Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Nerys Ghemor, Sep 3, 2009.

  1. Thor Damar

    Thor Damar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Jan 27, 2009
    Thor Damar, God of thunder and monologue..
    Have I expressed my admiration for your writing skills before? Because this is one of the finest examples of world building that I have seen in ST. As good, if not better, than AJR or Una McCormack. And I don't say that lightly.

    Now that this junior Legate has performed the necessary sucking up to my Superior, it's time to get to the story.

    Firstly, I would like to consider the non-verbal communications between Dukat and the Kurabda tribes-people. This is one of the most impressive aspects of your Cardassians and one that I feel should have been part of how the canonical Cardassians operated. I say that because the use of sign language imparts a sense of sensitivity and warmth to the stereotypically ruthless children of Prime. (ah, but to have seen Garak try to teach his favorite human the non-verbal language of Cardassia!). The humility and consideration that this Dukat showed though a mere smile and a quick nod is a wonderful element and testament to the real differences between him and 'Prime' Dukat.
    (pun definitely intended;))

    Although I'm glad to see that no matter what universe he's in, Skrain Dukat has the same acid wit (and unstable temper).
  2. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    I definitely wouldn't compare myself to either of them. AJR is definitely, to paraphrase Newton, the giant upon whose shoulders I stand, and without his writing there is no way that mine would ever have taken the shape it did. As for Una McCormack, hers is another universe and very worthwhile in its own right. I would not put myself above her, by any means.

    I am very glad you like the nonverbal communication. Given that Cardassians can't hear as well as most humanoid races (though it seems the difference is not THAT huge), it stood to reason that sign language would be thought of differently in their culture than it is for species with more humanlike hearing.

    Now, AU Skrain doesn't know much of the common sign language that soldiers in both universes are taught--what you're seeing here are his on-the-fly efforts to communicate. He's only had a little basic sign language education--the equivalent of a first-year course, and would not be able to hold his own in a full-fledged conversation.

    As to why Garak wouldn't have taught it...well, I think in the main Sigils universe, the Cardassians are very sensitive about that issue and don't like to show just how their culture is different because of their hearing. You speak of ruthlessness...and I would say that's really only the Sigils universe (and it differs from individual to individual). The AU Cardassians may be more stoic than the canon Bajorans, in some ways, but they are of a very different nature.

    As for the similarities between him AU and canon Dukat...well, he can have an acid wit, definitely. And while he definitely does feel his temper flare sometimes, I think he had more control even before this experience than he EVER had in the canon universe as a man almost 50 years older!
  3. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Good as ever, of course. :) I like the tribal culture you're developing here; it's always nice to see different cultures and subcultures in sci-fi, and I like thinking about how these people relate to urbanized "mainstream" Cardassians as you present them. They are certainly convincing, and I look forward to seeing more comparisons with the culture Dukat is used to. Dukat as a character continues to remain engaging, though I am anxious to see what happens to his family. Of course, for all I know he'll never find out....

    Sorry my review is so short; I have very little internet time at present. Next week, I can write something more substantial.
  4. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Thanks! I figured that in a version of Cardassia where the government never took a repressive turn, that much greater diversity was pretty much a given. The other really awesome thing about writing this is just how LONG a time span Cardassian history covers, in comparison to ours. The Cataclysm occurred 500 years ago, and is like medieval/renaissance history in terms of chronological distance. Entire histories and traditions were born (or added to) in that time, yet they were probably at an Earth early 22nd-century level of technology then.

    I figured in that kind of world, you'd have some people who chose to maintain their tribal lifestyles for any number of reasons...and I think the experience of the Cataclysm reinforced their decision, as far as they were concerned. When the deserts spread, they simply migrated with it; their lifestyle was adapted to it already and not disrupted like that of the city dwellers.

    That said, they haven't forgotten the other part of their heritage, either. That's why they passed down the language as a sort of inheritance for all of their children, and they don't see the city dwellers as inferior. After all, you can't put down your own cousins!

    The fog of war really sucks for those who are in it. :-/

    And I'm glad you like AU Dukat. I hope you feel like he has the same genetics, even though he's been raised so differently and made such different choices!

    Not a problem!
  5. Rush Limborg

    Rush Limborg Vice Admiral Admiral

    Jul 13, 2008
    The EIB Network
    I like this process of training AU Dukat. I feel his frustration at not being able to shoot retorts at that woman!

