do what they could to shade against the sun. Still, the glare from the sand made it almost a futile effort. In the distance, something moved…a hekant—a small beast, but good eating for a family. The tan-scaled creature had little fur…none, in their desert varieties, but in spite of its reptilian physique, was still a therapsid.

It didn’t matter that in his time with the Kurabda he’d eaten hekant meat several times and liked it…that didn’t help him as he tried to convince his hand to squeeze his crossbow’s trigger.

No—as he watched this hekant nibbling on the leaves of a pitifully scraggly bush, he just couldn’t stop picturing his old friend Yidal’s pet hekant curled up peacefully on the sofa, and feeling badly for this less fortunate creature.

True, he wasn’t much of a hekant person; he far preferred a more intelligent sort of pet, like a riding hound or a land gharial, to a small, fearful, herbivorous creature like a vompăt, hekant, or Oralius forbid, a vole. That did absolutely nothing to alleviate the gnawing sense that he shouldn’t be party to putting a creature so easily domesticable onto someone’s dinner plate.

“Why do you wait?” Gharumef hissed in his ear. “The opportunity is right—shoot!”

With both hands gripping his crossbow, Dukat had no way to reply. And you’re rather stuck if you can’t make yourself shoot, Skrain! He just barely suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at himself—he at least had to make a decent pretense of trying to shoot the hekant, and that meant keeping a steady gaze on the poor animal. And his hands firmly on his weapon.

There—the hekant flinched, glanced up. A zerayd drifted into range overhead, lazily riding the desert thermals and casting its shadow below. The hekant assessed this and bolted for cover.

Dukat gave thanks to Oralius for her timely intervention…but though she might have relieved him from having to shoot the animal, she had not contravened the laws of the universe. And one of those laws, he’d discovered, was the glare of disapproval on the stern warrior’s face. “You are capable of better than that, Dukat!” he admonished. “I have seen you do it!”

At least he doesn’t think I’m just incompetent, he consoled himself as he unloaded the bolt from his crossbow and shouldered the weapon. Once he had his hands free, he began his explanation…one that came much more easily now that he had almost five months’ experience with the language. At least the signing came more naturally—the problem this time was the content. —I know,— Dukat acknowledged. —I do not mean to upset you…but the hekant is not food where I come from. It is like a riding hound…—

“A pet,” Gharumef supplied, simultaneously signing the missing word.

—Yes…he’ekant are pets for us. That makes it hard for me to look at one and think of doing it harm. I understand it is different for you…—

Gharumef snorted. “I can hardly imagine keeping such a creature as a pet.”

—I do not want one myself,— Dukat answered. —But it is hard to not want to protect one when I see it alive.—

“The hekant is far from worthy of protection…it serves no useful purpose except food or hide.”

Maybe it’s not like a hound, Dukat thought to himself, but I think Yidal would beg to differ. A few years older than him, Nejran Yidal had entered treatment after having the horrible misfortune of seeing the autopilot of his parents’ shuttle malfunction, killing them in a violent midair collision right outside his school. The terror drove him catatonic and no one—not the medical staff, not the Guides, and not even some of his fellow patients…including Dukat…could get through to him. Only when one of the treatment center’s resident he’ekant found its way into Yidal’s room did the boy actually engage another living creature. It had still taken Yidal—and the hekant—much longer than Dukat to leave the center, but they had kept up with each other and Dukat had even been invited to the Yidal home for Nejran’s homecoming, and every anniversary thereafter.

Without that hekant…who knew what would have happened to Yidal? Still, Dukat kept his argument to himself; this was a matter of culture and certainly wouldn’t constitute ‘judicious’ use of his gift of sign language.

Gharumef, too, let the topic drop. “Then let us find other prey. Or Sokol-haaf, if Fate favors that today.”

Dukat smiled at that thought: it meant there might be news soon.

Neither Dukat nor the Kekil-haaf had any idea what the Sokol-haaf might know of the invasion, but if they followed their traditional patterns, they were due to join their cousins soon. Unlike the tribe to which Dukat felt these days as though he belonged, the Sokol-haaf had no blood connection to the world of the cities. Few of them spoke common Cardăsda, and no Sokol-haaf would ever be caught dead wielding a crossbow—the ultimate concession to the ah’tekel, as far as they were concerned.

