Since I didn't get anything that inspired me for the TBBS challenge this month, I decided to go ahead and enter this Sigils and Unions story I've been wanting to tell for quite some time. The challenge topic was "Nobody Wins All the Time"--so immediately my mind went to Septimus III. What I did not expect was Gul Rebek wanting to speak up about something early--something I thought I could wait on until I reached a place in The Thirteenth Order where I could say it. But she decided it needed to come out now, assaulted me with impeccable logic...and so here it is. You've had a look into Macet and Berat's motives--now you get to see what it is that drives Rebek. (There are minor spoilers for The Thirteenth Order, but nothing so major that I think you can't read the stories out of sequence.) ----------------- 2375—The Dominion War Permanent Documentation File—Rebek, Gul of the Romac They’re not coming. I was on the call with Berat and Igrun when Legate Met’Orn told us that Klingon forces were inbound. Met’Orn never spoke the words, of course…such would be sedition, especially in these dark days of Dominion rule, but the great irony of the Cardassian people, of course, is that the very instincts our leaders like to play to, to control us—that selfsame power, you might say—are the very same ones that belie the words and scream the truth in moments like that. Scientists have extensively studied the hierarchical instinct, picked apart the parsing process that our brains are hardwired to undertake of every tone and movement of those we work with, and the reverse process of inborn responses…it’s easy to read it on paper, how we are likely to feel we should respond or maintain our silence at any given time, but when you actually feel it—there really are no words. You simply…feel: this act makes sense, this one is dissonant. That’s what I felt when Legate Met’Orn talked…and I’m sure he meant it to be felt; you don’t get to that rank without being well-versed in the art of speaking-without-speaking. Those who are born without it, or who are never properly socialized—they practically drown in our society, helpless to negotiate the ebb and flow of position and power, text and subtext. And in the modern era…all the worse, for one misstep, one sign of submission not given, one failure to distinguish the truth from the lie, very often means death. He said reinforcements were coming and immediately I felt it rise in my gut and in my mind: the link above him—the connection that tied him to the Dominion—was broken. He was a man adrift. And so too we were to be left adrift, against his will...the three of us: the Romac, the Sherouk, the Prenkar, were the only defense Septimus III would have against the oncoming Klingon horde. My breath caught. My microscales clamped down tight against my body as all the heat leached out of me. I never liked The Never-Ending Sacrifice. But those words were the only ones running through my head in that moment: our lives, Cardassian lives, our three ships, the Eleventh Order, all to become a living sacrifice to that which passed itself off these days as Cardassia. For so long as a species our rivers had run north—and now we would face the eternal tundra while still in the flesh. Indeed, I remember that thought. I remember every moment. I cannot do otherwise. And I never, never expected that thought to play out to the letter. The Klingon vanguard appeared on sensors less than an hour after Legate Met’Orn’s communiqué. I was ready; I’d been on the bridge ever since that dreadful message. The Vorta Aleen stood upon the command platform over me. I sat in my chair, of course, but by his towering over me, there was no mistaking what signal it was he intended to send. I did not want to look at his face; I knew what I would see. I’d seen it before, preceding every other beating we took at his behest: eyes wide like a child anticipating a ride in the amusement park of Lakariy’ane. As if we weren’t on a trip to the slaughterhouse. My face, my tone—all of these I controlled only by tight discipline and meditation, no matter how badly I wanted to draw my weapon and vaporize Aleen right then and there. One overt act and my entire crew would surely perish without even the chance, however infinitesimal, to make a difference here. My hands, however, gripped hard against the armrests: this was my sign. My dissonance. They had to know—my crew had to understand the situation they were getting into, without illusion. As their gul, I owed them no less. Igrun, Berat, and I had remained in orbit of Septimus III; our only slim hope of surviving came by staying within range of the planet’s antiquated defense systems and delivering our barrage in concert with theirs: anything else and the Klingons would simply have shredded through us before they even had to think about the planet. As it was, they had only sent their vanguard while we remained…we were nothing but toys to them, a quaint little appetizer before the main course below. Even that was deadly enough. But then…it was time to move into a higher orbit. And so we set our sights upon the metaphorical orb of blood just as our people’s old sailing legend had once told—of sailors so disoriented, so far from home that they set their course straight into the setting sun and burned up in its blood-red fury when they reached the edge of the world. Except this time, it was the miniature red orbs of Klingon photon torpedoes. The instant the Klingons opened fire, interceptor missiles launched from the planetary defense batteries—but lacking proper orbital platforms as did systems like Chin’toka or Cardassia Prime itself, the reaction was slow: every missile had to work against the resistance of the atmosphere in its ascent, had to target and launch from a distance, and worst of all, there simply weren’t anywhere near enough interceptors to prevent even half of the torpedoes from reaching their mark on the surface. Or on our shields. The Romac barely had time to finish being jolted in one direction by a Klingon torpedo when another would splash upon our shields, and another. Our shields were collapsing—one more distress call to add to the ghastly cacophony emanating from the planet below—and now from the Prenkar— Then the plasma conduit underneath the command platform blew. I’m not exactly sure what happened next, what the Vorta’s last orders were before the blast catapulted us clear across the bridge. I don’t know whether it was the words he spoke, the words the Jem’Hadar First inferred, or both or neither. All I know of that slice in time