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Shaping a Cardassian

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  • Author
  • Toreth

    Shaping a Cardassian to projekt w trakcie tworzenia, jednakże dostepne rozdziały są już zakończonymi częściami i zmiany - poza kosmetycznymi - nie będą w nich wprowadzane.

    Podziękowania dla Nerys Ghemor z TrekBBS, która pozwoliła mi na wykorzystanie stworzonego przez nią języka karasjańskiego. Rangi Kardasjańskiej Gwardii oparłam na grach RPG. Część po wojnie z Dominion została częściowo oparta na świecie stworzonym przez Andrew Robinsona w jego powieści o Garaku "A Stitch in Time".

    Staram się trzymać kanonu serialowego, ale ignoruję większość kanonu beta, czyli książkowego.

    Gęby łuskowate można obejrzeć tutaj:

    Tyle tytułem wstępu. Zapraszam do czytania i 'jolalnie' uprzedzam, że to dość spora kniżka wychodzi, a do końca jeszcze daleko 😉

    Part 1

    As the twig is bent...

    The only choice

    2347 (2346)

    “Cadet,” commandant Girol's voice always intimidated Atira Darok, first year cadet of Military Preparation Academy, a school, which she attended to maximise her chances of getting to the Cardassian Military Academy. His voice was raspy and low; each time he spoke she had an impression the floor was vibrating. “It was brought to my attention that you have some problems with some of school subjects.”

    “Yes, sir,” she had to admit it was the truth.

    “Could you elaborate?” he asked, looking at her from under his scaly brows.

    “I... me...” she started forming a sentence in her mind, but realised she lacked necessary vocabulary. After a moment of fruitless thinking she gave up and closed her open for speaking mouth.

    “As I suspected,” he nodded his head knowingly. “You do not speak the Union language well, do you?”

    She shook her head. “No, sir.”

    “But you understand.”

    “Enough, sir.”

    “That explains why you are the quietest cadet in this school's history,” he smiled a weak smile, then rose. “Look, cadet, your tactical skills are too valuable to lose them because of such a trivial thing as a language. We have additional classes for cadets, whose command of the Union language is not as it should be. I will assign you to one of these classes.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    “Don't thank me yet. If you are not fluent by beginning of your first grade at the academy, you're out. Is that clear?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Good. Now, go back to your classroom.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Six months earlier

    Darok didn't believe it. It could not have happened. Not again! She left the house and her sister's whining behind and went toward desert's sands.

    It was a hot, dry day. She felt warm breeze on her face, and sun's rays; she could see the horizon through clear air. This beautiful day was the same as any other day of harsh, desert weather; but this day was marked with death, just as the other day last winter.

    Another child died. Another child suffered, because Cardassia was too dry, too hot and too poor to feed it. It wasn't just any child, it wasn't statistics. It was her sister's youngest. The little girl followed her not much older uncle – Atira's youngest brother.

    And that was not the end. If something wouldn't be done, another family member would starve to death.

    She roamed the desert; her initially shy idea was growing ripe and taking shape and after a few hours she knew what to do not to let anyone else to die. She just needed courage to tell her father about her plan. He would find a way to explain it to others. She quickly headed for the house.

    Old Vares Darok was sitting outside, sipping tea and looking at those few fruit trees, which grew near their house. One of trees died last year, the rest wasn't giving many fruits.

    “Dad,” she approached him. He looked at her, but said nothing. “Dad, I made a decision.”

    One of his eye ridges raised. She sat next to him.

    “I will go to serve in the Guard,” she announced. “I will work hard and send you money, and I will become a Gul and send you lots of food and you won't have to worry again.”

    He smiled; it was a sad, melancholic smile. He reached and stroke her cheek ridges with the back of his hand.

    “You always were brave, my girl,” he said. “It's very considerate of you to want to take care of your family, but I don't think it's a good idea.”

    “Why not?!”

    “It wouldn't be easy for you, you're a girl, and usually boys go to the academy. And you're a poor girl from province, not a noble born child from the capitol. They would mock you.”

    “So I'll prove them a good soldier is a smart soldier, not a rich one.”

    “And at the academy,” he continued, just as she hadn't said anything, “they speak the Union language. The same we listen to in broadcasts. Since you always liked watching broadcasts with me you understand the Union language well, but we never spoke it at home. You can't speak it.”

    “I'll learn,” her voice was full of resolve... and hope.

    He just shook his head.

    “Dad, Let me try. Just try. If I fail, I'll return here, but at least you'd have one mouth less to feed for a few of months.”

    “I'll talk to your mum about it.”

    “All right,” she smiled. “Want some more tea?” she asked, seeing his cup was already empty.

    Atira was in her room, listening to a podcast, repeating words, determined to learn the Union language as soon as possible. She heard knocking.

    “Come in.”

    It was her mother.

    “Your dad told me about your idea,” she said simply.

    Here we go, thought Atira. “Yes,” she replied slowly, awaiting what Lanita would say.

    “Are you sure you want this?”


    “Did you think it over? It's the first time I hear of it.”

    “Mum, I would be able to help you, all of you. My pay would...”

    “Atira, it is not about money,” her mother cut her off. “Our relations with the Federation get tensed and people say a war is going to break out soon. They could send you to fight and to die. Do you understand it?” The girl didn't have an immediate reply. “It is going to be hard, because you're a girl, a scientific career would be more appropriate,” Lanita continued.

    “You don't want me to go,” Atira said bitterly.

    “No, it's not that. I would be very proud of you if you'd make a career as an officer. It would mean prestige for you. And a better life. And a distinguished service to Cardassia.”


    “But you have to really want it. You would never make a good officer if you'd follow only your pay, and being a mediocre officer is below your skills and intelligence. You need to put your heart into it.”

    “So you don't think I can do it...” it wasn't a question, she was stating a fact in a resigned tone, lowering her head.

    “No, you don't listen to me,” her mother said. “I want you to think it over. Give it a few days, sleep it over. And then make a decision, all right?”

    “All right,” the girl nodded.

    “Remember about the glory, but also remember about the sorrow. Remember you may serve Cardassia with your life, but don't forget you might have to give your life for it,” she paused. “Here,” Lanita handed her a holoimage. “This is your great grandfather. I am sure he would be happy if you'd choose to follow in his steps, as neither my father nor I did.”

    There was a tall, lanky male in the picture. He wore an armour, his face was showing pride and dignity. Could she ever look like this?

    Her mother left her room and she heard her steps leading downstairs.

    She stayed sitting on her bed, listening to the podcast and looking at her great grandfather for a long, long time. She had no idea her family had any military history. She found this revelation intriguing.

    The other half of her heart

    2352 (2348 - 2350)

    She waited, pacing the corridor in the hospital back and forth. So many hours and doctors still didn't tell them anything.

    She glanced at his mother; the Cardassian woman cried. Darok felt slight irritation, she thought crying was like giving up on him, like acknowledging he was already dead.

    She still could hear whistling in her ear, but was ignoring it. It was not important. He was important. His life was important.

    Finally a doctor left the operation room. Everyone ran to him, but he waved them away, searching for something. “Are you Cadet Darok?” he asked, looking at the young Cardassian female. She nodded. “He wants to see you. And only you!” he added louder, seeing others were ready to demand letting them in too.

    She followed the doctor. He was laying in a bed, his skin light grey. He opened his eyes when he heard them entering.

    “Atira, come here,” he said quietly. She noticed the doctor left. “I... I will not be able...” his voice faded and he didn't finish the sentence.

    She sat on a stool next to his bed.

    “Don't speak, you need to rest,” she said.

    “No, this is too important,” he said with difficulty. “They didn't save my leg. I will not be able to fulfil my dream. My career is no more.”

    “You will do something else,” she interjected.

    “I relieve you of your word,” he said.

    “What?!” she was shocked.

    “You do not need to keep your word,” he repeated. “I will not be an officer, I will be someone insignificant. You don't have to stay with me.”

    “Shut up,” she said softly. “I don't care of you were a Gul or a worker. I care about you, not your job and I want to be with you, not with your job.”

    He looked at her. “Are you sure?”

    “Don't you even dare to ask again,” she made a serious, threatening face, but her heart was breaking, seeing his suffering. “Just tell me this one thing.”

    “What?” he whispered. He was clearly getting weaker.

    “Why didn't you beam out when the fighter showed first signs of malfunction?” she asked.

    “We couldn't let it fall on people. These types of fighters weren't equipped with automatic pilots. We had to stay to change the course away from the audience.”

    She grabbed his hand and squeezed. He was the bravest and best man she had ever met. She was proud of him.

    “How could you think I would want to break our vows,” she whispered.

    He smiled and closed his eyes. His breathing levelled and after a few minutes he was sleeping. She looked at the bed; the sheet was thin and she could clearly see his silhouette under it. He was slender, tall man. His long leg was reaching end of the bed. The other leg was ending just under his knee. She felt almost physical pain. She would take his suffering on herself if she could. She wished she could...

    Four years earlier

    Darok swept all pads to the floor, frustrated. So that was it. The end. Time to start packing. She failed her family, she failed herself.

    “Seems like you need some help,” said a voice above her head. She looked up from the floor, from which she was picking up pads she had just swept off.

    “I don't need help,” she picked up the last pad and rose, “see?”

    “I didn't mean the mess,” he smiled. He was tall, handsome and his voice was smooth like a balm. “I meant the reason of the mess.” His eye ridges were oval and slightly slanted above his eyes, like hers; was he from Nokar too?

    “I don't go after,” she answered.

    “The correct expression is 'I don't follow',” he smiled.

    Yes, his voice was smooth and his Union language had a perfect, Lakat area's accent. He was not from Nokar.

    “I have some free time, so if you'd like to improve your Unionese, we could meet several times a week to talk. You would talk, I would correct.”

    “Why would you do this?” she asked suspiciously. He just smiled. She considered his offer for a while and then nodded. “It's a deal.” Whatever his motives were, she had a lot to gain.

    “My name is Joret Jarol.”

    “Atira Darok.”

    They agreed to meet each evening to have conversation on various subjects. To make it easier for her, Jarol was preparing subjects of their discussions parallel to her classes, so that she could practice required vocabulary and grammar structures. He was patiently correcting all her mistakes and mispronunciations, never getting irritated when she was repeating the same error over and over again.

    This time their subject was food; Jarol decided to talk about food over food, so they went to have a dinner together. Darok thought they were going to one of academy canteens, but Jarol had other plans.

    He took her to a small, but very pleasant restaurant. She had never been in such a place before: it was quiet, walls were decorated with flowers, and all tables, except one, were occupied. They were led to the empty one.

    Darok realised that in spite of living near the city for so many months, she haven't actually been to the urban area. All her life she had been living in a village, visiting a nearby town a few times each year, but that was all. She had never been to a big city, and now she was so busy with her academic duties she didn't find time to sightsee Lakat.

    And now here she was, in this wonderful restaurant, among those beautiful people, with this handsome man... Wait, don't let your thoughts go too far, he wanted to help you, he was friendly, but don't fall in love with him, because he surely doesn't fall in love with you. Why would he? He was an educated, big city boy, and you were a peasant, who didn't even speak Unionese well.

    “Jarol, can I ask you a question?” she asked after he ordered their food. He nodded. “I was wondering. You clearly look like a Nokarian, how come you speak natively Unionese?”

    “My parents left Nokar when my brother and I were very young,” he replied. “All my younger siblings were born here, in Lakat.”

    “Why did they leave Nokar?”

    “They wanted better lives for us, their children. After those series of droughts forty years ago all their land became desert and there was no way for them to be able to support whole family. So everyone packed and we moved.”

    “Yes, those draughts ruined my family too, but no one ever spoke of moving out. My father loved our land. I don't think he would like a big city.”

    “I understand,” he nodded. “My maternal grandparents returned to Nokar. They hated it here.”

    “Have you been to other cities too?” she asked.

    “I have been to Lakarian City and also off planet, once.”

    “Really?” her eyes opened wide. “Where?”

    “It was a planet our military was preparing to annex to the Union. There were aliens living there. Strange creatures, no ridges, their necks were like tubes, they lacked scales... Really weird,” he stopped, as their food arrived. “And what shocked me most was how much they were wasting. Food, for example. They weren't always finishing their food, leaving it on plates and then disposing of it. They were throwing it out!” he said in dismay.

    “Throwing out food??!” she was shocked. “You mean... you mean they wasted food?”

    “Yes. Barbaric, isn't it?”

    She nodded.

    “Actually, there were many goods they didn't appreciate having,” he continued. “I can't even imagine how many things were wasted, because of their lack of respect for riches of their world. We can't allow such behaviour. Spoiled children need to be taught, so we need to teach them how to properly allocate resources.”

    “How long have you been there?” she asked.

    “Only a few weeks. It was a training mission.”

    She was impressed. If he was chosen for an off world training mission from the academy, then he had to be really promising material for an officer and he had to have a sponsor. She was getting even more astonished he even talked to her.

    “Atira,” he said. She looked at him, it was the first time he called her by her given name. “Would you like to try home cooking next time?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “My family would like to meet you,” he said.

    “Would they?” this was an evening of surprises.

    “Yes, I told them about you and they'd like to see you, to talk to you. There aren't many Nokarians here and...” he smiled sheepishly, “I like you.”

    He... He... He... liked her.

    Suddenly she realised it wasn't just a language practice dinner.

    Darok left the room, relieved it was over. She strolled down the corridor, when Jarol appeared in her way.

    “How did it go?” he asked.

    “I passed,” she replied dismissively.

    “Could you elaborate?” he smiled.

    “Well,” she stopped. “The professor said I was well prepared technically.”


    “But... I put no heart into it.”

    “Ah,” he smiled knowingly.

    “What's that supposed to mean?” she attacked.

    “I noticed that too. I don't know what was or is your incentive to join the Guard, but it seems to differ from average reasons most of us have.”

    She didn't reply.

    “Atira...” he started, but hesitated.

    “Why did you join?” she asked him.

    “Because I have dreamt of service on a warship since I was a child. I had never had any other plans, other dreams. Just this one.”


    He shrugged. “I don't know why. It's just how it is,” he paused. “Why did you choose it?”

    “To run from poverty and starvation,” she replied honestly.

    “Nothing more?”

    “Sometimes... sometimes I try to think that I follow my great grandfather, but everyday duties are far from any glory I imagine he had experienced.”

    Jarol smiled. “Yes, it can be dull sometimes, but don't let it discourage you. Glory will come too.”

    “If you say so...” she muttered, unconvinced.

    “Do you have time tonight? We could talk about it more... over a dinner?”

    “I have sentry duty tonight.”

    “Tomorrow then?”

    “Tomorrow is fine.”

    “Great, see you tomorrow at our place then.”

    She nodded. He smiled. They pressed palms and he left. And just then Darok realised he came here only to ask her about her examination. She looked after him, his slim, tall figure, jet black hair falling on the ridges on the back of his neck and felt a warm wave in her heart. Her mood improved significantly.

    They met the next evening, and another one after that. They talked about their plans for the future. First they were telling each other about their respective plans, but with time, without them realising it, these plans started entwining. Darok's visits to Jarol's house and dining with his family became more frequent, then more regular to become a routine: every ten days they both were going to spend an afternoon at his family house.

    They also talked about their duty to Cardassia. Sometimes Darok felt like she was cut off the rest of the world in her little house on a desert. There were so many things she didn't understand, didn't know, never heard about. She was a provincial girl and she could not understand why he liked spending time with her, how come there was anything to talk about with him. He claimed he found her point of view refreshing, but she was sure he was only polite.

    They argued often, challenging each other's opinions and tastes. Darok was happy, when she managed to win their arguments and have the last word.

    She still had two years left, when it was his time to pass final exams and start his new life as a real officer.

    “Now, that you leave, I will have no one to make sure I pass all my exams,” she said.

    They were sitting outside main academy building. It was sunset, the sky was gaining dark colours and stars were becoming visible.

    “Yes, after my graduation all your friends will leave you and you won't have anyone to talk to,” he nodded, mocking a serious face expression.

    “How about failing the Final Flight?” she asked.

    “I'll consider this idea,” he laughed. “Atira,” his mood became genuinely serious. “I wanted... I don't know where they send me to. I don't know if I am going to stay on Cardassia, or be assigned to a warship. But I know one thing. When I get back home, I want you to be there, waiting for me.”

    “I would.”

    “You don't understand. I don't just mean you being here. I mean you being my home... I...” he grabbed her hand. “I have rehearsed it so many times and forgot all I wanted to say.”

    “What are you trying to say?” she asked.

    “Atira, I want to be with you. For good and for bad. I want to know that when I go back home, I go back to you. To you and our children...”

    “Joret... Joret...” she was looking at him wide eyed.

    “Yes? Yes?” he looked at her with hope in his eyes.

    “Yes! Yes!” she squizzed his hand. “And by the time I graduate you'd better be a Glen at least, or I'm not talking to you!”

    “What? You'd be a Dja only!”

    “That's right. And as a self-respecting Dja I won't listen to anyone of lower rank than a Glen,” she smiled viciously.

    “I see,” he said slowly. “Well then, to make sure you speak to me I am going to make a Gul by then. What do you say on that?”

    “Perfect. Then you get the right to decide where I would be assigned.”

    “As far from me as possible,” he said, nodding his head.

    “Oh, yeah?”


    “I hate you!”

    “I know, that's why you have to be assigned to far edges of Gamma Quadrant.”

    “With you in Beta.”

    “That's right, on the other side of the Klingon Empire.”

    “What if they send you to the war?” she asked, getting serious.

    “Then I'll do all I can to survive to destroy as many Federations as I could.”

    “You know it's not what I mean.”

    “I know. But I don't intend to spend time worrying about things I can't change, things that didn't happen yet and may never happen.”

    “You one of the best in the Academy, you're going to get one of best assignments available for fresh Djas these days.”

    The Final Flight was spectacular each year. Darok experienced them only twice so far, but she'd been told they were like that year after a year. This one, however, was special for her. This time she would really cheer for the participants. One in particular.

    The Final Flight was a great honour; only the best graduates were chosen to participate and only the best could manage to keep the high level of the show. Darok's love, Darok's betrothed, was one of the best and she was proud of him more than if she were chosen herself to participate.

    She knew his family would be somewhere, as all families were invited, but she was in cadets' sector and couldn't spot them from her place.

    It was a beautiful day, almost no clouds and the sun was warming the air pleasantly. Perfect for an air show.

    A gong silenced all voices and commandant Girok stepped into a small platform.

    “Welcome,” he started, his voice amplified by speaker system, “to the Final Flight show. The Final Flight is an old tradition, reaching times before Cardassians started exploring space and created the Union; union of planets, colonies and friends. The Final Flight proves skills of our best pilots, our best officers-to-be, our best men.

    “Today you will see seven old-fashioned fighters, two pilots each. They will present their piloting skills and battling skills. This is their final test and final task. This is the last time they do it for fun. Next time they will make decisions, next time they will pilot a Hideki class fighter or steer a Galor class warship, it will be for real. Not for me, their commandant, not for you, their families, but for Cardassia, their home.”

    Everyone cheered. He silenced the crowd raising his hand and then said: “Let the show begin!”

    The cheering was louder than before.

    Girok left the podium, which was immediately removed, and all eyes were directed toward the old-fashioned hangar, from which the fighters were expected to emerge. A few moments later three did, but no sign of remaining four. The three fighters flew over cadets' heads and just then Darok noticed the other four closing from distance. She knew Jarol would be in a fighter with yellow markings. As the four fighters closed she spotted yellow lines on one of them. Her eyes were rarely leaving it since.

    First the fighters simulated a battle. Their manoeuvring skills were impressive. Then they engaged into a show of figures and patterns. Some of them seemed really difficult and dangerous, and each time they were successfully accomplished the audience cheered.

    Darok found the design of the fighters interesting. They looked a lot like Hideki class vessels, but were longer and their fronts were curved more; they looked like stretched Hideki.

    Two of the fighters had just finished a difficult trick, when one of them started having some sort of problems. Its flight wasn't as even as before. A few seconds later the vessel started to fall, followed by a thick trace of dark smoke. Darok stopped breathing when she realised the fighter with problems had yellow markings. She hoped Jarol and his co-pilot would beam out on time. It was standard safety procedure to program pilots' commwrists to beam them out to safety with one touch in case of an old fighter's failure.

    The fighter was falling directly at the audience. People started to move away in panic, but there were too many of them to clear the area on time.