The crossbow of the Kekil-haaf had been adopted by the first generation of villagers to join the Kurabda tribe. Those who fled into the desert had mostly owned projectile weapons, and few of those had any hunting skill…their ammunition had disappeared quickly. As for those few who possessed laser weapons, their limited power cells had proven even more poorly suited to the desert life than guns. One of the refugees had been something of a survivalist even before joining the Kurabda, though, and had designed this crossbow for his fellow village-dwellers, for such weapons were far simpler for the untrained to master than the longbow, which took years of practice. The crossbow might not be as effective as the longbow in certain respects…but for someone like Dukat, who needed to master the warrior’s arts quickly, it was the superior choice by far.

Gharumef raised his spyglass, fashioned by the tribe’s metalsmith —a beautifully-crafted, silver-plated device, eyepiece lined with zabou hide to sit comfortably wherever it touched the eye ridge. The precision lenses inside it, however, were one of the few items the Kekil-haaf purchased from the Culatda. The Sokol-haaf would never deign to do such a thing, but as Gharumef had commented with a wry smile, ‘the ah’tekel blood that runs in our tribe’s veins has to go somewhere.’

Gharumef scanned across the horizon…panning leisurely at first, then he stiffened, glass aimed like a crossbow at some distant target.

—Sokol-haaf?— Dukat fingerspelled, hopeful.

Now Gharumef’s eye ridges furrowed—his expression morphed to alarm. “Take a look for yourself,” he said in the common tongue, offering the spyglass to Dukat. “Those are not Sokol-haaf—not traveling that way. It looks like your Bajorans are coming.”

My Bajorans?— Dukat signed with a sardonic lift of one angular eye ridge. His flash of humor didn’t last long, though. He accepted the spyglass and squinted for a moment as he adjusted the lens. A landskimming troop carrier in that garish combination of burgundy and bronze that the Bajorans adore stirred up a cloud of sand in its wake. Their trajectory carried them unswervingly towards the Kekil-haaf encampment.

He nodded his concurrence with Gharumef’s estimate. Once he returned the spyglass, he added, —They are coming too fast; I do not believe we have time to move camp.—

“Go and warn Rulaahan. I’ll keep watch here.”

Dukat bowed assent and sprinted back towards the collection of tents as fast as his feet could carry him, keeping his eyes fixed upon the gold spire of the chapel tent. The entrance flap was folded open and he caught sight of the Guide in meditation by the fire. He hated to disturb her, but there truly was no other option…so he clapped his hands thrice at the entrance. For a moment, Rulaahan kept her eyes closed, listening for the identification. When none came, she opened her eyes and stood. “Dukat—are you all right? Where is Gharumef?”

—I am fine, thank Oralius,— he signed rapidly in his concern, —but we have seen the Bajorans, and they seem to be coming our way.— He had slowed down for a moment to fingerspell; Rulaahan, he recalled, had never seen his quicksign for the invaders. —Gharumef sent me to warn you; he is still tracking them.—

“He is foolhardy to risk himself,” Rulaahan spat. “Such actions border upon boasting.” Dukat lowered his gaze at the rebuke. It may not have been meant for him, but there was something about that sharp tone from an elder that spoke to the deepest Cardassian instincts. Seeing this, Rulaahan’s eyes softened momentarily. “I don’t hold it against you. You were being obedient; you did well to bear the message. And do not ignore the timing of this, Dukat…for this to happen after your mastery of sign is sufficient to serve is a blessing.”

Dukat dipped his head once more. —What would you have me do?—

“Leave your weapons,” she ordered. “Not in the sanctuary—leave them in your tent. You are strong, but you are a guest under our care and I would not have you as a target for them.”

Dukat swallowed hard at this. Will they recognize me as the one who fled them? He dismissed that thought; the odds were vanishingly slim. And aside from the lack of beadwork in his hair, he looked every inch the Kurabda. What could aliens truly know of one of Cardassia Prime’s traditionalist minorities?

