Introduction

Cardassia was trapped in a constant cycle: famine and epidemics resulted in revolution, leaders were deposed or executed, replaced by new ones. After a few decades, renewed catastrophe set the process into motion yet again; this pattern of events had seen the collapse of the Hebitian Empire then of the small principalities that followed, later an ill-fated attempt to recreate a global empire. This, too, was swept away in turn …

As much as the peaceful, spiritual population of Cathassa distrusted the military and its increasing power, they recognized this very institution and its refined logistics system had saved thousands of lives during the last great famine. Masses of staples were transported from Ongul and Nadral Continents to Cathassa, Jendoral and Kheffara Continents, entire populations were resettled to ease population pressure in sensitive areas.

In spite of all these efforts, tens of thousands died of starvation, epidemics raged through entire regions, decimating their already-weakened inhabitants. During the last catastrophe everyone realized that without the efforts of the institution now called Central Command even more citizens would have been lost. The advantages of a centralized government rather than independent local governments and provinces overseen by discrete nations were revealed during this latest disaster. Once the crisis was over, a council of local leaders was called on all continents, a complex project organized by the military.

Negotiations took nearly a year. Local and provincial authorities, finally those of the continents established a body of representatives, three from each continent, its extended plenum consisting of one representative from each province: Detapa, the civilian government was instituted.

Central Command itself was in a position to protect the entire planet, to respond to crises. It too had a tripartite system consisting of three Legates, nine Guls First order and a council.

Finally, a politically neutral security force organized and led by three individuals was instituted to ensure general security, discourage attempts to wrest power from the legal bodies of government.

However, the ruler of Kelan-Lesana had been elected a member of the local government. He immediately negotiated for limited autonomy, religious freedom as well as exemption of his people from military service; this province was one of the most fertile, so, in exchange, a contract to deliver a given percentage of produce to Central Command every year was established ….

Two hundred years after this political reform, Central Command's and the Order's respective structures had subtly changed, so that these institutions were administered by one individual alone; Central Command, due to its service to the people of Cardassia, had tacitly taken control of the government. As to the Order, it was gradually insinuating itself into all aspects and institutions of Cardassian life, was recruiting and securing the best minds to develop new technologies that it passed on to Central Command in accordance with the regulation that forbade the Order from possessing any weapons apart from phasers.

Once peaceful and spiritual, Cardassia's culture was now undeniably militant; space flight had progressed from versions of the tekeli ships to massive ships powered by impulse thus capable of reaching planets outside the central system. The first aliens encountered were relatively primitive, unable to defend themselves and their worlds' resources against the incursions of the Cardassian military and their advanced weaponry; they were quickly overpowered, absorbed into the Union, but not considered equals. As the Union expanded, absorbed or forged alliances with other systems, Cardassia's confidence became arrogance; its leaders and the general population believed they were destined to rule over all systems they discovered.

In the meantime, the Order planted agents in the provinces' local branches of government; the next element slated to disappear was the old religion which valued peace. Its leaders were accused of being enemies of the state and executed, the wealth found in places of worship declared stolen from the people and confiscated. The most valuable artefacts disappeared into the Order's Headquarters, the rest were turned over to Central Command to help finance a growing fleet of warships which were unwieldy as yet, but effective.

While many young people from the upper and middle classes studied at the Military Academy to become officers, foot soldiers were recruited from among the masses of the poor. Those who proved their worth in combat were granted the privilege of studying and embarking on officer's careers. They were merciless fighters, brutal, aggressive, knowing that if they did not fulfil expectations, they would return to the streets and be subjected to ridicule by their former peers.

In spite of these developments, the Kelani preserved their ways. A few of them left for the population centres and quickly integrated into the mainstream; but most remained where they were. When harvests failed some of them emigrated to the cities then returned, at times with mates from other regions who soon adapted, gradually accepting customs that seemed strange to them, learning a variant of Kardasi which had no parallel anywhere on the planet.

Their ethnicity consequently rejected warfare and their governor refused to put his name to any agreements apart from yearly contracts for delivery of a certain percentage of produce to Central Command.

In Kelan-Lesana, religious purges were unsuccessful, the Kelani, who apparently had informants of their own in place, concealed their spiritual leaders so that they could not be tracked down … Those individuals who were questioned knew nothing, had seen and heard nothing, either. To add insult to injury, the population welcomed the forces of Central Command, even offered them hospitality.

Problems and Strategies

The atmosphere in Central Command's auditorium was extremely tense; for the very first time in its existence, the military was engaged in conflict with an enemy who was well able to mount a determined and highly effective defence; in fact, this enemy had recently shifted its tactics to take the offensive, making the situation critical for Central Command whose forces were barely keeping from falling back in spite of relentless combat. All of the officers present were well aware that a defeat at this time would be an unmitigated disaster both for Cardassia and for the reputation of Central Command and its leading echelons, would compromise the political power this institution had been accorded as a result of its victories.

"We need more manpower, have to recruit more forces, both soldiers and future officers. The offensive against the Lissepian Alliance is costing us too much and we are running the risk of its becoming a worst-case scenario. A decisive blow has to be struck within the next few months, lest we be forced to withdraw after sacrificing so much materiel and so many lives with nothing to show for our efforts and losses. Conversely, we could enter into negotiations which admittedly are a default option, as they never yield as much as a takeover which gives us unrestricted access to all products and resources a planet or system has to offer." The Legate in command of military operations, Yaruk, was both frustrated and concerned about the duration of this conflict that was increasingly placing the government's goal of expansion at risk.

"The costs of operations finally have to be covered and ideally surpassed by access to sufficient amounts of raw materials to markedly improve the situation of the Cardassian people, lest the population rise up in protest because of the sacrifices it is being called upon to make. There already are angry overtones at funeral services for the fallen, accusations that the military is wasting the lives of combatants in a war of attrition that only benefits the Guls and the Legates, but leaves too many families mourning the loss of relatives and, in some cases, of their sole providers."

Gul Chedon suggested, "My fellow Guls and I propose commencing a massive recruitment drive covering all provinces on Cardassia Prime. Increase the number of recruiters. These are to be given a schedule permitting them to complete their work and return to Central Command's Headquarters within four weeks with lists of recruits so that induction can be effected two weeks later. Training incoming personnel has to be initiated without delay, permitting us to launch our next offensive within four months at most." He added, "Target the population centres first and foremost. There are many among the poor who can be convinced to register if their salaries assure their families basic subsistence."

"A most praiseworthy initiative," Yaruk said with a slight hint of sarcasm as he sat down behind his desk before turning to examine the strategic map displayed on the monitor inset in the wall. "We can launch an attack here; their forces are spread too thin in this section of the border …. penetrate and further weaken their lines, attack their home world … destroy their command centre…, if possible the complex housing their government…. " He hesitated just a moment for maximum effect on the listeners, "this is realizable, provided we have enough personnel."

The Lissepian Wars had become a serious liability for the military commanders who had underestimated the fighting power and tactical intelligence of this race which seemed deceptively slow, even sluggish at first sight; the effectiveness of the weaponry its forces had at their disposal had also come as an unpleasant surprise. Possible future strategy: first establish diplomatic relations with the target, obtain information about military capabilities by means of agents, then clandestinely get personnel into place to either strike a decisive blow or else initiate negotiations, all depending on the target planet's capabilities. Have to discuss this with Kadren. He had wanted to keep the Order out of the matter even though he often cooperated with its head; Kadren had not attained his position without being highly creative in his methods.

Aloud, he continued, "On the other hand … perhaps they might be open to negotiations; these must be initiated before they notice that we are experiencing logistic shortfalls. As yet, our forces are not powerful enough to fight successfully on two fronts, so an alliance with the Lissepians would allow us to strike a decisive blow against the Cressari." He met his officers' eyes in turn, recognized their determination to sacrifice their own lives unhesitatingly to win against all odds, prove Cardassia's superiority. "Inconvenient questions can be circumvented by informing the population that we have won the conflict. After all, no one outside Central Command is aware of the situation, not even the Order. The official report will state that we have been merciful in our victory over the Lissepians, recognizing their own strength and determination by offering them a strategic alliance with the Cardassian Union."

Those present briefly discussed the suggestions among themselves, then signalled their unanimous approval. Within moments, Legate Yaruk's secretary had registered their names.

He again fell silent, waiting, then smiled gently, "There is another problem we have yet to resolve, and permanently: it has come to our attention that, in one or two provinces, recruitment drives have quite unsatisfactory results: only very few individuals sign up, many of whom are unsuited for service in Central Command. This most deplorable fact gives me the distinct impression the populations concerned think they are exempt from supporting the military with manpower, obviously believe that their deliveries of provisions relieve them of any further duties to Cardassia."

As yet, the Union was but a Union in name alone, encompassing as it did but the central system and four or five outlying ones as well as a large asteroid field. Most of the planets in its sphere of influence were densely inhabited. Certainly, mines and factories that were staffed by the natives were highly productive, and a large native population meant that no Cardassians had to be wasted on such work, yet Cardassia desperately needed uninhabited planets suitable for colonization. Its rapidly growing population needed space to thrive and expand - an expansion encouraged by the military for obvious reasons..

Incipient Changes

The governor and the ministers of Kelan-Lesana province had agreed to meet the representative of Central Command from Loo'Wess and listen to what he had to say. In the seat of their government, a low building in the centre of what had once been Reljakani Colony, government officials together with the representatives of the various Thar'Sayas, the Kelani word for professional groups, waited for Gul Chedon to speak.

Pensively, the officer looked around at the people in the room before addressing them. This population is quite different to those of the other provinces as to appearance and their customs in general; they even have their own form of Kardasi with elements not found in any of our other languages so that even our best linguists are unable to trace their roots…. The Kelani insist on preserving their traditions, take a stubborn pride in their backwaters existence, grant their spiritual leaders an important role in determining policy … During purges they always hid their religious artefacts, returning them to their shrines afterwards. Nor have we managed to find their archives. So far, our soldiers have notsucceeded either in discovering where those objects are concealed nor where their religious leaders find refuge. This is of no importance now, however.

"We are on the verge of a great victory. The system that is currently under siege will provide us with raw materials, labour, and a base for further operations; it is of paramount importance for us to expand our sphere of influence, bring further systems under our jurisdiction to end poverty, episodes of famine, finally offer the entire population of our Union the life they deserve. Encourage your young people to join us in our efforts for the sake of Cardassia's prosperity and for her future, for the future of all Cardassians," said Gul Chedon. "For those who prove themselves, we have established programmes that will see them embarking on an officer's career, both in military service or in administration, a privilege for those chosen and a source of pride for any true Cardassian family." And with material privileges that will make them serve with even more dedication.

An elderly man dressed in the grey and gold robes of the Vekessai Thar'Saya replied, "The people of Kelan Province have always been people of peace, not of warfare. Indeed, it is against our beliefs. One assurance I can however give you, Gul Chedon: We will continue to supply Central Command with produce from our province in accordance with the agreement; our farmers will work to increase yields as much as possible and in this way support your efforts."

"That is most gratifying, Werani Sittal. All of us recognize that the farmers of this region have already done and are doing much, this also holds true of Baryn and Varon Provinces where your methods were adopted after the last famine. Nevertheless, Central Command is also in need of personnel. Remember that we are all Cardassians, share a common goal, regardless of social status, heritage or ethnicity. Each single citizen has the duty to do his part to ensure the well-being of the whole." The Gul's words and the inflection of his voice conveyed a subtle warning, giving the Werani the distinct feeling that force was considered an option.

"Your recruiters are welcome, Gul Chedon, and have always been." It was the governor, Lenok Kestar, who now replied, "My officials and I as well as the ministers and the heads of the Thar'Saya shall remain neutral at all times as stated in the treaty granting our province limited autonomy two hundred and fifty years ago." He was not about to allow anyone to forget the terms accorded Kelan-Lesana Province at Unification when the central government was instated in Loo'Wess. He nodded at Werani Sittal whom he apparently considered his equal.

The hierarchy is not as strictly enforced either, unless these two have the same status in their respective areas of government. Werani Sittal's confidence and pride would never be accepted among us, especially not by the governor of a province.

The Werani's confidence was not without reason; Sittal was aware of and took pride in the fact that the Kelani were a respected minority in the province that carried their name. They were a population of highly skilled craftsmen, artists, farmers and doctors, excelled in sciences and research, played an important role in the economy of the province by exporting a wide range of high-quality products to other areas of Cardassia, as well as to allied worlds. The Thar'Saya had established a professional academy for craftsmen who wanted to learn new methods and for apprentices. After only a few years it already had an excellent reputation.

"Good enough, Governor Lenok and Werani Sittal. That is all I need to know. Within two weeks recruiting officers are scheduled to depart Loo'Wess. It is to be hoped our goals will be met." With that, Gul Chedon rose to leave, flanked by his aides. He had said what he had come to say and was not interested in spending more time than absolutely necessary in this backwaters province with its pacifist ethnicity.

On the flight back to Loo'Wess, Gul Chedon knew exactly what he would propose to the Legate. It was the only way of attaining their objective.

"Legate Yaruk, Gul Chedon reporting back."

"Have him enter." The Legate sat behind his desk and looked up, irritated by the news he had just received. The negotiations with Lissepia were not going as hoped. Too many conditions; they want to stay independent, only want our respective alliances to cooperate, refuse to accept us as their superiors. They demand to negotiate the terms of trade as equals … it seems they are aware of the fact we cannot continue the conflict indefinitely as our efforts are costing too much manpower and weaponry. Allied alliances…. An idea as ridiculous as the concept sounds. There always has to be a superior and an inferior.

Gul Chedon entered and saluted, remained standing at attention.

"At ease." The next command was an impatient "Report!"

