[LEFT]Well...this is experimental in a lot of ways, but I really hope you enjoy it! Be sure to read both versions...[/LEFT] Star Trek: Sigils and Unions Point of Divergence This story takes place on Cardassia Prime five hundred year s before the events depicted in any of my Cardassian tales, during the first few years of the great Cataclysm that devastated the planet’s climate and agriculture. But how shall history tell it? This is your adventure—and your choice will determine what shall be remembered for posterity. The great red orb of Verkoun hangs low in the sky of Hebitia Prime—Cardassia, you sharply correct yourself, as you stare at the setting sun through haze-filled air for as long as your eyes can bear. This isn’t long, for the same reflective coating of cells at the back of your retinas that enhances your night vision causes extended exposure to more intense light sources to glare painfully in the eyes and blur the details away. You dip your head, and even as hooked ridges shield your eyes once more from the direct gaze of Verkoun, you still see spots for the first few moments. Still, temporary pain aside, this act gives you comfort: Verkoun wasn’t the traitor…this planet was, this world that in your hard-won defiance you call Cardassia. It was almost three years ago to the day, mere months after you first set foot on the planet, when the first eruptions started—a horrific increase in volcanism never fully anticipated by your people’s best scientists. The refugee crisis on continental Hăzăk and its surrounding islands is horrible enough as eruptions have forced the evacuation of ancient cities built dangerously close to known and new-formed volcanoes…but the blow to crop yields around the world has been severe, between the haze and the acid rain. The famines started in Hăzăk…but are now spreading to the rest of the world. Now global temperature is on the rise, thanks to increased carbon dioxide and methane hydroxide content in the atmosphere. It doesn’t feel any worse to you—warmth is comfort to your people, whose metabolisms only do so much to maintain temperature, especially when you sleep. But there has been troubling evidence that if this keeps up, the world’s oceanic ecosystems could collapse…and that means a rough future ahead, perhaps even for as long as the Cardassian race lives. “I am a Cardassian,” you whisper defiantly to yourself as you focus your attention on your weapon—a projectile rifle you bought in the first few months of crisis. For almost as long as your people’s history records, most nations and tribes called your species something meaning the same thing as Hebitda—those with souls. But you are not an Oralian believer…nor a believer in any other faith, and the blatant assumption inherent in the term ‘Hebitian’...it rubs your scales the wrong way. You were never particularly devout—but the conduct of the clerics during the climactic crisis has destroyed whatever belief you might have had until then. So you, like most followers of Kelor Vetar, former advisor to the Castellan, call yourself Cardăsda instead: a term that derives from the same root used for the word ‘person'—cirdas. Right now, you are busy scoping out your target: a small prehistoric cave-dwelling taken over by squatters in recent months. Ordinarily you would never contemplate such an attack…but these are no ordinary squatters: your reconnaissance suggests the refugees to be led by a Guide and the pack that follows her. And they are unarmed…trusting, no doubt, in the difficulty of raising one’s hand to someone in such a woman’s position to defend them. “What gives them the right?” you hiss angrily to yourself as you train your binoculars upon them. These, as Vetar has emphasized over and over again, are the very same people who, from the halls of temple and government orchestrated the agonizingly slow, piecemeal response to the crisis now coming to be known as the Cataclysm. And even now, they pontificate at each other in the halls of the legislature on the ethics of compelling the colony worlds to submit to emergency rule—their status as independent states in the Hebitian Legislature revoked, wholly subordinated to the sustenance of the ailing homeworld. And you have every right to say this: you were born on the colony world of Ventani II. The majority of the Guides and clerics oppose this measure…but this same weakness, this same diffidence is what let the situation deteriorate so badly in the first place, as far as you’re concerned. And too long they’ve used your people’s instincts to stifle objections, to keep those who opposed their policies and theologies from uniting into a force to be reckoned with. Only when Vetar, through a great act of courage, shattered the loyalties imposed on him both by nature and culture and challenged the administration that had appointed him had the disaffected found a leader to transfer their allegiances to. Your party has tried peaceful dissent: Vetar has led protest after protest, yet the Oralian hierarchy retains its grip over the people of the world they still call Hebitia. But you see what even Vetar cannot bring himself to admit: words will not be enough to shatter the status quo. What Cardassia needs is action, bold and swift. You may lack age—you have only twenty-two years to your name—and you may lack status, but you have the vision: you will be the one to deliver the first blow. You scramble down from the rocky promontory you’ve used for your