—I obey,— Dukat assented. —I would ask to join the other men, though.—

“Very well,” Rulaahan conceded. “But not until you are rid of your weapons.”

Dukat nodded. Once the Guide reciprocated, he took his leave. She followed right behind him to sound the warning. It wasn’t far to his tent; remaining an official guest of Oralius in this camp, he lived near the center of camp next to the chapel tent—the place that in pre-Oralian days had been the due of the tribe’s most powerful. All of that had changed nearly two thousand years ago when the Kurabda adopted the Oralian Way.

The pilgrim slipped into his tent and slid his crossbow off of his shoulder and under the pillows that lay on his sleeping mat. All the while, his heart beat on his ribs like a caged animal just as it had the day the Bajorans. He couldn’t stop seeing the warship falling from the clear blue sky. He couldn’t stop seeing the dying soldier, offering his weapon to Dukat even with that gaping hole in his throat. He couldn’t stop seeing the faces of those classmates he hardly new, cut down behind him as he ran, ran for the desert. And he couldn’t stop seeing the tormented physique of the glinn—Akellen?—from his vision. And the Bajorans, and their strange, featureless faces with burning eyes…

It was time to go face-to-face. Even without a weapon, if he was to stand and fight this enemy someday, he had to begin by at least…standing.

Dukat exited the tent and headed back towards the western edge of the camp. Rulaahan had done a good job already of mustering the warriors of the camp, many with longbows and quivers slung on their backs—their hands weren’t on their arrows yet…but the message was clear enough.

Something brushed past his legs heading back towards the center of the camp. It wasn’t a tactile sensation—it wasn’t close enough for that. No…this was the sensation of a bioelectric field, and a small one at that.

He spun around. A little girl, maybe three years old, carried a small cloth ball…she would have been kicking it from foot to elbow to foot a few minutes ago, he imagined. But now she stood transfixed, the sand-filled ball bulging out of her fist as she gripped it wide-eyed.

Oh, Oralius! She has no idea what’s happening!

It wasn’t uncommon for children to play out of their parents’ sight within the camp; watching out for the children was something of a communal responsibility. But now…the others held weapons. They were needed for the defense. He was unarmed…and he had long since been accepted into the community. He thought he recognized her…he knew her mother. He could take her home.

This is my responsibility.

The girl’s eyes filled with uncertainty at his decisive approach. He could not let any of his own uncertainty or trepidation show—he knew from experience with his younger siblings that small children picked up on that instantly. Their elders…even those like Dukat who still felt like mere youths, were the anchoring points in their young lives, and they had to be strong. He had to appear completely cool and in command. Once he saw he had her attention, he signed, —Your mother needs you at home right away…I will take you.—

It had been a long shot…most children that young knew very little sign language. Still, he had to try; the better the explanation he could offer, the more likely he was to gain her compliance. Unfortunately it was not to be. Befuddlement played across her features. Of course, if I could speak, this would be a lot easier, he thought to himself, although he was well accustomed to it by now and his mind only dwelled upon the thought briefly.

He tried again, this time choosing only a few signs and hoping she would make a coherent thought of it. —You, I take home,— he tried, substituting a pointed finger in the direction of her mother’s tent for the word ‘home.’

She looked at him with round eyes, her young mind clearly working to make sense of this. Now, with her focus utterly rapt upon him, he signed again, even more simply this time, though with a bit more insistence: he pointed to her, drew his hand back towards his own chest and pointed to himself, then towards her family’s tent. The last sign was a crook of the fingers, his eye ridges lifted in earnest entreaty as if to say please: —Come!—

It was a strange moment when she acquiesced and allowed him to pick her up. While such crimes were uncommon in Cardassian territories, there had still been instances of kidnappings, and like any other child raised in the city, the young Skrain Dukat had always been warned never to come within easy reach of adults his parents did not name as friends and even then not to grant them the same favor as his own family. Her hesitation was far less…and this was quite rewarding, humbling, and sobering all at once. How long could such a thing last in the face of the invasion?

