At the time of the Great Fire, I was working as a low ranking doctor at the hospital in Torr. My troubled past, which had prevented me from obtaining any kind of prestigious medical position, would not impede a request to work at the impoverished, and desperately under-equipped, government hospital. It was nearly impossible to find enough doctors and nurses to fill the shifts.
It was an eye-opening change from my previous work, as a private doctor for the wealthy and powerful of The Union. The service class citizens were underserved in all aspects of life. My patients were malnourished and undereducated. They lived in overcrowded tenements and attended schools with hundreds of student for each teacher. The more time I spent with them, the less sure I was of the principles behind the rigid class separation that was enforced on Cardassia. They were, for the most part, dedicated and intelligent citizens, as loyal as any gul I had treated in my previous life. I slowly began to resent their treatment, as an easily replaceable workforce, not completely unlike the treatment of Bajoran workers; albeit neither the Bajorans, nor the service class Cardassians would appreciate the comparison.
I was not the most naturally gifted doctor, but I was curious and willing to try a variety of unorthodox treatments, something unusual on Cardassia; and that made me useful to the working class patients. It has proven even more useful now that our entire world is distinctly impoverished and under-equipped. In some ways, The Fire has not changed my own fate very much. I was becoming the very dissident they accused me of being when I was arrested. In time, my budding seditious leanings would have been discovered, and I would have been sent back to the labor camp or executed outright.
News of the war was on every public feed, but among the poor, the speeches and promises of those in power meant less, than the more immediate problems, of food and shelter. Some gossip, about a bomb in Lakarian City, pulled the doctors and nurses momentarily away from their work, but we were caught completely off guard when the first bomb struck the capital.
I remember a distant explosion, strong enough to make the instruments on my examination table shake slightly. Then another, closer this time. I went into the hallway, to investigate the disturbance, leaving my young patient and her worried parents in my office. There was a bright light, and a noise unlike anything I had experienced. Everything was happening so fast, and yet I felt myself running as if in slow motion. There was a deep rumble in my chest, and then everything went dark.
I awoke under a collapsed inner wall. I was lucky, the wall had fallen and protected me from the majority of the debris and fire. There was just a small pocket of space, not enough for me move, but enough to keep me from being crushed under the fallen building. I could hear the building around me creak and threaten to collapse further. I could also hear the screams and cries of those who were injured and trapped. After several hours, the cries grew weak, and many stopped altogether. When I finally heard the sound of brick and metal being slowly pulled away, I had been in my little tomb for a little over 20 hours.
At first, I walked the streets in shock. The dead and dying littered the streets, while survivors, their faces covered in ash and blood, stumbled over them. There were fires everywhere, spreading from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood. In those first few days, there was only chaos and death. We were reduced to our most basic instincts, mindless animals, our eyes red from smoke and our minds so overwhelmed we could not understand what was happening around us. I had burns and some deep bleeding cuts, that eventually faded into scars, and are now undistinguishable from the rest.
Then little by little we came back to ourselves. Still in shock, yes, but more Cardassian sentiments began filtering into our actions. It was a brittle pretense. A thin veneer of civilization over a depth of trauma we could not process. Work crews developed organically, organized by desperate family members, searching for their loved ones, and neighbors trying to put out the long burning fires to spare the few surviving buildings. Their hierarchies shifted like sand, as volunteers came and went. Even in their confusion, people started to look to these groups for a tiny shred of the order, they were so desperately seeking. From these humble beginnings, a new Cardassia is sprouting. We are not the same lofty Union that collapsed under the Dominion. We are a new people, growing out of the carrion of our once powerful world.
A year later there are food stands and gelat shops, apprehensively creeping into remaining storefronts. Work crews are now organized by a fledgling government bureau. Many of the very wealthy, and very powerful, fled Cardassia when the war began, and more left in the days after the fire. Government positions were filled by lower ranking survivors, who were thrust into their promotions by virtue of being alive and here. It makes for a strange bureaucracy. The inexperienced authorities will streamline procedures in some areas, and demand complex protocols in others, with no consistency. It is frustrating, but these are the growing pains of a new civilization.
Today I will meet the Federation aid ship after, our work crew is finished, to assist in the distribution for our sector. There are weekly distribution meetings in each sector that bring nearly everyone into the street. The head of each household queues patiently, while children play in the dusty field, and other family members gossip and wait. The first few weeks the aid distribution was nearly silent. Pale faced adults carrying dirty children huddled together, with only an occasional weakly crying infant, to break the solemn quiet. Now, nearly a year on, the sound of children playing fills the field, and mingles with the soft chatter of adults. Distribution day has become a sort of holiday, work crews cease, and people from all walks of life, come to visit their neighbors, and share news with each other.
First we must finish clearing a burnt out neighborhood, in order to create a space for a promised new medical center. The Federation has been negotiating for this hospital for months now. I am growing impatient. So many people are dying from easily curable diseases and injuries, while bureaucrats squabble.
We have found an intact sub-level, under a completely burned building, and it is possible items kept there may have survived; so we carefully clear away the stone and metal near the foundation, piece by piece, until we have opened a small passage. I believe it was once a small school or nursery. We have six men on the crew including myself. Three of them are young men, barely university age, one is older, a retired engineer, and one is Elim Garak.
The first time I saw him, standing in front of me, assigned to my work crew, I was visibly startled. His cold blue eyes were unmistakable. Had the Obsidian Order somehow survived? Was I about to be dragged off to an interrogation room, in some underground headquarters, for sedition and subversion? The incongruity of seeing a brazen symbol of the old ways, here in the midst of the struggling new Cardassia was jarring. He appeared equally surprised to see me. His blue eyes were wide and his jaw trembled, just slightly. For all of the accusations of emotional idealism against me, I can be quite pragmatic. We needed all the able bodied workers we could get, so I added his name to my list without comment, and sent him to the rest of my crew. He has proven himself a dedicated and tireless worker. I now see that he is a true believer in the propaganda he championed. He believes in complete subjugation to The Union, and in that he does not spare even himself.
Garak is troubled by enclosed spaces. I have seen him turn pale and tremble, even in the safety of his own, small, dark shed. He has been that way, since he was a young operative, working under Tain. Agitated in small rooms, Garak would struggle to appear calm, but as a doctor I could see the signs.
