[Age of Mouldwarp]
Onward he ran, faster than he could ever remember running before. He had a purpose, and he supposed that was why he could. As a Mund, Mcquarrie was not predisposed to running fast, as any three-legged, ill-balanced species would be, but he certainly was now. It was awkward, it was precarious, but in its own way, it was almost graceful.
If you squinted very much or had been drinking some of the state liquor fairly hard. The rocky terrain was making it even more difficult to be swift about it, but Mcquarrie was overcoming that as well, throwing himself every now and then forward as if a puppet at the whim of a particularly nasty whelp. It was effective still, as the third leg find itself useful in overcoming the difference in these instances. The leaps might break his pace, but he wasn’t going to break a leg, or anything else, as long as he maintained the distance he enjoyed ahead of his pursuers. In comparison, they were having a considerable time of it, lacking the same motivation, which was to simply stay alive.
That wasn’t really the truth. Mcquarrie stood more a chance of dieing from landing wrong in one of his leaps than from being snagged by his pursuers and facing whatever they in store for him. This was no hostile activity, but rather a perverse form of recreation for the Mund population. To his delight, Mcquarrie found himself less and less interested everyday in continuing his role as the pursued, and thus he calculated that he would become the best at being pursued the Mund had ever experienced. He had motivation.
It was all about motivation, really. To continue appeasing their overseers in the Dominion, the Mund needed to amuse themselves, since a happy oppressed population is one that is still alive. Others had done far worse than to please the Vorta governors seemingly omnipresent in the Gamma Quadrant, or at least what citizens of the Dominion knew of the Gamma Quadrant. They also knew of two other quadrants, but only insomuch as that they had not become territory of the Dominion after a fierce campaign to change that some years ago. What they knew was as important as what they didn’t know, was the lesson every Mund was brought up to live by. Politics were simple as long as the Founders had been in charge, but now that the Vorta ruled the Dominion, life had become more complicated.
Mcquarrie had a choice ahead of him: to jump the small ravine or attempt to run around it, for seemed like a several mile detour? The chase would benefit from either choice, but if he missed the jump and landed in the ravine, he ran the risk of being captured quite early on in the pursuit, only three weeks into it. Fifty feet ahead, and he still could not decide. Thirty and he almost began to panic. Where would he like to be right now? At home, with his thirty children and twelve wives? On a cruise with his friends around the sentry moon? Fifteen feet and he kicked off with his third leg, flailing his two other legs furiously, reaching with his sinewy arms, his head remaining firmly in place, the benefit of having no neck and a hammer-shaped cranium.
With a thud he landed on the other side and nearly fell backward, but the third leg again rescued him from certain awkwardness. He sprang forward once more, without turning around to see how his pursuers would fare. Perhaps they would send their nets across and try to slow him down in the tangling mess that would ensue. No net came over his head, and he continued onward.
Hearing two awkward thuds behind him, then a third and a fourth, Mcquarrie knew that they had made the jump, no doubt with a little assistance from their emergency propulsion units. A voice rang loud and declared, "That’s enough." It was Lateen, the Vorta governor of Mund. Mcquarrie distinguished a certain amount of agitation in the utterance, which was soon followed up. "Three weeks, and a ravine still does not slow him? I am growing tired of his stamina. Take him away." Mcquarrie jogged to a still and felt several hands take hold of him. This was it.
There were thirty-eight government officials in the room, an oblong, rounded affair, in which Mcquarrie now found himself, and each of them were talking. All at the same time. And it was perfectly normal for the Mund. The general consensus of the incessant chatter was that Mcquarrie had set a poor example for a runner. He had not been the first, and even now his replacement was being prepped, but if you were to take the possibly emotionless criticisms of the several grades of officials surrounding him at the moment literally enough, you would leave with the impression that even the Great Carnaque, "Carnaque" being a Mund designation for a pitiful creature, who had twelve generations earlier failed in even starting the pursuit without his pursuers having to give him an artificial berth, was a better representative of the Mund spirit.
"The three-legged run need not be so graceless."
"It appeared that you were letting your pursuers advance on you."
"Do you possess a perverse need to feel a net’s snare upon you?"
"Had not the pursuers been confused by the coming mist, you might have been captured the very first week."
"Your skill with the third leg appears to border on the nil."
"My infant son would have known to avoid the Spiral Vineyard."
Mcquarrie would have never volunteered had he known his intuition would have come so dreadfully true. Then, he would have been observed through a thick covering of dirt at the Hanging Mausoleum had he not. It might have been a difficult choice, but he was no fool. The promise of relocation to the sentry moon Athan if he had won was enough to have convince him to take the risk and ignore the nagging consideration of later torment, not only from these officials but his twelve wives.
The moment he’d realized that the number of wives he had matched the number of generations past the Great Carnaque had competed in the pursuit, he’d known.