Once he had her in his arms, she asked him point-blank in a tiny, almost sorrowful voice, her succinct words meant only to divine the truth: “You can’t talk, can you?” At least, that was what Dukat thought her Kurabda words meant…he recognized enough now that this was the only possibility that made sense.

He shook his head in a quick, matter-of-fact manner, and disappointment flashed across her face. Perhaps her mother would share the reason soon…and he hoped she would explain as best as she could understand that the voluntary nature of his sacrifice meant he had little to mourn.

Steady breathing and steady walking, Dukat reminded himself as if the tribe were moving to new grounds, praying for tight control over his body to keep anything in his bioelectrics from alarming the already anxious child. He saw her searching his face as if hoping to find some sort of connection through his eyes down to his unvoiced thoughts. Finding nothing other than what he hoped she would see kindness, she turned away, fixing her eyes so intently upon her family’s tent that even if Dukat hadn’t already known where to go, he could have used her gaze as a compass.

When he drew near the tent, he set the child down. He’d barely lifted his hands to clap when she darted inside with a warbling, “Maayiy!Mommy!

“Saa’ih!” she called. He wasn’t quite sure what she asked next, but he had a feeling she was asking her daughter if she was all right. Then the woman’s mother caught sight of Dukat, stiffening as she rose from where she knelt and switching to the common tongue. “What is it you—”

Dukat had already launched into his reply. —The Bajorans…the invaders…are coming. I do not know what they want here…but they have taken children in other places. It is not safe now for her to be seen. Please, tell her for me why I did this.— Dukat glanced back at the entrance to the tent. —I must go now, to be with the warriors.—

Saa’ih’s mother’s eyes darted over to her daughter. “I will tell her. I thank Oralius for this, Dukat. Go, and may she watch over you now.”

The pilgrim bowed, praying that it would be so.
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Old May 3 2010, 03:48 AM   #44
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

He did not hear it right away, as he reached the western edge of the camp—one of the last to do so; he felt it through his feet first. Only when he got closer did his ears detect the low hum of a landskimmer. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something sounded wrong about the engine. And he knew. He knew even before he caught a glimpse of the bronze-clad Bajoran soldiers…there was something wrong about their voices, too, as they carried towards the camp. He couldn’t make out their words yet, but there was a faint hint of something almost mechanical about their speech. They must be using a universal translator, he supposed.

The Bajorans carried phaser rifles—not aimed at the Cardassians yet, but brandished in a clear attempt to claim dominance. The Kurabda vastly outnumbered them, yet the outworlders regarded the tribesmen with the same expression one might aim at a pack of vo’ompat. Their eyes were focused, intelligent—fanatics, perhaps, but clearly possessed of their faculties. Dukat had heard enough on the news of the sort of calculated horror these men could carry out…and he’d seen it for himself, back in Culat. And that was the most terrifying part—the awful lucidity to their delusions.

The men of the Kekil-haaf tribe had formed a defensive line of sorts, two men thick. The formation lacked military precision and no weapons were drawn—yet—but the Kurabda men who had weapons made very sure their longbows and the sheaths of their knives were readily visible.

Gharumef’s brother, Arokef, led the Kurabda warriors. He met the eyes of his people, first to the left, then to the right, with chin held level, gaze strong and straight. The message was clear: Stand with me and we will not back down.

Most of the Bajorans had that disturbing, pale blood-hued complexion, flushed a much brighter red now in the heat of the Cardassian desert. Though it evaporated quickly in the dry air, Dukat could see they were sweating—a thing Cardassians only did in cases of severe overheating or illness…but these men were mammalian, he remembered, and he schooled himself not to overestimate the severity of their symptoms even if the heat of the desert clearly affected them. Dukat couldn’t read their rank insignia, but he read the mannerisms of the group and zeroed in very quickly on the man he suspected of being their leader.