    However...I would not have been as forgiving upon hearing of her pain. (I know--I'm cruel....:()

    Now, that was a great moment at the end, where he breaks down in tears. My compliments. :)
  6. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Oh, you can bet he was frustrated! Very much so!

    Well...he's also in a period he's supposed to be devoting to spiritual contemplation as well as the survival skills he's studying. That's likely got him even more predisposed than normal to trying to put those virtues into practice. Reh'met is responsible for her decision to be short with Dukat. But, it's also not his place to put himself in the place of judge of her soul.

    This is one of the lessons I feel it is very, very important to give AU Dukat in a very personal, up-front manner. One of the canon version's big problems was that he was so quick to judge others, AND so quick to make assumptions that whatever was going wrong was because others were simply failing to take HIM into account, to see what was so great about HIM, and to see what HE needed. I wanted AU Dukat to come face-to-face with that in himself and come to understand that he needs to break that within himself. And through this, he's forced to listen for this and whatever other lessons may be coming his way.

    I'm very glad you liked that part. I was worried it would seem sappy or cliched, and I'm glad to know it worked.
  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Dukat makes his first forays into the cultural and spiritual life of his newly adopted desert family, and learns that the sacrifice of silence he must make will be a telling on upon him.

    You capture the unique culture of the Kurabda with exquisite detail, and Dukat's inner monologue (all that he is allowed, under the circumstances) allows the reader to understand the roiling emotions that have seized his soul following the invasion of Cardassia Prime by the Bajorans.

    It is obvious that Dukat's spirituality will become the rock upon which he draws his strength for the ordeals to come.

    Really terrific stuff here, Nerys. Well done!
  8. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    I figured for ANY Dukat, no matter how good, not being able to speak would be an immense challenge, especially in his younger years!

    Even though Dukat is so separated out here in the desert from what's going on right now, I knew there was no way he could see what he had seen and not be deeply upset by it. He saw so many things, even ONE of which would've been upsetting--but it just kept coming and now he's had QUITE the change of pace after that hellish day.

    Thank you so much for reading!
  9. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Man, every time I THINK I know how long this story's going to be, more always comes out and surprises me!

    BTW, just to be clear on something in this section--I am not anti-horse-riding. I realize that proper training should not require "breaking" the horse like you used to see in the Wild West (and in some places today) and is generally humane. However, I have to think an alien used to something fundamentally different would see matters differently. Plus, there's some irony in who's holding this particular opinion and why...


    Part IV

    It had been a little over three weeks since he found himself out in the desert of Kurab…and for the first time, he was finally beginning to feel like he understood—at least somewhat—the purpose behind the various tasks the people of Kekil-haaf had set for him. A tiny thrill of excitement ran up Dukat’s spine and down his neck ridges, and a tiny smile stretched his grey lips.

    He had learned, so far, how to prepare a number of recipes, once given the ingredients, he had learned how to pitch and break down a Kurabda tent, and other basic tasks needed for daily life in the camp. Lehnedrel had even set him to work mending the suit he’d worn in his flight from Culat. While replicators had never been as ubiquitous on Cardăsa Terăm as they were reputed to be in the Vedrayçda worlds, for a well-off family like the Dukats, clothes that were old or in rough shape were—depending on wearability—either donated or thrown out. Other than maybe stitching a seam, little in the way of repairs were ever done. And Dukat hadn’t even known how to do that until Lehnedrel had shown him.

    He now lived in a tent Reh’met and her husband Koremaad had helped him put together…and what an experience that had been. Just listening to them had made him want to fold the tops of his ears all the way down to his ear ridges and staple them there. About the only thing they didn’t do was try to insist that their silent visitor must be on one side or the other in their endless conflict that had nothing to do with courtship or amorous sparring and everything to do with actual acrimony. None of the instinctive body-language cues that would speak of love or a healthy relationship were there, and it was painfully obvious to see. To some degree, they seemed to make the attempt to restrain themselves in Dukat’s presence, especially after he found himself forced, at once point, to not just reach within range of Koremaad’s bioelectric sense, but to actually tap his arm to distract him from his half of the bitter sniping. Still, it seemed to help only slightly.

    He’d found himself praying for the couple trapped in this obviously failing marriage, half in desperation at having to listen to it, and half in genuine distress at what they were going through. Perhaps more than half, Dukat admitted as he reflected. If it felt uncomfortable for him to be around it, he could only imagine how horrid it would be to actually be stuck in the middle of it. But still…thank Oralius that’s over! he couldn’t resist commenting to himself.

