“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.
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."
"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.
"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."
"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?"
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?"
"Does Dukat know this?"
"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."
"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.