This one was of a darker complexion—more natural looking to Dukat, for even though no Cardassian had such a hue, at least the relative opacity seemed more fitting. The surprise came as he scrutinized the leader’s facial features more closely, searching for some other clue he might use, besides eye, skin, and hair tone to tell them apart. Had this encounter occurred under peaceful circumstances, he thought, he likely would have celebrated it: as dissimilar as this man was to a Cardassian, something in the bone structure of his face almost evoked that of a Cardassian man of Nevot. Given proper facial and neck ridges, and a warm grey complexion with the shale-like shades that sometimes showed up on the jaw ridges of the Nevotda, he could actually pass for Inquisitor Osenal’s nephew.

A very arrogant nephew, Dukat thought to himself as the Bajoran opened his mouth. Probably one Osenal would disown. “I am—” The translator sputtered for a moment. “Tev Rahura.” Maybe that static burst had been a rank. Whatever these aliens’ notions of hierarchy were, they didn’t translate into the common tongue. “Your world is now the official subject of the True Prophets’ Empire of Bajor. As such, all attempts at insurgency are expressly forbidden, and will be met by your rulers with the strongest of measures.”

“We have done no such thing,” Arokef rebutted with equal firmness. It was only after the first few words were out that Dukat realized Arokef had spoken those words in Kurabda, yet he had understood as though he spoke the common tongue: obviously the Bajorans’ translator had a greater reach than he thought.

Tev snorted. “So quick to answer to an accusation that hasn’t even been levied against you yet!”

There’s a resistance! Thank Oralius—someone’s fighting! Dukat’s soul soared. Why else would the Bajorans take an excursion into the desert and accuse the Kurabda of rebellion…however they might try to twist their accusation back on the tribesmen…except that there had been an attack on Bajoran interests, and that attack had done damage?

“I am quick to defend against lies. Truth needs no time to think,” Arokef retorted. “Do you see a single energy weapon among us? What do you think we could do to your bases or ships?”

Dukat forgot to breathe. Fear stabbed through his chest like a knife to the heart.

There was one energy weapon among the Kekil-haaf. And it belonged to him.

The disruptor lay in a Kurabda storage box in his tent, just barely buried in the sand, with the rug covering it. He prayed that powered down, they wouldn’t be able to detect it. He prayed that unarmed as he was, and ancient as the weapons were that the others carried, they wouldn’t think to look. Because if they look, and they find my disruptor…I will have brought death to everyone! Help us all, Oralius, I beg you!

Then the Bajoran leader flipped a switch. The translator went off. And he pointed straight at Dukat.


Lieutenant Hamedra flicked off his translator and turned to Major Tev, who mirrored these motions. He pointed towards the tall one—the Cardassian with the sharp, angular features and the phaser stare. “He looks like the insurgent leader,” he insisted. “Carries himself like one.”

Tev stared for a moment more…understandable given how hard it was to tell these scalefaced beasts apart. The True Prophets have chosen wisely to make these their thralls, though, Hamedra thought while Tev pondered. Their freakish appearance at least means that if we start bringing them back to Bajoran worlds, they’ll be easy to spot. The Cardassians would have to learn to serve the True Prophets, of course, to truly serve their Bajoran masters, for the True Prophets would tolerate no rival gods in their lands—not even the weak, elusive Oralius these people blindly followed. The work of the troops here was to ensure their compliance.

“It’s a little hard to tell from the images,” Tev decided, “but I’ll grant you he’s taller than your average spoonhead…well, taller than this primitive bunch, anyway. He looks a bit young, though…and something seemed a little odd about his mannerisms when we first drove up. I’m not sure what. Listen when he talks, though—see if he sounds like the man to you. If he is, or if he seems like he knows where the leader is…he faces the Orb tonight.”

They switched their translators back on. “You!” Hamedra snapped, gesturing at the tall one. “Identify yourself!”

The young tribesman made no sound, never even opened his mouth to answer. He seemed defiant, yes—but there hadn’t even looked to be a flicker of a thought to respond. Hamedra lifted his phaser, switching it into a low-intensity mode, ready to fire a shock-bolt into him to get the message across: comply or die. “Leave him—that will do you no good!” snapped the older tribesman next to him. “He does not speak.”

