We finally won.
The question now is how we live, in our victory.
Unlike the Klingons and Romulans, who were hunted down across the galaxy and devastated to the point that their species are without hope of survival, we actually lived with most of our population intact, once they broke Starfleet. Some worlds weren’t so lucky, even in what used to be the Federation. The Andorians, too, were destroyed, as well as other species deemed ‘too militant’ to be allowed the privilege of existing. The Bajorans…they lived in conditions worse than the Cardassian Occupation, in revenge for one of their number killing the “renegade Founder,” Odo, for treason against the resistance back on Terok Nor—I mean Deep Space Nine.
As for us…as for humanity, or whatever we are now, they wanted us alive. We found out in recent years why it was…the Dominion had been suffering incursions along its furthest borders for years, and besides them, we had the best record of defeating the Borg of any other known race. Of course, all of Starfleet had a part in it, but they saw Picard and Data, designed by a human, and decided that we, specifically, were what they needed.
We were supposed to be their innovators, our minds given over to the effort against the Borg. So they had to control us somehow—but it was thought that too much would destroy the very trait for which we had been cultivated. That ruled out the outright Founder-worship genes installed in the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar; it was thought that degree of control would destroy whatever it was they sought in us.
Some people call it the Graft, or the Change. Some people with a particularly ironic sense of humor call it the Cataclysm, after the climate shift on Cardassia Prime. Unlike the worship-gene, the Graft was supposed to have been an investment in time, its efficacy the combined effect of the new genetic inheritance and indoctrination techniques developed for it by the Cardassians. It wasn’t our generation, the one that fought the war all those years ago and remembered the way we used to be, that they were counting on…it was our children, and the generations after that in perpetuity.
The vector for the Graft was a virus, tailor-made for the human race. Its genetic payload was carried in a shell much like the common cold, except it had an extremely long dormancy period…over a year, in some cases. The Dominion may have successfully contained our military, but there were so many worlds where we lived that they had to be sure the virus would spread before we realized what was happening to us…because, the fear was, without the Graft, humanity was quixotic, unpredictable, and there was no telling just how hard we’d fight. And if we did that…well, the Dominion would be forced to destroy their precious anti-Borg resources.
Oh, so sorry!
By the time the symptoms and the genetic alterations started showing up, it was too late—we’d already had a year of “free” travel between our worlds: heavily monitored by the Vorta, of course, and likely engineered to ensure the spread of the Graft. What we’d thought was a token show of “benevolence” for the end of hostilities was instead the tool by which they thought they’d hold us hostage forever.
In some ways, I was fortunate. Being on the front lines at the end of the war, I had no way to know what was about to happen to me, no idea—as some later knew—of what I was spreading everywhere once I got back to Earth. I also can’t remember the night they say I went into seizures as the new neurological structures that had been weaving themselves in my brain decided they were ready to come online. It seems sudden now, talking about it, but the brain has no pain receptors; only excess pressure or cognitive and sensory abnormalities could tip you off. Or, of course, seizures.
When I woke up, I didn’t really know at first what had changed. I didn’t feel that different—it was only when I started to really interact with people as I was about to be released from the hospital that I realized what had happened. I thought I was insane at first…it felt logical, but not human as we defined it then. I felt this force…something like a compulsion but not quite that, this nagging sensation of when to submit, to obey, when to command, how to show these in barely-conscious ways and how to read it in others.
You should’ve seen the clamor when I reported all of this. The human doctor in charge of my care was horrified…he knew what this represented, or at least he strongly suspected. He was raising Cain around the hospital—he wanted a quarantine, he wanted to treat me, to do something, but the Vorta wouldn’t let him. No…this was what they wanted. I, and the others like me, who were starting to emerge all around our worlds—some in obvious fashion with seizures like mine, and others, who were just waking up changed…the Vorta were clear: we were humanity’s future. I was to return to my life, knowing that if those around me weren’t infected already, they would be. Because of me.
I thought about killing myself as soon as I got home, rather than serve as their willing carrier. But the Vorta—who now devoted his personal attention to me, as one of his experiments—seemed to know what was running through my mind, and warned me against it. Your children were admitted this morning; you can see them as soon as they wake up. Have you ever seen a Cardassian family, human? If you have, then you’ll understand: they will need you, look up to you, as they never have before.