    Suddenly the fighter changed its falling direction slightly, but visibly and away from the audience. Darok was glancing at the transported platform, but no one was materialising there. The fighter was almost reaching the ground. They were touching tops of trees, sliding on them and finally disappearing behind them. She looked at the platform again. No none beamed and she heard a noise of crash, which caused a whistling and ringing in her ears.

    She, along lots of other cadets, started to run toward the crash site.

    Why didn't he beam out? she was wondering, running.

    She was one of the first on the site. A few medics were already there, presumably beamed in to be there and help as quickly as possible. One medic was covering a body, two other were leaning over another.

    “NO!” she cried, running to the body. She raised the sheet to look at his face, but it wasn't Jarol. She felt a mixture of relief and guilt; relief, because it wasn't her love; guilt, because this young man didn't deserve to die and someone would suffer his loss, while she was glad it wasn't going to be her.

    She ran to the other cadet and pushed her way between others, who gathered around him, to see him.

    The medics were tending to his wounds; he was still alive, although it was clear even to her he was in bad shape. His body was battered and his armour caked with blood.

    “Three to beam to the infirmary,” said one of the medics.

    “Take me with you,” she asked.

    Both medics looked at each other and then the ranking one said: “We can't,” and they disappeared in orange light.

    She sat on the ground, hiding her face in her hands.

    Demoting promotion

    2368 (2368)

    This first thing was smell. Foul, unpleasant. Atira Jarol felt a strong temptation to turn back

    and return to the Hideki that brought her to this appalling place.

    Is this supposed to be the next step in her career? She had been told her transfer was a result

    of her distinguished service and she had been requested by the station's commander himself,

    but why in heavens would someone wish her so badly to bring her here? She rubbed her nose

    and stepped out of the airlock.

    “Ah, Gil Jarol,” the voice startled her at first, as she did not expect anyone to greet her upon

    her arrival. “It is a real pleasure to meet you. I am Gul Dukat, station's commander. I hope

    your journey was pleasant.”

    So it's you, who brought me here, she thought, but was wise enough not to say it out loud.

    “The journey was fine, thank you,” she replied instead. She tried to smile, but the smell

    twisted her smile into an ugly grimace.

    “Your belongings will be taken to your new quarters, however I am afraid you cannot rest as

    yet. There are some... rules you need to know before you can explore the station,” he


    “That is all right, I am not tired. A Hideki is such a small vessel all I could do was sit all the

    way here. I am rested,” she lied. In fact all she wanted was a bed and a good, long sleep.

    “Splendid!” he seemed genuinely happy. She could not resist his smile and smiled back, this

    time without grimaces.

    “You were saying about rules,” she said in a neutral tone. “Are they different from any other

    Cardassian post?”

    “Indeed they are. This is not an ordinary military installation, Gil. There are some...” he raised

    his hand and inclined his head a little bit, looking for right words, “security precautions you

    need to follow for your own safety.”

    “For my safety from what?”


    She abruptly stopped. “You mean the workers pose a threat?” she asked raising her eye ridges

    in astonishment.

    “Not exactly. Ordinary Bajorans are benign, it is terrorists you should worry about.”

    “I understand,” she said, but she didn't. How did I land here? she wondered. “Gul Dukat, why

    exactly did you request my presence here?”

    “You have successfully solved the situation on Izarha, I hope you can use your diplomatic skills

    here, on Bajor.”

    Six months earlier

    “How dare you stealing our tools!” Ondracek stormed into the tent, yelling and apparently

    headed for the Gul's temporary office. Jarol quickly got up from behind her mobile console and

    stood in his way.

    “You cannot enter!” she said as loudly as she could to be heard over the Terran's voice, but not

    crossing the line of shouting herself.

    “You steal our tools!”

    “We do not do such a thing,” she replied calmly.

    “A troop of Cardassian soldiers entered our warehouse and took almost everything.”

    “It was necessary to acquire more tools, yes, but by no means were they stolen,” she answered.

    “And how do you call it?!”

    “A loan. Your officials have approved lending us tools.”

    Ondracek found no words, obviously surprised.

    “Officials? Lending?” he looked at her suspiciously.

    “Correct. Our settlers...”

    “We told you not to bring any Cardassians here!”

    “We do not need your permission,” her voice changed its tone from friendly to menacing. ”It is going to be a Cardassian world soon, and we can settle here.”

    “We live here! It's a Federation world! We are here and we don't go anywhere!! We live here!”

    “No one is denying that,” she tried to stay calm not to add oil to his heated cries. “However this planet is rich and fertile. Cardassian settlers will help our homeworld, providing food and other resources. We need it more than you, so we have priority to use the mentioned tools.”

    She smiled friendly, albeit insincerely. “I'm sure you understand that.”

    The Terran stared at her for a while, clenching his fists. “This planet belongs to the Federation. You have no right to be here.”

    “According to the treaty, this planet will be Cardassian,” she replied flatly.

    “Treaty is not signed yet! This is not your world.”

    “The treaty talks are in progress, true. But fate of this place has already been decided. We cannot waste time. The decision was made, this practically is a Cardassian Union territory.”

    “It's not over yet,” he hissed, turned and left the tent.

    Jarol returned to her chair and sat with a sigh. Terrans were so troublesome.

    Gul Envek left his office. He liked calling it “office”, but in fact it was just another tent, which

    entrance was connected with the... “lobby”? in which she had to sit.

    “Is he gone?” he asked, looking around.

    “He is,” she answered, not raising her head from her console.

    “I could hear him in my office. Those people are so annoying.”

    “At least we manage to keep them in line.”

    “Yes, yes. You handled him very well,” he nodded.

    She ignored him. Her opinion of Gul Envek was so low she didn't even bother to pretend respect. His lack of reaction to that deepened her despise even more. If not her, the Terrans would have overtaken the Temporary Cardassian Overseer Office long time ago.

    “I will be aboard the ship if you need me,” he said and headed for the exit.

    She didn't even acknowledge him. It wasn't the first, and surely not the last time he left “the office” before his office hours passed and it was time to go. He was a lazy, fat creature, who didn't like to work, but liked to party. He was quick to organise celebrations for any success his crew had worked hard to achieve. They were buried with work, he was awarded with medals.

    Another message arrived, a general communiqué from Cardassia. She opened it and started reading.

    Now this was an interesting thing. They were changing the armours. For whole Guard. She opened the attached file with graphic content. It contained a holoimage of a soldier wearing the new design. Interesting. Seemed more comfortable than the angular, edgy armour

    currently worn by the military. And there was no head piece this time. She smiled – no need to

    wear anything on her head meant she could start doing something with her hair, instead of dull

    braids day after day. Men, especially military men, had to follow the state instructions

    regarding their appearance, but she never read anything applying to women. Of course

    civilians had their freedom, but she was not a civilian. No one minded her make-up, so no one

    should mind her hairdo. She wondered when she would get the new armour.

    She shook her head and returned to work. She needed to finish equipment register tonight and

    she still had a lot of information to set in order. The list of next group colonists, who were yet

    to come, was being updated all the time, some of volunteers resigning, some being added; all

    of this made her work harder, as she had to keep track of all these changes and instantly apply

    them to her planning. Dull and unrewarding assignment.

    She was so deeply concentrated on her work that she didn't hear the noises outside at first.

    Only when the commotion got closer to her tent, she realised there was something happening

    there. She got up and went outside to see what was the cause of all that commotion.

    She saw a group of people. Terrans. And they didn't look very friendly. And she was all alone


    “What is this?” she asked, but no one paid any attention to her. Finally Ondracek came out of

    the crowd and silenced them. Then he addressed Jarol: “We want you to take your Cardassians

    and leave.”

    “Or what?” she challenged him.

    New murmur started and threatened to become another havoc.

    “Or we will force them out!” shouted back Ondracek.


    He had no answer for a moment and then he replied: “We will make them go away.”

    “And how will they leave? As soon as our business here is finished, we leave. Cardassian

    colonists are on another continent, without long range vessels. Do you expect them to fly away

    through vacuum?”

    It was her idea to place Cardassians far from Terrans. She had explained to Envek that it would

    be best to keep them apart, at least for the time being, and he readily agreed. He had decided

    that she was best qualified to continue that job and left her in charge. That's why she had to

    sit here and deal with Terrans.

    Her words clearly surprised Ondracek. “You mean... they won't come to take our homes?”

    “Of course not. First of all this climat is too cold for them,” and for me, she thought. “Second –

    there is enough land for everyone, it's a big planet.”

    “So why do they need our tools?”

    “Because they don't have their own, that's why.”

    “Why didn't they bring their own?”

    “I don't know that,” she said, admitting to herself that it was a valid question. The transport

    ship had been dispatched to deliver the colonists, and after transporting them to the surface it

    left immediately. She didn't know who planned that operation, but her opinion of his logistic

    planning was less than flattering.

    “I tell you what, Ondracek,” she said after a moment of silence, “I'll take you to the Cardassian

    colonists and you can tell them yourself to give you back your tools and leave your planet. How

    about that?”

    “That's some kind of a trick,” he eyed her suspiciously.

    “No tricks,” she raised her hands, open palms toward him. “I'll take you to them, you'll talk

    and I'll bring you back here.”

    “She'll kill you!” someone in the crowd shouted.

    “You can take two friends with you,” she said.

    “I'll think about it,” he replied after a moment of hesitation. “I'll give you my answer


    “She'll kill you!” the same voice from the crowd.

    “Nothing would happen to you, I give you my word,” she said.

    “Your word...” the voice was full of disdain.

    “Shut up, Honza!” Ondracek barked toward the unseen man. “We will consider your offer and let you know tomorrow.”

    “Agreed,” she replied and returned to her tent, listening attentively to the sounds from outside

    to make sure they would disperse, not attack her.

    A comm woke Jarol up. “Yes, what is it?” she asked in a raspy voice, not yet fully awake.

    “Sorry to disturb you, Glen, before your shift starts, but there is a comm for you from Izarha.

    It's the Terrans.”

    “Give me five minutes and then put them through.”

    She got up and tied her hair to give it at least appearance of tidiness, then put some nondescript cloak over her body – for some reason she felt uncomfortable not wearing an armour in front of aliens – as there wasn't enough time to put on the armour.

    “Jarol, I accept your offer. We will talk to those Cardassians today. I will take two friends with

    me and we're going there armed.”

    She considered the last statement for a moment. “I will shoot you were you stand if you attack

    the colonists without provocation,” she warned.

    “Fair enough. When do we go?”

    “I have some matters to attend to before I can beam down. Let's say... one hour.”

    “Fine, we'll be waiting by your tents.”

    She disconnected.

    She wasn't sure it was such a good idea to let them carry weapons, but she knew refusing

    would make any cooperation impossible, ironically. She didn't trust them, they didn't trust her

    and most likely it was the only thing they could agree on.

    They waited for her outside her tent, as they had said. There were two men and one woman.

    Jarol have learned to recognise Ondracek, but all other ridgeless faces were all alike to her.

    She was glad she could tell who was a man and who was a woman.

    “Can we go?” Ondracek asked, not even bothering to introduce his companions. Not that Jarol

    minded; she didn't care for their names.

    She tapped her wristcomm. “Garesh, beam us to colonists settlement, four people.”

    They dissolved in orange light to reappear in new surroundings. It was clearly warmer there

    and the humidity was higher. They were on a hill with the settlement in front of them downhill.

    She moved downhill. The woman whispered something to Ondracek and he nodded.

    “A problem?” Jarol asked.

    “No, not at all,” he replied. “On the contrary,” he added and -surprisingly – smiled.

    She led them downhill and then asked to stop. “I will warn the settlers they have...” she didn't

    finish, as a man approached them.

    “I am Dazar,” he said. “I represent our group,” he added. Jarol guessed he spotted them

    walking toward the settlement and went to greet them.

    “Glen Jarol,” she said. “These are Federation colonists, who live here and they would like to talk to you.”

    “What about?” he eyed the Terrans suspiciously.

    “That you will have to ask them.”

    The Cardassian hesitated for a moment and said: “First I'd like to ask you something,” he addressed Jarol.

    “What is it?”

    “When will we get more resources? This,” he motioned his hand, pointing to the settlement, “is

    all we have. Yes, you have sent us some tools, but we have little materials to use the tools for.

    How are we supposed to start new life here,” he was getting more agitated with each word, “if

    we have nothing.”

    “Dazar,” she started, but he cut her off.

    “No, no. Before you say anything, please take a look.”

    She nodded and followed him, waving to Federation citizens to join them.

    She expected Dazar to describe everything, but he didn't speak. She just walk behind him, observing.

    The first thing she noticed was housing. No, 'housing' was too big word. Settlers seemed to live

    in shelters, built from stones, wood and mud. There were fires or remains of fires outside

    each... cottage? Shelter? Hole in the ground? A woman was cradling an infant in her arms,

    another was cooking a meal over a fire.

    “Where is your equipment?” Jarol asked Dazar.

    “What equipment?” he looked at her. Bitterness in his voice was obvious.

    Jarol noticed the Terran woman was whispering something to Ondracek's ear again, but before

    she had time to ask, she noticed something else.

    A Cardassian woman, middle aged, was walking toward them fast. She was clearly agitated.

    She stopped in front of the Glen and attacked her: “How do you suppose we can live like that?!

    How are we...”

    “Matzar, she can't understand you,” Dazar interrupted her and then spoke to Jarol. “We are

    under pressure, a little bit nervous, so...”

    The officer raised her hand to silence him. The woman he called Matzar spoke one of Nokar's

    dialects. Jarol was from another part of the continent, so her dialect was a little bit different,

    but she still understood her and hoped Matzar would also understand what the Glen wanted to


    “I don't know much about your situation,” she said, surprising all Cardassians within ear shot,

    as she spoke in Nokarian language. “I was given instructions to deliver what you need from the

    Federation colonists.”

    “And you never bothered to come here and ask what we needed,” the woman said, but her

    tone was calmer than before.

    “I am here now,” Jarol looked around.

    They stood between shelters, and all eyes were at them. Sad eyes looking at her from

    desperate faces.

    And just then it started to sink in. These people had nothing. They had no materials to build

    their new homes. No replicators to make their food quickly and tidily.

    “Didn't you bring anything with you?” she asked quietly in Nokarian.

    “The truth is, Glen, we'd been told to take most necessary belongings, documents and nothing

    more. Then we had been taken to a ship and brought here and beamed down with a few boxes

    of basic equipment. We have to hunt our food, dig our homes and soon will have to skin wild

    beasts to have clothes, when these are worn out.”

    “Jarol, can we talk?” Ondracek spoke.

    Dazar moved away, and Jarol went closer to the Terrans.

    “We won't take out our tools back... for now,” he said.

    “Why the change?”

    “These people are desperate. They have nothing, they were forced here, they lost everything

    and they are scared...”

    “Aren't you exaggerating?” she asked him quietly.

    “No, he isn't,” the woman spoke. “I am a Betazoid. Petr asked me to come here to see if your

    intentions were sincere. And what I see in their minds is horrible. We will help them, because

    we don't believe anyone deserves such treatment, especially from their own government.”

    Then Jarol understood. These settlers were not volunteers. They were forced to relocate. Nokar

    used to be a farmland, but forty-fifty years ago a series of droughts year after year changed

    the fertile – for Cardassian standards – land to a desert. These people were farmers without

    farms, so they were taken to a place where the soil was fertile and where they could produce

    food for their people. But no one asked them if they wanted to go. Her long conversations with

    her husband thought her that the good of many outweigh the good of a few or one, and she

    agreed with that in general, but... but she knew what her own familiy's reaction to such

    resettlement would be like. Their land was sand and dunes, and a few dying fruit trees, but

    they lived there for generations. Her father wouldn't want to leave. These men here were like

    her father. These people here were like her family.

    And she could not help them.

    “We will also give them materials to build better shelters,” Ondracek said.

    “They can repay when they can spare some materials,” the Betazoid added.

    “Why would you do it?” Jarol asked.

    “Because we have hearts,” the Terran replied.

    “Fenkyoo,” Jarol phonetically attempted to use the Terran word, not sure it resembled the

    correct pronunciation well enough to be understood by Federants.

    Ondracek patted her shoulder and smiled. “Take us home,” he said.

    “Give me a minute,” she asked and looked around to find Dazar. He was talking to another

    settler nearby; she went toward them. “The Terrans will help you by providing resources and

    equipment. You will pay back when you can,” she knew this condition was only a show; the

    Cardassians had to feel like doing business, not accepting charity; they were proud people,

    even if desperate and in difficult situation. “I will make a full report, describing situation here

    in detail.”

    “I don't think your report would change anything, but we will accept their help. And assure

    them we will give everything back.”

    “I will,” she nodded.

    The group of four gathered together and then beamed out back to the Federation colonists'


    This is a great success!” Envek seemed happy with her report. “You solved the situation,

    Terrans are not protesting, all is fine.”

    “What about settlers' needs?” she asked.

    “Oh,” he was puzzled for a moment. “I'm sure they will get help from Cardassia soon,” he said


    And she was sure neither he, not anyone else would do anything for these people down there

    on Izarha.

    “I was summoned to report,” she said, standing in front of Envek's desk.

    “Yes. Well, this is sad moment for me and happy for you.”

    You're dying? she thought. “Meaning?” she asked.

    “Your exceptional service and diplomatic skills didn't go unnoticed. Your solution to our difficult

    situation here proved your skills and these very skills are needed elsewhere.”

    A transfer then. Envek was right: that indeed made her happy.

    “You are being promoted to the rank of Gil and granted three weeks of shore leave on

    Cardassia Prime. After that you are going to report to a mining station orbiting one of our

    subjugated worlds, Bajor. Their Prefect personally requested your transfer to go under his

    command. I have no power to stop that.”

    Fool, thought Jarol. Who would admit he is weak and powerless? True, he was a Gul on a

    forgotten planet in the future Demilitarised Zone, but he should at least try to cover that fact.

    Admitting it so openly was only lowering his already insignificant status within the military. She

    despised him and was genuinely glad she was leaving. Not even promised three weeks with

    her family were making her happier than the thought she would not return under his command

    after that. Whoever would be her new Gul, he couldn't be worse.

    A mother and a wife

    2368 (2368)

    “I can't accept this!” Dukat threw the pad on his desk.

    Jarol was standing on the other side of the desk, her face unreadable, her back straight, her eyes shining. She didn't say anything. She had brought her proposition for new approach to Bajoran problem. It was clear Gul Dukat wasn't happy with her ideas.

    “I understand how you feel...”

    “No, you don't,” she interrupted him; her voice was calm, but there was a menacing tone hidden deeply under an artificial indifference.

    He ignored her insolence and left it uncommented. “But it doesn't justify such a change,” he finished, as she didn't speak at all.

    Her stance didn't change, she kept staring directly in front of her, not moving, seemed like not breathing.

    “Dismissed,” he said quietly.

    Her eyes shifted to his face. They stared at each other in silence and then she took the pad from his desk and left his office.

    Four weeks earlier

    Jarol's sadness was enormous. How could that be? She understood the needs of the service, but wasn't the service demanding a little too much from her? Intellectually she understood the reasoning behind the refusal, but her heart ached. She missed her family and there was nothing she could do about it, nothing she wanted to do about it.

    She activated her screen again and read the message one more time. Cardassia Prime was too far and the journey would take too much time, added to her absence on the station, which was

    unacceptable. This was not a good time, as the terrorism on Bajor was spreading and more Cardassian lives were in danger. She had a job to do and it was not done yet. An argument following another argument. She couldn't dismiss any of them, but she didn't expect her request for shore leave would be refused right away. Didn't she deserve some time off? Was she really that important to the station? Couldn't they survive a few days without her?

    A chime to her door interrupted her reverie. “Come in,” she said, raising her eyes to see who was her visitor. Not many other officers had any business here, so not many were coming.

    It was Glinn Demok, she could see him through glass door before he entered. He was smiling. Actually, he was always smiling. She has never met anyone, who was always in good mood, who could always find something to be happy about, who could almost always improve moods of those around him.

    “Gil, I have a good news for you,” he said, handing her a pad.

    “I don't think anything would be good news for me today,” she muttered, taking the pad, but not activating it.

    “Oh, I think this would be. Maybe because it's something regarding the bad news.”

    “So now everyone knows about my shore leave request?”

