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Of Bajor

by Jayne Leitch

[Story Headers]

"One should never look into the eyes of his own gods." -- Kai Opaka, 'Emissary'


...protesting the appointment of Jol Oreema, the first Bajoran to serve on the Governance Council of Bajor-Annex, to the role of First Minister; authorities under Capitol District Prefect Gul Surjak were present to restore order, subduing the dissenters with commendable...

...fell severely short of established output quotas. Crop yields from seasonal harvests in Golar and Rakantha Provinces remain largely unaffected, however surveys show a decline in Bajoran labour efficiency which cannot...

...extensive uridium deposits, and recommends diverting the Glyrhond River and relocating the inhabitants of the province's south-eastern quadrant to allow access to this rich vein...

...population control solutions (attendees: Dedan, M.; Girel, R.; Moset, C.; Vulsa, S.). Designations: i] Batal to contain no fewer than 10,000 Bajorans fit for labour; ii] Relliketh to contain no fewer than 20,000 Bajoran indigents (gender segregation suggested); iii] Kran-Tobal to contain no fewer than 30,000 Bajoran criminals (impose gender segregation)...

"Father, why do you have to go to Bajor?"

Surfacing from thirty years of reports, Dukat found his daughter standing beside him, staring at the words on the screen with four-year-old intensity. He smiled and took her hand, drawing her close. "Because the Bajorans are like you, Eleney," he said, calling up an image of the newly-built Terok Nor--his new post--orbiting watchfully around Bajor. His smile widened as she subjected it to solemn study. "They need me to take care of them."

*

One week after the ore processor was brought online, it fell prey to sabotage. Five Cardassians were killed in the explosion.

Three days later, the head of station security presented Dukat with the two saboteurs, their signatures on full, voluntary confessions. They stood proudly in their cell and glared at him through the forcefield, their eyes hard and glinting under dark purple bruises.

Dukat gave them a sad shake of his head. "The ore processing centre creates jobs for your fellow Bajorans," he said, as slowly and plainly as he could. "It lets them earn their living, it helps them support their families. Why would you try to destroy something that gives purpose to so many people?"

"Bajorans find purpose in the fight for freedom," said the taller of the two prisoners. His cracked lips curved, oozing blood. "That is the only purpose we need."

That evening, just as the day shifts ended and the Bajoran population flowed at full capacity through the Promenade, Dukat presided over the public executions of five men: the two confessed terrorists and three randomly selected labourers. Afterwards, he returned to his quarters secure in the knowledge that the loss of Cardassian life in the attack had been balanced in fair, equal measure.

He entered his quarters to find Meru curled into a corner of the sofa, weeping. "Meru," he exclaimed, hurrying to sit beside her and cup his hands around her face. "What is it? What's wrong?"

She shook her head, pulling away from his touch. "I don't think I should...I..." Wiping ineffectually at her tears, she darted him a look and a collapse of a smile. "...don't think you want to know."

"Nonsense." Dukat slid gentle fingers under her chin, tilting her head up; he leaned closer until he could meet her eyes. "You can tell me anything, Meru, you know that."

He felt her holding herself still, holding her breath, holding her tears. Then, suddenly, she squeezed her eyes closed; on a shaky exhale, she whispered, "I miss Taban. Nerys, Reon, Pohl..."

Dukat could have laughed with relief. "Of course you do," he said, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her close so she could settle against his chest. "Meru, that's natural, nothing to be ashamed of!" He pressed a reassuring kiss to the top of her head and started to relax. "You know," he continued after a moment, "I have family as well, back on Cardassia."

Meru nodded under his chin. "Yes, I've heard some of the guards speak of your wife--" She broke off, inhaling sharply.

Dukat stared straight ahead, motionless in the abrupt silence. Meru was tense against him; he could feel her withdrawing, readying herself to shrug out of his arms and scurry away. He took a breath. "Her name is Likaya," he said quietly, holding Meru where she was. "We have been married for almost six years. We have two children, Eleney and Skoven. My son was born one week after I transferred here; I haven't yet seen him or held him, and he would not recognize my voice." Absently, he began stroking his hand from Meru's wrist to her shoulder, rumpling the silk of her sleeve and exposing her skin to his fingertips. "Sacrifice can make us strong," he murmured, thinking of the five most recent bodies he'd had to send home to Cardassia for burial, "and loss can give us an opportunity to cherish something new." Holding Meru a little tighter, he smiled down at her and added, "If we allow such things, of course."

*

Dukat stood in the doorway and watched Naprem. She had a nighttime ritual; he had worked late that evening, but had timed his return to their quarters so he could watch.

Every night after dressing for sleep, Naprem sat in the low, hard-backed chair in front of the window and stared out at the stars while she brushed her hair. She wore it up in twists and curls throughout the day; after removing the pins and ties that held it together, she picked up her brush and stroked methodically until it fell in glossy, honey-coloured waves over her shoulders. Throughout, her gaze remained fixed on distant space as she lost herself in her thoughts.

Dukat enjoyed watching her perform the nightly ceremony. It reminded him of Likaya: she shared the habit, introspection and all.

Finally, returning from the stars with a sigh, Naprem replaced her brush on its shelf and turned toward the bed; she started when she saw Dukat. "How long have you been there?"

He chuckled at the look on her face. "Long enough."

"You should have said something," she scolded self-consciously.

Still smiling, he held out his arms; she went obediently to him, and he kissed her. As they parted, he smoothed his hands over her hair. "I have a surprise for you, my dear."

"Now?" Relaxing into his presence, she looked intrigued--but as he took her hand and began pulling her out of the bedroom, towards the door out of their quarters, that look was replaced by a confused frown. "We're going out? But it's late, I'm already dressed for bed--"

"It's all right, Naprem." He tossed a mischievous smile over his shoulder as they stepped out into the corridor. "Trust me."

The guards at the storage vault nodded briskly at Dukat and studiously ignored Naprem, who, robe only half-tied, held her chin high and ignored them in turn. Dukat led her through the various security points, providing passwords and thumbprints when necessary, until finally they came to a room set securely into a bulkhead. The forcefield over its locked door crackled at their presence.

"Here we are," he announced, turning away from Naprem to enter his security code and lower the field. Before he released the lock, he turned back and took her hand again, sharing her smile of bemused anticipation. "I hope you like it." He unlocked the door, and watched Naprem as it slid open.

Her eyes widened in recognition of the intricately-carved wooden ark on display inside; her breath caught in her throat, and her hand clenched around his fingers. He squeezed back, feeling a thrill of satisfaction. "You can go closer," he said indulgently, and was unable to contain a laugh at the eagerness with which she entered the room.

"An orb of the Prophets." Naprem glanced back at him, her face slack and beautiful with wonder, but she seemed too awed to look away from the orb ark for more than a second. As she turned back to it, Dukat saw her hands raise--instinctively, he thought, and only halfway--into the posture of Bajoran prayer and obeisance. "I've never...the Prylars described them, when I was a child, told us that one of them was being hidden in a nearby village--" She caught herself, pressed her lips together, and darted a look at Dukat. "But those were just stories, no one ever saw or found anything. But I always...wondered..."

"That's why I brought you here." Stepping close behind her, Dukat put his hands on her hips and murmured into her ear, feeling the tickle of her hair and the cold of her earring on his cheek. "So you won't have to wonder anymore."

He felt her gasp. "An orb experience?" she asked, her voice low and trembling. "I could have an orb experience? Without a Vedek, outside a temple? You would--" She turned suddenly, turned her back on the orb and looked up at him; he took an involuntary step back, startled by the set of her jaw and the angry flash of her eyes. "This is an orb of the Prophets, Skrain. You may not believe in my gods, but you can't just use their gifts as Cardassian--as a Cardassian bribe!"

Bewildered by her outburst, Dukat shook his head, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "Naprem, that wasn't my intention--"

"Of course not." She looked away, her mouth a thin, firm line; her hands went to the tie of her robe and pulled it tighter, covering herself more fully before she crossed her arms. "Did you think about this gesture you're making, Skrain? This show of benevolence with a holy relic appropriated from my people?"

"It's not a show!" Upset, uncomprehending, Dukat gripped her shoulders and drew her towards him, overpowering her brief attempt to pull away. "I want you to have this!"

Naprem twisted out of his grip. "You want me to have it. So you're allowing me to have it." She shook her head, looking over his shoulder towards the door. "You keep it locked up here, instead of letting it stay in a temple; you don't let the Ranjens teach, you barely allow us to wear our earrings--"

"Those are not my decisions, Naprem! They come from my superiors; I can't disobey their orders! The most I can do is try to temper them!" They had discussed this sort of thing before, when she had first moved into his quarters. Dukat had thought he'd gotten through to her then; now, faced with her pedantic righteousness, he couldn't ignore the horrible suspicion that she had simply been humouring him for almost a year. He searched her face for a sign that she believed him, that she trusted him, wishing desperately that she did. "If the Legates had their way, every one of these we found--" he gestured at the orb ark "--would be destroyed. All your temples would be burned to the ground, and any Bajoran found in worship would be killed." He reached out, but closed his fist and withdrew it before touching her. "I may not believe in your Prophets, Naprem, but I am trying, trying to believe in Bajor. And I want you to believe in me."