"I was not told as much, but Kelan Province's population apparently has no intention of supporting the recruiting effort by encouraging their young people to join Central Command. Their leaders, a governor, of course and a 'Werani', a spiritual leader, of all things, stated they are people of peace, bound by contract to deliver material goods, and will do all they can to increase deliveries; they support our sending recruiters but clearly doubt there will be a greater number of volunteers." He laid a padd containing his observations and comments about what he had seen during his stay on his superior's desk. Some of the information he had recorded could prove useful for his commanding officer's plan.

"As if there was a choice," muttered the legate. "That population … what impression did you get?"

"Permission to speak freely, Sir?"

"By all means." Legate Yaruk leaned back, gazed at Gul Chedon, waiting.

"They live as though the military had never deposed the old and corrupt religious order and the local rulers: they are deeply spiritual, pacifist. Their culture has elements unknown anywhere else on Cardassia, for example, their population is subdivided into a hierarchy of professional groups, the Thar'Saya. Their craftsmanship is highly developed, with a style unique to this region, the people are highly educated in spite of their ways which are at variance with the majority's. Kelani farming methods are far advanced and refined although they have preserved a system of extensive agriculture. Not all arable land is taken under cultivation, as 'this method could destroy the bounty given us by the Bringers of Light' as they call their deities."

Industry? As advanced as our own, but established with all necessary precautions to keep the land safe from damage."

He met his superior's eyes. "I must admit that I do not know what to make of them." The Gul shook his head. "I saw a woman with perfect Cardassian features but hair the colour of bronze. That of many others is dark brown with reddish highlights, often wavy, greenish or light brown eyes; they are not as tall as most of us. They seem a Cardassian subspecies, but mixed marriages are as fertile as ours." He hesitated before adding, "Their naming system is different as the family name comes first."

The Legate shrugged and said contemptuously, "It is evident those people are victims of endogamy; isolated populations tend to bring forth oddities in spite of sporadic episodes of outbreeding. They have been permitted to live according to their ways for far too long already, think they have the right to do so. Their refusal to become part of the mainstream is encouraged by the civilian government's ill-conceived policy of tolerance towards Kelan-Lesana Province, by respecting an agreement that is no longer in accordance with the conditions we are facing, is even harmful to the whole." For some moments he stared at the monitor before adding, "Well, it would appear Kelani independence is an antiquated holdover that has effectively run out of time. If this population refuses to accept their duty as true Cardassians, there is only one way to make them come to their senses. I have a challenging project for you and your comrades Guls Ferak and Danit." Legate Yaruk's expression was cold, his eyes hard. The other two legates with him said nothing as the three of them had discussed the problem well before the meeting, had only been waiting for Gul Chedon to give his report….

Premonitions

In Kelan Province, the harvest was ended within days of Gul Chedon's return to Loo'Wess. It was one of the best in years, so that, apart from the increasingly large amount delivered to Central Command's quartermasters, there was more than enough to support the local population until the following year; part of the surplus would be stored as reserves, the rest exported to the population centres of neighbouring provinces.

The Market in the province's capital, Samagaltayi, was held at the end of the harvest season. Some days before it began, merchants from all over the continent arrived with a profusion of goods and samples. This twice-yearly event was a centuries-old tradition, an anticipated change of pace both for the citizens of this city and the inhabitants of smaller communities; it meant a few days off work to enjoy diverse forms of entertainment for adults, children and juveniles. Direct contact among customers and merchants, seeing merchandise from other areas was also exciting.

While arranging their displays two of the merchants, a Kelani and an Ubari, looked at each other's goods and sporadically discussed recent events. They had become friends, as they often were assigned neighbouring areas.

"Have you heard, Erkan? One of my neighbours said the military is sending officers to all provinces in a recruitment drive; the need for personnel is growing so acute that there are plans to repeat this procedure every two years."

The Ubari did not look up from unpacking and arranging his samples of cloth. "They are due in our province as well; with the war that is going on and the annexation of new worlds, Central Command needs more manpower." Tareb's words were neutral, but his tone of voice revealed his concern. The danger that military actions would possibly provoke attacks on Cardassia Prime was not mentioned openly.

A few who had overheard part of the conversation came over, curious. News was part of the entertainment, there were always developments in the other provinces not important enough for the official bulletins about both regional and global politics; you got information for free while walking around, looking, listening, addressing people from other provinces … This time, the details were disquieting.

"Every two years? Certainly the government can't go on like this. War! Nothing but war! Too much material that would be better used to improve conditions for the poor in the large cities is being wasted; whatever is gained is reinvested in Central Command's efforts," Wedor, a middle-aged merchant, said disgustedly. "And our young people are under constant pressure to enlist in Central Command. Laws have even been changed so that minor misdemeanours result in conscription."

"Careful, Wedor, there are rumours of government listeners even among us." cautioned Vernak.

The attitude of the bystanders became uneasy. Some of them had made their own experiences or knew of others who had had problems with certain authorities. As yet, no one disappeared as was the case in other districts, people were only questioned, then released with a warning. Wedor continued, unimpressed. "Our province has been at peace for over three centuries; we have an autonomous government, decide our own affairs. It is expressly stated in the Constitution: Independence, but cooperation. No one can deny that we support the government and reliably, too! What else do they want?"

"For us to give up our autonomy, our ways, even our language and beliefs. Nearly all of the peoples of our world have been lured into joining the 'mainstream' as it is called, sharing the same goal, the same values and culture. 'You will have representatives in Detapa,'" said Moren, a farmer. "I can well imagine that! The civilian government has become but a puppet in the hands of the military which is the true power, together with …." Moren, a farmer, fell silent. Already the Order was feared by all, so that many did not dare pronounce its name.

"That's the truth! The government is trying to undermine our independence by all means at its disposal," commented Arin, a tall Cardassian with golden-brown hair and deep blue eyes. "Our form of government bothers them, our Thar'Saya system, the Werani, everything. Outside our province, 'Kelani' is becoming a synonym for an uneducated, superstitious yokel. When I reported to the authorities in Loo'Wess last year to pick up the documents I needed to sell my products in other provinces, they treated me with condescension. They obviously thought I could not understand what they were saying behind my back. What disturbed me most was this: one administrator considered me approvingly for some time before stating I would make a very impressive officer. I could see that he meant it as a compliment."

No one commented. Arin was a member of the artists' Thar'Saya, not a soldier in spite of his sleek athletic physique.

"What did you say?" asked Moren.

"Nothing. What should I have said? Sure was not going to provoke an incident and get myself arrested, then sent to the military by force! We are a people who has always lived in peace, before and ever since the Ancestors came to live among us."

Wanting to change the subject, Arin opened a crate behind his display. "Look at this." He held up an icon representing The Ancestors.

"That is one of the finest icons I have ever seen," Moren said, awed. "Who ordered it?"

"No one. It is an offering for the shrine. Tomorrow I shall present it to the Werani in thanks for the good harvest and," he smiled, "… for the safe birth of my two sons."

A male dressed in embroidered robes joined them at seeing their concern. "It would seem there is disturbing news?"

The men greeted Arkor respectfully. He was a Werani, one of the religious leaders of Kelan Province. The population looked to them for guidance when family and friends could not provide assistance or advice. This Thar'Saya also determined the times for planting and irrigation.

The role they played in Kelani society was carefully kept secret from the central government. Their knowledge went far back in time, many said even before The Ancestors had arrived. Once, some years before, the government had substituted its own agricultural methods for those of the Werani Thar'Saya, only to see harvest after harvest fail disastrously. After three cycles of planting, the government advisors, finally admitting defeat, left the Kelani to their own devices, only to see harvests rebound under the old system ridiculed by government experts.

"Werani Arkor, what should we do?" was Erkan's query. "We have heard about people from other provinces who are sent to settle here in order to undermine our ways. The villagers who take them in until they have built homes of their own say that many try to influence us. Only very few adapt and among those, we fear many cannot be … trusted. In the end, they either form their own communities or return to their provinces after some time."

"Endure. We can do nothing else. Nearly all of the provinces have placed their fate in the hands of the Central Government, thus of Central Command, lured by the promise of a wealthy Cardassia free of poverty and starvation." He made a slight gesture as though to ward off evil, "...a Cardassia with a glorious future bought at a high price. But this price is high, far too high. They have given up faith for an exploitative form of science, peace for incessant warfare, cooperation and trust in others for blind patriotism and a constant search for enemies to subjugate, exploit, or destroy."

The lower-ranking Werani, Meydar, who had joined the group, added, "They are losing their faycha. What shall we become without our faith? Our beliefs never rejected science or exploration, research was and is considered faith of the purest kind; every discovery provokes even more questions, which shows the unfathomable wisdom of the Bearers of Light." The man added, "Compassion outside of the family and charity for the less fortunate is no longer considered a virtue, but a sign of weakness. We take in orphans, give them a home and a family, but in most provinces, they have no place in society, are left in the streets to fend for themselves."

His neighbour Estok, a weaver, nodded. During his last stay in Loo'Wess an inhabitant had stared at him in disbelief when he had asked why orphans were not adopted or at least cared for in homes. "Our beliefs and customs are being ridiculed, we considered with contempt in spite of our people's contributions to art, culture and science."

"We are to question and become ashamed of our own ways, finally give them up to adopt those of the majority, become true Cardassians fighting for our Union's glory!" After a moment, Erkan said bitterly, "They have forgotten that it was its former diversity that made our culture great."

"It still remains great, in spite of this development," Elana, an elder of the merchants' Thar'Saya, stated. "What disturbs me is how facts are being changed! 'Cardassians' is not the true name of our people: it is an artificial creation as is 'Cardassia', the alleged 'old name' of our world before the fall of the Hebitian Empire." She shook her head. "Cathassa, 'Our World' was the old name. The Cardassian Union now is the official term for the central system. Our world? Cardassia Prime. This shows everyone who the true leaders are." A derisive hiss before she said, "Militaries … all of them power-hungry, with patriotism only a front for gradually taking control of the civilian government, Detapa." She briefly hesitated, then continued, "No Ubari, no Sazechesi, Saranji, Gessechi or Kelani. Only Cardássians." She pronounced the last with profound distaste.

The men nodded, even more apprehensive than before. In silence, they saw to last preparations then left for their homes, once again anticipating the following days.

In spite of the events and negotiations of the next six days, Elana was profoundly disquieted by potential developments. After conferring with her peers she called for a clandestine meeting of the community leaders together with those who were involved in the affairs of their respective Thar'Sayas.

This procedure was unusual, disturbingly so. With apprehension everyone waited for what she had to say.

"It could well be that we will experience unexpected events within a few weeks or months," Elana stated. "Have your communities take precautions; above all, inspect and prepare the refuges. We may need them."

Those present exchanged worried glances. This was an unsettling request, as those areas were only used in times of catastrophe or warfare. The Refuges were underground towns and villages three to four storeys deep, interconnected by passages, with access to fresh water, provided with a sewage system, a refined ventilation system, complexes of rooms hewn into the rock, even areas for livestock, in brief, everything required for a prolonged stay. As time passed, they had been expanded, reflecting the growth of the population and could now potentially shelter thousands of people.

Their existence had been kept secret since the time of The Ancestors. The only sections used in times of peace were the upper chambers where crops were stored, safe from heat and excessive humidity. Only lately had Kelani geologists discovered that there was some factor or another which blocked sensors so that they were safe from discovery by ships scanning the area.

"Is there a threat of an attack on our world?"

"No, no attack from outside. Some of the elders and Werani fear reprisals by Central Command. The phrasing of Gul Chedon's announcement of the next recruitment drive, his words to Werani Sittal, Arin's account of his experiences in the capital are ominous,… we have preserved our customs and way of life, do not serve in the military; no doubt we, as well as the other remaining autonomous regions on this world are to be brought in line..."

There was no need for further discussion. The way this meeting had been organized revealed that Elana and her peers obviously feared clandestine observers and listeners. Within minutes the group had dispersed.

Recruitment

As agreed, the officers were initially stationed in the capital cities of the provinces to begin recruitment, then fanned out to systematically canvass the smaller towns. The capital of Kelan-Lesana province was among the last, with the recruiters arriving on the third day of Second Market; it was hoped that perhaps the number of individuals who had registered in the other provinces would serve to convince Kelani youth that the option of serving in Central Command could be rewarding for them as well; the recruiters had been directed to display the number of volunteers at the top of the list.

To underline the principle of "we are all Cardassians, united for a common goal", Sefek, who had been assigned the eastern sector of Kelan-Lesana had requested his three recruitment officers be of recognizably different ethnicities. After discussing this with his commanding officer, he had suggested the others assigned to this province do the same.

While Glinns Kardaal, Sylar and Feruna saw to last preparations, Glinn Sefek, who was in charge of procedure met with the Werani.

"Werani Sittal, as agreed, we have come to Samagaltayi during Second Market to begin this year's recruitment drive. Hopefully there will be greater response this time. Our Empire is beset by enemies, we need to defend our worlds and keep them safe. Keep you safe."

The Werani inclined his head, did not react to what Sefek had said, only informed him, "We have agreed to place this room at your disposal. You can begin to set up your office and while you are doing so, we shall inform the people of your arrival." He held out a hand, "Come."

Before following him, the officer met the Kelani's eyes and briefly wondered. These people are subtly different. I remember an old story my great-grandfather told me about a remarkable occurrence in this region. He shook off the thought as it was irrelevant to his task and, indeed, for all he knew, he could be touching dangerous ground. Yet, the memory of the story forced itself upon him again..… only a children's tale about visitors who came from beyond the stars, settled here, stayed with us for a time, then left, with some remaining behind because they loved our world and our people.

"Glinn Sefek, I have decided to give you my own office for the duration of your stay. I trust it is satisfactory?"