    Today, Gharumef had informed him, he would learn to skin one of the za’abou the Kekil-haaf herded, and smoke the meat. As time passed, he would learn to do the same with many of the other animals the tribe herded and hunted in the desert. They’re teaching me to survive, he thought, pleased at this realization. Maybe I’ll learn to hunt next. And that, of course, was a skill that would serve him in the resistance. As would all that he had learned thus far.

    Now, after a solitary breakfast of regova eggs—though quite a different style from what he’d been accustomed to at home—and his morning prayers, Dukat cautiously and reverently placed his recitation mask back into its case, stood, and exited the tent.

    “May the song of morning greet you, Dukat,” came Gharumef’s voice almost immediately.

    The pilgrim smiled and inclined his head in reply. Making eye contact with Gharumef, he raised his eye ridges, questioning the warrior by his countenance as to what they would do for the day.

    “Come this way,” Gharumef said. “Etil’an should be ready by now.” Etil’an, Gharumef had informed him, was one of the tribe’s zabou-herders; he would be the one to instruct Dukat in the day’s new task.

    Together they walked to the edge of the Kekil-haaf camp and a bit beyond; here, the dusty ground gave way to something that, even if not exactly lush with flora, at least bore some signs of plant life thanks to the small spring that peeked up above the surface here.

    A herd of za’abou grazed in the sparse field, tufts of tawny fur poking out from the dust-colored, scaled skin at the back of their necks and the bifurcated tips of their tails. They lacked eye ridges; these were prey animals, and they could not afford the sacrifice in peripheral vision that a person and a few of Cardassia Prime’s other higher therapsids could. Their ears stood straight up on their heads, but the distant evolutionary relationship to people was still evident; the lower edge of the ears connected to a powerful, ridged cord of muscles capable of shaping the ear into whatever form was required to best hear predators coming...a ridge that traced from the ear straight down the animal’s mandible.

    At his and Gharumef’s approach, the entire ridge visibly moved, flicking the ear over in their direction. For just a moment, Dukat’s mind wandered back to his visit to the Catacombs of the Shaping. A Cardassian person’s ears didn’t move like that; being descended from predators the focus of the musculature in that area had lent strength to the jaw instead—but in their most distant therapsid ancestors, it was quite likely they once had.

    And among the za’abou with a herder’s staff stood a stocky man who in profile, sported a heavy, prominent set of facial ridges—a man clearly growing in his seniority, but still with only the occasional grey strand in his windblown hair.

    Etil’an? Dukat wondered. The zabou-herder’s face split into a broad grin. “Gharumef!” he happily called. The rest came out in a rapid burst of Kurabda as he finished his greeting to Gharumef, and then turned towards Dukat.

    Not quite sure what to do at first, but supposing the most polite thing he could manage would be to give no signs that he might wish to interrupt, he kept an attentive expression on his face and let the herder continue. Once the herder finished, Dukat bowed in acknowledgment and greeting.

    The herder began carrying on again in excited Kurabda—until Gharumef interrupted him in the common tongue. “He does not understand our language.”

    “Yes—yes, I see…common tongue, then?” Dukat smiled at the man’s enthusiasm, and confirmed with a nod. “Now who are you? Are you Kekil-haaf—maybe Sokol-haaf? What is your name? When did you come here?”

    Slow down! Dukat thought, throwing up his hands in a playful gesture, as though his older brothers were pelting him with melăk seeds. As thick as Etil’an’s accent was, he could barely make out the herder’s words without careful concentration.

    Etil’an seemed to realize what he had done, and repeated himself more slowly, still addressing Dukat. “What is your name?”

    Hardly a measurable instant passed by when a flicker of confusion crossed Etil’an’s face—maybe it had seemed mildly strange that Dukat gave no reply to his first barrage of questions…but why was he not answering what should have been the simplest of questions?

    And now Dukat understood: this herder must have been tending to his flock when Rulaahan had introduced him to the tribe. Dukat joined his forefinger and middle finger, touching them to his sealed lips and then to his throat in the sign of the vow as he thought, I don’t mean to be rude in refusing you. He regarded Etil’an as he lowered his hand, hoping his earnest expression would convey his feelings. Then he looked into Gharumef’s eyes, lifted one interrogative eye ridge, and cocked his head towards Etil’an. Would you please tell him?