Naprem stared at him, measuring and judging with--he thought--a trace of the same desperation he was trying to stifle. Abruptly, she stepped close again and raised her hands to his face, pressing her fingers to the ridges around his eyes hard enough that he could feel it in his temples. "It's an orb, Skrain," she said--and then, with a sigh, she relented; the pressure of her fingers softened, and Dukat thought he saw tears welling before she blinked them away. "I know you don't mean--this isn't about...power. You want me to be happy, and you care about what I think of you. And I am..." she trailed off, still looking searchingly into his eyes. "I am happy. And I am very touched that you would arrange this for me. I understand, Skrain. But..." A tilt of her head, a trace of a smile. "I shouldn't need a Cardassian's permission."

He leaned into her touch, returning her gaze imploringly. "We're not all the same, Naprem. I...hoped...you knew that."

Her smile broadened, though it retained a hint of sadness. "I do. I do know that." After a moment she turned back to the ark; now, she regarded it uncertainly. "Is it still--do you still want me to have an orb experience?" she asked, one of her hands lingering on his shoulder.

Dukat covered it with his own. "Do you still want to have one?"

The silence before she answered felt thick, even ominous. When she nodded, Dukat sighed quietly in relief, even though her entire body radiated ambivalence.

He stood a few paces away while she placed herself directly in front of the ark. Before reaching out to open it, she hesitated, looking at him sidelong; Dukat noticed an unguarded flash of discomfort, as if she was considering asking him to leave, and he planted his feet in silent, decided refusal.

He didn't know what to expect once the ark was opened, and held his breath at the first glimmer of the energy vortex within, looking from it to Naprem with increasing, restless fascination. The moment seemed to stretch forever before, all at once, the orb's vortex swirled abruptly brighter, bathing Naprem in light; she didn't move, but stared fixedly at the orb, into whatever vision she saw in its depths.

Dukat waited, avidly watching the play of light and energy on her expressionless face. A sensation of great intimacy pervaded him, in the act of witnessing his lover commune with her gods; he felt awed and uneasy and jealous, all at once. He wanted to touch her, kiss her, stroke her skin in that light--and, remembering her pride and doubt, he wanted to pull her away from it, push her down and take her place and feel the light warm his own skin, see for himself what secrets it held.

If it would show him.

The moment stretched, and Dukat could taste his yearning. His hands ached with the tension of his fists.

Suddenly, as quickly as it had swirled to life, the orb dimmed to its normal radiance. Dukat hurried forward; Naprem was back to herself, dazed, swaying on her feet. He pulled her close, a little more roughly than he'd intended, and reached out with his free hand to close the ark. "What happened, Naprem?" he demanded, unable to keep the urgency out of his voice. "Tell me. What did you see?"

She squirmed in his arms; fearful, he held her tighter, but she wasn't trying to get away. Instead, she turned to him, looked up into his face--and Dukat was startled again by her expression, this time one of utter joy and peace. "I saw you, Skrain," she whispered, and threaded her fingers through his hair, and kissed him.

If he heard her murmur something that sounded like "Tennan" against his mouth, he paid no attention. He simply kissed her back.

*

There was a message from Terok Nor: the newly-built Cardassian treasury and embassy buildings were in rubble after a coordinated assault by an unprecedented alliance of three Bajoran terrorist cells. The Cardassian death toll was in the thousands. In the wake of the attacks, civil disturbances--everything from anonymously-posted leaflets proclaiming species solidarity to armed rioters marching in the streets--were cropping up in major cities all over the planet. Central Command was demanding a return to order; Dukat's second-in-command had already deployed the reserve militia, but advised him to return to the station immediately to oversee their actions.

There was a cry from the other room. Turning his back on the casualty and relief statistics now scrolling across the screen, Dukat went back to pacing anxiously around the anteroom of the Lissepian transport's tiny medical suite. When the midwife finally appeared in the doorway, he stopped short.

Naprem was awake, but drowsy with relaxation from the birth. She beamed at him as he stood in the threshold, and waved lazily for him to come in. "Look at her, Skrain," she murmured as he stepped slowly to the side of her bed. "Look at your daughter."

Dukat turned his gaze to the baby in her arms, reached down to carefully push the blanket away from her face--and his breath caught in his throat. Her skin was smooth, pinkish-grey rather than the blue-grey of his other children. Barely visible ridges curved around her eyes and framed the shallowest possible indent on her forehead. And there, crowded on the bridge of her nose: tiny, delicate furrows, unmistakeably Bajoran. Dukat traced them with the tip of one finger, and delighted at the slow blink of her wide, solemn eyes.

