Author Topic: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers  (Read 5547 times)

Offline Jimi James

  • So Say We All
  • Administrator
  • Distinguished Member
  • Posts: 9,322
  • Abandon Ship
    • View Profile
    • The New Haven Chronicles
Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
« on: March 13, 2008, 01:49:55 PM »
This new trilogy, will show the how the first days of the Bajoran Occupation went down.

Review at Trekweb: Here

Below is an expert, also from Trekweb: Here

Quote
TEROK NOR: DAY OF THE VIPERS


by James Swallow

 

2318 (Terran calendar)

 

"Slow and steady, Dukat," said Kell from behind him. "We don't want to alarm the natives."


"As you wish, Gul." Dukat kept his expression neutral as he nodded to the young glinn in the pilot's couch. The junior officer eased back a little on the cutter's thrusters, dropping the slab-shaped vessel's airspeed. It wasn't as if they had been hurtling through the sky at any great speed, but Kell was the kind of commander who liked to

micromanage his crew, to be seen to be doing something even when there was nothing to be done. The gul drew back into the main compartment of the Kornaire's landing ship, to where the rest of the diplomatic party were seated. Dukat had a glimpse of the Oralians, Hadlo and Bennekand a couple more of their number with hooded heads bowed. Are they praying for a safe landing? The flight isn't that bumpy. Seated by Professor Ico's side, Pa'Dar caught Dukat's eye and threw him a nod before he went back to looking out through one of the armored portholes.


Dukat checked the glinn's course and saw she was keeping perfectly to the prescribed air corridor that the Bajorans had transmitted to them. Coming in over that curious blue-green ocean, they were now flying upriver toward their final destination. A flight of swift, needle-hulled aircraft were moving in echelon a few hundred decas above

them, an escort of atmospheric fighters from the Militia's Aerial Guard. The shuttle's passive sensors showed him exactly where each flyer was, and he had no doubt that

the men piloting those planes had one hand on their active scanner controls, ready to illuminate the ship with targeting systems if they diverged from their course by so much as a wing's span. The Cardassian smiled thinly. If the roles had been reversed, he would have done the same-then Dukat corrected himself. No, I would never allow one of them to set foot on Cardassia. Not unless they were under guns or in chains.


"Estimated time of arrival is seven metrics, Dalin," said the pilot.


Dukat nodded. "Look sharp. Your landing will be the first impression we make, so do it with skill."


"I will, sir."


Dukat peered out of the cutter's forward canopy and saw the Bajoran metropolis through the wisps of low-lying cloud. The colors, like the teal ocean, seemed peculiar to

the eyes of a man used to the ashen gray and rusty umber of Cardassian cityscapes. Lush parkland of a kind that could never survive on Cardassia Prime's water-scarce continents was everywhere, each major artery lined with trees and great square commons laid out over the radial terraced districts.

The buildings were largely of a uniform red-gold

hue, most likely made from some kind of local stone, and there were spires and minarets on each intersection. Dukat saw nothing like the imposing towers and majestic arcs of

his homeworld's architecture. Instead, the Bajorans favored domes that lay wide and low to the ground, or glassy orbs that seemed too fragile to be dwellings. With a practiced

soldier's eye, the dalin examined the scope of Korto, thinking of the city in the guise of an invader. What forces would a commander need to commit to take a conurbation

like this one? Where would he need to strike to cut off lines of supply, yet ensure that the prize remained intact?


Filing away his impressions for later deliberation, he shifted back in his acceleration chair as the shuttle turned gently into a banking maneuver, toward the towering castle on the hill overshadowing the city.


"Beginning final descent," said the pilot, and Dukat tapped the intercom and repeated the report to the rest of the passengers.


The shuttle slowed, coming over the walls of the Naghai Keep to stop in a hover above an open space in the broad inner courtyard. Dukat saw a pavilion down there, a small crowd of overdressed Bajorans looking up at them and shielding their eyes. To one side, beneath a set of ornamental arches, there was a raised dais and on it shrouded shapes that could only be the bodies of men. The white cloths that concealed the corpses fluttered as the shuttle dropped gently to the ground, the ship's repulsors casting up small cyclones of air and dust.


The crew of the Bajoran scoutship had been turned over to the locals so that they could prepare for whatever death rituals were needed. He wondered idly if the Bajorans had examined the bodies as thoroughly as the Cardassians had before returning them. He made a mental note to ask Pa'Dar later if they had gleaned anything interesting.


Settling on its landing struts with a hiss of hydraulics, the cutter touched down with barely a tremor of motion, and Dukat inclined his head at the glinn in a gesture of praise before rising from his station. He checked the hang of his duty armor and the flimsy peace-bond seal over the butt of the phaser pistol in his belt holster, then crossed to Kell's side.


The gul shot Hadlo a hard look as the elderly priest paused on the threshold of the hatchway. "I believe it would be best if I exited first, cleric."


Hadlo's lined face hardened. "What sort of message does that send to these people, Gul Kell?"


"Precisely the one I want to send," Kell replied, and thumbed the control that opened the wide gull-wing door.


Dukat was right behind him, and the rush of Bajoran atmosphere welled up and into the shuttle's interior, washing over the dalin's face. It was cool and sweet, lacking the dry edge of home.