    “His name is Dukat,” Gharumef supplied. “He came here from Culat when the outworlders landed.” Here Gharumef had used an archaic term for non-Cardassians that betrayed the age of the Cardăsda they had been taught by the Kekil villagers. “Dukat—this is Etil’an.”

    “Dukat,” Etil’an repeated. “It is an ah’tekel name, yes…so short. Dukat—this is your family name?”

    Yes, he confirmed with a nod, supposing that the monosyllabic or disyllabic names common to those who spoke mainly the common tongue would sound awfully brief to the Kurabda ear, based on what he’d heard.

    “So you took the vow of silence…do you know how long?”

    Now both of Dukat’s eye ridges shot up in surprise. You mean sometimes people know? They’re told ahead of time? Then he shrugged, shook his head. I have no idea.

    Etil’an let out a low whistle. “What Oralius asks of you…I am glad—very glad—she has not asked of me. When I get visitors…well—I must talk! Za’abou...they listen well, but all they understand is—” Here he turned, cupped his hands, and made a low rumbling sound in his throat ending with a deep, yet almost questioning sort of coo. One of the animals drew near, echoing the sound the strange, grey bipedal mimic had made. He stroked the zabou’s neck fur as he turned back to Dukat and said, “They are like some people—talk and no conversation.” The zabou, of course, looked up adoringly at Etil’an in total ignorance of the remark, then gently butted its nose up against Etil’an’s side a few times in a clear sign of welcome.

    A wide grin broke across Dukat’s face, though he still did not allow a true laugh.

    Etil’an turned back to the zabou for a moment. “You will be spared,” he said lovingly to the creature. Pointing at it, he added, “This one is too—too…” He struggled for the word in the common tongue; Dukat’s mind shouted several possibilities, but he bit his lip…he could not voice any of them, and he still could not be sure exactly what Etil’an was trying to say. And just when I start to think restraint is getting a bit easier! he thought.

    Finally Etil’an shook his head in frustration and spoke a Kurabda word, and Gharumef translated. Then Etil’an repeated: “Affectionate.” Inwardly, Dukat laughed again—the ideas running through his mind had mostly been variations on the theme of ‘tame’ or ‘domesticated,’ and he would have missed the mark if he’d been able to voice his suggestions. “Yes. This one is not for food. Now, I will show you—”
  10. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    A plaintive baying noise cut across the sparse brush. It wasn’t the call of a zabou…no, Dukat recognized this sound. It was a riding hound. The hound bayed mournfully once again; it wasn’t long before Dukat heard the familiar galloping cadence of paws against earth, charging right down the middle of the zabou herd, scattering them, much to Etil’an’s consternation. The particular breed used by the Kurabda had no fur whatsoever peeking out between its scales, which were grey, but of a much deeper shade than any person’s skin, making this hound look something like a stormcloud on four legs. There was a flash of a large object dangling from the hound’s mouth; Dukat couldn’t quite make it out as the riding hound streaked by.

    Etil’an shouted a command in Kurabda—it took several tries, but eventually the hound froze almost comically mid-gallop and sat on its haunches, thumping its tail on the ground. Unlike the za’abou, the end of the riding hound’s tail was devoid of fur and more clublike though it bore the same basic, bifurcated design, the same one often seen on the backfins of Cardassian starships. If necessary, it could be used as a bludgeon against other predatory species, or a rival hound in a fight over a female…or simply used to beat the ground to convey excitement, as it was doing now.

    The face, as was typical of the more intelligent predatorial species, had a slightly more personlike aspect than the zabou: the eyes aimed forward rather than sitting on the sides of the face, and Dukat could clearly distinguish hooked eye ridges much like his own encircling those of the hound—thickest above the eyes, but receding into the face a bit more quickly than his as they traced down from there and around the eyes. The ears were much like that of the zabou, but taller, narrower, coming to sharper points as they stood from the skull. The ridges were less mobile, more of the musculature in that area needed, as in the direct ancestors of the Cardassians themselves, for the killing bite.

    Now Dukat saw what the hound carried in its mouth: the animal gripped its own saddle between its enormous jaws, and gazed expectantly, almost plaintively, at Etil’an—and at its sitting height, the riding hound’s intelligent eyes met Etil’an’s almost straight on. The herder wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated; he just barked another Kurabda command. Gharumef leaned close to Dukat and translated with a whisper, “Drop it!” After the third repetition, the riding hound finally let its saddle fall to the ground, baying once more once its mouth was empty with the typical ba’ou-ba’ou sound hounds made.