When no reply came, the Werani looked over at the young officer, saw he was distracted. "Glinn Sefek, are you well?"

Vaguely embarrassed at his momentary lapse, he replied, "Yes, Werani, I am, but," he looked around, "There is so much to see," he added to cover his momentary lapse.

He considered the area that had been placed at his disposal: a large room, the upper half of the wall facing the outer area decorated with a finely-executed mosaic of small coloured stones, arranged to form a spiral pattern whose centre was filled out with minuscule pieces of a pearly white, nearly translucent mineral. The room itself was furnished with three desks, arranged according to rank, he suspected, the room itself accessible from the immense courtyard which doubled as the market place. The wall which separated it from the market was in fact an intricately-carved sliding screen which could be folded back and, in fact, already was so that the recruiters would be in full view at all times and, in turn, would be able to watch the activities outside.

Sefek turned to the Werani with a smile, "This is most kind, Werani," he finally said. "You have accorded us an area which is perfectly suited for our purposes."

"You and your men are our guests, and a good host knows what his guests need; strives to offer them the best. It is as simple as that, Glinn Sefek."

The Glinn, then his men saluted the Werani in thanks for his generosity.

Before leaving, Sittal added with a friendly smile, "Glinn Sefek, you and your men are welcome to join the celebrations whenever you want and, more importantly, do feel free to accept the hospitality you will be offered as is custom here. The offer is sincere. This Market used to be purely commercial, but has become a meeting of peoples from all over the continent, at times even from Cardassia in its entirety. For us it is pleasure and entertainment."

Two days later, after the end of the Market, he once again faced the Werani before leaving for Loo'Wess.

"You were successful in your task?" The inquiry was diffident, more a statement than a question.

Glinn Sefek inclined his head in respect. "All expectations have been fulfilled, Werani Sittal. My staff and I are grateful to you for your support and your hospitality."

He suppressed a reaction of contempt when Sittal reached out towards him, palms turned upwards in a gesture of blessing. "Be protected and guided."

"I place myself in the hands of the Bringers of Light." He had heard the phrase repeatedly. That should allay any suspicions Sittal may have. Such superstition in this day and age, and on Cardassia at that!

In spite of himself and in spite of what he knew was his duty, Sefek briefly found himself regretting what would happen to these people, the methods that would be used to change their way of life permanently. These thoughts are unworthy of a Cardassian officer. One people – one goal: the greater glory of Cardassia. He mentally reprimanded himself for feeling even the slightest doubt about the plans of his superior officers.

The Report

After returning, Glinn Sefek dismissed his aides before entering Gul Raktar's office to turn in the data padd containing the results of the recruitment drive in the eastern areas of the continent.

Immediately, the Gul called up the file on Kelan-Lesana province and read it carefully, with mounting irritation. After some minutes, he dropped the padd on his desk with an angry exclamation and glared up at the Glinn who was standing at attention, waiting for orders.

"Glinn Sefek, this is an outrage! That entire province is sending but 67 recruits! Other populations of that size have up to four hundred on their list! Their authorities babble about deliveries of produce and think that this frees the population of that entire miserable province from military service as though these deliveries were our only source of support! They even presume to base their refusal to serve on agreements made over two centuries ago!"

"Permission to speak openly?"

"Yes. Go ahead, but better not waste my time, Glinn."

"Their population consistently rejects warfare and any form of violent confrontation. One dispute at the market threatened to escalate into a physical conflict: a mediator was called immediately, and within a few minutes, the problem, whatever it was, was resolved. The erstwhile opponents left together, speaking calmly apparently coming to an agreement acceptable for both." He added, "In case of serious disagreements within families, the nucleic family who feels wronged will move away to join another branch of the extended family, either permanently or until an elder has managed to reconcile the parties concerned."

"That is nothing new. What else did you observe?" Gul Raktar demanded impatiently.

The Werani and the other officials were very supportive of our efforts, Sir. We were given a room in the compound which, according to what I have gathered, is a great honour and official sanction of the person accorded that privilege.

Everyone could see us, had free access to the office; I heard not one of their leaders advise the people to avoid us; they even stopped by to exchange news. We were spontaneously invited into the residents' homes, treated with the greatest of hospitality. The Kelani who came to us or invited us into their homes were very curious, wanted information about developments in the capital. During these conversations it became obvious that they are highly-educated, many have even studied and work in Loo'Wess.

The only difference was that, whenever we addressed the wars and our growing need for personnel, the reply was always the same: 'We are a people of peace …. and do not engage in war against those who have not attacked us for the sake of resources, or to expand our influence beyond the worlds accorded us by the Bringers of Light. We are satisfied with what we have and will fulfil our destinies here.'" He drew a deep breath, "It appears that extreme measures will be necessary to change their mindset as these attitudes are so deeply ingrained."

"It would appear so. People of peace …" The Gul's eyes narrowed with barely suppressed anger and contempt. "After all these years they still insist on living as though the Old Empire had never fallen. They invariably reject the suggestion repeatedly made by Detapa to combine their farms into large units to intensify agriculture as is the case in Saranji and Sazechesi Provinces." He added mockingly, imitating the speech patterns of the locals, "Why exploit the land further? Are we not delivering enough? If not, we can manage more, provided we have good harvests. Our province is feeding two others as well as supplying the military with emergency rations. We risk exhausting the soil enriched by the rivers.'" His voice rose, "They have to be forced by all means to join the collective effort. The time for tolerance is past."

Sefek briefly made eye contact with his superior officer, realized what would follow.

"Do you have any suggestions to make, Glinn?"

"No, Gul Raktar. With all due respect, this matter is not within my area of competence, which is repartition and recruitment of personnel."

"Indeed. Glinn Sefek, notify the commanding officers that a meeting will convene at 7 hours this evening. The situation must be resolved once and for all, lest this subversive influence spread to neighbouring provinces. Dismissed!"

Once the door had slid shut behind the Glinn, Gul Raktar leaned back in his chair; it was an open secret Central Command had unofficially taken control of the government, but as yet this process was only in the beginning phases; permitting even one province, even one insignificant minority to consistently refuse participation in the collective war effort could under circumstances encourage others to follow its example. At the very least, dissidents from other provinces could possibly request and be granted refuge in that very region, finally making Kelan-Lesana Province a hotbed of potential insurgents that, once established, would require massive efforts to eradicate.

Strategies and Duplicity

That evening Gul Raktar and his staff met in his ready room to analyse the situation. To show the extent of the problem, he presented the results of the recruitment drive, ending with: "Only 67 individuals among the entire population of Kelan-Lesana Province have registered to serve in Central Command, a number so low it seems a provocation and could appear an attempt to undermine the war effort, thus amount to treason but for the mentality of those people.

Continued tolerance of this state of affairs may encourage other populations to emulate the Kelani, initiate a movement liable to develop into opposition to the government and curtail our efforts to expand Cardassia's sphere of influence, hindering our efforts to acquire resources beyond the central system, and endangering the well-being of Cardassia as a whole. Proposals."

Gul Nuyat suggested, "Arrest those among their spiritual and secular leaders who do not support the central government. Publicly accuse them of subverting Cardassian interests: charges can always be found, put them on trial, then summarily execute them for treason. The operation proper? March in, arrest their leaders, depart, a matter of at most half an hour, or else the people will conceal them. Once this first step has been taken, a programme of re-education is to be instituted."

One of his peers replied, "And this, no disrespect meant, Gul Nuyat, would lead to rebellion, obliging us to station forces in that province to quell uprisings, costing us lives and, above all, the manpower we need to prevail against the Lissepian Alliance. Consider this factor: how would the populations of neighbouring provinces react?"

Legate Syanur cautioned. "I agree, we must not forget that news of an unprovoked operation would rapidly spread to other population centres, a disaster in itself as our hold is not yet totally firm. There are certain groups that question the legitimacy of the military's increasing role in government."

There was a murmur of agreement; the plan, while good, was indeed too dangerous as there were segments of the Cardassian population who were critical of military rule, albeit secretly, and would join a revolt without second thoughts.

"Propaganda …. Question the integrity of the religious leaders, provoke them in the course of services, infer these individuals are amassing wealth in their shrines and compounds on the cost of the population, are using the worshippers as willing, ignorant servants to keep their power intact. Repeat something often enough and it will be accepted as fact."

"That could take weeks, months, even years, considering the stubbornness of that group. This situation needs to be rectified as soon as possible, and with surgical precision," was Syanur's objection.

"Remember, their archives must be removed so that they lose all historical points of reference. The memories of individuals? They reflect only a subjective view of events and are easily influenced by new circumstances."

"No one knows where those archives are hidden."

Gul Raktar said, "We have already received that information so that this detail can be effected without a time-consuming search."

Gul Chedon stated, "I am aware of the fact that a Glinn is not authorized to address an assembly of superior officers, nevertheless I request my adjutant, Glinn Jansa, be permitted to submit a proposal I consider feasible." He explained, "He is a very talented strategist; admittedly, his approach is unusual but may just be effective."

The Legate stared at the young officer for some moments, then at the others. They nodded once to signal agreement.

"Glinn Jansa? You may speak."

The Glinn rose, stood at attention and saluted the commanding officers before describing the strategy he envisioned.

"A simulated enemy attack on their main city during one of their religious festivals or Markets, when their dignitaries and spiritual leaders are gathered in one small area. Second Market will be in roughly six months, more than enough time to prepare and fine-tune procedure. Glinn Sefek reported that, at the beginning as well as at the end of the ceremonies, the dignitaries are the last to leave the area of the shrine near the governor's compound. As a result, liquidating them will involve no searches thus provoke no conflicts. The Kelani may be peace-loving but would never let anyone arrest and march off with their precious leaders." He permitted himself just the hint of a smile. "As we are currently at war with the Lissepian Alliance, we have taken a number of vessels, have uniforms, captives and gear …." He met the eyes of the listeners in turn. "Offer the captives their liberty and safe escort to their home planets in exchange for a … little service."

Legate Arton rose, neck membranes spread, "Glinn Jansa, do you propose freeing enemies who have spent time on our worlds, gathered information about us? Do you even realize what that would mean?"

Gul Raktar urged, "Hear him out first, Legate Arton. There is more. I have seen the outline of his plan. That is why he has my permission to speak openly."

"I assure you this will neither endanger Cardassia's security nor integrity, Legate Arton. The service demanded is an attack on Samagaltayi from low orbit to cause localized destruction, then for the aggressors, our captives that is, to beam down and eliminate the surviving dignitaries. Regrettably, collateral damage is unavoidable, but an attack by non-Cardassians, the shock of seeing Lissepians killing Cardassians, and especially the Kelanis' revered leaders, should make them desire revenge for this atrocity. After the attack, a few of the aggressors will beam up again as is normal procedure. As soon as they have materialized on board, they will be eliminated by the Cardassians in charge. The soldiers and the commanding Guls who beam down to offer assistance will get rid of those few captives left on-world."

He fell silent before describing the last part of the plan. "Finally, the Lissepian ship itself will be destroyed by Cardassian cruisers but, and this is essential, it should happen at an altitude permitting the population to witness it." He waited for some moments. "The Cardassian officers to be eliminated together with the Lissepian captives are personnel slated for execution. They will be told that their participation in this action will see them exonerated and reinstated."

The five others were silent, analysing the plan for flaws and risks. Certainly, the idea was daring and could just work, but the thought of sacrificing the lives of fellow Cardassians, having them killed by enemy forces, reducing the commercial and governmental centre of a prosperous city to rubble was disturbing.

"Provided casualties among our people are kept at a minimum…," Gul Nuyat said reluctantly.

"Of course. Our only goal is the total elimination of the Kelani government and their spiritual leaders. The archives will be removed by select officers beamed down at onset of the alleged attack, the material subsequently transferred to Order headquarters. We can then take control of their institutions under the pretext of helping the Kelani rebuild and establish a new government of and for their people. There are a number of members of their ethnicity who have adopted our norms and will gradually introduce the laws of the mainstream." Jansa added, "They might even be able to find the refuges their people use in times of war or purges, which we have not managed to discover."

"Is that all?"

The Glinn shook his head. "No, Legate Syanur. There are no more than roughly 700,000 or 900,000 members of the Kelani minority, although the entire eastern region of the province carries their name. Evacuate as many of them as possible, allegedly for their own security, register, then scatter them throughout the provinces of Cardassia Prime in small groups. Re-education can then be effected under the watchful eyes of their hosts, employers and assistants. Furthermore, accidentally separate young children from their parents so that they can be raised to our ways without interference; some couples should be separated as well. The appropriate form of propaganda can manipulate their recollections of the past, influence their memories of their former life. After one generation we can permit the Kelani to return. Reason? Their province has been decontaminated, the toxins spread by the enemy neutralized. Even after two or three decades, they will be grateful to return to their home province. By then, however, they will have adopted our norms and be prepared to fight for the Greater Glory of Cardassia.

The few customs they might manage to preserve together with their form of Kardassi are of no concern. All we want is manpower. The invasion by Lissepian forces will be inserted in historical accounts, the incident spread throughout Cardassia in news reports, mentioned in the curriculum; every year, a short ceremony will be performed at the time of the attack in memory of the victims; a monument with a plaque inscribed with the names of the dead erected near the former market place. No one will ever discover the truth. All records of this operation apart from the Lissepian attack and its outcome? Deleted." He permitted himself a derisive smirk, "Who knows? The Kelani may even create a new ritual to commemorate the disaster."

One of the Guls inclined his head, waiting, recognizably displeased at Glinn Jansa's levity in face of a plan that would no doubt cost numerous Cardassian lives.

No one spoke after the Glinn sat down. He knew his plan had a realistic chance of being accepted and, if successful, would possibly see him promoted.