It has only gotten worse. When his claustrophobia becomes acute, he claws at his chest and neck. I saw it firsthand when he became trapped in a collapsed house, just a few das after he first joined my work crew. He was there for less than an hour, but he had torn away some of the scales below his ear. I could see the blood under his nails as we pulled him to safety. His eyes were wild and unseeing. I took him back to the shed he is living in, and sat with him that night.
I am not angry with my interrogator. Not exactly. I don’t want him to suffer, at least, so I send the rest of the crew into the dark passage, and leave Garak to sort the items we salvage into distribution boxes. When he hauls up the last load with our makeshift pulley system, I see he is holding a small pair of children’s shoes. They are worn, but still serviceable. He cradles them to his chest and mumbles. As I approach, I realize it is the death chant. He is softly mourning the, almost certainly, dead child, who last wore those tiny blue leather shoes.
When the sun begins to set, I gather the workers and we carry our meager findings back to the storage room, to wait for tomorrow’s distribution. I will open the small house, that has become an impromptu clinic, while we wait for the new hospital in Paldar, for a few hours tomorrow. I have no lack of patients, however, I have nothing to offer them. I have been out of antibiotics for weeks. I have no medication, no bandages or even extra nutritional packs. For the desperate mothers, carrying children, dying of infection and starvation, I can only offer a little clean water and a place to rest.
I walk Garak back to the shed behind Tain’s house. He holds my arm, and I lean into him as we make the hour long journey to Paldar District. During my years in the labor camp, my knee was shattered, and it healed very badly. I can walk on it, but it becomes stiff and painful after only a short time. We walk along in silence, both of us caught up in our own sorrows.
The first time I came to this little shed, was when I accompanied Garak after his bout of claustrophobia. I was timid with him. I feared him, and I feared my reactions when I was near him. I had worked so hard to regain control of my fate when I was released from the prison camp, but with Garak I once again became the trembling prisoner. I also knew he had no one else, so I stayed. He slept fitfully; he called out to Tain then cried out some alien names, I did not recognize. I tried to soothe him, the best I could. With his terrible blue eyes closed, I dared to stroke his forehead and hair. That seemed to calm him a bit and he slept better, mumbling to his “dear Jhu-lis-en“.
Now, nearly a year later, I still fear him. We walk together into the darkness of his shed and he grips my arm a little tighter. He lights a candle and pulls two nutrition packs from the small cupboard. His scarce few belongings are safe here. Even in desperation, very few people would tread onto Tain’s property. I sit on his bed and watch him prepare our dinner. He has an austere grace. Each movement has a purpose. When he brings me my bowl, he keeps his eyes down, at his feet. It would be a deeply symbolic gesture of humility, and deference, coming form anyone else. I know he does it for me, only because I can not bear it when he looks at me.
“I have a meeting withe Alon Ghemor tomorrow” I say casually, between bites. “Ahh, how is his project coming along?” He asks, leaning forward, and momentarily our eyes meet. The scales on my neck pull together and I feel the blood leaving my face. “Our movement is gaining momentum, each day more people join our cause.” I have to force myself to continue chatting amicably with him. I want to run and hide away. I remember the interrogation room. I remember the smell of blood and disinfectant. The chair was worn, rubbed smooth by the countless men and women that sat there before me. I was careful, I never acted on my more illicit political leanings. He knew what I was, just from looking at me. Garak looked at, me as though he could see into my soul.
In some ways I am relieved we never touched, even by accident, until the day I took him home from the work crew. His touch is safe. We hold our palm together in greeting and walk arm in arm. I have helped him bathe and stroked his hair while he slept. From the outside we are cherished friends, turning to each other for comfort in all of this horror. But the horror is as much between us as it is outside.
I reworked most of the first few chapters, to avoid jumping around quite as much. I hope it is an improvement. It is about 50% new material, so it is worth rereading if you want to read the new chapters.
When my death sentence was commuted, to three years in a labor camp, I was brought back before the Chief Archon, to publicly thank him, for his mercy. Anything over six months at a labor camp meant certain death. Three years was overkill. Executions on Cardassia are a public affair, they are often broadcast over the feeds, but imprisonment was documented and filed away, without any fanfare. I was being quietly disposed of. It wouldn't do to bring too much attention to Enabran Tain’s, disgraced, personal physician. For the first time, since my arrest, anger won out over fear. I refused to recite the script my conservator had prepared. I demanded a retrial. It was a spectacle. It would have brought a great deal of danger to my family, if I still had one.
I was born in the Norther Continent, the only child of a local doctor, Gire Parmak, and her husband, Kott Parmak, who ran a small shop. I would have been their fourth child, if the others had not died in infancy, one after another. By the time I was born, they were entering old age, a time more suited to grandchildren than children, and were doting and permissive with their unexpected heir. Kott was kind and simple. He had pride in his shop and the place he served in our community. My mother, on the other hand was passionate and brilliant. Even at their age, they would sit together in the evenings and argue as fiercely as a newly enjoined couple. My father once complained it was difficult to keep up his side of the debate, as she was always correct, so she would occasionally misquote a philosopher to him, with a devilish twinkle in her eye.
While other youths my age were aggressively molded by their parents into model citizens, Gire and Kott encouraged and delighted in my ever changing interests. When, as a young boy, I announced my intention to be an artist, they brought me to museums, and ordered paints and clay for me. Only a few years later I swore I would open a restaurant, and after hours and hours spent perfecting, ill-conceived dishes, in our kitchen, I proclaimed chemistry was my only true passion. They did not quiet my questions, or push me to be reasonable. As a teenager when I suddenly developed a passion for medicine they simply helped me to apply to medical school. Kott never once attempted to direct me into a more appropriately masculine occupation, and Gire never subtly brought local girls around to fish for a marriage.
If their unconditional love and support left me unable to play the subtle political games of Cardassia, it also made me willing to stand up for my own thoughts and ideas, more than the average Cardassian. It was a relief that they died just before I finished medical school. They were long gone before my great fall. They did not have to suffer at my arrest and conviction. I admit I miss them terribly. Even so many years later I am occasionally struck with a deep desire to talk to my mother again. If only to hear my name in her voice.
As I approach my clinic, I can see a line has already formed. I try to avoid looking out over the small crowd and focus on the first man in line. His back is hunched and he is holding his arm awkwardly to his chest. I beckon him to enter with me, and set to work finding which of his obvious illnesses and injuries he has come for. I can see he has scale rot around his neck and ears, he is malnourished, and a severe vitamin deficiency has made his ridges brittle and colorless.