    “Well, not everyone. But the right person does, so the right person made a right decision. You must understand he refused your request for numerous reasons, but he still understands you need to be with your family.”

    “His understanding doesn't help.”

    “Oh, but it does! Just read the content of the pad. There are your current orders there and it includes a special permission, regarding your refused request. Just scroll to the last item on the list.”

    She activated the pad, then entered the last item and started reading. She didn't have to go to the end to know what an important message it carried. She looked up at Demok.

    “Anything else?” she asked him smiling, while his own smile got wider.

    “No, I just wanted to see your face brightening up,” he replied, nodded and then left the office.

    “What is it?” asked Kotrel.

    “We need to work on our last project, seems like some of our proposals are difficult or impossible to implement,” she answered.

    “I mean the last item.”

    “This is not of your concern,” she replied. “This is not related to our duties,” she added. She had no intention of sharing her private matters with the Garesh.

    Dja Evral approacher Jarol's desk and leaned toward her. “So? What is it? Is it really good news?”

    She glanced at him and smiled. “I am still not allowed to leave Terok Nor to visit my family, but Gul Dukat allowed my family to come here and visit me. The only condition is to take appropriate security precautions to ensure their safety. Any bodyguard I need would be

    provided, but I would have to pay for this. I would have to restrict them to safe parts of the station and keep away from Bajoran sector. Which I would anyway,” her face brightened. “Can you imagine? I'm going to see my children! And my husband! They can come here for whole week, that's even longer than I asked for my own shore leave!”

    “I'm happy for you,” Evral smiled. “I know how much you miss them. When was the last time you've seen them?”

    “A few months ago, but for young children it's eternity,” she said. “I'm not even sure my son remembers me.”

    “Way too long. You deserved it.”

    “All right, let's get back to work,” she waved him away. “Our schedule for today is quite busy.”

    She felt new energy coming to her. She loved her job again.

    She wasn't fond of those meetings. She preferred to pass her reports to be read, instead of presenting them in person. It was safer in case of problems, and was leaving written trace in case of success. But Gul Dukat liked to drag his officers to discuss things and that included those lower ranking ones, like herself.

    So she was sitting among other, equally bored, people, listening to long, dragging reports which had nothing to do with her tasks.

    “Gil Jarol,” it directed her attention toward the Prefect, “I have noticed that our attempts to improve living conditions of our Bajoran workers did no bring expected results.”

    “Well, that is correct. My plans to improve their productivity failed.”

    “Why don't they work?” demanded Dukat. “You'd made it work in case of Federation colonists on that planet.”

    “There is a significant difference between planet Izarha and this one,” she started explaining.

    Dukat was just another Gul, who thought that one solution could be applied to everything.

    “Colonists cooperated. Reluctantly, but it was possible to talk to them. These people, Bajorans, don't even listen. How can I tell them to work with us, if they dismiss literally everything we say?”

    “Some of them cooperate,” he noted.

    “True, but Bajorans can be divided to four groups: those, who work for us, because they chose to; those, who work, because they are scared; those, who work, because they have no choice; and those, who don't.

    “All four groups are useless. Group one consists of opportunists, who are driven either by greed or by conformism, or by both. They can switch sides as soon as someone else offers them more. Group two is driven by fear and fear is no loyalty at all. Once they feel secure for

    whatever reason, they're gone. In addition fear is not a good incentive for a productive worker. Which leads us to group three, which is similar to group two, just more defiant. Obviously fear

    was not enough to convince them to work, so force had to. That force means presence of Cardassian overseers, who could be used elsewhere. I don't think I have to elaborate uselessness of group four.”

    “What are our options to change the situation?” asked Dukat.

    Jarol didn't like what she had to tell him. “I am not sure we have any. The resource gathering process started many years ago and many mistakes had been made. Some of them are unrepairable.”

    “How about better organised camps?” asked Glinn Demok.

    “Like Gallitep?” Jarol replied with a questions, shaking her head. “Is a hungry, beaten worker productive? It's exactly that kind of treatment that led to birth of that resistance movement of theirs.”

    Demok fell silent. She knew his attitude toward Bajorans.

    “We have raised their food rations, did that help to improve the situation?” asked Dukat.

    Jarol didn't know how to answer that. She was aware of the situation in her department, but

    she wasn't sure Dukat really wanted to know. He must have noticed her hesitation, since he added: “The truth, Gil, all of it.”

    “The truth is, Gul Dukat, that Bajorans hardly ever see any of those additional rations,” she admitted.

    “Why?” his voice darkened.

    “The food is being expedited, but it gets... lost on the way,” she should have said 'stolen', but didn't dare accusing fellow Cardassians, even those corrupted ones, in front of all these officers

    in the room.

    “Such a situation cannot happen again,” he said.

    “Yes, sir,” she replied, knowing very well there was nothing she could do, unless she'd personally looked over each and every soldier's shoulder. Dukat's use of singular form of the noun didn't go unnoticed too. For nth time she wondered if he really cared or it all was just for a show.

    “What is our productivity?” Dukat directed the question to Demok.

    The Glinn started describing the situation, which, Jarol knew, meant she was off the hook. For a moment at least.

    The meeting had come to an end and Jarol was ready to leave, when Dukat stopped her. His smile, present on his face during the meeting, disappeared.

    “I want a full report on your progress or lack of your progress. Tomorrow. Dismissed.”

    There was nothing she could say. She nodded her acknowledgement and left the room. How could she tell him he gave her impossible task? Bajorans would never wilfully cooperate with

    Cardassians, not after forty years of occupation. There were too many matters that negatively impacted any possibility of a dialogue.

    He believed she could fix it. He thought that she was some kind of magician, who made it work on Izarha, so she could make it work here. But Izarha was a planet inhabited by humans, not

    Bajorans, which fell under Cardassian rule only recently and not much harm had been done. Humans didn't have an infinite list of Cardassian mistakes to point out. She could make them listen. She listened to them. They pitied poor Cardassian settlers. Bajorans didn't say anything except for insults.

    Dukat didn't understand her success on Izarha wasn't a result of her skills, but of lucky circumstances. And she had to tell him she couldn't copy that success here, but he didn't listen. She dreaded presenting the report the next day.

    Jarol welcomed the time to go off duty happily. After a sleepless night, caused by the prospect

    of another difficult conversation with Gul Dukat, she was exhausted. She was glad her relief

    was ready to take the station in ops; she nodded to him by way of greeting and stood up.

    “Have a nice evening,” he said when she directed her steps toward the lift.

    “Wait!” she heard Demok's voice. She stopped and waited, expecting him to give her some additional orders, but he caught up with her. He stepped into the lift, turned and looked at her expectantly, obviously waiting her to join him. And so she did.

    “Join me at Quark's,” he said, when they were out of ops. “You deserve a drink today. Actually you deserve a lot of drinks.”

    “Why?” she glanced at him.

    “After your ordeal with the Prefect you must be either pissed off or resigned,” he said.

    “I just had a report to present, that's all,” she said, trying not to think about it.

    “A report that he had a hard time accepting.”

    “How could you know?”

    “Oh, everyone, who was in ops at that time, knows.” She gave him and asking look. “That door to his office doesn't keep sounds in as well as he thinks,” he explained.

    “You mean... every officer in ops heard that?” her eyes opened wide.

    “That's right. That's why I was delegated to buy you a drink. You have our support,” he patted her on the shoulder.

    “Oh,” was all she could say.

    “So?” he looked at her. “Are you up to it?”

    “Do you pay for all my drinks or just the first one?”

    “All of them,” he smiled.

    “Then let's go. Just promise me you won't let me do anything shameful.”

    “You have my word,” he raised his hand.

    They arrived to the Ferengi's bar and Demok led her to one of already occupied tables. She looked at gathered faces; she had never drank with station's brass before.

    She didn't sit down yet, when her glass of kanar was put in front of her.

    “For making your day a little better,” said Demok.

    They all raised their glasses and she smiled weakly.

    “Do you do this every time he yells at someone?” she asked.

    “No, only when he yells at someone, who didn't deserve it.”

    “For some mysterious reason he is especially mean when it's not your fault. When you are guilty of a mistake, he's more forgiving.”

    “And the show today suggests that what you had to tell him was his fault.”

    She nodded. That one was true for sure.

    “He gives me impossible tasks, doesn't listen to my warnings it wouldn't work, and then says with that attitude I don't make it work,” she complained.

    “Don't worry, just drink your kanar.”

    She raised her glass. “How's your wife?” she asked Glinn Jotrel, knowing he got married not long time ago.

    His face brightened. “Actually she is expecting,” he said.

    They all cheered.

    “It's your first I presume?” she asked; he nodded.

    “Do you have any children?” he asked her, after taking a sip of his kanar.

    “Two, and girl and a boy.”

    They chatted about their families, passions, sorrows, even hard times at school. Stories from home felt refreshing to Jarol and she wondered if the senior staff were doing it often. She did see them at Quark's from time to time, but never noticed them laughing as it was now.

    The more they drank, the bolder their subjects were. Del started complaining about his wife,

    who he believed had an affair. Demok admitted he hated the station, but his request for

    transfer was refused. The mood was getting grimmer and grimmer, until Jotrel proposed

    change of subject, which all happily accepted.

    “Did you know,” he started, “that Dukat has a new one?”

    “A new one? Which is it this year?” Demok slowly shook his head; the kanar was clearly getting to him, as his eyes lost their typical sharpness.

    “I lost count...”

    “He's got a new what?” Jarol was not in the loop.

    “Mistress,” they all said almost in unison.

    “A w... what?” she opened her eyes wider. She felt power of kanar too.

    “A mistress.”

    “Who is it?” she couldn't imagine, which of women could that be, could do it to her family and as far as she knew all female Cardassians were either married or soon to be married.

    “I don't know her name,” Jotrel shrugged. “Who would bother to memorise those strange names... surnames first?”

    “You... you...” she stammered, but it was not just kanar, it was astonishment. “You mean it's a... Bajoran?!”

    “You didn't know?” Demok leaned toward her, his armour squeaking. She shook her head.

    “I knew they were bringing those poor women and abuse them, but...” she stopped. All those officers here outranked her and it was very possible some of them used comfort women. She shouldn't say too much, regardless what she thought of these things. Or rather especially because of what she thought.

    “He changes them often,” Demok explained. “I don't know what he sees in these plain, ridgeless faces of theirs,” he shrugged.

    “That's disgusting,” she said, before she managed to stop herself.

    They all nodded, but she was sure that whatever they agreed with, it wasn't what she meant.

    She could not imagine herself being dragged out of her home and forced to be a comfort

    woman. It was the most barbaric, low and appalling thing and she kept refusing that good men

    would use women, Bajorans or no Bajorans, as tools in that manner. Gul Dukat lost many

    points of respect on her scale.

    “I must go,” she stood up.

    “Already?” Dusat seemed disappointed. “Don't, we enjoy a female company.”

    “I had a bad day and sleepless night. I need rest to face a... happy day tomorrow,” she finished, pulling her face.

    “I'll see you off,” Demok rose and almost immediately fell.

    “You're in no condition to see yourself off,” she laughed. “You better get beamed to your quarters.”

    They all laughed loudly. She could hear their laughter behind the bar's door.

    She walked slowly. It was late and the promenade wasn't as crowdy as during the day. It was also quieter. Even the Bajoran sector was calmer.

    She was only a few steps from the lift, when she heard sobbing. She looked around, but didn't

    see anyone. There was some commotion on the Bajoran side, but it was too loud there for the

    sobbing to reach her ears here.

    There it was again. Jarol stopped, trying to determine where it came from. She kept listening

    until she heard it again. She made a few steps toward the spot she thought it came from and

    stopped again, waiting for another sound.

    Sob again and then explosion into a full blown crying. Child's crying. The sound was coming

    from behind stacked packets. She went there to see a small figure curled in a tight corner. The

    child raised his head and she saw eyes wide open with terror and a wrinkled nose.

    “Are you lost?” she asked him. Louder crying was his answer. He pulled his arms toward her, so

    she picked him up. He couldn't be older than three. “Where is your mommy?” she asked, but

    he nestled his face into her armour and kept sobbing.

    She went toward the fence, dividing the promenade to Cardassian and Bajoran sections.

    “Hey!” she called, trying to be lauder than ongoing commotion, but not too loud to additionally startle the boy.

    “Kamar!” a Bajoran woman shouted.

    Suddenly Jarol understood the reason of the chaos on the other side of the fence – they were looking for the boy. She nodded to the soldier on duty to open the gate and went to the other side to hand the child to his mother. “He must have walked to the Cardassian side and after the gate was closed he couldn't return,” she guessed.

    The Bajoran woman eyed her distrustfully, turning away to shield the boy, like she expected the Cardassian officer to tear him back out of her arms. Jarol turned and left the Bajoran sector, headed for the lift.

    “Wait!” she heard behind her. She stopped and turned. Thank you, the Bajoran woman expressed her gratitude soundlessly, just moving her lips without actually speaking. Jarol nodded, smiled slightly and headed for the lift.

    “How's work?” Jarol asked her husband after their first supper on Terok Nor.

    He and the children arrived earlier that day. Corat tried to tell her about all wonderful things

    he'd seen on the way to the station, Mayel brought one of her artworks with her to show to her

    mother. They were so excited they didn't feel any fatigue and it was very late when their

    parents managed to put them to their beds to sleep.

    Now the officer was sitting with her love and finishing their late supper.

    “Dull,” he answered honestly.

    “Oh, come on, it can't be so bad...” she smiled.

    “It's dull, that's a fact. But I didn't say it was bad. It gives me stability and I have plenty of

    time for our children,” he tried to fake a cheerful tone, but in spite of a smile on his face there

    was no joy in his eyes.

    “You should live my life and I should have a cosy position in Ministry of War,” she said grimly.

    “No, no,” he shook his head with passion. “I am proud of you,” he said. “And so are our children. Corat wants to be a soldier, like his mom. I tell them all about you, about your wonderful Final Flight manoeuvre, about your promotions...” he smiled, genuinely this time.

    “Each evening they ask for new stories about their mommy and when I have no new stories to tell them, they choose a story already told to be re-told. I think... no, I am sure my mother is sick with those stories after listening to them so many times, but children never get tired of

    them. They keep asking for more.”

    “Do they?” she smiled.

    “In their eyes, you are a hero.”

    “In my eyes, you are the hero.”

    “How about new armours?” he asked, eyeing her uniform thrown on a sofa behind her. “Are

    they better than the last design?”

    “Depends. They are surely more comfortable, don't limit your movements, like the old ones

    sometimes did, but... they are damn heavier. I got used to it already, but I remember...” she couldn't stop and laughed quietly, “my shock, when I put it on the first time.”

    “I suppose wearing civilian clothes makes me luckier,” he took a sip of fish juice.

    They ate slowly, telling each other how they were doing, and arguing amicably from time to time. Corat and Mayel slept in her bedroom and Atira checked on them several times during the evening. Not that she worried there was any danger in the bedroom; she just couldn't

    resist the need to go and stare at them, at their innocent faces covered with delicate ridges. Her daughter's patterns were resembling Joret's, but Corat's face was more like her own, he

    also inherited her blue eyes, while Joret and Mayel were looking at the world with two black shining diamonds.

    Their days were passing quickly. Dukat allowed her to leave duty two hours earlier each day of

    their seven-day stay if she would stay two hours longer for next seven days. She took the offer

    and had more time to be with them than initially expected.

    She stared at the empty space. Intellectually she knew there were debris, really fine due to quite effective explosives, but she did not want to accept it. She could not think there were tiny pieces of her family, drifting in emptiness, spreading farther and farther. Soon there would be nothing left. Nothing.

    Corat's smile, his innocent, round eyes; he used his cute little face to manipulate her. He knew he could achieve everything with just a twitch of a face muscle. It was enough to look at her and she ran to him to ask what he wanted. He used to come to her and ask if she could tell him a story. She ran out of stories, but he didn't mind hearing any of them multiple times. He just wanted stories. Later, when her service took her away from home, he turned to his sister

    for stories. Mayel was better than her, Mayel was making stories, so no story was the same. He didn't have to listen to the same story ever again.

    What would she do now? Who would she ask for advice? Who could she complain to about hardships of her career? Who would take her into his arms and not see her as weak?

    Her head was full of thoughts, then full of realisation and in the end completely empty. As empty as the space on the other side of the bulkhead, where a Hideki should be, headed for Cardassia. Only remains of her family left.

    There were sounds around her, but she was barely aware of them. She knew there were people behind her, maybe even speaking to her, but none of them was of consequence. None were important. This was just her job, just business; her life was destroyed on that vessel.


    She was aware someone was behind her, but it took her a while to realise one of those

    surrounding her sounds was directed to her.

    “Atira”, the voice repeated. There was no one on this station close to her to have a right to call her by her given name. The only person, who could do that, was here temporarily, and he just

    left to never reach their home.


    She turned and looked into her commanding officer's face. It was expressing sadness and sympathy.

    “Atira, I...” his voice trailed off, “I am so sorry...”

    “Did you see it?” she asked whispering, feeling tears gathering in her eyes for the first time since these eyes saw that... that... saw this...

    “No,” he shook his head. “I was in my office.”

    “How come you got here so fast?” she asked, her voice breaking down.

    “You have been standing here for over an hour,” he explained. “No one could take you away from here, but I don't think it's a good idea to stay here either.”

    “You didn't see it...” she whispered.

    He approacher her, grabbed her elbow and gently pulled. “I'll take you to your quarters.”

    Her empty quarters. So empty. Still filled her their odours, unclean dishes left after the last meal, maybe some forgotten... toy...

    She let him pull her to her cabin. She was vaguely aware of crying in Dukat's arms, she wasn't sure if there weren't also Demok's arms to cry into. Someone was bringing her food or trying

    to convince her to eat. She didn't want to eat, she wanted to die.

    She was in service. If Bajorans hated Cardassians, they should have hated her; she was here.

    She wore an armour and carried a disruptor. It was all her fault, she wanted to see them so desperately she brought them here, in spite of danger. And they paid the price for her selfishness.

    But no, these wrinkle-nose monsters didn't care who they were killing, as long as it were Cardassians. They must be proud of themselves, their target was surely worth it. What an impact, Cardassia is ruined: two young children and one clerk. A deadly blow for sure!

    Her quarters' door opened and Glinn Demok entered. She looked up at him; she saw he carried a tray with food.

    “Oh, I'm so sorry,” he looked at her a little startled, “I know I should have chimed first, but for last ten hours you hadn't reacted to that, so we stopped doing it,” he explained himself.

    She kept staring at him. He knitted his eye ridges and put the tray on the table next to her.

    “Thank you,” she said weakly. Her voice was rough and coarse.

    “You're welcome,” he answered. “How do you feel?”


    He sat opposite her. “If you need anything let me know.”

    “You can't give me what I need,” she said, thinking about her family.

    “We will find responsible people, you can be sure of that,” he said, raising.

    “Uhm,” she muttered under her breath.

    “Try to eat, you need to eat,” he said softly and left.

    Those in command are not always right

    2372 (2372)

    “You have an incoming transmission,” said the computer.

    Jarol growled. “You have an incoming transmission,” repeated the computer.

    Must be good news, since such always come in the middle of the night. She reluctantly got up and approached the comm panel.

    “I'm sorry to wake you on such an ungodly hour, but I have a proposition for you,” Legate... no, wait... Gul Dukat's face was looking at her from the screen.

    “You may not know, but I am not an officer in demand right now,” she said. And neither are you, she added in her thoughts. Actually, when to think of it, they were a good match.

    “And you may not find any good post any time soon, I know,” he voiced her fears. “So I have a proposal you shouldn't refuse.”

    “A proposal, or an order?” she asked.

    He smiled. “A proposal. It isn't a dream post or a dream ship, but it is a step leading you back to your previous glory.”

    My or your glory? crossed her mind, but then she thought it didn't really matter, if the glory were shared.

    “What is that proposal exactly?” she asked.

    “Join my crew. We are currently quite short handed and could use skilful officers. I'm in command of a... freighter,” he almost spat out the last word.

    She thought of it for a moment. She was waiting for her new assignment, and while serving on a freighter was no honour, her next assignment might occur to be a lot worse; actually there was a serious threat that it might be charges and facing the Tribunal, not another assignment. The new civilian government supported her decision to protect civilians on Adarak Prime, so Central Command – what was left of it – could not execute her for defying her Gul's orders, but her case was still unresolved. Her only satisfaction was that the rest of the crew didn't let him do as he planned and he was relieved of duty in the end.