Gul Raktar added, "As stated, the entire population of up to 900,000 people cannot be evacuated, but as many as possible can be deported. There will be no resistance as the population, in shock after the attack, will submit to evacuation and resettlement in other areas of the continent and planet."

"About a week later, those entrusted with the task of establishing the new government can be sent in, together with educators, officials, doctors, in brief, all personnel required for a functioning infrastructure according to our norms," stated Gul Tenro, "All of them are Kelani who have assimilated into mainstream culture; they will accept the task of re-educating those who have managed to remain. They will encounter no suspicion as they know the language and customs of the locals. Workers will be sent in to effect repairs to buildings, of course."

Other options were still discussed before the session closed, and all but Legates Syanur and Arton, Gul Tenro and Gul Raktar of High Command were free to leave. They watched Jansa walk out confidently, nearly arrogantly.

Back in the ready room, one of the senior officers commented, "What if those captives turn on their guards?"

Gul Tenro replied, "Be assured that won't happen. I am authorized to say this much: the Order's scientists have made a discovery that will revolutionize interrogations, ensure discipline among criminals as well as the docility of captives. The Order now has the occasion to give it a trial run, thanks to our Kelani friends." He smiled then suggested, "How about stopping at the officer's lounge for a glass of kanaar?"

"Agreed. My next shift is tomorrow afternoon."

As though looking for something, he slipped a hand into the pouch under his armour where he adjusted a miniaturized recording device to register even whispered comments. This specific file would please his superiors greatly as the loyalty of certain officers was in doubt; if they proved innocent, all the better, if not….

On their way, they were joined by another gul and quickly left the building, anxious to make use of their downtime.

Implementation

Two weeks later, Gul Raktar's aide entered Glinn Jansa's office. After saluting him, he stated, "Report to Gul Raktar."

At once Glinn Jansa rose to follow the aide who accompanied him to his superior's office and briefly waited before knocking.

A soldier opened the door and, with a salute, moved aside to let the Glinn enter, preceded by the aide.

Standing at attention, Jansa called out "Talsvar Kardassu!"

The gul considered him for some moments, evaluating him. "I'll make it brief, Glinn Jansa. Congratulations are in order. Your plan has the preliminary approval of Central Command's strategic department."

"I am honoured," was the Glinn's formal reply.

"It has been unanimously decided to leave both the planning and execution of your proposal in your hands. Sentenced Cardassian personnel as well as Lissepian prisoners are to be placed at your disposal; select officers will instruct you and the others involved in the functions of the neurostimulators even though you will not be using them yourself."

He rose and looked out of the window before turning back to Jansa. "We expect to receive the exact outline of your strategy within a day, including its projected timeline as well as requirements pertaining to personnel for submission to Central Command's strategic commission. They will examine it in detail before giving their final approval. One stipulation is to keep Cardassian casualties at a minimum, the other to omit all references to Kelan Province or Samagaltayi."

"Of course, sir. There will be only enough collateral damage to draw the population over to our side; Cardassian forces arriving just in time to fight off and destroy the 'invaders' before they can create even more mayhem should have the desired effect." He risked a brief smile. "After this operation has run its course, the Kelani problem will be solved. Permanently."

"Dismissed."

Thoughtfully, Gul Raktar watched the Glinn turn to leave. If your plan is as successful as the strategic commission expects, you may well be due for promotion and a command of your own…. On the other hand however, indiscretions have to be precluded under all circumstances … with a regretful smile, he turned to his communications array and spoke into it in a low voice.

Jansa did not go to his quarters at once but, elated by his success, returned to his office to outline even the smallest detail of procedure; after a few hours he rose, satisfied. Those evaluating his strategy would recognize its effectiveness, so sacrificing a shift of downtime was well worth the outcome. It's the beginning of the first shift. May as well notify Gul Raktar at once.

"This is Glinn Jansa. Establish communications with Gul Raktar."

"Gul Raktar here."

"Gul Raktar, I am transmitting the final outline of operations to your terminal for due consideration." The Glinn waited for his superior officer's notification of reception, his expression neutral.

"Data received. Report to my office at the beginning of first shift tomorrow. You will be informed on the decision then. Gul Raktar out."

The Glinn arrived at Raktar's office, again accompanied by the Gul's aide, stood at attention and saluted, thinking: If the operation has been approved without alterations, I'll receive a commendation.

This time Gul Raktar was not alone; a second gul was waiting at his side.

"Gul Lenay, this is Glinn Jansa. He is the officer who has developed the strategy submitted to the Commission for Strategic Operations," Raktar explained.

Jansa felt chilled when he saw Lenay look at him. His eyes and face … they are as expressionless as those of a statue ….

"I have only the highest of praise for your proposal, Glinn Jansa." It was Gul Lenay who spoke. "Your plan has been analysed in detail, subsequently approved. We have 216 Lissepian captives and two of their warships in drydock. These cruisers can be staffed by a skeleton crew of 100 without any loss of efficiency."

"Thank you, Sir."

For the first time there was a hint of movement in Lenay's features; he seemed nearly friendly when he stated, "You are assigned 100 Cardassian crew, 85 Lissepian P.O.W.s. The latter have been informed that they will be granted amnesty and transported home in exchange for participating in this operation. They are most grateful for our kind gesture. Of course," he gave a slight, cold smile, "…they will be eliminated to the last man once they have fulfilled their purpose. Unfortunately, the Cardassians involved will not be beamed off-ship in time." They will know too much; the circumstances of this operation must remain confidential for reasons of security.

He turned to Gul Raktar, "If everything has been discussed to our mutual satisfaction, Glinn Jansa and I will leave."

"No, that will be all."

Gul Raktar watched the two men depart. Before turning to his work once again, he briefly thought: A pity. Glinn Jansa had great potential and I rather liked him, but it is safer like this; the more who know about this plan, the greater the danger of it being revealed with an incautious word or an allusion when discussing military operations; if spread, this information couldhave far-reaching effects.

Together, Gul Lenay and Glinn Jansa walked through Central Command's building and down to the subterranean area of Headquarters. Gul Lenay went over to a featureless wall, touched a panel. Immediately a door slid aside to reveal a dimly–lit corridor.

"Follow me."

The corridor seemed endless; Jansa had the feeling they were descending even further underground and began to feel threatened, uneasy; what if this was a trap? He had never heard of Central Command's Headquarters housing such extensive subterranean installations. He looked around, at the walls, at the ceiling, but there were no features that hinted at where they were going, or in which direction, or even how far they had already come, yet Lenay appeared to know the way by heart, as though he had taken it many times in the past ….

After what seemed like at least a kilometre, they came to another wall where Lenay activated a circuit; almost at once, a heavy metal door clanged shut behind them.

At seeing Jansa's surprise, Lenay explained "You may be wondering about our circuitous path and this door, but both are elements of security. Unauthorized personnel attempting to enter this restricted area is trapped here until taken into custody by security forces."

They entered a smaller room where Lenay spoke into a communit in a barely audible voice, then input a code.

"Now we wait."

After a little under five minutes, a male in civilian clothing came in and, after staring at Glinn Jansa for some moments as though memorizing his features, he gestured at the arrivals to follow him down yet another corridor which opened into a large hall lined with prison cells, each of which held 6 captives, all Lissepians. In the centre was the typical furnishing of a prison area: a large desk in the background, spotlights, now deactivated, and "the chair" as it was known.

We are in the Order's headquarters. Central Command's and the Obsidian Order's respective headquarters are interconnected! No doubt Gul Lenay is a liaison. This realization came as a shock to Glinn Jansa.

Lenay turned to him. "You are in command of the mission, so the captives are under the control of military specialists who will beam aboard with them. They will have these devices." He held out an piece of equipment that was slightly smaller and much flatter than a standard datapadd.

"I have never seen a padd of this configuration, Gul Lenay," Jansa murmured.

"Ah, Glinn Jansa, but this is no datapadd. Observe." He gently touched one of the buttons on its surface and in the cell behind them, a captive began screaming with pain.

Startled, Jansa whirled around only to see one of the Lissepians doubled up on the floor of the cell, writhing in agony, his comrades trying in vain to help him. "What?"

Suddenly, renewed silence. For some moments the victim, trembling with reaction, lay where he had collapsed, struggling to get his breath back before getting to his feet with an effort, only to fall onto one of the bunks.

"For your information: this was the lowest setting. As you see, compliance is enforced. Anyone trying to escape or sabotage the mission will receive the full treatment which makes the recipient's survival doubtful. One demonstration usually suffices to drive the lesson home; be sure that these captives will take care to avoid any action that might have them at the receiving end of what has just happened to their comrade." Lenay shrugged, "Each of these prisoners was equipped with a receiver in the course of interrogative procedures, so they can be safely used in the alleged attack."

"Impressive," was Jansa's comment.

"Thirty of them will be beamed down to eliminate the surviving dignitaries before they are liquidated in turn. As indicated in your outline, the entire operation should not take more than a matter of minutes, just long enough to show the population exactly who the enemy is and who is coming to assist them. Elimination of local leaders, destruction of governmental buildings, some few civilian casualties …. That will suffice. We Cardassians have long memories and an extremely strong desire to see justice prevail."

"And with our troops beaming down to eliminate the enemies, the Kelani will finally be forced to accept that their future lies in supporting Central Command with produce as before and, more importantly, with personnel." Jansa met Lenay's eyes. "They will join our ranks then, if only to take revenge, provided they are true Cardassians."

"In accordance with your strategy, the Cardassians on board will take care of the surviving Lissepians. In essence, the captives are indeed escaping, but not home. Our men will be beamed over to a waiting cruiser and the Lissepian ship guided to a lower altitude by remote control, where its destruction is to be effected by phaser fire from a Cardassian cruiser. The populace cannot miss seeing that explosion." And the condemned officerswho have been given the hopeof reinstatement will not be beamed out in time.

Jansa was pleased. "Now, all that remains is to establish the time of implementation. Our informant in Kelan-Lesana Province will notify Central Command when the next Market takes place."

"We shall be cooperating during each phase of procedure." Lenay stated. "This is all. Let's return."

"I anticipate our cooperation, Gul Lenay," was Glinn Jansa's respectful reply.

A barely perceptible nod was the answer; both officers remained silent on the way back, a different one this time.

Outside Central Command's headquarters, they parted ways and Jansa went to his office to take up his duties, but soon was lost in thought. He settled in his chair, switched on his annex as he did every day. Today was different though, very different. At reconsidering the strategy he had devised and fully understanding its implications, the young officer suddenly felt uneasy: The entire operation represented a serious risk. A construed Lissepian attack on a prosperous Cardassian town which was the commercial centre of an entire province, total destruction of its administrative centre, casualties among his own people, …. He had planned for casualties to remain as low as possible, but, objectively seen, the procedure as such was marginally treasonous, even though its purpose was to motivate the Kelani to join the war effort. And what if the truth was ever discovered? How could anyone circumvent its being revealed sometime in the future and, in a worst-case scenario, lead to uprisings against the military throughout Cardassia?

After parting from Glinn Jansa, Gul Lenay discarded his military uniform in favour of civilian attire before reporting to Gul Raktar.

"Gul Lenay reporting," he stated without formalities. His voice conveyed a subtle, though unmistakable threat when he added, "There is to be no record of our conversation."

"No, Lenay. All is clear. I expect no one in my office within the next hour."

"We have traitors and militaries guilty of dereliction of duty in our holding cells. The Cardassian officers manning the Lissepian ship will be selected from among their number. Cooperation in exchange for rehabilitation," was the even statement. "It will be rehabilitation of sorts as they will die serving Cardassia and, at the same time, we can thus avoid the risk of someone letting a word slip about this … matter. As you and I have already recognized, Glinn Jansa also constitutes a threat: his ambition obviously surpasses his patriotism. He is less interested in serving Cardassia than in advancing his career. He will remain in command of the Lissepian ship until conclusion of the final phase."

"And thus make the ultimate sacrifice. Gul Lenay, you do agree that the Glinn is deserving of posthumous recognition as a hero who has given his life for Cardassia," Gul Raktar stated evenly. "I shall begin writing an appropriate eulogy for the memorial service."

Lenay smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes when he replied, "You do exactly that, Gul Raktar." As an afterthought, he added, "I have spoken to the officers who attended the meeting. They will remain silent." Or rather, the Order will see to it that they are silenced within the next two weeks – with the exception of the liaisons, of course.

"Understood. It is the only option open to us to avoid unpleasant developments in future. Your prisoners and above all the officers will follow orders unquestioningly – after all, rehabilitation is the latter's greatest desire…" Gul Raktar grasped his colleague's forearms in greeting, gave him a smile of complicity.

One more element was addressed by Lenay. "Remember: Whatever we beam out or our troops remove from the compound or the shrine or recuperate from the ruins is the Order's alone to evaluate and to do with as it sees fit. Especially the contents of the archives are destined for us alone. You will obtain what is rightly yours once all items have been evaluated. After all, Central Command is getting more manpower out of this than it would normally have at its disposal."

Gul Raktar barely kept from exclaiming in angry protest; he well knew about the great wealth shrines had contained in the past and that, in this case, the value of the liberated objects would be immeasurable as Kelani art was highly prized. He dissimulated his displeasure. It never paid to have conflicts with a representative of the Order, and he strongly suspected Lenay of being exactly that.

"Of course. After all, the Order has the responsibility of preserving the records and artefacts of our glorious history." He smiled with pride. "It is a fact that our art and literature are unsurpassed and must be protected and preserved as an inspiration to future generations of Cardassians, a heritage to keep alive and expand."