"She's perfect," he said.

*

Dukat had just placed a fresh Edosian orchid in the vase at the centre of the table when the ward room doors opened, admitting Major Kira and Weyoun. She froze as soon as she saw the perfectly-laid table and steaming dishes, narrowing her eyes suspiciously; he, in his curious Vorta fashion, stepped around her and wandered closer to examine the pattern of the dishes and stick his nose into the flower.

Kira's gaze darted accusingly to Dukat, who met it with a disarming grin. "What's this?"

"We're all very busy these days," he explained pleasantly, "getting the station into order, getting used to each other. The turnaround of management can be a very time-consuming and difficult task, no matter how positive or necessary the change." He nodded at Weyoun. "So I thought we'd all be much more comfortable having our meeting over dinner."

Weyoun tilted his head consideringly. "Is this a Cardassian custom, mixing business with comfort? If one were to take a long view, such a combination could begin to seem...problematic."

Dukat set his jaw behind his smile. "Perhaps. Nevertheless, our meetings hardly require us to be uncomfortable. And we do need to eat." Considering the matter settled, he moved toward his place at the head of the table; after a moment, Weyoun took another chair graciously. Kira hadn't moved, however, and Dukat paused before sitting. "Are you going to join us, Major? There are plenty of Bajoran dishes, if you aren't feeling adventurous this evening."

He saw her hands curl slowly into fists at her sides--but she stepped forward, moving to the third place on the other side of the table.

"Wonderful." Dukat seated himself and began passing dishes, paying close--if surreptitious--attention to the foods Kira chose, noting which ones represented the largest portions on her plate. "Now, everyone eat up, while it's hot." He raised his glass of springwine and caught Kira's eye in a silent toast; she turned her attention determinedly to her plate, and he stifled a chuckle.

Across the table, Weyoun sniffed delicately at his meal. "Pardon me--but what is this?"

Dukat peered at the small mound on his plate. "Hasperat," he said, reaching out to take a serving for himself before passing the platter on to Kira. "A wonderful dish; I had it brought in fresh from Bajor this morning."

Weyoun took a measured bite, chewed methodically, said, "How marvelously piquant," and replaced his fork on the table. "Now, to business. Dukat, you say your early projections have the minefield disarmed and removed from the mouth of the wormhole in approximately a month?"

Swallowing his own mouthful of food, Dukat gave a confident nod. "Less than a month, actually. Federation mines are simple devices; the Cardassian military solved the problem of disarming them safely long ago. Our only obstacle is volume; the mines are smaller than Federation standard, and placed very close together. It's taking some time to pinpoint exactly how many we're dealing with." He didn't mention that every time they managed to disarm and move a mine into empty space to subject it to more detailed scans, the sensors registered no change in the number of active mines still in formation; he'd had Damar run three system diagnostics, and the sensors seemed to be operating perfectly. Regardless of their number, however, there was still every reason to hope that the mines would fall according to plan; Dukat saw no reason to brief Weyoun unless it became absolutely necessary.

"Less than a month." Weyoun was nodding thoughtfully. "This alliance between us shows its strengths more with each day. Now, Major Kira," he turned his attention across the table, "I was wondering if your government had put any further thought into allowing Bajorans back onto the station?"

Kira shook her head, a forkful of food arrested halfway to her mouth. "Until the Council of Ministers and the Kai are convinced that Bajorans will be safe here, the decision to keep the presence of our nationals to a minimum stands."

Weyoun looked concerned. Dukat hid his eye-roll behind a deep swallow of springwine, then noticed--and enjoyed--that Kira did the same, looking down at her plate as she took her bite of food. "But the Non-Aggression Pact Bajor signed with the Dominion ensures the safety of your people, be they civilians or military, in all Dominion-commanded territories. Major, I assure you, we want nothing more than to see this station, and Bajor itself, functioning as smoothly and normally as when the Federation was involved."

"You must consider, Weyoun, that the Bajorans find it difficult to accept changes in regime." Dukat gestured with his knife as he spoke, watching Kira out of the corner of his eye: she sat quite still, watching him, her mouth pressed tightly closed. "It's only natural that the Provisional Government would be wary, especially since half its members fear reprisals for acts committed the last time Cardassians had a hand in the administration of this sector. Unless I'm mistaken, First Minister Shakaar himself has gone into hiding; if the people cannot look to their politicians for an example of belief in their personal safety, why should they accept that they can believe in it themselves?"

