Previous Next

Answers and Introspection [CD]

Posted on Tue Mar 24th, 2020 @ 10:23pm by Emergency Medical Hologram & Lieutenant JG Soto Gantt

Mission: Interlude 4
Location: Sickbay/ Bajor
Timeline: 1 March, 2395 - 1100 Hours


The EMH was surprised when the CMO had decided to leave his program on. He'd even been given the ability to activate his program as needed. While the rest of the crew was preparing for their arrival at Bajor to assist with the outbreak of Huerin Pox, the EMH had been tasked with menial assignments, such as looking at Emily Mox's loose tooth. He'd done a very thorough evaluation, despite the protests of the young woman, and had announced her fit for duty. Following that he'd given Chief B'rala her annual physical. She'd been quite angry when he'd told her that her muscle mass had decreased .023% over the past year.

The EMH sniffed as he sat at an auxiliary console. He found himself missing his office but he had to make do. An internal alarm sounded and he accessed the database that had set it off. "Interesting," he said to himself. Apparently he'd made a proximity alarm for the Firebird's next visit to Bajor. He saw that it was related to Lieutenant Soto's particularly fascinating genetics.

"EMH to Lieutenant Soto. Would you please visit me in the sickbay?"

"Nope," replied Gantt softly, his fingers never pausing in their work on the console. Bajor beckoned in the back of his thoughts and he was in no mood to talk with the doctor. The night hadn't gone well, he was peckish, and peeved at everything these days. The mood crowded in so close, made focus on work such a struggle today that he was surprised to find himself one deck down and heading to the sick bay.

Gantt stopped. He should be working. He should go for a long, hard swim and then go to bed. I could tell the chief I'm sick, he thought. That would only land him in the sick bay. He could ignore the EMH. Get back to work. Gantt knew the EMH would simply tell the captain to order him back from Bajor.

"I'm here. What's this about," he said, striding into the sick bay.

The EMH raised an eyebrow as Gantt came in. "What this is about, lieutenant is you. By that I mean, you and your interesting DNA condition. After our last discussion on this topic, I began a research project to see if I could discover any other Bajorans who had a similar condition. As we've been out gallivanting around the cosmos, I hadn't had time to follow up on that research. However, now that we are more localized, I've received information that another person with the same condition as you is living nearby. I thought we might see if we can meet with this person and learn of any possible connections," the EMH said.

A crime of complete callousness condensed to an "interesting DNA condition." His cold retort melted on his tongue when the EMH continued. Another person with the same condition. Focused on his mother's fate and his own, he hadn't considered that surely the Cardassians had experimented on others. "You probably can't understand how very little a living, feeling person might want to talk to strangers about 'interesting DNA,'" said Gantt, scratching the back of his neck. "How do you know it's the same condition?"

The EMH stood up from his desk, scooped up a PADD and came around to stand next to the young engineer. "An excellent question, lieutenant. Obviously I couldn't search every database myself. Had I done so, the computer system on the Firebid would have been extremely stressed. But I have been able to access Starfleet Medical records and have been searching them at the lowest priority, in an attempt to locate a match with you. The person who matched with you has received medical care here on Bajor, from Starfleet medical personnel," the EMH said.

"Of course. Using my DNA as a model makes it easier. Another test subject." The search was not where his anger started. Every time he thought about his manipulated DNA the anger simmered like hot, black tar in his gut. Gantt gripped the top of the chair to keep himself from sitting, from extending the visit longer than necessary. "Do they know? This person you found, has anyone told them? I've had dozens of check-ups and tests before now. No one found this out. No one found it in my mom."

The EMH shook his head. "I don't believe that the patient knows about their current condition. I'm in touch with Starfleet Medical on what we are able to do but I believe that they will allow us to meet with the patient and break the news to her. If you want, I can do that by myself. But I do think that we need to continue to investigate this program. If we can locate the people who conducted these experiments, we might be able to reverse the damage to your DNA and the others we find."

Gantt rubbed his palms together. They were a warm and sweaty match to how his chest felt. "Yes, you go ahead--wait, hold on a moment." He breathed in deeply and let the air out slowly, staring at a point on the wall above the EMH. His curiosity was fighting with the desire to run. "I want to be there to talk with them. Prophets know they might need some emotional support when hearing this. Who is this lucky person we're going to see?"

The EMH looked down at the PADD in his hands. Her name is Dotra Johat, age fifty-eight. She lives in the city of Hathon in the Dahkur Province. She is a horticulturist, working on a specialty in crossbreeding different strains of fruits. She's achieved a moderate level of success, publishing a handful of peer-reviewed articles and one book," the EMH said. "Why don't we get a shuttle and head down? Unless you'd like to wait until a better time?"