"So, we understand one another perfectly, my dear Gul Raktar. I regret having to end our conversation, but duty calls." Lenay met Raktar's eyes, bowed slightly then walked out, his attitude that of a civilian employee. And you, Gul Raktar, will fall victim to some unfortunate accident or another shortly after the attack.

When Lenay had left, Raktar relaxed and poured himself a glass of kanaar as his shift was over. No survivors, no witnesses. It was a brilliant idea to have the crew composed of officers who had been demoted and sentenced to death because of some misdemeanour or another, as they were certainly no loss. Glinn Jansa? He shrugged dismissively. No one was irreplaceable.

The Attack

For the inhabitants of Kelan-Lesana Province, this time of the year meant mutual visits, with relatives from towns that were farther off coming to visit family in Samagaltayi or the smaller towns and villages in the immediate area. The work involved in preparing for the celebrations and the Market was a community effort in which everyone participated; togetherness and sharing news about occurrences of the past months made this time enjoyable.

Even though this region of Cardassia possessed the same advanced technology as did all other regions, The Market seemed like a throwback to older times in the way it was organized, in the style of the decorations, displays of local handicrafts which either were for sale or meant to demonstrate the skills of the people who made them to show interested buyers what quality they would get. Local goods and merchandise imported from other provinces or even continents were intermingled, a kaleidoscope of offerings to be inspected and appreciated for its diversity.

The preparations for the main ceremony and celebration of the year were completed well in time; as was the custom, the secular and spiritual leaders of Kelan province had spent the night in silent worship, thanking the Bringers of Light for the good harvests that had been brought in this year, for their area's rapidly expanding trade with neighbouring provinces, and especially for a year without famine, catastrophes or epidemics. Similar rituals were performed in the homes of individual families; the Kelani had preserved the spirituality of their ancestors as well as their love of peace in spite of all outside influences. This mentality was an element of their lives and an integral part of their ethnic identity.

At sunrise, the population of the immediate area, merchants and guests from the entire province and beyond assembled in a large, paved area in front of the hall adjoining the combined buildings of the governor's and the Weranis' compound. Everyone tried to attend the day of thanksgiving which introduced the celebrations to be followed by the main market of the year which would last for six days.

The venue was impressive: This part of the compound was an extensive, rectangular open hall made of the pale yellowish limestone quarried from a cliff face some kilometres to the west, in Lesana Province. The slightly slanted roof made of removable wood latticework supported by massive lintels was carried by straight pillars enclosing a surprisingly large paved hall vast enough to accommodate without crowding the many displays the merchants would set up; six steps led to the Werani's office. The wall separating it from the market hall was removed on such occasions to grant an unimpeded view; later on the leaders of the Thar'Sayas would be there to supervise and register activities.

Only half a year before, a recruiter sent by Central Command had been given that very office during his stay. Glinn Sefek had been surprised at the friendliness of the people who had come to speak with him, but his attempts at encouraging them to sign up were met with polite refusal. Whenever he was off-duty he had mingled with the population in hopes that increased contact would help him recruit potential soldiers for the Union; later, he and his men had even joined the celebrations after Sittal had encouraged them to do so ….

No recruiters had been sent this time.

A collective shout went up when, at first light, the Weranis and the governor, his family and staff came out of the inner compound to assemble according to status at the front of the hall. Spreading his arms and turning towards the rising sun, Werani Sittal chanted, "Let us give thanks for all we have received, for peace, health, prosperity. Let disputes among us be forgotten in favour of mutual assistance, may accord remain an element of life in the villages of our province. As you go about your affairs in the next days and celebrate the blessings of the past year, remember that your unremitting work and prayer may have brought all this about, but that it is the Bringers of Light who have granted each and every one of you the strength, resolve and health to do so. I call down their blessings on you!"

The people answered as one: "We are their children and will obey their laws for all time. We are thankful for all we have received."

Numerous merchants from other provinces had come to attend this second, most important market and celebration of the year as had generations of their Thar'Saya before them. Most of them had given up the old beliefs, seeing service to Cardassia as their ultimate duty in accordance with the mainstream but, as businessmen, carefully disguised their opinion of their hosts' rituals.

This time, though, a few of them watched the opening ceremony with greater interest than usual, registering every detail, especially the position of the dignitaries. One of them was addressed by a Kelani youth.

"You are from abroad?"

He turned to meet the curious but friendly glance of a young Kelani male.

"Yes. I have come from Jendoral Province, wish to sell goods from the Southern Continent and purchase sefrak as demand for it has increased at home. This is my first time here. Of whom do I obtain permission to sell and purchase at the market?"

The response was a welcoming smile. "You have indeed come far. For trade, you must address Lanor Keril, the head of the Jivro Thar'Saya. When the ceremony is over, I shall take you to him. You have time enough to negotiate for a place on the market as it will begin the day after tomorrow. I assure you, you will not be disappointed."

"That is most kind of you." The merchant inclined his head, and moved his lips slightly, as though uttering a brief prayer of thanks. "Five minutes. 29.6/3.9." were his inaudible words….

Moments later, the group of religious leaders on the top step was joined by additional local dignitaries, the leaders of the Thar'Sayas. When the Weranis and the governor moved to the head of the group, the others took position according to their Thar'Saya's rank as the procession began to form.

When the procession advanced towards the bottom of the steps the minor Weranis began chanting.

The people themselves were silent, but their excitement palpable; as soon as the dignitaries had reached the paved area, everyone erupted into exuberant cheers so that the one word whispered by the merchant with whom the Kelani youth had spoken was not heard by any of the bystanders. "Initiate!"

Suddenly, unexpectedly, soundless lightning shot down from the sky, shattering with multiple blasts the hall and buildings that had survived an earthquake only a decade ago, that according to local accounts, had been built in the time of The Ancestors.

Instantaneously, the attendees' anticipation became sheer terror when they saw the edifices collapse, burying most of the dignitaries under a pile of rubble briefly hidden by the cloud of dust whirled into the air by the force of the detonations.

Mortally afraid of what would follow, many people stared up into the sky, only to see another blinding beam phaser fire hit the damaged buildings ... and what remained of the wooden roof of the structure exploded into flames that rapidly engulfed the ruins of the compound, the shrine … the cries for help of those who had not been able to get away became shrieks of agony, which became weaker, finally faded and were replaced by silence, so that only the sound of the flames and shifting rubble were heard over the terrified screams of the witnesses.…..

For some seconds, they could not react, stood in place as though paralysed, frozen by shock, then the crowd literally burst apart, the majority racing towards nearby houses. Yet many others remained, too frightened to move and with horror saw massive Lissepian combatants materialize and immediately begin firing; what they did not notice however was that the invaders were concentrating their fire on the survivors recognizable by their clothing as the leaders of Kelan Province ….

Firing at random as they would have in the course of a normal conflict, even at those people who were running to assist those trapped in the rubble, the attackers were everyone's worst nightmare become reality.

"Escape while you still can…." called one man who wanted to warn the others who finally turned and fled in silent panic. He was cut down in mid-sentence along with two of his friends.

In the chaos, no one noticed a group of civilians beam down and enter the archives which, strangely enough, had not been hit by the blasts...

Minutes later, Cardassian militaries beamed down to surround the attackers; taking cover behind piles of rubble, they engaged the Lissepians who appeared surprised by the counterattack; evidently, they had expected no resistance whatsoever. The invaders responded to the attack, but outnumbered as they were, they had no chance of surviving the conflict, fell.

As soon as the skirmish was over, more soldiers were deployed to systematically search the ruins to look for and help survivors, but in reality they checked the dead leaders, surreptitiously killing those dignitaries who still showed signs of life, then collected the weapons of the attackers.

A higher-ranking officer among them spoke into his commband loudly enough so that those nearby could hear his words, "Glinn Jansa reporting: The Lissepian invaders have been contained, all attackers eliminated. I repeat … all attackers eliminated and accounted for. We are presently rendering assistance to the survivors of the attack."

At seeing the militaries, a few Kelani returned hesitantly to see whether anything could be done for their fellows who had been caught in the fire. One of them looked briefly at his friends before addressing a foot soldier who was standing close by, waiting for orders. "What…." He could only whisper in shock.

"A surprise attack by the Lissepians. Those bastards' strategy was to destroy our cities and cultural centres one by one, throw our population into chaos and then make us a part of their Empire, reduce us to servitude." The troop contemptuously kicked the body of a Lissepian, then spat at it. "Their forces have been liquidated. Won't have any more chances to attack us, that filth!"

"But it is too late, everything too late," murmured the Kelani. "Our city … everything destroyed that was of value to us, everything that had existed since the time of The Ancestors ….. " He looked around as if hoping to escape from a nightmare, too dazed to fully realize the implications of what had happened. "So many dead, all of our leaders dead …." His voice faded when he caught sight of the body of a Werani who was partly covered with rubble. He went over to him, knelt, and touched his hands. "And you had protected us for so long, you and those who lived before … and you were not spared. If only I had died before seeing this day …." His words of sorrow mingled with the wails of the others who were grieving for their leaders and lost family members.

The soldier concealed his surprise at these people's reactions. They are not like other Cardassians; we respond to such events with silent grief followed by anger and calls for revenge….

The soldier was joined by two comrades who had heard the man's words. "Yes, too many good Cardassians have died this day. Each single life lost is a reproach to us as we did not arrive in time to ward off this attack."

The speaker was a simple foot soldier from the border. He went over to the man who was still crouching next to Werani Sittal's body and gently helped him to his feet. "Come, my comrade. I swear we will fight our common enemy, crush him as he has crushed your leaders, then you and I will weep together for the Cardassian citizens we have lost today. It is our duty and goal as members of Central Command to make those involved in this massacre pay. I swear," he repeated, hesitated then asked, "What is your name, comrade? The next Lissepian I kill, he will die in your name and his death serve to compensate you for your losses."

"Therod Idom." The man struggled to speak. "But revenge will not bring back those who have been killed, will not bring back what we had preserved since the time of The Ancestors."

The superior officer who had approached them stated grimly, "Those Lissepian brutes will pay dearly for each single Cardassian who has lost his life today." He spoke into his commband. "Status of operations?"

The survivors who were nearby heard a burst of static and a disembodied voice, "Lissepian cruiser in visual range. Engage!"

A sound of distant crackling thunder beyond the clouds…., the people scattered, fearing a renewed attack. Therod turned to run away with them to find shelter, but the soldier held him back, calling out to the others as well. "No, stay, my fellow Cardassians. Stay and witness the final phase of a battle against our enemies and see part of the debt of blood paid here and now!" He pointed upwards, laughing in elation and pride, "Look and never forget what you see! Tell your children about the fate of those who dare oppose or attack us, those who attack Cardassia now and in the future!"

Suddenly, the clouds were shot through by blindingly bright beams of light which intersected, seeming to burst into multicoloured flame until, finally, the sky was brilliantly illuminated by a nova of light followed by a dull explosive roar, then … silence… as though nothing had happened.

A second group of militaries arrived and ordered the others to beam up to their own ship.

The commanding officer addressed the civilians, "I am Gul Raktar. How many of you are there? The population of this immediate area and in other regions has to be evacuated as quickly as possible. We suspect that this attack was a front for the enemy to spread pathogens throughout this area to depopulate it. When you have been taken to safety, our scientists will test the entire district."

The crowd grew and became denser, more agitated by the moment. A woman cried out in near-hysteria. "This town had five thousand inhabitants, not including the visitors who had come from the outlying areas." She cried out in a shrill wail, "Where are the others? They can't all be dead."

A Kelani male hurried over to her, himself close to tears of despair.

"We have to see who is missing, search for those who are," was another call, "Reunite the children with their parents!"

Others began crying out in an attempt to contact family members, trying to make themselves heard above the wails of those who were overcome by their horror and their grief.

"What about our wounded, our dead? You cannot possibly leave them behind."

"Where will you take us?"

"Don't scatter us all over Cardassia, let us stay together," was one of the most-often repeated pleas.

"How will we earn our living? We have never been beggars, living on the mercy of strangers!"

"We cannot leave! This is our home province. We will rebuild! Have done so before!"

"Our fields … they have to be prepared for planting. How should we give Central Command the supplies as stated in our government's contract?"

Gul Raktar recognized the mounting panic and hysteria; before it got totally out of control, he leapt onto a pile of debris and shouted, "You will be provided for, that I promise in the name of Cardassia. You can stay together in small groups as well as can be arranged. You are highly-skilled artisans, farmers, artists, are highly-educated people. We need you, Cardassia needs you! Many of you have studied at our elite universities. With your skills and knowledge, you will be able to support yourselves and your families, will be given employment within days and not be reduced to poverty."

He lowered his voice. "When the cruisers that are to take you to safety have arrived, your wounded will be taken on board for treatment together with the evacuees, your dead will be buried here."

He waited for the shouts of protest to die down. "Please understand, we have to test the area for pathogens. If we permitted you to remain only to die in an epidemic created by our attackers, an epidemic for which we have no cure, we would be betraying everything we believe in. We, both the soldiers and officers of Central Command, have sworn to protect our fellow Cardassians, and be it at the cost of our own life."

Some of the people sank to the ground in despair at hearing his words, huddled together, mourning, some of them swaying back and forth in an expression of insupportable pain. Others remained standing, shocked into passivity, their eyes devoid of all emotion. A increasing number of individuals covertly began leaving the crowd, moving towards their houses or out of the city, making use of every bit of cover.

The Refuges

A man next to one family, undeniably a fellow Kelani, whispered as if to himself, "All of these centuries, we have lived in peace as our elders and The Ancestors had taught us. Now …. this. Evacuation. We have lost everything."

Jorik overheard him and said, "No. I for myself challenge the pathogens to do their worst; my family and I are not leaving."

"Are you staying? How can you do so? All of us are being registered so cannot escape evacuation. Why did the Bringers of Light permit this to happen?"