    “I accept,” she simply said.

    “I send you coordinates and time schedule. Be ready, you will report aboard as soon as your new orders are approved.”

    “Yes, sir,” she answered and he disconnected. “Splendid,” she muttered to herself.

    Three months earlier

    “Another bird-of-prey decloaking starboard!” Jarol tried to be loud enough for Gul Ahal to hear her, but wasn't sure it was possible in the noise of exploding bulkheads and consoles. She saw he said something, but didn't hear word; he probably cursed under his breath. Then he turned to her.

    “Shields' status!”

    She glanced at her console and gave him her report; he ordered to face the newly decloaked ship with the strongest shield. Not that it would make much difference, as all shields were almost equally weak.

    “We need to retreat,” she suggested, “sir”, she added after he turned to look at her. His eyes were throwing thunders at her, so she lowered hers and looked back at her console.

    The ship had been attacked by two Klingon birds-of prey. Cardassian Union Warship Saset had been on her way to Foskal system, where they were supposed to meet with a small fleet of transport vessels and escort them to one of colonies near newly formed DMZ. Jarol had welcomed a break from battles. She'd thought it would be a nice change to protect someone from danger and be their hero. However the fate planned it differently. They hadn't managed to get as far as Foskal when Klingons attacked. They managed to take down one of the aggressors, but not before their torpedo launchers were crippled. With only disruptor their effectiveness diminished and their tactical advantage over the small Klingon vessel was gone, evening the odds. It became a fight of equal bumps and shakes, testing sturdiness of both ships. Constant attacks were unnerving: the noise, the shaking, the smoke filling the bridge – it was all frustrating Jarol, who tried to regain the advantage the Galor had had. With the other Klingon ship appearing their chances were slim to none.

    “Incoming volley of torpedoes from both Klingon ships!” she shouted, watching on her console in horror small red dots, which were quickly closing to their ship. “Brace for impact!” she grabbed her console and prepared for the hit.

    The torpedoes' strike was worse than she expected. In spite of her preparation she was almost knocked out of her chair. Something exploded behind her.

    “Hull breaches all over the ship!” she heard chief engineer's voice. “Warp drive is off...” she couldn't hear rest of his report, as another explosion covered his voice. She felt, not heard, a thud behind her.

    “Report!” the Gul shouted over the noise. He was getting up from the floor and getting back to his seat.

    Someone ran toward the engineering console behind Jarol. She looked back to see Kosut thrashing on the floor in a pool of blood. She tapped her comm: “We need a medic!” she shouted. She crouched by Kosut, noticing the pool of blood was quickly expanding. He was missing an arm and open wound was bleeding profusely. She looked around to find something to stop the bleeding, but there was nothing.

    “Tactical report!” Gul Ahal demanded. “Jarol, back to your post!!”

    She waved to another officer to take care of Kosut. “Try to stop his bleeding,” she told him, then rose and looked at her console. “Birds-of-prey coming for another attack!” she shouted over the noise. “Their weapons are fully charged.”

    “Do we still have shields?” he asked.


    He stood and made a step toward the screen. “Tactical, fire at the weaker ship as long as you can,” she nodded acknowledgement, even though he was turned to her with his back and couldn't see it. “Helm,” he continued, “collision course with the stronger ship. Ram them!!”

    No one opposed. Jarol heard a few officers shouting “For Cardassia!” She prepared for death, hoping they would destroy the Klingon ship and take all filthy monsters with them.

    She thought of her dead family and glanced one last time at her console, before closing her eyes and preparing to join her children. Then she opened the eyes to re-examine the tactical reading, as she thought she'd seen something.

    “Sir, two Galor class warships coming out of warp!” she shouted.

    “Evasive, evasive!” roared Ahal and helm immediately executed.

    “We're receiving orders to withdraw,” communications reported.

    “Do it, we're in no shape to fight, we'd just stand in the way,” answered Ahal.

    Jarol looked back at Kosut. He wasn't thrashing on the floor any more, so she assumed his status improved. She sat on the floor and asked the soldier, who attended to the engineer: “How is he?”

    He just shook his head in reply.

    She lowered her head. She knew Kosut wasn't the only casualty, she didn't dare to think how many others died this day. Instead of escorting a convoy they were being dragged on a tractor beam to the nearest dry dock. Some heroes, she thought bitterly.

    She helped to carry bodies to the cargo bay. They kept regular, lower deck soldiers separated from officers – Ahal's order. He believed officers would mind laying next to regular crew. Jarol believed it was idiotic, but no one asked her.

    One of last bodies brought was Kosut. She waited until everyone left the cargo and sat on the floor next to his body. Kosut was a good officer, a great talent and it was his skill that kept the ship in working order, even after all fighting they had to endure. He also was the only one who spoke to her, really spoke, not just issued orders, insulted or mocked.

    Since her disgrace and two-year reprimand, entered into her files by Gul Dukat four years ago, her service was a long, sad duty under the worst officer she had even seen in her life. His servant was smarter than him; he at least could think ahead, an ability completely alien to Gul Ahal. He had absolutely no regard for his own crew. She started as delta shift tactical officer and now was alpha. No, he didn't promote her, if it depended on him he would shoot her where she stood once she had been assigned to his ship. His bad, bad, bad commanding style filled this very cargo with many bodies many times before, including all other tactical officers, who served with her. She was the last one.

    She looked at Kosut's body. He was a good man. He worked hard to climb up the ladder of career, he was experienced and always ready to share his ideas and offer advices. He was the only one on this ship, who cared to ask what she had done to deserve her reprimand, which virtually stopped her career in place. The reprimand was supposed to be in effect for two years only, but Ahal was not a forgiving man – he never trusted her and never gave her a chance to prove herself.

    Kosut tried to convince her that her reprimand was unfair, but in this case she didn't agree with him: she hadn't secure her family's safety and they'd lost their lives because of her negligence. Gul Dukat had every right to enter the reprimand and she felt he was lenient; if she were in his place she would demote such an officer and leave permanent reprimand in his file. She failed her family. She wasn't welcome in Joret's parents' house any more and her own sister didn't speak to her. As it should be. Her egoism brought death to them, and she deserved the worst.

    However Kosut had told her she was punishing herself enough and didn't need anything more. She believed no adequate punishment was possible.

    Was that what life would give her? Would everyone, who she cared for, die? Would she spend her life as a mediocre officer, on a mediocre ship, under a poor Gul?

    “We have new orders,” Ahal announced.

    Whole senior staff was in the briefing room, including Jarol. Ahal sneered at her when she entered, but neither he not she had any choice; until he got crew reinforcements, they had to work together.

    “How are repairs?” the Gul demanded.

    “Progressing,” replied Gil Rabok, Kosut's aide and now chief engineer. “We still are in bad shape. We're good enough to fend off an attack and run away, but no good for offensive action. I advise avoiding any Klingon squadrons for the time being.”

    “We are no cowards, we will not run,” Ahal barked.

    Of course not, we will all be blown up to Bajoran heavens instead, thought Jarol bitterly.

    “Can we fight one bird-of-prey?” Ahal asked Rabok.


    “I don't like this answer. Tomorrow night we have to be ready to destroy such a ship.”

    “I'm not sure it's pos...”

    “I don't want to hear excuses!”

    Rabok silenced, biting his lower lip.

    “Jarol, you are to prepare poison.”

    “A what? Sir...”

    “Poison. We are going to eliminate Klingons poisoning them. Or any other way of releasing some kind of weapon, toxic substance, a virus, I don't know, it's your job to design it.”

    “Sir, I am not a science off...”

    “You're a woman, you will design the substance to work.”


    “Shut up! Don't discuss it with me, get it done!”

    Wonderful, she was to do something she had no idea about.

    “What is the target, conditions?”

    “We are going to eliminate Klingons, who have taken one of our border colonies. Most of their fleet left the area, leaving only one small ship behind, plus the boarding party on the planet.”

    “Which colony is it?” a Glinn, whose name she didn't know, asked. Another replacement of another dead officer.

    “Adarak Prime,” answered Ahal.

    Jarol's heart rate raised. “Sir, this is an inhabited world,” she said.


    “You want to release a toxic substance to eliminate Klingons, but it is close to impossible to develop something that would be harmful for the enemy and harmless for our own.”

    “Oh,” he thought for a moment. “I didn't even think it was possible to develop such a substance. Can you do it harmless for Cardassians?”

    She wasn't even sure she could make it at all. “Such a task would require lots of time.”

    “We don't have time. Work with our science department. You are in charge.”

    Wonderful. He thinks badly of her as an officer, but is sure she's a great scientists to pull a rabbit out of her hat, while in fact she was everything but a scientist.

    “But sir, we can't kill our own citizens,” she protested.

    “We have to eliminate Klingons.”

    “Not this way, not at such cost.”

    “I have to agree with Gil Jarol,” Ahal's aide supported her. “We are to protect our people from Klingon threat, not to kill them in the process.”

    “Did I ask for your opinion?” Ahal shot him a hostile glance.

    “No, sir, but I will express it anyway.”

    “I wouldn't advise defying me, Glinn.”

    “Sir, I will try to bring the ship back to fighting condition to defeat the Klingon the traditional way,” offered Rabok.

    “You just said there's not enough time.”

    “Lives of Cardassians down on the planet will be additional incentive to speed up our work.”

    “Do you mean you could do it faster, but were too lazy?” Ahal twisted everything, as always.

    “No, sir, I...”

    “You will speed up the repairs and we will destroy the bird-of-prey faster, then we will release the poison to the atmosphere.”

    “Sir,” someone else spoke, but Ahal rose.

    “Not another word from anyone. These are our orders.”

    “Our orders are to kill all Cardassians on Adarak Prime?” Jarol muttered.

    “You're out of line,” Ahal made a step toward her.

    “I will notify Central Command of your actions here,” she looked him in the eyes.

    “If your report is going to be full or grammar errors, as your tactical reports are, I doubt they would understand,” he barked back.

    Someone laughed at the table.

    “My language problems are not an issue here,” she retorted.

    “You will develop the poison,” he said, his tone menacing.

    “I am not a scientist, I'm a tactician.”

    “You are a woman.”

    “This,” she pointed to the blue colour in her inverted drop on her forehead, “doesn't make me a scientist.”

    “Fine, then prepare a plan of bombardment. We will kill everything on this planet one way of the other.”

    “Sir, we can't bomb thousands of our citizens just to kill a few hundred Klingons,” Robok protested.

    “What is this?” Ahal looked around. “Detapa counsil at work? I don't ask for your opinions. I issue you orders and you are to execute them. Is that clear?”

    “I can't murder our own people,” Jarol rose. “This would be disgrace.”

    “You know everything about disgrace,” Ahal smiled madly. “I should know better than put you in charge of this task. Robok, you will design a plan for bombardment.”


    “Not another word! These are your orders!”

    “Sir, I...”

    “We can't shoot at our own!” Jarol's mouth and lungs cooperated in creating a shout, before her brain stopped them.

    “You defy me?” Ahal approached her; he stood so close their noses almost touched.

    “No, sir, but I am sure there must be another way to accomplish our mission.”

    “No one wants you to be sure of anything. No one asks you to think,” he hissed. His breath smelled badly.

    “No one expects a Cardassian ship to kill all inhabitants of a Cardassian world,” she growled.

    “How dare you! You will never get a chance to be assigned to a warship,” Ahal yelled furiously. “Never!”

    “At least I don't have to worry to be under your lousy command again!” she yelled back before she stopped herself. A lot of officers looked at her astonished.

    “Dismissed,” somehow he managed to lower his voice to a hiss.

    She left the briefing room, striding proudly toward the door. She was too angry to realise her career was over and most likely she was going to be executed.

    A good engineer's worth his weight in latinum

    2373 (2372)

    Glinn Jarol glanced at her commender's office door and saw him throw a padd at the bulkhead, shattering it into pieces. She knew Gul Corak had just talked to – now powerless – Central Command, requesting reinforcements, and his mood was clearly indicating he didn't get what he wanted. Maybe it was a good moment to talk to him. In spite of his fury he might be most receptive to it right now, and Roumar, a Galor class warship dealing with the Maquis, needed crew more than any other day, especially engineers.

    No risk, no gain, she thought and went upstairs, stopping in front of the doors. The doors parted and it was a sign she could enter.

    “You know, how am I suppose to fight terrorists and be affective, if my ship lacks almost a quarter of crew?” he shouted, getting up and started pacing behind his desk.

    “Won't they send anyone?” she asked standing on the other side of the desk, following him with her eyes.

    “They will. Fresh graduates. What will I do with a ship full of freshmen? It's not a training mission, it's a real war with ruthless enemy!”

    “I might have a suggestion for an experienced officer,” she said slowly.

    He stopped pacing and looked at her.

    “Do you?”

    She nodded.

    “Go on,” he sat in his chair, not inviting her to do the same on the other side of the desk.

    “There is a very experienced and talented engineer, who currently is without assignment. He does not only know Cardassian systems well, but also Klingon.”

    “That sounds tempting. And why exactly is this magician without a job?”

    “Several months ago he went through a traumatic event, and it left some scars not only on his face, but also on his soul.”

    “Ah, another poor man who lost his mind?”

    “Sir, I believe all he needs is to start serving Cardassia again, to have a purpose and goal in his life. With no assignment coming he feels useless, which deepens his disturbed state.”

    “Can you vouch for him?”

    “I will be responsible for him, yes.”

    “Fine, Jarol. What is the name of this unfairly neglected officer?”

    “Brenok, Kara Arenn Brenok.”

    Eight months earlier

    Gil Jarol entered the mess hall of Cardassian freighter Groumall under Gul Dukat's command, went to the replicator, ordered a soup and looked around. It seemed all of seats were taken. The freighter's crew wasn't numerous, but obviously too many for such a small mess hall still. She was just about to take her soup to her quarters and eat it there, when she noticed a hand, raised and waving clearly to her. It belonged to the helm (or was he tactical?) officer. What was his name?

    She headed to his table, smiling slightly. Ah, Damar. Glinn Damar.

    “Glinn,” she said by the way of greeting and then sat. “Thanks.”

    “No problem,” he nodded and continued his meal.

    They ate in silence for a while and then he asked: “So how do you enjoy your new assignment?”

    She gave him an asking look. There was a smile crawling on his face, so obviously it was supposed to be a joke. She didn't find it funny; she had found her new posting totally inadequate, but there was little she could do about it. And it still was better than charges. “It's... something new for me,” she replied evasively.

    “Oh, I see. You love it,” his smile became clearer.

    Was he trying to make her say something she shouldn't? Was he spying? Was he an Obsidian Order agent in fact?

    “I have a lot to learn,” she said seriously. “My speciality is tactical, but here I'm more an engineer. And a freighter is not exactly the same as a warship, so everything is slightly... different.”

    “Yes it is,” he admitted. “Gul Dukat expects it to work as efficiently as a warship, but... it's not so easy with this level of armament.”

    “Yes, I know,” she nodded. “We're trying to upgrade some critical systems, but there is that much we can do. We won't be able to make it a Galor, no matter how hard we try.”

    “But I've noticed the shields recharged a little faster”.

    She couldn't stop her smile. She wondered if he really was that good at noticing details, or it was just his wishing that made him delude himself something indeed was upgraded. “'A little' is right. We upgraded them and they're three percent more efficient. We could do better, but there is no way to get more energy to make that work.”

    “Isn't there any way to improve reactor's output?” he asked, finishing his food. He pushed his plate away and leaned back in his chair, clearly not intending to leave.

    “Not really, not if we don't want it to explode in our faces.”

    “That would not be desirable,” he smiled again.

    “Do you know what's our next assignment?” she asked. She only knew they were heading for Terok Nor, which was now in Federation hands. She didn't relish visiting that place again.

    “We are to escort someone to a conference, but first we must take her aboard and she's on the station” he answered.

    “So we won't stay there?”


    He must have noticed the relief on her face, as his eyes lingered on her for a long while.

    “That station... something bad happened there to me,” she tried to explain, in case he was an Obsidian Order agent. Last thing she wanted him to think about her was her lack of bravery or defying her Gul. “Visiting it brings sad memories.”

    “I'm sorry to hear that,” he said; she thought he sounded sincerely. “But no worries, we don't stop there for long.”

    “Good,” she muttered.

    She noticed he finished his meal, but still sat at the table, observing her. She was getting sure he was an agent, maybe even sent specifically to observe her.

    “How long have you served on Groumall?” she asked for the sake of conversation.

    “Too long,” he replied. “They always say I'm a good officer, but somehow never assign me to a better ship,” she heard a note of bitterness in his voice.

    “Did you ask for transfer?”

    “Yes, I did. I got promoted, but not transferred.”


    “I suppose it would be another case of someone's son in need of a good post at the cost of someone less privileged.”

    “Ah, same old story,” she nodded with understanding.

    “How about you? How did you get here?”

    “Straight from a Galor class warship,” she bitterly smiled.

    His eye ridges went up. “What did you do?”

    “I had to serve under one of those talentless sons of someone's and finally had enough. And frankly, it's better here than in a grave,” she said. “I don't mind to die for Cardassia,” she added quickly, for the sake of Damar being an agent, “but I don't want to die needlessly.”

    He smiled. “I understand. Gul Dukat seems capable, so you shouldn't worry here. His demotion had nothing to do with lack of leadership talents.”

    “I know. I had served under him.”

    “Had you?” he was surprised.

    “Indeed, on Terok Nor.”


    She finished her soup and looked at him. He was a handsome man with a friendly face. Perfect looks for an agent, especially if assigned to observe a female. He seemed a few years junior her, but carried higher rank. Maybe he really was just another officer, who had got unfair treatment due to his family's low social status.

    She still didn't trust him.

    No, wait, Obsidian Order was no more! They were replaced by Intelligence Bureau... but how could she know if there was any difference in their means of operation. An agent was an agent, no matter how one calls the organisation the agent works for.

    Next evening she was the one, who invited him to her table. They talked a lot and she found out they had a lot in common. Neither of them was a high born child of a Gul or a Legate. Both of them had to work hard to achieve something. She had no idea when her suspicions of him being an agent to spy her vaporised and he occurred to be a fellow officer on a lousy assignment. She liked his grim sense of humour. She admired his loyalty to his superiors. She was sure there was nothing about her he could admire.

    It was an awful day. Their mission was to take one official to an outpost, but the outpost was no more and Gul Dukat decided to punish Klingon murderers for their crime. The problem was the freighter was not the best choice to fight a bird-of-prey. The Gul instructed them to apply some strange improvements to the armament, but it made no sense to her. She had no idea where he took such strange ideas from, but she suspected their Bajoran passenger. She wasn't sure if there was any reasonable plan to it, or the woman wanted them to sabotage their own ship to eliminate more Cardassians from the face of the galaxy.

    Changes in engineering duty schedules, extending duty hours and reducing number of shifts made the workspace quite crowdy. Jarol saw a few new faces, most likely from other shifts. She could not believe there still were officers aboard, who she haven't met yet. This ship was really small and crew not so numerous.

    Since her duty hours were long, she had little time for her meal. Dukat made them work long hours, but knew they couldn't go on and be effective without food, so they had a right to a short break in the middle of their shifts. It was time to use that privilege right now.

    She entered the mess hall to see Damar picking up his dish from the replicator. She ordered her food and then stood next to him.

    “Seems like today we eat at our consoles,” he said.

    “No, there's space,” she pointed a table in the corner, occupied by one officer only.

    They approached him. It was a young Dja, punching at the padd he kept in his hand and... singing. Or rather half singing, half humming. They stood staring at him, but he seemed to be completely oblivious of their presence.

    “Dja,” Damar spoke at last.

    The young officer raised his head, looked at them and rose.

    “Yes, I leave, you can sit,” he stated.

    “Sit down,” Jarol told him, sitting herself. Damar took an empty chair, standing at another table, put it at theirs and also sat.

    “What was that you were singing?” Jarol asked.

    “What? Singing?”

    “You were singing.”

    “Was I?”

    Jarol smiled and suddenly felt a sting of longing for her younger brother. The Dja appeared so innocent and benign, almost like a child. She glanced at his armour and read he was assigned to the engineering. She searched her memory and finally connected the face with the file. It was Dja Brenok. He was assigned to night shift.

    “So,” Damar looked at her, “how are improvements?”

    She just smiled. “No matter what we try to do, it's still a freighter and nothing will change that.”

    “We have problems with dealing with overflowing of secondary capacity phase regulators,” Brenok suddenly spoke. Then he realised it wasn't his place to offer unsolicited opinion to two ranking officers, so he quickly lowered his head and concentrated on his padd.

    “Do you think you could overcome this problem?” Damar asked. Joral knew that Damar was most eager to solve this as it was him, who had to suffer Dukat's... unhappiness, caused by unsatisfactory combat drills' results.

    Dja looked up at him not sure if Damar's question was genuine or a challenge. Both officers kept looking at him expectantly, without a shadow of irritation, so he decided to honestly answer the Glinn's question. “Maybe, if we could install new regulators, like Hideki class ones. It would require some modifications, but I believe it is doable. But... we have no such thing in our cargo, so...”

    Damar nodded. “So is there any way to do something about it, utilising the resources we do have?”

    “Not much, but my simulations,” he indicated his padd, “show that we could improve phaser charging speed by seven percent.”

    “Seven,” gasped Jarol. That would be barely noticeable, if at all.

    Brenok looked at them apologetically.

    Damar and Jarol started eating, while the younger officer went back to his work on the padd. A few moments later Jarol heard him humming again. She glanced at Damar and they smiled to each other. Brenok's humming progressed to quiet singing and then Jarol realised the song was some kind of lullaby.

    After her long shift ended she checked the Dja's file, then his work aboard Groumall and asked Dukat to move him to the day shift. She believed there was potential in that young Cardassian. He had many interesting ideas, which they discussed during their shift and after that and his incredible engineering skill helped in installation of a canon, which was by no means meant to operate on a ship.

    Dining together became a sort of little habit of theirs and continued on a Klingon bird-of-prey the crew acquired during their next mission.

    She stood in the corridor and waited to be let inside. After a short moment the door parted and Dukat smiled to her.

    “Come in,” he invited her.

    She was not sure what she was doing in his quarters. He had summoned for her, but hadn't specified what kind of order would that be.

    “Would you like a drink?” he asked. “I have some spring wine left.”

    “I don't care for Bajoran beverages,” she said and immediately regretted her words. When will she learn to hold her tongue?

    He glared at her and for a second she thought she'd pay for her words, but he only said: “Please sit.”

    So she sat. Whole situation was getting more and more weird.

    He took a glass with spring wine – blue? Why was it blue? She had no idea it was blue – and sat next to her. He took a stray strand of her hair, which fell out of her bun and put it behind her ear. She froze. She wanted to say something, ask him why he wanted her to come to his quarters, but was unable to do anything.

    He sighed.

    “I didn't realise how harshly I have treated you after...” his voice trailed off for a moment, “after your family had been killed.”

    “I deserved that,” she said.

    “No. Your loss was punishment enough. You made a mistake and you paid highest price for that mistake. I shouldn't have punished you additionally.”

    “It was well within regulations,” she said.

    “Maybe. But now I understand how you felt, how it is to lose family.”

    She looked at him for the first time since she sat down. Was he trying to apologise?

    “I will do everything to make it up to you,” he said.

    “It doesn't matter any more,” she replied, her pain finding way out from heavy shielding she managed to hide it behind.

    “It will always matter,” he said softly, putting his hand on her armour's shoulder, his long finger touching her neck ridge scales.

    “If this is all, I have to attend to my duties,” she said stiffly.

    “Of course,” he rose and so did she.

    She nodded and left his quarters.

    “What did he want?” Damar asked quietly upon her arrival to the bridge.

    “Actually, I am not sure,”she said and took her post.

    She eyed the Bajoran woman, who manned engineering console. She could hear her speaking to Brenok over the comm, so she assumed they were installing that cannon.

    Maybe it was her? Jarol knew this woman was a terrorist, she heard Dukat mentioning it once. What if the shapeshifter had caught wrong people. Such things were known to happen, not often, but still. What if they hadn't execute the real murderers. What if this Bajoran had given the order to plant the bomb in that Hideki? Jarol shook her head. You can't think like that, it will drive you crazy, she thought. The guilty had been found, prosecuted and executed. She'd witnessed their execution,but it hadn't brought her any relief. Her pain never diminished, she felt no justice had been served; nothing would bring them back, nothing. But she wouldn't be able to accept, if her children murderers were now some kind of heroes on Bajor.

    The Bajoran must have felt her eyes on her, as she glanced at the Gil. Jarol looked her in the eyes. Both women kept staring at each other for a moment and then both returned to their duties.

    You can't hate all Bajorans, Jarol told herself, not all of them are guilty of your family's death, just like not all Cardassians were part of Bajor annexation. Her family surely wasn't and she was better than Bajorans, she didn't hate everyone blindly, she was a Cardassian, she was superior intellectually to see the difference. She didn't have to like the Bajoran woman, but she didn't have to hate her just because she was a Bajoran. Owning a wrinkled nose was reason not good enough.

    The first meal aboard the Klingon vessel was a celebration: Gul Dukat decided to mark the victory and most of crew met in the filthy mess hall to dine.

    Jarol was a little shocked upon entering the room. It was dark even for Cardassian standards, and it stank. Reddish light made everything look crimson and the smell reminded her of a slaughterhouse.

    “Some gagh?” Damar's voice asked behind her.

    “You're joking, right?” she turned to face him.

    “Yes, I am,” he smiled, handing her a plate. “Here's delicious range of field rations, prepared especially for you.”

    “Uhm, yummy,” she muttered, taking the plate. She looked around. The Bajoran they were transporting back to Terok Nor, whatever it was called now, was absent, but the half-Bajoran daughter of her commander was there, sitting next to her father. She pulled her face at the sight of the girl and turned away. The whining weakling annoyed her.

    “I must warn you we are returning to Ter... Deep Space Nine,” Damar told her.

    “I knew that. We need to take back the Bajoran,” she muttered.

    “Yes, but we might have to stay for a day or two,” he said. “At least to take more rations and dump gagh, unless you want to try it.” She cursed in her native language. “What was that?” he asked, coming closer.


    “What did you say?”

    “Nothing. Ah,” she realised he meant her vocabulary, “nothing. It is... it's just... nothing.”

    “Which dialect was it?”

    “Dialect?” she suddenly fumed. “It was not a dialect, but a language. Another language!”

    “All right, all right!” he raised one of his hands in defence. “So what language was it?”

    “Nokarian,” she pointed her sharp, slightly slanted eye ridges.

    “Of course,” he nodded. “That explains why you sometimes speak... funny...”


    “Forgive the expression, but... yeah, funny,” he sheepishly smiled.

    “Well, but then I speak perfect Nokarian,” she mocked a proud face and then they both giggled.

    “So how is life in Nokar?”

    “Terribly cold in winter, awfully hot in summer, no food, little water, high infant death rate.”

    “Sounds terrible.”

    “You think why I chose this career?”

    “To run away?” his eyes opened wider.

    “No, to make a living and feed my family. Most of my pay goes back home. They can't grow food any more, but at least they can buy some.”

    “I share my pay too,” he nodded with understanding.

    “Come, everyone!” they heard Dukat's voice. “Let's sit!”

    Everyone headed for the table, and after a short commotion caused by finding a suitable seat according to rank and age, they all sat.

    “Let's have some bloodwine,” Dukat raised his mug. Only then Jarol noticed that in front of each officer a mug was standing. She picked hers. She had never had bloodwine before. “Don't drink too much,” Dukat warned. “We need to arrive to the space station in one piece.”

    Everyone laughed politely.

    Red alert woke her up. First few seconds she wasn't sure where she was and what was happening, but then her mind work from its sleep too.

    She was in the middle of putting her armour on when her comm biped and Dukat's voice spoke: “Jarol, report to the engineering, we've been boarded.”

    She acknowledged, grabbed her riffle and phaser and ran toward to lift. She almost stumbled over a body on the floor, losing grip on her riffle and dropping it, when she ran out of the lift upon arriving to the engineering. She looked around to see Cardassians struggling with Klingons, the latter ones being majority. She moved toward a Cardassian, who was attacked by two Klingons and took one of aggressors on herself. She'd learnt to dodge bat'leth perfectly, so her avoiding moves were irritating the Klingon.

    “You fight without honour!” he yelled and swung his blade toward her face. She stepped back, avoiding her head being cut to two and finally had a chance to fire her phaser. The Klingon fell on the floor dead, but another one charged her, shouting insults. She prepared to squeeze the trigger, but he was faster and reached her sooner than expected. She knew she had no chances against a Klingon man in hand to hand combat, so she needed to use one of her tricks. She crouched and then rammed him, aiming at his chest with her shoulder, her armour taking most of the blow. She managed to steal his knife from behind his belt.

    In the corner of her eye she noticed Brenok falling on the deck with a huge Klingon standing over him. Brenok kicked to move back, but his position was vulnerable. The Klingon raised his bat'leth and took aim. The deadly weapon fell and even from her position she knew it was aimed at Brenok's head.

    The time slowed for her. She completely forgot about her Klingon, she just saw the bat'leth raised again for another blow, caked with blood; no doubt Brenok's head was split to two – she dared not look at the young officer she grew so fond of. His tragic end would be too much for her.

    “No, not Brenok,” she whispered, feeling her rage growing, and charged the Klingon. She jumped on his back and before he had time to react, she sank the stolen knife in his neck. They fell, the bat'leth still in Klingon's hand, although it was clear he was dead.

    A thud behind her reminded her she'd neglected “her” Klingon, so she quickly rolled to face him, but she saw his headless body on the deck and Damar with his phaser standing over it.

    “Thanks, Corat,” she said not sure he could hear her in the total havoc around them, but he understood her, nodded and turned to face another enemy.

    But it was over. The engineering was full of Cardassians – dead, or wounded, but many still alive – and dead Klingons.

    Just then Jarol realised that among moaning and shouting, and crying she could hear a familiar voice. She hadn't registered it before, but it was Brenok's voice.

    She crawled to him to see he was alive, putting his left hand to his ear. She grabbed his palm to move it away to see the injury. The Klingon missed and his bat'leth didn't split Cardassian's head, but reached his ear, cut the lobe off and sank in the neck ridge. Right side of Brenok's head was a huge wound and rests of his ear were hanging on what remained of his cheek ridges. His neck ridge wound seemed more serious, as his right hand and arm were thrashing – she feared his nerves were damaged. He was bleeding profusely and she worried his life was still in danger.

    Two medics ran to him and took care of his ear. She stood aside not to be in their way.

    “I hope he's going to be fine,” she heard Damar's voice next to her.

    “So do I, so do I...” she replied.

    A way of the... rebel?

    2375 (2373-2375)

    The door opened and Jarol went out to the corridor. Damar stood in the doorway. She noticed two Jem'Hadar at the end of the corridor. She gently touched Damar's cheek. “It was wonderful to spend this time with you,” she said a little too loud.

    He followed her eyes and saw the Dominion soldiers too. He grabbed her hand, still at his cheek, and kissed it. “The pleasure was all mine,” he said smiling.

    She headed toward the exit at the end of the corridor, hearing Damar's door closing. “Good evening, gentlemen,” she said to the Jem'Hadar. “Or is it 'good morning' already?” she wondered loudly.

    As expected, they ignored her completely, but she was sure they filed all they just saw and could report it to anyone, who demanded it, down to the tiniest details of her white-blue dress.

    Two years earlier

    The tactical group beamed down; armed to teeth and ready to fend an attack. But there was nothing. Their beam destination was on the edge of a forest, not very clever choice, since the wall of trees was perfect for Maquis terrorists to hide and attack, but Jarol's explanations had fallen on deaf ears – Glinn Daset didn't appreciate suggestions and going over his head directly to Corak was equal to death sentence. So she assigned eight more soldiers for his protection.

    The forest didn't seem to hide any ambush squad. She noticed Daset shot her a full of self-satisfaction glance. She bit her lower lip. They got lucky, but that was no excuse to be as negligent next time.

    “After you,” he barked at her.

    She nodded to her people and they moved toward the settlement. Her team created a V shape, with her in the lead and the Glinn in the middle, protected on both sides in case of a sudden attack.

    The truth was they had no proof that there were any Maquis there, but the fact was they needed no proof. The possibility of no Maquis here was close to zero. All the Cardassians wanted to do was to collect their resources: food and other materials. The colonists refused to pay obligatory tribute – something each colony had to do – and it was necessary to make them surrender all goods that belonged to the Union in the first place.

    It was quiet, too quiet and Joral was sure it wouldn't be easy.

    She heard Daset's steps just behind her. How was she supposed to protect him if he behaved recklessly? He should be inside their protective formation, not at the head, where he was most exposed to an attack. But she knew why: he didn't like she was at the front, and she could be taken for the team's leader; oh, he would hate that! Therefore she ignored his pushing forward and concentrated on their surroundings.

    Parallel to the fringe of the forest there was a paved road, leading to the nearby town. She didn't want to walk on it, as their heavy boots would make too much noise (funny, they could be seen from the town, but she worried about being heard?), luckily the ground on both sides of the road was hard enough not to sink in it, while walking.

    They entered the town and directed their steps to the council building. It was a two storey house, built especially for this purpose. The architecture was completely alien, but Jarol liked it. The front entrance was surrounded by slender columns and windows weren't typical rectangles, so common for Federation designs, but circles.

    The Cardassians entered the building. It seemed abandoned. Now, to think of it, Jarol realised that whole town seemed abandoned. She didn't hear any sounds, except for these made by nature: weather and fauna, and other alike; she didn't see any bipeds anywhere, and not even those noisy, furry, funny hounds she had seen once. Something was wrong, very wrong.

    She raised her hand, sending a signal to everyone to stop. All boots-made sounds seized, only Daset kept walking until he was directly behind her. She opened her mouth to share her observations with him, but noise of slamming doors behind her interrupted her. Jarol and Daset turned to see they were cut off from the rest of their team, and armed people of many species were training their weapons on them.

    “Drop that,” a man barked, pointing at riffles the Cardassians carried.

    “Perfect tactical planning,” muttered Daset, glaring at Jarol and then putting his riffle down.

    You approved of everything, she thought bitterly, following his example. She could hear muffled sounds from the other side of the massive door and worried about the rest of the troop. Would the terrorists kill them? Would they kill her and Daset?

    “If anything happens to us, Cardassia will send a fleet to punish you,” the Glinn's thoughts obviously went the same way her did.

    “We won't kill you, we're not murderers,” said the same man, who told them to drop their weapons. Jarol thought he wasn't a Terran, but some other species, however she has never learned to distinguish all those ridgeless faces, so she couldn't tell. The most distinguished feature of his look was white, long hair, also on his face. “We just want to teach you a lesson.”

    “And what could you possible teach us?” Daset asked defiantly.

    “You'll see,” the man replied. “Move,” he motioned towards a door in the other end of the long room.

    Joral gave Daset an asking look and he nodded. “This should be interesting,” he muttered and headed for the door. She followed him.

    They were disarmed, led to a small room and locked there. No windows, walls and the door seemed sound proof, as they heard no sounds from outside. Both Cardassians looked at each other surprised.

    This is the lesson?” Daset wondered loudly. Jarol just shrugged and then started detailed examination of walls.

    “You hope to find a secret tunnel to run away?” Daset asked.

    She glanced at him; she thought he was ridiculing her, but he was doing the same thing at the opposite wall.

    “Well, I don't intend to just sit and wait,” she answered.

    Walls seemed to be made of concrete, cold in touch and without even tiniest crack.

    “Now what?” she looked at the Glinn.

    “Can you hear it?” he frowned.

    She stopped breathing, trying to mute all sounds in the small chamber, but couldn't hear anything. Not wanting to disturb the silence, in case Daset would hear something again, she just shook her head.

    “I can't hear anything any longer too,” he sounded disappointed.

    They rechecked walls, the door, the floor, but it gave them nothing. Jarol felt her frustration growing; Daset was as clueless as she was. All they could do was waiting.

    At first she paced impatiently, but her feet grew tired, so she sat down. There was no way to tell how much time passed: was it an hour? Two? Five? At some point she felt like it was a year or ten years.

    Daset sat next to her. None of them spoke. She had no idea when she fell asleep.

    Something shook. The ground? Something was pulling her arm. Her mind slowly returned to reality – a small, grey like Cardassian skin, room.

    “Wake up, Jarol,” it was Daset. “Wake up!”

    “Did they return?” she asked, her voice still rusty from sleep.

    “No, but you have to move,” she stood and pulled her up by her shoulders. “Stand up, you need to walk.”

    She tried to comply, but it was difficult for some reason; just then she realised she was shivering and stiff. It was terribly cold.

    “What happened?” she asked.

    “I don't know, but it gets colder and walls get more humid,” he indicated drops of condensed water on concrete. “Move, or you'll freeze.”

    She started pacing around the room, rubbing her cold hands. Daset walked next to her.

    “Do you have any estimates how long we've been here?” she asked him.

    He shook his head. “No idea, however it's surely been hours.”

    “I don't like this lesson at all.”

    He smiled slightly; it was very rare to see anything else than a frown on his face.

    “What do you think they do with soldiers?” she asked, blowing into her cupped hands to warm them up.

    “I wouldn't know.”

    She worried about them. They were under her direct command and if anything would happen to them, it'd be her fault and she'd feel responsible. She glanced at Daset; he was shaking too, his jaw was firmly clenched. She wasn't sure if it was a sign of his anger or an attempt to stop his teeth from clattering.

    “We'll die if they keep us here much longer,” she said quietly.

    Daset didn't reply.

    Jarol was getting colder. Her shivering was more obvious now.

    “Take off your cuirass,” Daset said. She looked at him, shocked. He was taking off his.

    “It'll be colder, then,” she protested weakly.

    “Off!” he barked. She took it off. “Follow me,” he ordered.

    He started doing exercises. After a few examples she realised it was a set of warm ups they used at the Academy. Some moves were so rapid and demanding, so the outer part of the armour would indeed obstruct them and make them less effective.

    “Are you warmer?” Daset asked after some time.

    “Inside, yes, but I barely feel my fingers,” she said, rubbing her hands against one another and then put her hands under her arms to keep them warm. Doing it with the cuirass would be impossible, as the outer part of the armour was hard and cool in touch, unlike the inner part, which was covered with fairly soft fabric.

    They kept walking in circles inside the small room. A little lightbulb at the ceiling was flickering from time to time and Jarol wondered, if it would go off at some point, leaving them in complete darkness.

    Daset put his cuirass back on and sat. She followed his example, noticing the walls were not that wet any more.

    They waited long time and her head was getting heavy and sleepy. Finally the door made a squeaking noise – someone was opening it. They both got up. When the door opened Daset furiously charged the first person he noticed. Jarol didn't have a chance to move as a Klingon disruptor was pointed at her face.

    “Don't move,” the owner of the weapon warned her.

    “Let her go,” someone still on the corridor, invisible to Jarol, said. “I said, let her go!”

    Daset, growling, let the woman he had grabbed by the throat go.

    They were led back to the council room where they had been caught.

    “How was your night?” asked the same white hair man.

    “What do you think you can achieve by torturing us?” the Glinn asked angrily.

    “Torturing? We're not like you, we don't torture people. And being locked for a night is hardly a torture.”

    “You idiot!” Daset motioned to charge at him, but was stopped, seeing a phaser riffle raised and aimed at his head.

    A woman entered the room, approached the white hair man and whispered something to his ear. The man looked at both Cardassians, then at her, and then at the Cardassians again. His face changed its expression from defiant to worried.

    “Ok, look,” the man addressed them. “We meant you no harm. We just wanted to keep you as hostages. So that your ship would leave us alone. But your companions fell sick.”

    Both Daset and Jarol were glaring at him. Their eyes were full of hatred.

    “We kept them in a room like yours,” the man continued. “Under yours to be exact, deeper in the ground. And all of them... something happened...”

    Jarol thought she understood. They'd been locked in a concrete chamber underground, and when the night fell it cooled down. Deeper most likely meant also cooler.

    “You froze them,” she spat the words, furious. “You locked us all in cold rooms like meat in refrigerators and you wonder why we're sick?!” she finished almost shouting.

    The Maquis looked at each other confused. Jarol was outraged. They not only tortured them, they did it for no purpose, the did not even understand what they did to their prisoners.

    “We'll let you take your sick to your ship, if you leave us alone.”

    “Don't count on that!” Daset shouted, raising his fist and shaking it.

    Jarol looked at him. She didn't want to yield to demands, but weren't lives of their people more important? They could always lie; take their soldiers, return to their ship and eradicate all Maquis, and then take what they came for.

    “You don't have much of a choice,” the man said. “They need medical attention and I'm sure your doctor is better qualified to help them than any of us here.”

    “You cannot blackmail Cardassian Union, you fool,” Daset snorted. “What do you think you're going to accomplish? If we die – others will come. If we leave – others will come. If you think two officers and a few soldiers are so important to relieve you from your colonial duty, then you are the most stupid Efrosian I've ever seen.”

    “I'm not so stupid you think,” the man replied.

    “No? So let's sit and wait,” Daset went to one of chairs and sat.

    Jarol was confused. That's it? What was Daset waiting for? Lives of their crewmen depended on time and he clearly was stalling. This wasn't right, wasn't right at all.

    The... what did Daset call him? Efrosian? Seemed to be confused too. For only a moment, though.

    “Look, let's be reasonable.”

    “Shut up!” Daset barked, leaned back, closed his eyes and appeared fully relaxed. Jarol knew there was more to that, she wouldn't believe Daset had no plan, but she couldn't guess what it might be.

    “Gil Jarol,” he spoke not opening his eyes, “isn't it about this time we came here yesterday?”

    She, just as Daset, had no chronometer, as their wristcomms had been taken away a day before, so she looked at the window to assess the sun's position.

    “I suppose it is,” she confirmed. It seemed to be late morning or early afternoon.

    “Wonderful,” the Glinn said calmly. She had an impression he almost smiled.

    There was something about to happen or... he was bluffing, although she had never heard of Daset bluffing. His threats were always real. She decided to play his game: she sat on the chair next to his in a relaxed pose, but she didn't dare to close her eyes. One of them had to keep an eye on the Maquis.

    Not much time passed when whatever Daset was waiting for started. There was some commotion outside, they could hear phaser fire and shouting. The Glinn's pose didn't change, he didn't even open his eyes. He knew what was happening outside. Jarol couldn't stop her smile, while all the Maquis in the room looked... scared? Worried? Two stayed with their weapons trained on the Cardassians, while the rest left the room.

    “Gull Corak told me that if no signal would come from us within 25 hours, he'd send troops down,” Daset said quietly.

    “You could have told me.”

    “I couldn't be sure they don't eavesdrop.”

    “You could have told me before we beamed down.”

    “There was no reason to.”

    She had no choice, but to accept his answer. Besides, now it really didn't matter, but explained a lot of his behaviour here and also in the concrete chamber. All they could do now was to be rescued.

    And they were. And it was a high price the colonists had to pay for their foolishness. No one, NO ONE! dares to take Cardassian officers hostage, at least no one, who wants to live.

    “How is it possible that you still are a Gil?” Gul Corak asked her.

    “A reprimand stopped my career in place,” she replied.

    “What reprimand? I saw no reprimand in your file,” he raised his eye ridges in surprise.

    “It was a temporary, two-year reprimand. It was sealed off.”

    “Sealed off, but not removed,” he said slowly.

    She said nothing. Dukat would not remove it permanently, not if he could use it against her one day, which – in spite of her great respect for her former commander – she was sure he was capable of.

    “Nevermind,” Corak waved his hand. “Your past is irrelevant to me. Your present is not,” he smiled slightly.

    She squared her shoulders, expecting new orders. That was why he had asked her to his office, wasn't it?

    “Jarol, you're a good, dedicated officer,” he spoke. “I had been warned that you were insubordinate and nothing but trouble, but what I see is a brave, clever soldier, who puts her crew's and her ship's well-being before her own.”

    “I serve Cardassia and that way I serve my crew, my ship and myself.”

    “Too many officers repeat these words not really understanding their meaning. But not you.”

    He stopped in front of her. He was a tall man, his built was strong and he emanated feeling of power. His hair was greying, and it was the only thing showing his age. His eyes still shone with passions and strength.

    “Gil Jarol, I would hate to lose such a good tactical officer,” he started. Oh no, she thought panicked, but hoped it was not visible on her face. “But I hope that your aide would be an adequate replacement,” he continued.

    “Yes, sir,” she confirmed. Nadar was a good officer, they shared some tricks they had learnt during their previous assignments.

    “Splendid. I wouldn't like to ask for someone new, it's better to promote someone familiar with the ship. As for you, young lady,” Jarol didn't feel that young any more, “sometimes I think you read my mind and anticipate my orders. On duty these characteristics are welcome, however if you ever go to my wife and tell her my thoughts of a beautiful woman I pass by on a street while on a shore leave on Cardassia, your reprimand would never be sealed off.”

    She wasn't sure where he was getting, but the joke made her smile.

    “Glinn Jarol, it is my pleasure to inform you that your promotion has been approved by the Central Command and hereby you are being transferred from tactical to command as my aide.”

    She was speechless, she didn't see that one coming. He never mentioned he applied for a promotion for her. She stared at him like hypnotised.

    “Well, say something, tell me you're happy,” he said.

    “I will need a new cuirass,” she said.

    It was so silly she didn't believe she really said that.

    Corak laughed. “Indeed, you will.”

    She smiled.

    “That's better,” he commented her face expression. “Finally some emotion. I started to worry you're a Vulcan spy.”

    “I have slanted eye ridges,” she pointed at her face.

    Corak's laughter echoed in his small office. “I'm afraid,” he said, “that we can't afford a celebration.”

    “I don't need a celebration,” she replied. “This is no time for wasting resources.”

    “Don't forget to recycle your old cuirass,” he waved at her, indicating he was done and she could leave now.

    “I won't, sir,” she nodded with gratitude and left his office.

    She couldn't wait to share this with Brenok. She took her tactical post and returned to work, but her mind was wandering.

    She remembered the day Brenok had beamed aboard. Corak waited in the transporter room with her. Brenok materialised with a small bag of his belongings and stepped down to face his new Gul.

    “That's an interesting haircut,” was the first thing Corak said.

    Brenok didn't wear standard Cardassian military haircut any more, his hair was long, with a parting on the top of his head and pulled down on both sides, covering his ears and meeting at the nape of his neck, where he braided it; the tress was reaching his shoulder blades. Jarol wished her hair was that thick.

    “It is to cover the scar,” the engineer pulled his hair up to show remains of his ear: dark grey and reddish meat, resembling one of most disgusting Klingon dishes. The scar reached as far as his cheek ridges with a few scales missing, like peeled off, which was visible even with his hair long.

    “There are ways to deal with it, you know,” the Gul said. “Some reconstruction... maybe?”

    “It's not a shame for a man to have a battle scar,” Brenok replied.

    “No, it's not,” agreed Corak. “So why do you hide it?”

    “I don't want to scare my daughter, she's only two,” Brenok muttered, lowering his eyes, and Corak smiled widely. He clearly liked that answer.

    “Well,” he raised his hand to stroke his moustache – Jarol rarely saw men with facial hair – and said, “just don't let that tail entangle into warp core.”

    Brenok smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

    Gul's aide, on the other hand, hated Brenok's specific look and never let him forget he was not wearing the standard Guard cut. That man was always strictly following rules and Jarol often wondered how come he and Corak – the most lenient Gul she ever had to work with – could get along and co-operate. She never had any problems with Daset, but his picking on Brenok was getting on her nerves and she was really relieved knowing that he was being promoted and getting his own command. Brenok never complained, but she knew returning to active service was tough for him without Daset's comments.

    Now she didn't have to worry about him being bullied by ship's second in command. Now second in command would bully anyone, who would dare to raise their hand on him!

    “Can I talk to you in private?” Daset's voice startled her. She looked up at him and he jerked his head toward the lift. She followed him. “Do you mind if we talk in my quarters?” he asked before giving the lift computer instructions.

    “No,” she didn't know what to expect from this.

    “Deck seven,” he said.

    None of them spoke until they arrived to his cabin.

    Jarol was impressed. Daset was always so stiff, so official she would never expect him to decorate his living space at all and definitely not in such a manner.

    The quarters were bigger than hers – no surprise here, after all he was ship's second in command – and filled with ancient objects and art. There were traditional daggers and swords hanging on walls, two paintings – one of panorama of Lakat City, the other one of Ministry of Justice building – the lights were arranged to look like candles and there was a sculpture on the table, but it was too far from the door where she stood, so she couldn't tell what it represented.

    “I believe congratulations are in order,” he said and headed for the sofa.

    “Congratulations on your promotion, sir,” she said crisply. All that was so confusing.

    He laughed heartily; she's never heard him laugh like that. She didn't even think he could laugh like that.

    “I mean I congratulate you on your promotion.”

    “Oh. Thank you, sir.” What was going on?

    “Come, sit down,” he invited her to take an armchair on the other side of the table.

    She sat, while he got up and went to adjacent room. He returned with a bottle of kanar and two glasses.

    “I'm on duty,” she said.

    “I won't tell anyone, if you won't,” he smiled.

    This was Glinn 'by the book' Daset?

    He poured a little kanar to both glasses and raised his, handing her the other one. She took it. He touched her glass with his. “To our careers.”

    “To our careers,” she let herself a tiny smile.

    They emptied glasses and he stopped the bottle. “We both are still on duty,” he said and then looked at her. “You must be wondering what I want to talk about.”

    She nodded, a little too fervently. She looked at the sculpture – now she could see it was a mar'kuu, an extinct sea animal.

    “You have been here long enough to know Gul Corak,” he started, leaning back on the sofa and sitting comfortably. “You surely have noticed he is very forgiving, lenient and fatherly figure.”

    She nodded; that sounded about right.

    “The sad truth is that not every Cardassian soldier is worth of such treatment. Some would attempt to abuse Gul's good heart. You cannot allow it,” he said firmly.


    “You are standing between him and them. You must make sure they know that if they don't perform to the best of their abilities, he might forgive them, but you wouldn't.”

    She started to understand. “You want me to protect him from those, who would try to abuse his good heart.”

    “That's right. Corak is a good commander, he is wise, he cares, sometimes too much, but he lacks the cruelty, which sometimes is necessary to keep his own crew in line. You must keep them in line.”

    “I see...” she said slowly.

    “Please, don't assume I'm overreacting or am overprotective.” 'Please'? Did he really say 'please'? “I've already seen what could happen if anyone from the crew feels they are allowed not to follow Corak's order strictly as being told. I don't want that to happen again.”

    She said nothing.

    “Just be the tough side he lacks, that's all,” he smiled. “You won't be liked much, but you'll be effective.”

    Oh, he didn't have to explain that. She was well aware how much everyone aboard hated and feared him. “I'll remember that,” she said.

    “Can I ask you something?”


    “There is a file in your profile... It's completely empty. Why is that?”

    “I don't know what you mean.”

    “Come on, I'm just curious, it's not official business,” he smiled.

    “I really don't know,” she said honestly. “I don't check my profile, I know my life without it,” she grinned slightly.

    “Good point,” he admitted. “I accessed it when Corak told me you'd replace me. Wanted to check you out,” he rose and went to his desk. He activated the screen, searched for a moment and then gave her the stardate.

    Ahal. Her whole ordeal with Ahal was... deleted? No one could access the info about her defying her Gul any more. Who did this? She suspected Dukat. Another debt.

    “I'd rather not talk about it,” she sighed.

    “That serious?”

    “Let's just say I am able to tell my Gul when I think he is totally wrong.”

    Daset clearly didn't expect such a reply, as he looked at her eye wide. “You refused to follow an order?”

    “He wanted to kill Cardassians.”

    “Sometimes a sacrifice is necessary,” Daset commented.

    “However it wasn't necessary then. It was the easiest way, but hardly the only way.”

    Daset nodded. Maybe he understood.

    “I'm sure Gul Corak would never give such an order,” she added.

    “There are many incompetent Guls there,” Daset returned to the table. “Too many good officers lost their lives following them, or following their conscience and defying their fallacious orders.”

    “What would you do in my place?” she asked.

    “I don't know,” he said. “I'm not sure I'd have enough courage to refuse orders from my Gul, even wrong orders,” he admitted.

    Did she hear right? Did he just say he considered her courageous? Was this some form of admiration?

    “Does it change your mind about me as your replacement as Gul's aide?” she asked him.

    He shook his head without hesitation. “No, Jarol, no. You are a good officer. Your duty and loyalty is to Cardassia, not to it's temporary rulers or Guls. People change and die, the Union must thrive. Your mind and heart are where they should be.”

    “If that's all, I must return to duty,” she rose.

    “Your duty ended three minutes ago,” he grinned. “Let's finish this bottle. It's good vintage.”

    “Indeed it is,” she nodded, smiling and handing him the glass to refill. “I like the sculpture,” she added, pointing at the mar'kuu.

    It was interesting to see his side of Daset. In a way she was sorry he was leaving...

    Jarol stared at the screen like hypnotised. Her mind was blank. She shot a glance at Brenok and the expression on his face must had been exactly the same. He even stopped humming his song. Actually everyone on the bridge wore the same flabbergasted expression.

    “Can you replay that?” Gul Corak asked the comm officer, Gil Karama, who nodded and activated the screen, replacing view of stars with Gul Dukat's face once again.

    Jarol listened to his speech with the same disbelief as the first time, hoping she had misunderstood something and now would catch the real meaning. But the speech, all of it, sounded exactly the same. No hidden messages, at least none that she could find.

    Corak went to his office without a word. She knew he dealt with the Dominion in the past and it wasn't exactly a happy encounter, but she also knew he had no choice now and had to adapt to new situation. They all had, regardless of their personal opinions. They didn't even have a right to forming any opinions!

    “Brenok,” she whispered, approaching him. He looked at her and then leaned toward her. “So what do you think?” she asked quietly.

    Brenok didn't speak.

    “Honestly, between you and me,” she moved so close to him that their armours squeaked, rubbing one against another.

    “I hope it's a forgery,” he said cautiously. “This speech, I mean.”

    She nodded, while he sat down on his chair.

    “Don't talk about it to anyone,” she warned. “And don't let the crew to comment it in any negative way,” she added. “For their own safety.”

    “Yes, sir,” he acknowledged.

    Her console biped, informing her a new message arrived. She ignored it.

    “Jarol, what do you think about it?” he asked sheepishly. They both knew officially it was crossing the line, but they'd been through too much together and too close friends to keep distant relation subordinate-commander, typical for Cardassian military. She welcomed his opinions, insights and questions too. Even – or maybe especially – on duty.

    “I don't know why he would do something like this. I'd like to believe there are some reasons, good reasons, and it's going to be for Cardassia's prosperity, but...” she hesitated, not sure how to put what she wanted to say, “somehow it's hard to believe becoming part of an alien empire is going to make Cardassia stronger. If anything, it proves we are unable to stand alone and need help. Appearing weak does not serve us, but our enemies, who get bolder.”

    “There's nothing we can do about it.”

    “No, there isn't. So for now we stay put. We have the Maquis to worry about anyway,” she said. He nodded, agreeing with her.

    She went back to her post, observing bridge officers. They were busy with their duties like nothing happened, but she was sure huge changes were coming; changes she most likely wouldn't like.

    Doors to the Gul's office opened.

    “Jarol, you are friends with that aide of his, what's his name?”

    “Damar,” she said, not sure where this was getting.

    “Do you know him well?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Do you trust him?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Contact him, talk to him. If anyone would know something about all this, he would be the person who'd know the most. Ask him about this Dominion business.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “But Jarol...”

    “Yes, sir?”

    “Be careful what you say. Don't get yourself executed.”

    “I won't, sir,” she couldn't even imagine Damar doing something like that to her.

    “Brenok, make sure her channel is secured,” Corak ordered the engineer and then returned to his office, not waiting for Brenok's acknowledgement.

    “Arenn,” she looked at her friend. “Can you make this connection really secured? I mean really, really?”

    “No problem,” he said and moved to comm station. Karama moved away to let Brenok sit on his chair.

    “Patch it to my quarters,” she asked and left the bridge, heading for her cabin.

    By the time she arrived there the connection was established.

    “Atira!” Damar's face brightened. “How nice to see you!”

    “How's your son?” she asked, smiling too.

    “Oh, he's fine,” he replied. “But you didn't ask Arenn to scramble whole transmission to ask about my son's grades at school, so... what can I do for you?”

    “I was just wondering about this Dominion business. I am... a little confused.”

    “Gul Dukat has great plans,” Damar's voice was rich with excitement. “The Dominion will share resources with us, help us drive the Klingons out, and strengthen our borders.”

    “But inviting a foreign power, and such a dangerous one at that...” she spoke her worries aloud.

    “They are our allies, they want to help.”

    “What is the price of this help?” she asked, trying to sound indifferent.

    “Atira, you haven't been here for long time, you serve on a warship and things are different there. You don't see civilians and what they have to endure to see the next day.” He lowered his voice and leaned toward the screen. “It's bad. The Detapa Council ruined Cardassia. First they'd shown whole Alpha Quadrant that we, the Cardassian Guard, had been so weak that civilians could take over the government, and then they even hadn't had guts to fight Klingons. That war strained our already thin resources. We needed help and we got it.”

    “Do you think it's for the best?”

    “I do, yes,” he said, but she wasn't sure she was fully convinced he believed that.

    “And there's no danger?”

    “There's always danger, Atira. Always.”

    “What if they don't like something, what if they screen our soldiers and are not happy that some were not always as obedient as their Jem'Hadar are?”

    “What do you mean?” he asked, frowning.

    “I mean my file isn't clean.”

    “It is.”

    “No, Corat, it isn't. I have two black stains there. One seems cleaned, but I'm sure a skilled engineer would be able to hack inside and access the information.”

    “There is one stain, as you called it, and it's sealed off. Besides, I don't think a cloned Vorta would ever understand importance of family, so there's nothing to worry about.”

    “It's still two.”


    “Two! Terok Nor case and Ahal case.”

    “One. Terok Nor only. I can't remove it, as it's been sealed by Dukat and even I don't have clearance high enough to deal with that.”

    “What about Ahal?”

    “I deleted it. I can't delete the file itself, as this is impossible from technical point of view, but there's no content left.”

    So it was him!

    “Why did you do this?” she asked surprised.

    “Because I could,” he grinned widely.

    “Corat...” she paused. “Take care of yourself.”

    “I will.”

    She broke the connection.

    She hoped his judgement was right and that whole alliance with the Dominion wasn't the biggest mistake in Cardassian history.

    She returned to the bridge to relay the content and conclusions from the conversation to Gul Corak. A prospect she didn't look forward too.

    Corak was trying his best not to show his fury, but it didn't seem to work well enough. She worried what their 'guests' might think.

    Three bipeds beamed and materialised on the pad: a Vorta nad two Jem'Hadar.

    “Welcome to CUW Roumar,” Jarol said.

    “You have facial hair,” the Vorta looked at Corak. “And you're a girl.”

    Jarol looked back at Brenok. “I know that,” and at the Vorta, “I knew that.”

    The Vorta laughed, then looked at Brenok. “And you have long hair.”

    “And I don't have a lobe,” he replied.

    “We're quite a team,” Jarol said.

    “Oh, yes you are. It's going to be my pleasure to cooperate with this unique crew. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Allaran, this is First Toman'talak and Second Arat'kara.”

    Corak still didn't say anything, so Jarol spoke again: “We will take you to your quarters.”

    “I trust they were prepared according to our instructions?” Allara asked.

    “Indeed they were,” Jarol confirmed. “Please follow Glinn Brenok.”

    Brenok and Dominion representatives left the room and Jarol stayed there with Corak.

    “Forgive me saying this, sir, but it is not wise to openly show your hostility,” she said quietly, so that the transporter crewman couldn't hear her. Corak just looked at her, then went out without a word.

    She knew he was furious. And she didn't blame him. She didn't like that Dominion business at all, but for now they had to follow orders. She had no doubts how the Dominion dealt with its unhappy members. What she didn't understand was why those three were sent to their ship? What was so special about them? Was it a special mission? Allaran didn't mention bringing new orders.

    She returned to the bridge to check reports; maybe she missed something, maybe it was clear what the devious little Vorta wanted from them and she just neglected her duty to stay fully informed of everything.

    The bridge seemed the same as usual. Busy officers, bipping consoles, someone bringing or taking padds. However there was something in the air, something she could clearly detect, almost smell, hanging like a cloud over their heads.

