Cracking Cardassian is a Star Trek (DS9) novel currently in progress. I post draft chapters here as I write them. The strategy is to gather followers and positive comments, so that when I submit it for publication with Star Trek's licensed book publisher, I can prove that it comes with its own fan base.

Click the links to the right to read, and please feel free to comment. Both positive and negative comments are helpful: the negative ones will help improve the final version of the book. Thank you in advance for your help, either way.

-MJB

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ch. 7: The Bajor

I was stepping into the hallway when I heard Caybin’s voice over the com. “G’lek to Zorak.” The door closed, and I heard nothing more.

But when I got back to my room, there was Caybin sitting at my little table, along with Dr. Drem and two extra chairs. I was beginning to see that privacy just didn’t seem to be something Cardassians respected much, and I wasn’t going to get anywhere by objecting to the intrusion. I took a deep breath and said, “Keeba avzyne,” applying something I had learned from my journal.

“Keeba avzyne,” Caybin replied, rising for a second to bow.

Drem dispensed with the formalities. “Zorak is on his way,” he informed me. “This is a working lunch.”

I shrugged and walked to the replicator. “Well, what do you want to eat?”

“It’s customary to wait to order the food until all the guests have arrived,” Caybin said.

I turned to sit at the table but stopped when the door chime sounded. “Come in.”

Zorak bowed as he entered. I nodded to where the others sat, but he joined me at the replicator, and the others stood and did the same. We stood in line and ordered our meals in turn, then took our seats. The little table was nearly useless, and I thought it looked silly surrounded by three big men.

I was the last to sit. “So, what’s on your minds?” I asked.

“We need a report on the journal from the buoy,” Caybin replied.

“So far I’ve found nothing important,” I said. “I landed on Terok Nor; I came to the Mekar. I was very confused by the time jump and didn’t understand where I was or when it was.”

After that the three of them asked me a lot of questions, and I did my best to answer. But I don’t think I was able to tell them anything useful.

“How about the material your office is looking at, glin?” I asked. “Have you come up with anything that might be a clue?”

He shook his head. “Nothing looks promising yet.”

When we had all eaten and the men had finally run out of questions for me, they recycled their dishes and headed for the door together. I walked them out, recycled my own dishes, sat back down and picked up my journal.
***
I was lying on the bed pretending to be sleepy when Dolim Shal came back and announced that Gul G’lek wanted to see me.

I had expected his office to look a lot like Gul Dukat's, but beyond the fact that it was decorated with the same acute-angles motif that seemed to permeate everything Cardassian, it wasn't very similar at all. This office was smaller and gave me the impression it had been designed more for efficiency than for intimidating visitors.

"Have a seat." He gestured to the chair opposite him. "Are you satisfied with your quarters?" He handed me a light-brown liquid in a glass cup with a metal holder. The cup was shaped like an ice cream cone, so the holder was necessary if you wanted to put it down without dumping out the contents.

I told him my room was fine and resisted the temptation to complain about having been locked inside it. I sipped the liquid and wasn't sure I liked it. I supposed it was a kind of tea.

He nodded over the coffee in his own cone-shaped cup and said, "I watched the recording of your interrogation."

I nearly dropped my tea. This G’lek fellow was moody enough already, and there was no way watching that interrogation could have a positive effect on his treatment of me.

"Do you know where you are?" he asked. His face was still a polite mask.

‘The question,’ I thought, ‘is whether you know where you are.’ I nodded and said aloud, "Your ship."

"And where is my ship?"

"I have no idea."

"What is today's date?"

"September twenty-first, I'm pretty sure." I hadn't seen a clock or a calendar since Chicago. I hadn't even seen the sky since Chicago.

"How do you explain the fact that I look very different from you?" he continued. He must have seen me flinch, because he added, "You may answer honestly. You will not be punished for your answer."

I shook my head. "I really haven't figured that out yet."

"It's spring in North America right now," he said, "twenty-three sixty-two."

Spring: an uprising or a time of great change. All I had to do was look at his scaly face to know that. But why?

"Terok Nor security discovered evidence of a temporal anomaly where you were found," he continued.

I almost asked him for permission to write to my kids but decided my chances would be slightly better if I left that task in Dolim Shal's hands. That way, if Dolim came back with a no, I would still have the option of appealing to the gul. The most important thing right now was to find a way to learn where I was.

"Faine," Gul G’lek said gently, but he said it like 'Vaine.'

The room came back into focus and I realized I'd been staring at the large oval decoration behind his head. I snapped my eyes back to his face. "Sorry."

"Did you hear what I said?"

"North American spring," I replied.

"It's a lot to absorb at once." He contemplated his coffee for a moment, then said, "Glin Tahmid asked you a question about calendars. Do you remember that?"

"He asked me which calendar we use."

"You use the Gregorian calendar, not the Julian."

I nodded. In itself it was only a mildly interesting piece of trivia, but the Cardassians seemed to think it was important, so maybe I should, too.

He shrugged. "I didn't know it, either."

"So," I ventured, "is it important?"

"Is the name of the calendar important?"

"Right."

"Not that I know of. But this may be important: you were unconscious for a long time."

"How long?"

"Look at me, Faine." Again, the 'F' came out as a 'V.'

I had been looking at him. I put my cup in its holder by feel and focused on his eyes.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Yes."

"According to the Gregorian calendar, the current year is twenty-three sixty-two."

"So that's . . ." It was simple math, but my brain just wouldn't do it.

"Three hundred forty-two years," he said.

I had the sensation that my thoughts were racing, but for once I wasn't actually thinking anything at all.

"Are you ready for the next blow?" he asked after a while.

"Yes, go ahead." I wasn't ready, but I didn't want to be rude.

He finished his coffee and put the cup in its holder. "I am not human."

In spite of myself, I felt a thrill. "Cardassians . . . are not human?" I asked.

"That's correct."

"And Bajorans?"

"They're not human, either. Bajorans are the native people of the planet Bajor, and my people are from a planet called Cardassia Prime."

"And you mentioned a Cardassian Union, too?"

"In some ways it's similar to the Federation." He paused. "But you don't know what the Federation is, either, do you?"

I shook my head.

"While you were unconscious, an alliance was formed between Earth and several other planets to form the United Federation of Planets. And whether you like it or not, that's your government now."

At that moment I decided that to preserve my sanity, I'd stop worrying about reality for the time being. I'd just go along with the story like I would if I were watching it at a movie theater. I'd ask appropriate questions now and worry later about what was true and what wasn't. I'd probably learn more that way, anyway, and get out of here sooner. "What is it like?" I asked. "Is it a good government to be under?"

"Oh, there are many strong opinions on that topic," he sneered.

"One thing I've been wondering," I said, "just where exactly are we and how did I get here?"

He sighed. "I'll try to answer both those questions as well as I can, but it may be hard for you to understand some of the answers."

I didn't like his arrogance, and I certainly didn't appreciate being patronized, but I knew one thing for sure: whoever this guy was, he was convinced that he was a military commander and I was a nobody. So for now at least, I'd need to humor him.

"I've requested an investigation into 'how you got here,'" he said, the last four words coming out in a mocking tone, or at least a condescending one. "But we're a long way from Chicago, and since you were not conscious during transport and we have no other witnesses, we may not have that answer any time soon."

"We're a long way from Chicago," I repeated. "So, you know Chicago, then?"

"No", he replied, "I'd never heard of Chicago until I watched your interrogation."

I concentrated on suppressing the shiver that was building up in my spine.

"As to where you are," he asked, "what do you reckon?"

"New Mexico?"

"Try another."

"Guam?" I don't know what made me say that; it just came out.

He shook his head. "When you were taken from Chicago," he said, "you were taken off the planet. We are not on Earth."

I raised my eyebrows in what I thought was a suitably surprised expression and was thankful I didn't burst out laughing before I could stop myself. "This must be a space station, then," I replied.

"Excuse me," he said, rising. "Terok Nor is a space station, and currently we're on a ship. But the ship is still docked at Terok Nor, so in a manner of speaking, you are correct: this is a space station." He turned to a nearby replicator and ordered, "Hasperat for two," and when the items had swirled into being, he put them on the desk and sat down again. "It's a Bajoran dish," he said. "I thought perhaps you would like to try it."

"Thanks." I picked up one of the pieces. It was an ordinary wrap sandwich with lettuce in it, among other things. "So you're telling me this is a spaceship, then?"

"A ship that travels in space, yes—an interstellar ship, or a starship."

I took a bite from the wrap, and it was all I could do to keep my lips closed and force it down. My whole mouth burned, and by the time the last of it was searing its way to my stomach, my face was wet with tears.

The gul put his own wrap down and handed me a tissue. "It's a very popular dish among Bajorans," he said. "Could I interest you in something milder?"

"Yes, please," I answered through the tissue. "Just a plain piece of bread would be great."

He got up and turned to the replicator, and I took the opportunity to quietly blow my nose.

He finished his wrap in silence while I ate the bread, then said, "I'm afraid I have some bad news, Vaine."

"Alright," I said, doing my best to look stalwart. In reality, I was starting to feel sorry for him, leading a grand army of mostly imaginary space soldiers in the noble defense of a nonexistent planet. "Go ahead," I said. "I'm ready."

"You will remain here for the foreseeable future."

"The thing is, though, gul," I replied, "I really do need to get home to my kids."

"I can see that your people haven't changed much in the last three hundred years," he observed. He leaned toward me in an aggressive move that made me feel as though I were being pinned to the chair, although he didn’t touch me. His jaw set and his eyes on fire, he said barely above a whisper, "My orders are to be obeyed, not debated."

I blinked, and in spite of myself it took me a second to find my voice. "I apologize, gul. It won't happen again."

"Good." He sat back again. "I'm afraid you've been dumped into the middle of a very delicate situation."

I was surprised. Did he know what was going on, then? Did he, for some reason, need to keep up the pretense? "I see," I replied.

"My colleague Gul Dukat," he continued, "occupies a place of exceptional influence. To offend him would quite simply be political suicide. He'd likely arrange for me to be reduced in rank, if not lose my commission entirely. There would be no one to exert a moderating influence on his . . . excesses, and I would no longer be in a position to try to bring about an end to the war."

There was that war again. "Who are you at war with?" I asked.

His scaly eyebrows went up. "You."

"You're at war with me?"

"Not you only. We're at war with the Federation."

"Oh," I said, "that's convenient. So you have to put up with Gul Dukat in order to try to end the war?"

"You heard correctly."

"Is that related to the fact that I can't go home to my kids?" I asked.

"Yes. If I could secretly return you to your own place and time, I would. Unfortunately, I cannot do that without being detected, and causing an unauthorized temporal anomaly is against our laws. Rape is against our laws as well, but those laws are often not enforced when the victim is not Cardassian, especially if the victim is a member of an enemy race and the perpetrator is a gul. But the law banning unauthorized temporal anomalies is enforced, I'm afraid, even against guls, and even for correcting existing anomalies."