It nearly brought me to my knees. My daughters, aged four and six—sick because of me? Changed, cursed with this strange guiding knowledge because of me? I raged inside, though I dared not show it to the Dominion servant: for now I knew, too, what they had done to us. What, as more people flooded into the hospital that day, I realized they had done to all of us.
The Cardassians call it the hierarchical instinct. If you’ve ever seen dogs, or wolves, interact with each other, then you’ll get the idea. And if you’re one of us…you understand this for yourself. But if you’re not, then imagine that you have a need to be part of the ‘pack,’ for its social structures around you and as part of you. Your family is the most central part of it; your neighborhood, your co-workers…all of this figures into it, too. That acceptance and that harmony…they were important before the Graft, yes, but now the effects have been magnified. Disrupt that structure, that companionship, and the psychological stress is immense, and can affect your body as well as just your mind. And to rebel…some individuals will inevitably still do so, but it’s that much harder for a widespread rebellion to crystallize. It requires…well, I’ll get to that later.
So for a moment, the Vorta actually wore an expression that resembled compassion, as I came to the understanding that what had woven itself into my brain, been grafted into my very DNA and that of so many others around me, was not human, and it was not going to be coming out. Don’t blame yourself, he said. You have just ensured their survival. It will go easiest on the young; their minds are so incredibly resilient at that age, and they can adjust to almost anything.
Believe me when I said it didn’t make me feel any better. I just wanted to see my children. I needed to see them wake up, hold them in my arms, try…try to tell them it was going to be okay. Or at least, if not that everything was okay, that I had walked this path before them and that I was all right and I would be there for them. I needed this on every level I’d ever known and was coming to know.
And thank God for my children. If not for them, I probably would have been among the many who died that year by their own hands as the Graft swept across Earth and its colonies, seized hold of the human race and made us into something else.
The Dominion made a grave mistake, though. They had looked at the Cardassians and their long history, far less troubled by rebellions or disobedience than ours, and they made the one critical assumption that they should never have made. They assumed it was impossible. They assumed that once they had established themselves as our masters, just as Central Command and the Obsidian Order had established themselves as the masters of Cardassia, that our trajectory too would fall into line, one long march of never-ending sacrifice to the state.
It looked like they were right, at first. Combined with the relentless indoctrination in the media and in the schools, as our generation aged and our children, who had no memories of anything different in or around them, grew up and began to assume more and more responsibility, acts of visible rebellion slowed to a trickle…almost to nothing. The part of me that remembered what I had been before the war—that still held that precious connection to the history and heritage we humans built before the Graft—was greatly dismayed. The other part of me…it wanted order, and obedience was an acceptable price.
For our generation, the Founders counted on the fact that we would have too difficult of a time coming to terms with the change in us to look outward: forming our society again, in a way that could both survive the Dominion and survive the shift in our beings was our most pressing concern. Our longing for the days of old, they figured, could never again translate into action.
But like I said…the Founders made a serious mistake. The precedent they used—and the source of the Graft they installed in us—was not one of a race without free will. They never expected that when they started bringing the Cardassians to Earth to meet their newly-fashioned cousins that it would be some among them who would teach us how to rebel again. That just as we in the former Federation had grown up learning to look past each other’s skin, the Cardassians would do the same thing when they recognized the engineered kinship between us and they saw that in spite of how we looked to them, and the languages that we spoke, that we were so strangely familiar to them.
Because of my combat experience, both as infantry and shipboard, I was assigned to the weapons research center the Dominion set up in the Arizona desert. Outright sabotage wasn’t an option: we were constantly watched by Dominion servants…but mostly by the Cardassians, whose physiologies this center had been set up to accommodate above all else.
The Dominion had been very careful about the introduction of Cardassians to Earth, and maybe this caution proved their undoing. Knowing very well how the Cardassian military had behaved on Bajor and their own worlds, the last thing they wanted to do was to let us humans think we were in for the same sort of brutality. To that end, they maintained a very tight rein on how the Cardassians were and weren’t allowed to exercise their authority on Earth and the numerous other worlds where their soldiers were deployed…with the exception of Betazed and Cairn, where their mental shielding abilities meant they could do what even the Vorta could not.
The irony of their caution was that in selecting the Cardassian liaisons for their restraint, they ended up selecting people we could actually form ties with. And the more we started to learn about each other…it wasn’t just the commonality created by the Graft that tied us together. I even started to get the feeling there were dissidents among them, all the way up to the facility’s commander...a wounded veteran that as I came to find out, had eventually been forced from command by the Vorta put in charge of his ship because of the Dominion belief that the disabled had no place in military service. Somehow, the unusually genial gul was able to call in a number of favors to avoid being discharged completely, and was assigned here to Earth as head of the Maricopa Research Center.
Yes…we developed weapons that the Dominion could and did use…some against the Borg and other Delta Quadrant threats, and yes—some against those few who still tried to resist in the Alpha Quadrant. Sometimes, in the designs we did release, we engineered flaws into them—nothing that would gain notice right away, but that sometimes, if we were lucky, just might fail in the right place at the right time and save lives. But we didn’t share the best designs. Those we kept for ourselves…never written down, maintained only in the minds of those who worked on them.
Forty years passed. My daughters grew up, got married, and had their own children. And the human species seemed to settle down into its new pattern, now that the initial crisis had passed, though there is another vague sense of loss in addition to the mourning of those lost in the war, and of those who took their own lives or otherwise did not survive the Cataclysm of Earth. It is a sense of disconnection from our history and from the memories of those of us who remember the time before.
The thought of rebellion should have been invigorating. But it wasn’t...not at first. The sensation of upsetting the strange social order that had evolved on Earth in the wake of the Graft, however artificial, however unwelcomed, was disquieting…much more so than it would have been before. And it wasn’t even just the threat to family—it was the loss of order, of certainty of place…even a thoroughly unpleasant place. It demanded so much from me, and from the rest of us, and that only exacerbated the horrid, overwhelming sensation as the physical response to the thought further alarmed the mind and the disgust at said reaction turned into a self-feeding cycle until the mind tired of the subject.
But I’ll never forget that day, twenty years before our victory, when we were finally alone outside in the desert with the gul and we finally spoke of rebellion openly. By then, enough years had passed that friendships among the humans and Cardassians on the staff seemed natural even to the Dominion supervisors, and in some ways, it seemed to lull them—or at least the Vorta—into complacency. They never questioned the gradual shift from coldness to closeness in our group.
That night the Leonids were coming, and I suggested a number of us get away from civilization and set up telescopes the old-fashioned way and watch the meteors come in. You’d be surprised how much Cardassians enjoy stargazing; their eyes see better at night than ours, and it’s a common tradition on Cardassia Prime. On Earth, they especially enjoy eclipses; the way the Cardassia system is set up, it lacks the exact ratios and distances between celestial bodies to create total eclipses, so even with their eidetic memories, they never seem to tire of seeing it. That meant we didn’t have to worry about word going all over the research center on what we were doing; no one would question the interspecies gathering.
The only challenge, you’d think, would’ve been to avoid party crashers, but thankfully Vorta can barely see in front of their noses, Jem’Hadar think it’s a waste of time, and for the most part the humans and Cardassians we didn’t want had become apathetic over the long two decades of a conquered Earth and altered humanity. And there were, of course, those nearly subconscious signals that we all knew how to send on our shared human and Cardassian wavelength, that made it clear to a few suspect individuals that they might be coworkers, but they weren’t part of the social group.
Once we were well out into the desert and certain we had not been followed—the gul had long since developed a means of detecting shrouded Jem’Hadar, we got out of our landskimmer and left it a kilometer behind us, the better to prevent any listening devices that might be aboard from picking up our voices. At last, I had a chance to pose my question to the gul, who seemed quite unaffected by his dissident status, even when you would think the nature of his injuries would reveal his stress whether he wanted it to or not.
How do you do it? I finally asked. How do you get around this damned thing in your mind? And how are we ever going to get enough people to follow us? The later generations—that of my children and grandchildren—I worried about especially…many of us who remembered the Graft as opposed to being born with it had tried to counter the Dominion’s conditioning as best as we could without getting ourselves and our families killed, but we feared that just like the old Cardassian Union, before the Dominion absorbed them, that it was too well entrenched now in mind and instinct for them to find any way to rise up en masse.
You have to be very certain, he said. If you are the one at the top, the idea itself must become your leader and you have to remind yourself of that time and again, to help you block out the voices of everyone else around you—and especially those above you. If you have a family…remember them. Call upon that duty to provide, upon your position as a mother or father...it’s a world we need to provide for them. Remind yourself of every authority you know that is greater—more legitimate—than the ones who say they’re in charge right now, and instead of fighting your instincts you’ll find you’re following them right into what you need to do.
Over time, it worked. I tried not to let the change happen too quickly, lest my demeanor shift too fast and alert anyone that something about me was different, but it worked. It became easier to contemplate rebellion, and soon, to act. And after two decades of apathy…I remembered my faith.
Like I already said, we never had handed all of our designs over to the Dominion; some of them existed only in our memories. Now, we started working in earnest, and when we could, finding ways to build and test our systems either here on Earth, or through the gul’s contacts, on some of the uninhabited worlds deep in the territories once known as the Cardassian Union. For the longest time, it seemed like no matter what we did, nothing we invented would ever be strong enough to take on the Dominion. Even the Romulans had turned to them ten years after the end of the war for salvation when a supernova threatened to blow open a spatial rift that could swallow their entire empire whole…and for just a few minutes, the Dominion actually generated an artificial wormhole to absorb the energy of the blast and shunt it out into the space between the galaxies. Having that fact in the back of our minds was pretty daunting, to say the least.
But the Dominion had grown too used to fighting only on the Delta front, as they called it, in sporadic bursts, and never on the Alpha front. And when we finally perfected the interphasic cloaking technology, retooling it over years of hard work to use it on whatever scale we wanted, from the size of an entire ship to small enough for just one person, we had it…a weapon that would allow us to fight the Dominion unseen and untouchable. It was even better than a cloaking device. Better than a Jem’Hadar shroud. And at my suggestion—one that the gul quite readily adopted—we put to use the lesson of the Graft. We, too, could be patient in our planning; just as the long dormancy period of the virus ensured its spread before we realized what was happening, if we played this right, we could have all the pieces in place before the Dominion had any idea they were on the edge of destruction.
Every cloning facility we could find.
Every place they manufactured the white.
As many ships as we could get to.
Our agents, over the years, even crossed into the Gamma Quadrant to leave whatever bombs we could on the other side, too.
All of our explosive devices were set for the same day and hour, three years out from the day we started placing them. Set just out of phase with the universe, you could walk right through one without even disturbing it, without ever picking it up on scanners or knowing it was there, without knowing very, very specifically what you were looking for. Any bomb whose cloaking device failed was set to detonate immediately upon decloaking; all of them lay either next to a warp reactor or a munitions depot, their casing made to disintegrate upon explosion so that if one did go off prematurely, it would look like an accident.
We had a couple of close calls, one on a Jem’Hadar dreadnought in the Gamma Quadrant—thankfully, for no one thought to look our way for something that distant—and another one at the shipyards in orbit of Kora II when another dreadnought detonated in its berth and took half the shipyard with it. We didn’t exactly lay low after that—we didn’t want to change our behavior patterns—so we took a couple of stargazing trips after that incident, where we did nothing but…look at stars.
After a month or two had passed, and we were sure no one was looking our way, we entered the final stage of our plans: preparing a number of Cardassian vessels with loyal commanders, and whatever ships we could get our hands on in the former Federation territories—mainly fighters like what the Maquis used to use—to go under cloak. The fighters we went ahead and cloaked, and moved into position; the Cardassian ships would vanish the instant of the explosions and start a series of lightning raids on whatever Dominion targets they could quickly hit and escape from before they had a chance to figure out what was going on. And we’d have to hope like hell that our example of massive, active resistance…our leadership…combined with the chaos of being hit on all fronts at once, would give the human and Cardassian species the anchor they needed to rebel.
It came in the middle of the night, Phoenix time: December 31st, 2419…a decade that would end in a rain of fire. Our group had left the Maricopa Research Center ostensibly to view a total lunar eclipse—but this time, once we reached our campsite, we jumped back in our skimmer, and sped off for Ashfork as quickly as we could, staying offroad to avoid attention from the police. We pulled up at Cathedral Caverns, knowing we wouldn’t have long; the groundskeeper who lived there was one of ours, but once that eclipse went total, every bomb from here to the Omarion Nebula was going to blow, our part of the Cardassian fleet would fall off the grid, and we had to be under cloak and heading off-planet before we were traced.
It was a mad scramble, but we made it…and for the first time then, I felt the full force of what the Cardassians called synchronicity. It took hardly any speech, hardly any overt orders—we each knew what we were there for, who we reported to, and in a way even beyond my memories of Starfleet, everything just flowed. Just as we cleared atmosphere and hit full impulse, even our wake trail just out of synch with the rest of the universe…D-Day.
With the Dominion still reeling from the first wave of destruction, our fleets hit them with everything we had before they could muster a coordinated response. The people saw this and finally, finally, they rose up, knocking the Dominion even further off balance. Everything around them was a threat. And then, just as they started to gather strength once more, we delivered the coup de grace—we threatened to hand the technology we’d used to pull off our sweeping attack to the Borg.
I don’t even want to think what would’ve happened if they’d forced our hand, and we really had had to make contact with the Borg.
Thankfully that never came to pass. While they contemplated our warning, we blew up a few more targets—some with bombs we’d put in place for a second wave, others with the fleet that in this glorious moment, roamed with impunity. And for the first time, someone had given the Founders a taste of the fear they’d inflicted on world after world: the terror of enemies lurking unseen right before your very eyes, capable of ripping the rug out from under an empire in an instant. They had used what had been done to them in the past as an excuse for inflicting their own brand of pain on others…and finally, we had reminded them of what it really meant to be hunted.
We had the technology, too, to detect shapeshifters far more effectively than any blood test ever had; our work with the interphasic cloak had also given us a window into the extradimensional areas that Changelings always had just a little of their mass anchored in. This tether, without which a Changeling could assume no other form but their natural one, was a telltale they could never be rid of. We didn’t tell them how we could do it, of course. But we told them where a few of their covert number were located—just enough to give them the idea of what we could do if we got a mind to do it.
And with that...the circle closed around them. Crippled and surrounded by enemies on all sides as they had done to “solids” for millennia, they signed the Treaty and withdrew. The threat is still out there, of course, though we’re monitoring their world for any signs of trouble. If they’re ever willing to approach us in the open, to deal with us as being to being instead of superior to inferior, to celebrate their nature without using it for fear, then perhaps this galaxy can be made whole once more. For now, though, they hide on their world as a lake of protoplasm, showing no signs of movement. The Jem’Hadar are dead from lack of ketracel white; as for the Vorta…most of them have killed themselves, though a few are trying to live with us now that they have no more word from their dormant gods.
One last specter hangs over us: the Borg…unchecked by the Dominion now, we have to hope we’ll be strong enough to fight if and when the time comes for them to try to destroy those who brought their most powerful enemy to their knees. Right now intelligence suggests they’re caught in an interdimensional clash of the titans, but if their attention on these adversaries should ever wane…there’s no doubt: we’ll be next, and the recovering Confederation will know war once more.
Now, though…in this first year of our freedom, we of human descent have one final question to answer. What is to be done about the Graft?
The debate puzzles our cousins, to some extent, sometimes even seems to them as though we have passed judgment on them—but it makes sense. They have lived this way for as long as their species has ever known existence. What we have only come to experience in the past…nearly fifty years…was never an intrusion to them. They would no sooner alter themselves than cut off a hand or a foot.
I have lived half my life with the mind of a human and the instincts of a Cardassian—I am much more used to it now, and have even seen the positive sides of it, but many of my generation want nothing more than for the human race to repair itself, to become what we used to be. Part of me yearns to spend my retirement years…summit years, as the gul would call them…as fully human, and to die that way.
The trouble is this. How do we look our children and grandchildren in the eyes and tell them that what they have known all their lives, the way that they had always been when we told them we loved them, the society they have always known, is corrupted…inferior? They have a basic understanding now of what the Dominion did…but many of them were also part of the rebellion. They made the hard choices, even if they arrived at it differently than their ancestors would have.
Are we human now, or did the Graft forever mould us into something else? Is this the Dominion’s last laugh at us, or should we instead take what was done and continue to prove with every day that they could touch the body and the mind…but never the soul?
We finally won.
The question now is how we live, in our victory.