"There won't be a better time." Once more he gripped the back of the chair. Not to stop himself from sitting but to hold himself upright. To hide tremors in his hands. Ever since his learned the Cardassians had genetically crimped his brain the fear of inadequacy had seized him. Those fears that laced ice down his back as the EMH spoke his own epithet back to him. He has achieved a moderate level of success. "Before I can't stand to have her, I want to meet Dotra Johat."

The two transporter signatures appeared in twin beams of golden light. When they faded, the EMH and Lieutenant Soto stood at the edge of a large orchard. Orderly rows of fruit trees stretched as far as they could see. The trees were over ten feet tall and sprouted large green and yellow leaves that waved in the light breeze. The ground was flat but hills could be seen poking up over the tops of the trees, indicating an elevation change not far away. To their left was a small clearing, with a small one-story building sitting in middle. The breeze brought a pleasant smell.

"Well," said the EMH. "How pastoral."

"Accessing your deeply poetic functions, I see," said Gantt. He was absorbing the moment on his own. Whispers of past memories on Bajor brushed past his conscience. The first shuttle down with Nici, the night of prayers in the monastery, memorials remembering the atrocities of the Cardassian occupation, and it's heroes. Planting seeds with Luka. Even the logical scientist Desai had spun a more deeply compelling web of words than Looks like a farm. "Lead the way," he said, shaking off the ghosts as best he could.

The EMH squared his shoulders and walked off towards the small building. The ground underfoot was springy, as if many layers of dead leaves had accumulated over a long time. As they walked a number of small birds flitted by, chirping in a sing-song tone. An answering sound came from directly in front of them. The closer they got to the clearing, the more details they could discern. The building was stout, made from some kind of hard stone. There were few windows and the roof was made of what looked like a criss-cross of heavy leaves. A wide door sat at the front of the building and as they walked out onto the clearing, it opened and a woman stepped out.

She was old enough to be a grandmother. Her hair was long and silver-colored and it shimmered in the sunlight. Her hands and face were brown and wrinkled with age. She wore a set of plain clothing made of rough cloth. Around her waist she wore a belt with a number of tools hanging from it. She crossed her arms as the EMH and Gantt approached.

"I think you two boys are lost. Did your shuttle break down or something?"

"Soraya renga. Good day. We're not lost and we apologize for interrupting your day," said Gantt, though in truth she might be right. Perhaps he was lost. The woman's lined brown face brought back just how far from home he felt. He noticed deep brown soil under the woman's nails, the stains on her knees, and the scent of freshly dug soil that rolled through the air. An array of various plants were waiting their turn to be put to rest back in the earth.

There was everything about the moment that was ordinary and natural except for the news they carried with them. Gantt sighed.

"We are looking for a woman by the name of Dotra Johat. Do you know her?" he asked.

When the woman smiled, her face was transformed and for a moment, it was possible to see who she had been as a young woman. "Philosophically, do we ever know anyone? And since I'm Dotra Johat, the question might be, do we ever know ourselves?" Johat held out her hand. "And who might you be?"

The EMH looked down at her hand and then carefully shook. She held out her hand to Gantt afterward.

"I'm the Emergency Medical Hologram from the USS Firebird and this is my colleague, Lieutenant Soto," the EMH said.

"Oh. Are you hear about the outbreak? If so, we haven't had any cases here," Johat said, her smile slipping away.

"No, we're not here for anything like that," said Gantt. He started to reach for his neck but stopped his nervous tic midway. He turned it awkwardly into a gesture at the nearest bed of flowers. "We've actually come..." Now that he'd come to it Gantt's mouth dried up and the words that followed fumbled out like children just learning to walk. "We'd like to speak with you about genetics. I'm sorry for dropping in unannounced but do you have some time we could talk with you?"

Johat cocked her head. There was something in the young Bajoran's tone that was unusual. "I don't get a lot of visitors out here and the ones I do get are more interested in the trees and fruit than me. Why don't you all come inside and we can have something to drink," she said, waving them to follow.

She led them in through the door. "Make sure you wipe your feet," she said over her shoulder, doing the same herself. The door opened into a large space about twenty by twenty feet. It was full of rows of small trees of differing types at different stages of growth. The air was thick with a miasma of different fruit smells and dirt. Johat passed through the rows of trees until she reached an interior door and opened it. Inside was a cozy office space with mismatched furniture. A small window was set into the wall to their left, under which was a sink an row of cupboards. Another door, closed, was to the right. Johat gestured to the cluster of chairs.

"Have a seat. I can make some Bula tea if you like or you can have some Jumja juice," she said.

"Tea would be nice, thank you." Gantt hovered over a wooden chair that looked hand-made with an embroidered cushion. He wasn't sure what the pattern was. Caught between the heady aroma of the garden and his own increasing doubts, Gantt leaned one knee on the chair. Maybe the should leave. But a look at the EMH made him slide all the way down in to the chair. They were going forward with this, come what may. "Thanks again for seeing us. Have you lived on Bajor your whole life?"

She began heating water on the simple plasma powered stove top. It was old, like her, but she'd used it for years and saw no reason to switch. "Not my whole life, but most of it," Johat said, grabbing two mugs. "I earned my degree in Horticulture here on Bajor and then went to Rigel for my advanced degree. It was... eye-opening. After finishing at the academy there, I did a little tour, visiting Earth, Vulcan and Betazed. It was nice but I never felt at home anywhere but here. So I came home and started working on my fruit trees." The teapot whistled and Johat removed it and poured the steaming water into the mugs. The smell of the Bula leaves hanging heavy in the air. It was a tangy, fruity smell. Pleasant but also sharp. She picked up the mug and made her way to where the EMH and Gantt were sitting. She held out the mug to Gantt.

"But I doubt you two came all this way just to hear about the travels of an old Bajoran woman," Johat said with a smile. She settled into one of the open chairs with a sigh.

The EMH watched as she sat down, internally monitoring her breathing rate, muscle flexion and a number of other factors. By the time she sat, the EMH was certain that she'd had a hip replacement at some point and was slightly undernourished. "No, indeed, we haven't," The EMH said. "Although we are interested in your history. We were wondering if you could tell us about your experiences during the occupation?"

Johat's face went still.

"This can't be easy for you." Gantt held the mug up, watching the steam curl upwards until it faded into the air. "My mother used to tell stories of the occupation. Months after she died I realized that she only told maybe three stories. We were hearing versions of the same stories. Simple stories that avoided the harsh truths." Gantt sipped the hot tea. All his senses were engaged. A shiver worked up his back through his shoulders and up to his scalp.

"Johat, you know that the Cardassian occupation has not truly ended. The roots of it still live in the thoughts, deeds, and words of all Bajorans. They live with consequences not yet known. We don't come here lightly."

Johat took a deep drink from her tea and then cupped the mug in her hands. She looked down at the mug for a few moments and then looked up at the two Starfleet people. "I've tried to create life," she said in a low voice. "At first I thought it was because my parents were farmers, many years ago. And for a while I thought it was my way of giving birth when that was taken from me. But I learned that the real reason is that when I am working, when my hands are in the soil, the dark things inside of me are pushed back by the light." She paused again, running a finger around the lip of the mug. "Why are you interested in my experiences? I've never talked about them before."

His whole chest was tight as though roots had wrapped around his ribs, slowly constricting his breath. Gantt drank the tea to moisten his lips. "Because in a strange twist of misfortune we may be connected to each other through the Cardassian occupation." He drew in a deep breath, exhaling slowly to release the tension in his shoulders. "I've looked up some relatives on Bajor. A few remained on Bajor. A handful fought in the resistance. Many died in the mines and prisons they used to keep us. What happened to you during the occupation?"

"Too much for me to tell you in one sitting. I was a young woman then. I had a simple life that, at the time, I thought was borning. I worked with my parents on the farm and attended a small school. I thought maybe I'd become a teacher or go into government service. But then the war came and then the occupation," Johat said, a small catch in her voice. She looked down at her lap. "And then a Cardassian medical officer decided that I would be a good assistant and he took me away. Those were the worst years of my life and the whole time, through all the things that happened to me, I prayed to the prophets to send me back to my simple life and I promised never to complain again."

"Tell me about the medical officer." Gantt sat up straight. Restless energy charged through him like wind rustling his muscles and sinews. He had to press on his knees to keep them from bouncing. "What kind of work did you do? Did you work in a hospital or a laboratory? And did he force you to participate in any trials?"

"Gul Cauran," Johat said. Her fingers tightened around her mug. "I haven't said that name in over twenty years. How strange that today, as I finally was making progress with my hybridization, that I would speak of him again," Johat said and then saw the confused look on the EMH's face. "He was researching the offspring from those of Bajoran and Cardassian parentage. He was convinced that combining the two was a possible way to eradicate the Bajoran culture and strengthen the Cardassian intellect. I worked as a clerk and... eventually as one of his experiments."