"So, you could return me if you wanted to, but you'd have to get permission?"

He shook his head. "Theoretically, that's correct, but I cannot make the request without embarrassing Dukat."

"How would that embarrass Dukat?" I asked, genuinely curious now.

"How would that embarrass Gul Dukat?" he corrected.

"Gul Dukat," I repeated. "How would it embarrass Gul Dukat?"

"Dukat has a reputation—as do some others in powerful positions, myself included—for having a strong sexual appetite and a taste for Bajoran women. In this case of course, you're not Bajoran, but physically there's very little difference. It's a reputation, and he's proud of it, but it's never spoken of in public or in official communications. And to make matters worse, you're not even Bajoran. Dukat should have reported your presence immediately. He should never have touched you, and when his investigators concluded you were not a spy, he should have made arrangements at that time to turn you over to the Federation. Three days' delay combined with your injuries would raise obvious questions that would be very embarrassing to Dukat."

"But I'm fine now," I said. "My injuries are healed."

"They are healed, yes, but not erased. A medical exam would reveal them."

"So that's why you said you couldn't report me to the State Department, I guess."

The gul paused a moment, and I thought I heard him sigh. "Let's take a walk," he said, rising. "I'll show you some of the ship."

"Welcome to the cruiser Mekar," said G’lek when we'd gone out into the drab, cramped and clangy hallway. The way he waved his hand, you'd think he was a prince welcoming me to his palace. Once more I felt sorry for him: he'd probably never be able to appreciate the irony.

He turned left and started walking, and I followed.

"It was named for a place on my planet that I know well," he said.

I wondered if his memories were of a real place, or if the people running this experiment had found a way to somehow brainwash him, to give him false memories of a place that didn't even exist. I decided to see if I could find out. "Is it very beautiful?" I asked.

"At times it's beautiful," he answered. "But beauty is not a consideration in the naming of Cardassian warships. This vessel takes its name from the Mekar wilderness. The Mekar is a challenge to those who have the strength and cunning to survive, a crucible that tempers Cardassians . . . and kills Terrans."

I shivered in spite of the heat. It was suddenly obvious why the Cardassians kept calling me Teryn. It wasn't Teryn, it was Terran, a person from Terra, the Latin name for Earth.

"Big ship," I remarked, hoping to lighten the mood.

"I didn't hear you."

"I said it's a big ship," I repeated.

"How did your people measure ships?" he asked. "What unit of measurement did you use?"

"Feet."

He stopped walking, turned, bent down and squinted at my face. "Did you say 'feet?'"

"Not the body part," I explained. "It's just a measurement."

His face relaxed and he continued walking. "I'm not familiar with feet," he said.

"How about meters?" I asked.

"Yes. In fact, your modern Federation uses meters. According to Starfleet records, the length of this vessel is four hundred eighty-one meters."

"That's almost half a kilometer!"

" . . . or three hundred seventy-two meters."

"Why two different measurements?"

He shrugged. "There are three different measurements, in fact. In another place their records show the length to be five hundred meters. But as to why, it's doubtful whether even anyone in Starfleet knows that."

"What is Starfleet?" I asked.

"It's your people's military. The Federation dislike the term 'military,’ as they believe it frames them as an aggressor. So they named their military Starfleet and style their soldiers explorers."

He showed me the cafeteria again, only he called it the replimat, and he showed me the gym, which he called the fitness room.

A few minutes after we left the fitness room, he stopped and turned to me. "Are you ready?"

"Ready for what?" I replied. I didn't see anything but grey-brown bulkheads and narrow pocket doors.

He opened one of the doors and gave me the gesture again. It was a smallish room, not quite as big as his office, with a huge picture in an oval frame on the far wall. "It's beautiful," I said. It was a futuristic space scene: a man-made structure, complete with tiny windows, floated in front of a breathtaking field of stars in some artist's dream of eternal night. In the background, the Earth was at dusk or dawn, half light and half dark.

And then something moved. It was just lights at first, and the lights gradually grew bigger until I could see the craft that bore them: brownish, boxy and apparently windowless. It passed close enough that I could see it did have windows, but very few and so tiny that the craft itself must have been immense. Then it disappeared behind the structure.

"Do you still believe you're on Earth and I'm a genetically altered Human?" the gul asked gently from close behind me.

"No, how—how did you know?" I stammered. "I never told you that." But I couldn't take my eyes off the scene outside the window.

"You'd be surprised what your people tell us."

At this point I was almost ready to believe anything, or nothing. "Are you telepathic?" I asked.

"No," he answered.

"So that's Terok Nor, then, that station?" I asked.

"That's correct."

"Look at the Earth," I said, "It's so beautiful from space."

"Not the Earth," he replied in the same quiet voice.

I was about to point out to him the curve of Africa's west coast when I realized he was right. These continents were the wrong shape and in the wrong places. What I had mistaken for the Sahara was a mass of clouds. "Oh," I stammered, "it's . . ."

He finished my sentence. " . . . the Bajor."

I don't know how long I stood staring out the window, watching the sunlight recede on the planet and lights go on and off on Terok Nor. Eventually I looked up and found the gul busy with a tablet. "I'm sorry, gul" I said, "I've kept you waiting."

"You have no need to apologize," he answered. "Very few people will ever have the opportunity to witness what I just witnessed."

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ch. 6: The Reception

My door opened without warning, and by the time I had looked up, Glin Zorak was standing over my little table staring down at me.

I put down my journal. “Yes?”

“Your personal log of the Starfleet reception is not on file.”

“My what?”

“Your personal log of the Starfleet reception is not on file.”

“That would be because I didn’t write one.”

“I trust you will correct that oversight immediately.”

I shook my head and took a deep, slow breath. “Glin, will you have a seat?”

He sat across from me in the only other chair at the table.

“So, what about this log?” I asked. “What am I supposed to write, and how was I supposed to know?”

“You are to write a factual account of the Starfleet reception as you experienced it. Do not misrepresent anything you learned from others as if it were your own firsthand knowledge; the log should record only what you experienced through your own six senses—pardon me, five. You should know this because it’s the responsibility of all crew members to record personal logs of all official activity.”

“Sorry,” I replied, still trying to keep a lid on my patience. “No one told me about this responsibility. And I didn’t know I was a crew member. Guess it’s nice to be included, though.”

“A Cardassian military cruiser is not a passenger ship; we are all crew here. And it is up to the crew member to know ship procedures.”

“You were a lot nicer to me at the reception,” I remarked.

“At that time, as far as I knew, you had not yet used your personal relationship to secure privileges that limit our chances of carrying out our mission.”

My hands flew up, almost on their own, and I rose a few inches in my chair. “I what?”

Zorak chuckled. “Do you wish to fight me?” But he crossed his ankle over his knee and remained seated.

“No, of course not,” I answered, settling back into my own chair. “I just don’t like being accused of something I didn’t do.”

“Perhaps not,” he conceded, “but the evidence is not in your favor.”

“I didn’t ask the gul to give me first access to my personal things on the buoy,” I said. “I was just as surprised as the rest of you when he said that. And besides, don’t you guys have enough to keep you busy with everything else that’s on there?”

“Perhaps,” he admitted, “but the optics are not good.”

“I guess I can see that,” I said. “I’ll get started on that log.”

“Bring it to me when it’s finished. I’ll be in my office.” He stood and went out.

* * *

The unfamiliar tone sounded in my San Francisco hotel room for the third time.

“Computer,” I asked, “what is that sound?”

“You have an incoming transmission from Starfleet Command.”

I was expecting that—impatient but dreading it at the same time. These were the people who had detained me on suspicion of mass murder, but that was nothing compared with what they had done to the gul.

“Play the transmission,” I said, not sure how to phrase the request.

The screen over the desk lit up with an ornate display. I moved to get a better view so I could read it, but the computer began reading it for me. “The honor of your presence is requested at a special reception to be held at the Sato banquet hall at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco . . .”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said. “First they treat us like criminals, and now they want to throw a bash for us?” But if they were still moving forward with prosecuting the gul, there was no way I was going to attend any reception . . . unless it would give me the chance to talk to someone and get this whole mess straightened out. Visiting hours at the jail began in a little over two hours. I’d talk it over with the gul then, I decided, and go from there.

I was considering leaving for the jail early when I heard another tone. This one I had heard at Starfleet HQ, but I couldn’t remember off the top of my head what it meant. “Computer, what is that sound?”

“There is someone at the door.”

It took me a second to remember the word I had heard them use at Starfleet. “Enter.”

The door opened, and the gul stood in the doorway.

I wanted to hug him but thought it might be inappropriate. “Wow, you almost missed me; I was about to leave to go visit you. Well, come in. Sit down. Can I get you anything to drink?”

He entered and took a seat. “Thank you. I wonder if the replicators here are programmed for rokassa juice. If not, then coffee is fine.”

We had to settle for coffee. I ordered one for myself, as well, and joined him in the sitting area.

“So, they let you out,” I prompted.

He nodded. “After reviewing the ship’s log and the contents of the buoy, Starfleet dropped the charges, issued an apology and released the ship. Most of the crew are back aboard, and I remained behind to deliver a message, but I see that you’ve already received it.” He turned to the invitation, which I had left up on the screen over the desk.

“It makes a little more sense now,” I replied. “I was going to boycott that reception if they were still trying to make you out to be a criminal.”

The gul shook his head. “Your animosity is misplaced,” he chided. “Detaining us was only a sensible precaution until all the facts came to light. And once they did, they released us without delay.”

“And now they’re throwing a party to say thank you,” I conceded. “What should I wear?”

He shrugged. “Earth fashion isn’t exactly a subject they teach at Bamarren Institute, but the computer will know. Ask for a selection of images of appropriate costumes, then choose your favorite to be replicated.”

“Sounds a lot easier than shopping,” I remarked.

“Shopping is an option, too, if you enjoy the exercise. There are many fine boutiques in the city, and the sales staff will help you find something appropriate to the occasion.”

“I’ll probably just replicate something. Are you hungry?”

But as it turned out, reality was more complicated. Two days before the event, I got a video call from a young Starfleet ensign. “What are you planning to wear?” she asked. She was pretty and bald, and her skin was blue. I had never seen her species before.

“I don’t know. I don’t really know what they wear to these things in the twenty-fourth century. I thought I’d just let the computer pick something out.”

“I can help with that.” Her answer came out all at once, giving me the impression that letting the computer choose could be a disastrous idea.

“Okay.” This sounded like more work than shopping, but I didn’t see a gracious way out. “Thank you,” I added, remembering my manners a little late.

Her name was Emily, despite her alien appearance, and I found her to be pleasant company. We did make a circuit of the boutiques, and I lost count of how many outfits I tried on, but it was more than 20. Finally, she approved of a gold and white creation that looked like an odd combination of bridal gown and metallic bicycle racing gear. I was too tired of shopping to object. When she had done my makeup, I barely recognized myself, but at least I was finally ready for the reception.

