Star Trek: Sigils and Unions
“And Tomorrow I Shall Light the Flame”
Author’s Note: This story makes reference to the events of Lois Tilton’s novel Betrayal (DS9 #6) from which the character of Berat comes. As always, credit goes to Ms. Tilton for the inspiration. The station at the beginning of the story—Obrast Nor—is the same one referred to in Betrayal as Farside Station, and the Fist of Revenge is presented as a more literal translation of the French name used for the coup perpetrators in the novel (“the Revanche Party”). So is Gul Marak's ship ("the Swift Striker" in Betrayal, given a Cardassian name in my stories). The coup and Berat’s escape onto DS9 belong to Tilton. What happened to Berat after he went home, including the aggravation of his wounds in Betrayal into permanent physical disability, is of my invention.
2374—The Dominion War—Seven months before the Septimus Massacre
Cardassian Union Station Obrast Nor
Every Nor-class station carried ghosts.
The shadows of memories, more accurately—painful memories…but Tayben Berat wasn’t in the mood to quibble with semantics right then. He didn’t care. It felt like ghosts.
Another chill ran down Gul Berat’s neck ridges as he walked past the doors to the reactor core of Obrast Nor. That was where he—Glinn Berat, back then—had worked as systems control officer for the station, the ranking engineer at his young age. That was also where Ragoç Delek had come marching in with arrest documents on his padd. With Glinn Berat’s name on them. He had followed Delek without resistance, sure in his mind that the mistake would be sorted out before his case was put on the docket of the Supreme Tribunal and his fate would be sealed, even as his heart trembled.
That was when he had believed in the Tribunal.
But there hadn’t even been a tribunal; the ringleaders of the coup had disbanded the tribunal and rumor had it in Berat’s cell block that Chief Archon Makbar herself was sitting somewhere in the prison awaiting execution.
He didn’t have to fear an awkward encounter with Delek as he passed through Obrast Nor. Delek had been executed at the end of the coup for having served those orders to Berat—an execution likely engineered by Dukat. Çlaykothoul Dukat, as it had turned out—Dukat the Traitor, every bit as bad as the Fist of Revenge in his own way. Had Dukat even bothered to verify, before having Delek murdered, that the man had actually been part of the coup? That he had known the charges against Berat to be baseless? That he hadn’t been coerced in any way?
Berat highly doubted it. If Delek had been guilty—fine, but Berat’s conscience wasn’t at rest on the matter. Couldn’t be, when the Tribunal was in fact a theater of lies.
Gul Berat did the best he could, in this station of shadows, to yank his mind back to why he was here. The Sherouk had been temporarily recalled to this base towards the outer edges of Cardassian territory for its crew to recoup and take on supplies before heading back out to the front lines. Federation lines.
Why couldn’t we have been assigned to the Klingon front? he mentally grumbled. At least then he wouldn’t have to worry about the chance of killing the people who had saved his life during the coup when he took refuge aboard Terok Nor…now known as Deep Space Nine.
Oh, he was getting distracted again. He was far too good at doing this to himself. He wished he could distract himself instead with the sights and sounds of the station—but he wasn’t in a mood to play spot-the-familiar-face or chat with anyone he’d known from that time, some of whom had undoubtedly been part of his humiliating send-off. So he kept his head down instead, even though he knew the odds of being recognized, walking with his half-functioning hands tucked behind his back, were high.
There was only one face he wanted to see: Gul Macet.
The Trager had sought relief here too, and it had been Macet who issued the orders for Berat to bring his ship here, rather than to one of the closer stations. The station was undermanned now, a far cry from the way he’d left it, its personnel and even some of its infrastructure dismantled and sent to the front, and its only real, useful function now to serve as a change of scenery—somewhat—for war-weary troops. Which meant parts of the station were likely to be underpowered and without surveillance. And that, Berat suspected, was why Macet had chosen this place. For that matter—Berat’s second-in-command, Yejain, likely suspected too. And what that meant, Berat wasn’t sure.
One thing of which Berat was sure: the senior gul’s message had to be big.
And the look on Macet’s face, when he finally spotted the beige-skinned, bearded half-Hăzăkda man in a cloud of grey, confirmed it. Not a smile—no hint of one—just intently focused eyes as he made contact with Berat.