"Come with us and be safe. Our home is just over there, my family and I are going now." He smiled quickly. "My name is Jenno Kivra, by the way." He gave his wife and children a warning glance before quickly gesturing at them to follow him as unobtrusively as possible.

"I am Ekor Ferim, I came here as a merchant and now find myself living through this attack."

The soldiers were occupied with registering names and family groups so that they did not notice the clandestine departure of a number of individuals in the shifting crowd, people who also refused to be deported.

Jorik, his family and Ferim quickly entered his house after making sure they were unobserved. He pushed a cabinet aside then unhooked disguised latches to open a concealed door leading into the underground passage to his family's area in the subterranean city.

He urged them, "Hurry, we may not be safe yet. If we are found everyone else's fate is sealed too." He had seen that, elsewhere in the crowd, villagers had sneaked away and gone into other houses providing access to the underground city.

With a sense of betrayal followed by anger and apprehension, Jorik suddenly noticed Ferim was wearing a military commband under the right-hand sleeve of his tunic. That's indeed Turek! He left some years ago to join Central Command and now is willing to betray his own people.

"Ferim, I am one of the members of Council so the people of Samalgaltayi know me well. We will go in last, together; if you, a stranger, are not accompanied by one of us, it might arouse suspicion." He smiled at him ruefully. "We Kelani have a reputation, not totally undeserved, for not trusting outsiders…"

Ferim laughed, "So I have heard…."

As soon as the last person had disappeared into the passage, Jorik said, "There, everyone on his way down. Go ahead; I'll follow at once."

When Ferim turned to enter, Jorik took a pestle from its shelf and brought it down hard on the back of the man's head. He collapsed without a sound. Quickly, Jorik tore off and destroyed his commband, then shouted into the passage, "Move as quickly as possible and wait for me in the niche behind the supplies. I will rejoin you as soon as I have finished here."

He pulled at a heavy piece of furniture until it tipped over to fall onto the body which lay in a corner, set the latches of the door to fall into place, then took the phaser out of the alleged merchant's belt. He glanced at the dead man, let the door fall shut. Ferim looks as though he had been struck by those shelves when it fell due to the vibrations from phaser fire. Roughly ten metres down the passage, he set the phaser at maximum and fired at the roof of the cavern to collapse it behind him. I do not trust these people. They have turned our own into traitors.

That done, he hurried to rejoin his family who were waiting.

"Aressa! I'm back."

"Where's Ferim?"

"I had to kill him to ensure everyone's safety," was the calm answer.

"Jorik, what have you done! He came to us for help!" the woman was horrified, "Have you become insane?"

"No, listen!" he said, grasping her shoulders. "Listen, both you, Aressa, and you," He nodded at his children. "A few years ago Turek joined Central Command, adopted a Varagasi name. He was posing as one of the foreign merchants; luckily I recognized him at the last moment. He was wearing a commband to contact the militaries outside, to betray us. Central Command and the Order apparently want to deport as many of us as possible to settle so-called 'true' Cardassians here once most of us are gone. They enlisted his help to discover our refuges." He sighed, "For me, too, taking life is abhorrent, but understand: I had to protect our people!"

Aressa nodded, still horrified that her husband could have committed such an act, an act forbidden by the Texts; when she saw his expression she realized that he had done the only thing he could do to keep them safe. Aressa took his hand and, side by side, they walked on silently. After some metres, they came to a bend in the passage and, a little further on, saw the glow of light from around a second bend. A few more metres and the group entered a large cavern which doubled as a town center with passages leading to groups of chambers that were used as family homes; little after the first caves below the villages and small towns had been found some years after the area had been settled, the population had systematically expanded them into a city under a city with everything the inhabitants needed.

With a cry, Aressa ran towards a family she knew.

"Oh Aressa, you have made it with yours. We thought you had been taken away, too," Kemmo and his wife went over to the arrivals.

"No." she turned to her husband, "We left at the last moment, decided to take the risk."

Their children waited a little way off, looking around wide-eyed - they had never been in this underground town. The passages, the rooms, the pathways, everything was in the pale yellowish shade of the rock; stonemasons had decorated the walls of some passages with elaborate carvings representing the landscape outside, everyday scenes of life. A refined ventilation system kept the air fresh; it smelled of sand and rock with the slightest hint of humidity. The entire area was illuminated by lights inset into the walls that gave off a pale glow at a level pleasant for Cardassians.

At seeing they wanted to explore the place, Jorik cautioned them, "Stay in this area. Our rooms are to the left," he indicated them, "See? Remember everything well. You may need to know how to get here again at some time."

He turned back to this friends, "Others have also escaped through entrances to this system; our house has one, disguised as a storage room by my father, so we could use it now. There are many who have joined us."

"Can we trust everyone here?" asked Jorik Demron.

"I think so", replied Kemmo. "We are all Kelani."

"Regrettably enough, this is no longer the case. We were nearly betrayed by one of our own," Jorik said with bitterness. "You remember Turek, don't you? He adopted the name Ferim at joining Central Command after being recruited some fifteen years ago. He was posing as a merchant and joined us when we fled to the passage in our house, hoping we would lead him to these refuges."

"…which are only used in times of war or attacks."

"Where are the others? How many are we?"

"We decided to scatter throughout the system and not group according to the emplacement of our homes above ground. In case someone traces us, not all of us will be discovered. As far as I know, we should be about 6000, if not more. You know this city was constantly expanded as the population increased." Kemmo met his friend's eyes. "Isn't it a most remarkable coincidence for the attack to come now, during the festival following the one at which Central Command failed to recruit as many soldiers as they had hoped?"

There was no reply.

Half a day later, when it appeared no one was going to search for them, the representatives of each family group assembled in the central underground hall.

"How many of us are there in all?"

The tally was rapid. Within minutes, they realized that nearly half their number was missing.

With a smile of pride, Kanor held up a sleek, writhing, hissing vole. "Immo was in Jekan's care for tracking practice and came back an hour ago with this…" He set down the vole to detach a small container from its back. "Here are the numbers."

Jorik glanced at the list then said, "All in all we are roughly 4,931 in this part of the complex, but there certainly are more in the further areas as each village has its section which is connected to the others."

"3287 gone," said Temaro who had worked for public affairs. "A substantial loss. Once we know exactly who is missing, we have to re-organize everything, from the basics on up."

Gently rubbing the back of his vole's head, Kanor added, "We don't know how the situation is further out, towards Aigela City, which is about fifty-five kilometres away. Jenora is in the communications area, trying to reach that village's refuge and some of the others in case the attack was not localized. Aigela and its outliers have a population of some 230 000."

He got up and left to put the vole into a large container with its mate, feed them then check on the others.

"So, far more than I had expected," Jorik murmured.

"The evacuations." A man named Jenatro Kennu stated, "Those who did not seek out the shelters are no doubt being scattered throughout the other provinces. Two soldiers were discussing this."

"Most likely. I think that, within a few weeks, or as soon as they can find enough volunteers, Central Command and the Order, with the sanction of Detapa, will send people from other provinces here to settle in our region, so that, even if the evacuees are permitted to return at some point, they will find the Kelani home province exactly like those to which they have been taken after this attack: inhabited by Gessechi, Varagasi and covered with immense fields and large cities, like the rest of Cardassia Prime." Aressa had joined the conversation. "Suggestions?"

"Simple enough: After all is clear, we return to our houses. Select members of large families to take over those of the evacuees until their rightful owners have returned. Thus there will be little place for those sent to replace us; in the case of farms, those with marginal land are for the newcomers. Of course we will welcome them, as we respect the rules of hospitality, but on our terms as we remain in the majority."

Arin was thankful that his wife and children had not been in the crowd, but at home, occupied with last-minute preparations. "Most of those sent in the past were farmers, craftsmen and some officials, but they did not know how to cope with conditions here. In addition, they refused to adapt and despised our ways, tried to influence us to give them up. After some months, they gradually drifted back to where they had come from."

"Blocked irrigation channels helped them make their decision, too as well as a lack of materials in addition to inexplicable damage to equipment."

Suppressed laughter was the reaction to the comment; the oldest among the Kelani remembered these incidents well.

"Agreed. Spread the word when you go back to your respective areas," said Kendor Dal, one of the councillors who had survived. "Fortunately, not the entire population of nearby villages and towns joined the celebrations; I don't think more than eight or nine thousand attended."

"What about supplies?"

"Sufficient. The governors and the eganuls before them have always used the caverns under the compound to store grain and other staples. We checked and found the seals to the doors intact; no one has been in those rooms since the last harvest." replied Jorik. "Nor has Central Command claimed their due."

"How long should we remain here? There is no way of knowing whether guards have been posted to fight off a renewed invasion." The speaker, Jetaal, a woman who belonged to the weavers' Thar'Saya, added, "I do not trust the militaries. They have been too active in the past months."

"It is early afternoon now. Tonight I plan to go out with two others to check the situation. Who volunteers to join me?" The speaker, Beran Joren looked around.

"We." Two men of the farmers' caste came over. "It will be to us to resume our work as soon as it is safe to do so. It is necessary to provide for those who have chosen to remain."

"Good. We will use the exit under Urek's house which is on the outskirts; we should be relatively safe."

"One last element. It may be best for us to distribute the food there is among the various family units, with the exception of the grain and the cuttings needed for the next season. Those, however, should be transferred to the storage area under the Shrine of The Ancestors. In case there is another invasion, at least not everything will be lost or taken, and we have the means to feed our families and ourselves," suggested Kendor Dal, who had been one of the three councillors on the governor's staff.

"I don't know whether that is safe. Better put the seed and cuttings into one of the deeper caverns and partially block the passage leading to it; only we should know about this … There may be spies among the others. Remember Ferim. He answered the call of Central Command and turned against his own, hoping to prove his dedication to the interests of Central Command by betraying us."

"One last thing: These caverns, which our ancestors discovered and transformed into an underground city have always provided us with refuge and a safe place for storage. I suggest sealing our respective passages at a distance of ten metres. Do so in a way that you can quickly gain access if necessary." Urek said after some seconds, "Do not speak of this to anyone you do not know well enough to trust implicitly."

It was a disturbing wait. Every now and then, suppressed cries echoed through the passages from people finally emerging from the passivity of shock. There had been attacks in former centuries, but never as devastating as this one, an attack from the sky that had reduced an entire city to rubble, claiming an as yet unknown number of victims.

"Who was the enemy?" No one had ever seen this race before, indeed had never seen any aliens at all.

"A soldier told me it was the 'Lissepians', the enemies that the recruiter told us about last year." The speaker was Kettar Eldon, a young Cardassian of the carpenters' Thar'Saya. His voice toneless, he stated, "I spoke to one of the officers before we took shelter here, will go to Central Command and volunteer to join if they accept me; I saw my parents buried under the roof of the hall when it collapsed. My elder brothers are already employed and can provide for the younger children."

"This is not our way!" called one of the elders.

"Should we be dependent on the help of others as just happened? Should we always have to wait for someone to defend us?" Kettar's expression was enraged as he called out, "Before, it was the governor who saw to our defence, but now? Not even he could counter a surprise attack from above. His standing army was useless: his men, he and his family, our spiritual leaders are dead. I will fight against those who have attacked us, kill them as they have my parents and so many others."

Four days later than originally planned, the people who had fled into the underground village decided it was safe for the volunteers, Urek, Beran and Kendor to look around. They left Urek's home, carefully choosing their way so that nothing would hint at where they had come from. They looked around and saw teams of soldiers and civilians already clearing away the ruins. Still keeping out of sight, the men approached, listening carefully then realized they were speaking Kelani and decided to approach them…

Plans Within Plans

At the same time, in Loo'Wess, the mission was under discussion.

"Mission accomplished," was Raktar's smug response when he reviewed the report on the success of Jansa's plan. "It is most regrettable that Jansa did not manage to beam over to the cruiser in time. He would have been gratified to witness the positive outcome of his strategy."

"Indeed. Ah, I have been informed that your forces have evacuated 51,856 individuals from the area of Samagaltayi, Aigela and Perali Cities, as well as some smaller communities, by far not as many as originally planned," commented Lenay. "This will make … acculturation… slightly more of a challenge."

"I know, projections were for us to remove roughly 150.000 of them, but we did not manage to discover to where the Kelani slated for deportation had fled; the troops said they had disappeared without a trace. Those who searched their homes reported that there were no signs of where they had gone," Raktar said pensively. "There are an estimated 900 000 of that ethnicity in all. Even so, we did remove a number of children, split up families, …" The Gul's tone of voice hinted at his reservations about this method. Family is everything was a precept that ranged just after Duty to Cardassia always has precedence in importance. In contrast to other orphans, these children would be given to childless couples, which would guarantee their being raised to mainstream standards.

"We have already discussed this matter," was Lenay's unperturbed reaction before he addressed the plans made for those who still remained in Kelan-Lesana. "Tareko does not consider this mission a failure because of the shortfall as a new government made up of Kelani who have joined the mainstream is to be instated. Its members will be instated as soon as the provisional seat of government has been constructed. The same applies to educators, doctors, individuals from all walks of life, as well as non-Kelani personnel from Loo'Wess Province. Indoctrination may take roughly a year as alteration of facts has to be effected gradually to avoid arousing suspicion. Their old government? Discrediting it presents no difficulties as the chronicles found in the archives are in our hands."

"Influencing their children is quite uncomplicated as we have educators specialized in the subtler forms of re-education," Lenay stated. "Later on, the children can serve to inform us about who is still reluctant to conform to the new expectations and liable to subvert what we are doing."