Once again, it was not to be. “Now for the important part,” Emily said as she scooped up all the makeup things and headed for my hotel room replicator. “Recycle.”

I resisted the urge to let out a groan. “And what’s the important part?”

She returned and took a seat in the same chair the gul had used. “Protocol.”

What followed was a crash course on whom I would meet, how they fit into the Federation organizational structure, what I was to say when I met them and what I was not to say.

“Fortunately,” Emily remarked, “you have pretty good posture; we don’t have to work on that.”

“What does posture have to do with it?” I asked.

“Federation laws prohibit tourism by people from the past,” she began, “and severely restrict time travel for any reason. So, your mere presence in this time is rare enough to arouse a lot of curiosity. Add to that the fact that you’re one of the Quicksilver heroes, and I’m afraid you’re going to have a lot of eyes on you tonight. Now, the media is not allowed into the reception itself, but they will be allowed to live-broadcast the guests as they enter. But don’t worry, you won’t have to answer any questions.”

“Okay. Anything else I should know?” I asked, even though I was still trying to soak in this much.

“Yes. If you should happen to meet the president, just imagine he’s one of your college professors. It helps with the nerves.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.

She smiled back. “My grandmother taught me that one--the one I was named after.”

I wasn’t sure I followed her meaning. “You were named . . .”

“. . . after my grandmother, Emily Mays. She was from Chicago, so this is personal for me.”

Of course. In a future full of travel between solar systems, migration would have been a natural result. How silly of me to be surprised that a non-Human could have had a grandmother from Chicago.

“I know,” she said, reading my face but misunderstanding its meaning. “Bolian and Human. Not a good combination. It almost killed my dad.”

I was struggling to keep up. “You’re . . . part Human?” I blurted.

It was Emily’s turn to be surprised. “Oh, can’t you tell? My bifurcating ridge is barely even there, and my skin is much darker than a full Bolian’s.”

I shook my head. “Sorry,” I said, “I’ve never met a Bolian before.”

“Oh. Well, they don’t look like me. See this line?” She indicated a vertical feature, like an inverted crease, that ran down the center of her head and face and disappeared beneath the collar of her uniform.

“Yeah.”

“On full Bolians, it’s much more pronounced. And most Bolians are a much lighter shade of blue.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“My grandmother was a rich brown, like chocolate cake. I’m glad I got some of that.”

I smiled. “Me, too. What about your dad?”

“My dad . . . sad to say, he survived the encounter with my mom, only to die two years later in a transporter accident. I don’t remember him.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, still at a loss for words. One thing I was learning in this century was that in any place and in any time, people are still people. We all have a story; we all have something to be proud of, and many of us have to deal with tragedy.

She shrugged. “Made me who I am, I guess. Any questions before we go?”

“Can’t think of any.”

“Mays to transporter room, we’re ready to beam over.”

A moment later, we were standing on a transporter pad. We had barely stepped off it when a party of Cardassians from the Mekar materialized behind us.

We lined up two by two, Cardassians on the left and Federation people on the right, and walked to the reception hall through a corridor between two glass walls with the media beyond. At the head were the gul and a Starfleet captain. I was placed near the end of the line, and to my surprise, I was told to walk on the right with the strangers from the Federation. My Cardassian partner was a tactical officer named Tarak. If I had known it was the last time I would see him, I would have made more eye contact.

On entering Sato Hall, we encountered a reception line of Federation dignitaries that included Admiral Li, the ambassador to Cardassia and several cabinet members. An aide introduced us to each person as we shook hands, and the aide at the head of the line had a particularly resonant voice. I found myself anticipating the end of this diplomatic gauntlet by noting the moment I stopped hearing the words “Gul Caybin G’lek of the Cardassian military” ring out from my left.

After that it was more relaxed. Gul G’lek came to me as I was reading the plaque under a statue of the hall’s namesake, pioneering Starfleet communications officer Hoshi Sato. “Your colleague from another time,” he remarked.

“My colleague?” I asked. I had trouble imagining myself as a Starfleet officer.

“You are a linguist, are you not?”

“True,” I admitted, “but I take it she was a genius.”

“According to legend. Have you been introduced to our Federation teammates?”

“Our teammates? No, not exactly. But I recognize most of them from the video I watched from the buoy.”

“Come, I’ll introduce you.”

The last thing I wanted to do was learn even more names, but it would have been rude to say no. And besides, even if I didn’t remember it, these were people I had worked side by side with, risked everything with, to save all the civilizations in the quadrant. I would have been crazy not to want to meet them.

As fate would have it, Lieutenant Commander K’vel was the last one. She had dramatic eyebrows, pointed ears and a face that looked as if it had never smiled. She was a statistician, the gul said, but I didn’t think that was a very good explanation for her mood.

After that it was champagne and dancing, and for a glorious ten minutes I felt like I had gone to heaven. Captain Nado came over and chatted, toasted our teamwork and moved on. I mentioned something about the video from the buoy, and Caybin pulled me close and said in a voice full of promise, “There’s a lot more.” We were staring into each other’s eyes, our faces coming closer, almost touching. Then Caybin’s body went taut and his eyes took in the hall.

I followed his gaze. Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t say what. I saw Glin Zorak staring at a blue ceramic bowl he held in his hand. Caybin and I were facing the same direction now, with him slightly behind me. He put his hand on my arm in a protective gesture just as Admiral Li and Commander K’vel walked past us. They were now in complicated outfits of colorful flowing robes instead of the dress uniforms they had been wearing just a few minutes earlier. Then Caybin gripped my arm as what looked like a walking corpse with prosthetic body parts appeared out of nowhere, directly in front of K’vel. The two bodies collided, and the corpse’s immediate response was to raise its mechanical right hand and drive a spike into K’vel’s left eye.

I was struggling to process this, the name “Borg” falling on my consciousness from a presentation I had seen on the Mekar, when the scene began to fade as I dematerialized into the transporter stream.

“Computer,” said Caybin as soon as we were solid again, “activate temporal field.” We stepped off the transporter pad without delay to make room for more people to be rescued, but the operator shook his head: the Borg had acted so quickly that a second transport would not be possible. The nine of us, then, would appear to be the only survivors.

We all walked to the bridge together, an odd combination of essential personnel and people who had chanced to be standing near them. I was lucky to be in the second category. Glin Zorak, head of intelligence on the Mekar, was there with an assistant, along with Glin Lagar, who was in charge of tactical, a science officer named Amel, the Federation temporal physicist Dr. Drem (who belonged to a species with tusks), a Human teenager named Greta LaRue who seemed to be a Federation cabinet page, and Frieda Stein, a Human server still carrying a tray of champagne. Only instead of delicate crystal flutes, the champagne was now contained in ornate but bulky ceramic bowls. Without a word, Dr. Drem took the tray from the server and studied the bowls as we walked.


* * *

Glin Zorak shook his head, his eyes still on my report. “It will do,” he said. “But I’ll give you a note for your next log entry: it’s unnecessary and not customary to record your personal emotional reactions.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll make a note of that.”

He chuckled, then straightened his face and looked at me. “That’s all. Your journal is waiting in your quarters, and whether I like it not, no one from this office can read it until you do.”

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Ch. 5: The Mekar

“Bridge to all hands, we are in communications range of the buoy.”

The ship-wide announcement had us all springing to our feet. I hurried to my quarters, ignoring the dirty looks from some of the crewmen. “What’s the oldest thing you have?” I asked the computer.

“A coin, marked ‘E Pluribus Unum, one cent, two zero—'”

“Cancel that question. Out of everything you have from this century, what is the oldest?”

“Ship’s log and security recordings from—”

“Good. Upload the first week’s ship’s logs to my computer.” Maybe reading the log would help me figure out what else I had on the buoy, besides the penny.

“Access denied. You do not have clearance to view this material.”

“Okay, what’s the earliest thing you’ve got from this century that I can access?”

“Wood-pulp papers with markings in ink.”

“Actual physical papers?” I asked. I didn’t think they would still have those in the 24th century.\

“Affirmative.”

I shrugged, even though there was no one there to see it. “Is it possible to replicate a copy of them here on the ship?”

“Affirmative.”

“Okay, replicate facsimiles of the papers to my quarters.”

It was a stack of typing paper, inked in my own handwriting—my journal.

***

I woke to find that G’lek had already left.

I sat up in bed, hyperventilating and wondering with haphazard thoughts how I was going to keep Dukat from killing me, or worse.

And then, all at once, reality came into focus. I had tried to escape, and I had tried to obey, and I had learned that both were impossible. I was at the end of the line now; the only thing left to do was to face my fate with dignity.

When they brought me to Dukat, he was sitting behind his desk with G’lek across from him. They had been chatting, from the looks of it, and they both looked up when I came in, like they knew something they thought I didn't.

‘I do know,’ I thought. ‘I just don't know the details.’

But then Gul Dukat said to me, "I've sold you, Teryn. You belong to Gul G’lek now."

I just stood there looking at him until he chuckled and I realized I was staring.

"My ship is here," G’lek said to me. "We'll be leaving in a few minutes."

The two of them talked a little more, then Gul G’lek rose and they bowed to each other.

"Goodbye, Gul," I said to Dukat, but he ignored me.



After several minutes of walking, Gul G’lek and I came to a row of those plate-and-doughnut exit doors that the Cardassians called 'airlocks'. I walked on the other side of the spacious hallway.

But when we got to the fourth airlock, the gul stopped and turned toward it. The huge doughnut stood open; the huge plate was nowhere to be seen. I backed up and stood against the far wall.

“Are you ill?" he asked me. I couldn't tell whether he meant it kindly or not.

"I can't go in there, Gul," I said as respectfully as I could manage.

"There is no danger," he replied.

"I'm sorry, Gul," I said. "They warned me. They installed security implants, and they said if I go into an airlock, the implants will kill me."

"I am aware of your implants," he explained, joining me at the wall, "but they have been programmed for this particular airlock. You were wise to stay away from the other airlocks, but this one is safe for you."

I searched his face, but it told me nothing. "Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered, and pointed his 'gaming device' at the open space inside the thick circle. "See?" he said, holding it so I could see its little screen, "Your implants are programmed for this airlock."

I looked at the screen, but the strange shapes on it meant nothing to me. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, my shoulders back, my head up. Maybe I would die today after all. And if not, I'd finally get to be leaving this place. I could only hope the ship we were going to was easier to escape from than Terok Nor.

He put his arm around my shoulders, and we approached the airlock together.

I hoped it was a good sign when I didn't feel so much as a tickle from the implants as we stepped inside, but the doughnut hole quickly narrowed into a cramped metal tunnel, and I couldn't help wondering with each step if this was the spot that would trigger the fatal blast.

It seemed like we'd been walking forever in the narrow space between the grey-brown walls when the Gul suddenly stopped and turned to me. We were standing practically toe-to-toe between the walls, and he kept his left hand on my shoulder. "Why are you still afraid?" he demanded.

