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While he was still a young man, Rugal Pa'Dar experienced loss, separation, a brutal frontier war, and the attempted destruction of his species. Yet, if asked, he would say without hesitation that the worst moment of his life was when he realized he would not be returning to Bajor with his father. All the rest of it, that was simply the Cardassian experience. The Cardassian lot. Practically everyone else he knew had gone through it too, and at least Rugal was one of the survivors. But being taken away -- not wanting it, but being unable to do anything to prevent it -- that was the defining moment of his life. He was sixteen when it happened. The shock of it propelled him forward for the best part of a decade, before he came to rest.
Rugal and Proka Migdal had come to Deep Space 9 for the same reason that many people go on a journey: they were hoping to make a fresh start. Migdal -- Rugal would always think of him first as Father -- had, as a young man, been a policeman in a city that the Cardassians had chosen to obliterate. In the years that followed, oppression, poverty, and a regrettable tendency to end up in the middle of whatever fistfight was going on around him had left their mark on Migdal. He had lost his only child when Korto City had been destroyed, and he had lost his most recent job when a fellow construction worker had made a sly comment about his adopted son. Migdal had thumped him. The other man thumped him back, very hard, and Migdal, who was not a young man, fell unceremoniously to the floor. After he had been patched up, he was shown the door.
Neither his wife, Etra, nor his son was greatly surprised to see him back home so early. In all the burgeoning city of Ashalla, which seemed daily to be expanding as the Bajoran people woke up to their freedom and the opportunities it was bringing them, it seemed that only Proka Migdal regularly found himself out of work. His problem, Etra said, was that there was no going home for him. Some people were like that about a place. They could never settle down anywhere else. But Korto was gone for good. So they'd have to make the best of all that Ashalla had to offer.
"I've finished with this city," Migdal said.
Etra and Rugal exchanged long-suffering looks.
"It's turning into a bad place. Everybody's on the make. Nobody has time for anyone else. It's nothing like it used to be on Bajor. I blame the Circle, setting us all against each other like that."
Proka Etra was a sensible woman who had humored her husband's diffuse and not always well-informed monologues for many years. She was a seamstress -- properly talented, Migdal liked to say; her grandparents had all been Ih'valla caste, although that was something else that had changed on Bajor now, and not necessarily for the better -- and she made good money from piece work.
All these new arrivals in the city needed something to wear. Right now, Etra was barely on schedule and her mouth was full of pins. She made a soothing noise and carried on with her work.
"I was talking to Reco outside the temple last night," Migdal went on, "and he was saying that the place to be these days is that big space station the spoonheads put up...Prophets, what are they calling it these days?" He snapped his fingers, trying to recall the new name. "Why do they have to keep on changing everything?"
"Deep Space 9," Rugal offered, without looking up from his lessonpadd. He rubbed the ridge above his right eye and tried to concentrate again. He was studying for a school test on the causes of the Occupation and he did not find the subject easy reading.
"That's it! Deep Space 9! That's the place to be! More and more people passing through there every day, Reco said. I bet they could do with a good seamstress up there, Etra. What do you think? We've never lived on a space station."
Etra made what Migdal took to be an encouraging sound.
"I could go up, take a look round, see whether we'd like it. Rugal could come too, it'd get us both out of your way while you get all that finished." He was as excited as a boy with a jumja stick the size of his head. "What do you think, Rugal? A fresh start? Isn't that what we need?"
Rugal had reached a section in the text that was supposed to detail the role played by the Obsidian Order in the conquest of Bajor, but was in fact a series of lurid vignettes. "What we really need, Father," he replied, "is for you not to lose your temper once we've made it."
Migdal frowned. Etra stopped her work and gave her husband a fierce look. And since nothing was ever done in that small household that would make Etra truly unhappy, Migdal relaxed and laughed. Rugal put aside his books -- truth be told, he wasn't all that enthusiastic about school work -- and he and Migdal cooked supper while Etra worked.
Father and son were in high spirits when they went over to the spaceport the next day. Migdal was upbeat and optimistic, as he always was at the start of a new chapter. Rugal was glad to be getting out of school and grateful his father was so cheerful. Whenever they ended up moving on, Migdal always made it seem like an adventure rather than Rugal's fault. They enjoyed the journey out to Deep Space 9, and if anyone remarked upon a Bajoran man traveling with a Cardassian boy, they managed not to hear it.
Both Migdal and Rugal took to the station immediately. True, Bajorans were in the majority here, and Cardassians a very marked minority, but with all the other strange people passing through, it did seem that this was the kind of place where their odd little family could live in peace and without the constant comment about Migdal's Cardassian son that tended to result in his losing first his temper and then his job. Within a couple of hours, father and son were sure they would come to Deep Space 9. They went into the Ferengi's bar to celebrate their decision. It was a measure of Migdal's cosmically appalling luck, Rugal would later reflect, that almost the first person they ran into was Elim Garak.
Rugal did not find it difficult to explain why he bit Elim Garak's hand. Because it was on his shoulder. A Cardassian's hand, on his shoulder. From childhood observa-tion, Rugal knew how this was usually the prelude to a beating, if you were lucky, or an arrest if you weren't (arrest generally being an invitation to disappear). Rugal would be the first to admit that biting the Cardassian's hand wasn't the smartest thing he had ever done, but it certainly wasn't inexplicable.
