I woke to find that Gih-lek had already left.
I sat on the bed, gasping and blowing like I was about to deliver a baby, and wondering with desperate, haphazard thoughts how I was going to keep Dukat from killing me.
And then, suddenly, I realized that I wasn't. I'd come to the end of the line now: I'd tried to escape and I'd tried to obey, and neither one had been possible. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. My heartbeat slowed to something resembling normal and I began to think rationally again.
I knew what I wanted now: if my life was out of my hands now and Dukat was going to kill me, then I wanted to face death in a way that my kids could at least be proud of. I couldn't avoid it. I couldn't even write them a final message. All I could do now, in case they ever learned the details of my death, was face that death with composure and dignity. I may not be around to see it, but history would sort everything out: the world would see that Dukat was the insane murderer and I was the unfortunate person who somehow got in his way. It simply wouldn't do for me to grovel or give in to hysteria.
I stood up and tried to smooth out my clothes, but I don't think it did any good. There's not much you can do about a silk shirt you've slept in. I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me all night to take it off. I concentrated on my breathing until it became steady and strong, and planned what little was left of my life. I would stand when the door opened, I decided. I wanted to be standing if they shot me right then. And if they brought me before Dukat first, I would walk with my shoulders back and my head held high. After all, even though I wouldn't be around to see it, it was Dukat who would be humiliated in the end, who was bringing that humiliation on himself right now.
I had no way to check the time, but it seemed like I sat there on the bed, my legs in front of me, my back straight and my chin up, but a very long time. My heartbeat calmed until I didn't notice it anymore, my breathing became slow and peaceful, and I noticed I was quite hungry.
Eventually the door did open and a uniformed Cardassian stood in the doorway. I got up and stood beside the bed. "Gul Dukat will see you now," said the Cardassian, gesturing for me to go ahead of him onto the balcony.
I walked out and followed him, my shoulders back and my head high, as I had planned. I felt calm. Then, as suddenly as I had realized that I would die today and there was nothing I could do about it, I realized that I may not die today. I must have made some kind of noise when the thought hit me, because my guard reacted with a cautious glance. I swallowed and tried to keep walking as before, but I felt stiff and cold, and it was hard to breathe again. What I had realized was that there was no reason to think that Dukat would kill me quickly and be done with it: there was no telling what method he would choose or how long it would take. By the time we arrived at Dukat's office I felt dizzy.
Dukat sat behind his desk and Gih-lek sat 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 Gih-lek now."
I stood there, just looking at him until he chuckled and I realized I was being rude, staring at him with my eyes and mouth wide open. I dropped my eyes and closed my mouth, then turned to Gul Gih-lek. He was looking at me, too, but other than a haughty sense of superiority, I couldn't read anything in his face. "My ship is here," he said. "We'll be leaving in a few minutes."
The two of them talked a little more, but neither one said anything more to me. Gul Gih-lek rose and bowed, and Gul Dukat bowed back, and I wondered if some of the planners of this Cardassian genetic project—if that was what it was—had been Japanese. But they bowed only once each, and only with their heads and not their torsos. Then Gul Gih-lek turned to me and made a curt nod toward the door.
"Goodbye, Gul," I said to Dukat, but he ignored me.
In a daze, I walked out, and Gul Gih-lek followed right behind me. He turned and began to walk, and I walked beside him and half a step behind. Bajoran men and women scattered before us as usual.
After a few turns we came to one of those plate-and-doughnut exit doors that the Cardassians called 'airlocks'. I moved to the other side of the Gul and put some distance between myself and it as we passed: I could imagine the heart-stabbing irony of my kids having to learn that I had somehow managed to avoid execution, only to kill myself by clumsiness as I tripped while walking past an airlock. If Gul Gih-lek noticed, he didn't make any indication of it, and I continued walking some ten feet away from him as we passed airlock after airlock.
But at the fourth one he 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?" Gul Gih-lek asked me. I couldn't tell from the tone of his voice whether he meant it kindly or not.
"I can't go in there, Gul," I said as respectfully as I could manage.
"You'll be fine," 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."
He nodded as though he understood now, and came and joined me at the wall. "I am aware of your implants," he explained, "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 produced his 'gaming device' and pointed it toward 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. It wasn't likely I'd be able to escape at this time, what with Gul Gih-lek's size and athletic build and the length of his legs, but at least I'd be able to get a look at what was outside the station and hopefully observe details that might provide a clue as to where I might be. After that, even if I had to ride to his ship in the trunk of a car, I'd have a general sense of how long a ride it was and over what kind of terrain. Of course, all that would be wasted if I couldn't find a way to get off the ship before she left port, but I needed to focus on one thing at a time.
He put his arm around my shoulders, and we approached the airlock together and stepped inside.
I hoped it was a good sign when I didn't feel so much as a tickle from the implants as I walked into the giant metal doughnut hole with Gul Gih-lek's arm around my shoulders. 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 and hoped he couldn't see the smile on my face. This feeling of gratitude was beginning to feel familiar.
"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, raising his hairless eyebrows, "be careful what you wish for."
"Can I ask you a question?" I asked.
I had so many questions. Where are we? What is this whole Cardassian project, anyway? Why haven't we left Terok Nor? When can I go home to my kids? What did Gul Dukat mean when he said he'd sold me and I belonged to you now? Am I your slave? I was called a prisoner before that; does that mean I've been demoted? What is a Gul, anyway? Why did Gul Dukat call one of those guard guys 'a soldier'? "What...government has jurisdiction here?" I stumbled.