To his immense satisfaction, Kira glared at him for a long second before turning back to face Weyoun's expression of politic solicitude. "Whatever assurances the Dominion makes," she said, her whole body visibly tense with the effort of keeping her tone steady, "the fact is that right now, this entire quadrant is a war zone, and this station is the prize. I think the Bajoran government is completely justified in its decision to keep Bajoran citizens out of the line of fire."

"Very well." Weyoun nodded, acquiescing. "I only hope that, as we all adjust to the situation at hand, your government officials come to realize that Bajorans are able to live and operate businesses on this station with perfect security, as are the numerous foreign nationals who remained after the Federation's withdrawal."

"Speaking of foreign nationals," Kira leaned forward a little, the simmering anger in her tone replaced by one of straightforward urgency, "Jake Sisko--"

"Is a civilian, and therefore completely safe."

Dukat held up one hand. "As long as he doesn't interfere with the station's operations in any way."

Kira didn't even glance in his direction. "I want to make it clear that Jake will not be harassed or mistreated. The government of Bajor won't tolerate hostile treatment of any non-Dominion person on this station; I've talked this over with Odo, and--"

At the mention of the changeling, Weyoun was struck rapt. "How is Odo?" he interrupted, a little breathlessly. "Is he well? I'm so rarely blessed with the honour of his presence."

Kira paused, clearly derailed. "Odo's fine. He's feeling a little useless without his security team--"

"Alas, Major, it's difficult to rely on a security force when its government opposes the idea of letting its members show up for duty." Dukat smiled as she turned--finally--to look at him again, and took a moment to savour the heat of her glare before idly continuing, "In any event, I've always thought that concerning himself with the placement of Bajoran security was rather too...pedestrian for a god."

"Your god, perhaps." Weyoun slid his chair back, stood up, and gazed fervently at Kira. "Major, please assure Odo that matters of security regarding all parts of the station--including young Mister Sisko--are well in hand, and that I would be honoured to personally address any other concerns he may have."

Kira nodded. "I'll...do that."

"Thank you." Glancing over at Dukat, Weyoun said, "I believe those were all the pressing matters for this...meeting. In future, I suggest we schedule our business for earlier in the evening, so we won't be quite so hungry." And with a polite nod to each of them, he turned away from the table and left.

Dukat stared after him, his glass dangling from his hand, halted in its path to his mouth. "Well. All hail the Dominion," he announced mockingly, tilting the glass in an insolent salute. As he took a mouthful of wine, he saw the flash of a grin out of the corner of his eye; gratified, he relaxed against the back of his chair, cut his gaze to Nerys, and drawled, "Insufferable, isn't he?"

"Weyoun?" Pushing herself out of her own chair, she fixed him with a pointed look. "He's not as bad as some."

Dukat watched her stride out the door, then gulped the rest of his wine.

*

Doctor Cox had decided to restrain him.

"So undignified," Weyoun tutted from his perch on the end of the next biobed. "In Dominion holding centres, we restrain our prisoners only if they constitute a genuine threat to themselves while in possession of something we need. Although sometimes," he added, leaning forward and staring, his unsettling eyes wide, "not even then!"

"Cardassian internment is much more efficient." Damar turned from his inspection of a nearby monitor, his lip curling with distaste at the Starfleet decor. "When they release you for your next session, you should demonstrate some of our more successful information-gathering methods."

"'When they release you for your next session.'" Nerys surveyed his captive body with an appreciative leer. "They're not releasing you for anything. Not after that stunt you pulled when the medic tried to feed you."

Damar looked uncomfortable. "That was, perhaps, a slight miscalculation. The timing was...unfortunate."

Weyoun arched an eyebrow. "The timing of the screams? Quite. Starfleet security proves most effective at subduing maniacs on their own ships."

Nerys grinned lazily. "Did you see the Bajoran crewmember? She must've thought the Peldor Festival came early this year: Gul Dukat, raving and thrashing and foaming at the mouth, and she got to strap him down and sedate him."

"Typical Bajoran," Damar spat. "Taking spiteful pleasure in the misfortunes of others after causing the misfortune in the first place."

"Typical Cardassian," Nerys hissed. "Trying to stop us from having any fun."

Dukat squeezed his eyes shut, clenched his hands into fists at his sides, and struggled against the vise-like, staticky grip of the force straps.

It was the gentle touch of a hand to his cheek that made him stop and lie slack, weak and panting. "There, my love," Naprem murmured, and when he opened his eyes she was leaning over him, smiling, her hair falling softly over her shoulders. "It's all right. I'm here."

"You're dead." Nerys's voice was flat, scornful; she stood next to his bed and stared, her expression unforgiving. "You've been dead for years."

