I was alone. That’s all I knew. As I closed the communications console in my shop, I looked behind me to see if there were any customers--or anyone else--behind me. To my relief, there were no soldiers or operatives directly behind me, although it was only a mild relief, because who knew what advanced methods they had for watching someone these days? The Order could be watching me right through my own eyes and I’d never know it.
I was alone because I could not tell Mika and Likal. If they knew even the tiniest piece of information about what I was involved with, they would be in danger. Better that they remain in the dark so that if the Order questions them, they can be genuinely surprised and confused. Maybe that will give them the edge they need to be released without too much harm coming to them.
I didn’t want to be a part of this. They came into my shop and told me that if I didn’t participate, I would suffer at their hands. The authorities, of course, were all too willing to laugh in my face because I’m a lowborn, and they told me they would help me if and when my daughter married someone important.
I hope she lives to get married.
They gave me certain codes and told me at what time of day I should send them to various public terminals throughout the city. I sent the first one yesterday, and a building across the street from that terminal was blown up an hour later.
As I tried to sew a shirt for one of my regular customers, my hands began to tremble. I never thought I’d be involving myself in terrorist activities, never! I was lowborn, I was trained from a young age to respect the chain of authority and the great nation of Cardassia. We have a strong government, a strong military and more disciplined people than even the Romulans. Though I’m sure the Romulans tell their people the same thing in relation to--
Those thoughts have to stop. If they come in here and ask questions, and I’m thinking like that, it’ll show on my face. I might slip and say something I don’t mean, and that’ll be the end of me.
The people who came in here, they talked about creating a free Cardassia, but I can’t see how they expect to free everybody by causing them to wind up dead. The building that exploded…I watched the newscasts on it as though my life depended on it, in homage to the people whose lives or at the very least livelihoods I destroyed.
Well, it turns out it was just their business that got annihilated; I feel so much better now.
Blown to bits.
I put the tool I was using down and took some deep breaths. Fresh air would have been incredible right then, but there were so many people outside, so many, and it was so bright…I don’t like crowds, or big open spaces where anyone can be looking at you from anywhere at any time…better that I stay in my vole-hole and keep my head down and work. But I couldn’t. I just. Couldn’t.
“Excuse me,” a voice from behind startled me and I barely kept from jumping a foot into the air as I turned and tried to smile.
The person who spoke was on my side of the counter! When I turned around he was bringing up some kind of device, pointing it right at my face! It had two prongs with shining, bulbous ends as though it were intended to be pointed right into my eyes.
I reacted. I mean, even after all that I’ve experienced in the intervening time, I don’t know how I managed to do what I did, or what drove me to such lengths. It was instinctive, but survival instincts like those rarely aid in survival in a place like Cardassia.
I grabbed his wrist and brought it up and around so that it was behind his back, but he clubbed me on the side of the head at the same time. I was dizzy and spun around toward the waiting arms of another man. I didn’t even get a good look at him, because the first thing I did when I saw him was to offer him a head-butt. He staggered backward, and that opened up just enough space between himself and the counter for me to slip past him and toward the storage room.
“Stop him,” one of them said, and his tone told me they were not from the organization, such that it was, that was having me send the coded transmissions. They had to be from the Order, here to arrest me.
I didn’t take the time to think about the implications, and if I had, maybe my family would be safe right now. Instead, I grabbed the disruptor pistol I keep in the storage room and spun around, firing once, twice, three times, hitting only one of them square in the chest while the other, behind him, used his comrade as a shield after being protected from my shots by virtue of having been behind him at the time in the first place. His friend, however, was not out of commission either. I, nonetheless, did something which was as lucky as it was foolish.
I was preparing some displays for the latest fashions, which were being delivered to me in three days, and toward that end I’d purchased the latest version of mannequin--the one which conformed to the body shape made popular by a recently elected official on the Detapa Council--of which there were five back there with me in storage. I grabbed one of them and held it up on my left side, making a mad dash toward the door while using it as a shield. It was durable, but I was certain that a few well-placed shots would punch right through it and most likely still kill me. Yet it was the only chance I had.
Success! Hitting the street, I discarded the mannequin and was immediately assaulted by the light of the sun, boring into my eyes with utter disregard for the fact that I needed to get away from there as quickly as possible. I needed to see where I was going, and I couldn’t see anything until I looked down at my feet, and then someone bumped into me and I nearly put my hands on his damned throat because I was so tense. Instead I used the initiative to roll off of him and run into the crowd.
I could hear him muttering something to the effect of “what the--” right before the sounds of a brief scuffle told me that the two agents had bumped into him on their way out the door after me, and he’d probably acted as a hurdle to slow them down because of his mounting confusion.