    She glanced at the Gul's office door to see if he was inside. He was, so she sat in his chair. She tried to find comfortable position for her elbows, so that the little wings at ends of the armour sleeves wouldn't bother her, when she heard the door at the back of the bridge open. She turned to see who it was and saw Allaran entering, followed by her Jem'Hadar.

    “Where's Corak?” the Vorta asked in her sweet voice. Jarol hated sweets, they made her sick.

    “Busy in his office,” she barked her reply. “Is there a reason for you to be here? This is the bridge, it's a critical place and no civilians should be h...”

    “I just came to inform you of something,” the Vorta cut her off. The Glinn didn't appreciate being cut off. “One of the Jem'Hadar will always be present here, on the bridge, as an observer. Twelve hours one, thirteen hours the other one.”


    “Because we are here to observe,” Allaran smiled, spreading her hands in mock of politeness. Jarol wanted to tear her long, wrinkled ears off and then break her neck.

    “What do you expect to see?”

    “Only the best performance from the best crew.”

    Yeah, right... Jarol didn't buy it. Jarol wouldn't believe her even if she said Nokar was a desert continent. However now she was sure they came to look for something. Whatever it was she knew it couldn't be good.

    “You have an incoming transmission,” said the computer. Jarol startled. She was busy with reports, sitting in Corak's office and thinking his job was harder than she ever expected. Was all that paperwork really necessary?

    “Damn thing,” she muttered and then added, louder for the computer circuits to pick it, “activate”.

    That was not the face she expected to see.

    “Gul Dukat! What do I owe the pleasure?”

    “Oh, Glinn Jarol, I assure you the pleasure is mine.”

    In spite of everything, she couldn't resist his smile, no matter how hard she tried.

    “So, what can I do for you?” she asked. She knew he wouldn't contact her out of the blue without a good reason and she hoped it would be news about her Gul.

    “It's about Roumar and her command.”

    So it indeed was about Corak.

    “Well?” she asked after a short moment of silence. Why wasn't he saying anything? “When does he come back?” She didn't want to accept what happened and hoped it was all a mistake.

    “He's not coming back, Jarol. The Dominion observers decided he was a weak point in the chain of command and this needed to be amended, as we are on the verge of war with the Federation.”

    She ignored the war remark. She needed to let him know it was all a horrible mistake.

    “Gul Dukat, Gul Corak is...” Dukat raised his hand, silencing her.

    “Don't say anything more,” he said. “Your loyalty is admirable, but he is charged with treason. You'd better think twice before supporting him in any way. I wouldn't be able to help you,” he warned.

    She stared at him, wondering if there was anything she could say.

    Gul Corak had been arrested. One evening the First Toma'tomum'tomi'whatever-his-name-was dragged him out of his office in presence of all bridge staff and took him to the brig, where the Second was waiting. Allaran explained then that it was necessary and apologized for the scene. Jarol couldn't believe it. One hour later a Jem'Hadar fighter intercepted Roumar, took Corak, the Vorta and both Jem'Hadar aboard and left.

    “So if we don't talk about Corak, what do we talk about?” she asked.

    “I told you. It's about the warship's command. New command.”

    “I take it the decision about his successor has been made,” she guessed, her heart aching.


    “Well?” she asked after a short moment of silence. Why wasn't he saying anything?

    His smile widened.

    “There had been a lot of discussion on the subject, there had been many, who opposed my candidate, but in spite of all she was approved.” Did he say she? “Glinn Jarol, the official orders will each you soon, but I wanted to notify you personally, well, almost personally,” he gestured toward the screen. “You are getting the command of Roumar.”

    She stared at him eye wide.

    “But before you celebrate I would like to warn you,” he leaned toward the screen and lowered his voice, “that also means you gained new enemies, enemies, who don't like you being in command and who don't like you being my protégé.”

    In other words I inherit your enemies, she thought bitterly.

    “I will add them to my collection,” she replied.

    He laughed.

    “Congratulations, Gul Jarol,” she loved the sound of that, in spite of everything, she did love it. “It is going to be my pleasure to work with you again. You should be receiving your new orders now,” and with that he disconnected.

    She knew she owed him. She knew some day he would collect his debt. All his debts. And she knew she climbed her career ladder over her Gul's career. She hated herself for that.

    Treason. There was only one sentence possible. She was sure his execution was already scheduled, it had to be if the charges were official. That was why the Vorta and her bodyguards had come to Roumar – to observe Corak (or them all) and find any anti-Dominion state of opinion.

    She stood up to head for the bridge, when the doors parted and Brenok entered.

    “We've just gotten the word. They have executed Gul Corak,” he said quietly.

    She stopped in front of him. She felt disgusted of herself. She accepted the promotion. She was happy to accept it. She didn't achieve it by her hard work. She got it, because her Gul, a good, loyal officer, didn't like their new allies. Neither did she, but she was here, taking his place. Not due to her skills, but due to Dukat's insistence. He wanted someone he could manipulate, someone he had power over, someone like her. She couldn't refuse her promotion, it wouldn't be wise to try, but she didn't have to feel so happy about it.

    She tried to fight this positive feeling, she tried to get rid of it, and felt guilty feeling it.

    “Arenn,” she said quietly. She wanted to tell him all that, but didn't know how. “You'll be my aide now,” she said instead.

    A surprise on his face was quickly replaced by understanding. He nodded, put his hand on her shoulder and they both went back to the bridge. He knew. She didn't have to tell him anything; he understood.

    “Does anyone want to watch it?” Karama asked quietly.

    No one on the bridge spoke. Jarol knew she sure didn't want to watch Corak's execution. He was no more traitor than her. Or Brenok. Or anyone else on this ship.

    She accessed the console and saw that the orders have indeed arrived.

    “Helm,” she looked up at the screen in front of her. “Take us to Chintoka system. We are to secure installation process of a new communication array on one of planetoids. The Federation has declared war on us.”

    Her tone was casual, emotionless. Everyone on the bridge returned to their duties. Brenok stood behind her, smiled sadly and then started humming the most beautiful funeral musical composition Cardassian state composers ever composed. Some other voices joined him and soon whole bridge was flooded in mourning.

    “I was summoned,” Jarol said, entering Dukat's office. Her ship was docked at Terok Nor, under repair and getting new crew replacements.

    Dukat raised his head from a padd, put the device away and smiled.

    “Jarol,” he rose and approached her, “it's good to see you,” he grabbed her arms amicably.

    She smiled slightly, not sure what he wanted.

    “Oh, I didn't ask you to come in business matters,” he explained, seeing her puzzlement. “Just wanted to ask how you were doing.”

    She relaxed a bit.

    “My ship was a little bit battered by the Federation, but otherwise I'm fine,” she replied.

    He motioned toward a chair, inviting her to sit down. “Kanar?”

    She nodded.

    “How is Roumar? I read your reports, the crew appears to be good.”

    “They're the best,” she said and she meant it.

    “I'm sure they are,” he handed her a glass filled with thick beverage. “And you are the right person to command them.”

    She wondered if it was the moment when he would collect his debt of appointing her as Roumar's Gul.

    “I'm just trying to do my job the best I can,” she said.

    “Oh, don't be so modest,” he smiled that smile she could never resist. Her suspicions dissolving. “You deserve the credit for all you've done.”

    “So,” she took a sip; it was good kanar, “what is it you really called me for?”

    He laughed. “To talk.”

    “Uhm,” she muttered, her tone clearly full of disbelief, but her face stretched in a smile. What was it about him that she couldn't resist, that she couldn't hate him, even after what he did to her... and to Corak?

    He laughed again. “Oh, why are you so suspicious? We've been through so much together, I want to know how you are doing.”

    “Uhm...” was he finishing for something?

    He kept observing her for a moment.

    “What?” she asked.

    “You are so different from that young officer, who came here those years ago. You're a real soldier now,” he said.

    She didn't know what to say, and he continued: “A mature woman, a powerful woman, desirable woman...” was he trying to seduce her? She wondered.

    “Don't tell me you need my doubtful diplomatic skills again,” she said.

    “I'm afraid I have to deal with diplomacy personally this time,” he sighed.

    She wanted to ask him, she wanted to know, she wanted to tell him what she thought about his decision and about the Dominion, but she didn't dare. She knew he wasn't someone she could cross the line with; no matter how charming his smile was. She didn't want to follow Corak.

    So they talked. He really didn't want anything specific from her, or it wasn't obvious to her yet.

    She left his office in a good mood, stepped into ops and headed for the lift. She stepped into it, turned and noticed some of Cardassians were staring at her. They averted their eyes as soon as she turned.


    “What's this?” Jarol asked, pointing, her voice high and full of incredulity.

    She granted her officers shore leave for the time of repairs and used the opportunity to relax herself. Now she sat with Damar and Brenok at one of tables in Quark's Bar.

    “Tora Ziyal,” Damar replied. “Don't you remember her?”

    Jarol pulled her face. “Does she even close that mouth of hers? Or she always wears that stupid expression on her face?”

    “Always,” Damar said, laughing. “But better don't ask Dukat that question.”

    “I can't understand how he could have abandon all his children for this... this... this!” she didn't manage to find an appropriate word, so just waved her hand toward the hybrid.

    “He didn't exactly abandon them,” Damar noted.

    “All right, let me rephrase that: I can't understand how come he could choose this over his children, wife, mother...”

    Brenok shrugged. “I don't care for this wimp,” he said. “Barkeep, more kanar!” he raised his voice to be heard by Quark. “Was it like this when you served here before?” he asked, looking at Jarol.

    “No, there weren't any Jem'Hadar here,” she said. “And Bajorans weren't this clean,” she added and looked around, “and they definitely weren't armed,” she finished.

    “Odo says, Weyoun does,” Damar sneered.

    “Now imagine, Damar,” Brenok looked at his old companion, “Bajor joins the Dominion...”

    “... and we're all one happy family,” finished Jarol and all three of them burst into laughter.


    Next day, apart from fighting a hangover, she spent on paperwork. Reading reports and preparing her own. She hated that part of her job and was glad she found time to deal with everything within one day. She also knew she deserved some prize for all that suffering over padds, so when she finally finished – much later that she expected – she headed for Quark's.

    She entered the bar and looked around to see if any friendly faces were present. She spotted Brenok, so pushed her way between Jem'Hadar – not drinking, not chatting, only taking space Jem'Hadar – toward his table. He was in a middle of a heated discussion with others, but as soon as they spotted her, everyone fell silent.

    “What?” she asked. They only looked at each other. “I'm not welcome?” she was just about to turn and leave, when Damar said: “Don't be ridiculous, sit down.”

    “You can't order me, I outrank you,” she joked, taking a seat.

    His eyes opened wider. “You're right! How did this happen?” and he laughed. The truth was Damar's rank of Glinn was in fact higher of her rank of Gul due to their functions in the Guard; and both Damar and Jarol knew that.

    “Back on Groumall,” Brenok explained to the others at the table, whom Jarol didn't know, “Damar's rank was higher than Joral's.”

    “Well, she had better chances for promotion,” one of them said. “She can offer Dukat something he can't.”

    “Shut up!” Damar barked sharply. Jarol was surprised by his abrupt reaction. “If you want to spread these gossips, then go and spread them somewhere else,” he added.

    Two soldiers got up, one stayed seated.

    “What was that all about?” she asked.

    “You don't want to know,” said the officer.

    “And you are?” she asked.


    “Oh, I heard about you!” she recalled the name. “You kicked some Klingon asses.”

    He smiled. “Yes, I did.”

    “So... why the big secret?” she asked, looking at all of them. No one said anything. “Come on!”

    “Atira, leave it,” Damar said.

    “But why?” She looked at Brenok, he just shook his head. “I could order you to tell me,” she threatened.

    “Please, don't. Don't force me.”

    She started to grow irritated. “Corat?”

    They kept looking into each other eyes and he finally gave up. “Some people, jealous idiots, who are incapable, but very arrogant, claim that you are not a Gul commanding Roumar thanks to your skills. At least not tactical skills.”

    “Oh. So what kind of skills do I owe my career?”

    He stopped and looked at others at the table.

    “Corat, you're driving me crazy. Spit it out!”

    “They think you sleep with him and your career,” he waved, “is his gratitude.”

    Her eyes opened wide. Her brain brought back that scene in Dukat's quarters aboard Groumall, every detail of it, his finger on her ridges. It scared her then and it crept her now. But then... that recent conversation... it was really nice...

    She saw pure shock on Damar's face and realised her mixed inner thoughts must have been clear on her face.

    “It's nonsense, of course,” she said. “Why would people say this? Because I was summoned to his office before yesterday?” suddenly the faces of officers in ops that day made sense.

    “No, actually those gossips started a few years ago. I think it was when he took you to Groumall.”

    “You mean people have been talking for years about it?” this time it was her, who was in shock. He just nodded. “Wonderful,” she muttered.

    “I never believed a word,” he assured her.

    “That's great, but many do, right?”

    “Don't let it bother you. It's not a street market to exchange rumours.”

    “Let's drink more kanar?” she asked in a voice full of hope, changing subject, but the whole notion bothered her and she knew it would keep bothering her for long time.

    “Fantastic,” he smiled, raising his glass toward her. She smiled and sipped hers. She wondered how stupid and blind she had to be not to notice all of that... that... Ferengi gossiping...

    “Legate Damar,” she greeted him upon entering the room. He raised his head from the panel and looked at her with widely opened eyes. She stood by the door, all business. A long moment passed and then Damar burst into laughter.

    “How did you call me?” he approached her and grabbed her arms in greeting.

    “How shall I call you?” she replied, but a tiny smile was crawling on her lips. She knew what was coming.

    “'Corat', you are one of those few people, who don't have to 'legate' me.”

    “That will get some getting used to,” she said, smiling widely. It was good to see him, at was great to see him in a good mood in spite of grim situation. Little she knew that his mood had been as grim as the situation before she entered.

    “Why? This is the first time you called me a legate,” he went back to the console and resumed tapping at it.

    “Well, I'm maybe not used to call you a legate, but I am used to address 'legate' people, who wear this,” she tapped his armour.

    “Don't mention it,” he said, returning to the console. She glanced over his shoulder to see what was on the display. “I don't believe this,” he muttered to himself. “Atira,” he turned to her. “I called you here for a reason.”

    “I'm sure you did. You're too busy to casually catch up with old friends,” she wasn't sure the last words were acceptable. She still had some objections of being so familiar with a legate; maybe it was old, good Damar, maybe he was the same man she fought Klingons with, maybe he was the person, who she dined with her almost every evening on that Klingon bucket, maybe it was the man, who saved her life, but now this man was wearing a legate's armour and as a Cardassian she was practically genetically designed to show him due respect. How could she break that conditioning? It wouldn't be even right. But then – she had broken that conditioning once, so it was possible. And again – she defied authority as she believed that authority was wrong, and it had brought troubles and demotion and she had landed on an obscure freighter... where she met Damar, the current head of Cardassia. She smiled inwardly at the irony. “So what did you want to discuss?”

    “You know about the Breen,” it wasn't a question, but a statement. She nodded. “Do you know the Founder gave them Cardassian territory?”

    “And you agreed to that?!” she didn't expect that.

    “They didn't ask me. They just told me to sign the document.”

    “And you did.”

    “I didn't have a choice.”

    “There's always a choice.”

    “They'd execute me and make someone else sign it.”

    She started to understand. “You're just a paw, aren't you.”

    His face expression made her want to eat back those words. She hurt him.

    “I don't intend to be any longer,” he said.

    “So what's the plan?”

    “Your former commander was executed by the Dominion, as he didn't hide his despise for them.”

    “That's correct.”

    “So I expect your crew is not very fond of our... rulers,” he pulled his face, saying the last word.

    “No, we're not.”

    “Explain to your crew you work for Cardassia again, not for the Dominion. But be careful, there is someone there loyal to the Dominion. He can't know about us!”

    “Wait, wait, I don't follow,” what was he telling her?

    “Which part don't you follow?” he sighed. She noticed his hands were slightly shaking.

    “All of it.”

    “Atira,” he put his hands on the edge of a console, clearly to hide the shaking. “I am looking for loyal Cardassian crews. I don't have to ask you, I know you. I trust you. I want you to join me and fight the Dominion and not rest until they all are either gone or dead, but out of our empire.”

    “Now you're talking,” she smiled.

    “However there is a soldier among your crew, who is loyal to them. He cannot know about us, or we would all be dead, and you're first in line.”

    “How do you know that?”

    “Someone tipped Weyoun that former Gul of Roumar was expressing his anti-Dominion opinions aboard the ship. It was one of your officers. I don't know who, but he still could be there. Be careful.”

    One of their own betrayed their Gul. She felt anger raising in her soul and burning into her heart. She had to find him and punish for his treason.

    “How many of us are there?” she asked.

    “Not many yet. I want you to find more, to search for them and recruit them. We'll discuss details, but not here. How about tonight, do you have plans?”

    “I have now.”

    “In my quarters. Wear civilian clothes. Weyoun won't get suspicious seeing another lady around me and we'd be able to talk freely. Nineteen hundred hours.”

    “I'll be there,” she promised.

    “Splendid,” he smiled, turning to her. He took his hands off the console and they were shaking again.

    “Corat, are you all right?” she asked with worry.

    For a split second his eyes went to a corner, where on the table was... nothing. The absence of a bottle of kanar and glasses was so clear that it was almost screaming at her. How could she not notice it earlier?

    “I'm fine,” he said quietly. “Go now. I'll see you later. ”

    She nodded, patted his shoulder and left.

    She left Damar's office and headed for officers' lounge to pick up her new orders, while a familiar face came into her view. He was walking purposefully from the opposite side of the corridor in her direction. He abruptly stopped, almost causing a Cardassian walking behind him bump onto him.

    “Jarol?” his voice was full of disbelief. “How are you?” he asked her, approaching closer.

    “Fine. I can see you're doing well too,” she smiled at him, pointing at his Legate armour.

    “Oh, it happened so long ago I already stopped thinking about it,” Demok smiled. “But I knew you would climb the career ladder and reach high.”

    “Did you?”

    “Of course. You were always so hardworking, so diligent,” seemed like he didn't change much, still ever present happy smile on his face, still an optimist. “Would you have some time to catch up later?” he asked her.

    “Depends on my new orders.”

    “Oh, I'm sure we can do something about keeping you on Cardassia for one evening,” his smile became wider, revealing how deep his wrinkles became. It gave him a new, distinguished look, especially since his mature face was circled by greying hair. Has it really been only a few years since she last saw him?

    “You're the Legate here,” she smiled back.

    “Then it's settled. Come to my house today. For a dinner. My cook is a magician and his dishes are real treasures.”

    “It would be nice to have a decent meal for change, but not tonight. I have other plans,” she admitted.

    “That tough on the food front, ah? How about tomorrow, then?”

    “Well, it's not easy... but rewarding. And tomorrow would be fine.”

    “You'll tell me all about the rewarding part tomorrow then.”


    “Nineteen hundred hours.”

    “I'll be there.”

    He patted her shoulder amicably, not unlike she had just patted Damar's, and went his way.

    She resumed her walk to the lounge. There were not familiar faces there, so she picked the padd with her orders and beamed back to Roumar.

    She had to admit Damar must have given everything a lot of thought. Her task was to find and recruit loyal Cardassians to their cause and her official orders were to inspect Fifth Order. What better way to talk to officers and test their loyalties if not knocking at their doors?


    2375 (2375)

    Jarol wasn't sure how her soldiers would react to her proposal. Here she stood in front of them, fearing their reaction, but absolutely sure she was doing the right thing.

    “I asked you to gather here,” she started, “because I want to ask you for help. Yes, you heard it right, it is not an order, but a request.

    “You all know that Lakarian City is nothing more than a pile of rubble. And not only Lakarian City... You know that many people lost their lives and Cardassia needs people, all people, to raise from ruins. It needs all available hands to rebuild it.

    “So here I am, asking you to join our common effort to bring it back to its former glory. Your enemies are heat and wind, plaque and starvation, and most of all – fear of the future. You have to protect people of Cardassia from those ruthless enemies.

    “Today Cardassia doesn't need your weapons, but your muscles. It needs strong men to build its cities, homes and offices. This is not an order. You don't have to do it. Those, who want to help will now go to transporter room and beam to designated rally points on the planet and there report to work coordinators, who are responsible for rebuilding program. You main task would be removing rubble, and – hopefully – still finding living under collapsed buildings. Those, who stay here will not face any consequences; it is up to you, which your choose. I will return here in one hour to assign military duties to those, who don't decide to beam down. Make your decision now!”