“Good to see you,” Macet stated gravely. Surveying the crowd as closely as he could without actually turning his head, to see if they were listening, he lowered his voice to the point where Berat could hardly hear it. “We will require privacy.”
They sat in an abandoned set of guest quarters, one that Berat had carefully swept for cameras with his tricorder before giving Macet his approval of the place. The sensors on the door wouldn’t have tripped because that was precisely the problem with this room: the main door was stuck in the open position, and as painfully short-staffed as they were, the repair crews of Obrast Nor hadn’t had time to fix it.
He hadn’t been so sure about any audio pickups, and with great difficulty, the damaged nerves in his hands fighting the precision movement all the way, Berat had made the sign for silence. This conversation would be hard in more ways than one for him—but critical, especially if it was what he thought it was.
Macet’s long-fingered, beige hands formed stark, angular shapes against the black of his armor. —The Dominion has stolen our self-determination,— he signed with voiceless intensity in the military dialect of Cardassian sign language. —This cannot stand.—
Even with one sign, Berat’s underused hands tried to cramp up, and the pain shot much further through his body than it should have—all the way up his neck ridges and straight into the back of his skull. —Agreed!—
Macet nodded after a hesitation that worried Berat. —This is a painful conclusion to come to with regard to the Union…though not so painful when it comes to my misbegotten cousin…but our leadership has failed. We must set the order right.—
Berat fought to form one more sign. —Rebellion?—
The senior gul raised an eye ridge…and Berat realized the neuropathy had won that battle and Macet hadn’t been able to make sense of his hand shapes. Macet tapped the customized padd on Berat’s equipment belt. As Berat slipped his hand through the cloth strap he’d attached to the device’s back side, to help him keep the closest thing he could to a steady grip, Macet said, —I’m sorry this had to be so hard on you.—
Letter by letter, Berat tapped out his response on the padd he’d already thought to mute before coming aboard the station. This was hard in its own way, but at least this more limited movement was one he was more used to. Not your fault. Then he repeated his question. Rebellion?
—I have some ideas,— Macet signed.
It didn’t matter how little time had really passed; it still felt like forever, as he scrawled, until he could turn his padd to Macet. Show me.
Macet hardlinked his padd to Berat’s, not trusting the wireless network with information of this magnitude. Even before the file finished transmitting, Berat was already reading, already turning over the facts and estimates and conjectures in his head, trying to fill the missing gaps in his senior gul’s plans. It was an outline of an idea, but it needed work. At the end were instructions for secure transmission of Berat’s response to the Trager. Both guls promptly deleted the file from their padds, once read and memorized.
Macet regarded Berat. —Are you interested?—
Berat nodded, so hard that he could feel his neck ridges all the way through his shoulder blades.
—You will have to speak with Yejain, of course. You won’t be able to hide it forever.—
Berat sighed as quietly as he could. Then he wrote, I know, Akellen. He is good. But a true servant of the hierarchy. Cannot predict him here.
—He must understand this is not his hierarchy anymore, not with the Dominion in charge. And if you can’t trust him…—
I will do my best.
2374—The Dominion War—Six months before the Septimus Massacre
Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk
Gul Berat swallowed. This was it. Finally he and his executive officer, Glinn Yejain, had a moment’s privacy from the unremitting, down-the-nose stare of that thrice-burned Vorta. But even this wasn’t enough. Berat was no fool; he knew very well that just as they would have been in the days when the Obsidian Order still operated under that name, his office and quarters had to be bugged, and almost certainly Yejain’s office one deck below his, and quarters as well. The Jem’Hadar could be listening. Dominion-loving spies among his own crew could be listening, much as it galled him to think that any of his crew could possibly be so stupid. They seemed far better than that.
But that was what he, like any Cardassian, had had to live with since birth. They could be listening. They could come to your house in the middle of the night and drag you away and do who knew what to you. And you learned to live with your secrets, alone, if you wanted to have a personality of your own. And he was tired of the secrets and the fear. The familiar weight of grief settled over his soul. They had stolen his family. Not the Dominion—but Cardassians just as bad, who thought nothing of slaughtering families to suit their vision of orthodoxy.