"I just can't help worrying about the implants, in this airlock."

He sighed. "If your implants kill you while I'm touching you, then I will be seriously injured or killed myself."

I stared at his boots.

"Besides," he added, "we came through the airlock a long time ago."

"Oh." I was relieved but disappointed. That guard had told me that the 'airlocks' were exit doors, and I'd hoped that meant I'd be outdoors by now.

"You're disappointed you're not to be killed?" he asked. I couldn't tell if he was serious or joking.

I looked up at this face again. "No," I answered. "I just thought we were going outside."

"Going outside what?" He let go of my shoulder and started walking again, and of course I followed. It was a little less cramped going single file.

"Outside, outdoors," I said.

"You'll need to speak up when I can't see your face," he replied. I wasn't surprised: his boots and my sneakers were making quite a racket on the bare metal floor.

"Going outdoors," I said, louder.

"I believe your people have a saying:" he answered, "be careful what you wish for."

"Can I ask you a question?" I asked.

"Yes."

"What government has jurisdiction here?"

"The Cardassian Union."

Well, that didn't help.

"Is Terok Nor run by the government or the private sector?"

"It's a government station, military."

"United States military? Or a different one?"

"A different one."

Good. "I'd like to request that my presence here be reported to our State Department."

"That we cannot do at this time," he replied.

We'd been walking by doors for a while now—not the big doors the Cardassians called airlocks, but single automated pocket doors crammed between sloping support posts. Now he stopped at one on our left, and it opened, letting out a revolting fishy smell and revealing a large room with several Cardassians seated at scattered tables or standing or sauntering between them.

"Dolim Shal," Gul G’lek called from the doorway, and every head in the room jerked up and looked at us. One of the uniformed Cardassians walked over to us and bowed to the Gul.

"We have a new prisoner; see to her needs," G’lek instructed.

The man barely glanced at me. "Aye, sir." He bowed again.

Gul G’lek turned back to me and glared at my face. "Obey Dolim Shal as you would obey me," he ordered.

"Yes, Gul," I replied and stepped through quickly.

He nodded to the room like a benign ruler and turned to continue down the narrow passage. The door closed as he moved out of view.

I looked around the room. There were about twenty people there, all Cardassian, and one of them was a woman. No, two were women.

I didn't get much time to look at them before Dolim Shal asked, "What do you need first, Human?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't understand the question."

"Do you need a hygiene room? Do you want to eat? Do you need immediate medical attention?" He spoke patiently, almost slowly.

"I haven't had breakfast yet," I answered. "So, I'd like to eat, please."

He walked to one of the replicators that dotted a nearby wall. "What do you want to eat?" he asked.

This was always a hard question to answer, the food was so odd here. I shrugged. "Eggs, I guess."

"Teryn breakfast number four," he said to the replicator. Apparently, someone had gone to the trouble of programming four breakfasts for me. And there was that name Teryn again.

Teryn breakfast number four was two normal eggs over easy, two strips of bacon, two slices of whole wheat toast, cut diagonally and buttered, a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar on the side. It looked and smelled so good I wanted to wolf it down right there in the replicator. Dolim Shal handed me the tray, and I thanked him and went to find a table.

I made eye contact with one of the female Cardassians, and she waved me over.

"Good morning," I said, setting down the tray. "I'm Faine Channing."

"Karadel," she replied with a bow. She had a lot of hair and wore it in a complicated mass of weaving and small buns.

I grabbed a piece of toast and was disappointed: all I could taste was the odor in the room. Somehow, it seemed to be stronger where I was sitting. "I've never seen a Cardassian woman before," I remarked.

Karadel raised the hairless ridges where her eyebrows should have been and asked, "Why?"

"I don't know why. You're the first female Cardassian I've met. Before I came to this room, I wasn't sure there were any." I tried the bacon; it was better.

"Perhaps you just haven't seen many Cardassians at all," she suggested.

"Maybe that's it," I agreed, starting on the eggs. It felt so good to eat normal food again, despite the smell. "Is it okay if I ask you a question?"

"Of course," she answered. The awful smell seemed to be coming from her food, but she ate like she enjoyed it.

"Why are there so few of you, compared to the men?"

She gave me a funny sort of frown that seemed to say, "You are very odd," and said, "Birth rates of girls and boys are around the same for my people. Fewer women than men choose to join the military, though. We're more likely to go into science, industry, healthcare, education, that sort of thing."

"What made you decide to join the military?" I asked.

"I always knew I wanted to be a soldier, ever since I was a little girl," she replied. The Cardassians all had a sort of crater-shaped formation on their foreheads, and Karadel's had a blue tinge to it. But she also had a blue tinge to her eyelids that made me think of the movie My Girl, so I figured it was all makeup. "But what about you? What brought you to Bajor?"

I was about to tell her I'd never been to Bajor when I saw Dolim Shal coming up to me. "Pardon the interruption," he said. "Will you need anything else before you see the doctor?"

"I don't need a doctor," I answered. "Thanks, but I'm fine." I wasn't sure if I should mention the medical attention I'd gotten from Gul G’lek, so I didn't.

Shal said, "It's only a screening, and I'm afraid it's required."

"Oh, okay," I replied. "Is it okay if I get some new clothes and get changed first? I didn't get a chance to get clean ones this morning; these are still my clothes from yesterday."

He nodded and said, "That explains your appearance. I'll take you to a hygiene room."

By the time he escorted me to the infirmary, I'd made sure nobody could have reason to make negative remarks about my appearance. He stopped just outside the door, exchanged nods with a male inside, and told me, "Go ahead, they're ready for you. I'll come for you when they're done."

There were two men, both wearing the grey uniform and standing together near something I took to be an exam table. I walked up to them.

I had my first inkling of what I was in for when one of them grabbed my top and tore it off its straps.

"Hey!" I yelled without thinking and shoved the doctor away from me with both hands. Then I stopped and just stood there, clutching my blouse and waiting for him to hit me.

Instead, he laughed. It wasn't a mean, sarcastic laugh like Tamid's and Dukat's, but the good-natured, spontaneous laugh of someone who's just been surprised by something so funny it can't be contained.

"We have a nervous one," the other doctor remarked.

"You do realize, I hope," said the first doctor, stepping toward me again, "that we can't do this with your clothes on."

"Perhaps she doesn't know why she's here," the second one suggested. "Do you know why you're here?" he asked me.

"No," I admitted, still holding the front of my blouse, "I have no idea why I'm here, actually. If you could fill me in, that'd be great."

"You're here for a medical exam."

"Oh, I knew that part. I just don't know why I'm here. On this station."

"Station?" the second doctor repeated. "You mean ship. I assume you walked here from Terok Nor."

So I was no longer on Terok Nor then, and I'd somehow gotten onto a ship without going outdoors. Then Terok Nor must have been built right on the edge of a large body of water—an ocean or sea, or possibly one of the Great Lakes. Maybe I was even still in Chicago.

"Yes, I did," I replied. "What I meant to say was, I don't know why I was on Terok Nor."

"That I don't know, either," he said. He nodded to the first doctor, who quickly grabbed the back of my blouse with both hands, tore it from top to bottom and tossed it on the floor.

"Why—" I sputtered, "what did you do that for?"

"We need to remove your clothing for your exam," he answered, pulling my bra off over my head.

"Wait," the second doctor ordered.

The first doctor gave him a quick bow, then stepped back from me and said, "We can't examine you properly without access to your body."

"That doesn't mean you have to rip them off me!" I spat out.

He just stood there and looked at the second doctor, like he was waiting for permission to proceed, and the second doctor gave him a quick glance and looked back at me. His eyes were smiling like he was watching a puppy chase its tail.

I straightened my shoulders. "I don't know how you do things here, but where I come from they give you a gown and leave the room, and you take your clothes off and put the gown on."

"Is the gown transparent?" the first doctor asked.

"Transparent?" I said. "No."

"Then how do your doctors conduct medical exams," asked the first doctor, "if they can't get to your body?"

"They get to your body."

"I don't believe I understand you," the second doctor said, turning serious. "If you're wearing a gown during the exam, then how do the doctors access your body?"

"They move the gown out of the way."

"Then why wear the gown in the first place?" asked the first doctor.

"Well, will you at least let me take them off, instead of ripping them?" I asked.

"Go ahead," the second doctor shrugged. "But I don't see what difference it makes. You're only going to recycle them, anyway."

I bit my lip, counted to ten in my mind, forced a smile and said, "I would like to have something to put on when I get out of here."

He shook his head like I was the one being difficult. "I gave you permission to remove your own clothing," he said. "I should think you'd want to take advantage of my indulgence while you still have it." He gave a brief nod to the first doctor and turned and walked away.

I nodded to the first doctor and waited for him to leave, too, but he just stood there with his arms crossed, staring at my shorts. "Can you let me get undressed, then?" I asked him.

"Go ahead." The fingers of his right hand rose from his left bicep for an instant and settled back again, in rhythm with the rise and fall of his hairless eyebrows and the movement of his lips. Otherwise, he didn't move.

I undressed.

The doctor never took his eyes off me. When I was done, he pointed to the exam table. "Sit," he ordered. As soon as I was on the table, he started waving something over my forehead. It was so close I couldn't see what it was.

I ducked away from the thing to try to get a look at it, but he grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back. "Hold still," he said. The other doctor was behind him now.

"What is that—" I started to ask, being careful not to move, but that's as far as I got before he interrupted me.

"Don't talk," he snapped.

Maybe two minutes later he put the thing down behind me and the second doctor asked, "What did you want to know?"

"What is that thing?" I replied, turning to try to get a look at it. "What was he—" I glanced at the first doctor. "What were you doing with it?" There was a whole tray full of instruments behind me, and I didn't recognize any of them.

"We're conducting a medical exam and correcting any problems we find," the second doctor answered.

"Well, can you please at least tell me what you're going to do before you do it?'

The second doctor shook his head. "Do I hear you correctly? You'd like us to stop working and describe each new step before we do it?"

"Yes." Finally, I was getting somewhere.

"No," he replied. "Request denied." He nodded to the first doctor again and started checking the reflexes in my feet and legs.

"Take a deep breath and hold it," the first doctor instructed from behind me, then two seconds later remarked, "It's a wonder she can breathe at all." Another second, and he said, "You may breathe now."

"What do you mean, it's a wonder I can breathe at all?" I asked.

"Take another deep breath and hold it," was all he said to me, but to the first doctor he said, "They're thickly embedded with hydrocarbon particulates, among other things."

"She's survived a fire, perhaps," the second doctor replied.

"You may breathe now," the first doctor said to me again, then continued, "It would appear that she's been surviving fires on a regular basis for many years."

"Industrial pollutants can reach extreme levels in some primitive societies," the second doctor shrugged. "Both knees are damaged."

"Both synovial pockets are dislodged," the first doctor replied, "and you'll need to make a decision about her teeth."

"Oh? What decision is that?"