"Our men are currently clearing away the ruins, a matter of a week at most. All original building materials are being destroyed. Whatever artefacts were discovered have already been transferred to the Order for evaluation. A new centre in mainstream Cardassian style has already been planned by architect Predok with construction to be initiated immediately after removal of the ruins. The new government will work in a provisional building until then."

"What about reactions?" Lenay inquired.

"There may be some ... displeasure among the Kelani as their traditional buildings have a distinctive style, but Predok and his employees should be able to convince them soon enough that separate but interconnected governmental and economic centres are more efficient, that their residential buildings' style is impractical. Samagaltayi is to be renamed Lesana. Another break with the past, in accordance with your suggestion," added Raktar. "They can keep their traditional market where it was before, but in accordance with our rules and regulations. It is trade, both in detail as in retail that has made this province and its people prosperous, together with the fertility of its land; this prosperity must not be risked."

Raktar added, "Right now the Kelani are glad to be alive, thankful to us for having overcome their attackers. They have no choice but to accept the changes; an entire culture and history cannot be reconstructed from memory alone as every individual remembers events and customs, even material evidence differently. A shame about their capital city and its buildings. Samagaltayi was quite impressive…."

"And that loss will make them more amenable to re-education. Their now-dead leaders were not able to protect them, were complacent, thus deserved to die as they had criminally neglected their people's security. The population has adequate proof of the fact that their new government, backed by Central Command has the ability to do so."

Gul Raktar nodded in approval.

He did not realize how fortunate he was to be alive. The Order had observed him carefully during the planning phases, had monitored his conversations with his peers and subordinates and come to the conclusion that he would make an effective liaison officer.

With that, Lenay took leave from the Gul and returned to Obsidian Order Headquarters to report to Tareko with information about the conversation. The Gul's comments reflected the Order's rationale in all aspects, but his manner and expression had hinted at slight doubts as to the effectiveness of some few elements of the Order's plans.

"It is obvious he thinks us too tolerant of the Kelani." He shrugged indifferently, "Let them believe their refuges are not known to us. Even those who retain their beliefs and ideals will serve the Union with the greatest of dedication. Moreover, in future, these people and the elements of their culture which endure in spite of re-education can prove quite useful." As if to himself, Tareko added, "We need critical minds, analytical minds in our organization, people who dare voice doubts. That is why Gul Raktar will be notified about his change of status within three more days, as soon as we have cleared the matter with Central Command."

Lenay did not respond as he also considered the officer too valuable to liquidate. For him, the relevant question at the moment was what advantage the aberrant culture, beliefs and ways of the Kelani could offer.

"At some time, we may require agents who are highly flexible, a flexibility you only find in people living a double life; in this case, the life of a deeply patriotic Cardassian absolutely devoted to duty to the Union and a private one, that of a Kelani trying to preserve some few remaining elements of his culture. This latter fact does not make them potential traitors, much to the contrary: they will be grateful to us for our tolerance, thus serve the Union with the greatest of dedication. After two generations? They will be fully in line in every respect."

Lenay smiled with pleasure at the deception, "Come to think of it, presenting Cardassia's population as being composed of clearly diverse heritages, all united by one common interest: service to the Union, may be an effective element of propaganda eminently suited for chance transmission outside the Union. Unity in diversity elicits more fear than unity in uniformity."

"Exactly, my dear Lenay," said Tareko. "Now consider the Kelani, some of whom are strikingly different in appearance, nearly a race within a race. Tedros, for example, the Kelani you recruited for the Order some months ago: Cardassian features, but blond hair. His attitude however is Cardassian in the truest sense of the word."

"If we can indeed trust them to wholeheartedly support our cause…"

"Oh, but they will. Their helplessness in face of the Lissepian attack, the shock of seeing their cultural and economic centre destroyed, of losing their revered leaders, of many being deported to other areas for re-education, re-education on-site for those remaining in place, the latter a gesture of benevolence and concern for their well-being … this will have them join our common goal... Rebellious individuals can be found and eliminated before they subvert our efforts." Tareko said. "Their history? We will return their chronicles to the archives, but in a revised version presenting a common history; the originals will be inaccessible to anyone but members of the Order."

Tareko smiled at Lenay. "Think it over, Commander Lenay. We have a reputation for fanatic, unflagging devotion to duty, a lack of regard for anything or anyone not Cardassian, the willingness to sacrifice everything for Cardassia. All those who have ever encountered us in battle or have been taken prisoner by our forces fear our very name. And yet , no one knows much about us. We leave no bodies behind after battle, do not speak with prisoners apart from interrogative procedures. All they see is our militant way of life. Now to demonstrate diversity within our population but absolute unity of purpose: we are all Cardassians, one people with one goal, the expansion of the Union."

Changes And Losses

Slowly, with vague apprehension, Urek, Beran and Kendor approached the team to first see what they were doing before addressing the supervisor, a member of Central Command who was cooperating with two civilians. When he caught sight of the men he greeted them then invited them over; neither he nor the others appeared the least bit surprised at seeing the newcomers.

"I am Gul Vorik, my civilian colleagues are Predok, the architect in charge of removal of the ruins and reconstruction and Nerak, his assistant."

"We are Beran, Kendor and Urek of Samagaltayi City, we want to get an overview of the situation and start planning for reconstruction."

"As you can see, work has already been initiated." said Vorik, gesturing at the troops. "We do not leave fellow Cardassians to cope with the outcome of an attack or a catastrophe on their own," was Vorik's explanation of his and his colleagues' presence. "We were notified and subsequently deployed immediately after the enemy forces were eliminated so that there would be no delay in rendering assistance."

The men looked around; only four days after the attack work was indeed progressing rapidly. The area of the market hall had been cleared, the paved surface prepared for reconstruction of the building; removal of the ruins of the government's complex and the governor's residence was well underway, only what remained of the shrine was as yet untouched. Severely damaged houses slated for removal were being leveled.

No doubt their owners have taken away everything they could salvage through the passage leading to the Refuges and have collapsed it to preserve our secret, was Kendor's thought. As soon as they have built their new homes they will make passages leading to them.

Noticing the men did not comment, Predok interpreted their silence as a sign of distrust, so he went over to the group, "Central Command and Detapa have decided to reconstruct every building that was destroyed; the government is taking over the costs as this would be too great a strain on your resources, no offence meant. Those who have lost their homes will be given provisional housing until permanent residences have been built.

"That is most generous," Urek replied, waiting. He did not quite trust the situation, nor did the other two. Generous help usually came with a price.

Predok indicated a modular building that housed his and Vorik's offices. "Come with me; I can show you the plans; they have already been drawn up and will give you an impression of how your city will look after reconstruction has been effected."

After a moment of hesitation, the men decided to accept the offer and followed the architect and his assistant.

Upon entering, they saw two large monitors which displayed the plans Predok had mentioned, one a diagram of streets and buildings and the other a three-dimensional presentation of the future town centre as well as of the residences, as Predok called them. They exchanged disbelieving glances at seeing the name of the city: Lesana.

That is not our city, nor are these our homes! Taken aback, they stared at the monitors wordlessly, then Kendor said evenly, stressing every word, "This cannot be the correct plan. We wish to rebuild according to our traditions and norms, quarrying the local stone and processing it. We have the necessary machinery and skilled specialists at our disposal. Nor do we live in Lesana. These plans are meant for a different town: ours is named Samagaltayi."

"That method of reconstruction you describe would take too long, possibly over a year, if not more. Housing the population and its institutions is a matter of greatest urgency, thus has been given absolute priority." Predok continued, ignoring Kendor's protest, "Governmental and commercial institutions will have separate buildings, interconnected by an underground passage with a central computer room for registry of the data transmitted from the bureaus, protected from attacks and sabotage."

"We already had this kind of system," was Beran's reaction.

"Certainly, but you will be getting state-of-the-art equipment, linked to that of Loo'Wess and its institutions, thus streamlining all procedures" said Predok. Nerak has already accessed the information stored on that computer and has transmitted it to the Order's archives.

At recognizing their irritation, Nerak addressed them, saying, "Admittedly, the buildings are not according to your traditional architecture, but they are solid, comfortable, have the most advanced amenities and are constructed of composite, reinforced material. You will find them extremely resistant to the vagaries of climate and to weathering. Besides, they can easily be enlarged to accommodate a growing family. "Look," he shifted the angle of the three-dimensional presentation. The display now offered an aerial view of the new city with walled residences interconnected by passages used for delivery, storage and to protect pedestrians from the weather, with broad walkways on their surface. The buildings of the institutions? Massive, their corners elongated into the tall, clawed spires typical of Cardassian architecture.

"Our question about the name has not been answered."

"The name of a province's capital city is that of the province it represents," was Gul Vorik's reply. "This serves to streamline official matters."

Beran asked, "And the market?"

"Here." Predok indicated an immense hall. "Organisation? Merchants will register with a Detapa official who will check their references and credentials before giving them a slot. Their respective displays will be grouped according to the kind of merchandise offered. Transactions are automatically registered with the bureaus of finance and commerce which are under Detapa's jurisdiction."

With a numbing sensation of helplessness, the men realized there was nothing they could do or say to change what was happening, nor was there any hope of reintroducing their former system after reconstruction was effected; protesting against the fact their city had been renamed without consulting what remained of its population? An exercise in futility. The local council of towns and villages which had served them well throughout generations had been abolished. Kelani independence? A thing of the past.

"There is one more matter," said Gul Vorik. "We need personnel for clearing and reconstruction. Pay will be according to standard scale."

"How many?"

"The troops who were deployed in response to this emergency have to be replaced as they are to be recalled to their cruisers: that is 390 men and 75 more in a few weeks when reconstruction is initiated. Nerak will be supervising hiring procedures and Predok is already organizing shifts and emplacement of personnel in accordance with their skills."

We always organised these procedures without plans, one group automatically replaced the other as the need for specific skills arose…..

After discussing some last details of the terms of employment with Predok and Nerak, the three left, heading towards a low rise, then descended into the deeply eroded bed of a dry creek, entered a narrow cleft leading into one of the passages….

The council members were already waiting for their report.

"The ruins are being removed, provisional buildings to be erected immediately after, reconstruction to begin within two weeks. However, the buildings will be like those in Loo'Wess." Beran gave Elana the hardcopy plan which she spread on a large table. Council inspected it in silence before another member, Danak, openly said what the others were thinking, "We wanted to rebuild Samagaltayi as it was but now? As Central Command and Detapa have taken over operations, we no longer have any input. And what about the Market? Are procedures the same as before?"

"All decisions as to which merchants are permitted to attend, the emplacement of their displays, drawing up sales contracts and orders are under the supervision of government agencies as of now. Our traditional form of organization is considered outdated, unreliable, possibly concealing the real income of participants; this change is supposed to prevent fraud."

"We always submitted exact records to the Department of Commerce and Finance! Anyone who acted contrary to the rules was barred from the market until he had made restitution," was Janor's outraged call. "Demand they present evidence of our submitting fraudulent statements!"

"No, Janor, that is not the reason. It would appear that customs and procedures that differ from those of all-Cardassia are considered unacceptable. Put simply, our customs and traditions are fated to gradually disappear and we? Forced to acculturate and finally be absorbed into the general population."

"Is that all?"

"Unfortunately not," replied Urek, suppressing his anger. "The name of our city has been changed. It is now Lesana."

There were some moments of absolute, consternated silence until Elana asked in a barely audible voice, "What justification was given for that?"

"Efficiency," was his answer before he added resentfully. "This should make it amply clear what the goal of this assistance truly is: the destruction of all we have known and preserved."

"At least there is one positive element. We were informed that Predok and his staff need manpower for removal of the ruins and reconstruction as the troops currently working on site are to be recalled for their regular duties for Central Command; 465 individuals are required. Normal pay. Machinery placed at our disposal."

"The appropriate craftsmen and workers will be addressed within two days."

"It would seem that Samagaltayi and its outliers were the focal part of the attack, which means that the inhabitants of the other towns and villages, can return to their homes and take up their normal work," said Kennu.

"In case those areas are under observation they should do so gradually to avoid drawing unwanted attention, or else there may be a search for the Refuges after all," Kendor said. "The way things look, I fear there will be more changes in future…"

To Kanor, he said with a grin, "You can send off your messengers as soon as you arrive in your area."

"We have already established a relay system and can now test its effectiveness." Kanor was secretly pleased. Training those feisty voles which were even more recalcitrant than the kyssili had been, a challenge which was now paying off.

Lesana

As stated, Gul Vorik's Kelani employees who had taken over from the troops had removed the ruins within a little over a week and were now preparing the ground for permanent buildings after erecting the provisional ones. When they reached the ruins of the Shrine of The Ancestors, some of them hesitated, uncertain about touching them; after a whispered discussion, Endal, their spokesman asked the organizer, "Gul Vorik, this is what remains of our shrine which was built at the time of The Ancestors. Should we not leave it undisturbed as a memorial to the attack?"

For the first time, they realized what Vorik really thought about them when he answered contemptuously, "We have progressed beyond primitive superstition, serve the Union alone, do not waste time praying to non-existent entities like The Ancestors or the Bringers of Light. We are Cardassians and possess the resourcefulness, strength and determination to create our own future. Ruins are ruins, worthless detritus to be removed, not to be used as a memorial. There will be one, but to your city and your dead, a true monument, not a heap of scorched rock."

There were some moments of silence when the group understood that even their faith was to be taken from them. After covertly exchanging glances, they went back to work.

What no one noticed or cared to notice was that they worked very thoroughly, as though checking for valuable objects as they had been directed to do, but pocketing as many of the stones that had formed the mosaic as they could find, nor would this have interested their supervisor in the least, except as something amusing to tell his fellow officers about the Kelani upon his return.