The EMH leaned forward. "I'm sorry to hear that you were forced to participate in these experiments. I've recently located information that indicates Cardassians were manipulating the DNA of Bajorans. Did you experience anything like that?"

"Yes. Gul Cauran was using genetic therapy to splice and remove DNA to produce a more exceptional hybrid offspring. He used me as one of the test subjects for that process. Then he impregnated me," Johat said in a flat toned voice.

"He wasn't trying to create exceptional offspring." The words fought against the back of his throat but he thrust them out. His limbs were cold, cumbersome steel but his belly a forge of heat. "He wanted to destroy Bajor for generations, instill fear and powerlessness into their very soul." Gantt heaved in a gulp of air after speaking before the full weight of her statement collapsed onto him. "You have a child? Are they here?" he breathed.

Johat nodded. "I have a son. He's working out in the field right now. He takes after his... Cardassian heritage. He's very strong. But he's not advanced mentally. I know that it is because of the experiment and I thought I would never be able to love him but I do. He's a beautiful spirit," Johat said the last with tears forming in her eyes.

The EMH glanced at Gantt. "Do you think it would be possible for me to examine him?" The hologram asked. "Nothing invasive, just a few scans from a medical tricorder."

Johat frowned. "He doesn't like doctors. He was sick so much when he was a baby and those memories never left him. I'm not sure how he would respond to it. What are you hoping to find?"

"Genetic alterations that can be passed through birth." Gantt slid forward until he barely rested on the chair. "Evidence of black Cardassian experiments conducted to impair and restrict the best Bajoran minds. And all their future offspring. Please Johat, let us try. Let us talk to your son. If we're right the doctor believes a procedure might be possible to reverse what that monster did." Because I have to believe it's possible. Even if the EMH is wrong, I have to hold to that hope.

Johat frowned. "Reversal," she said, tapping the glass. "It would change him? Make him different?"

The EMH nodded. "Theoretically, yes. I've done extensive analysis on the changes that we gathered from our original subject. With the matching and examination of your son, I will be able to further refine the process. I assure you that your son will not be negatively impacted."

Johat looked at the EMH and then at Gantt. "It's you, isn't it? You're the original subject?"

All day Gantt had been practicing answers in his head. His eyebrows pulled together as he folded his arms across his chest. Anyone could guess who the "original subject" might be but that didn't mean they needed to know. Gantt willed his face to remain impassive and when he spoke he heard almost none of the internal tremors. "I'm here mainly as a guide since the doctor isn't familiar with Bajor. He's a little lost when it comes to some of the customs and ideas we share. To be honest, I have an amateur's interest in the history of the Occupation, too. This was too interesting to ignore." He turned to the EMH. "Sorry I am talking so much, Doctor. You were asking about Johat's son, I think?"

"Of course, lieutenant," the EMH said. "It really would be useful if we could talk with him and take some very basic readings via medical tricorder. I assure you he will feel no pain."

Johat let her gaze rest on Gantt for a moment and then looked over at the EMH as he finished speaking. She nodded. "Alright. But please be careful. He's out stacking some of the trees that didn't live up to our requirements. We harvest them and give them to local woodworkers to use for their projects. Please follow me."

Gantt followed a few paces behind. Johat was too close to the truth and that was his fault. He tried to relax so the ball of ice in his stomach would melt but though he repeated to himself that everything was fine the phrase, "didn't live up to our requirements" repeated itself over and over. And the ice wouldn't melt.

Johat took them out a different door, one that opened onto the backside of the building they'd entered. There were more trees, all roughly equal in height and covered with different kinds of fruits. Some the EMH recognized and some he didn't.

"Feel free to grab anything you like. They're all good to eat," Johat said. She lead them down a long row of trees, leaves swirling around them and the breeze ruffling their hair. After walking for a while a rhythmic thumping sound reached their ears. It echoed over and over, through the expansive orchard, and it wasn't until they stepped into the clearing that it all made sense.

A figure stood with its back to them. A massive figure. It must have been near seven feet tall with broad shoulders and a powerful back that was bare under the sun. Its muscle strapped arms were wielding a gargantuan axe, that slammed against a large tree trunk on the ground. There was no doubt, thanks to the gray hue of the skin and the neck ridges, that this was a person of Cardassian genetic stock. But when Johat called a named, it turned, revealing hints of a Bajoran heritage, including ridges on its nose.