"Naprem..." Dukat tried to reach for her, was prevented by the strap over his arms. "I thought I'd lost you."

Her hand trailed comfortingly over his ridges, lightly down onto his neck. "There's no shame in loss."

Nerys raised her chin, proud and accusing. "There is shame in keeping what you never should've had."

Unable to ignore her any longer, Dukat turned his head away from Naprem's touch and glared. "Keeping? What did I keep? I gave up everything! For Bajor, for Cardassia--everything!"

In a blink, Naprem was gone; Nerys leaned over him now, close enough that he could feel her heat as she spoke slowly and quietly and furiously. "You gave up nothing. Everything you ever got your filthy hands on had to be taken away from you. And you deserved to lose it all."

Her words created a chill at the base of his spine. Dukat rolled his head on his flat pillow, trying to find Naprem, trying to ignore the vicious smile curving Nerys's mouth. "No. Naprem? Naprem!"

"Oh! Will there be more screaming?" Weyoun clapped his hands together in excitement. "I had so hoped for more screaming!"

"Shut up!" Dukat's gaze darted about the small room. "Naprem! Na--" He broke off, staring fixedly at the shadows in one corner, the chill freezing him so he could hardly breathe.

Damar stood at attention.

Nerys glanced up, smirked, and backed away.

Ziyal stepped from the shadows and came to the side of his bed. She looked down at him, her eyes full of sorrow.

"Ziyal," he said, and his voice broke on her name. "Oh Ziyal, you're here."

"I'm here, Father," she said sadly. "I love you."

Dukat gazed at her, entranced. He remembered holding her when she was a baby, remembered the feel of her tiny, wrinkled nose under his fingertip, remembered tracing the lines of her heritage all over her face. He couldn't help smiling. "You're perfect."

She brushed a tear from his cheek, her fingers tender and cold. "I'm dead, Father." And suddenly the front of her dress was charred, smoking, stained with droplets of boiled blood. Dukat gasped, and gagged on the stench of scorched flesh. "Killed by the Cardassia you created." He shook his head, horrified, struggling desperately against the restraints, but she wouldn't stop. "Your children are jealous," she said softly, her eyes wide and dead. "They murder each other for your attention."

Dukat screamed.

*

The Pah-Wraiths had been kind.

The notion of divine benevolence was new to Dukat. For most of his life he had lived a wholly secular existence, believing in nothing but Cardassian superiority and the importance of maintaining that superiority through service to the state. Gods had neither say nor place in his life or anyone else's, and he had regarded those who thought they did as simple, credulous, and unable to separate superstition from reality. Bajorans, with their implacable faith, confounding relics, and temples and monasteries that had stood solid and unchanged for millennia, he'd held in greatest contempt.

Thanks to the Pah-Wraiths, he understood now how misguided he had been. How misguided they all had been. It was staggering, the extent to which Bajor was entrenched in idolatry.

The Pah-Wraiths, in a flash of holy fire, had allowed Dukat to understand the truth of Bajor's gods: far from the mystic intangibles described so poetically in Bajoran holy texts, they had in fact spent millennia playing out a merciless political campaign. The coup that exiled the Pah-Wraiths from the Celestial Temple had given the Prophets free rein over Bajor; with that freedom they had encouraged the dissemination of misinformation and propaganda, designed to demonize the Pah-Wraiths and elevate the Prophets to godhood. And as the Pah-Wraiths were trapped in the Fire Caves, unable to counter the Prophets' influence, the resultant religion left Bajorans whispering of the Pah-Wraiths in fear and hate, and worshipping the Prophets with all their souls.

What astounded him was the blindness of their faith. When Cardassia annexed Bajor and proceeded with militant colonization, Bajorans followed the Prophets, who did nothing. When the Occupation dragged on for sixty years of bloody torture, humiliation and death, Bajorans still followed the Prophets, who still did nothing. Even when the Prophets finally did act, after the Cardassian withdrawal, and named a Human--a Human--as their Emissary, still the Bajorans pridefully, faithfully followed.

The greatest conqueror in history could hardly dream of a more thorough victory. If Dukat hadn't released a Pah-Wraith in his own desperate campaign against Bajor, hadn't allowed himself to become its vessel, hadn't realized its divinity at the first fiery rush of its power within him, the Prophets' illegitimate reign would likely have remained unchallenged for another thousand years.

Dukat knew the truth now, and understood. The Bajorans did not deserve his contempt. They did not even deserve to be punished for their pride; they had been deceived into worshipping the wrong gods, and from that deception came all their other faults. They had been wrong because they had been wronged; they deserved his pity, and his message of redemption. The message of the Pah-Wraiths, the true gods of Bajor.