    Etil’an said something else—“Stay!” came the translation—and he strode up to the riding hound, picking up the saddle, carefully avoiding the end that was covered in hound slobber. Now Etil’an, remembering Dukat’s presence, began to speak in the common tongue. “Ratoukhit, look at this…you chewed through the seat! You are a crazy boy—how do I sit on this now?”

    Though Ratoukhit might not have understood the foreign words Etil’an spoke, he recognized the tone well enough and bowed his head and emitted a tiny, whining noise not unlike a child being chastised. In a way, that was exactly what Ratoukhit was doing; riding hounds possessed a pack instinct that was a stronger equivalent of the Cardassian hierarchical instinct, and this hound was quite aware of the fact that he had displeased one ranked higher than him in the pack.

    “I will have to see Intehek about this,” Etil’an murmured to himself, still in the common tongue. “He bit a piece almost out of it. Have you learned to ride, Dukat?”

    He shook his head, though a touch hesitant. Not really. When he was very little, his primary school class had taken a trip to a petting zoo to get a chance to see some of the animals up close that city children would never have a chance to see in person otherwise. He remembered his father, who had managed to clear his docket for a day to be one of the chaperones, lifting him up and putting him on the back of a docile old riding hound. I didn’t ride so much as let someone lead us around, he thought—but at the moment, it had sure felt like the crowning achievement of his brief life.

    “You will need help if you ride,” Etil’an said—and this made sense. Riding hounds were extremely auditory animals; while they responded to touch commands from their riders, they much preferred to hear the voices of their masters, even if only as a whisper. Being unable to speak, Dukat would have a difficult time bonding on his own with a riding hound, teaching it to heel and obey his wishes. A riding hound without a sense of proper discipline from its master could accidentally throw a rider in its rambunctious sense of play—a state of affairs that hounds seemed to find just as upsetting after the fact as the person unfortunate enough to be thrown.

    Thousands of years domesticated, aggression towards Cardassians carefully bred out of them over the millennia, they seemed to truly care for their Cardassian masters, recognizing them as smarter, skilled with weapons and fire, but physically weaker than themselves: creatures at once deserving respect and needing protection. That was why, predatory animals that they were, they willingly allowed themselves to be ridden—it was the instinctive understanding that without them, a person had nowhere near the speed, the ability to rout prey and flee other predators, that they did. They needed the protection a riding hound could offer, as far as the hound was concerned; in return they received companionship, shelter from the elements, and not just the spoils of their own hunts but the great beasts the Cardassians speared or shot at a distance.

    And in this relationship was the great blessing about riding hounds, compared to the mounts he had heard of some other species riding, especially the prey-animal steeds: a hound was not filled with the deep and constant fear of the very thing they had been bred to do. The thought unnerved Dukat on some break an animal until it wanted to do something against its nature because no other option was left--it didn't feel right somehow.

    Hounds did have to be trained, taught their place in the pack, and taught their own strength so their enthusiasm would injure neither hound nor master, but whatever instinctive fear their ancestors might have had of being saddled and ridden was largely gone. And like Ratoukhit, they often expressed their willingness to carry their Cardassian masters by grabbing pieces of their riding tack in their mouths, if they happened to find it, and presenting it in a hopeful invitation. One could really and truly know that a riding hound wanted to fulfill its purpose.

    Ratoukhit whined quietly once more, shifting his hindquarters in the sand, long snout craned up towards the sky. “I know, boy,” Etil’an was saying. Now that Ratoukhit had been sufficiently chastened for sinking his teeth into his saddle and charging through the herd of za’abou, the herder took the time to scratch the riding hound under the chin. “This is not the time—we have guests.” He turned back to Dukat. “Maybe someday, you can ride. After your vow…or with someone to lead. Would you like that?”

    Dukat smiled, letting the wideness of his eyes and their encircling ridges transmit his pleasure at the thought.

    “Now…” Etil’an murmured, “time for you to learn how to skin a zabou. The kill is already done this time—away from Ratoukhit,” he specified. “Never kill the animal a hound guards where it can see you.” Dukat nodded understandingly; to do so would suggest to the hound that its charges were instead acceptable prey. “Come with me. I want to see how you use the knife. You will need this for skinning—and for riding. You know why, yes?”