“Glinn Yejain,” Berat said, maintaining a formal stance, “I require your presence at junction 247 at your soonest availability.”
The wiry, shrewd officer’s eyes narrowed. “Is something wrong with the ship?” And if that was the case, why was it not being handled by Glinn Motreln instead?
“It’s not a major problem right now, but I thought your expertise might be needed in case it turns into a bigger one.” There. That would be the first clue, how Yejain handled that, to see how he might react to actually being told what Gul Berat really wanted.
Yejain raised an eye ridge. Though he filled the role of a typical executive officer and then some, to support his disabled commander, administrative work was far from the limit of his abilities. Especially with the threat the Obsidian Order had posed, Yejain was the sort of person you wanted on your side. “I see,” Yejain replied. Then he bowed with a crisp motion. “I obey, Gul.”
Gul Berat sat cross-legged in the junction between maintenance tubes and waited for his executive officer to arrive. His tricorder sat out on his lap, perched there earlier with an act of supreme concentration. He was scanning for his own glinn’s sidearm. Even if Yejain did find the situation suspicious enough to assassinate his gul, he doubted someone like Yejain would be stupid enough to come into a confined area with weapons hot when he knew beyond a doubt that his manual dexterity far exceeded his gul’s. A quick-draw contest wouldn’t be a contest, if Berat had no advance warning. And without a weapon himself, his only chance would be to knock his opponent’s disruptor away.
Still, Berat had to check. What a sorry state we’re in, that such a thing is necessary.
He felt the vibration through the deck plating before he ever heard Yejain’s approach. His bright blue eyes darted down to the tricorder screen—no weapons on hot standby. Good.
I hate this. It ran against his deepest instincts to think Glinn Yejain could ever be capable of a thing like that. But he could not not consider it. And that hurt, to think this way of a man who had met with Legate Ghemor’s approval, and who shown Berat nothing but loyalty when faced with circumstances very different from what an executive officer normally had to deal with. It made Berat feel contaminated inside.
“Reporting as ordered, Gul.” Yejain’s voice gave no hint of what he was thinking.
“Thank you, Glinn. Please be seated.” Yes…it had been an order. But there was no reason obedience couldn’t be acknowledged politely, remembering that the person obeying was also a Cardassian being.
Yejain gazed questioningly at his gul. “If I may…” Berat nodded. “Next time you need to pass a message clandestinely, I could offer you some suggestions on your fieldcraft first.” The kneeling glinn had delivered his message with eyes deferentially lowered—none of the cloying arrogance or false humility common to Obsidian Order agents and Vorta—but the faintest shadow of a lopsided smile flitted across Gul Berat’s face. He’d heard that message loud and clear.
“Point taken,” Berat replied. And Yejain was probably right: as hard as it was for him, he needed to quit trying to finesse this and just get it overwith. If this was going to end badly, all the circling around the subject in the Union wasn’t going to forestall his fate. “Glinn, I’ve called you here because I’ve received an invitation from someone I trust very much, to rebel.”
“Gulayn! Brocol lerayt çadav edek?”
Berat returned a grave nod. “Yes, you heard me correctly.”
Yejain took a deep breath through his nose, restoring control to his features as befit a martial artist of his ability.
“Gul…are you asking me to entertain treason?”
Berat’s eyes blazed, his nostrils flared, as he fought—far less successfully—to keep himself in check. “Against…whom? We’ve been conquered, Glinn! We didn’t even fight. And we can’t even blame it on a Changeling! Çlaykothoul Dukat personally sold us out, and we have got to make this stop.”
“Even admitting that fact…that the Dominion doesn’t belong to our hierarchy—to Cardassian hierarchy—this would still have no orders. No official sanction. It isn’t as though Legate Damar has called us to arms.” Yejain scrutinized his gul’s features. “Unless that’s your source…”
“I can’t reveal my source,” Berat said, “but I can at least tell you it wasn’t Damar.”
“May I offer my advice in dealing with this?” Berat nodded at Yejain. “I’m not convinced it’s our place to make this sort of decision. I am concerned about the recklessness of the sorts of individuals who would propose this kind of action.”