What he knew now was that the chatter from the officials would soon be over. There was the ritual mid-evening hopping to attend, after all. For a brief moment Mcquarrie wondered if he would see his family or friends again, not out of fear that he would be buried in the Hanging Mausoleum, but that he might be forced to lead the hopping, which in his predicament would include all of the post-ritual exercises, which had been known in the past to last some dozen decades. They had a way of entrancing the individual, so that by the end of the first decade he would be moved to a permanent location within the Spiral Vineyard, to become a permanent attraction for the spectacle-obsessed Vorta. It mildly annoyed him, but that was all.
The room he was still trapped in with the thirty-eight elected officials was decorated in doors. This was another consideration for Mcquarrie. Many of these doors were used to dispose of individuals as well. He certainly didn’t know where they led and he had never heard anything of them either. A vague feeling of absurdity came over him when he considered what his people had allowed themselves to become, or how little the Founders had to nudge them for the present result to have come about.
But the Mund were the Mund, as far as he was concerned. The officials soon left, and left him behind in the oblong room. He sat down quietly, arranging his three legs to the customary triangular position, two legs bending to meet each other while the third stood bent, with his arms resting over it. He waited for what had to be twelve days, a calculation that further amused him. When he was led to one of the doors on the far end, he didn’t struggle.
Once through the portal, Mcquarrie found a sort of prison, of which he had only heard rumors. Standing room only, and in this way he stood until some time passed and he was shifted towards the back. The chatter from these Mund during this time had mentioned a special kind of prisoner in the rear of this peculiar arrangement. Indeed, it was a member of a species from the Alpha Quadrant, one long held in awe by the Jem’Hadar. Mcquarrie fairly gawked, which would have been a humorous sight, but only for nonMund.
Starfleet Crewman Gird of the U.S.S. Copernicus made a face of his own in return, letting Mcquarrie know that the Klingon was not so pleased with the discovery as he was. This didn’t really bother Mcquarrie.
"Pleased to meet you," he said.
"I’m certain that I would share the sentiment," Gird said in reply. Mcquarrie considered this to be the first step forward he’d taken in a week.
What the Dominion wanted, the Dominion got. Lateen grew quite fond of the new runner, and Mcquarrie was never seen again. During this great absence, Mcquarrie spent some of it in captivity and most of it dead. At the moment, he was still alive, and still standing near Starfleet Crewman Gird in the containment room, as he’d learned it was called.
"Do you suppose we will have many other companions in here?" the Mund asked the Klingon.
"I find it best to not dwell on such things," Gird said. After a pause, "However, since I have been here, roughly twelve of your years, eleven months of my own, the population has doubled in size twice. Were we to remain here longer…The end result speaks for itself. Being a captive of the Mund is…a matter of endurance."
"Being a Mund in general is a matter of endurance," Mcquarrie said. Such a statement from any other species would have been stated with a gloomy quality in the speaker’s voice. Another species might have considered escape. "I suppose it’ll become crowded before long."
Gird remained silent.
There was ample lighting within the cell, and the company was amiable. You’d hardly suspect it to be what it was. Other Mund facilities featured such accommodation, but of course stopped short of inviting so many Mund in. It was not common for offworlders to appear in these cells, however. The Jem’Hadar had other places, other uses for them, but the end of the war had produced irregularities. Most were on worlds with membership in the Dominion, but some, like the one Gird had found himself in, occurred at checkpoint moons the Federation was busy developing. The Vorta didn’t approve of them, secretly, and frequently sent the Jem’Hadar for "inspections."
Gird bowed his head.
There was a periodic burst of light that swept the cell of matter Mcquarrie supposed was fickle. Had the regular lighting not begun dimming noticeably for him by his third month (Gird remarked that it had been blinding when he arrived), he might have picked up on another change taking place. His head was changing shape, rounding out, and his third leg…
All around him, there were two-legged Mund, the only such Mund that he was likely to have ever seen. Gird remained unaffected for the most part, aside from his hair falling out and his forehead slowly unwrinkling. There was another metamorphosis happening, and this involved ears. They were becoming quite prominent.
Another year passed, and there was less room to stand in. Mcquarrie still did not question his fate. Gird was unraveling, becoming agitated, as he had very seldom been during his lifetime, but there never was an incident. The light flashes continued, and none of the Mund noticed. Only Gird began to convulse.
Three years and the door opened. Mcquarrie and Gird had perished, not from being suffocated, but from being lost genetically. Mcquarrie was taken to the sentry moon and Gird was brought before a team of Federation scientists.
There had been a complication.
It was not something he heard very well, but here is what it was: "Remarkable." The speaker was likewise someone he was not at the moment familiar with. Julian Bashir, visiting from starbase Deep Space Nine, stood before him, examining an instrument in his hand. Had he needed to express himself, even that would be a source of conflict. Klingon or Vorta? He simply wasn’t sure, nor what to think of it. He felt as if he had been forced inside a room filled with cotton, a sensation he was certain he had never felt before. At the moment, he wasn’t even sure if he was standing or seated, or perhaps stretched across a flat surface. He couldn’t trust his eyes.