    Dukat nodded. Riding hounds shared their kills with their masters as they would with the leaders of their packs. One thing every rider had to be prepared to do—even the most refined competitive rider—was to slice a symbolic bite of meat from any freshly killed prey, lock eyes with the hound, and immediately eat it in the animal’s presence, before allowing their steed to partake. Even when pups were first weaned, this was a hard rule that established dominance over the larger, stronger animals: their masters might be far more generous than a fellow riding hound, allowing them nearly all the rewards of their kills, but it was theirs, and theirs always, to take the first spoils and grant permission for the rest. Whatever the hound ate, the master ate from first.

    Before they could make it more than a few steps away from the herd and the hound, Ratoukhit stared up into the sky somewhere around the peaks of the distant Noumara Mountains, opened his mouth, and let out a mistrustful, strident ba’ou. He no longer thumped the weighted end of his tail on the ground. There was no more excitement…this was urgent—a desperate warning.

    At first nothing was obviously wrong. A zerayd hovered overhead, but imposing as the obsidian-feathered carrion-eaters might appear, they would never attack a zabou, let alone in the presence of a riding hound and a group of Cardassians. Etil’an scrutinized the hound; Gharumef did as well. Ratoukhit still refused to tear his attention from the sky. Whatever the threat was, it was there. Dukat tensed, mentally whispering a prayer to Oralius—what was happening?

    His ears did not hear it at first…they were nowhere near as sharp as a riding hound’s. Ever since the era of jet travel had passed, aerospace engines had become much quieter though still quite audible at near- and supersonic speeds. These hurtled overhead at what seemed to be just below the speed to avoid a sonic boom. They flew daringly low as they crested over the mountains, their courses straight, unharassed, the ships themselves showing few battle scars in the moments they were visible—

    —and they were entirely the wrong shape, the wrong color, not rust and ochre, but maroon with accents of blinding bronze.

    No one’s fighting them—why is no one fighting them…oh, Oralius, dear Oralius, we’ve truly fallen! The Bajorans…are those troop carriers?!

    Nothing had stopped them—they had to be headed straight for Culat—

    Dukat’s finger stabbed at the sky, his jaw dropped involuntarily and he emitted a terrified, sharp, yet voiceless gasp that startled him just as much as it did Gharumef and Etil’an.

    He wasn’t sure what stunned him the most about it: the fact that he’d had enough control, even now, not to cry out despite every nerve in his body clamoring to do so—or the mute sound that had escaped. It almost, almost reminded him of the awful sound the dying soldier had made.

    He knew how odd his wild gesticulation and voiceless outburst must have seemed to them; he tried to compose himself as quickly as he could, but his effort was faltering at best. His eyes were still so wide, and his hands still trembled and his heart beat furiously in his chest.

    He felt something cross into range of his bioelectric sense and he spun, the most primitive part of him wanting to lash out at the intruder—but he breathed deeply, let his eyes focus on the source. It was Gharumef, who had drawn his hand just near enough for Dukat to detect the bioelectric field, but not yet touching. Only after he made eye contact did the warrior lay that hand upon his shoulder…touching a Cardassian without warning in a moment of such extremes could trigger a defensive instinct strong enough that he might strike even the dearest friend or family member before he realized what he was doing.

    “Were those the outworlders you told us about when you first came here?” Gharumef questioned.

    Dukat confirmed, lips pressed into a tight line that had less to do with suppressing speech and more to do with the awful gravity of the situation.

    “We should warn the others,” Gharumef determined. “Etil’an…your lesson will have to wait. We will return to inform you as soon as there has been a decision. As for me…I intend to recommend that we break camp. They were headed for Culat; even old Kekil village is too close for me.”
  11. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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.”
  12. Rush Limborg

    Rush Limborg Vice Admiral Admiral

    Jul 13, 2008
    The EIB Network
    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:

    Ironic, because of Prime Dukat's line that "A true 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.
  13. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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'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.
  14. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    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". :)
  15. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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 alpha hound would eat its fill and leave the scraps instead of just taking a symbolic piece and leaving the rest.).
  16. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
  17. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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…
  18. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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.


    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—


    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?
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2010
  19. Thor Damar

    Thor Damar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Jan 27, 2009
    Thor Damar, God of thunder and monologue..
    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?
  20. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    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.