“Wasn’t Dukat reckless?”
Yejain gave a sharp nod. “That I won’t deny. But it seems to me that he is an example of exactly what we, for the sake of Cardassia, ought to avoid. Becoming our own masters and deciding, in the absence of full information and full privilege, that we have the right to shape the course of the Union.”
“Is that what Chief Archon Makbar did when she resisted the Dominion and got herself executed for it?” Berat pressed.
This time Yejain paused, eyes drifting off to the side. “Not so much the archon.”
“As little use as I had for her, and for the playacting she passed off as justice,” Berat said, “I’ll give her credit for realizing that billions of Cardassians were watching her in this, too, and making the right decision.”
Yejain reeled back again, the movement through his head and neck ridges reminding Berat of a rhirzum preparing to spit acid. “No use for the Chief Archon? Gul Berat—that—” He struggled with his words. “That sounds like the kind of statement a hăcetyunbrul would make.” A lover of chaos—or in more precise terms, an anarchist.
Berat shuddered, shaking his head almost involuntarily. He was not that. Not that at all, no matter how shattered his instinctive trust of those above him who said they had the best interests of him and his people in mind. That was too far—much too far. But there was still a deep-seated revulsion that spoke to him from the depths of conscience and instinct, at the idea of being one who had no place whatsoever for order in his life…enough so that as furious as he would have imagined just minutes before this that a comment like that would make him, he instead felt the deep and natural fear every true Cardassian understood, and his response came in a far softer voice.
“Do you remember the Obrayn Incident?” He knew he had a heavy accent—that the terhăn name sounded far more like Obrahiy’in than anything, but even that wasn’t right either, and having spoken nothing but Cardăsda for his entire life, he simply could not smash vowels against each other the way Vedrayçda speakers could. Nor could he spare the concentration right now to try.
Yejain nodded. The state mandated what it called ‘literacy in the public discourse’—inasmuch as there was actually a discourse and not just being told what to do. Households were monitored to ensure they watched a certain minimum of state-provided news, and just to make sure one couldn’t escape it, the propaganda played constantly on monitors outside as well. Rumor had it that in the days of the Obsidian Order, it wasn’t enough to simply satisfy the quota by using the news as background noise for chores, either. One had to watch. To make a show of paying attention.
But try as they might, they couldn’t control what went on behind those blank stares. And that meant that billions of Cardassians, who actually caught the tribunal on its first airing before the censors could react to cut the signal, saw a first in the history of the Union: a verdict being proven wrong.
“Did you know that I’ve met that terhăn man, in person? The one Makbar tried to accuse of helping the Maciy.”
“I wasn’t aware of that, Gul. May I ask how?”
“I can’t discuss the full details,” Berat said—and even now, two regimes after the Fist of Revenge, he still dreaded doing so. “But I met him aboard his station at a time when I was in…a very disadvantaged situation, and so was he. I think it was hard for him, because of the bad relations between our peoples, but he treated me with dignity. You know…I’d threatened him, and he still treated me with respect after our misunderstandings were cleared up. And in our situation then—I saw how he performed when he believed he was going to die. And that, more than anything, tells me what kind of man he is. Not a gunrunner. Not a Maciy. And not the kind of person who would have shot me the way that Federation exile shot me on Volan III. I gave him cause and he chose to show me forgiveness instead of revenge.
“I’d let myself think that when the coup leaders were deposed, that we would be back to some sense of normal. Some sense of good and order. A place where I could…try my best to rebuild. But when I heard the tribunal announced—I knew the Chief Archon was wrong. Just like I knew the Fist of Revenge was wrong to execute my entire family in a public square and force me to throw a stone at my own father, who had done none of the things of which he was accused! Nor had I done a single thing in the confession they made me sign. So I knew I was just looking at more of the same—what kind of order is that, that slaughters innocent men and women as a piece of theater, Yejain? Explain that one to me…just try it.”
Yejain wisely responded with silence.
“That is the kind of order that treats us as speaking za’abou instead of people. We cannot be Cardassians. We cannot even be people. Not like this.” They had sought his life. They had taken his family’s. And they would take Zejil Rebek too, if they knew…that she…he even guarded his thoughts against it lest he unwittingly betray her. That Zija is an Oralian. My first secret.