His most pressing matter, is a broken wrist. He fell into a crater while clearing a field for planting. I have nothing for the pain, nor do I have a bone knitter. I set the bone the old fashioned way, pulling it into place manually. I give him a scrap of fabric to bite, to protect his teeth, and manipulate the bones until they line up. He is lucky, it is only a single fracture, and has a good chance of healing. I wrap the wrist in scraps of cloth, ripped into strips, and insert a length of thin stiff board, to keep it immobile. When I am finished, he offers a small pot of soil with a single stem, just beginning to sprout, as payment. I take the little pot and thank him. As he leaves, I call for the next patient.
The day goes on this way, countless infected wounds, and broken bones, along with the ever present vitamin deficiencies and malnourishment. As the months go on, scavenged food is becoming harder to find, people are taking greater risks. I have been seeing an increase in dangerous intestinal ailments, from eating indigestible substances. Children are especially prone to fill their hunger with ash and refuse.
Alon Ghemor is holding court in the corner of the aid distribution center. There are several men and women standing around him, and others sit on boxes and crates, listening to him speak. I stand near the back for awhile and listen. I am still filled with a flutter of anxiety at the open display of political opposition. This is the hallmark of the new, infant Cardassia; openness to new ideas. We can, and will learn from our mistakes. He raises his voice and denounces the moral failings of Cardassia’s ruling class. “Their leadership, by fear and paranoia, has ended!” He proclaims with is hand in the air, made into a fist, to show strength.” The people around him cheer, and this draws an even larger crowd.
When the speech is finished, he passes out flyers, printed on thin plastic sheets. I collect extras to leave in the clinic, and to pass out in the district. He invites several of us to dinner, to discuss his next speech for the Reunion Project. He is staying in his family home, most of the large house is still standing, and there are no other surviving family members, remaining here, to claim it.
I walk alongside him, then fall behind when my knee begins to stiffen. The walk is pleasant, and the company of other like-minded individuals is energizing. I feel, for perhaps the first time since the fire, a part of something bigger than myself. It is a seductive feeling. I have been apart from my fellow Cardassians for most of my life. The sole male my class at medical school, the Cardassian in a majority Bajoran work camp, a northerner in the capital. It would seem I seek to to be an outsider, if I did not wish to fit in so deeply.
Ghemor’s house is large, with sweeping grounds, hidden behind a tall iron fence. There had been tall bushes along the fence, for privacy, but they are long dead, as are the gardens. It is still an impressive reminder of the old Cardassia. We enter the front door and there are two young people there, to take our coats. We are not introduced to them, and they only nod and look to the floor when we pass.
The inside of the house is warm and inviting. The walls of the dining room had been painted a deep rusty orange. There are still paintings on the wall, depicting stern faced Cardassians in formal poses. Their shining black hair and thick-ridged necks, denote a certain class of breeding. The last one is smaller, set in a dark corner of the large room. It depicts a girl of about twenty, showing a sweetly untroubled smile. She has large dark eyes and a very open expression. There is a name plaque in brass, set below the image, but it is too far away for me to read.
We sit in the dim, comfortable light, and continue our discussion over a plates of alien foods, that seemed to appear from nowhere. There are dry, brittle, starchy squares, spread with a pale soft paste and some sort of red preserved fruit. Taken altogether it is not unpleasant. It is very foreign, with a subtle bitterness and tang balanced by the sweetness of the fruit and tart bite of the white spread.
Alon is in high spirits. He calls for a bottle of kanar, and it is produced, as if by magic, by one of the quiet youths lingering in the doorway. We toast Cardassia. It is the traditional toast, but it has transformed into a revolutionary cry among us. “For Cardassia! For our sons and their sons!”
I am slightly rapturous, from the kanar and the company, when the main course comes out. It is a light pink colored fish, sprinkled with tiny green berries. It is exquisite. The sauce, drizzled over the top, is citrusy and rich, and the little green berries are salty and acidic. The fish itself is mildly flavored, but the texture is tender. It requires all of my self-discipline to eat it slowly, and follow the meandering conversation. Each small bite melts in my mouth. The berries are deeply salty, and “pop” when crushed. They momentarily change the taste, before the citrusy rich sauce takes over.
By the time we have finished, and our plates have been whisked away, by small quiet hands, we are all quite flushed and boisterous. Arguments erupt, and bubble into laughter. We use first names, and pat each other solidly on the back. It reminds me of drunken university gatherings, when the future seemed so full of potential, and we would all be loyal to each other to the end of time. It is peculiar that I am allowed among the wealthy and powerful of Cardassia only now, at the end of things. There is more luxury here than anything I experienced before the fire.
Alon is discussing the possibility of local elections and likely candidates from each sector. We are rating them based on how likely it is he could win against them. Elections are a very new idea here, and I am dizzy with the notion that a government would be beholden to the citizens. It is the antithesis of what The Union stood for, for so long. I make a few small suggestions, trying out my voice among such powerful men and women, but I spend most of the evening just listening.
I am not wholly convinced Ghemor’s plan is workable. He believes the right leader will bring Cardassia back from our downfall. I maintain a government that limits the power of any one person or group is the only way to move forward. We, as a people, fall in line so easily when faced with a powerful leader. Without careful constraints and oversights, we could be back to war in a generation.
When we finally begin to trickle out the door, into the night, I am stumbling slightly. My knee trembles and threatens to collapse at each step. I find a piece of broken fence, and use it as a cane. The warmth of the evening, fullness of my stomach, and volume of kanar has pulled me into a whimsical and idealistic mood. I sing to myself as I walk. As I am not prone to singing, and do not know the words to any songs, I make them up as I go. My rhythm is usually terrible and worse now, in my drunken stumbling but I let the thin melody build as I walk. It feels good to let these soft trilling notes echo between the remaining buildings.
I do not even realize I am walking to Garak’s house, until I see the spiraling monuments ahead of me. He somehow always seems to know when I am there; the singing may have given me away this time. He come out from his shack, and walks across the field toward me. “Kelas, my dear, I was not sure if you were coming tonight.” He takes my arm, and in the guise of friendship, helps me walk the rest of the way across the field. I hand him the flyers I took and let him support some of my weight. “I saved a bowl of stew for you.” he offers as we enter. There is a bowl of thin watery brown liquid with a few floating vegetables and unidentifiable brown shreds.
“I dined with Ghemor, at the meeting” why do I feel guilty? He sits on the bed beside me. “I believe you had a little kanar with that meal. Maybe I should start attending these meetings.” He is smiling. “How about some tea, then?” He asks. Tea drinking has always been a cultural staple on Cardassia. Now that many other refreshments are unavailable, and water is best boiled anyway, it has become a permissible luxury; a ceremony that offers him something to focus on while he talks with me, and gives me something to do with my fidgeting hands.
I would very much like to have tea with Garak, and sit together talking about today’s speech and dinner with Alon. I am having trouble making sense of the day. “How was distribution day?” I ask as he prepares some watery tea. “There is never enough” is his weary answer. Then he gives me a mischievous smile and pulls a box from beside the bed.
There are markings on it that I recognize as Federation. “What is it?” I ask. He simply glances at me and nods to the box. I pull the seal from the lid and lift it off carefully. Ohh it is medical equipment! There is a small regenerator used to repair scales and dermal tissue, several boxes of antibiotics and antivirals, and vitamins! “Garak! How did you get this?” This small box will make a world of difference to the people in our district. “Knowing how to read federation standard served me well while sorting the aid today. I thought you could make good use of it.” In my drunken excitement I take his hands and look into his face. He is looking at me. Instead of the icy cold stare I remember, his eyes are soft and affectionate. I can’t remember why I hid from their glow.
The first thing I am aware of, is an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Bile gurgles in my stomach, and threatens to escape. If I move I am going to vomit. I am sure of it, and for a few moments, it is the only thing I am completely sure of. I try to sit up and the world spins dangerously. I lay back down, and try to work out what has happened. My head pounds; I am weak and dizzy.
I hear the sound of someone’s steady muffled breathing, and open my eyes. Oh have mercy! Why is it so bright? I am in Garak’s shed, lying in his bed. He is sleeping on the floor wrapped in a thin blanket. The early morning sun is shining through the open door, and casting a brilliant light across floor. I am tremendously hung over. I am a little ashamed at the childishness of waking up in a strange bed after a night of drinking, but that feeling is overshadowed by misery and nausea.
I sit up again, more carefully this time, and notice a water ration, left beside my pillow. I open it quietly and drink it down in one go. It clears out the taste in my mouth, and helps with the vertigo. I need to relieve myself, Garak has a latrine behind the shed, but there is nearly no route I can take to the door, that won’t wake him. I scoot to the end of the bed and step over his feet as softly as I can. I am not as graceful as I once was, but I successfully make it to the door and walk around back, to the little room made of scrap that houses his primitive facilities.
The makeshift walls and door of the latrine are made of rubble held together with wire. It does not offer much privacy. I take the extra precaution of holding my tunic up in front of the door, although I am sure there is no one here to look.
I am not naturally particularly modest, in fact I can be quite shameless if I m not careful. In my university days, I was known to let the neck of my tunic slide down a bit too far, letting the tip of my chula peak out. I was tall and lean, with a warm northern complexion and well defined ridges, I very much enjoyed the attention I received. When my shiny black hair began turning white prematurely, I coated it with black colored hair oil to hide and tame the fluffy pale strands.
By the time I was released from the labor camp, it was completely white, but I was not worried about my hair anymore. By then it was the scars I was trying to hide. The guards were amused by my presence in the camp. Cardassian prisoners were usually kept on Prime, or at least near to it. That place was far, far, from home. The workers were mostly Bajoran, with a few Klingons and Orions here and there. The guards did not punish me directly, but took a perverse delight in housing me with the worst of the prisoners.
It is difficult to remember that time. Sometimes it seems my brain has deleted the memories and replaced them with a short summery of events. There is a deep scar on my left arm that reaches to the bone. I know I got it in a fight with a Bajoran worker. I know he had a knife, and I was left to bleed on the ground until the guards came for their hourly patrol. I just cant quite grasp the memory, it disintegrates when I look too closely. Each scar has a story. There are hundreds of them. An entire book of suffering carved into my skin.
No one will ever see these, especially not Garak. As soon as they are seen, they will become the thing that defines me. I don’t want to become “Kelas with the scars”. I have seen it over and over in the clinic. So many of us have scars now. Not from years in a violent prison, but from the bombing and the fire. They are whispered about and pitied as they walk by. Over the years I have become adept at hiding them. My tunics all have high necks, and I wear a close fitting undershirt that covers my wrists.
I finish my business in the latrine, and quickly adjust my clothing to ensure I am properly covered. When I return to the shed, Garak is tidying up the bed. His smile is warm and he is as deferential as ever. “Good morning, Kelas”, he says holding his palms out to me. We hold the position just a bit too long. Cardassians crave touch in a way few other species do. It is necessary for our survival. We dose it out carefully to each other in prescribed amounts. Family will hold the press for several seconds, and lovers even longer. Friends are allowed the length of a single heart beat.
I suddenly remember the box of medical equipment, Garak produced last night. I look around and find it on the workspace in his tiny “kitchen”. I pick it up and open the lid again, just to make sure it was real. I begin mentally tallying how long these will last; a month or more, if I am careful. “How did you get these?” I ask again. “They were sent by mistake, I believe they were meant for the main hospital. When I saw them in with the household goods, I put them aside for you.” I am pleased with the equipment, but worried at how easy it is for those in charge to organize things for their own benefit. I remember Ghemor’s feast of alien foods.
Garak and I walk together to join the work crew. We stop at the clinic along the way, to lock up my, only slightly illicit, new equipment. Our work today consists of clearing away rubble and filling in craters for most of the morning. Under some fallen metal sheets I find the bodies of a woman and infant. They are mostly skeletal and the clothing clinging to them is unburned. They probably died early, maybe in the fist bombs to fall. We find less and less bodies, but it still happens.
Garak helps me collect the bones and lay them on a tarp, to bring to the cremation committee. He is solemn; he touches the tiny skull with reverence. I wonder how he feels about those he killed. Does he think of them with he same devastated melancholy? Did he whisper the death chant for those who died in his sterile interrogation room? I pull him away, to continue with our work.