There was another reason for biting him too, but Rugal didn't mention that to anybody else because it wasn't anybody else's business. When the stranger's gray hand had taken hold of him, Rugal looked down at it and, suddenly, he had a flash of memory -- of another gray hand there, pushing him forward, making him walk away from...from where? As a little boy, Rugal had sometimes had nightmares that ended at this point. The image came to him very rarely these days, and he preferred it that way because, in his heart, he had a feeling that it wasn't simply a dream, but a memory. He was afraid that this memory might be older than all the other, more important ones -- of Migdal and Etra and of being their child -- and he didn't want to know any more about it.
Rugal was prepared to apologize to the man he'd bitten at once, if it would stop the whole business going any further, but things moved very quickly after that. Someone going by the name of Zolan claimed to know the family, and he said that Proka was cruel to his son. (Migdal did know Zolan, in fact, from way back in Korto; Zolan had been selling medical supplies on the black market, not all of which had been properly labeled as unsafe for Bajoran physiology. Not that anybody asked Migdal.) Once the accusation had been made, a group of terrifyingly earnest Starfleet personnel appeared out of nowhere and took Rugal away from his father. They seemed to be under the ludicrous impression that Migdal -- his elderly, occasionally grumpy, perennially optimistic, and always very dear father -- had terrorized Rugal so much that he now hated Cardassians enough to bite the first one he saw. That was nonsense, but Migdal didn't seem to be able to make the Starfleet people hear him. Like many ordinary folk, he was frightened by these serious-looking people with their weapons and their uniforms, and he had no reason to trust them. The Cardassians had also said they were only trying to do what was best for Bajor.
Rugal did despise Cardassians, but it hadn't taken Proka Migdal or even his history lessons to make him do so. Rugal only had to look round Bajor to find a reason to loathe Cardassians. They had destroyed cities that people loved, so that they could never go home again. They had murdered people's children. And they had abandoned their own children, who then had to grow up knowing they embodied everything that the people around them most despised. Life had not always been easy for Migdal and Etra, because Rugal was Cardassian, and there were plenty of Bajoran orphans they could have adopted instead. Migdal and Etra had done a good thing, taking in Rugal and calling him their son. He tried to explain some of this, but nobody was listening.
By now, more people, with their own agendas, had crawled out of the bulkheads. Chief among these was a Cardassian gul who seemed very concerned about the plight of the Cardassian orphans who had been abandoned on Bajor. Rugal didn't believe a word of this. If this gul cared so much, where had he been all these years? There was a friendly Starfleet engineer called O'Brien who was the only person who took Rugal seriously when he said -- again and again -- that he just wanted to go back to his father. But O'Brien didn't have the authority to do much about it. Most alarmingly, there was the big Cardassian man, tall and stooping and anxious, who came clutching a handful of holopics and claiming that Rugal was his son.
It took Rugal a while to work out exactly what was going on, partly because most people were talking over him and not to him. He was not sure Migdal ever entirely understood what had happened on Deep Space 9 other than that, between them, the Cardassians and the Federation had taken away his boy. In the end, O'Brien and his wife, Keiko, explained to Rugal what was going on. The big nervous Cardassian -- Pa'Dar -- was a prominent politician and, according to the tests they'd done, was certainly Rugal's biological father. Pa'Dar had thought Rugal had died years ago in a bombing on Bajor, and that's why he had never come looking for him. In fact, what had actually happened was that the oily, sentimental gul -- Dukat -- had kidnapped Rugal so that, in some possible future political battle, he could use the fact of Rugal's existence against Pa'Dar. Just in case. By the time the Starfleet commander -- Sisko -- decided that the best thing all round was for the boy to go with Pa'Dar, Rugal had discovered yet another reason to hate Cardassians. They used each other's children casually, as pieces in political games.
He didn't think much of Starfleet either. Except its engineers.
When Kotan Pa'Dar received the message that his lost boy had been found, he had been working through depositions related to his investigation into the Central Command's involvement in a recent attempted coup on Bajor. He was Cardassian enough that his first thought was that this was a trap. His second thought was to close all his files, walk slowly around his office at the Ministry of Science, and turn off all six of the surveillance devices that he knew about. Only then did he sit back behind his desk, put his head in his hands, and weep. He knew that the Obsidian Order would still be watching somehow, but he didn't care. His tears were not for their benefit.
As soon as he was calm again, Kotan switched on the viewscreen and put a call through to his mother. His hands shook as he operated the controls. Partly this was due to shock; partly it was because he knew what his mother would say when he told her his boy was not dead after all. He put his hand on the frame of the picture of his dead wife, for courage, and waited for his mother to take his call.
Geleth Pa'Dar was very old, and had always been either too poor or too rich to bother with pity. She received her son's news with the distaste that usually met anything he brought before her. His talent for science, for example, or the young woman he intended to make his wife. "Of course," Geleth sighed, when Kotan finished his explanation, "it would be better if the child had never turned up. The scandal will almost certainly finish you. You've not endeared yourself to the Central Command in recent months." She glanced down at the control panel next to the screen, and began to tap at it. "We could always arrange for an accident on the way home."
"Don't be childish, Kotan. That sort of thing is to be admired -- or it was in my day. Cardassia isn't what it used to be."