When Yejain spoke again, his voice was so soft as to barely be audible. “You have suffered,” Yejain whispered. “Been abused. I know what you’ve allowed me to hear.” He knew Berat had only two surviving relatives. Knew that since the coup, Berat had no place on any planet of the Union that he called home, only what little he owned aboard the Sherouk. Even though he’d inherited far more than any one man ever should at such a young age and at the same time, when the coup ended and the ‘restored’ Union gave him every account his deceased family had ever kept. “But I cannot accept that it voids the order. The hierarchy. That it means we should become a mob of hăcetyu’unbroul without rules and standards.”
Was that what he was to Yejain? A riding-hound pup that didn’t understand it was wrong to snap at people because it had been tortured until it mistook the fighting ring for its natural habitat? Berat clenched his teeth so hard he thought he might start molting the macroscales on his jaw ridges right then and there.
Yejain clearly knew the look. The glinn ducked his head again, averted his eyes. I have transgressed, the expression born of ancient instinct said. Do with me as you will.
Only Yejain’s act of contrition held Berat back from snapping, Don’t you dare speak unless you actually have a clue what you’re talking about! The gul forced himself to moderate his words. Slightly. “You do not want to know what I know, how I know it. Consider yourself fortunate.”
Glinn Yejain nodded, still keeping his eyes respectfully downcast. “Yes, Gul. I obey.”
“Let me tell you something,” Berat said, his voice much lower now. “I have much experience with mobs. I know what they’re capable of in a very, very personal manner. And I do not ever want to follow in their ways. What I want is for us to stop using order as an excuse for putting each other’s necks in the vise.” Berat shuddered. He’d seen Gul Marak do that aboard the Ghedrakbre…not just an ‘ordinary’ hanging with a rope, but suspending the poor souls by a metal clamp around their necks that left them just enough room to breathe—but squeezed the sensitive neck ridges so tight that there was no need to light kindling underneath them to make them feel like their bodies were consumed by flame.
“That doesn’t mean that because there has been injustice, that I hate justice. That because there has been oppression, I don’t want rules.” He unclipped the padd from his belt, though he didn’t hand it over just yet. “The person who has asked me to do this has not specified what’s to be done after we get rid of the Dominion. Just that we can’t tolerate the Dominion any longer. It’s true that I want more. That I don’t want the old power structures to rule us once we’re rid of them. But I actually am a reasonable man, Yejain, and I know I cannot make those decisions now, nor can I make them alone. If we do this, it’ll take time, and that’s time that all of us can spend trying to think of something reasoned, that will at least help until we have the luxury of some more long-term planning.
“Because you know something? I don’t trust mobs, but I also don’t trust closed circles. I don’t trust any one person, or any insular little group…or myself…with that kind of power. That’s just an invitation to abuse it—and given the chance, they inevitably will, just because it’s there. People forget very, very easily that the duties of the hierarchy run both ways, and there have to be rules to make sure both duties are fulfilled. Not just the one that says, ’Obey your superiors.’ What we have now…it’s rotted out and we have to start over. But not with a mob, Glinn.”
Berat looked Glinn Yejain in the eye. “I am pleading with you to join me in this. I can’t lead the Sherouk in this direction alone.”
“I…” Yejain shut his mouth. Swallowed hard. He even seemed to be sweating—a sign of deepest physical distress for a Cardassian. Berat well understood that, though he’d gone through it a long time ago.
Gul Berat waited a moment. Then he said, “Please tell me if I ever start to act like them. I want someone with me that I can trust to tell me before I go too far.”
Finally…Yejain nodded. “I am ready to help you get rid of the Dominion.”
Berat solemnly inclined his head—not the full bow given to a subordinate or an equal, but a sincere acknowledgment nonetheless. “You have my gratitude, Glinn Yejain.”
After a brief pause to let it sink in—for both of them—Berat finally allowed himself a smile. “Now as our first order of business—I guess I ought to take you up on that offer to teach me some better fieldcraft if we’re going to keep doing this…”