"The Cardassian Union."
Well, that didn't help. What I needed to know was if these people were American or not. With the exception of Gih-lek, their accents seemed to indicate that they were, but Tahmid's sneering and the bloody nose I'd gotten from his guard would seem to say otherwise. On the other hand, Tahmid's reaction may have simply meant they were Americans who didn't like the government. I hoped they were not Americans, not only because Americans ought to know better and have more respect for human rights, but also because if they were foreigners, then they might be persuaded to report my presence to the State Department. "I have more questions, if you don't mind," I said.
"Promise you won't get mad?"
"No." His voice was decisive. "But I promise not to punish you unless you disobey."
I noticed he'd left himself a loophole. Glin Tahmid hadn't punished me, either; he'd had someone else do it. But I figured this was the best I was going to get, so I plunged in: "Is Terok Nor, and the whole project that goes on here, a government project or a private one?"
"It's a government project. 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. "I'm sorry." But he didn't sound sorry; he sounded annoyed. I remained silent for the rest of the walk.
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 an revolting fishy smell and revealing a large room with several Cardassians seated at scattered tables or standing or sauntering between them. Most wore the grey uniform, but a few wore odd-looking coveralls or pants and tunics. Nobody seemed to be in much of a hurry or take much notice of us.
"Dolim Shal," Gul Gih-lek called from the doorway, and every head in the room jerked up and looked at us. Every conversation ended immediately and anyone who had been seen sitting stood up. One of the uniformed Cardassians walked over to us and bowed to the Gul.
"We have a new prisoner; see to her needs," Gih-lek instructed.
The man barely glanced at me. "I obey, Gul." He bowed again.
Gul Gih-lek turned back to me and glared at my face. "Obey Dolim Shal as you would obey me," he ordered, then stood aside and made that ultra-polite gesture of waving me through the door. Only this time the politeness was full of sarcasm and he made no attempt to hide the irritated sneer on his face.
"Yes, Gul," I replied respectfully and stepped through quickly, wondering if I should have bowed and said, "I obey," like Dolim Shal had. It would have really grated to be fawning like that, but I'd already managed to get a Gul mad at me once, and I might not survive it a second time.
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 turned and gave him my full attention. "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.
There were empty tables, but there was also room at the table where one of the Cardassian women was eating. I made eye contact with her 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 sat and turned to the only other person at the table, a uniformed male sitting to my left and across from Karadel, but he didn't introduce himself. I grabbed a piece of toast and was disappointed: all I could taste was the odor in the room. It seemed stronger here. "I've never seen a Cardassian woman before," I remarked.
Karadel raised the hairless ridges where her eyebrows should have been and asked, "Why?"
The male on my left said, "You must be a long way from home." He was finishing something that looked like white meat and gravy.
"Yes, I think so," I answered, then, "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.
"No females," said the male thoughtfully. I couldn't tell if he hated the idea or just wasn't sure what he thought of it. "Excuse me," he said, rising and bowing. "The sensor array is waiting."
"Nice to meet you," I replied.
Karadel nodded again, and he picked up his dishes and walked toward the replicators.
"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 with a graceful gesture toward the place beside her. 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."
This Cardassian project was far bigger than I had imagined, then. I shook my head, trying to comprehend it all, trying to make sense of it. If there were so many of them, and their society was big enough to have both a military and private industry, why had I never even heard of them? I doubted if even the Federal government could keep something this big under wraps. Unless it was all a fabrication, and Karadel was simply repeating what she'd been told ... "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 someone coming up behind me. It was Dolim Shal. "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 Gih-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. It was still hot in that place, had been hot consistently since I'd arrived, so I ordered a green silk sleeveless top, flowy cream-colored silk shorts and dressy beaded sandals.
Shal stopped just outside the door to the infirmary, 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 silk top in both fists 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. That was good to know. 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, starting to reach for my shorts.
"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 took my hands off my breasts and placed them in front of me on the exam table and straightened my shoulders. "I don't know how you do things here," I said reasonably, "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, the gown is not transparent."
"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."
"They don't get to my body," he snickered.
"They get to the patient's body," I clarified. I wondered if they were wearing out my patience by design, or just having some twisted fun with me.
"I don't believe I understand you," he said, turning serious. "If you're wearing a gown during the exam, then how do the doctors get access to your body?"
"They move the gown out of the way."
"Then why wear the gown in the first place?" asked the first doctor, looking genuinely puzzled.
"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 and 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.
He wasted no time. 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, and after that there was silence.
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 anything 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, "certainly not!" 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 Gih-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 should be made aware of that."
"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 know what's going on with 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 swallowed painfully and didn't 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, changing their minds 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. The second doctor left for a while and came back with the news "The museum is to be preserved," and the two of them started waving instruments over my knees and crowding together over my feet. I just wished they'd hurry up and get the lung repair and the mandibular surgery over with. I wondered if my vocal cords would ever work again, or if that would even matter anymore once they were done with cutting my jaw.
They were talking to each other over my toes, but I couldn't make much sense of what they said: something about curled and straight and left and right and beauty versus perfection. Then they stood up and 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 done," he answered. "Something was out of place in the joint of your jaw, one on each side, and we put them back."
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, painfully aware of how little weight that concept seemed to hold 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.