reconnaissance. Then you click the safety off of your rifle. The area is isolated enough that you needn’t worry about stealth, but you are cautious nonetheless—disciplined. In this moment, as you stalk closer and closer to the entrance to the rock dwelling that Guide has claimed for herself and her followers, you hear nothing but the pounding of your heart and the burning anger at what the Guides have allowed to happen to Cardassia. Neither animal nor nature, nor even the sound of your footfalls break the silence. You freeze just around the corner from the threshold. Not a one of them stirs; they have no idea of your presence. “Line up and sit down!” you shout as burst into the ancient rock dwelling. There are ten of them—one of you—but you were right: they’re unarmed. The lavender-robed Guide, still wearing her recitation mask, whirls around suddenly, but complies. “Drop everything—hands up where I can see them!” You have an automatic weapon—more than enough bullets for the entire group. Your finger tightens on the trigger. The Guide and her followers are at your mercy. This is your moment of decision. What do you do? —To shoot her, click the button for Future #1. —To spare her life, click the button for Future #2. Spoiler: Future #1 Future #1 You shake your head at the pathetic sight, coolly squeezing the trigger. The pastel-robed, masked Guide spasms and emits a rattling gasp as death comes to claim her. “You weak fool,” you whisper. “Where is your mythical woman now? Look at where her ‘Fate’ has led you! The only fate is that which we Cardassians—” You spit the name with a twisted grin, and the dying woman can do nothing to shake her head numbly, mutely moving her lips in one last futile attempt to object…to win my ‘soul’, you think with contempt you make no attempt to disguise. “Which we Cardassians reach out and wrest from the grasp of the universe with our bare hands!” The Nevotda Guide surrenders her last rasping breath. Her followers stare at you with wide-ringed eyes; even at this distance the fear sparking from their bioelectric fields like from the torch of an arc welder is almost palpable. For just a moment you feel a flash of regret at what you’ve done—even in all the years of Cataclysm, this is the first time you’ve killed a person in cold blood, who never even brandished a weapon at you. But then you turn your back…her followers scatter to the arid winds and you claim the space they’ve vacated. They’re helpless without their leader…spineless, undisciplined, weak. Your Cardassian friends will be so proud…for indeed, you have struck a blow for the promise of Cardassia—a world that will never again allow itself to be distracted and manipulated by the purveyors of ethereal wares. Hoping and praying for the situation to get better hasn’t restored the farmlands or put food on the table. These people need focus and direction: and you and your compatriots will step in where the religious authorities have failed to properly tap into it. Your name is Tret Akleen, First Son of Cardassia and Father of the Union. And as you get older, your personal charisma only increases—and by the time you’re thirty, you command entire armies large enough to sweep away the remnants of the dying theocracy and usher in your vision of a Cardassian Union: strong, proud, and tightly disciplined beyond the clerics’ wildest dreams. You once despised how they used your people’s innate hierarchical instinct to quash debate on the validity of their doctrines…but once you see the effectiveness of your people once that instinct has turned towards a true, reality-based leadership—you abandon that old principle of yours with hardly a qualm. Your army takes its place at the halls of Central Command, and your personal cadre of spies root out the most vocal of the dissenters—and their silent sympathizers one by one. Veiled in the darkness of the night, sharp as flint-arrow spears, they soon acquire the dreaded moniker of ‘Obsidian Order.’ In the end, this ruthless force will be the only group strong enough to stand against the all-consuming will of Central Command. You call it a Union, but the truth is that you stand at the head of an empire. For a time after your death, your world will be strong just as you envisioned it—but as the resources of the colonies dwindle, the days of privation revisit Cardassia until your people expand first to worlds claimed by others…and then those inhabited by others. And by now your people act without hesitation, for their schooling and conditioning is unparalleled and they understand the need to seize whatever Cardassia needs, no matter the sentiments of the weak. It is control, pure and absolute. And they seem to think it will last forever…even to the day when one of their own betrays them to a foreign power and nearly leads them to their genocide. You know nothing of this future on your dying day, of course. But something seems to have vanished from your people’s eyes under their lean, hungry gaze towards the stars, leaving a hole in your own chest almost as wide as the one in Nevotda Guide’s chest in that cave all those years ago, as you let go of life, old, powerful, feared, and utterly alone. And for one second, unrecorded for posterity, you wonder just how high of a price you and the people of Cardassia have paid—and how much they will continue to pay—for the sake of the resources they so desperately sought after. You have founded the Cardassia of the canon and Sigils and