Once the provisional buildings of the government were ready, there was an influx of newcomers to fill positions in all branches of administration whereas the former employees were sent to the capital to allegedly be trained in the new methods. These people were recognizably Kelani, speaking the language, but mainstream Cardassian in attitude, much to the surprise of the people who encountered them in the course of registration procedures.

As soon as this transition had been made, the inhabitants of the area were registered to bring the official records up to date after the losses that had been incurred,and the evacuations.

The process was straightforward enough; after registration had been effected, the people were informed as to where their relatives had been taken in the course of the evacuations.

Once Temaro had finished all of the formalities, he inquired, "My wife Nedaal and my children, Kessral, Mydar and Dimor were separated from me in the crowd. Tell me, Officer Yetron, have they survived?"

The official checked, then with a sight smile, informed him, "Yes, Temaro. They are well and are now living in Locarian City, have been given family housing. As you see, your family is safe and sound."

Temaro could not hide his joy and relief then said, clearly looking forward to their coming back, "Once housing has been erected, they need not remain there, but can return home."

"Your wife has been given employment in the bureau of statistics, and your children have been enrolled in Locarian City Educational Centre. It would be destabilizing for all concerned if they were obliged to readapt yet again. Besides, your wife has a three-year contract. In two or three years, when a branch of this institution has been established here her transferral can be taken under consideration."

"That does not mean that I cannot contact and later go to see them as soon as the situation permits." He added, "From what I have seen, all Cardassians honour the bonds of family, and the state protects it too."

"That is correct. Both repeated contact and visits will be authorized. You need but apply for the privilege and it will be granted. However, you will be accompanied by an official. It is safer for all involved."

"What risks could possibly be involved in such a simple thing?"

There was no answer…..

The information about these specific facts and requirements spread very quickly, serving as they did to confirm some of the Kelanis' suspicions. The Lissepians were most helpful; it would appear that we are to be robbed of our very identity, our ties with family in other cities observed to ensure that influence is one-sided. Possibly expectations are the following: that those of us who have been separated from close family will voluntarily move to where the evacuees are living and give up their ways and culture, was a thought many had, but did not dare pronounce openly even among themselves, fearing that some of the newcomers were agents of the Order, an institution everyone had learned to view with apprehension.

Worse was to come when, months later, new buildings had replaced those destroyed in the attack, making Lesana a small version of Loo'Wess.

Schools had already been opened, staffed by Kelani. The new ones were large, equipped with state-of-the-art media and large library area with Cardassian history, arts, literature, dramas, films … everything that was available.

It was an open secret however that the instructors who had taken over from the former ones belonged to a highly specialised branch of the Order. They were invariably friendly and patient, took great interest in the children and young people whom they taught, conferred with their parents to help them develop their full potential, in brief, did what was expected of all instructors, but the informal curriculum had been expanded by an important factor: the need for conformity as well as unquestioning obedience and patriotism, virtues required in Cardassian society.

Parents could only stand by and helplessly watch the changes in their children. It was a slow, insidious change as they were systematically yet unobtrusively indoctrinated to absorb mainstream views and abandon those of their parents. The frightening element was that none of the parents could point to a given factor and pin it down as indoctrination. Their children became "true Cardassians," patriotic, militant, had only contempt for the peaceful ways of their families.

Some, however, only pretended to adapt, concealing the fact that they wanted to adhere to the old ways. If this became obvious in some way or another, their peers either shunned or provoked them whenever they could, repeated jokes they had heard about Kelani. Openly preserving the old ways was impossible, not if they wanted to be accepted by their peers and establish the networks of mutual support typical of Cardassian social life, which could be a crucial factor in hearing about and attaining higher positions.

Nor could parents wholly trust their children not to denounce them for keeping the old ways….

A year had passed, one of losses, of seeing their ways undermined, yet many clung to them, covertly meeting in the underground city where some craftsmen, who were aware of but willingly accepted the risk involved, had enlarged the shrine, recreating the symbol of the Bringers of Light with the stones they had salvaged from the ruins of the Shrine of The Ancestors. Some few brought their children for services, told them about the old ways, showed them their refuges, trusting in family loyalty to keep the children from denouncing their elders. And their trust was not misplaced… yet. Family is everything remained the one principle that was honoured by all Cardassians.

The Order did not bother overly much with these doings. Social stigmatization, ridicule, contempt, insults would go a long way towards enforcing compliance; experience had shown that social expectations functioned every bit as well as Order methods.

When the time came for the First Market after the attack to take place, the merchants from abroad found themselves facing an unknown city, a market area that was in deep shade, according to Cardassian custom, but enclosed in a hall, whereas the old one had been open on three sides, far more welcoming to both merchants, customers and the curious. The inhabitants of what was now Lesana were overjoyed when they saw that most of their business contacts had returned in spite of the changes that had been effected and which made the atmosphere a little less festive and exciting.

The governor and his staff had opted to follow the old customs, addressing the attendees and merchants with a speech of welcome, but one which ended with praise of Central Command and Detapa for their speedy reconstruction of the city, the locals for their cooperation and sense of responsibility for each other, then, finally, the Market was declared open.

His speech was received by silence, no one moved to enter the hall. It was as if everyone was waiting for something important to follow when, somewhere in the crowd, a woman called, "Begin!" and a low, pulsing drone of male voices resounded from various areas of the crowd before other voices, both male and female, presented a hauntingly beautiful song in Kelani, which praised their city as it had once been and of its renewal, of their love for their home province. When it ended, there were calls of approval for all who had been involved in its creation.

The governor realized that the attendees were waiting for his reaction, and was aware of the fact it would decide his future relations with the population and their willingness to cooperate with him and his staff.

When the applause had died down, he gave his own interpretation, "You have just shown impressively powerful evidence of Cardassian resilience, of our common and indomitable will to persevere whatever happens, whoever may attack us. You prove you are true Cardassians by taking pride in the past and in the present; your love for your home province and capital is a reflection of your love for the Union."

The attendees could not but admire his quick response to what had been an unexpected incident which, if considered objectively, was a covert gesture of defiance.

Later on, when the governor and his staff had returned to their offices before touring the market as was the custom, the representatives of Lesana's population asked for permission to speak with him.

"Governor Rettal, we have a request of which we hope it will be granted."

He looked at the group, the organizers with whom he as well as Predok the architect were cooperating. They had adopted the Cardassian posture of respect.

"State it and be heard."

"We are most thankful for all that Central Command and Detapa have effected here; damage would not have been repaired so efficiently without the generosity and prompt response of these institutions. However, we wish to address a matter we have discussed among ourselves as it is important to us: we are planning to institute a memorial that is to take place every three years on the anniversary of Samagaltayi's destruction. It is to be a celebration of our old ways and customs, our culture. We have been informed that, as the Order, Detapa and Central Command value diversity as long as it does not subvert Cardassian unity, we might be permitted this." The speaker, Danaal, fell silent.

The reply was friendly enough, "Your request is acceptable and has been recorded by Major Zerkaa." He indicated his secretary. "A meeting has been scheduled for next week. As soon as joint council has decided, you will be notified."

When First Market ended six days later, the governor held a speech that closed with an announcement. "I immediately contacted the joint council regarding the request made by your representatives. Both the Order and Central Command have unanimously agreed to authorize the inhabitants of Kelani heritage to celebrate the Samagaltayi Magtaal every three years as requested. Ethnologists will attend this occasion with the purpose of recording your customs for posterity so that there is no risk of their being forgotten in the course of time, thus leading to the impoverishment of Cardassian culture, which due to its achievements throughout our glorious history, is the greatest in the quadrant."

Back in Loo'Wess, Liaison Officer Gul Raktar, who had supported the motion to grant the Kelani this privilege at once, was pleased. A favour for a favour… Certainly the Kelani would agree to have all of the celebration's events recorded. The Order would obtain the information it wanted; its seeming tolerance would make it possible to send in clandestine observers and, if necessary, agents would remove potential dissidents, respectively recruit personnel. Ah, yes, my unfortunate, prematurely departed Glinn Jansa, your ill-advised comment was appropriate after all and most useful...

Ninety-Five Years Later...

Once, at the very beginning of the Cardassian-Federation conflicts, Central Command, the Order and Detapa registered a most unfortunate leak of information to worlds outside the union that would have the gravest consequences for those responsible ….

Th transmission presented the final phase of a Union-wide celebration. Row upon row of primary school children in basic uniform marched out onto the parade grounds with military precision, preceded by three pre-teens bearing the Cardassian flag. They passed the podium with the dignitaries, looked towards them as one, saluted. Exactly as the adult militaries preceding them had, they executed a series of complicated manoeuvres before their battalion stood at attention in the centre of the parade grounds, and, at their leader's command, changed position while unfolding coloured banners that combined to display Central Command's emblem. Towards the end of the ceremony, the cohorts of young Cardassians called out the Civilian's Pledge in unison. At their leader's signal the children and youths shouted "Talsvar Kardassu!" in clear, firm voices before marching off the grounds in perfect formation.

This was an integral element of a yearly ceremony commemorating the inception of Central Command's, the Order's and Detapa's joint rule, but that information was deliberately omitted to give chance viewers the impression that Cardassia had an immense population, virtually limitless manpower, with each single individual, be it man, woman or child, determined to do their utmost to support the interests of Central Command, to serve the Union.

For the parents and instructors of these children, as for the general public, this ceremony was inspiring, was a source of pride and hope. Everyone derived assurance and comfort from the thought that, no matter what the hardships they would inevitably be called upon to endure, no matter what the sacrifices exacted by the Union, their people would survive, fight and ultimately succeed against all odds thanks to their strength, determination, and unwavering loyalty to Cardassia. For witnesses outside the Empire, however, the ceremony was terrifying, showing as it did masses of people raised from toddler on up to embrace the aggressively arrogant, xenophobic view of the universe typical of all Cardassians encountered so far.

By constantly shuffling squadrons around, Central Command ensured commanders were familiar with most sectors in and surrounding the union, consistently remained up-to-date as to their respective hazards and resources; at the same time the Federation as well as other potential opponents were given the impression that the Fleet under Central Command's jurisdiction was far larger than it really was. What they did not know was that each military had a series of code names, and that ships' serial numbers were changed at random; these precautions made it seem Cardassia had immense reserves of manpower and ships at its disposal. To judge by reports intercepted by Intelligence, the Federation thought Cardassian space was literally crawling with cruisers, their society purely military, with training and indoctrination commencing in early childhood.

From the Cardassians' perspective, anyone who dared oppose them or did not pay their Empire the respect it was due was an enemy. To negotiate with others on equal standing? Never for peace, only for surrender. This principle did tend to simplify matters quite remarkably. Non-Cardassians were only acceptable as allies provided they had something to offer combined with the military power to keep Cardassia from coming to take what she needed. And take Cardassia did. At all costs. This strong, determined people which declared it possessed the greatest culture in the quadrant believed it was destined to spread its civilization throughout the sector and beyond.

For the general population, the news of victories was transmitted via public screens inset in the walls of administrative buildings; victories were often followed by impromptu celebrations in the main streets and squares of the cities conversely, defeats were blamed on traitors, eliciting outrage and demands for revenge and punishment of the guilty.

If any of the viewers had doubts about the truth of these reports, they refrained from pronouncing them, for obvious reasons; the majority, however, was caught up in the excitement and exhilaration of this period of rapid expansion and wanted to be a part of it or at least witness its greatest moments …..

A joint meeting of Central Command's and the Order's upper echelons was called after an important discovery was made in the course of examining and translating the oldest entries in the chronicles taken from Samagaltayi's archives ninety-five years before.

One of the researchers, Commander Haidar Feridun, read an excerpt she had translated from the old form of Kelani: "…, we have been in contact with a civilization beyond the Curtains of Fire for over a century and, with its representatives, have negotiated a lease for land near our capital on which they are authorized to build a commercial centre and settle with their families. Some of our own merchants frequently travel to their world in the course of trade negotiations for goods and unprocessed material. They unanimously report that this world is exceedingly rich in valuable mineral resources, is populous, yet possesses extensive untouched areas. Its inhabitants are peaceful, deeply spiritual, consider maintaining peace among individuals, thus in the entire community, of greatest importance." Haidar had omitted the old name of Lesana, as well as each and every reference to the fact that the Cardassians of those bygone days once shared the same spiritual and peaceful ways as this people whose presence and colonies on Cardassia had long since been forgotten. She returned to her seat without further comment after presenting the text. Nor was she in the least disturbed about the information she had discovered about her own ethnic group while pursuing her research.

Those attending the meeting exchanged glances, considering this information, recognizing its potential for the Union.

"Commander Haidar, have you and your collaborators found star charts in connection with this excerpt?"

"Yes, Legate Semak. The Order will place them at Central Command's disposal after this meeting. They were conceived for simple ships; back then, the journey took nearly two weeks one way. Recalculating distances and routes presents no difficulties so that the emplacement of this world's system can be determined without any margin for error." She still added, "These people called themselves the Children of the Prophets. This and additional descriptions of their culture and life demonstrate they were and may still be on a primitive level of civilization in spite of their high level of technology."

The heads of Central Command, the Order and Detapa briefly conferred, then Legate Serak stated, "It is far enough away from the Federation border so that we have the time required to establish diplomatic contact first, subsequently send in further personnel, slowly expand our presence onworld in the course of a few years. A massive invasion to keep this planet out of Federation control would have presented its own risks."

He waited for conversations to die down, "It will be a joint mission according to standard procedure. Order specialists disguised as civilian personnel will be deployed with the diplomatic corps to determine whether the reports in the archives still apply to present conditions. If so, I recommend founding enclaves as soon as diplomatic relations have been established, gradually build up a military presence to protect this world from aggressors. Once our forces are in place in sufficient strength we will claim it for the greater glory of Cardassia.

140