9, 10

Chapter 9

"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 mentally counted to ten, forced a smile and said, "I would like to have something to put on when i get out of here."

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

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

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

I undressed.

The doctor never took his eyes off me. When I was done he pointed to the exam table. "Sit," he ordered.

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 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, "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 suddenly 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 Gillek 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 sternly, 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 of 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.

Chapter 10

Before I was quite dressed, Dolim Shal showed up and 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 odd 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 language?" 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.

September 21, 2015
Dear Wendy and Grady,
I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to call you these last three days. I know you must be worried and probably mad at me, but I know when you read this you’ll understand and decide it was worth it.
I've been picked to do a secret, very important job for the government.
At the conference I met a man who called himself Derek, but I'm sure that's not his real name. He took me to a restaurant and told me I'd been chosen for a secret government job. I asked him who he worked for, whether it was the CIA or the FBI or the NSA or Homeland Security or what. But he said he doesn't work for any of those, because they all report to Congress or the President. He told me that his organization, his secret branch of the government, isn't under the President or Congress or the courts. It's a fourth branch that's independent and answers only to themselves, and it's their job to protect the United States, and even the whole world, against very serious, terrible threats that the President and the people in Congress don't even want to know about.
I begged him to tell me what kind of threats he was talking about, but he wouldn't. He said he had strict codes of conduct, and he cannot tell a recruit anything. He kept saying that the mission is very very important and "Your country needs you." So how could I refuse?
When I said yes he pulled out a pill and told me to take it, so I took it and fell asleep right away, And when I woke up I was in a strange place full of odd-looking people. They had put me in a car or an airplane or something, and taken me away to some other place while I was sleeping. So I don't know where I am because it's a secret.
Right now I'm waiting to hear what the mission is. I'm so excited!
Please make sure that Grammie remembers to feed the cats. She asked me if I needed her to do anything for them and I told her no because I thought I was going to be gone for just six days. But now it looks like I'm going to have to be away for longer, and I don't know how long exactly. So please tell Grammie that, yes, I do need her to feed the cats now. Feed them and give them water and, please tell her I'm sorry, but they'll need the litter boxes changed, too. I put out three litter boxes for them so they'd have enough litter for the week. Once a week should do it: I don't want her to drive all the way over there and back more often than she has to. Just be sure to fill the food dispenser all the way up, and replace the water in the cooking pot I put out for them beside the food dispenser. Their water dish is too small for all the water they'll need for a whole week, so I always use the cooking pot it if I have to leave them.
Oh, and if Grammie complains about the cats, please remind her that she has dogs, and if we had dogs she'd have to go to our house twice a day to let them out. Cats, at least, can use a litter box.
Please make sure you do your homework every day, and if you have any questions or there's anything you're not sure about, you can ask Grammie. And if you get stuck in Language Arts you can ask uncle Jeremy, or if you get stuck in math, Ed Leon is a good guy to ask. Don't let him fool you with that "I hate kids" stuff: it's all a joke and I'm sure he'd be flattered if you asked him to help. Grammie has Ed Leon's number, they've been friends since I was little and before your uncle Lew was even born.
Okay, i'm done harping. It's just that i love you guys and I want you to be safe.
Hugs and kisses. See you soon.
All my love,

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.

When I finished the letter to Wendy and Grady, I got up and checked the door. It was locked, of course. So I sat back down and started writing this journal, supposing, for some reason, that someone would come along and interrupt me before I'd managed to get very far. I've caught up now, all the way to the present, and I'm still alone. It's so quiet here it's creepy. There's a constant, very quiet thrumming that's probably the fan motors for the ventilation system, and an occasional creaking sound. I suppose that's the hull rubbing against the dock bumpers when the wind blows.

I have everything I need: toilet, shower, food from the replicator any time I want it, shelter. I have too much shelter. Still need to find a way to break out of here.

Which leads me to two questions: Where is here, 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. Some of my friends would say I've been abducted by aliens, and that one makes me laugh. I do believe that sometimes that may happen to people, but it's not what happened to me. Alien abductions always happen when you're sleeping, and I was awake and walking around. And there's the matter of the missing aliens, too. These Cardassians are certainly odd-looking, but they're clearly human.

The nearest I can figure is that the Cardassians are the result of some kind of genetic experiment. They're being held in some sort of secret facility, maybe in White Sands, New Mexico. 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. They need something to live for, after all.

That would answer a few questions (why they act so strange, why I'm not allowed to go home) but still leave a bunch of questions unanswered (where I am, how I got here and why, how I can get out). If this is a secret building in New Mexico and not a ship in some body of water, then I wonder what that creaking sound is. I'd say it doesn't matter, except it may be a clue that can help me escape.

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