"Some of them have been hollowed out and filled with other materials. The question is, should we repair them, or would the gul prefer the . . . artifacts . . . to remain?"

"I see," said the second doctor. "Perhaps her mouth should be preserved as a museum. I'll ask the gul what he wants. But we will put the synovial pockets back in place."

"What are synovial pockets?" I asked.

The second doctor turned to me and answered, "They lubricate your jaw," then said to his colleague, "Are there any other decisions to be made? I don't want to bother Gul G’lek twice." He left the spot where he'd been looking at my knees and stood beside the first doctor. Their backs were turned to me and their heads bent down; they seemed to be studying something.

"Excuse me," I said.

"Just a minute," the second doctor replied.

I kept going anyway. "If there are decisions to be made about my medical care, I’m the one to make them."

"Be quiet," said the second doctor in a stern voice, turning half around to look at me. "When you may speak, I'll let you know."

"I have a right to make decisions about my own body," I objected.

"You have no rights," the first doctor replied, reaching for an instrument tray and grabbing an item that looked just like what Gul Dukat had used to ease my pain. Quickly, he shoved something in the end of it, made a fine adjustment with his fingertips and grabbed my hair. But instead of putting the instrument up to the side of my neck like Tahmid and Dukat had, he put it up to my throat. After a hiss and a tickle, he let go, separated the two objects again and put them away.

"I'm not trying to—" I began, but it came out in a whisper and my throat burned, bringing tears to my eyes. I didn't try to speak again.

"We'll clean and repair her lungs first, then," said the second doctor, as they both turned back to me, "then perform the temporomandibular surgery. Then I'll ask the gul what he wants us to do with the museum, while you repair the melanomas and begin on her knees. I hope to return in time to help you with her feet."

All I could do was sit on the table and stare at them.

The worst part was, they didn't just do it and get it over with. They kept getting out instruments and putting them back, telling me to hold still, to inhale and to exhale, to hold my breath and to breathe again. They used my hair as a handle to hold my head, my arms as handles to move my body, while I sat wondering if my vocal cords would ever work again, or if that would even matter once they were done with cutting my jaw.

Then the second doctor used the hissing instrument on my throat again. "You may put your clothes back on if you like," he said. "I replicated a duplicate of the torn garment. Your escort should be here shortly. You may speak now."

I tried my voice: "Um." It was clear and easy and didn't hurt. "I heard you talking about surgery. When is that scheduled for?"

"The surgery is already done," he answered.

That didn't make sense, but it didn't make sense that those other Cardassians had gotten the implants into me, either. "On Terok Nor," I said, "they put a couple of implants in, one in my shoulder and one in my ankle."

"Yes, we checked your implants. They're working fine, and they pose no danger to you."

"I was hoping you might remove them." Maybe if I asked nicely . . .

"There's no reason to remove them," he explained. "Why give you a communicator you can misplace when you already have a subdermal one?"

"I guess it's really a matter of personal privacy," I said, though that concept didn’t seem to hold any weight here.

"Discussion on removing your implants is closed," he replied. "Do you have any questions on another topic?"

"No." I did; I had lots of them, but I couldn't see any point in asking them.

Before I was quite dressed, Dolim Shal showed up, and he took me to my new quarters aboard ship. They weren't much different from my quarters on Terok Nor, with a bed, a desk, a replicator and a bathroom. The main difference was that here there was a small table with two chairs.

"Dolim," I said, "before you leave, could I have something to write on?"

He opened a small compartment near the bed and took out an off-brand iPad.

"Thanks," I said. "How do you turn it on?"

His fingers flew over the geometric decorations. "I've turned it on to record," he answered. "You may begin when ready."

"Wait a minute, " I said. "How do I . . ." I trailed off and stared at the screen. A lot of strange little shapes had appeared where there had been nothing before. "Well, that's odd," I remarked, and more shapes appeared as I spoke.

"What's wrong?" Dolim asked, moving to see the screen.

"What are those things?" I asked. "Every time I talk, there are more of them." It must have been some kind of game. The tiny shapes were lined up in rows, and the rows spread out in various directions like a street map.

"That's . . ." he began, then stopped and looked at my face. "You don't read Cardassian, do you?"

"You have your own alphabet?" I asked, fascinated.

He smiled. "Yes, of course. I'll change the language for you."

"Thanks," I said, handing him the iPad. "What I really want to do is send an email. I understand I'll have to get it approved first. I just don't want my kids to worry. I've been gone three days and they must be scared to death by now."

"Children are often more resilient than we think," Dolim said, touching the decorations on the iPad faster than my eyes could follow. "What is an email?"

I couldn't believe he didn't know what an email was. But then, until very recently I hadn't known what a replicator was. "I just meant, I want to send a message to my children, to reassure them," I replied.

"I'll pass along your request," he shrugged, "but I doubt it will be granted." He handed me back the device.

"Thanks," I said. "Could I just write a letter to my kids now and save it, in case at some point I get permission to send it?" I noticed the little street map full of shapes was gone now, replaced by text in a language I couldn't immediately identify.

"Certainly," said Dolim Shal. "And if, as I predict, your request is denied, you may continue recording letters to them. Perhaps one day, this war will end and your letters can be sent."

I wasn't sure what he meant by "this war," but I had more important questions. "Does this thing have Word on it, or Pages?" I asked.

"Its a recording device," he answered. "It will have all the words you record on it. But it's not a codex; it has no pages."

"I mean," I said, "does it have a word processing program on it, like Microsoft Word, or the Apple program called Pages?"

"No," he answered. "It has neither."

"I guess I could cut and paste out of this program into an email, if I had to," I said. "I should be able to at least do that, right?"

"I can't guarantee that your recordings can be transferred to email, no," he replied.

I sighed. "Then, could I maybe just have some paper and a pen?"

"A pen, you may have," he answered, "but I'm not familiar with paper. Is it a type of tablet?"

It took me a long time to explain to Dolim Shal what I wanted, and even longer to explain it to the replicator, but in the end, I had a leather case full of about half a ream of paper, and a high-quality, smooth-writing ball point pen. As soon as he was out the door, I sat down at the table (the desk was all wrong for writing) and began.

The problem with having the time to keep a journal is that it gives you time to think. Up until Dolim Shal left me in my new quarters, I'd been reacting, doing whatever I needed to in the moment. Now I'm alone, locked in what amounts to a very comfortable prison cell. I have to find a way to break out of here.

Which leads me to two questions: Where am I, and what do they want with me? For that matter, who are they? No matter what explanation I come up with for the bizarre people and events I've encountered over the past three days, every single one of them sounds crazy. The nearest I can figure is that the Cardassians are the result of some kind of secret genetic experiment. The government convinces them all that they're soldiers, so they stay busy heroically serving an entire imaginary Cardassian civilization. And if this is true, I don't want to burst their bubble. Everyone needs something to live for.

Ch. 4: Gul G'lek

We met in Glin Zorak’s office, and I noticed with a shiver that it, too, had a pole protruding from the ceiling.

“I ran the simulations several times just to be sure,” Drem told us. “Everything points to the epicenter being right here on the Mekar during the Cardassian War.”

“Well, we’re in the right place, then,” the teenager remarked.

“But there’s a catch,” Drem continued. “It wasn’t in this timeline, and it wasn’t even in the timeline we’re trying to restore. It was in what my temporal program has labeled timeline B24, which first caused Faine to be displaced. The challenge is going to be accessing that timeline so we can figure out exactly how the incursion happened.”

“We kept all our records of that timeline,” Caybin said. “They are stored in a buoy protected with a temporal field.”

“How lucky,” said the server.

About half the Cardassians shook their heads, and Caybin replied, “Not lucky. It’s standard Cardassian procedure to preserve records. We did it as a matter of course. The records on the buoy can be classified in two categories. The first is general data such as ship’s logs and security recordings of public areas of the Mekar. The second is personal journals, letters and the like belonging to Vaine, here. Glin Zorak will be in charge of reviewing everything in the first category. Items in the second category will be reviewed first by Vaine, who will alert Zorak if she finds anything of interest. Zorak, Drem, you will brief her on the types of information you consider relevant.”

“Aye, sir,” Zorak answered with a bow, and Drem just nodded.

Caybin gave everyone a quick glance to see if we had anything to add, and the server raised her hand. Caybin gave her the floor with a nod.

“Who’s Vaine?”

Caybin looked at me with a little shrug, and I said, “That’s me. Apparently, Cardassians can’t say their Fs.”

“We can probably correct that by making a small programming change in the com system,” Lagar volunteered, “after this is over, of course.”

After another glance around the room, Caybin said, “Dismissed.”

***

I could just imagine what kind of a man would need his friend to send him a woman for the night. The good part about all the pain I was in, though, was that I really didn't care. I walked with my guard to the visitor's quarters in a daze.

My first glance told me he wasn't what I had expected. The body in that grey uniform was every bit as fit as Gul Dukat's, and if I read this new gul's face right, he was every bit as arrogant, as well. He swept my body from head to toe with a cold, appraising stare. "You may go," he said to the guard, and I heard the door close. "Sit down," he ordered.

There was a grouping of furniture nearby, and I sat in the nearest chair, trying to keep the pain from showing in my face.

He selected a chair near me and sat. He had the bearing of a prince; too bad I was feeling too lousy to care. The only thing I did care about at this point was survival, and that meant carrying out Gul Dukat's orders to make this man happy. With a little luck and a herculean effort, I might just be able to force my battered body to do that.

"I'm Gul G’lek," he said.

My head felt like a full bottle of milk that had been left in the sun: rancid and swollen and ready to explode; but I figured remembering his name was important. ‘G’lek,’ I repeated mentally. ‘Don't forget it: G’lek.’

He spoke again: "And you are?"

"Faine Channing, Gul." I wasn't exactly getting off to a great start here.

He had something in his hand, and now he held it out to me. For a second or two I thought he was handing it to me and I should take it, but by the time I had shifted my position in the chair so I could do so, he had moved it. He seemed to be pointing the object at my whole body, starting at my head and moving downwards smoothly, as though he were spray painting me. I tried to focus on the object itself, but my eyes wouldn't cooperate: all I could see were stars.

"Stay there," he ordered, and stood up. He used the same tone Gul Dukat used in his saner moments: calm and definite, as though he were used to giving orders and expected to be obeyed. He walked to a compartment near the wall, similar to the one Gul Dukat had pulled the maroon blanket from in his office, opened it and grabbed something, then came back to me.

Whatever it was he was carrying, I probably wouldn't have been able to see it well even if my eyes had been working properly because most of it was concealed in his hand. I hoped it was one of those hissing neck things and he was going to use it to either put me to sleep or relieve the pain.

“Hold still," he said, and I froze.

He stood in front of me and held the object only inches from my face. It was a small metal cylinder, probably a flashlight. ‘He's going to check my pupils,’ I thought, ‘to see if I have a concussion.’ A wave of gratitude washed over me, almost enough to make me want to move my swollen face into a smile.