Now, Dukat believed. The Pah-Wraiths had cleansed him of his hate, sharpened his vision, strengthened his purpose. They had filled him with their love, the love of Bajor, and made him their Emissary--the true Emissary. Sometimes, devoting his life to them in worship seemed scarcely honour enough for the gifts they had bestowed upon him: understanding of his true place in the order of the universe, the ability to forgive those who could not share that understanding, the loyalty of those who did--his faithful flock, Fala, Benyan, Mika...

Trusting, beautiful Mika. The Pah-Wraiths had been kind, indeed.

She stood before him, trembling, haloed by the light from the candles on his shrine. "Don't be afraid," he whispered, reaching out to wipe a tear from her pale, blushing cheek. His free hand went to the clasp of his trousers. "This is an act of love."

*

It was market day in Dahkur, and the little square Dukat had been forced to make his home teemed with bustling Bajorans plying and buying their wares. The air was filled with jovial voices and tantalizing smells, barter and the breath of fresh-baked goods; he listened closely and inhaled deeply, leaned against a sun-warmed wall and felt--against all reason--a frisson of contentment.

There must have been a hundred men, women and children walking past him every hour. All of them saw him--some of them stopped to offer assistance--but none of them considered him out of place. None of them feared him. Just like Adami at her introduction to the weathered old farmer Anjohl Tennan, none of them had any idea that they should. After all, what was to fear from a blind beggar with a simple earring and a face just like theirs?

If he hadn't been quite so anxious about Adami's progress with the Book of the Kosst Amojan--and if he had been able to see--he would have been enjoying himself immensely. As it was, he managed his anxiety and annoyance by playing his part to perfection: shambling carefully along the walls, sightless eyes wide, he accepted the occasional coin or comestible pressed anonymously into his hands with gratitude that bordered on buffoonery. Adami had wanted him to learn humility; Dukat had resolved to learn it well enough that when the time came, he could teach her the same lesson.

Or, indeed, a stronger one.

She had been right about Bajoran kindness and generosity, at least: seven years after the end of the Occupation, Bajor was prosperous once more, and the normality of personal plenty created an almost palpable enjoyment amongst the common man and woman who, for so many years, had grown accustomed to desperate privation. In the so-recently-gained comfort of their well-fed, -clothed and -rested bodies, they refused to let anyone less fortunate than themselves go without aid; Dukat had been on the street for more than a week, and had yet to go hungry or spend a night in the cold. He even thanked the Pah-Wraiths for his blindness, inconvenient though it was, as such an infirmity ensured care and attention from the soft-hearted that rivalled the excellent treatment he used to receive as Prefect.

Someone--a woman, he thought, noticing the floral scent handmade and worn by farmers' wives who couldn't afford real perfumes--stepped close to him; his eyes had improved enough that he could just make out her shape, a dark mass against the bleached wall. She took his left hand and wrapped it around what felt like a kava roll, warm and flaky; he caught her calloused fingers before she could let go and stroked them, grinning vacantly. "May the Prophets bless you, my dear!"

"And you," she murmured, a smile in her voice as she gently pulled her hand free and faded back into the crowd.

He stood still for a minute, savouring the exchange in all its irony and base satisfaction. Then, carefully, he lowered himself to the cobbles, sat cross-legged against the wall, and ate.

His sight really was getting better. When spiteful Adami had taken such glee in throwing him out, his entire world had been blackness, deep and impenetrable even in the garishly bright light of Bajor's noon--but every day, the darkness lightened slightly. He didn't presume to understand why the Pah-Wraiths had felt it necessary to blind him at all, but after the shock had worn off he'd submitted to their will, confident in the knowledge that their plans for him did not include begging on the streets for the rest of his life.

He knew they still needed him; they were still with him. He felt them in every moment: voiceless whispers in his mind, an invisible presence before his sightless eyes, sensationless fire in his dreams. They had spoken to Adami twice, but they were always, always with him.

Kai Winn Adami, spiritual leader of Bajor and self-righteous whore for power and glory, had cast him out in anger and punishment. She had forsaken him; the Pah-Wraiths had not.

*

Dukat is surrounded by whiteness and silence. Both are absolute; the first sound he hears is shocking simply in the fact that it is.

"His linear existence is terminated."

He wheels about to find the source of the voice and comes face to face with a row of impossible people: Likaya, Damar, Sisko, Ziyal, and the source of the voice, a middle-aged Bajoran woman, dark-eyed and swathed in purple and vaguely familiar. He staggers back in disbelief; they stare at him, impassive and considering.

