I was hoping they'd give me clothes to wear before taking me to the Gul, but they didn't. One of Tamid's guards picked up my purse and then grabbed my arm, pulling me up out of my seat and out the way I'd come in, all the way to the balcony. We turned right and walked for a few minutes, people scattering in front of us. Thankfully, I didn't see anybody staring, but I wondered whether that was because they all had good manners, or because they were used to seeing prisoners walking naked along the balcony.
We followed the balcony's slow curve to the left, took an elevator and eventually came to a place where several scars-and-fins men sat looking busy. We walked past them and up a few steps to an ornate set of glass-and-metal doors. The guard pushed me ahead of him through the doorway, but not roughly, and remained behind me just outside the room.
I found myself in an office of sorts. In style it looked a lot like Glin Tahmid's interrogation room, but except for the desk it was furnished differently, and more simply. A man sat behind the desk, with the grey uniform, the facial scars, or whatever they were, the neck fins and very intense eyes. It seemed to me that his whole being emanated power. He nodded to the guard behind me and I heard the door close.
"I've been watching your interrogation," he said without introduction, waving me toward him and pointing to a strange almond-shaped flatscreen on the wall.
I walked around the desk and stood beside him. My own face stared back at me, frozen, from behind my hands and the rod that held my handcuffs.
He settled back in his chair, still looking at the screen, and said, "Continue playback," and immediately my face on the screen came to life, and my fingers started their stiff movements.
"How old are you?" came Glin Tahmid's voice.
"Thirty," I saw myself answer, through my hands.
"Do you know today's date?"
"September eighteen, two thousand fifteen."
"So you turned thirty, five days ago. Happy birthday."
"I have no more questions for you at the moment," said Tahmid's voice, and two seconds later the back of his head blocked the view of my face and hands.
"Stop playback," the man beside me ordered. The almond-shaped screen went dark, and he turned to me. "Do you find me attractive?" he asked, staring me down.
I lowered my gaze, but had no idea what to answer. I didn't find him attractive. I found him creepy and scary and rude. "I'm not sure," I stammered. "I just met you."
"You're shy, perhaps." His voice was gentle.
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 felt 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, Terran, 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.
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.
Make Him Happy
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.
"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."
"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.
"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 said sincerely.
"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."
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 Gih-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. Gih-lek, I repeated mentally. Don't forget it: Gih-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 it was a spray paint can and I was a surface to be painted. 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.
He turned the thing on with his thumb, but 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 came 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 he 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 Gih-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 do you want?" 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 Gih-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 some kind of punch, and it tasted good.
"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. "And a docking station, but primarily a refinery, yes."
"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, and I didn't even know how to ask most of them.
"What else do you want 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 what's going on?" 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, "three 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 three 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."
Gih-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. "Do you ever go anywhere without a Cardassian guard?"
He nodded. "The Bajorans are used 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 that. 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 asked, 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.
"Just a regenerator," he replied. "Is it different from the ones you're familiar with?"
"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 did you grow up, 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."
"They don't have regenerators in New Hampshire?" he asked.
"As far as I know, they 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 get the picture," he said. "You come from 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 Gih-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. You don't 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 got up and went 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. 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 Gih-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 Gul'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 walked to the bed and climbed in, determined to succeed in the morning.