But when he turned the thing on with his thumb, the beam of light that came from it was narrow and dim. He shone it on my head, moving it slowly, and the pain and pressure began to subside where he had shone it. "To my taste," he commented, "there can be no beauty without health, but tastes differ." He sounded British.

In a few minutes he had my whole head and face done. I could think and see clearly again, and from my neck up the pain was gone. I concentrated on remaining still, but I couldn't suppress the smile that pulled at my cheeks.

"Unfasten your top," he ordered in the same tone as before.

I unbuttoned the front of the silk shirt I had ordered from the alcove that morning. I'd chosen a compression sports tank to help support my ribs and cut out the need for a bra band, with a loose, soft silk shirt over that. With careful movements he unbuttoned the cuff of my right sleeve and slid my shirt off that side. My forearm, too, was bruised and swollen, and I realized that I didn't even remember when it had gotten that way. He shone the object on it, and this time I got to watch the process. I gasped as the tissue healed before my eyes.

He set the object on my chair beside my leg and carefully felt my forearm and wrist with his fingers.

"Thank you, Gul," I said, looking up at him. There were no words for the gratitude I felt.

He shook his head, frowning. "I'm not a doctor," he replied, "and I'm not familiar with your species."

‘My species?’ I thought. But maybe this was not the time to ask.

He produced the first object again, the one I had thought he was handing to me, and pointed it at my ribcage. This time I could see it clearly, and I realized that I'd seen it before—or one just like it—moments after I'd woken up on the floor when I had first come to on this station. I'd thought at the time that it looked like a gaming device, and it still did now, but I figured it was some kind of medical diagnostic tool.

He helped me take the compression tank off, and that process was almost as painful as putting it on had been, but it was worth it. Once it was off, he used the metal cylinder on my torso, and I was basically back to myself again: I could move and breathe without feeling like I was being stabbed.

I couldn't help thinking, as I sat waiting for the slow passes of the cylinder, that it wasn't going to be a hardship carrying out my orders tonight. He had a nice, strong neck, and I liked the way he carried himself. But maybe I was just having these feelings because he'd relieved my pain. On the other hand, thanks to his efforts, I could think clearly now.

He finished up, ran another pass with the diagnostic tool, and to my surprise, told me to get dressed again while he put the cylinder away.

I put both shirts back on, of course, because I didn't dare disobey a direct order. I left the silk blouse open, but I may as well not have bothered. The neck of the compression tank was so high it didn't show even a hint of cleavage. I needed to come up with a plan to seduce G’lek. Based on what I'd seen so far, I had a pretty good idea that my survival depended on it.

"Have you had dinner?" he asked when he got back to me.

I hesitated. They'd taken my phone away, and without it I had no way of telling time, so I couldn't have said if the last meal I'd had had been lunch or supper. But come to think of it . . . "Yes," I answered, "they gave me three meals today."

"Would you like a fourth?"

"Yes, please," I smiled. I'd hardly eaten any of those meals, and now that I was healed, I had a raging appetite.

"What would you like?" he asked, going to the alcove in the wall.

"I'd like poached eggs on toast, please."

"Poached eggs on toast," he said to the alcove.

A deep male voice replied with exaggerated diction, "The replicator database does not contain this selection."

Gul G’lek turned to me. "Try another dish," he said.

"Glazed ham," I answered, and he repeated to the alcove, "Glazed ham."

"The replicator database does not contain this selection," said the alcove, with exactly the same inflection and timing as before.

"I'll try to get you something similar," the Gul offered.

The result was pretty good, or maybe I was just in a good mood and finally ready to eat. It was goose eggs again—two of them, on a bed of something that was almost pita bread but wasn't quite, dotted with herbs and several other things I couldn't identify at all.

"Thank you," I said, again, feeling the insufficiency of the words. "Thank you for everything."

He shrugged, sitting and watching me eat. "I prefer women uninjured and well nourished. It's a matter of personal taste, I suppose."

I nodded.

"How did you come to be on Terra Knorr?" he asked.

"Honestly?" I answered. "I don't know."

He stood up again. "What will you have to drink? Fruit juice, perhaps?"

Fruit juice sounded good. "Yes, please."

He brought back something that tasted fruity but wasn’t sweet.

"May I ask you a question?" I said.

"Certainly." He'd sat down again.

"What is this place?"

"This place . . ." he repeated, like he was trying to understand the question.

"Terra Knorr. What do they do here?"

"Primarily refine uridium ore."

I'd never heard of uridium, but then I knew practically nothing about minerals. "So, this is a refinery?" I asked.

He nodded.

"I've been trying to figure out how I got here," I said, "and who I have to talk to to get home again. If this is a—I mean, since this is a refinery, I think that confirms that I got here by some kind of accident."

"You don't sound convinced," he countered.

I sighed. "You're too perceptive. I just don't understand anything. There are too many unanswered questions, and I just can't rule out that somebody did it on purpose."

"That would be much more likely than an accident."

"Why is that?"

"It must have been a difficult accomplishment to transport you to a remote Kardashian station. I don't see how it could have happened accidentally." There was that name Kardashian again, and like Glin Tahmid he pronounced it 'Kardassian.'

"I'm so confused about everything," I said. "Is this station owned by the Kardashians?"

"Kardassians," he corrected. "Yes, it is."

I shrugged. "Kardassians, then," I said it wrong to humor him. "What is this ore used for, that's refined here?"

"It's used in shipbuilding," he answered. "Uridium alloy is used for sensor arrays, for example."

I ate in silence. I had so many questions, but I didn't even know how to ask most of them.

"What else do you wish to know?" he asked a minute later.

"Well," I replied, "I don't know; this one might be sensitive."

He picked up the 'gaming device' that lay near my plate, pointed it in various directions and studied it for a few seconds. "We have privacy here," he said and put it down again.

"Okay. There's Gul Dukat, and you of course, and various other people who look like you, and then there are people with scars on their noses. And the people with scars on their noses never let me get up close to them; they run away when they see me coming."

He studied my face for a moment. "You really don't know, do you?" he asked.

"No," I assured him, "I really don't have a clue. Can you tell me?"

He sighed. "Yes," he said, and paused, seeming to collect his thoughts. Then he said, "I'll ask you a question first. What are Kardashians?" This time he said it right.

"They're a family," I said, like I'd said to Glin Tahmid, "beautiful women who got famous on reality TV."

"I see," he replied thoughtfully. "I believe you are confusing Kardashians with Cardassians. I'll take your word for it that there was a family of Kardashians which consisted of beautiful women. It sounds like a classic cultural myth. But they probably have nothing to do with my people."

"Your people?"

"I am Cardassian."

"So, this station is owned by your people," I said.

"And the other people are Bajorans," he continued. "They're the laborers."

"Bajorans," I said. "I've heard of them. Somebody said Gul Dukat likes Bajorans."

G’lek raised the ridges over his eyes. "'Like' is a word that can have many meanings."

I smiled. I was beginning to like this man.

"I don't believe it's you the Bajorans are avoiding," he continued. "Are you ever about without a Cardassian guard?"

"No."

He nodded. "The Bajorans are accustomed to staying out of the way when Cardassians come through."

"How did this station get its name?"

"I assume Dukat named it, but we've never talked about it. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it's unusual. It's Latin and German."

"Latin and German?"

"Yeah. Terra is Latin, meaning earth, and Knorr—"

He shook his head and interrupted me. "Not Terra. Teh-rock. Terok Nor."

"Oh," I said, "what does that mean?"

"It means station. Terok Station."

"Nice," I replied, glad to learn a new word. "In what language?"

"Cardassian, of course. Or, you would call it Cardassian. We call it the common tongue."

"You have your own language?" I said, then realized how stupid I sounded. In that case, I could see two possibilities: either that the Cardassians had had an artificial language created for them by linguists (which could possibly partially explain my presence here), or that, somehow, they were a naturally-evolved ethnic group. I thought the first option was much more likely. "What is that thing you used on my injuries?" I asked.

"Only a regenerator," he replied, “but perhaps its appearance is different from the ones your people use."

"I've never seen one before."

"Why not?" he demanded.

"I don't know how to answer that," I replied. "I've just never seen one before today."

"Where do you live, then?"

"In New Hampshire."

"I've never heard of it. Is it a Federation colony?"

"Nothing to do with any federation. It's just my state." I remembered the one word Glin Tahmid had seemed to recognize, and said, "It's in North America."

"Do you not have regenerators in New Hampshire?" he asked.

"As far as I know, we don't."

"What other technology do we have on Terok Nor that you don't have in New Hampshire?"

"That alcove," I answered, "that makes things."

"The replicator. What else?"

"Our showers and toilets are different. They use water."

"I understand," he said. "You lived in a low-technology community. Did you leave by choice?"

"No."

"Does Dukat know this?"

"Yes."

"You told him yourself?"

"No, I told the interrogator. But Gul Dukat watched my interrogation."

Gul G’lek nodded thoughtfully. "He must have a reason for keeping you, then. What else would you like to eat?"

"Nothing, thanks. I'm full. Can't even finish this."

He got up and picked up my dishes.

"I can do that," I objected.

"Probably not," he replied. "It's not customary to give prisoners replicator privileges." He walked to the alcove—the replicator, he had called it—placed the dishes in it and said, "Recycle." The dishes, along with my remaining food, disappeared in a swirl of light.

But we'd gotten off the subject of sex, and I had my orders. "I like your neck," I said as he walked back to his seat. "I've always been attracted to strong necks."

He sat and shrugged. "Strong necks are a feature of my people."

This was not going well. I lowered my head for half a second, embarrassed. "I didn't mean it like that," I objected. "I don't like all Cardassian necks; I like yours."

"Thank you."

"You're not like I imagined you," I ventured. I hadn't wanted to say this, but the conversation had stalled, and I was running out of options.

"Why is that?" he replied.

"I thought you'd be unattractive."

"You don't find me unattractive?" he asked, studying my face.

"Not at all," I blurted, smiling.

"It's not necessary," he said. "You're under no obligation to feel any particular way about me. Your behavior is restricted, but your feelings are not. There’s no need to pretend."

"I'm not pretending, Gul," I countered, wondering if I was in trouble, once again, for being deceptive.

"Do you really find me attractive?" His voice said he doubted it.

"I really do," I answered, looking up at his face and willing him to read me.

"Most humans find us repulsive."

Most humans. How odd that he didn't think of himself as human. I didn't think that sounded healthy, but I had my orders and I couldn't afford to start an argument. With an effort, I let it go. "Not you," I said.

I waited several seconds, and he didn't reply.

"I'm healthy and nourished now," I said. "What can I do for you?"

"Tell me about New Hampshire. Where in North America is it?"

This was still going nowhere. "I could show you on a map," I offered.

He stood and walked to the desk, and I followed and stood close beside him, not quite touching.