"He expects non-linear continuance," Likaya says, as if commenting idly on a minor point of household contention. The strange familiarity of her--the incongruity of her here, in this place, before him--makes Dukat's stomach churn, and he is suddenly obscenely aware of the wrinkles on his nose, the pinkness of his skin.

Ziyal speaks next, dismissively. "The concepts are antithetical."

"Linear beings embody antithesis," Damar replies, as if reminding the others. "Such has been the lesson of The Sisko."

Dukat tears his gaze from Ziyal, but Sisko remains silent, unconcerned--and Dukat is struck by realization. "'The Sisko'," he repeats, and memory floods him with such intensity that it almost overwhelms the awe. "You're the wormhole aliens. You--you're the Prophets!"

They watch him laugh for a long time, all detached observance. "He intrudes upon us," the woman in purple says eventually.

Dukat holds up one hand, taking a shuddering breath as he manages his laughter. "No," he gasps, and grins through his tears at their stolid expressions. "No, this is right. I died in the Fire Caves. Adami murdered me for her own benefit and now--" Another chuckle escapes. "--now I walk with the Prophets!"

They exchange glances. "He conspired with the Kosst Amojan," Ziyal says. "He sought to destroy us and the Emissary."

Likaya tilts her head. "He opposes us, yet seeks inclusion."

"He covets our place," Damar adds.

"No." Dukat shakes his head. "No, I want..." He trails off, suddenly weary and disoriented with the memory of mortal agony and the measureless depth of the surrounding whiteness. He no longer feels any urge to laugh. "It's written that death, by releasing the pagh from its mortal object, cleanses the pagh of its sins and allows it to journey back to its source of replenishment and rest. It returns to the Celestial Temple, to 'an eternity of peace and holy love'." He looks from one inexpressive face to another, and feels a growing knot of tension in his chest, the weight of subjection to their gaze. "It is written."

Damar tilts his head. "He quotes scripture."

"He seeks inclusion," Likaya repeats.

"He is arrogant," Ziyal declares.

The woman in purple raises her chin. "He has been corrupted by the Kosst Amojan."

"No!" Dukat jolts, his eyes widening. "There can be no corruption after death. The pagh is pure, and the Celestial Temple awaits all those who believe. And the Pah-Wraiths helped me to believe!"

Likaya glances at the woman in purple. "Misled," she agrees.

Damar nods--then turns his head abruptly to stare into the white distance, as if hearing something far away. "They want him."

The others do the same. The woman in purple says, "The Sisko is ready."

"Then this one is of no concern," Ziyal dismisses, barely sparing Dukat another glance. "They may have him."

"What?" But even as he speaks, Dukat can feel it: the tendrils of the Pah-Wraiths snaking into his mind, whispering through his thoughts. The familiarity of their presence should be reassuring; instead, in this place, being watched by the Prophets, Dukat feels invaded, the twining of the Pah-Wraiths' will around his bones a kind of grotesque conscription. Fearful--and suddenly, intensely angry--he fights against their pull. "No, they can't take me back. They allowed me to be killed, to die! It's over! I belong here!"

Likaya looks at him with indifference. "He belongs among his own kind."

"My own--" Clenching his teeth, Dukat gags on the Pah-Wraiths' attempt to control his throat and growl a curse. When he can master his own voice again for a moment, he spits out, "Look at me! Who do you think my own kind are?"

Amazingly, all the Prophets fix their gazes upon him. Dukat wills them to see him, his Bajoran nose and colour and earring and belief, and wills the Pah-Wraiths to wait, to give him just a moment, just another moment to himself, just another moment here--

Ziyal says, "He is disfigured."

Likaya says, "Marred."

Damar says, "Broken."

The woman in purple says, "Desecrated."

And finally, horribly, his quiet voice resonant with conviction, Sisko says, "He is not of Bajor."

And Dukat stops fighting. Stops believing. And is gone.

The Prophets stare into the whiteness, attuned for a time to a linear event. Then, the event ended the way it always is and always was and always is destined to be, they ignore the plodding linear view and observe, once again, the whole.

The Ziyal-Prophet says, "He is consumed."

And Sisko says, "Yes."

End.

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Fandom:  Star Trek
Title:  Of Bajor
Author:  Jayne Leitch   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  gen het  |  41k  |  10/07/05
Characters:  Dukat
Summary:  "One should never look into the eyes of his own gods." -- Kai Opaka, 'Emissary'
Notes:  Spoilers up to and including 'What You Leave Behind'.
Disclaimer/Other:  Paramount's crazy toys, not mine. No infringement intended.
Many thanks to MaryKate for the beta. Any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.

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