Unions universes. Spoiler: Future #2 Future #2 You shake your head, suddenly lowering your weapon, and trembling progressively more at the thought of what you have nearly done. You curse yourself as you lean back against the cave wall, your hand releasing the gun of its own accord: “You weak fool,” you mutter to yourself. “So much for strength and discipline…you’re just as pathetic as they are.” The instinct you so despise has aroused itself with a vengeance, with the aid of your conscience: that deep drive innate to all of your people, whether you call yourself Hebitian or Cardassian, that gives you your sense of place in society, how and when to lead or follow. And thanks to that damned hierarchical instinct, you could not raise your hand against this Guide, the instant your final reservations about shedding another person’s blood gave it an opening to reassert itself before you could take your defiance of authority—even despised authority—to its final conclusion. You feel hunted, trapped within yourself. And part of you fears the next moments will bring about your demise. The Nevotda Guide, however, is not angry: you may be a mere youth in her eyes, and lack any of her authority or standing, but she chooses to assert herself gently in this vulnerable moment. “Please…come sit by me,” she says, removing her recitation mask to reveal a face with warm brown eyes and shapely, prominent, and gently smiling lips. “When was the last time you ate?” Resentment flares in your breast at first: she has seen that weakness in you as well. But you numbly comply with her understated command, the strength gone out of you to do much of anything else. What would your Cardassian friends think, to see you in such a state? But you’re hungry, tired…and you really wonder about the rightness of your methods even if your convictions are strong. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning,” you admit. “We don’t have much,” the pastel-robed Guide tells you, “but we’ll share. Sosot çad mekot-ra edikouv-ra edek,” she warmly adds. And to think you just tried to kill this woman! You’d hardly know it, with the way she has just given you the formal welcome to her ‘table,’ such as it is on this cave floor. “And please…let’s talk.” The Guide’s name is Yavenn Pretam, First Guide of Cardassia, as some will call her—some in admiration, and some in disdain, for she makes good on her word and listens to you: the ostracisms of non-believers, the religious rule of the courts, the misuse by some of the religious authorities of the hierarchical instinct to suppress debate on their doctrines…all of these she takes on as her own cause, as she rises in popularity, eventually to the office of Guide to the Castellan. Though for this part of your life, your name is never as well-known as Pretam’s, history will remember you by the nickname she bestows on you: Rhirzum Akleen. The rhirzum is a contrary animal known for its venomous defiance of even the largest predators. And though your manner progressively grows less abrupt the longer you know her, Pretam never ceases to accept your constant prodding and challenging. Even though you and Pretam will never see eye-to-eye on beliefs, your relationship becomes one of deep mutual respect. And on the day of her death, it is you she honors with the privilege of çriytal, entrusting her life and her memories to you so that her dreams may live on among the people. And Cardassia—which has begun to adopt this new name though the majority never sheds the beliefs that once occasioned the name of Hebitia—will never forget the speech you give the following day, exhorting all of the Cardassian people to pull together in facing the climatological crisis that eighty years later, has shown no signs of abating and is beginning to look permanent, or at least multigenerational in duration. You are a tireless advocate of the colonization of new worlds: rough, uninhabited places that demand much backbreaking work from their new residents, and much patience before your beleaguered homeworld begins to reap the rewards. But you’ve come over time to support Pretam’s prohibition on subordinating the colonies to the will of Cardassia Prime without their fair voice in the legislature: it was hypocrisy, you realized, to decry the abusive application of the hierarchical instinct on the individual yet demand the right to do the same to entire worlds settled by Cardassians. In the meantime, Cardassia manages to open trade relations with its neighbors, the Xepolites, Lissepians, and Kobheerians, and that helps to alleviate the immediate problems while the colonies grow in strength. And as you died all those years ago, surrounded by family and friends, believers and non-believers alike, you may not have known the future hardships to come, but a strange assurance came over you that even though the course your world had taken wasn’t what you had envisioned that day in a cave all those years ago—even though your world was still resource-impoverished by the rest of the galaxy’s standards, they were rich in what really mattered. You have founded the Cardassia of the Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius universe. NB: Please note that the narrator is not an objective historian, but a sharply opinionated individual right in the thick of it. Also, this story predates the Star Trek XI timeline split, and therefore should be assumed true of all Sigils and Unions realities unless stated otherwise.