is the tongues of fire warping my armor, licking down my back in a grotesque parody of a riding hound’s affectionate ‘kiss,’ and the flash of a Jem’Hadar kar’takin blade somewhere in my peripheral vision just at the ridgeline. I was stunned. Terrified. This was it. And yet…at last the final answer—I would know what it had all been worth: family, Cardassia, this…life… I woke. My eyes flared wide in disbelief—hope, despair, joy, and the absolute abyss of sorrow. Then I squeezed them shut against the light. Against the dreadful pain where the fire still seemed to burn, never ceasing. A hypo pressed against the left side of my neck just below the ridge and the agony receded—at least, for the moment. It was only then that I learned the rest of the story… I learned how the Vorta had fallen comatose and lay in stasis still after the explosion on the bridge. How the Jem’Hadar had run rampant through the corridors in the midst of the Klingon barrage on a genocidal rampage until Glinn Meray fused them into the decks with the transporters. How some of the poor ghentregă’ămsthe were still alive, still struggling like a crushed insect, genetically unable to cease their struggles, unable to properly feel or respond to the pain that should have overwhelmed any other sentient creature, and how my troops were hunting them down one by one to put an end to it… I learned how my dear friend Tayben Berat with his mind of caged lightning had faced the grim moment of choice between us, the Prenkar, and the Eleventh Order below. How he had in an instant chosen us—caught our ship with his tractor beam as the shields failed and run the numbers in seconds in his head, warped away through the polar escape the Klingons had deliberately left us as the Prenkar wheeled helplessly end over end down into the planet’s atmosphere. I heard how the ship had shuddered, how its frame had groaned and seals burst inside and out as Berat engaged his warp engines in the gravity well for that brief moment and towed us out, and now we truly were adrift in space, only alive thanks to the Klingons’ twisted ‘mercies’… And I heard about the fate of the Eleventh Order. How the Klingons beamed their troops down to slaughter the men and women of the Eleventh Order just so they could claim their blades had tasted Cardassian blood. How they desecrated the bodies of the dead, slicing into their necks and the hooks of their eye ridges with the daggers and pulling out the hard, bony pieces of cartilage as trophies to mount to their baldrics. And then they beamed away, leaving the few terrified survivors to emerge and behold the mutilated necks and faces of their dead comrades. The camera footage of Met’Orn—he was as unrecognizable as a dead Ferengi chopped up and sold on the auction block… And I heard about the planet. Somehow, after everything else I had been told, it was the hardest to make real to me, the hardest truth to grapple with exactly because it was so surreal. I heard how the Klingons opened fire from orbit again after we were away, as if this were a weapons demonstration put on for our benefit like the annual fleet review that three hundred lucky citizens were always shuttled up to Cardăsa Nor to view up close…how they bombarded every building, every weapons platform, everything of possible value, and then proceeded to rain quantum torpedoes with wanton abandon upon empty forests and fields. I heard how within a matter of minutes the radioactive dust and ash rose up into the atmosphere and the volcanoes of the planet itself vomited forth in the agony of this violation, blanketing the planet in the choking clouds of quantum nuclear winter. Cardassia would not have this world today. Cardassia would not have this world as long as even a single one of us still breathed, for it is now for a thousand years destroyed, given over to the eternal tundra while still immersed in the river of this time and this space… Some alarm I had never heard before—at least, never heard sounding over me before—wailed. Dr. Pethec’s hand…the hiss of another hypo…and I slept again. The Romac is now underway for Lessek, being towed under Berat’s watchful eye and steady will. I woke again three days after those first dreadful moments and this unconscious interlude is only the beginning of a salve upon my pain. Remember, Cardassia. If someday I am no longer there to bear this dreadful burden…remember. This is where the centuries have ultimately led. This is what compelled us beyond any legate, any Founder, why we took this fateful leap. To the rest of the galaxy, if you should hear this—remember. This, but for the hand of grace, could have been you. And it is only by grace that it shall not become you, for the demon waits upon your own threshold as well to see what you decide. Evade or confront, as the Ferengi say: it is your choice, and that choice will come to define you. I know now that my decision is made. This can no longer stand. When the time comes—at Lessek, we shall strike and the Dominion shall learn that Cardassia still has some life left yet. Va’Kust and the others will be ready. Soon they will make their case and win—and they must, for there is no other hope. What we’re about to do…there are far, far worse causes to die for; I’ve seen that. I don’t say that, of course, to slander Igrun or Legate Met’Orn: no matter what the Dominion thought they were dying for, I am absolutely certain they did not perish with the Vorta’s false gods upon their hearts. It was for family. For their brothers and sisters in arms. For Cardassia. I know because those were the last thoughts to flash across my brain as that conduit blew. The only difference is that I was ‘lucky’ enough to survive. And what I am about to say—I have never dared say except in the sanctity what I’ve had to hope were the most sheltered, secure circumstances possible, but after what happened in orbit of that ravaged planet, the course we are about to set will condemn me for sure if we fail. This, therefore, becomes simply an aggravating circumstance on a crime that already means death. But what means death for a righteous cause to one whose soul…no mere figure of speech…can never be held back by the grave? Someone has to know this now, so listen. Like most Cardassians, I don’t believe in luck…at least, not the blind sort of fate we speak of so casually. No…Fate is not the cold, heartless arbiter of our lives—rather, it is guided by something far more than we will ever understand. That is what I believe. That is what I stand for. And that is why I am not afraid to lay down my life.