“Really,” Hamedra deadpanned. “I’d be a little more convinced if he hadn’t turned towards the sound of our skimmers when we got here.”

“I did not say he does not hear you or that he does not understand you,” the war leader replied with an almost mocking degree of enunciation. “I said that he does not speak.”

“And why would that be?”

The female cleric next to the war leader gave something of a shrug as she interjected. “It is as Oralius has willed it; I do not know her reasons.” Then her face and tone hardened. “It does not hinder him among us.”

If this was true, then there was no way he could have led the attack on the Idrak landing site…that man had clearly been heard shouting commands at his troops. Someone like this could never bring so many men under his sway, especially not under those circumstances. And yet—there was something about this young man’s bearing that reminded him of a napping hara cat…harmless now, perhaps, but ready to leap at the slightest scent of something it did not care for. “Scan him,” he snapped at the medic, Mora. “See if this is true.”

Mora could barely hide his sneer as he turned to face Hamedra. “No obvious abnormalities—but I’d need a full infirmary setup to be sure. A field tricorder can’t do a full neurological scan…just tell if his language centers are activated or not. And that might not even tell us anything.”

Then Hamedra caught an unexpected movement out the corner of his eye, where the tribesmen stood. The young man laid the tips of his fingers upon the upper arm of a warrior next to him, then took a step forward. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” the warrior whispered, perhaps thinking, with his inferior Cardassian hearing, that there was no way the Bajorans could catch what he was saying. “You don’t have to—”

The younger man’s fingers sketched a pattern in the air, and the warrior gave a resigned sigh as he drew meaning from it. “Very well.” Now the warrior watched as the tall Cardassian fixed Hamedra’s eyes and moved his hands again—a short series of precise shapes. “What are your questions?” the warrior asked—but it was clear these were not his own words that he spoke.

“Your name!” Hamedra growled. “You do have one, don’t you?”

He got a closemouthed sneer in response, and a raised eye ridge—well, insofar as a Cardassian could do any such thing. Then he followed it up with a series of quick, confined finger movements Hamedra supposed represented the phonemes he lacked the voice for. “Yaaras,” the warrior translated, “of Kekil-haaf.

“I see—Yaaras. And I will ask you the same question I asked your ‘friend.’ Where is your speech?”

Yaaras shook his head—a sharp, defiant, almost warning sort of motion. “That is for Oralius to know.” He pressed the point almost literally, his gestures growing larger, sharper. “Why do you ask? Should this disturb me?” The warrior mirrored the tall one’s sarcasm with his voice, and immediately after shot a warning look in his companion’s direction, who registered the expression but seemed not in the slightest bit fazed.

Such boldness in a man of his sort, Hamedra wondered. In Bajoran society, someone without the power of speech could never gain the apparent standing this man had in his tribe; he wondered if it had something to do with the inferiority of Cardassian hearing, that sign language was so well-known among these people that they regarded it as little different than speech. Perhaps Cardassians didn’t even bother trying to fix simple defects where they felt sign would suffice. Of course, for Bajorans, if the problem wasn’t simple, the True Prophets dictated that resources not be expended upon the defective—maybe someone of Yaaras’ mind could be a domestic servant, but little else.

And for that reason, Yaaras’ incredible poise put a chill down Hamedra’s spine, even in the withering heat of the Cardassian desert. Even if this Yaaras was not the man responsible for the attack on the Idrak landing site…Hamedra began to wonder if someday, Yaaras might lead his tribe. And what kind of force might they be under his direction?

“So.” Hamedra let out an exasperated sigh, determined not to let Yaaras or his fellow tribesmen see how unnerving he found the entire situation. “What have been your whereabouts for the past week?”

It took a few of those rapid, exacting gestures before the warrior could begin voicing Yaaras’ words. “I have not left my tribe,” he replied. “None of us have. Are you unable to tell this with your equipment?