"Mother?" It said in a heavy, monotone voice as it eyed the two newcomers. Its hands gripped the axe even more tighly, white showing on its knuckles.

Gantt couldn't take his eyes off Johat's son, whose neck muscles seemed to bulge like corded snakes. The axe blade quivered slightly as though tense. Waiting to strike. in the hands of Johat's son. Even so, the huge Bajoran with vivid Cardassian features seemed more menacing still. Is this how I could have looked, thought Gantt. He took two steps back. "By the Prophets, what did they do to you?"

Johat held her hands. "It's ok Eho, these people are my friends," Johat said and gave Gantta hard glare. "Isn't that right?"

The EMH managed a smile. "Of... of course. We are good friends and we are hoping to help you, if you will let us."

Eho looked at his mother and then at the two strangers. He slowly lowered the axe as his mother nodded in assurance. "Help me? How can you help me?" Eho asked.

His voice was surprisingly high pitched for someone so large. It sounded almost like a bird. The EMH held up his medical tricorder. "I'm a doctor. I'd like to take a few scans with my tricorder and make sure you're healthy. It won't hurt. In fact, you won't feel anything at all."

Eho smiled, revealing a set of slightly too-large teeth. "I'm not sick. I'm strong. My mother says so," Eho said.

"That's right," Johat said, walking up and resting her hand on her son's massive forearm. "And you are. But you remember mamma Kurru? She looked fine one day and the next she went to be with the prophets. It is good to let the doctor examine you. It will be quick."

"Mamma Kurru," Eho said and tears well immediately in his eyes. "She was a goodness. I miss her."

"Me too," Johat said. "But we will see her again one day." Johat waved to the EMH, who approached and began scanning. Eho didn't notice.

A moment later the doctor stepped away and nodded at Johat.

"You go back to your chores," Johat said. "I'm going to run a few errands with these two. If I'm not home by dark, you know what to do?"

Eho nodded. "Go inside. Eat the food. Wash. Read books. Sleep," He said, smiling as he finished his list, obviously proud.

"Good," Johat said. "I love you. I'll be back as soon as I can."

Once Eho had turned back to work the tension released from him like water swirling down a drain. Much more tension than expected. Gantt rubbed his d'ja pagh as they turned to the house. "Sorry for reacting that way to your son but he doesn't look right," he said. The juxtaposition of Cardassian musculature over Bajoran features rattled him. "I mean, I thought the DNA changes were all to his mind. He, uh, seems really nice and I'm glad the two of you have a family. And I hope the doctor can help him."

Johat smirked at the lieutenant's attempt to cover up his words. "I'm used to that kind of response. Its one reason we live out here by ourselves, for the most part. We have some family and friends who come once in a while. But Eho is scary to people. They can't see past the exterior to the gentle, loving person inside," Johat said and sighed. "I think if you want to learn more about him, we need to go back... to the facility."

As she described her son, Gantt remembered how Eho had first faced them holding the huge axe. How his hands had tightened on the haft. He might be a gentle, loving person but there was other DNA inside that boy. Was it capable of swinging that axe to kill? wondered Gantt. Johat's last few words jostled him from his thoughts. "The facility?" The way those final words had left her mouth, like they crawled out of her from a deep, dark place. A place where Gantt wanted to crawl into. "Is that the lab where you worked with the Cardassian doctor. Where Eho was..." Gantt almost said made. "Where he was conceived?"

Johat nodded as they approached the building. "Yes, that is the facility I am talking about. I've tried to forget about it. I've been fairly successful. But if what you say is true, then I think we have to go there. And you'll never find it without me."

"Why is that?" the EMH said.

"Because it was a very secret facility. The Cardassian's buried it in the hills of the Rakantha Province, in a section that was never able to be reclaimed. Nobody goes there. Why would they? Lets hope that your ship can transport us there or it is going to be a long walk."

The transporter left them standing at the bottom of a small hill, with other similar hills rising around them. The sky was a dark grey, with the threat of future rain. The ground underfoot was gray. Nothing grew. The only sign that this place had been anything other than the gray wasteland it currently was, could be found in the dead root system. Each gust of wind sent fine gray particles into the air. No animals moved. No sounds of life reached their ears. Johat turned slowly in a circle.

"It seems fitting that they built it here, in this dead place," She said.

Even when Gantt's inhaled it tasted gray and dead as if the air itself could no longer give life. "It's like standing on the surface of a moon. Why can't anyone restore this land? What happened here?"

Johat got her bearings and began walking, not bothering to look behind. "The Cardassians poisoned this province during the war and the occupation after. It caused massive famines, killing tens of thousands of our people. That's what they wanted, of course," Johat said, her feet crunching on the rocky soil. "Thank the Prophets that the technology came far enough that by the time the Cardassians left, soil reclamators were used to restore most of the province. But the terrain here is too hilly. This land will remain dead forever, or at least until new technology is created. Gul Cauran chose this place for his facility because nobody lives here. It is like a small dead moon." Small puffs of gray dirt wafted into the air, leaving a fog-like cloud in her wake for the EMH and Gantt to walk through.

"Lieutenant," the EMH said. "Do you know where your own family lived on Bajor? I'm trying to understand how your people came to be involved in this program of Gul Cauran's," the EMH said.

"I've only learned part of my family history. Many lived in Hathon where they lived as farmers or grain processors. Several were executed during the war. The closest blood ancestors lived in Ilvia. A woman with the same name as a great-aunt, Vesar Jonya, worked at a medical complex there but they might be two different people," Gantt replied, warming up to the topic. "From that line I've found at least four people who were noted thinkers of their day, and two who had art in the provincial gallery that was destroyed in the war. I suppose my great-aunt might have crossed paths with him but that would have just been bad luck."

"I don't believe in luck," the EMH said. "I do believe in statistical probabilities. There is a reasonable change that, given the size of the population here on Bajor at the time, that a relative of yours had interactions with Gul Curan or one of his associates."

Johat listened to the two as their path winded up into the hills. Even decades later, sparse copes of dead woods stood as silent sentinels, marking their progress. Johat began to recognize small landmarks as they made their way. A small cracked black stone, more weathered than the last time she'd seen it but still recognizable. The massive stump of a tree, which the path wound around. She could make out a letter carved deep into the graying wood. Eventually the small group crested the top of a hill and the land opened up before them in a sweeping vista. The network of hills continued, dotted like gravestones in her mind. But the land on the other side of the hill fell away in a shallow decline, ending at a grouping of massive boulders. The stones looked as if a giant hand had picked them up from a far off mountain and then cast them down like dice. A faint, dull metallic gleam could be seen in the middle of the rock.

"The facility is there," Johat said.

Wind kicked up a cloud of dust over the area where she pointed but when it cleared the result was hardly more impressive. Four buildings huddled together to form the facility. Each looked like a long rectangle with ends that sloped outward toward the ground; a trapezoid tall enough for two stories. The exterior was painted dark brown on the lower half and a lighter brown on the top. Architecturally the facility looked more hopeless than its surroundings. It was a creature that had given up hope the moment of birth and settled down to a life of quick, quiet deterioration.

"Maybe it's knowing, or guessing, what horrors the Cardassians did there but I feel like the place is cursed." Gantt had never believed himself to be superstitious but maybe you can't grow a seed of spirituality without a few. In spite of his qualms Gantt began to walk faster. "There won't be any record of this place even if I could get anything to work. What exactly do you expect to find here, Johat? Why bring us to the middle of desolation?"

Johat turned to look at Gantt. "Because this is the only place you will find Gul Cauran," she said and then began picking her way down to the building.

The airlock hissed when it opened, letting out a gust of stale but breathable air. The construction was clearly Cardassian, evident in the circular door that rolled aside and the heavy metal ribs that held up the chamber inside. There were two aging vehicles immediately inside, illuminated by the motion lights that flickered on as they entered. Johat pointed across the entry room to a smaller doorway.

"This is the only entrance. The Gul used to use the vehicles to reach the subjects that were placed with Bajoran families or to meet Cardassians coming to tour this place. As if it were some zoo," Johat said.

The EMH pulled out his tricorder and scanned the space. "Interesting. Trace biological elements of diverse nature," he said, snapping the device closed. "Nothing that is harmful though. The interior space is shielded. Johat, before we ran down the hill, you said Gul Cauran was here. How is that possible? He would be well past the age where, without some intervention, a male Cardassian would have expired."

Johat began walking towards the door.

"Hold up Johat, I thought you meant metaphorically. Are you saying Gul Cauran is alive and living here?" Gantt wasn't sure if the tremors rattling inside him were from fear or hatred. He kicked away a rock to bleed off the energy before his hands started visibly shaking. "There's no way. The council would have dragged him off long ago to face trial."

"No," Johat said. "I'm not saying that he's literally here. But I am saying that his hologram is. Gul Cauran was one of the most brilliant scientists that Cardassia ever produced. I can say that and think he was a monster because both are true. He was obsessed with his legacy and with his project." They reached the door and it slid open in front of them. Beyond was a wide corridor that ran to the left and right. The lighting system winked on, illuminating the industrial-looking passageway.

"Because of that, he made sure to create an advanced hologram, not unlike the one your EMH uses," Johat continued, glancing at the EMH.

"I'm not sure I like that comparison," The EMH said with a frown.

"It isn't a judgment on your capabilities, doctor," Johat said. "The archive room is this way."

Gantt touched one of the thin, sloping struts that supported the narrow Cardassian corridor. The green paint had a slightly grainy texture. All in all the corridor gave him the sense of walking within a giant carcass, the decaying remains of some creature long dead and better forgotten. A voice inside Gantt told him to run but a stronger force pulled him toward the door at the end of the corridor.

He followed Johat wordlessly into the records chamber. The room was wide and the corners gently rounded. Some illumination came from a large pane of white glass overlaid with black & white versions of the Cardassian emblem arranged in a circle in the middle of the ceiling. A column supported the window. Workstations were set at regular intervals around the room. Very neat. Very orderly.

Gantt wanted to vomit.

"Doctor, maybe you can find what you need without,... The information may still be contained on some backup system or memory bank. I can see what systems could be brought up," said Gantt.

"That would seem prudent," the EMH said and turned to Johat. "Do you have insight into where to begin?"

Johat's face was unreadable. Her eyes were cold. The EMH could see her muscles were taut, which would cause long term medical issues if it continued for too long. "I... yes. If they still work, the second workstation," she pointed. "There. That was the main control for the hologram system."

"This one? Looks like it's in pretty good condition," said Gantt, examining the console for damage from age, abuse, or weather. He paid no attention to the other two, seizing on his engineer role with every hope to avoid meeting Gul Cauran--even a holographic version.

Very little dust had accumulated over the years considering the brown clouds of it the earth breathed nearly constantly into the air. The console came alive at a touch, the red and blue Cardassian logo flickering like a palpitating heart for several seconds before steadying. Data may have been wiped or a security block left in place but in another breath the main screen appeared. "It's actually working, and in remarkable condition. I wonder how long since anyone last used this old hulk? I'd love dig into the logs to see what they did in the last days, what they took and what they left behind, but I'll have to settle that curiosity later. Johat, do you have any guess where to start looking? I could spend days sifting through these menus."

Johat took a slow step towards the console that Gantt was standing in front of. She felt numb inside. Seeing this place after so long, and seeing so much of it in almost the exact same condition, made her feel like a Cardassian would walk in at any moment. She knew, logically, that was the case but the terror was growing. She gritted her teeth and forced the feeling deep down inside.

"You need to access the active program directory. Then look for the data sub directory and the hologram program should be in there somewhere. I never actually helped with this. I just heard them... the scientists and medical people, talking about it in the dining facility," Johat said and shuddered.

"I want the data, not the hologram." His fingers curled tightly into his palms, nails pressing into the flesh. The pain helped him concentrate as fear seeped into his mind. He worked in silence for several minutes. "The computer has a lot of dead ends. Partial files, corrupt links between data, and entries that are a complete jumble." Gantt banged the console once with a fist. "Making sense of the pieces would take too long even if every file was intact. We'll have to take a copy and figure it out on board the ship," said Gantt, glancing at his hand as though expecting a PADD to appear.

The EMH walked over to the console that Gantt was working at. He looked at the list of files contained in the system, listening to the lieutenant talk as he did so. It was clear that essential data was missing or possibly hidden. It wasn't unusual for vital parts of essential programs to be split up across different segments of a computer system. He opened his mouth to say just that but Johat spoke first.

"We don't have time for all that," Johat said. She didn't want to say it but she forced herself to. "The most efficient means to extract information is to activate the program. If you aren't capable of making it work... I will. This isn't the most complicated program. Most of the files should be tagged in a way that you can search and sort them until you find the one that initializes the hologram."

"I don't need your help running a simple program," said Gantt, waving away her words like gnats. He scowled his way through submenus and lists of files. When the correct file finally came up Gantt hesitated, his had frozen over the screen. For as much as he wanted answers, another baser instinct could not force his hand. A drop of sweat slid down the back of his neck and his knees shook with emotion that had to go somewhere. "You always seem to have an answer when we need one, Johat. Makes me wonder if you come here more often than you say. Help Eho learn his Cardassian heritage."

Johat clenched her hands. "I have been here from time to time. But the only reason I've come is to use some of the medical equipment. Eho's DNA is unstable and the therapy procedures were created by the Gul. So excuse me for saving the life of my son!"

The EMH cleared his throat, a subroutine he'd added years ago. "Please, let's not fight. We are here to discover truths, not antagonize one another. That certainly isn't productive. Lieutenant Soto, if you'd prefer, I can handle this."

"No, I'm initializing the program now." The screen flickered. A large Cardassian male appeared about twenty feet away in military dress, his mouth two thin lines pressed together. Despite preparation, Gantt backed into Johat hard enough into that he reached out to balance himself. He glanced at her, then quickly looked away to hide the redness on his face. "Well, go ahead," he said. "Say something to the nice Gul."

Johat's face had gone white. She'd visited the facility one or two times per year but she'd never had the desire or the need to activate this program. But now, seeing the monster that was also the creator of her child, she felt her defenses breaking. All of the memories of her days here came flooding back. Some of them were good but many more were full of medical experiments both before and after giving birth. And all of them centered around Gul Cauran. She tried to speak but then just buried her face in her hands.

Gul Cauran's head turned as he took in the scene around him, including the weeping of the Cardassian female that he knew as Subject 004. He turned and began walking towards her and the strangers.

"Well, this is unexpected," Gul Cauran said. "Zero zero four, why are you so upset? And who are these friends of yours?"

The deep Cardassian voice rubbed every nerve in Gantt like the edge of a file. Johat's wretched tears were far worse. They only stoked his anger. Gantt forced himself to look at Gul Cauran against the inner siren screaming turn away. However his quiet voice, sounding timid in the large, empty space, betrayed the turmoil. "I am Lieutenant Soto of the Federation. We're aware of illegal activity," Gantt cut off the word. "Horrific experiments performed under Cardassian guidance during the occupation. We require information about these from your data banks."

The Gul walked towards Johat and Gantt, his eyes focusing on the Bajoran as if he was dissecting him. "Lieutenant Soto is it? That name is familiar to me. Yes. Very familiar to me indeed," Gul Cauran said and shook his head. "Although I don't like the label you're applying to my work. Illegal? By whose standards? Yours? Starfleet? The Federation. You think I care about what you think you understand about my research? My orders are to protect the Cardassian people."

Gantt could not match the Gul's intense gaze. He could only remind himself over and over not to look away. This was worse than the tears. "You care enough to explain. Besides, I'll stick with the current set of laws rather than those imposed by an invader force," said Gantt. He placed his palms on the console--more for support than a place to rest his hands. "However, we didn't walk this far for a debate. Our doctor needs detailed records on certain genetic experiments. What was done and how it was done. Will you stick to just doing that?"

The Gul rubbed his chin with a gray hand. "I could. But what fun would that be? Why don't we make a deal. You ask me a question and I get to ask you a question. If you lie to me, I might have to do the same to you. That sounds fair, doesn't it?" The Gul looked at the three people. "If you accept, I would be happy to answer your first question. Who would like to start?"

Turning to the EMH, Gantt gestured at the hologram. "We have the data. I could reprogram the hologram with a different Cardassian behavior module. Not that any of them would be less," he waved a hand in air as though searching through his thoughts. "Well, pinche culero." He lowered his voice so only the doctor could hear. "We shouldn't have to make any deal but also, you're the only one who knows what to ask."

The EMH eyed the Cardassian Gul suspiciously. "No, lieutenant, I don't think I want you to attempt to reprogram him. I wouldn't be surprised if there are all kinds of traps and fail-safes to prevent tampering. These are Cardassians we're talking about. Our choices are either to accept his offer or transfer the program to the ship and break it there. I believe the latter would be prudent, do you concur?"

In response Gantt cut power to the hologram. "I won't bandy words with a Cardassian. There's a mess of data here that I'll include. Nothing of any value but maybe it was left here on purpose and who knows what pieces the program needs to run. As you said, Doctor, they are Cardassians." The facility was starting to close in on him and the voices of all the sufferers here were a distant murmur in the back on his mind. Or maybe they were his own ghosts. Gantt wasn't sure. He avoided looking at the space where the Gul had stood or at Johat. "Thanks, Dotra Johat. This data should help the doctor and if he finds a way to help... we'll be back."

Johat nodded. "I hope you find what you need, lieutenant. I hope you find the peace that has eluded me."


Lieutenant Junior Grade Soto Gantt
Assistant Chief Engineering Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Medical Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Doctor Dotra Johat
Bajoran Horticulturist
(NPC by Llwyedd)


Previous Next