When we have finished with the field, a federation representative comes out to inspect the area. Garak steps forward to talk with her. I know he lived among them for many years, on Terok Nor, but listening to him speak the language is strange. The quick terse syllables sound wet and garbled, impossible sounds. The Terran makes a bobbing gesture with her head and reaches her hand out. Garak grasps it into his and they bounce them up and down twice. Seemingly satisfied with the work she turns and walks back to the skimmer waiting at the edge of the field.
“They are going to put a prefabricated building here until the hospital is built. There will be labs there as well,” he says as he points out the imaginary buildings. “It seems they have put together a team to work on the problems of clean water and contaminated soil.” I admit I feel a bit in awe of the man, who can so proficiently organize much needed aid. Not for the first time, the thought crosses my mind, his talents are wasted clearing fields and searching for survivors and bodies in the demolished city.
A strong wind has come from the north and is bringing more dust and ash into the city. The sun, which had been so inconveniently strong this morning, is once again shrouded in red. The storm has been building slowly all afternoon, but its strength suddenly tripled. It fills the sky in swirling red funnels. Rain would be very welcome, but storms these days are only dust and wind.
With the work finished for the day, I head to my little clinic. Garak accompanies me, chatting about possible additions he can suggest for the new hospital. Before we arrive, the storm grows stronger, and we are forced to run together with dust stinging our eyes and beating against our scales, like the stings of thousands of insects. We will have to wait out the storm at the clinic.
I have always had an affinity for storms. The Northern Continent gets the occasional thunderstorm, with bolts of sharp, bright lightening over the mountains. There is a particular kind of thrill at being in the presence nature’s power. My windows have no glass, so I have the shutters closed tightly and we can not see outside. I sit for awhile and listen to the wind.
Garak is pacing like a trapped animal. Each time the wind howls he glances at the locked door. I take a few water rations and head to the back room, where I keep my little bed and a small stove. I need to distract him. Garak follows me after a moment. “Would you like some tea?” I offer. “I don’t have the lovely redleaf that he manages to serve me in the mornings, but I received some Trill tea in the last Federation aid package. It is very tolerable, lightly herbal with a tart aftertaste. I don’t know the name of it, so I hold it up for him to see.
I make us both tea, and we sit together, on the crates I use as chairs. He is doing his best to keep his eyes lowered, but the sound of the storm is agitating him. I pull my crate closer, so that our knees are touching, and stroke my hand across his leg, in a manner I hope he finds reassuring and unobtrusive.
The first time I saw him, he was a young man. I had just received my appointment as Enabran Tain’s physician, and was completing my initial exam. I was given permission to tour the house, while waiting for some test results. Garak was in Tain’s grand library, casually leaning against the decorative windowsill, reading one of the ancient paper books. I had never seen anyone so comfortable in Tain’s presence.
The clothing he was wearing was light and casual, appropriate for the hot summer months, but out of place in Tain’s home. He was well formed, maybe a few inches shorter than ideal. He had a broad, expressive face and delicate ridges. He was the sort of person that was easy to overlook. I would have thought he was a worker in the house, if it wasn’t for the casual authority he displayed.
At that moment he looked up from his book. His eyes were the most brilliant blue I had ever seen. I was startled by their intensity. His stare lingered just a moment on the ridges peaking out from the neckline of my doctor’s uniform. He was interested, just a flash of something, immediately schooled away under a placid bland smile. I introduced myself, and he in turn, tilted his head, and proclaimed himself to be a visiting government worker, a friend of the family. Just then Tain walked in behind us. “Kelas,” he called out in his artificial jubilant manner, “I see you have met Elim Garak, he is one of my best operatives.” The man could not help but preen slightly under the praise, while smirking at being caught in a lie.
I am often foolish, but not so foolish that I would pursue an Obsidian Order operative. Especially not one I met in the house of Tain. We spoke only a few times. He offered me a book once, a restored version of The Never Ending Sacrifice. I was surprised that anything could be more dreary than the edited version I had read in school. When I told him as much, Garak had laughed, a deep joyous sort of sound.
A month after that meeting, he was sent away for a mission, and I did not see him again, until I was dragged into the interrogation chamber. I thought of him often, though. There was a worker in the red light district that resembled him slightly. He was a little taller, and prettier, but he had similar blue eyes, if somewhat less vivid. Blue eyes are not unheard of among Cardassians, but they are rare. Thousands of years ago they were viewed superstitiously, and those who had them were seen as a kind of bad omen. There is a little of that sentiment left over.
Drunk on spring wine and feeling adventurous, I paid the man nearly two weeks wages to follow me to my flat. I had him read out loud from The Never Ending Sacrifice, while I fucked him against the wall of my bedroom. He held the padd over my shoulder and whispered the story into my ear, as if it was the quiet devotions of a lover. The situation was so ridiculous we both fell into a fit of giggles, and stumbled into my bed together.
He let me use my hands to stroke his ajan. It was unusual in this type of encounter for anything so intimate between partners. He began to tremble, and everted with a gasp. I felt him bite into the ridge at my shoulder, while I stroked our prUts together. They slid against each other in my hand, until I felt the familiar warm tightness building. I came first and continued stroking him for another few minutes, he became ridged and finished into my fist with a soft moan.
“I’m not giving your money back, just because of this” he joked, gesturing to his spent prUt. “You saw right through my plan.” I said as I collected his clothing and helped him fasten his rather extravagant top. I saw him whenever I could, after that. He only charged me a few lek after the first week, and I always paid what he asked. He didn’t have the submissive attitude, his social standing would have required, but he was usually obliging if I had a request. He let me call him Elim, I didn't actually know his real name.
He was crass and uneducated, but also clever and funny. For a year he was the highlight of my week. I began making us dinner, when he came over, and we would eat together, laughing and naked on my floor. He would read to me from whatever novels and histories I had on hand. Once he read one of my medical textbooks, a chapter describing and naming each ridge and chu’en, while I bit and pinched my way through the lesson. By the end he was panting and flushed.
I suppose, he thought I had lost interest in him when I stopped coming to his brothel, after my arrest. I doubt if he survived the fire. I returned to the area he worked in, but the building had been completely destroyed. I never even found out his name, so I have no way to look for him.
“What has you so lost in thought, my dear” Garak interrupts my reminiscing. For a hysterical moment, I think of telling him about the other Elim. “I was remembering when we were first introduced” I say instead. His smile becomes just a little tight. “In the library, if I remember correctly.” He offers. He does not like to talk about those times. There is a fear in his eyes, beyond the usual sadness, before he carefully looks away.