I ran and ran, deeper into the crowd, my heart pounding in my head and my breath coming in ragged gasps. They were all staring at me as I charged through the throng, and any one of them could also be an operative of the Order. The sun and the sky, too, felt oppressive, damn did I hate open spaces, but if I could cope for long enough…
Blocks later I reached an alley where I felt secure enough to stop and catch my breath. The ends of the alley were right there, open spaces closing in on me, threatening me, so close…
There were side entrances to both buildings. A modern extension of the fire escape, they would permit me access so long as I knew the proper codes or could hack the locking mechanism so that it would let me in. There obviously wasn’t time for that, since I don’t have the slightest bit of skill in that regard, thus I simply shot the keypad and hoped for the best.
Shhfff! It slid open and I slipped inside, pointing my blaster this way and that, and it came to rest on a woman who was just emerging from a shower. She screamed until I put a finger to my lips, and put a towel around herself awkwardly. The blaster would keep her quiet.
I approached her slowly. Or I think it was slowly. I was so nervous I could barely control my movements. Or was I so frightened that every movement simply felt more aggressive than it actually was? I don’t know, but I do know that in that moment I could barely feel my body. And then she said it.
“Are you from the Order?”
It was asked so plainly, with a slight tremble to her voice as though she had already decided that I was. I didn’t know what to say. That she believed I could be a member of such a dangerous--
--no, they were necessary.
But were they?
These conflicting thoughts were getting me nowhere. If I kept second-guessing everything before I drew conclusions regarding that which was relevant, I would not survive this.
“Just be quiet.” A voice from the vicinity of my throat instructed her. It was my voice, but it could not have been me.
“I-I’m an artist, that’s all,” she insisted in a trembling voice. Tears were welling in her eyes, and I felt a pang of sympathy for her. If the Order didn’t know about her before, they would surely know about her now. It didn’t take a political expert to realize where this was going.
“I know that some of my pieces, they…they…they don’t depict the government in the best light, b-but it’s symbolic of the--”
“Quiet!” I rasped. “Go sit in that chair,” I told her, indicating a seat off to the right in my periphery. I kept the blaster trained on her as she did what she was told, and then I started backing toward the door.
Voices in the alleyway.
“He--” she started to cry, and my finger twitched. I could not be caught.
Charging toward the door, I went toward the other side of the building and right out the front, where they would not at this point be expecting me. Hopefully.
To my pleasant surprise, there was no one waiting at the front entrance to the apartment building when I emerged back on the street. I stood framed by the door for a long moment, collecting my wits before
stepping out. I had to get a hold of a vehicle. That would be the only way to outrun the agents.
What have you just DONE?! Screamed a voice in the back of my head. In my panic I was able to ignore it, and I flagged down a passing hovercar. It turns out that blasters are by far the greatest form of persuasion, and if I had only been able to use them in order to sell my merchandise, well, let’s just say I’d be a rich man right about now.
Soon I was off. Off my nut, off the grid, off on a wild quest to figure out what the hell to do next. I didn’t have a way of contacting the organization that had been forcing me to help them, though they might have been the only people at this point who were willing to help me. I did not know what to do. Once you were on the run from the Obsidian Order, they found you one way or another. It was common knowledge, simple fact. I didn’t have what it took to run blindly from them and survive. I’d have to make contact.
I knew some of their codes. Maybe the ones that didn’t get buildings blown up would work as red flags and get them to respond to me. Surely they would know it was me!
My family. I had to get in touch with Mika and Likal, meet them somewhere and get us all OFF-WORLD! The Order would be there already, monitoring them…I couldn’t contact them, I couldn’t. Not yet.
“Hello, Regin,” a gruff voice greeted me on the other side of the vehicle’s communications board. I had input the code and sent it to as many public access terminals as I could. The scrambled name it was sent to was whoever I was speaking with now.
I found it difficult to speak at first. I was sure there was a powerful tremble in my voice, but I pushed it out with more force than I intended.
“You got me into this. Please help me!”
“We have a safehouse by the--”
“NO! No, I…I won’t go to a safehouse, I need to get myself and my family off-world as quickly as possible.”
The voice became angry. “Off-world? It’s not that simple. We’re not magicians. Get to this address--”
“You’d better make it that simple, or I’ll turn myself in and give them the codes you’ve given me. They’ll find you.”
“If you want me to kill your family, and then you, go on provoking me.” There was murder in his voice. He meant it. But I couldn’t help myself. I laughed a shrill, mad laugh at him and said, “And you don’t think the Order will do the same or worse? I’d expect you to at least show them mercy and make it quick!”
Now the voice sighed. Probably trying to calm himself down so he could get me to be reasonable. Apparently those codes were very important.
“Go to the Nylat transit station at 2300 and wait in gate 13. You’ll be met by one of our people.”
“And my family…?”
“And your family.”