He touched several symbols in rapid succession with his fingers and said, "Show me a map of Earth, North American continent." I was beginning to notice that these Cardassians didn't tend to leave much unspecified. He had asked for a map of Earth, as opposed to a map of Mars, where a search for "North American continent" would yield a result of "file not found." Or maybe it was a map of earth, as opposed to a map of water or a map of air.

The map appeared on the desktop, and I reached across in front of him and pointed, letting our bodies touch at the hips. He didn't pull away.

"Magnify grid four-mark-six," he ordered, and the map of North America was replaced by, essentially, a map of New England.

I pointed again. "I live right about here," I said, and turned and looked up at him.

He nodded, concentrating on the spot where my finger had been.

I reached my right hand up and stopped it just short of the fin thing on the left side of his neck. "May I?" I asked. Gul Dukat had liked it when I'd touched him there.

Gul G’lek nodded again and I ran my fingers along the scaly edge of the fin. "What are they called?" I asked gently, bringing my left hand up to touch its twin. I smiled. Now I was standing between the man and the desk, and he was letting me touch him. It was looking like I wasn't going to get in trouble with Dukat after all—or not for failing to please his guest, at any rate.

"They're called ridges," he answered, and turned toward the chairs, putting a hand on my back to invite me along. He sat on a sofa this time, and I joined him, slipping my sandals off and pulling my feet up beside me.

"How long are you here for?" I asked. We were close together, and I was looking more up than sideways at his face. In my mind, I was kicking myself for ordering a shirt with such a high neck. This should have been the perfect arrangement to turn this man's thoughts to where they needed to be.

"My ship will probably arrive tomorrow," he replied, "but that's not confirmed yet."

"Oh, you're going on a ship?" I shifted my weight so that my thigh leaned against his.

He didn't seem to notice. "I'm its captain," he explained. "Captains in the common tongue are called guls."

"So, you're the captain of a ship, but your ship is not here."

"I had business here, so I came ahead on a shuttle."

"Gul Dukat is prefect of Bay Jour," I said, stroking one of his ridges again. "Are you prefect of someplace, too, like a different bay or something?"

He shook his head. "Bajor is not a bay. It's all one word. You would spell it B-A-J-O-R. And I'm not a prefect, thankfully." He stood up. "Let's go to bed."

But instead of walking to the bed, he walked to the replicator and ordered a blanket. It was so hot in that place already that I would have expected him to sleep without blankets, but I didn't mind. I had a reputation for always being cold, and as much as I didn't like being on Terok Nor, at least I hadn't been cold since I'd arrived.

He still didn't go to the bed. Instead, he spread the blanket on the floor in front of the sofa.

"You don't want to sleep in the bed?" I asked.

"That's right," he replied, and turned back to the replicator. "Blanket," he said.

I remembered my manners. "Can I help you, Gul?"

He nodded and passed me the second blanket as soon as it materialized, and I spread it on top of the first one. After a total of four blankets, he took off the top of his uniform and began to climb into the makeshift bed.

I knelt to join him.

"Go sleep in the bed," he ordered.

I hesitated, my heart pounding in my throat.

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Gul," I stammered, "do you know why I'm here?"

"Yes. I do not require your services tonight." He dismissed me with a flick of his hand.

I dragged myself to the bed and climbed in, determined to succeed in the morning.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ch. 3: Gul Dukat

I slapped my journal onto the table, rose and began to pace. “Computer,” I asked, “does the buoy contain a video recording of me being interrogated by Glin Tahmid?”

The deep voice of the computer answered without more than a second’s delay. “This recording is available in video, audio and electromagnetic interfaces. Do you wish to begin playback?”

“No,” I answered, flopping into the chair again. “Do you keep a record of the people who have watched it?”

“Affirmative.”

“How many people have watched it?”

“This recording has not yet been viewed.”

“Well, good,” I muttered, and picked up my journal again:

***

"You're shy, perhaps." The gul’s voice was gentle.

I nodded.

He turned, getting half out of his chair, opened a compartment in the wall behind him and pulled out a large item made out of some sort of maroon-colored fabric and folded. He handed it to me and settled in his chair again. "Put that on," he ordered.

I unfolded it and found that it was a blanket, far too hot for the overheated room, but I didn't dare disobey, so I wrapped it around myself.

"Sit," he said, patting his knee.

I swallowed hard and sat. I could see where this was going, and I didn't like it, but at least it was better than what I'd thought I was in for with Glin Tahmid and those guards. And at least, if I had to sleep with this Gul person, he wasn't bad, physically—at least if you didn't look at his face.

"I like you," he said, "but you'll have to wait for me; I have work to do." He touched the front of his shirt, or his armor, or whatever the top of his uniform should be called, and said, "Send me a soldier for prisoner transport."

Almost immediately, the door swished open and there stood another guy in a grey uniform, with the scars and the fins. I was beginning to wonder what the other people did here, the ones with the scars only on their noses, who scattered whenever we got near them. On the other hand, I had no idea what these people did, either, when I wasn't around.

"Take her to my quarters," the Gul ordered, "and restrain her." He pushed me off his knee, and I held onto the blanket and walked around the desk to where the soldier stood. The soldier looked to the Gul for dismissal, then gestured to me to walk ahead of him out the door.

The restraint was a comfortable wide fabric band around my ankle, attached to a lead that gave me a little freedom of movement. What I didn't like was, from what I could see and what I'd heard, I gathered that my new location was the Gul's bedroom, and that the lead was attached to his bed.

After making sure the restraint was secure, the soldier moved a few things out of my reach and left.

Exhausted from the interrogation and alone for the first time since Chicago, I lay on the floor and slept.

The whispering swish of the door woke me, and I was on my feet in an instant. It was the Gul. My blanket had fallen in my hurry to get up, and I bent over to retrieve it, fumbling from nervousness. Finally I stood again, with the blanket around me.

"Still shy, I see," the Gul commented with a hint of a laugh. "I'll give you something to help with that."

"Thanks," I answered, "but I'll be okay." I was hoping to get out of here with my brains intact.

He turned his back to me for a moment, and when he turned around I saw he had something nearly concealed in his right hand. He came toward me.

I forced myself to breathe.

He grabbed my hair with his left hand, and I prepared myself for him to pull it hard, but he only tipped my head gently to the side and held it there. He brought his right hand up to the exposed side of my neck, and I experienced the same hissing sound and odd sensation that I had when I first sat at Glin Tahmid's desk. The Gul let go of my hair.

"What was that?" I asked again.

"Something to calm you," he answered, turning around and putting the thing away.

I passed a more or less agreeable night, at least compared to what it could have been. It was just sex and sleep, except that I couldn't sleep at first. I tried to be very still so the Gul could sleep, because I didn't think it was in my best interest to annoy him. But he must have noticed, because he administered another one of those hissing things to my neck, and I fell asleep in less than a minute.

If anybody had seen us in the morning, they would have thought we were a regular couple—except for his bizarre appearance and the fact that he had to take that cloth band off my ankle.

He showed me how to use the shower. Or at least he called it a shower. I could have sworn there was no water coming out of that thing, yet the refreshing and cleansing effect was undeniable. And I had thought the toilets in this place were strange.

"I've given you permission to replicate clothing for yourself," he told me when I came out.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't know what that means."

He stared at me with those freakish eyes of his, and his lips twitched at the edges, but his voice stayed even. "What size garment do you wear..." He touched my back. "...here?"

"Medium," I answered, hoping that was specific enough.

He led me to an alcove that looked very much like the one Glin Tahmid had gotten the drinks from yesterday, and announced, "One garment for the top half of the body, female, Teryn, early 21st Century, size medium."

There was a soft sound and a whirling of light in the alcove, and a sky-blue microfiber T-shirt just appeared there, where two seconds before there had been nothing but air. I shrank back from it and stared.

The Gul laughed. "Order the rest of your clothing and get dressed," he ordered, then called in the direction of the door, "Enter!"

A soldier came in immediately and the Gul went out.

It took me a few minutes to get the hang of ordering from the alcove, and that was with a little help from the soldier. When I was dressed, he gestured toward the door in that deceptively polite manner I'd been seeing a lot lately. Soon we were back on the balcony, and I screwed up the courage to ask, "Where are we going?"

"To fit you with a security device."

Either it was a shorter walk this time, or else I was just getting used to these walks and found it much nicer to be clothed. We entered a suite of rooms that looked a little like Tahmid's: full of objects I couldn't identify. Two guys were waiting for us.

"Lie down," the shorter one said to me. He patted the top of what could have been an exam table or a high cot. I obeyed, of course.

The two of them wasted no time. One pulled my top away from my neck to reveal part of my right collarbone, while the other pulled my left pant leg up and my left sock down. At least they're not cutting them this time, I thought. The soldier who had brought me stood nearby and watched.

It was hard for me to follow what they were doing, mostly because I was lying flat on my back and couldn't see anything but the ceiling and the shorter guy's face. I thought they cleaned a patch of skin over my collarbone, and another on my lower leg, like nurses do before giving shots, but I couldn't be sure. Then suddenly, they both backed away and the taller one said, "You can get up now."

I stood up.

"You'll need to stay out of the airlocks," said the taller one.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"We fitted you with security implants," he replied, then repeated, "You'll need to stay out of the airlocks. If you go into an airlock, the implants will kill you."

"What are the airlocks?" I asked. My voice came out in a whisper.

"I'll show you," said the soldier who had brought me, and he gestured to the door again.

The airlocks looked like giant metal donuts fitted with giant metal plates. I stayed well back. "Exit doors?" I asked my guide.

"Yes."

So much for escaping, then. But maybe I could find a window, or drill through a wall ...

We walked on again, stopped at one of the regular swishing double doors, and entered.

"These are your quarters," he said.



It was a simple room, but comfortable. It had a bed and a desk, one of those alcoves in the wall, and a strange toilet and shower like the ones in the Gul's own quarters, but without as much space.

"When will I be able to go home?" I asked.

"I don't know," he replied. "That's up to the cat."

"Who's the cat?"

"Not the cat. Dukat. Due-kaht."

"Oh, then who's Dukat?"

"You spent last night with him."

"Oh, the Gul?"

"Yes, Gul Dukat."

"Could I have something to write on?"

"No," he replied simply, and started toward the door.

I looked around. "What is there to do here?"

He shrugged, stopping in the doorway. "Not much for a prisoner, I'm afraid, but there is a computer here with a limited database." He took another step and the door swished shut.

As soon as I was alone, I headed straight for the bathroom, yanking the blue microfiber t-shirt over my head as I walked. At least the mirrors in this strange place were more or less normal. I pulled my bra strap down over my right shoulder and took a good look at my collarbone area: no scars, no visible lumps, nothing different from how it always was. I ran the fingertips of my left hand over the spot, feeling carefully. Nothing.

I put my shirt back on and checked my left ankle. Also nothing. So whatever that little charade was about on the table, they hadn't actually done anything. Maybe just a cheap way to keep me away from the exit doors. Well, at least now I knew where to find them. If only I could get out of this room.