I wonder what he thinks of his past. At times I can see remorse. He seems to seek out punishment, but who is left to judge him? I do not want to be cast in that role. He was built by the same machine that brought us to ruin. He was created by The Union to be the interrogator, as I was created to be the prisoner. “I was struck by how blue your eyes were.” I say to him. He holds his breath for a moment, as if building his nerve. “I couldn’t save you. I know it does not change anything, but there was nothing I could have done.” His voice has none of its usual layered sarcasm. “I know” is my only response. He wants forgiveness, and I can’t forgive him. I can understand him, and I can be his friend, but I can’t offer him absolution.
The storm continues all through the evening. The howling wind, blowing sand and debris against the inadequate shelter of my clinic, gives me the sort of primal fear my ancestors must have felt, hiding in their burrows. But within that fear there is also wonder and respect. Cardassia Prime is strong, the planet will survive, and hopefully her people will survive as well.
Much of our continued existence is going to depend on our willingness to change. It is in our nature to compete instead of cooperate. Even after a year of Federation aid, we can not set aside our distrust and work together with them. For all of the talk in the streets of The Federation holding back, and stalling important infrastructure projects, I have to wonder what we would do if the situation was reversed. One look at the occupation of Bajor, is all you need to answer that question.
“Garak, do you think the hospital will be built soon?” I ask. He seems to know more about The Federation than anyone. “It is a Vulcan backed project” he says thoughtfully. “They are known for taking their time in the planning stages, however they are very efficient. I would expect the project to be completed on time.” He eyes me discretely, then lowers them agin to the little potted plant he is tending. “Would you like to meet with the Vulcan team assigned to building the temporary facility? I was told they would like to consult with some of the doctors that will be using the space.” “Oh that would be superb! Do you think they would listen to any of my suggestions?” “I believe they would be open to your ideas, Kelas.” He was smiling now, any awkwardness from our previous conversation was pushed into the background.
I had spend many hours talking to him about the troubles of modern Cardassian hospitals. Patients were divided by class, instead of type of care needed, so that the injured service class were housed next to those with communicable illnesses and bacterial infections. Many people left the hospital with infections they did not have when they went in. I am also pushing for facilities that will allow families to be housed together, when possible. The support of loved ones can offer huge benefits to long term patients, especially children. I am excited and nervous to meet with people that have the power to enact these sorts of changes.
I sit on my crate, listening to the wind, and dreaming of a new hospital, until my limbs have grown heavy and my thinking is fuzzy. I decide to give in to the inevitable, and prepare a bed for myself on the floor. Garak can take my little cot, he had been so kind to let me use his bed when I was too drunk to make my way home, it is only right for me to return the favor. He offers the correct amount of resistance when I suggest it, and insists the floor is more than adequate for his needs. In the end he gives in, and I can see he is relieved to be on my surprisingly warm comfortable cot.
I pile some old clothes and sheets on the floor to make a little pallet, and lay down with a soft grunt when my knee is too stiff to bend gracefully. I lay awake for awhile, listening to the even sounds of Garak’s quiet breaths. He is not sleeping, we both lie awake listening to each other’s silence. I feel a tension between us. It makes him uncomfortable to talk about the past. He probably would have fled if the storm was not so strong. I want to say something to him, but I’m unsure exactly what to say. I feel a need to lessen the distance between us, however, I am not even sure what I want from him. I encourage intimacy that is beyond the wavering friendship we share, yet I don’t know if I would welcome anything more from him. Eventually, the storm lulls me to sleep.
At some point in the night I am awoken by the sound of Garak thrashing about in his bed and calling out. He is whimpering and fighting an unseen nightmare. I sit up and try to wake him gently by stroking his arm. “Garak, it’s ok, you are safe.” “Jhu-lis-en?” He whispers to me, in his confusion. “It’s me, Kelas, you were dreaming.” He holds the blanket to his face, and lets out a heartbreaking sob. I am moved by his unguarded anguish. I carefully sit on the bed next to him, and pull him into an embrace. He doesn’t resist, and instead pushes his face into my shoulder, and lets me hold him, while he slowly calms himself.
After a few minutes, he pulls away and straightens his clothing. “I’m sorry for waking you.” “It is perfectly alright, Elim” I say, trying out his name. He has never been Elim to me, and it feels strange. He is still shaking slightly. I am not sure if it is from his dreams, or the cold air the storm has brought, probably both. I lay down on the cot with my back to the wall, and pull him down in front of me. Then I arrange the blanket over us, and put my arms around his waist. He does not resist, but he is tense. “Sleep” is all I say, and little by little, he relaxes into me.
I awake in the early morning, to the warmth of his body against me. He has lost too much weight, but he is still delightfully solid in my arms. I feel his heart beating faintly under my hand. His hair is full of dust from the storm, but there is also an underlying masculine smell. I open my mouth to let the scent fill the sensitive tissue above my tongue. He wakes up then, but makes no move to free himself from me, so we lay together in the dark room, until I finally get up to use the facilities.
Being a clinic, I have something nicer than Garak’s outdoor latrine. With no running water, I have added a chemical toilet that must be emptied occasionally, still, it is sanitary and indoors. When I am finished I heat some water, and look for our breakfast in my cupboard. There is powdered broth, some sort of packaged preserved sweet bread from the Federation, and a few pieces of fruit, given to me as payment from patients. I add water to the broth and bring everything over to the small table beside my bed.
Garak sips the broth and judges it to be acceptable, then opens the packaged bread. He calls it something in Federation Standard. The words sound like an infants first babbles, “babananabad”. He explains it is a bread made of a long yellow fruit and nuts that is popular enough to be in Tarok Nor’s replicators. It is sweet and has a lovely texture. I nibble slowly at the generous sized piece, while sipping the salty broth.
“Garak, who is Jhu-lis-en?” I ask him innocently. He does not offer personal information easily, but I have found he is somewhat more forthcoming when asked directly. He looks startled. “You have called his name in your sleep several times.” I explain. I am curious who this person is that fills his dreams.