"Mother -- "
"Your father had two of his bastards killed for our wedding -- or was it three? I forget now, it was a long time ago. Frankly, I would rather he'd dealt with the mistress herself, but then bastards are one thing, aren't they, and citizens are another, and I suppose one can hardly go about murdering those without expecting some kind of reprisal -- "
Geleth barely moved, but disapproval radiated out from the screen. Kotan pressed the corner of the picture frame into his palm. He reminded himself of Geleth's age and the fact that -- until moments ago -- she had been his sole surviving relative. "There will be no unfortunate accidents," he said, clearly and steadily, "no sudden disappearances, and certainly no murders. If this boy is -- " Rugal, he thought, but he had not said the name in years, and he did not trust himself to say it out loud, not yet, " -- my child, then he will be coming back with me, and he will be living with me. In my house."
Geleth's eye ridges twitched. The house was Kotan's winning move. It was his, through his father, not hers: Geleth had married money, bringing none with her. He watched her make her eyes go sad -- a very fine imitation of frailty. "Of course, you'll do whatever you want. It's not as if anything I say ever makes any difference." She sharpened her tone again. "But you'll regret this. I give your seat in the Assembly three months at the outside."
Kotan was no longer paying attention. Variations on this theme had accompanied him throughout his life, and despite every attempt he had made to please her. For Geleth's sake, he had abandoned his beloved laboratories for what had been an unfulfilling political career -- a career that had taken him to Bajor and cost him his wife and his child. Geleth would not have her own way on this. Family might be all, and Geleth was all he had left (until now...), but if you only listened to family, you would surely end up strangling somebody. Kotan left Cardassia Prime in haste, to take possession of a bewildered and angry young man of sixteen.
When the time came to say good-bye to Migdal, Rugal made one last attempt to explain what had happened. "This man Pa'Dar is my father -- my biological father, I mean. And now he's found me, he wants to take me back with him to Cardassia. Commander Sisko has decided that he should be allowed to do that." Rugal looked at his father anxiously. Migdal seemed to have aged in the past few days.
"But he left you behind," Migdal said in a plaintive voice. "He didn't want you -- "
Rugal glanced back over his shoulder bitterly. The big Cardassian was waiting by the door, staring down at his boots. At least he had the decency not to watch. "He didn't know I was still alive. It's complicated, but...someone took me away so that when they found me again, it would embarrass him."
The intricacies of Cardassian politics were well beyond Migdal's comprehension. "But what am I going to tell Etra when I turn up without you?" he asked, plucking at his son's sleeve. "She's expecting us back, we were going to go down to the temple and light candles to bless the journey and then go and have alva ices to celebrate..." He was close to tears.
Rugal swallowed. By tomorrow, he would be on his way to Cardassia Prime. No temples, no candles, no mother or father, no fresh start...Only the enemy. He put his arms around his father so that Migdal couldn't see his face. "It doesn't have to be forever. It won't be forever. I'll come back. We'll find a way for me to get back."
"Yes," said Migdal, comforted. "We'll find a way. Etra will know what to do."
Rugal was now of an age where he no longer believed his mother was likely to be a match for Starfleet and the Cardassians combined, but he said nothing, only hugged Migdal hard, and then stood up. The big Cardassian -- Kotan -- took a step forward. He looked eager and pleased, as if he was glad to have devastated their family. Of course, that was what Cardassians did. He reached out to put his hand on Rugal's arm, and Rugal pulled back as if the man were carrying a deadly weapon, or a plague. "Don't touch me," he whispered savagely. "Don't ever touch me."
Kotan, shocked, withdrew. They walked down to the docking bay in silence, Rugal lagging a marked distance behind. Commander Sisko and Chief O'Brien were waiting to see them on their way. "Well, good luck," O'Brien said, putting his hand on Rugal's shoulder. He didn't look entirely happy either. For a moment Rugal had a wild hope that O'Brien might speak up and stop all this from happening, but he didn't. He gave Kotan and his commanding officer a quick look, and Rugal a worried one, and he leaned in to whisper, "If you need any help, need anything at all, let me know. Yes? Let me know."
It was hardly the last-minute reprieve Rugal had been hoping for, but it did make him feel as if somebody was on his side, and for that he remained forever grateful. He nodded his thanks to O'Brien, and then followed the man who was calling himself his father onto the shuttle and away from home.
It was a long journey home, and during it Kotan suffered the fullest range of emotions possible. Sadly, he soon discovered that the happiest emotions were associated with memories.
Kotan remembered everything about Rugal's life that the boy himself could not. He could picture as if it was happening now the quiet Bajoran evening with his wife when Arys had told him that at last they were going to have a child together. He could recall being told that he had a son, and weeping from delight and exhaustion so mingled together that he could not tell where one ended and the other began. He remembered first steps, and first words, and -- because he had had so little time to know his son before he had been taken away -- each memory had been pored over and preserved, as precious as gemstones and as sharp as black glass.
Kotan had brought some of his treasures with him: pictures of his dead wife Arys, and of Rugal himself as a baby, and of the family group as they had been in the settlement at Tozhat. A snapshot of their happiness together before the Bajoran Resistance had blown their lives apart. Kotan offered his son these gifts, this inheritance, but Rugal refused it all. He sat glowering at space, a young man boiling with rage. But as the distance between him and Bajor became greater, he seemed to dampen down. He looked younger, and more and more forlorn. Kotan kept close by, wanting to be near his child, stealing occasional hungry looks at him. He was sure that he could see Arys there, in the shape of the boy's face, in the sudden upsurges of emotion that in her had been so fascinating, so exhilarating. He fancied he saw a little of himself, but suspected this was wishful thinking. He was mortally afraid he had caught a glimpse of Geleth.