There were no windows in my room: it couldn't be that easy, of course. I stood for a moment and looked at the ceiling. As I had expected it wasn't a dropped ceiling, and it didn't look any more promising than any other part of the room. I walked around and took a quick look at the floor: no particular reason to think I'd find a quick escape route through there, either. I wished I had some way of knowing which story I was on, whether this building had a basement, and all sorts of other details. But I didn't, so for now at least I'd have to work with what I had. I decided to start with a thorough examination of the walls to see how strong they were and whether there were any places where I might be able to break through. There was no telling what would be on the other side, though, but I'd figure that out when I came to it. I started at a random stretch of blank wall roughly opposite the door and knocked on it with my knuckles. It didn't seem to be made out of sheet rock, but I couldn't tell right away what the material was. I kept knocking, moving my hand by increments up the wall, then over to my right, then down again. If it had been a traditional wall of sheet rock or some other wall board laid over studs, I would have heard and felt a change as my knuckles passed over the studs, but in this case there didn't seem to be any change. So maybe the wall board itself was some sort of strong material and part of the actual structure of the building, instead of just being a covering over the structure. In other words, maybe I wasn't going to be able to break through it. I decided to see if I got any different results from another part of the room.

I knocked on the walls at eight different places and got the same results every time. The only place I hadn't been was up high, close to the ceiling. Now, how was I going to get up there? I'd already stood on the desk, but the ceiling was high enough here—or else I'm short enough—that I still couldn't reach to the top of the wall. I picked up the chair from behind the desk and carefully tried to set it on the desk without breaking the computer. It wasn't that I cared whether I broke the computer or not, but I didn't want to leave any clues as to what I'd been doing. It was better, at least until I had a fuller understanding of my situation, for my captors to think of me as the shy, compliant type and not to feel they had to watch me too closely.

The chair wouldn't fit. The shape of the desk and the shape of the chair meant that I couldn't get all the chair's feet on the desk at the same time, and jostle it even slightly, without one of the feet slipping off and taking the rest of the chair with it.

So I carried the chair to the bed, moved the pillows and set it near the wall. Then, taking my time, I climbed onto it, then little by little I stood up, using the wall for support.

The moment I was fully upright, a jolt of electricity shot through me. I fell off the chair, missed the bed and hit the floor with my side, knocking the wind from my lungs.

In that long, desperate moment before the air came searing back, I heard Gul Dukat's voice say calmly, "I'm disappointed in you, Teryn."

I raised myself to my hands and knees, coughed and struggled to breathe. When I could speak, I said, "Gul? Can you hear me?"

"Of course I can hear you," came the answer. "I didn't know you enjoyed building towers so much. Are you an architect?"

"No," I answered, and coughed.

"No," he repeated, "but you have deceived me."

I wondered how I should respond to that. I wondered how I could have been so dumb as not to realize they would have bugged the room. I wondered where the cameras and microphones where hidden, and whether the Gul could see me now as well as hear me. I wondered if any of my bones were broken.

"Did you hear me, Teryn?" Gul Dukat persisted. "You've deceived me."

I wondered who Teryn was, and why he'd confused our names. "Yes," I answered. "I'm trying to figure out what you're referring to."

"You seemed happy enough to sleep with me last night. I thought we had something good going. And now I find you trying to escape."

"It won't happen again," I promised, and meant it. I wouldn't be touching the top of the wall again, at any rate.

My breathing was becoming more regular now, and I got off my hands and knees and sat on the floor. Moving hurt: I was badly bruised, at best. I felt very grateful that I hadn't landed on my head.

"Gul?" I asked.

"Go ahead."

"I think I need a doctor."

"Why? Are you dying?"

"No, but I think I could have cracked a rib."

"A souvenir, then. A reminder to improve your behavior in the future. Is there anything else, besides your medical status?"

I couldn't believe he wouldn't let me see a doctor. "Yes. Are there any other places I should be aware of that are off limits, besides the top of the wall?"

"The top of the wall isn't off limits," he answered. "Insulting me is off limits. Consider yourself warned."

"Of course," I answered, confused now. "Did I insult you, Gul?"

"I would consider attempting to run away from me insulting. Wouldn't you?"

"I didn't mean it that way," I said.

"I trust you see it differently now."

"Yes, of course. I was just wondering, are there any other places I need to avoid touching, any other places that have live current running through them?"

The Gul chuckled. "You think there's an EM current running through the top of your wall?"

"I'm sorry," I said, "I don't know what EM is."

"Electromagnetic."

"Oh. Yes," I replied, feeling foolish. "I did think that."

"Your quarters are safe, Teryn. You have permission to touch any surface you wish—as long as you do it for appropriate reasons. The EM surge you felt came from your implants; I decided a mild buzz would do you good."

"I think I understand now," I said, feeling deflated. What they'd told me about the airlocks, then, could be true, too. I wondered why they called them airlocks. This place was far too big to be a submarine.

"Good," the Gul responded. "Dukat out."

I got up and limped to the bathroom and pulled up my shirt in front of the mirror. I don't know what I had expected to see, besides a large red mark where my side had hit the floor. Wincing, I felt each of my ribs on my right side. I didn't feel any obvious breaks. It still hurt to breathe.

I went back to the bed to try to get some rest. I wished I'd had something to read. I couldn't even count the ceiling tiles, since there were no tiles to count. I decided to review everything I had seen and heard since the linguistics conference, and see if I could come up with any useful conclusions. Then I fell asleep.

Someone woke me with a tray of food. It was a scars-and-fins male again, in the gray uniform. I'd never seen any of the people with scars only on their noses doing anything except scattering before I got close to them. And I hadn't seen any women with the scars and fins, only men. Maybe they were the result of a genetic experiment that produced only males.

The only part of the meal I could identify at all was some kind of fish, and even then it was a variety I'd never seen before. It didn't taste very good, but it did give me energy, and that's all I cared about. And anything would have been better than not eating, which I hadn't since the rouladen with Derek the day before.

I ate and forced myself to do some gentle stretches on the bed and walk around the room. I knew I'd hurt more in the long run if I didn't take care of myself now. Then I sat in the chair, propped my feet on the desk and tried to recall everything I had seen, heard, even smelled, in the past two days.

They brought me another meal, built around what must have been a goose egg, and other than that I was left alone. I went over every detail I could remember, but nothing gave me a clue as to where I was, how I got here, who would have done this, or why. I couldn't help feeling like Derek had had something to do with it, though.

Eventually the door swished open a third time. "The Gul will see you now," said my visitor. It was the same guy who'd brought me the goose egg.

"Tell him," the Gul was saying over his intercom when I arrived in his quarters, "he'll obey my orders or I'll be happy to grant him the privilege of becoming the first Cardassian ore processor." He dismissed the guard with a flick of his head but didn't acknowledge me. I clasped my hands behind my back and stood waiting.

After a few more exchanges he said, "Dukat out," and turned to me. "Teryn, do you know how to mend clothing?" he asked.

"Usually," I answered, figuring I'd better qualify my response before he accused me of deceiving him again. "It depends on what type of clothing it is, and what's wrong with it." That turtle-shell armor top he wore, I wasn't sure I could mend, but the pants would be okay.

"It's a lost art, perhaps," he remarked. "Being a Gul isn't always as glamorous as it seems."

"You're the commander of this station, right?"

"And Prefect of Bay Jour," he sneered. "But my little Teryn is here now." He had been standing, and now he sat down in his desk chair and slouched lazily. "Come here," he ordered.

I went to him and he pulled me toward him, hurting my injured ribs. I gasped and stiffened.

"What's wrong?" he asked, looking offended. "You don't like me now?"

"Sorry," I said, "it's just my ribs."

"Whatever you did to your ribs by your own misbehavior," he said, pulling me toward him again, "should not affect your performance for your Gul."

I nodded. "Could I have something for the pain?"

He brushed a lock of hair out of my face with a tender motion of his hand and shook his head. "If I took the pain away," he explained, "I'd be robbing you of the chance to learn your lesson. But enough of this subject. What shall we do tonight?"

I really did try to please him, but he was beyond pleasing. He added several new bruises to match the ones on my side and scraped the skin off the bridge of my nose. "Now you'll have a scar on your nose like the rest of them," he laughed.

But in the morning he was all charm. He opened his eyes and smiled. "Good morning," he said. "How did you sleep?"

"I don't think I slept much," I replied.

The smile disappeared. "Pain?" he asked.

I nodded.

"You should have asked me to give you something for that," he chided, and got up. He came back and knelt on the bed beside me and used that hissing thing on my neck again. The relief was dramatic and immediate.

"Thank you," I said sincerely.

"Don't mention it," he replied, and I wondered if that was an order or just another way of saying 'you're welcome.' I decided to be on the safe side and not bring it up again. "Are you hungry?" he asked.

‘He must be on drugs,’ I thought. I wasn't hungry, but I figured I'd better eat while I had the chance. "Sure," I said, "breakfast sounds good."

A framed photo caught my eye for two reasons. For one thing, it looked so ordinary. In a station full of strange walls, strange desks, strange video monitors, strange turtle-shell-armor uniforms, even strange faces and necks, here was a regular photo in a regular plastic stand-up frame. The other reason was the people in the photo itself. In the middle was a smiling Gul Dukat, and on either side of him were people with the scars on only their noses. On his left was a man, and on his right a woman.

"Is this you with some of your friends?" I asked, hoping to learn more.

He stopped on his way to the alcove. "That was taken when I became Prefect of Bay Jour."

He'd said something similar last night. I decided I'd better keep the tone light and not appear to be pressing him for information. "You look happy," I remarked.

He nodded. "It was a happy occasion. As soon as I took office, I started making changes. The death rate for those poor people dropped twenty percent."

"Death rate!" I blurted out in spite of myself. From his behavior yesterday, I could well believe there was a death rate.

"A very unfortunate situation," he said. "They're just not as advanced as we are. But we're changing that."

I felt impressed in spite of myself. I stood there for a moment looking at the faces of his two companions. "Are these leaders, or spokespeople, for the people of Bay Jour, then?" I asked.

He looked up from the alcove. "They look so innocent, don't they?"

Breakfast was just plain odd. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad, either. Or maybe I just wanted to get away from the Gul and back to my room. Not that that was going to be the same anymore, either, since now I knew he could spy on me whenever he wanted. What I really wanted was to go home. I missed my kids.

"I'm having company today," he said with a smile between bites. He seemed to be enjoying the breakfast, at any rate.

"Family?" I asked, then wondered if I should have said that. If he was a result of a genetic engineering project, he may not have a family, exactly.

He didn't seem to mind, though. "A colleague. A fellow Gul, in fact. We have a lot in common."

"Oh, good. I hope you enjoy the visit."

"I'm more concerned that he enjoys the visit," he replied in a serious tone. "I'll be lending you to him tonight." He leaned toward me and seemed to pin me in place with those awful eyes. "Be sure that you make him happy."