The name is clearly alien, probably from his years as an exile, but who could say for sure with Garak’s complicated history. “He is a doctor” is the only answer he offers. His face is a mask of indifference. “A doctor you cry out for, to soothe you after a nightmare?” I ask him, but I already understand. I feel jealously welling up inside and I am ashamed at such a misplaced emotion. Even if we are slowly stumbling into something more than friendship, this is someone from his past. “We were...courting. I left him, to return home after the fire.” His face is filled with grief.
I remember the way he sobbed into his pillow. The irrational jealousy, I have been keeping at bay, overwhelms me for a moment. I stand up from my chair and he puts his hand out to stop me. “Kelas” he pleads, I am out the door before he has a chance to say anything more.
The storm left the city under a coating of red dust that is oddly beautiful. It sticks to the buildings and is several centimeters deep on the ground. The streets are empty; It is still very early, the sun is only just beginning to brighten the horizon. Each step leaves a perfect imprint behind. I am not sure where I am going, but it has long been my habit to walk, when I need to think. My chest is tight with the feeling of betrayal. A confusing, inky black emotion fills me.
I walk to the edge of town, along the emergency tents, and makeshift shelters, that have sprung up in the border between the city and the desert. This little village houses the most vulnerable of our people, orphans, the disabled, and the poorest families. The storm damaged many of the flimsy huts, and most of the tents are little more than canvas and plastic shapes in the red sand. In the distance I can see several larger tents with lights strung around the open doors. They are leftover military campaign tents, and are much stronger than the lengths of canvas over metal posts, most families here are using for shelter. Two tired-looking men are retying the supports, and cleaning dust from the festive lights.
As I approach the door, I can see several workers inside drinking some kind of strong smelling drink out of metal cups. I walk in and sit on one of the low plastic stools, hoping I haven't misunderstood the purpose for this place. A man in an apron eyes me suspiciously, then approaches the the table with a cup. “One lek” he says, nodding at the drink. I pull out the change I have in my pocket, he counts it carefully, then walks away. The liquid is thin and brown, it smells fermented and sour. I take a sip and nearly spit it out. It is some kind of homemade alcohol. I wonder if it is safe to drink. As I force myself to swallow, I see the other patrons are smirking at me. I take another generous gulp, and their smirks turn mostly to amused smiles.
When my eyes adjust to the low light, I notice there are quite a few people in this unofficial drinking establishment. There are eight crew workers sitting near the front in their dust covered uniforms, each one nursing a matching dented metal cup. Further back there are a few men and women in revealing outfits, listlessly chatting together over several small gambling tables. Their single remaining patron has fallen asleep, or passed out from drink, and they are ignoring him completely. One of the women catches me staring and nudges her friend. I hold my hands out in a gesture of apology and quickly look away.
With some determination, I am able to finish my drink, and head out into the Cardassian morning. There are sounds of people beginning to wake for the day. Murmured conversations and children crying. I keep walking until I have reached the empty desert beyond the tents. The wind has made patterns in the sand like waves on water. My feet ache from walking, so I sit on a flat rock and look out over the red sand.
My anger has calmed during my walk and I can feel the shape of it now. I am angry at his happiness. I am angry that while I was surviving internment, he was courting some alien doctor. I had believed his exile was torturous enough that he returned willingly to face his crimes, rather than the endless isolation of a Bajoran run station. I had projected that idea onto him. I never really tried to find out who he was, I let him be what I needed him to be. I was not even sure I wanted his affection until I saw it belonged to someone else. I enjoyed having him to myself, like a dangerous pet that has been tamed. I am not comfortable with this realization.
I still feel anger and jealousy trying to manifest itself. I am angry with him for every slight I have ever felt at the hands of our society. He is an easy target for my wrath. I sit for hours letting myself feel angry. As I watch the wind form and reform patterns in the sand, my rage turns to sadness, then finally, to weariness. I am tired of feeling bitter. I am tired of keeping so much of myself hidden, trying to be acceptable to others. My long moody sulk has left me drained. I walk back into the city, toward my clinic. The streets are bustling now. Everywhere there are people cleaning the red dust front the streets and buildings. When I arrive at my door, there is already a line waiting. With a sigh I open the door, and promise I will be open in a few minutes.
Garak is gone. The bed is neatly made, and the remnants of our breakfast has been cleaned up. I drink some of the water I boiled earlier, and put on my protective examination coat. The patients today mostly suffer from shortness of breath, and other symptoms of inhalation of dust particles. I have the necessary tools to treat them, thanks to the medication Garak secured for me. Of course that reminds me of how he learned to recognize Federation medical equipment, and his Federation doctor. I resentfully treat each patient with inhalers marked with alien words.
By the time the last coughing child has left the clinic, the sun is setting. I lock the door and walk to Garak’s shack. The door is shut, and there is no light spilling out from under it. I walk through his garden, in the field adjacent the spiraling towers he built when he first arrived. Some of the vegetables are in full blossom, he will have fresh food in another week or two. I see two rows of krintar, one of my favorites.
I wait among his plants, until I see him walking through the fields. He is walking slowly, covered in a thick layer of red dust. I am sure our work crew was busy cleaning up after the storm, while I was running the clinic. I can tell he is tired, but when he sees me he stands up straighter and walks a little faster. “Kelas, how kind of you to visit” he says in that bland, formal way of his. He is nervous. When he is wary, he hides himself behind layers of congeniality. I hold my palms to him and he immediately looks relieved. We stand together for a moment and he welcomes me inside.
“Do you mind if I clean up? Everything was quite filthy today.” I nod to him and wait on his bed. The shack is very small, it was originally used to house gardening tools. The bed is against the wall and the small kitchen, really just a few cabinets and a counter where he keeps his water jug and a heating element, is next to the door. He has placed a screen in the far corner to offer a private place to change and wash himself, necessary since he prefers to leave the door open. It is not nearly enough to give any real privacy, but I politely pretend I can not see him.
He emerges a few minutes later looking worn, but clear of the red mud that was caked in his hair and on his face. He has renewed his commitment to appear subordinate, with his eyes lowered and his palms facing up. I once again feel a small thrill at seeing my interrogator, the terrifying protege of Enabran Tain, presenting himself to me this way. I chastise myself for the thought.
“Have you eaten, Kelas?” He asks, and I admit I have not. He sets to work preparing some simple food, and a cup of tea for each of us. I watch him cook, while trying to work out how to phrase what I want to say.