“You are a deceptive people,” Hamedra rebutted, daring not allow the Cardassians—even primitive ones such as these—to realize that indeed, Cardassians could be difficult to detect at night to traditional biosensors. And yet…I wonder if I have told Yaaras too much. The precipitous drop in their body temperatures at night compared to true mammalians meant that until their sensors were fully calibrated to deal with these therapsid beings, there were some rather disturbing possibilities. A Cardassian could be transported on the sly in a deep meditative state, his core temperature low enough to seem like a freshly-killed corpse…

What do you say I have lied about?” Yaaras probed before Hamedra could find a satisfactory completion to his statement. The warrior seemed rather uncomfortable with the younger man’s insistence, but relayed the words anyway. But the reticence in the interpreter’s voice could not diminish the steel in Yaaras’ eyes.

Hamedra turned away from Yaaras: he was getting an intensely disturbing sensation of losing control…that he was the one facing a strange, voiceless interrogation. That would not stand. But the damned thing of it was, he couldn’t think of an alternative to divulging information to these tribesmen that might allow them to anticipate his line of questioning and tailor their answers to generate alibis.

That left Hamedra with only one other option—disengage, and quickly, before he further undermined himself before these primitives. And before his own men.
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Old May 3 2010, 03:49 AM   #45
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

The Bajorans hadn’t lasted long after their encounter with ‘Yaaras’—whatever answers they had come looking for, it seemed they found themselves thwarted. Nor could anyone offer any explanation as to why they had locked in on Dukat. True, they had made a few more desultory interrogations after questioning ‘Yaaras,’ but gave up after that—convinced, Dukat hoped, that he and the Kurabda were not their answer. The Kekil-haaf considered relocating again, but this time the elders ruled against it: they dared not risk two off-season migrations in a row.

Dukat knelt alone on a rock ledge away from the main camp, where he could pray masked. He needed it—for his subdermal implant had run out three weeks ago. He’d been injecting his emergency medication since then, but it wasn’t as precise as the implant, which gauged the reactions of his body in real time and matched its output accordingly. Was he imagining it? Had that been a touch of the unholy fire the day he borrowed the name of Yaaras—one of the tribe’s other riding hounds—and confronted the Bajoran interrogator? Or was he just unaccustomed now to his old prosecuting nestor’s rhetoric? He wasn’t sure he liked the person he’d been in that moment, even in such a dire situation.

Out here in the Kurabda desert, there was little he could do. He could try to stretch what should have been two weeks’ remaining supplies into three, but there was no telling if the reduced dosage would be therapeutic. If a cartridge were found for the implant, the device would have to be recalibrated after this length of time—he could probably manage the process thanks to the eidetic Cardassian memory, but the odds of finding his prescription for the correct model of implant were…he didn’t care to think of it. Injectable medication might be easier to come by, but without being able to see a doctor, dosing adjustments would be risky.

—You are all I have now,— Dukat signed, tracing his words like a sculpture in the air. There was no one out here to see him as he prayed…only Oralius, and surely she understood. Furthermore, he had long since faced the possibility that he was one of those called to discipline for life. He might never speak again…and he could live with that.

His voice no longer concerned him. His mind…that was a different matter. —You are all that stands between me and madness. Your Guides taught me when I was ill and I have tried to be their student as best as I can, but I have not gone without for seven years. Please…don’t let me lose my mind out here alone; I have no other help.—

He felt a brief twinge at that…Rulaahan and Gharumef were good people, yes, and he didn’t doubt they would try…but they were not doctors. They were not family.

—Breath of life…sustaining fire…Spirit above Fate…Spirit commanding body…I plead with you, give me your strength when mine fails! Take me in your arms if I fall…let me go only in my time, and help me never to forget, whether the sun burns too bright or cannot be seen at all.— His hands fell for a moment. He contemplated the rising orb of Verkoun for a second…then the vast and resplendent expanse of the Desert of Kurab, red of rock redoubled by red of sun like ancient and sacrificial blood.

—I have no other help but you. And you give me life.—
Something hummed silently at the center of his forehead; other lesser nerves told him the source was at his back…and had been standing there for quite some time. His hands whipped up to his face, fingers clawlike as he grabbed his mask and boxed it quickly as he could lest whoever it was see what Rulaahan had deemed private…

“Dukat. You do not have to hide that from me,” someone rumbled. Gharumef. “I have known for months now…what it is you do here.” He shook his head, as if to himself. “And yes…it is strange to see—your mask is like none that our people make.”