 

Pa'Dar and Ico were the last to disembark, followed by two grim-faced glinns who wore the watchful look of men waiting in vain for a threat to emerge where none was lurking. Kell and Dukat, there in their black battle gear, next to the pastel robes of Hadlo, Bennek, and the other Oralians, and now the two scientists in the neutral blues and grays of their duty uniforms; Pa'Dar wondered what the natives would make of them, the three groups within the diplomatic mission all alien, all different.


The clothing worn by the Bajorans was a contrast as well. They seemed to favor earth tones, brown and ochre that reminded the scientist of the stonework of the city. Perhaps the colors are supposed to represent some sort of metaphorical link between the people and their world? It was an interesting hypothesis, and one that Pa'Dar might share with Ico when they returned to the Kornaire, if, of course, she could spare him the time. Of late, as the ship had come closer and closer to Bajor, his supervisor had been harder to pin down, always engaged in communications with the homeworld, distracted by assignments she was unwilling to discuss. Secrecy was part and parcel of life in service to the Cardassian government, but Ico's recent behavior had gone beyond that. He wondered idly if she were doing something illicit, perhaps engaging in a liaison with one of the ship's crew members.


Pa'Dar dismissed the thoughts and turned his attention back to the aliens. He was being provided with a unique opportunity here, and he would be remiss if he didn't make

the most of it. His family were politicians and administrators back on the homeworld, and they had made no attempt to hide their disapproval of his choice of an academic career path. At best, his parents saw themselves as indulging a youthful caprice that they fully expected Kotan to grow out of in due course; the Bajor mission was a chance to prove

them wrong, to show them that he could do something of value from the halls of the science ministry.


Pa'Dar studied the group of Bajorans who approached them from the larger group. At their head were a trio of males in ornate tunics of varying cut, one who clearly had assumed the mantle of command bearing a weathered face, the others following a step behind. Past them, there were three more in robes that shared some similarity to the dress of the Oralian clerics, although the Bajorans wore skullcaps or headgear that arched over their odd, wrinkled brows instead of hoods. And at the rear, a group of figures in what were unmistakably military uniforms. The sketchy cultural briefing Pa'Dar had absorbed before the mission's departure told him that much, but he was unsure how to interpret the colors of the tunics or the oval gold insignia on the collars. He elected to avoid addressing any of the Bajoran soldiers in the event he mistook a rank and offended one of them.


"Gul Kell, I am Verin Kolek, First Minister of Bajor," said the one with the heavily lined face. His voice had the timbre of age and acumen. Pa'Dar had watched the feed from the Kornaire's communications a few days earlier, but until he stood here, staring at the alien, he had not truly understood how peculiar the Bajorans looked. Their flesh, with hues ranging from pinkish yellow to dark ebony, were nothing like the stony, harmonious gray of his own species; and the faces were so smooth and uncharacterful, with only a small patch of nasal ridges to suggest anything like the fine ropes of muscle and bone that adorned the Cardassian aspect. The one who called himself Verin was an elder, and Pa'Dar wondered how old he could be. Cardassians aged at a steady, stately pace, growing more regal as they did so-but this alien seemed almost wizened by comparison. And he is their ruler? Are all their leaders so decrepit?


The minister was still speaking, indicating the younger men standing with him. "This is Kubus Oak, whom I believe your people have already met, and Jas Holza, whose

hospitality we all share today." He gestured to the robed Bajorans, beginning with the lone female. "This is the honored Kai Meressa, and her adjutants Vedek Cotor and Prylar Gar." Finally, it was the turn of the soldiers. "Our Militia representatives, Jaro Essa and Coldri Senn."


The Kornaire's commander nodded with grave solemnity, and Pa'Dar wondered if the Bajorans detected the element of careful pretense beneath the motion. "I greet you in the name of the Cardassian Union and the Detapa Council. We regret that it must be under such circumstances as these"-he gestured toward the arched enclosure where the dead bodies were lying-"but it is Cardassia's fervent hope that on the foundation of such a tragedy our two peoples may come to better know each other as interstellar neighbors." He took a breath. "This is my first officer Dalin Dukat, and these are representatives of our Ministry of Science and the Oralian Way."


The woman Verin had called the kai stepped forward and bowed. "I welcome you to our world in the name of the Prophets," she began. Her voice was clear and melodic,

and it carried across the courtyard. She looked to Hadlo and the other clerics. "Before we go any further, please let me express my personal delight in meeting a deputation from the followers of Oralius."


"You know of our faith?" said Bennek.


"Indeed," said the kai. "Our ecumenical scholars study the beliefs of many worlds, and we have come to understand that our faith can learn great lessons from those of other beings. I hope that during your visit here we will be able to speak of Oralius's teachings. We are interested to learn more of Cardassian spirituality."


            Pa'Dar could see that Hadlo was surprised by the woman's openness. On Cardassia, matters of so-called faith-such as they were in these more enlightened times-did not usually find such a warm response from outsiders. The cleric nodded woodenly. "Of . . . of course. And I too would be fascinated to learn more about your Prophets."


Meressa glanced at Verin and Jas. "With the minister's permission, we will speak of them now."


Jas returned a nod. "Please, Kai, you may begin at your discretion."


The woman bowed slightly, and the troupe of alien priests moved to join several others of their number near the shrouded bodies.


The Bajorans made a sign over their chests. "Before we proceed, the kai will perform a blessing for the spirits of the Eleda's crewmen," explained the younger minister.

 

Bennek craned forward to get a better look at the Bajorans, and Hadlo shot him a terse glance. "Show decorum," rum bled the old cleric.


"Of course," Bennek replied, but the priest's manner belied his statement. Bennek was fascinated by the aliens, and had been ever since the Oralians were approached to join the Kornaire's mission. What he had seen of Bajor through glimpses of the wrecked ship and the dead men was compelling. Bennek had never set foot off Cardassia Prime in

all his twenty-seven years, spending much of his life buried in Oralian scriptures and tomes from the ancient Hebitians. He had grown up steeped in the past of his planet, never once considering how life might exist in other places; but a chance moment, accompanying Hadlo when the cleric had been allowed to examine the Eleda crew's personal effects, had sparked something in him. Among the wreckage of the ship were the remains of a small alcove containing a portable shrine, and there he had come across fragments of a votive icon that resembled-albeit only slightly-a Face of the Fates. He remembered the physical shock at seeing it. Hadlo had dismissed the moment, describing it as a mere coincidence and nothing more, but Bennek couldn't shake the sense that

there was something greater to the similarity. Oralius lives above all, he had reasoned. Is it so strange to imagine she might have touched the souls of other beings as well as Cardassians?


The daring thrill he felt at actually entertaining so radical a thought coursed through him once again. It was something he would never have dared to voice in the chapels of the Way-the conservative nature of his fellow believers was well known to him-but out here, far from home . . . Suddenly, the possibility seemed real. He watched Kai Meressa and the other Bajoran priests making patterns in the air with their hands. Bennek was energized by the idea of learning everything he could about these "Prophets," and perhaps taking the first step toward bringing these aliens to the light of the Way.


The youngest of the Bajoran clerics, the one the First Minister had introduced as Prylar Gar, saw Bennek watching him and inclined his head with a cautious smile. He

wondered if Gar was thinking the same thoughts. The kai took lit tapers from two females in simple shift dresses and used them to light fat yellow candles on a portable altar, in front of the enclosure where the dead men had been placed. Bennek's gaze lingered on the women. The forms of the Bajoran females were so different from the women he had known on Cardassia; his culture favored wives and daughters to be muscular and athletic in build, mothers and elders to be robust and sturdy. These were willowy and

lithe in comparison; they reminded Bennek of the desert nymphs from old fables. Their smooth, flawless skins made them seem ephemeral, almost angelic.


"The land and the people are as one," intoned Meressa. "This truth has been at the heart of us since the day the Prophets first walked among us; but when our sons and our

daughters venture far beyond the stars and dark fates come to claim them, they are no longer at one with the soil of their birth." The priestess bent down and scooped a handful of sandy dirt from the courtyard at her feet, then let it fall away through her fingers. She gestured to the corpses. "These shells are no more than the husks of what our kindred once were, the corporeal remains of friends, brothers, sisters, lovers." Bennek saw several of the Bajorans in the stands behind the dais nodding, some moved to tears. There were children among them, he noticed, realizing for the first time that those had to be the families of the Eleda dead.


Meressa continued. "Tomorrow, those shells will be taken from this place and committed to the land, buried to lie beside the shells of their ancestors. But what of their eternal souls? For those who perish in the void, uncountable distances from the land, what will befall their spirits?" She looked up into the sky and spread her hands. The Cardassian cleric felt the thrill of surprise once more; the kai's gesture mirrored the same ritual pattern that Bennek had performed aboard the Kornaire. All she lacked was a mask of recitation for the similarity to be complete. At his side, he heard Hadlo's sharp intake of breath, and from the corner of his eye he saw that Gul Kell's first officer was glancing his way. Even Dukat sees the resemblance.


"You need not fear for the souls of our brave friends," said the priestess, smiling warmly. "The faith that moves through us all, that brings life to our flesh and to our eternal spirit, is the faith of the Prophets. We feel their love and their wisdom, in life as we do in death, and in doing so we know that once our brief candle is extinguished"-the Kai paused, dousing one of the ceremonial tapers-"a new light will be illuminated. The light of the way toward the Celestial Temple, where all live anew in the bosom of the Prophets." She bowed her head for a moment, and all the Bajorans followed suit. "What remains after death is but a shell. A sign that the pagh has begun its final journey to the Prophets. We ask that they reach out and guide the souls of the Eleda to their reward, knowing that we shall see them again when the day comes for our light to be eclipsed." Meressa looked up. "And we give thanks to our friends from across the stars for their kindness in bringing closure to the families of the lost." The kai and the other priests bowed to the altar and then again to the Cardassians. Unsure of the correct etiquette for the moment, Hadlo and Bennek hesitantly mirrored the motion, sharing a questioning glance.


Bennek could see that the cleric was troubled by the kai's benediction. The uses of language, the gestures and ritual-there were several points between the Bajoran rite

and Oralian funeral sacraments that were alarmingly alike. The old man clearly read the intention in Bennek's face, the need to speak it aloud, and he gave the slightest shake of the head. "Not now," whispered Hadlo. "We . . . we must tread carefully."


The energy of the moment bled out of Bennek in an instant, and he felt crestfallen. "But, Master, do you not see that-"


Hadlo held up a hand to silence him. "Remember where we find ourselves, Bennek," he husked. "Amid those of our own kind who see no value in the Way, on alien

ground among those who may be misguided. We must take care to ensure that these people are kindred spirits. We must find the right moment."

 

Ico glanced at Kell as the gul let out a low breath between his teeth. She raised an eyebrow and spoke quietly so only the Kornaire's commander would be able to hear her. "Am I to take it that you do not find this ceremony to be as enlightening as I do?"


Kell grunted softly. "‘Enlightening' is not the word I would have used, Professor. ‘Primitive,' perhaps. ‘Distasteful,' even." He looked at her, amused with himself. "You are the expert on alien cultures, are you not? Tell me, what can we expect to see next? Rousing hymnals? The ritualized slaying of some small and inoffensive animal?"


She resisted the impulse to sneer at Kell's words and simply cocked her head. "I do not believe so. What data our observers have gleaned shows no predilection toward behavior of that kind. Bajoran religion appears to be beneficent, at least within the bounds of the inherently repressive nature of all enforced faiths."


"And did your observers tell you how long these interminable benedictions go on for?" Before them, the Bajorans had lit a series of oil lamps and joined in a solemn, metered chant.


Ico smiled thinly. "I believe that some formal ceremonies can last for several hours." She looked away, watching the Oralians. Hadlo and his junior Bennek were sharing words as well, but too low for Ico's hearing to pick up the speech; it mattered little, however. Her skills included the training to read the physical cues of humanoid body language, and with men like these clerics who were unschooled in the arts of obfuscation and dissembling, it was almost child's play to divine their emotional states. Bennek balanced on the cusp of youthful enthusiasm, dazzled by the sights and sounds of the new environment around him, while Hadlo reeked of desperation and the steady drumming pulse of fear. She'd sensed it in the old man the moment she had first seen his face, his watery brown eyes staring up at her from the screen of a padd. Ico could read the cleric's emotional index as easily as she could the text of a book. Then, as now, she knew he was the correct choice to participate in the Kornaire's mission. All that was required was a steady, vigilant hand to ensure that he led the Oralians down the path that was being laid out for them.


Her attention returned to Kai Meressa and the Bajorans as the ritual for the dead came to a slow, stately conclusion. It fascinated her, the way that the Bajoran faith was so

clearly threaded through everything that the aliens said or did. The same shapes and motifs appeared in their clothing and their architecture, the oval symbols recurring again and again. Ico was quietly content that she had been born into an era where Cardassia had grown out of such unsophisticated beliefs; she was the product of a Union where belief

in the strength of her people's destiny was enough, without the need to resort to the invention of phantom deities. There had been a time in Cardassia's past when they too had been hidebound by dogma and creed. Ico's placid face hid an inner grimace as she imagined her species in thrall to weak men like Hadlo and his Oralian nonsense. But the Cardassian civilization had matured, finding new strength in its austerity, and the cleric's Way was withering and fading; perhaps, in time, Cardassia would be able to educate the Bajorans so they might find a measure of the same maturity.

 

The ceremony concluded, the Bajorans broke apart into groups, some remaining in the courtyard, others leaving. Dukat noted that the natives of apparent high rank bore

distinctive jeweled rings and chains about their right ear. Every Bajoran he saw had the earring, but some sported simple silver or steel versions, while the men and women who stood with the First Minister wore ones studded with gemstones and precious metals. He followed Kell and Ico, with the others from the Kornaire trailing behind him, through a tall set of doors that were carved from a dense black wood inlaid with copper plates beaten into friezes. He looked up and saw renderings of Bajoran warriors armed with cannons, primitive crossbows, and strange kitelike gliders engaging in battle with one another. The copper was worn and smooth to the touch.


Pa'Dar came to his side. The scientist had his ever-present tricorder in his hand. "These carvings are ancient," he noted, peering at the device's screen.


Dukat nodded. "I've seen something similar in the mineral baths at Corvon."


"Not like this," said the other man. "The Corvon mural dates back to the pre-Hebitian era. These . . ." Pa'Dar put out his hand and ran gray fingers over the metal. "Perhaps there's something in the structure confusing the scanner. According to my tricorder, these plates are more than fifteen thousand years old."


Dukat looked around, taking in the high ceilings of the Naghai Keep, the ornate columns ranging up the walls, the floors of polished granite slabs. Banners and tapestries hung in alcoves behind humming stasis field generators; there were towering paintings of landscapes and Bajorans in robes and tunics that seemed little different from the clothes worn by Verin and the others. The soldier felt a sudden and palpable sense of history pressing in on him from all around, almost as if the age of the castle were a scent in the air.


The other minister, the one named Jas, was speaking to Gul Kell as they walked. "Ladies and gentlemen, now that the sober matter of the Eleda has been concluded, would like to extend to our guests from Cardassia Prime an invitation to remain and dine with us. I have had my staff prepare a meal." The minister threw a nod at one of his functionaries, a dark-skinned female with a shorn skull, and she in turn signaled two guardsmen to open another door, revealing a wide hall beyond. "The hospitality of the

Naghai Keep and the Jas clan are yours," he smiled.


Dukat crossed over the threshold of the room, and his senses were assaulted by a hundred different odors of cooked foods, of spices and mulled wines, fruits and vegetables in a panoply of colors and shapes. He tasted the scent of something that had to be roasted fish on his tongue and, despite himself, felt his mouth flood with saliva. Weeks of passable rokat fillets and that barely palatable tefla broth from the Kornaire's food stores were suddenly like a bad dream. All around a wide, ring-shaped table in the center of the hall there were heaped serving trays of Bajoran dishes, alongside metal drums of steaming herbal infusions and heated wines.


It was more food in one place than Dukat had ever seen in his life.


Pa'Dar blinked at his tricorder. "This . . . feast is compatible with our biology," he announced, clearly sharing a degree of Dukat's amazement.


"Of course," insisted Kubus, a note of affront in his tone. "I provided the keep's cooks with a complete dietary guide for your species." He chuckled self-consciously. "You may not find it as appealing as taspar eggs or fine seafruits, but I promise you, you will be intrigued by our native dishes." He gestured to a plate. "Try the hasperat. It's some of Bajor's most popular fare."


They took their seats, but Dukat felt a tightness in his chest that he couldn't readily explain. The scents of the food washed over him; he hadn't realized that he was hungry, but the smells were mouthwatering, and a wave of greed tingled in the tips of his fingers. Part of him wanted to take all he could and gorge on it. He glanced around, watching Kell and Ico, Hadlo and the Oralians, all of them following the lead of the Bajorans and helping themselves to brimming glasses of drink and plates piled with edibles. Dukat wanted to do the same, but something stopped him-and for a moment he was the young boy from Lakat all over again, growing up hungry, the table at his home always spartan. His lips thinned.


It wasn't as if he had been born into poverty-far from it. The Dukat family was relatively well-off in the scheme of things, a middle-tier clan with good holdings and a

respectable income. Many lived in far worse conditions.  But life in Lakat, life all across Cardassia Prime, was one of austerity. Shortages were a matter of fact on a world where

meager farmlands might produce only a few barrels of grain each season.


And now he was here, on this world of verdant green fields and wide oceans, surrounded by these plump-faced people with their smooth skins and rich clothes, and before him they had laid out enough food to feed an entire Cardassian family for a year. Dukat recalled the poor level of sustenance that his lower-ranked subordinates were forced to live on, and the obscenity of the moment settled on him. The Bajorans ate

and talked, and they were wasteful with it, some of them leaving half a course on their plates before moving on to some-thing else, letting their servants take the serving dishes away. He wondered if the leavings would go to feed the staff, or if they would simply be discarded. The idea of such ostentatious, thoughtless wastage set his teeth on edge, and he fought down a surge of resentment. What right do these aliens have to live so well when my people must fight for every mouthful?


"Dalin Dukat?" He turned to see Kubus Oak studying him. The Bajoran offered him a glass of purple-hued fluid. "Try this, it's a vintage springwine from the vineyards in the hill provinces. I've found my Cardassian associates enjoy it."


Dukat took the proffered glass stiffly and sampled a little. It was rich and potent. "You have had many dealings with the Union," he noted. He remembered the man's name from one of Kell's briefings; the Obsidian Order had characterized the merchant minister as an opportunist with grand plans for himself and a somewhat mercenary attitude. Dukat knew the type well.


Kubus nodded. "That I have. I've always found your people to be most scrupulous. It's a pleasure to see that relationship grow stronger." He smiled. "You're not eating. Is there nothing here that is to your liking?"


Dukat returned a cold, humorless smile. "I don't wish to seem ungrateful. It is just that . . . you have so very much. It's hard to know where to start."


The minister smiled back at him, turning away as someone else took his attention. "Take what you want, Dalin. There's more than enough."


"Indeed," the Cardassian said quietly. He took another sip of the springwine and let his eyes range around the room, finding Bennek grinning over a plate piled high with some sort of pastry. The cleric was talking to a Bajoran woman, one of the servant girls, and for a brief instant Dukat imagined he saw the glint of a different kind of hunger in the young man's eyes.


Dukat stared into his goblet, seeing the swirling sapphire liquid within as if it were the resentment that burned inside him. These Bajorans knew none of the hardships that his people did, and it angered him. How could Hadlo and Bennek speak of the blessings of beneficent guardian powers that watched over Cardassia, and then come to a place like this and realize how much their people were forced to go without? The scales of the universe were unbalanced if lean and vital Cardassia had to live hungry while Bajor, with its static and inward-looking culture, feasted every day. Dukat held up his glass and looked through it, at the food and the people and the vast walls of the hall beyond; and once again, the flare of raw greed rose in him.


Take what you want. Kubus's words echoed in Dukat's thoughts. "We will," he whispered to himself, raising the glass to his lips.

 

As the evening drew in and the meal moved to a conclusion, Jas Holza found the moment of definition that had been eluding him all day. As a statesman, he had learned from his father that the key to understanding his enemies and allies was to find the nature of them at the first meeting; that impression, the visceral and immediate truth of it, would never fail to be the correct one. All Jas had to do was listen to himself, and heed it.


As he watched Gul Kell polish off a leg of porli fowl, the definition suddenly came to him. The Cardassians are like grass vipers. Watchful and measured about everything they do, but always ravenous. He smiled slightly, self-amused. The gray skin made the comparison complete, and Jas recalled the dry, reptilian texture of the gul's flesh when they had shaken hands. But what do they see when they look at us? He

hoped it wasn't porli fowl.


Kell dabbed at his mouth with a napkin. "Ministers," he began, glancing at Jas and Verin. "I hope you will forgive my bluntness on this matter, but I would like to speak to you of the future."


"Oh?" Verin leaned forward. "In what fashion, Gul Kell?" Jas wondered if the aliens registered the faint disdain in the old man's voice.


The Cardassian summoned a server to pour him more wine. "The friendship of the Union has much to reward those who accept it. The Detapa Council believes that a strong society is one in partnership with its neighbors."


"Quite so." Kubus threw the comment in from down the table, catching the edge of the conversation. From the corner of his eye, Jas noticed that the elderly Cardassian cleric was listening in as well.


"And what do you think, Gul?" Verin asked. The old man had seen the slight tic as Kell spoke of his masters; but then, the alien wouldn't be the first soldier to chafe under the commands of his civilian masters.


"I am a humble servant of the Cardassian Union, no more. I follow my orders, gentlemen, and today those orders are to extend the hand of friendship to Bajor."


"You're talking about trade," said Jas, a wary note entering his voice.


"Our planet wants for little from other worlds," said Verin abruptly. "We need nothing from Cardassia. The Prophets granted us a home that fulfills all our needs."


Kell nodded toward Kubus. "Some feel differently, is that not true? Bajor does engage in commerce with other worlds throughout this sector."


"It would be more accurate to say that our colonies do," corrected the First Minister firmly. "We export very little. And what does come from offworld to Bajor herself does so in only the most limited quantities." He glanced away dismissively.

Jas saw the Cardassian look at the other alien at his side, the one wearing the plain tunic. At first Jas had thought it was another male, but when it spoke he realized abruptly

that she was a female of the species. The shapeless, unflattering uniforms the Cardassians wore did nothing to highlight the differences between their sexes. "Are you not curious about what other races may have to offer Bajor?" she pressed. She gestured at the food. "Clearly, your generosity shows you have much to offer others."


"You are too kind," Verin replied, but his smile never reached his eyes. "Hospitality is a core tenet of our culture, Professor Ico. The Prophets tell us to treat all visitors with respect . . . no matter what their origins."


"And we thank you for it," Hadlo ventured, saluting with a nod of his head.


Jas put down his goblet and looked directly at Kell. "Gul, I think you are pressing us to ask a question that you would like to answer. You spoke of bluntness, so why not be blunt, and say what you wish to?" He ignored the glare Verin shot him.


There was the briefest glimmer of irritation on Kell's face, a hardening of his jaw, and then it was gone. "Perceptive, Minister Jas, very perceptive." He nodded. "Very

well. We have seen your vessels, craft like your scoutship Eleda and the frigates that greeted us on our arrival in the B'hava'el system. What if I told you that Cardassia

has technology that could double the speed and range of those craft? New advances in deflector shield technology, spiral-wave disruptors far more powerful than the energy

cannons you currently employ. Is that not something you would find useful?" Kell indicated Colonel Coldri and Captain Jaro across the room from them. "I imagine your

military officers would find such devices of great interest."


"And you would demand much in return!" snapped Verin.


"Bajor's wealth in minerals and foodstuffs is quite apparent," noted Ico.


The First Minister's eyes narrowed. "We have been careful to ensure that our planet has remained in balance for thousands of years. To begin taking more than we need from her would upset that equilibrium."


Jas rubbed his thin beard. "Admittedly, swifter starships would be of use to us. Our settlements on Golana, Valo, and Prophet's Landing would benefit. It would bring them closer to us."


Verin sniffed with contempt. "The people on those worlds chose to leave the safety of the homeworld, Minister. If they have put themselves at a great distance from

Bajor, then that is a matter for them. They should not be coddled."


Jas said nothing; Verin's platform among the Council of Ministers had always been an isolationist one, and he had never made a secret of his disdain for Bajor's colonial efforts.


"You are proud of your world, and rightly so," allowed Ico.

"Would you not consider the merit of giving your planet greater security?"


"Bajor has made no enemies," Verin retorted. "We are not an expansionist people. We keep to our own borders, unlike other species."


Unbidden, Jas's hands tightened into fists. He thought of his scoutship, of all his vessels out in the void. Better technology might have saved the crew of the Eleda from their ignominious deaths in deep space.


Kell looked across the table at the First Minister, ignoring the old man's thinly veiled insult. "And yet, one need only examine a starchart to see that your sector lies

between the frontiers of a handful of alien powers." He waved a hand at the air, as if he were taking in the space all around them. "The Breen Confederation. The Tzenkethi

Coalition. The Federation. Even the Tholians or the Talarians might find their way here." Kell smiled coldly. "None of them would be as good a friend to Bajor as Cardassia."


Ico nodded. "It is well known that the Federation has designs on expansion into this area of space." She looked to Hadlo for agreement. "I doubt that if they came to Bajor they would do it out of respect for the souls of your dead."


The cleric hesitated. "The United Federation of Planets is a largely secular nation," he said finally, with distaste.


"We are aware of that," Verin bristled. "We have no dealings with them." A grimace formed on his lips. "They . . . do not approve of our societal structure. They consider our D'jarras to be an impediment to our progress."


"Your caste system," said Ico. "How like the humans to be so judgmental. It is clear to me that your culture functions perfectly well in a stratified arrangement. Cardassia would never be so bold as to think we could tell you how to run your world."


Kell's lips drew back into a smile. "We believe in the partnership of equals." He met Jas's gaze. "Is that not the basis of all strong friendships?"


Jas nodded slowly, the image of the Eleda's shattered hull rising to the surface of his thoughts.


Verin took a careful sip of springwine. "All of Bajor respects what you have done for our citizens," he said levelly, "and you have our gratitude. But your overtures will find little purchase here. If that is truly why you have come to our world, then your journey has been wasted."

 

The rest of the meal continued with awkward small talk andnthere came a moment when Dukat felt as if he had eaten his fill: not because he had no more room in his stomach, but because after a while the richness of the Bajoran food had soured on his tongue. Glasses of Kubus's springwine did nothing to wash away the cloying taste, and as the meal slowly drew to a close he found it progressively more demanding to stay in the same room as Kell and the others, watching them chatter and go around in circular conversation. Picking his moment, he excused himself and stepped out of the hall. On their way in, as they had walked the keep's corridors, Dukat had noticed an arched door opening onto a wide stone balcony, and he strode over to it.


Night had fallen across the planet while the feast had progressed, and the sky was dotted with low, thin clouds. Unfamiliar constellations looked down on Dukat as he

wandered to the edge of the battlements. As if it were a reflection of the heavens above, the city spread out below the keep was a mixture of dusky patches of parkland and

municipal districts glittering with lanterns. He raised a questioning eyeridge as he spotted faint plumes of smoke issuing up from the streets. His first reaction was to wonder if there was some sort of discord in progress, that those were fires set by malcontents; but he heard no sounds of gunfire, nothing that could be considered violence. On a

breath of wind came the faint noises of music and revelers, and his lip twisted. More feasting and carousing? Is that all these aliens do?


The wind brought scents with it as well, and Dukat sniffed at the air like a hunting dog. He detected a pleasant, slightly resinous odor.


"Bateret leaves," said a voice. "We burn them. It's a Peldor

Festival tradition."


Dukat turned to see a Bajoran man standing in an open-topped stone cupola some short distance down the length of the ramparts. A soldier? The Cardassian read the man's manner instantly from the way he stood, the wary edge in his voice. The Bajoran turned toward him hesitantly, as if he were uncertain it was permissible for him to speak to Dukat. The dalin saw a simple chain glitter on the man's ear, and he took in the ochre-colored uniform, the holstered gun at his hip. He noted how the Bajoran's hands never went anywhere near the pistol. Not a soldier then, perhaps. But certainly one used to dealing with unknown threats. The corners of Dukat's mouth drew up in satisfaction at the thought of being considered in such a way. "You are holding a festival in our honor?"

A brief flash of amusement crossed the Bajoran's face. "Uh, no. I'm afraid not. You just timed your arrival to coincide with one of our annual celebrations." He nodded

toward the city. "The Gratitude Festival. We ask the Prophets to help us with our troubles and watch over us in the coming year." He sighed. "It'll be over by tomorrow." The Bajoran paused. He was clearly finding the situation awkward.

Dukat elected to say nothing; until this moment, every alien he had met on this planet had been a politician or a priest. He found himself wondering about the men who served below them, the workers and the warriors like this one. Like me.


"Do you have celebrations like this on your world?"


Dukat looked back at the city. "Some. On Union Day, all of Cardassia unites in honor of the formation of our society. We mark the anniversaries of the deaths of our

ancestors, the births of our children and . . . and their namings." His throat tightened a little on the last few words, and he frowned at himself.


The Bajoran heard the catch in his voice. "I have children. A boy, Bajin, and a girl, Nell."


For a brief instant, Dukat considered turning around and leaving; instead he found himself answering. "I have a son," he replied. "He has yet to be named."


"A newborn?"


Dukat shook his head. "He is a few months old. I have been on detached duty and unable to return home to join his mother for the ceremony. Both parents must be present

for the naming to be formally recognized by the state."


"But you have chosen a name already?" The Bajoran came closer.


Dukat nodded. "Procal, after my father. I fear my wife may have other ideas, however." He felt the weight of the holograph rod in his wrist pocket, and the pictures came to the front of his thoughts once again. His saw his family, out there in Lakat, waiting for the supplies to arrive. And here he was, only a few feet away from a room brimming with food he could not give them. The greasy aftertaste of a Bajoran meat dish he had eaten came up at the back of his throat and his hands gripped the stone lip of the battlements.


"I'm Darrah Mace," said the other man.


"Skrain Dukat."


Darrah accepted this with a nod. "You're military."


"As you are."


"Not exactly." Darrah frowned. "I'm a Militia officer, but not a line soldier. I'm a law enforcer, part of Korto's City Guard." The Bajoran followed Dukat's gaze out over the conurbation. "I imagine the demands of our duties are similar, though. Sometimes, family has to be served second."


Dukat shot a look at the man, and he was ready to censure Darrah for his forwardness. The urge dissolved as quickly as it had come upon him. Careful, Dukat, he told himself. Do not reveal too much to these aliens. For all he knew, this chance meeting might have been engineered deliberately by Verin and the others to take the measure of the Cardassians. And if they are anything like us, this man will report every word we have shared to his superior officer the moment I leave. The furrows on his brow deepened. He was allowing the matter of the naming ceremony, of his concerns for the welfare of Athra and his son, to play on his mind. The resentment was there again, and some of it fell at the feet of Kell. The gul knew Dukat's circumstances, and he had denied the dalin's request for a temporary leave of absence prior to the Bajor mission.


The Bajoran didn't seem to notice the turmoil behind Dukat's eyes. "We all have our responsibilities," he said, and Dukat detected an air of resignation in the other man's

manner.


He was still forming a reply when a figure stepped out onto the balcony behind him. "Skrain. There you are." Kotan Pa'Dar approached him. "Minister Jas has provided

us with guest quarters for the night in the keep's east tower. Professor Ico felt it would be best if we accept. A refusal might offend the-" He caught sight of Darrah and hesitated. "Our hosts."


"Of course." Dukat gave the Bajoran a nod. "Perhaps we will speak again?"


"Maybe so," offered Darrah.


Pa'Dar spoke quietly as they walked away. "What was that about? You were talking with the alien?"

"It was nothing," said Dukat, with a finality that silenced the scientist.
https://www.patreon.com/JonMichaelMay
Help me make art, by joining me on Patreon. Various subscriptions tiers are in place, allowing you to support my addictive art habit for as little as $1 a month.

Offline Bond, James Bond

  • Administrator
  • Minor Board Deity
  • Posts: 31,805
  • Licensed to Ban
    • View Profile
Re: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2008, 03:52:20 AM »
I've been looking forward to reading these for a while now. Thanks for the reminder. That excerpt is quite good, so if the rest of the novel is up to that standard (as the review implies) then I think it will be a great book.

Offline Torlek

  • Veteran Member
  • Posts: 1,183
  • Burn it all down and start over.
    • View Profile
Re: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2008, 03:10:25 PM »
Just finished this a couple of days ago.  It's not quite as strong as I would've hoped but it was strong enough to convince me to pick up the other two books in this series once I can find them.  This book is absurdly loaded with characters from future tales and introduces a couple of characters I really look forward to seeing develop.  It also fleshes out the Oralian Way (Cardassian religion) quite a bit from where it was introduced in the Mission Gamma series (unless it was also mentioned in Stitch in Time which I still haven't read).  If I had to identify the main characters it'd have to be Dukat and the watchman he meets on the ramparts in the preview, Darrah Mace.  Mace is a good fit as the "good cop caught up in the crumbling, corrupt system" and I can't help but think of him as a commissioner Gordon without a Batman to have his back.  Dukat is more of a dichotomy though.  There's instances where you can see him trying to buck the Cardassian system and want him to succeed.  But then he'll turn around and switch to more of a Big Brother/Hitler/Stalin mode.  Also if the book is taken as accurate he is surprisingly old by the time of DS9 since he was already an LTC in 2318.  And for that matter the Galor's are old too because apparently they were the shiny new ships of the Union at the start of the book.

As it stands now this series is a good starting point for branching out into the Cardassian War.  It would be great to see what they could do with this if they gave it to some of the more established authors.
The battle of modern programming is one waged between the engineers trying to craft a bigger,better idiot-proof program and the universe trying to breed bigger, better idiots.  So far, the universe is winning.

Offline Admiral Ross

  • Veteran Member
  • Posts: 1,265
  • Token SCN Paleo-Con
    • View Profile
Re: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2008, 12:16:46 AM »
I just finished the second book in this trilogy (figured there wasn't really enough discussion going on for each book to merit its own topic).  I'm pretty satisfied as a whole as the story's compelling and its an interesting look at a part of the Trek story that we haven't seen before.

-I thought the first novel did a pretty good job of depicting a relatively stagnant, complacent Bajoran culture.  It had always been an apparent contradiction the way Bajoran culture was described as advanced so long ago, yet they were relatively backwards.  The novels did a good job depicting a Bajor that plateaued at a certain level by design of the Prophets.

-Some of the nods to the extended universe were fun.  I loved seeing the Tzenkethi and the crew of the Gettysburg.  The plot thread with Dukat and Kira stretches it a little for me, but isn't totally implausible.  I am a little afraid that the novels may fall prey to "small universe" syndrome - which I think has been on the rise with the new emphasis on continuity in the novel line.

-I thought the Cardassian plan for the annexation was ridiculously and unncecessarily complex.  I think if a good chunk of the Cardassian military had simply shown up in orbit one day, they could have conquered the planet as easily.

Looking for Book #3, should be reading it soon.
“Fear God and Dread Nought”
 
 - Motto of Admiral Sir John Fisher

Offline Glory to the Dominion

  • Prolific Member
  • Posts: 846
    • View Profile
Re: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2008, 09:56:02 AM »
-I thought the Cardassian plan for the annexation was ridiculously and unncecessarily complex.  I think if a good chunk of the Cardassian military had simply shown up in orbit one day, they could have conquered the planet as easily.

Yes indeed. Given the sophistication of Bajoran starships, orbital bombardment might have worked just as well.

Did you notice the nod to Star Wars (or rather Han Solo), when the Bajorans talk to the Gettysburg... 'we're all fine here...how are you?'