As the journey progressed, and no overture came from Rugal, Kotan began to contemplate the possibility that the boy was lost to him for good. Bitterly, more than ever before, he regretted that Cardassia had ever become entangled with Bajor. Bajor had taken his wife and child, and seemed to be stealing the boy from him all over again. But Bajor was rapidly eclipsed as a focus for his anger. Like all of his generation, Kotan deplored their savagery, but when he thought about his own ravaged family, he almost understood the fury of that fierce, alien people. But Dukat? Dukat was Cardassian. He knew about family. He should have known better. Dukat had stolen his son; he was the one who had created this unnatural distance between them, cold as space but unbridgeable. Dukat was the one who should pay for it.
Their ship docked. Kotan picked up his bag of unwelcome treasures, and father and son made their way to the elite passengers' transporters. Rugal walked a few paces ahead, as if to say: Let's get this over and done with quickly. Kotan cleared his throat and took the plunge. "Rugal."
"Rugal, I need to talk to you before we arrive."
The boy looked back over his shoulder at him, and Kotan trembled slightly at the sight. Geleth. No doubt. Something tenacious, not easily turned away from its purpose. "I need to talk to you about your grandmother." Then the transporter captured them both, and they were delivered to Cardassia Prime. End of the line.
They walked out of the public transporter station into the heart of the capital city, the heart of the Union. Rugal stopped dead in his tracks. Everything was gray. The sky, the buildings, the faces...And it was hot. Not unpleasantly so, but hot nonetheless. Rugal felt a hand upon his shoulder. He shook it off, blinked, and saw Cardassia come into focus. He began to make out detail, see nuance. The evening sky, darkening from slate gray to obsidian, had a purplish hue, like the petals of indika flowers, or a bruise. The buildings, at first sight ramrod straight and steely, in fact curved with unexpected elegance, and the setting sun burnished them bronze, silver, and gold. There was nothing green, as far as Rugal could see; none of the lush unconquerable life that blessed Ashalla, but lining the wide street ahead there were tall trees with black branches and long copper leaves, and, jarringly, he could hear birdsong.
And then there were the people. Hundreds upon hundreds, streaming past him in quick but orderly fashion, all of them Cardassian, more than Rugal had ever imagined possible. He stared at them in disbelief -- these strange, alien people -- and then he realized that many of them were staring back. When they saw him, they turned their heads to carry on looking as they walked past. Rugal put his hand up to his face, partly to comfort himself, partly in defense. How could they tell? He didn't look Bajoran! Kotan tapped his shoulder. "You might want to take off that earring."
Quickly, awkwardly, Rugal reached up and unclasped it. He regretted doing so at once, and he felt angry, as if Kotan had tricked him into a betrayal. He wrapped his hand around it, until the links of the chain dug into his palm, and shoved his hand deep into his pocket. Would it ever be safe to put it back on? Those looks had been curious, judging, but not outright hostile. Did any of these people know what it meant? Did they even think of Bajor at all?
"There's our ride. About time, too." Kotan pointed across the road at a sleek black skimmer. It seemed there would be no waiting around, space-lagged and weary, for a tram into the city, as there would have been in Ashalla with Migdal. Kotan Pa'Dar -- Deputy Commissioner for Public Health and a three-term member of the Civilian Assembly -- had long since earned the perk of private transport from the Ministry of Science.
The skimmer was a beautiful machine, a contemporary reworking of a classic design, and the uniformed driver held open the doors for them. Inside, it was finished in leather and polished wood -- lunatic extravagance on this resource-poor world -- and crisply, cleanly scented. Under other circumstances, Rugal would have been in awe. But he had decided to hate Cardassia, so he had to dislike the skimmer, and he fumbled around for reasons why. Eventually, he settled on its ostentation and the unfairness of their comfortable journey while ordinary Cardassians were crowding onto the shuttles. The sharp edges of his earring had started hurting his hand.
Kotan switched on the viewer in the arm of his seat. "Won't be a moment," he said apologetically. "Have to catch up." Ministry business, Rugal guessed. Whatever it was, Kotan was quickly absorbed. Rugal stared out the window at the foreign city. Meaningless buildings went by. Rugal pressed a few of the controls on his own viewer, but nothing worked. He sighed and fell back into his seat. A few moments later, the viewer came on of its own accord, displaying a map of the city. Rugal looked up in surprise. He caught the eye of the driver, looking back at him in the rearview mirror, smiling at him. Thanks, Rugal mouthed. He found the little black dot that showed their skimmer, moving along the map, and began to pick out roads and buildings. Offices, monuments, parade grounds. Few parks or gardens; no temples. He didn't have long to get the lie of the land. After ten metrics, the skimmer entered the Coranum tunnel, the fastest route out to the north of the city for those wealthy or important enough to hold the permits required to use it.
Everything went dark, then the skimmer was suffused with pale blue light. Kotan switched off his viewer. "So," he said. "Your grandmother."