“Garak”, I begin, “I have some questions for you.” If he is uncomfortable, he does not give it away. “What would you like to know?” He asks. He seems to be trying to work out my intentions. “I believe we have become friends, but our particular shared history is not exactly a strong foundation to build on.” He tilts his head in agreement and lets me continue. “I’m not even sure I know what to ask, you have a talent for letting me make incorrect assumptions.” At that he lets out an amused sigh, “Yes, I believe I have heard that said before.” He walks to one of his cupboard and begins pushing aside items until he finds a bottle of amber colored liquid. “I think I have something that will be more appropriate to our evening than tea.”
I don’t want this to feel like an interview, so I start with something light. “Are you originally from the capital, were you born here?” I hope my tone is casual. He glances in the direction of the ruins of Tain’s house, then points. “I was born there.” Is he using some metaphor about his life only beginning when he joined The Order? “My mother was Tain’s housekeeper.” Oh, that is certainly not what I expected. I didn’t even know he was from the service class. “Enabran Tain is my father, not officially, of course.” As he speaks, he fills two cups from the bottle and brings one of them to me, then sits next to me on the little bed.
I am stunned. That man was his father? I sit contemplating what he said and sipping the strong alcohol in my cup. It is not much better than what I drank this morning. He is waiting for my response. His nonchalant expression is betrayed by his nervous hands. “I hope that wont prevent us from continuing our friendship.” He says with a tight smile. He is congenial again. I am not sure what part of this revelation he is worried about, that he is service class, a bastard, or Tain’s son by blood. “Garak, I know a fair amount of your history, and I still chose to associate with you, I won’t abandon you just because there is something in your past I don’t like.” At this he raises his eye ridges, in an unconvinced look. “Well, okay, but I’ll come back.” He reaches out to touch my knee, “Thank you, my dear. I know I can be difficult. I can not fully express how grateful I am that you have offered me companionship these last months.”
I finish my glass and he fills it again. The drink is smoky and slightly sweet. It is not pleasant, but it is drinkable. He calls it “tee’kee’la” a Terran word I try to pronounce several times, to his delight. “I received it as a gift from one of the federation workers at the new hospital site, last week.” “It is...interesting.” I say, trying to stay diplomatic and avoid anything overly argumentative. “He leans forward as though telling me a secret and says “It is utterly offensive.” I laugh in agreement.
“Tell me about this betrothed of yours.” The tee’kee’la is making me bold, letting me push him a bit more than I usually do. “I do not believe we are courting any longer” he responds in an even tone. “You don’t believe you are courting? You don’t know?” “I do not intend on leaving Cardassia, so it is unlikely we will see each other again.” I remember the way he called out for him in his sleep. “He won’t visit?” I am beginning to dislike this doctor. “I haven’t asked him. I can’t... seem to gather the nerve to contact him. He is the chief medial officer on the station. He is very busy. I am sure he is too busy to visit...”
We talk for awhile about his time on Terok Nor. He becomes very detailed when he talked about his tailor shop. Fabrics and clothing designs seem to hold his attention as much as plants do. What would he have been, if he had the choice, I wonder. He is growing relaxed from the drink. His normally contrived expression is looser now. “Is there anything about me you would like to know?” I ask. He presses his lips together in thought. “I had access to your file.” Oh of course he did. He probably knows more about me than I do.
I drink what is in my glass, in one go. I remove my loose tunic and lift the undershirt over my head. His years of training enable him to keep a mask of calm, although he is unable to stifle a small gasp. The most common form of amusement for my Bajoran cellmates, was to use the tip of a sharpened spoon to cut away scales, and remove the tissue beneath, to ensure the scale would not grow back. The resulting injuries were incredibly painful but not life threatening. The scar tissue that eventually grew was dark and mottled. Other wounds were deeper, made from knives and mining tools. My shoulder and knee were both disfigured that way, with patches of puckered damage that are stiff and uncomfortable.
He is wordlessly staring at a small section of ridge that was cut away from my chest. “You didn’t think I survived three years in a work camp undamaged, did you?” “I honestly did not know how you survived at all” He meets my eyes for a moment and I don’t let myself flinch away. “The Bajorans there have been known to withstand 10 years or more if they are strong, but the few Cardassian prisoners have all been killed within months.” He acknowledged. “I had a sort of protector.” I explain.
I don’t tell him the man hated me as much if not more than the rest of them. Jokim was well respected in the resistance, at the time of his arrest. He became the de facto leader of the Bajoran resistance members in the prison. It was rumored he had personally killed dozens of Cardassian, and lead missions that resulted in the deaths of many more. He had a family once, but they had been murdered long ago, and the man left behind was focused only on freeing his people, by whatever means necessary.
The other prisoners sometimes referred to him with the nickname Vedek, due to his puritanical nature, even by Bajoran standards. I avoided him as much as possible, but we were in the same bunk house, with ten other Bajoran workers. When he returned from the mines to find several of the younger men violating me he became enraged. He pulled them away, and went into a tirade about becoming the very thing they were fighting against. It seems he would have no issue if they had killed me, but rape deeply offended him. He would not tolerate it.
From that day on, I was somewhat under his protection. He saw my survival as proof of Bajoran moral superiority. He measured every atrocity committed by my people, against Bajoran “hospitality”. As long as I was meek and submissive, and more importantly out of sight as much as possible, I was left more or less alone. Two and a half years later I walked out the door of our bunk for the last time and he spit at me, and murmured he hoped my own people would finish me off soon.
I do not tell Garak any of this. I just sit for a moment and let him see what I am. My heart is pounding and the exposure fills me shame. When I can not stand it any longer, I pull the thermal shirt back over my head, and replace my tunic. When I am fully covered again, he pulls me into an embrace. My first impulse is to pull away, I am still feeling exposed and vulnerable, but I also feel strangely safe suddenly. He holds me for a moment then lets me gather my dignity. “Do they hurt?” He asks. “No not really, a little stiff maybe, despite how it looks, they are all healed. The scar tissue is more sensitive than regular scales would be.” “Hence the soft undershirt.” He realizes. I nod and he places his hand over mine, rubbing circles into my palm.
We eventually finish the bottle, and I find I am having a difficult time following his anecdotes about his time on the station. I lay my head on his lap and without pausing his story he strokes my hair. As I drift off to sleep, I vow to protect our friendship. I won’t let myself poison his trust in me, and I will do my best to be forgiving.