Well, that was settled. With a sigh that exploded from me like all the pressure leaving an antimatter chamber, I sat back and drove the hovercar as far from Nylat as possible. At 2200 I would turn around and head the other way. As for right now, there was only one option: stay off the grid.
I was using someone else’s vehicle, probably reported stolen. I quickly abandoned the strategy I had just adopted and opted to leave it behind. I’d have better luck sticking to the alleyways and hiding amongst the refuse of society.
Now I was one of the refuse.
No, I did what I had to do.
I’d murdered a student in cold blood, brought the Order down on my family and helped destroy a business. A Cardassian student, a Cardassian family, a Cardassian business.
Nothing was more important to a Cardassian than his family. We weren’t powerful, but we had potential. Now we had shit. We would forever be gutter-trash, the dregs of society, living as criminals, somewhere out there. Away from Cardassia. Officially, our line ended here.
I stopped thinking. I mean, I just switched off my conscious thought process for the most part and stood with my back to the wall of the alley I’d stopped to rest in, and slid to the ground on my butt. Drawing my knees up toward my chest, I draped the blaster over them and started to sob openly.
At 2300, at the gate, I stood waiting. It wasn’t until 2304 that someone finally approached me. At this point I had dressed myself in rags that I’d taken from a drunk that I’d threatened with my blaster. As it turns out, he was more than happy to trade clothes with me. Go figure. So now I smelled like piss and kanar and felt twice as dirty as I smelled, and believe me, if I hadn’t been walking at night I wouldn’t have been able to move through the streets at all, uncomfortable as I was.
“Listen, you vagrant piece of trash,” the man who approached me said, “I want you off my damned world.” There were very few people around at that time, some of them waiting for the same vessel as me, others waiting at different gates. Even as I desperately hoped that this was indeed who I was waiting for, I understood the need for such a ruse.
“I’m going to do both of us a favor tonight!” He continued in a sarcastically cheerful tone. “Since I’m such a generous man and I can afford it, I’m going to offer you passage out of here.”
“But Cardassia is my home,” I intoned, as would be expected of me. I did my best to sound drunk, too--they would expect me to be drunk.
“Oh, indeed? If you cared about Cardassia you’d have joined the damned military! You wouldn’t be walking around in rags pissing yourself. You look healthy enough. Did they tell you you were too handsome to die?”
At this, several people around us met his eyes and laughed at my expense. I used the opportunity to scan the crowd for my wife and daughter, but I did not see them.
“If you truly cared about Cardassia…you’d be on your way out of here, so these loyal citizens wouldn’t have to smell you anymore!”
More laughter, and still no sign of my family.
“What is your name?”
Shit. I thought quickly and came up with the name of the deceased father of a friend. “Likor.”
“Well, Likor, because it amuses me…” He moved as if to put his hand on my back in a gesture of friendship, then made a face and retracted it, much to the audience’s delight. “…I’m going to buy you some new clothes and get you the hell off of our planet. I’d just shoot you down, but it’s not worth the cost of the energy it would take to incinerate you.”
We were walking off by then toward the entrance to the station, and I asked him quietly about my family.
“They could not be retrieved.”
I was beside myself. Fortunately, by then I did not have my blaster or else I’d have done something monumentally stupid. Instead I walked around to face him, stopping him in his tracks. “I will not leave without them.”
His eyes narrowed as he considered leaving me to my fate. “Then you will not leave at all.”
I turned away from him and he stopped me before I got too far from him.
“Don’t be a fool, Regin. Surely you don’t think you can extricate them from the Order’s clutches if we were unable to do so.”
“Don’t underestimate a man’s love of his family,” I told him pointedly.
“I underestimate nothing. I’m sure that you would do anything in your attempt to rescue them, up to and including being captured and tortured or simply killed outright. There are so many terrible things that can happen to you if you continue with this fool’s errand. However, if you work with us instead of against us, you’ll have a chance to save them yet.”
At that point all I could do was croak, “How?”
“You won’t be able to help them from here. Get into space, get out of Cardassian territory and start making connections. Do a task for us here and there and we’ll help you.”
“What will I do in the meantime? Where will I live?”
“There are plenty of vessels looking to hire able-bodied help. They’ll offer you room and board and all the resources you’ll need. Don’t look so ashamed. Working for people who aren’t Cardassians isn’t the political sin it’s made out to be. Learn about the universe so that when you return, you’ll be ready to be a part of our new order. We want a fresh start for Cardassia, with a policy of open arms toward other governments. Many people don’t know it, but it’s the only way for our people to stop stagnating and move forward.”
I resigned myself to the inevitable, took the proffered clothes and ident chip, and my ticket to parts unknown. I was now woven into a dangerous tapestry of lies, treason and worse.
“You’ll be communicating primarily with myself and one other,” he told me before I left.
“What is your name?”
“Dukat,” he said. “Trannik Dukat.”
And my new name was Dalin Garak.