More words he could not comprehend: "His genetics have been altered at the cellular level, but there’s a complication in the DNA sequencing. That would account for the rapid degradation that is killing him, but what I can’t account for are the sequences that haven’t changed. It’s as if his body is fighting the manipulation."
Dr. Bashir was not talking to himself, an assumption Gird could not even come to himself, but rather to the crewman’s own physician, Sokor, who remained impassive to his colleague’s declarations.
The only thing Gird knew was that his mind was in turmoil, and this he had not experienced in a decade, since his last experience with genetic manipulation. There was a battle between two forces, two wills, and in the middle, a whispering voice kept his memory of Mcquarrie alive. It was the only memory he had, and as such it was consuming him. Soft moans emitted from his impaired mouth. The two doctors observed this, and had nothing to explain it.
An unintelligible thought: two blurs, whirling around and dashing at each other. This would look to the uncritical observer to symbolize the conflict inside Gird, but it was not, it was another memory. Unhinged, not something he’d witnessed, but a conviction, perhaps a mantra. It was hard to tell, and even if Gird had the slightest possibly of considering it, he could not tell either. Two blurs, in chaos, it seemed. Mcquarrie was a source of strength, but not consciously. Consciously, Gird was practically nonexistent.
More words he could not know: "Doctor, it is in the crewman’s best interests to move him immediately." The reply: "We may have lost him already. Regardless, I concur."
The difficulty would be securing Crewman Gird’s release from Dominion custody. By its law, Gird was now subject to it and not to the Federation. This was Lateen’s firmly held position, and Sokor was prepared to accept the logic of this stance. Bashir was not.
"Do you know, the very first species that attracted the Dominion’s attention from the…Alpha Quadrant…where the Klingons." Lateen was speaking to Mcquarrie, but it was a good bet that Mcquarrie was not paying attention. By the former Mund’s present inclination for pivoting every few minutes, movement which Lateen noticed by the scraping of Mcquarrie’s heal against the metallic flooring, the Vorta governor knew that his, what was he to be called? pupil had not yet settled in. The sessions to eradicate his former considerations were going to have to be sped up. Can’t have him lingering too long on inconsequential matters. "It was said that the Founders," here Lateen paused out of reverence, though it was uncertain how deep the reverence went, "saw a glimmer of what they had seen in the primitive Vorta. A sense of what really mattered in life." This is what Lateen wanted for Mcquarrie. "The only problem was, there was an aggressive streak, which the Founders deemed unnecessary. They already had the Jem’Hadar, you see.
"In their infinite wisdom, the Founders set themselves on the only reasonable course there was. They would…adapt…these Klingons." Such a process was not unheard of. The very program which had produced the facility Mcquarrie had been deposited in came from the fruit of early experimentation. When you engineered entire species, there was the temptation to go one step further, to transfer a body into something completely different. "Had the Klingons possessed a compatible temperament, it would have been infinitely simpler," Lateen sighed. "Of course, this is a happy failure. Who wants competition?"
It took little contemplation to see what he meant. With Klingons, engineered as they would be, now the Founders’ favorite puppet, the Vorta would find themselves in a diminished role, from the right hand to eating from that hand. It was not a pleasant thought for Lateen. "We have been using these facilities to further our own objective, while the Founders keep their council," he continued. "Since the cloning banks have been compromised, we had to find a new way to strengthen our numbers and consolidate our power. Mund is testing ground."
Mcquarrie still did not say a word, nor move in any sort of cooperative gesture, Lateen noted. Time was passing and it was being wasted. This was not to the governor’s great pleasure. He needed an assistant, on the occasion that it would be necessary. Vorta were normally quite independent, but these were not normal times. There was a conception of rebellion itching at the back of the Vorta mind. A need to rule the roost instead of administer it. When the Founders roused, there would be a new order.
"You are to be my adjutant. You should be proud," Lateen enthused. In a way, he fancied that this new breed of Vorta would replace the Cardassians. They fill that role, and have termination implants. Efficiency this time, no more unchecked treachery. "Not every member of the Dominion is so smiled upon. It is a privilege.
"Do you recall the Klingon who underwent the transformation with you?" he casually enquired. Mcquarrie reacted for the first time. "He is to be your proving ground. When we have secured him, you are to terminate him. He is a failed test, and failure…is not something the Vorta appreciate. Nor can we afford him to reveal more of our plans than we can now afford." Lateen was no fool. He knew that Mcquarrie wasn’t at this time ready, but he also knew that there were still negotiations to be had, to secure the Klingon in his hands. "What do you say?"
There was a long pause, in which Lateen once again noted Mcquarrie’s restlessness. "I understand," the former Mund said at last.
characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount