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.\
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?”
“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.
"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.
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.