Rugal shifted uneasily. He had not given thought to the possibility of grandparents before. Migdal and Etra had been middle-aged when they had adopted him; their own parents had long since been lost to the various hardships of Occupation. He wondered how many other new relatives were lurking around. Weren't Cardassians supposed to be obsessed with family? There would be aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, fourth cousins twice removed; every wall would be covered with holopics and extravagantly detailed family trees going back generations....Rugal was so caught up imagining the horror of even more unwanted relations that he almost missed hearing how Kotan was afraid of his own mother.
"She has a way," Kotan said, "and it's not always kindly put or kindly meant....But she does love family. Well. Family is all, as the saying goes."
"I've heard that." Rugal ignored Kotan's eager, involuntary movement at his voice. "But I don't understand how it can be true. If family really is all to you Cardassians, then why would you have forced me to leave my mother and father? Don't Bajoran families count in the same way as Cardassian ones?"
Kotan recoiled. It was almost too easy, Rugal thought. He was pleased for a few seconds, and then he found there was a strange taste in his mouth, sour and metallic. Sometimes he had been sharp with Migdal, a habit picked up from Etra, but he had never been vicious. He made a rough apology. "So you want me to impress this person?"
"Your grandmother, Rugal. My mother. It would be a minor miracle if you impressed her, but she is our only other living relative."
So there weren't hordes of cousins to be met -- that was a relief, and another Cardassian lie had been unmasked: that they all lived together in huge happy families. It explained some of Kotan's desperation too. The man might be materially wealthy, but if he lacked blood relatives, then by Cardassian standards he was poor. "What's her name?"
Kotan leaned forward, pleased that Rugal was taking an interest. "Geleth. She can be hard work, but she's everything we have."
Rugal shrugged. He wouldn't be here long and, in the meantime, it wouldn't do any harm to be polite to one old woman. Kotan was still talking, not wasting the opening that had been given. "I know it won't be easy, coming to Cardassia after all this time, but I'll do whatever I can. Whatever you need -- ask, and I'll do it. I promise."
You could send me home, Rugal thought. Instead he said, "Really?"
"There is one thing..."
"What is it? What can I do?"
"I want to speak to my mother and father and let them know that I'm safe."
There was a pause. Kotan frowned. Rugal, following a gut instinct, came up with the most petulant tone he could manage. "You said whatever I needed." He had tried that voice with Etra once and once only.
Kotan bit his lip, clearly troubled by the request but unwilling to refuse outright.
"Didn't you mean it?" Rugal persisted. "That you'd do anything?"
Kotan's shoulders slumped in defeat. Rugal's instinct had been right. Kotan had a guilty streak that stretched all the way back to Bajor, and he had never learned how to say no to children. He had never had the chance.
"All right," Kotan said. "I'll do my best. But you must understand -- communicating with Bajor has been a sensitive matter since the Occupation ended, and it's become even more delicate since that fiasco over the Circle and the gunrunning..." Rugal looked at him innocently, and Kotan's mouth twisted into a smile, as if he realized he had been played. "I suspect you don't quite understand what you're asking me to do, but, since I promised, I'll try to keep my word. It might take some time to arrange. Will that do?"
Rugal considered this. So far as he knew, Kotan had not told him any lies, not yet. The only reason not to trust him was that he was Cardassian. "Yes. But I want to speak to them as soon as I can."
"I'll do my best." Kotan turned to stare out of his window, a frown etched around the ridges of his face. What did this all mean? Kotan was a powerful man on Cardassia Prime, a member of the Civilian Assembly, a scientific adviser to their civilian ruling body, the Detapa Council. What could make someone like that afraid? Apart from his mother.
Suddenly, they shot out of the tunnel. Night had fallen, and the sky was black as glass. There were strange stars above that Rugal could not decipher and, behind them, an orange haze had gathered above the hollow containing the city. Suddenly Rugal understood what made Kotan afraid. Everyone on Bajor knew about the Obsidian Order, but they knew it mainly as a force brought down upon Bajorans. Could it be possible that Cardassians treated each other as badly as they had once treated their slaves? He thought about this for a while and then, because Etra's training was deeply ingrained, he remembered his manners and said, "Thank you."
Kotan sighed. "You are most welcome, Rugal."
The Pa'Dar house lay, long and low, in extensive grounds on the side of a hill in the north of the city. It was bigger than any building that Rugal had ever been inside, including the temple that he and Migdal had recently been attending, and it was surrounded by greenery. They went into a large hallway, two stories high and tinted yellow and gold by the colored lamps set into the walls. Standing waiting to meet them were three Cardassian women -- two young, the other an older woman whom Rugal realized just in time was the housekeeper and not his grandmother. She was delighted to meet him, however, grasping his hand and holding it tightly to her chest. The other two -- they constituted the rest of the household staff -- looked faintly bored. Rugal suspected they had been pulled away from something more pressing than welcoming back their employer's long-lost son.
When this uncomfortable greeting was over, Kotan took Rugal upstairs. "Your rooms are on the east side of the house. They have a good view down into the city."
Rooms? How many were there? How many did you need? On the landing, they went past four small, exquisite paintings of a young woman laughing, each entitled Arys. They had turned the corner into another corridor before Rugal remembered that this was the name of his mother. His other mother.
"Freshen up," Kotan said, when they reached his bedroom door. "Get changed -- there should be clothes out for you. Then we'll go and see Geleth."
Rugal nodded and went inside. He sighed with relief when the door closed between them. Kotan's constant attention, his anxiety to please, had been exhausting. Rugal leaned back against the door, looked round, and then gave a gasp.
Kotan had misrepresented the view. It was outstanding. The far wall of the room, floor to ceiling, was made of glass and given over to it. The whole city was set out before him like an offering, richly lit and stretching out farther than he could see. Rugal took a few steps forward, captivated. He cast his mind back to the map he had looked at in the skimmer, and he picked out a few areas -- there was Torr to the southeast, densely populated and intensely lit. Some of the buildings were recognizable too: the dome of the Assembly, the curves of the Akleen Memorial. A string of lamps marked the line of the river, itself covered in darkness. There was a striking silver pyramid that he could not identify. He would have to ask. No, not ask. He would look it up.
The lights on the pyramid suddenly changed its color from silver to blue. With a start, Rugal remembered that he was supposed to be meeting his grandmother. He dragged himself away to investigate the room further. Two doors in the wall opposite the bed opened to reveal a bathroom and a walk-in cupboard. In this he found several sets of clothes, in unfamiliar Cardassian styles -- tunics rather than shirts, slip-on boots instead of lace-up shoes. They would have to do. He had brought hardly anything from Bajor. He had not planned on being away from home for long.
Quickly, Rugal washed and changed out of his traveling clothes. There was a long mirror on the back of the door of the cupboard, and he was dismayed to see how Cardassian he looked. Shutting away the sight, Rugal smoothed his tunic straight, then he grabbed his earring, shoved it in his pocket, and left the room.
Kotan was waiting for him on the landing. He took Rugal back downstairs and round the far side of the house to Geleth's sitting room. Outside, Kotan hesitated, his hand resting near the door panel. He had an odd, furtive expression, like a child anticipating a scolding. In such a big man, it was almost comical. "Remember, she's very old, and very old-fashioned. She may say things that seem...well, odd. Try to understand. Cardassia was a hard place in Geleth's youth. It wasn't easy to live, to survive."
"Like under the Occupation."
Kotan closed his eyes, tensed. "Please -- try to understand." He opened the door. "Mother?" He had lifted his voice in the clear way people did when speaking to someone whose hearing was not always reliable. "I've brought the boy to see you. I've brought Rugal."
The room was dark. The only source of light was a dim orange lamp set in the far left corner. Beside this stood a long low couch, its back to the room. A gray hand, ring-encrusted, lifted and waved them forward. "By all means, bring him round so I can take a look at him."
Kotan, an odd smile on his face, gestured to Rugal to go round. Rugal walked across the room and came faceto-face with his grandmother.
She was old and very thin, the bones and ridges on her face standing out prominently against her papery flesh. She had on a dark red dress with a high collar and subtle patterns that waved and changed as she moved. Her hair was long, white, and elaborately constructed. Her blue eyes were bright and sharp. She stared at Rugal and ran the tip of her tongue around her lips. "He doesn't look much like you. Are you certain he's yours?"
Rugal, horrified, looked at Kotan, but the man was unperturbed. He had brought round a couple of chairs, and had sat down comfortably, slinging one arm casually across the back. "Quite certain. We had tests done. Rugal's my son, no doubt of that."
"Still, he's not much like you." Geleth leaned in for a closer look, as if Rugal were a specimen. Her perfume was sharp and not unpleasant. She sniffed and leaned back. "I can see something of that wisp you married. So we know he's hers, at least."
Kotan drummed his fingers against the back of his chair. "Rugal. Why don't you sit down?"
Conscious of the old woman's eyes upon him, Rugal straightened his back, raised his chin, and sat down. Geleth watched his performance with unholy glee. "You may not know this, Rugal, but this is the first time that we have met. You were born on Bajor, and nothing was ever going to induce me to visit that place." She paused, as if waiting for a reaction. None came, so she carried on. "I suppose we should be glad that no more Cardassian lives are being wasted trying to educate those backward ingrates."
Rugal stiffened. Kotan cut in. "Yes, well, that's all over now. Bajor is no longer Cardassia's problem, thankfully."
"No? Have you explained to the boy what ramifications his reappearance might have for the family name? An abandoned child? Better men than you have been ruined for less."
Rugal looked uncertainly at Kotan. His posture had altered subtly; he was still sitting as if at ease, but his hands were clenched into fists. "Under normal circumstances, perhaps. But Dukat has overstretched himself. He personally arranged for Rugal's kidnapping. If he tries to make political capital from this affair, he risks opening himself up to censure. Not to mention the fact that I am well placed to implicate him in this guns-to-Bajor business. I have plenty to hold over Dukat. He won't risk starting a war with me. Not this time."
"Dukat!" Geleth all but spat out the name. So the three remaining members of the Pa'Dar family were united in one thing, at least -- a profound loathing for the former prefect of Bajor. Still, Rugal thought, watching his grandmother's coiled fury and his father's taut anger, it was sobering to think that only an uneasy standoff with this gul was keeping him safe on Cardassia. What if Dukat decided to make a move? How long would it be before the abandoned son became a liability for Kotan? And what advice would Geleth offer then? He shivered slightly, despite the heavy heat of the old woman's room.
Kotan relaxed his hands. "Besides, it doesn't matter. Even if it meant the end for me, I would not have Rugal any place other than where he is now. Back home, with me."
Rugal swallowed. He felt he ought to say "thank you," but that was wrong. He didn't want to be here. If it meant trouble for Kotan, why ever had he brought him back, against Rugal's wishes? It was perverse. It was typically Cardassian. Geleth gave her son an odd look, a mixture of contempt and affection. "Sentimental. This is why you've never been much of a politician."
"Mother, the reason I've never been much of a politician is that I am a scientist. If you'd wanted me to excel, you'd have left me in my laboratory."
"Duty is its own reward, Kotan," the old woman said piously.
Kotan snorted. Contempt and affection again, this time from him. Rugal felt as if his head was spinning. Was this how Cardassian families behaved? Bickering and scheming, lurching from mutual recrimination to deadly loyalty at any mention of their enemies? Migdal's idea of scheming had been to punch first and talk later.
Geleth yawned and stretched, each joint in her body seeming to crack. Then, with a swish of her long full skirt, she stood up. "Surely it's time for dinner? Let me go and put on my reta beads, and then the two of you can escort me down." She went through a little door into the next room. Kotan leaned over to whisper to Rugal. "When I was your age, I used to wonder what she did in here all day. Plotted against my enemies, I hoped, although there've been occasions when I've suspected her of plotting against me."
"So which is it?" Rugal whispered back.
Kotan smiled broadly. He almost winked. He reached over to his mother's couch, slipped his hand down the side of the cushion, and brought out a data padd. He thumbed it on, and then handed it over to Rugal, who looked down at a page of text infested by exclamation marks.
"Enigma tales," Kotan explained. "Really bad ones. She's addicted to them."
They just had time to shove the padd back down into its hiding place before Geleth came back in. Both smiled brightly at her. She gave them a suspicious look but said nothing, taking her son's arm and allowing him to lead her down the stairs. Rugal followed behind.
In the dining room -- a study in crimson and gold -- Kotan pulled out a chair for his mother at one end of the table, and then took the seat at the other end. He gestured for Rugal to take the seat at his right hand. Rugal stopped himself staring around -- it was amusing Geleth for one thing, and he wasn't going to give her any satisfaction -- and did what he was told.
When the first course arrived, Rugal eyed it nervously, remembering the appalling dish of zabu stew that Chief O'Brien's wife had concocted for him. Fortunately, this was recognizably food, some kind of thick broth that smelled of fish. Out of habit, he bent his head to thank the Prophets -- then he remembered where he was and stopped. He glanced at Kotan to see if he'd noticed, but the big man had already started eating. Geleth, however, had seen. She smiled at him with cool malice. That -- and residual anger about the earring -- did it. Rugal bowed his head, clasped his hands, closed his eyes, and cleared his throat.
Etra wasn't really one for the Prophets, and Rugal wasn't either, but Migdal was, so for the old man's sake Rugal had attended temple and studied the prophecies hard. He had thought the effort was only right -- some kind of reparation for the damage his kind had done to Bajor's heritage. As a result, Rugal was able to dredge up a thanksgiving chant of considerable length and splendor. It began with a soft deep murmur, went up at a steady crescendo, to climax with one final, bell-like call of gratitude to the Prophets for their gifts and goodness. When the sound of that died down, the quiet around the table was thicker than the soup. Rugal opened his eyes, reached for his cutlery, and blithely began to eat.
Kotan was sitting in shocked silence, while the maid had her mouth hanging open. Then Geleth began to laugh, a half-demented cackle like a rusty nail being scraped across barbed wire. "Marvelous!" she cried. "Magnificent!" She fell upon her dinner with renewed appetite. Rugal didn't know whether to be pleased or furious. It was the start of a long war of attrition between grandmother and grandson. Rugal was never sure which of them was ultimately the winner, even taking into account the fact that he outlived her.
It took slightly over a week, but Kotan made good on his promise. Early one evening, when Rugal was sitting outside in the stone garden and a warm wind was lifting the coppery leaves of the ithian trees, Kotan came and took the chair next to him. "I think," he said, in a low voice, "that I've found a way for you to speak to your friends on Bajor. But, please, exercise some discretion." He looked around anxiously. "I've gone through back channels, but still, the communication will certainly be monitored."
Rugal shifted impatiently in his seat. This was paranoia. "Who in the name of the Prophets -- " Kotan winced, so he lowered his voice. " -- who would want to listen to me talk to my mother and father?"
"It's the simple fact that the conversation is taking place. Bajor is hardly a friendly foreign power!" Kotan gave that long sigh that punctuated much of what he said. "It would be so much easier if you had grown up here! But we've no time to teach you more than the basics. The best rule is -- if you think what you're about to say is subversive, it almost certainly is. So don't say it. Rephrase it, or drop it. And please, try not to get us all shot. Or worse."
Kotan led him into his study, an earnestly overfurnished room at the back of the house with a fine view out across the meticulous flower beds of the west garden. This time, Kotan had the courtesy not to hang around in the background. Once he was sure that the transmission was going through, he quietly absented himself. "You might not have long," he said, from the doorway. "I'm sorry, but I can't do anything about that."
It was not the easiest of conversations. When their lined, familiar faces appeared on the screen, Rugal was overcome with homesickness. More than anything he wanted to be away from this strange place and back with them, at home, on Bajor. Etra, brisk and sensible as ever, behaved as if this was nothing more than a temporary interruption, and that soon everything would be back to normal. Migdal, however, was not so able to hide his distress.
"Well, Rugal," Etra said brightly. "I didn't think when I saw you off at the spaceport that you'd be gone for so long! I let you out of my sight for a few days, and you run away from home!"
It almost broke his heart. "Mother! Don't say that! I don't want to be here!"
She waved her hands to calm him. "Shh...Of course I know that, of course I do. Poor boy! Don't get upset. I want you to listen, because your father has some news and we're hoping that you'll think it's good news."
Rugal leaned forward eagerly in his seat. Had they found a way to bring him home? His father cleared his throat and glanced past him; he looked uneasy, as if he too thought that there might be unfriendly ears listening to their conversation. "We think that Starfleet commander didn't have the right to take you away from us. We're trying to find out if there's any way that we can get his decision overruled." He gave Etra a quick look. "That's right, isn't it?"
She nodded. Migdal carried on. "So I spoke to an old friend of mine, back from Korto, when I was in the watch there. Darrah Mace. You never met him, Rugal, he spent most of the Occupation in exile, out on Valo II, but he was my boss and my friend. Anyway, he was on Valo with someone who was on the Council of Ministers before the spoonheads took over, and he's going to have a word with him about what's happened, and what we're hoping is that we can go and speak to this man, Keeve Falor, about all this and perhaps he'll be able to pull some strings..."
His voice faded. Rugal's heart sank. So this was their good news. Migdal had spoken to a man who thought he might be able to speak to a man who might -- perhaps -- be willing to meet his parents and let them tell him about what had happened to them. Was this Keeve Falor even important any longer?
"I know it doesn't sound like much," Migdal said, tentatively, "but Keeve is very well respected, the kind of man that important people listen to."
"It's hard, you see, Rugal," Etra said. "I'm not going to lie to you. People won't want to reverse the Emissary's decision, it looks bad. And, well, many people think that there are more important things to be worried about than -- "
"Than a spoonhead who's been sent home," Rugal said, bitterly. "Good riddance, I bet most people would say. Perhaps they're right. Perhaps you're better off without me. Dad won't get in as many fights now, I bet."
"Don't say that," Migdal said. "Don't say things that aren't true."
"We chose you, Rugal," Etra said. "We wanted you to be our son. And nobody -- not the Cardassians, not the Council of Ministers, not the Emissary to the Prophets himself, will stop us from getting you back home to us. We're going to find a way. We won't give up, and you're not to give up either. Promise me."
She had put her hand up to the screen. "Do you promise me?"
Rugal raised his hand so that their fingertips seemed to be touching. "I promise."
"Good boy! Now, what's Cardassia like?"
Rugal glanced around the room. "Dark. Depressing."
"How about on a bad day?" Migdal said, and the three of them laughed.
"And it turns out that I have a grandmother," Rugal said. He caught the quick look that his parents exchanged, and he felt wretched, as if he had been a traitor by saying it.
Etra gave a small smile. "I'm sure she was very pleased to meet you at last."
"Mm. She didn't much like me praying before dinner."
Etra suppressed a smile. Migdal didn't bother and laughed out loud. "For the sake of your pagh," Etra said, in pious tones, "you should make sure you keep on doing that."
"Oh, don't worry -- I will!"
"Good boy!" The image of them began to break up.
"We're doing everything we can, Rugal -- we promise," Etra said. "Don't give up. We love you. You'll come home again, we promise."
And then they were gone. Everything seemed very quiet all of a sudden. Very empty. He could see nothing familiar around him, only heavy furniture, in the somber colors Cardassians seemed to favor, and, beyond the window, a dull sky and a fussy garden made for show and not for pleasure. Rugal felt a weight on his shoulders, in his stomach, at the back of his throat. He sat for a while with his chin on his hand, staring at the blank screen and the afterimage, and then there was a quiet knock on the door. He sat up straight and frowned, trying not to look upset.
Kotan was wearing that small, rather anxious smile that irritated so much. "Did you speak to them?"
"Oh, good! Good! Were they well?"
Exactly how well did he expect them to be, given that one child had been murdered and the other stolen? Rugal kicked back the chair and stalked over to the door.
Kotan's stoop became more pronounced, as if he was also carrying a weight around with him. Rugal stopped with his hand on the door panel and tried to rein himself back. "Yes, they were. Thank you. And thank you for arranging for me to speak to them. I know it was difficult, and I appreciate that you went to so much trouble."
Kotan opened his hands, as if to say that he was willing to give anything. "I only want you to be happy."
But I can't ever be. I won't ever be, Rugal thought as he made his way upstairs and past the pictures of his other mother. In his room, he lay on the bed on his stomach, staring out the big window, watching the stark sky fade into darkness. Cardassia, he decided, was a world of contradictions. There were grandmothers who claimed to care for nothing but family, but who would rather you were dead. There were conversations you had to pretend were held in secret, when everyone knew they were spied upon. And then there were fathers who said they loved you, but had taken you away from all that you loved.
With a sigh, Rugal rolled over onto his back. Next to the bed there was a bookshelf, lined with real books, not padds or datarods. He pulled one at random off the shelf, picking it chiefly because he liked the dark cover. "For Cardassia!" it began, unpromisingly. He ploughed on grimly, but after a couple of pages, the combination of the evening's exhausting events and the book's leaden prose sent him to sleep. Rugal tried on several occasions over the next few years to get to the end of Ulan Corac's The Never-Ending Sacrifice, but he failed to make it past the first chapter.
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