Indeed, Dukat thought—the features of his own recitation mask left a bit more room for interpretation than the soft-featured epitome of the feminine Rulaahan wore. Maybe it seemed…twisted, to Rulaahan and Gharumef. He supposed he could understand where that idea might come from, in a different interpretation than his. But the sons of Oralius express something of what she wanted in this world, too. Our souls reflect the same light. Still, out of respect for the beliefs of the Kurabda, he said nothing. If something changed among them someday, it would not come as the fruit of an outsider’s harsh word or arrogant display: it would come from recognition of the Spirit within.

Dukat rose to his feet, turning to face the warrior. “Ah’tekel,” Gharumef half-whispered. City-dweller. Foreigner. But there was something almost affectionate in it, something that hadn’t been there the day they met.

“The Sokol-haaf have arrived,” Gharumef stated, the previous topic dissipating like sand on the wind. “They bring word of fighting between Hebitians and Bajorans.” By now, Dukat had grown so used to hearing the Kurabda refer to their species by the ancient name, that he didn’t even blink at the term. Dukat himself would never return to that practice, for the word’s meaning made it sound as though those who disbelieved weren’t exactly people—though he understood much better than he used to why those like the Kurabda might feel the change of terminology threatened to strip away something sacred.

—I would like to hear what they have to say,— Dukat said.
“I imagined you would,” Gharumef replied, a hint of a smile pulling at his lips. “Their messenger is named Lihavre’el…I will introduce you. Come, and I will translate for you. They do not speak the common tongue—but they should understand your sign.”

Dukat fingerspelled the name back lest he stumble over the sequence in front of the Sokol-haaf envoy, for where the Kekil-haaf might poke fun of outsiders at times, the Sokol-haaf held them in decidedly less regard.

Gharumef nodded. “Yes…that is right.”

Dukat favored Gharumef with a smile and a nod of his own.
The envoys of the Sokol-haaf stood in the center of camp by the chapel tent, in the place given to guests. One leaned over to his companion and whispered something, hand held up to hide his lips. The other nodded in reply, then brusquely addressed Dukat. Gharumef translated: “Who are you?

—I am Skrain Dukat, guest among the Kekil-haaf. I am honored to meet you, Lihavre’el of Sokol-haaf.—

Lihavre’el inclined his head, understanding clear in his eyes. “You are the silent pilgrim Rulaahan spoke of.

Dukat matched Lihavre’el’s gesture, though he dipped his head further and held his position for a breath longer, as befit a young man addressing his elder.

Lihavre’el scrutinized Dukat’s features—an expression that bore a disturbing resemblance to the appraisal of the Bajoran interrogator. “A ship went down in our lands,” Gharumef relayed. “Several men survived—soldiers.” The Sokol-haaf messenger focused on Dukat’s face for a moment longer, weighing what he wished to say. “There was a man with skin like sand, and hair on his face.” Dukat fought to restrain a laugh—there was a word in the common tongue, for the Hăzăkda spoke the language as well, but in the most ancient tribal languages in every other region of the world, no native word existed for ‘beard,’ for they rarely dealt with men capable of growing one.

And he looked almost exactly like you.”

A soldier—a man of Hăzăk—dear Oralius, the Bajorans must have sought a rebel in the desert! And many had said of Skrain Dukat and Akellen Macet that aside from the hue of their skin, the pattern of their ridges, and the brown of Akellen’s eyes, that they looked almost like twins.

—He is kin!— Dukat burst out, movements rapid and wide. He did not know the sign for ‘cousin,’ but this would do. —I believed he was dead, and now…I believe you saw my kinsman!— He paused. Lihavre’el could be wrong. Maybe it meant nothing…but the Bajoran, and now the Sokol-haaf…

—Gharumef…—

“I understand,” the warrior replied.

No other words were needed: the tear gathering at the corner of Skrain Dukat’s eye said it all.
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