    She left the cargo bay and headed for her office.

    Brenok was sitting in her chair. He kept his feet on the desk and was leaning back, with his eyes closed. He was humming a funeral song. She sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. She wasn't used to be on this side.

    “Where will you go now?” he asked her not opening his eyes.

    “Demok's parents want me in their house,” she replied. “How about you?”

    “I am homeless,” his voice trembled a little.

    They sat in silence. She listened to his singing and it brought her some comfort.

    When time came and she rose to return to the cargo bay, Brenok got up too and accompanied her.

    The cargo bay was empty. The friends looked at each other and smiled – for the first time in many days.

    They were proud of their crew, now more than ever.

    A few weeks earlier

    Now, this wasn't a face she expected to see on her screen.

    “Rusot?” what could he possible want with her.

    “You must talk to him,” he said without preamble.

    “About what?” she knew very well who 'him' was.

    “He isn't to bring that Bajoran to teach us!” Rusot was clearly upset.

    “Yes, he's told me...”

    “Talk him out of this! This is crazy,” he interrupted her.

    “Do you know how to be a guerilla fighter? I don't,” she said.

    “Don't you resent this idea? They killed your family!”

    Why did everyone have to use her private tragedy as arguments each time Bajorans were the subject? “She didn't kill my family.”

    “What's the difference? Do you want to be in debt to... Bajorans and the Federation?”

    “No, I don't. But we don't have any choice. There's few of us, zillions of Jem'Hadar and more hatch every day. You want to be free in your own land? I suggest you put your pride to your pocket for the time being.”

    “So you won't talk to him?”

    “No, I won't. And I advise against bothering him about it. Do you think it's easy for him?”

    Rusot didn't have a reply for a short moment.

    “Here are our current co-ordinates. You are to make sure the Federation's help,” he spat the last two words, “gets here in one piece. Protect their vessel discretely.”


    “Good luck.”

    “Same to you down there.”

    He disconnected.

    She looked at Demok, who enjoyed kanar on the sofa. She started playing with the mar'kuu sculpture, which stood on her desk. She remembered the day, when she'd entered Daset's former quarters to move in. It had been emptied of all his possessions but the mar'kuu sculpture, which had still been standing on the table. She'd found a note next to it: 'You seemed to like it. Enjoy it then! Good luck, Glinn Jarol. Daset'.

    “This is sick,” he commented. He was no friend of Bajorans too.

    “Not you too...”

    “I have to accept it, but don't have to like it. This war took two of my sons, the last two alive. Federation killed one, Klingons slaughtered the other one... no, the Dominion, Dominion slaughtered the other one, handing him on a plate to Klingons,” he silenced for a moment. Jarol knew his youngest died in Septimus Three Massacre. “I hate them with all my heart, but I know we need them. We killed many of them and they still send us help. That counts for something.”

    “We have common enemy,” she said.

    “Come here,” he pulled his hand toward her. She went to him and sat next to him on the sofa. “I must tell you something.”

    She moved closer to him and he touched blue scales on her neck ridges.

    “They are so blue, beautiful hue of blue,” he said. “You must be very fertile.”

    “I am,” she confirmed. “Why do you wear a regular armour, you're a legate?” she asked.

    “That's what I want to talk about. But first...” he silenced again. “After the war I want you to move into my house. Bring your family, if they would want to leave Nokar. That's a big house and my parents feel lonely there, especially since disease and war emptied it. Bond with me and stay with me.”

    After Joret died she didn't think she could feel for anyone what she'd felt for him. She believed a woman could love truly only once in her life. Demok was so different from Joret Jarol, and at the same time some things in him were the same. She loved him; her feeling was strong, but a little different from what she felt for Joret.

    “I will,” she said quietly and kissed him on the cheek.

    They sat in silence for a moment and then he said: “I will join Damar in his hideout.”

    She didn't say anything. Demok supported Damar's rebellion and his decision was not surprising for her. She was just disappointed they would have to part.

    “Will you take me to him?” he asked.

    “Of course.”

    They sat in silence for a while and then Jarol whispered: “Tiron...”

    “Yes?” he replied as quietly. She loved his deep, a little rusty voice.

    “Don't get yourself killed.”

    “I'll do my best,” he said softly.

    She lay down, put her head on his lap and closed her eyes. She tried to forget about the war, the Dominion, the rebellion, the fear and the hatred. She wanted to be here and now, with this man, who could always find a reason to smile. A plague took his wife, wars claimed his sons' lives, but he still could see something bright in his life, although she already knew his face wasn't as bright as it had been six years ago. His losses created a cloud, which was hovering over his optimistic smile. She imagined a similar cloud had to be present in her eyes too. They had so much in common, so many sad memories, both remained almost family-less and their sacrifice did not come to an end yet. She knew the fate would ask more of them and she could only hope it wouldn't be as harsh as it had been before.

    “I need to go back to work,” she said, sitting.

    “I'll stay here and wait for you,” she said and kissed her. Then they raised their palms and connected them. Demok entwined his fingers with hers. After a short while she rose and left her quarters.

    She headed for the bridge. She expected to see Brenok in her chair, but the chair was empty. She looked at Nadar puzzled. “Where is...?” she started, but then heard something. “Forget it, I'll just follow singing.” Nadar only smiled and she went toward the song. Everyone on the ship was used to their unique second in command, who wore long hair, lacked ear and sang most of time, usually not even aware of that fact.

    Brenok was laying on the deck, with his face hidden under communication console and Zamarran sitting on the deck next to him with a scanner in his hand.

    “Something wrong?” she asked Brenok, crouching.

    Brenok tried to sit, but the console was low and he only hit his head. He cursed, causing Jarol smile – the contrast between the cheerful song he sang and the ugly word he spoke was so strong she found it amusing. He carefully crawled from under the console.

    “Someone was playing with circuits here,” he said. “I don't remember approving such work, neither as the chief engineer, nor later as the second in command, so I suspect unauthorised access.”

    “Not good.”

    “Maybe someone didn't have time to have orders approved and needed to repair it quickly,” he said, but didn't sound convince.

    “Maybe, but it would still require a report after the fact,” she said.

    “My thoughts exactly.”

    “Are the changes suggesting it could be a sabotage?” she asked.

    “No, not really. But I can't tell what could be the purpose. Everything seems to be in order, but all those changes were purposefully done to achieve something. I just don't know what.”

    “I see,” she rose and went to her chair. “Is it just my imagination, or the engines are louder today?” she asked.

    “Louder?” Zamarran asked. He took over engineering when Brenok became her aide. He looked at Brenok, not sure what to say.

    “I don't hear any difference,” Brenok commented. “Anyone?”

    All men on the bridge shook their heads, so Jarol dismissed it, but she was sure the warship's usual humming was clearer than before. She also noticed that Nadar was instantly glancing at Brenok, who kept working under the communication console. Why would he be so interested in this kind of task?

    Her new orders were issued by a Legate named Broca. She has never heard this name before, but it seemed like he replaced Damar. She wondered how he would feel in Damar's shoes as a puppet. She looked over the orders, hoping no more of her people would be reassigned. She noticed that recently the Dominion was dismantling Cardassian crews and reassigning soldiers to guard Dominion outposts. Fifty of her crew were taken away and she knew for sure that at least fifteen of them were killed by their own rebellion. She tried to keep up with the names, but it was getting harder with each new one. She took it on herself to inform their families they died as heroes, but she couldn't do it earlier than after the war. For now she had to pretend she was loyal to the Dominion. She could only imagine the despise other Cardassians felt for her, believing she supported the enemy. But that was what Damar needed her to do and she was doing it gladly. She knew there would come a day when she could proudly look into every Cardassian's face and tell them: I also fought for your freedom. She was sure even among her own crew there were some, who hated her for not 'officially' joining the Liberation Front, as other crews did. She knew how they felt, she didn't have to ask. Gul Corak's death was still hanging over her officers and if she were in their place, she'd surely hate herself for serving her Gul's murderers. But they couldn't know. She couldn't tell them the truth, because she still didn't know who was the traitor and who was responsible for informing the Dominion that Corak was no Dominion supporter, to put it mildly.

    “Zamarran,” she looked at the engineer. “Go down to the engineering and check those engines,” she told him. “I am sure the warship is noisier.”

    “Yes, sir,” he said, stood up and headed for the lift.

    “And then she came to me and said,” Brenok's grin showed all his teeth, ”'daddy, when I grow up I will cut my ear off too'. I asked why and she said she wanted to be a soldier like daddy. But why cut the ear off? And then she looked at me with those huge, shiny brown eyes and asked 'don't officers have to cut ears off to become officers?'”

    Jarol and Demok laughed loudly.

    “She's adorable,” Demok commented.

    “She is,” Brenok nodded. His daughter was his favourite subject recently and after a short visit at home in Lakarian City he had many new stories to share.

    “They are precious treasure, children I mean, aren't they?” Demok smiled.

    “Yes, sir, they are.”

    Jarol still found it funny Brenok was addressing Demok “sir”. However it didn't escape her that Demok never told Brenok to become more familiar and drop the official vocabulary. She hoped the distance between them would some day disappear or at least shrink. She didn't want her best friend and her bondmate “sir” each other forever.

    It was the last meal they would share for the time being. Demok was to beam down to Damar's Liberation Front caves on Regulak, while Roumar was supposed to strengthen Cardassian forces in the Sarpedion system.

    “Bridge to Gul Jarol,” Karama's voice spoke over the comm.

    She tapped her wristcomm. “What is it?”

    “We'll arrive to Regulak V in twenty minutes.”

    She looked at Demok. So this was it.

    “What will you tell the Vorta, when he asks about my absence?” Demok asked Jarol. She had to report to a supervising Vorta now; that change was implemented after Damar's rebellion broke out. Demok was aboard Roumar officially to inspect the ship.

    “I will tell him that you were a traitor and we executed you,” she answered.

    “And if he wants to see the body?”

    “Our customs don't allow aliens view our dead and... we vaporised it.”

    “Hopefully he's going to buy it.”

    “Don't worry about us.”

    A soldier brought a padd and handed it to Demok. The legate activated it and read the content.

    “It's from Damar. I'm assigned to his ship, that stolen one” he explained.

    “Are you?” she looked at him.

    “Gul Revok brings many soldiers to our cause, but you still have to recruit more,” he said. “We may not see each other until after our mission.”

    “We may not see each other until the Jem'Hadar are gone from our home,” she replied.

    “True,” he admitted, standing up.

    She also rose and they stood and kept looking at each other for a while and then Demok raised his hand. She pressed her palm flatly to his. She knew she would miss him, she knew she would worry about him, but she believed he was safer with Damar than she aboard her own ship.

    “I don't care they can see us,” he said suddenly and pulled her to him. She didn't resist. Two armours pressing weren't exactly the same as feeling his scales touching and rubbing hers, but it was comfortable to rest in his arms, with his chin resting on the top of her head. She loved him, she loved him madly and wished the war would end soon, so that she could be with him again. Forever.

    The door to her office opened and Brenok and Zamarran pushed in Nadar. Zamarran then pressed the tactician to the deck and put his heavy boot on the man's back. Jarol rose from behind her desk, went around it and stood in front of Nadar, her boots mere centimetres from his face.

    “You were very interested in the changes, which had been introduced to the communication console. Did you worry we'd find out who implemented them?” she asked. “You also neglected to report some tiny details, regarding our officers' transfers... like only those, who happened to say something anti-Dominion, were being reassigned and then each and every of them was placed in an installation only as a cannon fodder.”

    Neither Brenok, nor Zamarran knew why she asked them to bring Nadar to her office, no matter how much he'd resist. The tactical officer knew she was onto him, because she managed to intercept his communiques, sent directly to him. It was atypical for an officer, even a department head, to receive direct orders from highest ranks of Central Command. She was the Gul, she should be the only recipient of such documentation. Her acute senses made her irritable, ever present loud humming of ship's engines was getting on her nerves, but that constant irritation made her interested in everyone's moves and this brought her to Nadar's strange behaviour.

    She used to trust him. She had known him for so many years. She respected him and his tactical skills, which she considered superior to her own. Therefore she would never expect it to be him.

    “Why?” she asked, crouching.

    He turned his head to look up at her. His eye was bruised. “A true Cardassian must follow his leaders.”

    “His Cardassian leaders, Nadar, not Vorta.”

    “His leaders, whoever they might be. Everything else is a treason.”

    Obviously he didn't feel a traitor.

    “Nadar, Gul Corak was your superior. You are responsible for his death. Shouldn't you follow him, instead of betraying him?”

    “My ultimate loyalty is to the rulers of Cardassian Union, not one warship's Gul.”

    “How about Damar? Shouldn't you be loyal to him, not to the Vorta Weyoun and his shapeshifters?”

    To that Nadar found no answer. Maybe he realised she was right.

    “I'm sorry, Nadar, but I cannot allow you to notify whoever you are in contact with about our plans. This is too important.”

    He closed his eyes.

    “You will die for Cardassia. Free of Dominion Cardassia,” she told him and then rose. She addressed Brenok and Zamarran. “Get rid if him, no traces.”

    They grabbed Nadar, each by one arm, and pulled him up.

    “Gul Jarol,” the tactician spoke.


    “Don't let my family suffer because of this,” he asked.

    “I won't. We're not Klingons,” she promised.

    He let the engineers lead him out, offering no resistance. A few minutes later Brenok informed her they'd vaporised his body and no sign of whole ordeal was left. She didn't feel relieved at all. He was one of those she never suspected to be the Dominion mole among their crew.

    All of this made her realise how acute her senses were recently. She experienced something like that twice and wondered if it was the same, or she was just overworked, stressed and irritable due to lack of sleep.

    She headed for the infirmary. Medic Kolvar was expecting her. He took a sample of her blood and scanned it.

    “Well?” she asked. “Is it what I think, or am I just really tired.”

    “You are tired, but your acute senses are not a result of this,” he said. “I don't know if you consider this a good or bad news, but you can consider it confirmed.”

    Cardassian women were not chased by predators any more. They didn't have to be super-aware of their surroundings at this vulnerable time when they were responsible not only for their own life, but also the new life, but the evolutionary feature was still coded in their genetics. Be aware of sounds, be aware of movement, be aware of danger, hiding in the forest. Soldier or no soldier, she was still a Cardassian lifeform and no civilisation level could eradicate that. Cardassian women were hyper sensitive during their pregnancies, and she was no exception.

    “Thank you, medic,” she stood up. “No word to anyone.”

    “Of course,” he nodded. “The genetic code is male,” he added with a smile, while she was already heading for the exit. She answered with her own grin.

    She knew Demok was currently deep in hiding, so there was no way she could inform him of it, but she wished she could share the news with him. His family house wouldn't be so empty any more.

    “Speech. Do we listen to it?” Karama turned to look at Jarol. Everyone on the bridge fell silent.

    “Speech? That Vorta likes to speak more than any Cardassian I know... well... almost any,” no one could beat Dukat at that. “All right, put him on,” she said and stood up.

    Weyoun's face appeared on the screen. The more he spoke, the less she liked what she heard. The final footage of the ship – the ship that carried two important men in her life – exploding......

    No! Not again! Corat! Tiron!

    Jarol felt her legs giving away. She heavily slumped to the floor and sat there, leaning forward on her hands, looking at the deck's flooring not really seeing anything. She couldn't breathe, she felt like there was something heavy on her chest, not letting her take a breath in.

    Everything played in her mind's eye again. Space vessel, explosion, black, empty space sparkled by cold, distant stars. Corat. So small. So innocent. So brave. Sacrificed his life trying to save his empire. Her son. Her friend. Her husband. Her love. Loves. Someone, she couldn't imagine living without and she had to learn now. Again. She would have to learn again. How? Why did it all happen? Was every Cardassian suffering the same loss or was it just her fate? Why everyone, who she cared about, who she loved, had to die!?

    Brenok grabbed her arm and forced her to stand up. He led her to her office and helped her sit on the sofa in a corner.

    “Arenn,” she grabbed his hand and squeezed. There were wild flames in her eyes. “Arenn... promise me you won't die, promise me.”

    “I promise,” he said quietly. Just then she noticed a tear coming from his eye. Was he crying seeing death of all those good people, or seeing her suffering? Or both?

    “I...” she pulled him closer. “... won't make through this again, I won't, I can't.”

    He was stroking her hair, humming her favourite lullaby, he didn't know how to help her.

    “The first time I heard Corat's name I thought my heart would jump out of my chest,” she said, not really speaking to him, but speaking out loud. “Joret chose that name for our son. And then I meet someone, who shared this name. I resented him at first. It wasn't his fault, it was nothing wrong, but it felt wrong to me. But later it became important. He was... like... like... like who my son could become if he was given a chance. He could even be a Legate. Head of Cardassian Union. Arenn,” she looked at him. “Tiron and I...” she paused.

    “It was no secret you two were in love,” Brenok whispered.

    “Tiron... All his sons died in wars,” she said. “I will not let this one,” she put her hand on her belly, “join military. This one must live.”

    The Glinn squeezed her hands. Her pain was so great he forgot about his own. For a moment.

    “I have only you left now,” she put her hands on his cheeks. He put his hands on hers, covering them – his warm, big hands. If Damar was like fulfilment of her son, Brenok was more like her brother, who had died of malnutrition when he was just ten months old. She still remembered the day. It was so long time ago, almost thirty years, and she still could remember every detail of that day. “I need to go back to the bridge,” she tried to compose herself.

    They both rose. They stood, looking at each other, trying to gain strength from each other's presence and then in unison returned to the bridge.

    The rebellion was dead. And so was their Cardassia. They became Bajorans of the Dominion.

    Jarol hated the waiting before each battle. It was more unnerving than fighting itself. When she fought, she didn't have time for fear, only for anger. But waiting was the time for fear and worry, and she didn't enjoy those feelings.

    But now, in the middle of the massive battle over her home planet she feared her side would win. She was fighting on the side of people, who she considered her enemies against people, who became her allies. Maybe it would be easier to die? Just drop the shield and let a Klingon or a Romulan torpedo finish this. She only hoped the rumour of Damar still on Cardassia and still fighting the Dominion behind the lines was more than just a rumour. She clung to that unconfirmed news and it helped her to go on.

    “Sir, we've lost contact with the command!” Karama's voice was full of panic. “We get no orders from...” he stopped speaking, starting at his console.

    “What is it?” she asked.

    He didn't react, so she got up and went toward him, trying not to stumble in constantly shaking under enemy – or rather ally – fire ship.

    “Phaser fire,” the ship shook violently before Brenok finished his sentence, “incoming.”

    Karama turned to face Jarol. “They have destroyed Lakarian City,” he said.

    “What?” Jarol was sure heard wrong in the noise. “Who? The Federation?”

    Karama looked at his console, then back at her, and then at Brenok. “No,” he said. “The Dominion. CUW Atash sent information the Dominion is bombarding Cardassia Prime.”

    Whole bridge froze. Brenok slid to the deck, with a long, heartbreaking whine, in shock. Mazdar hit his console with his fist, breaking it; it covered with crack lines.

    “Sir, Atash tells us to attack the Dominion ships!” Karama shouted.

    “Who is in command of Atash?” she asked.

    “Gul Jotrel.”

    Jotrel... Jotrel... Jotrel!

    “Shoot them! Shoot them! Shoot them!!!” she yelled, running to Brenok. “Smash the damn Jem'Hadar!”

    The bridge returned to life and she had an impression everyone worked with passion, unlike a moment ago, when they were fighting with the Dominion, not against them. She crouched by Brenok. He looked at her with tears in his eyes. She helped him get up and tried to take him off the bridge to her office to hide his moment of weakness from the bridge staff, but he pushed her away and leaned over his console.

    “Targeting a Jem'Hadar fighter to our starboard,” he shouted over other reports. She stood for a few seconds, observing him. He clearly directed his pain to anger and this was the time for anger.

    “They're attacking a Federation vessel,” reported Zamarran. “The Feds are in bad shape.”

    “Put us between the attacker and defender. Protect them,” ordered Jarol.

    “We take the beating!” Zamarran shouted.

    “We can take it!” She couldn't stand being useless, she had to do something too. She took the tactical, sending Mazdar to axillary tactical console. She cut her fingers on sharp edges of chirped glass-like plastic, but she paid no attention to that.

    “Karama, ask the Federation ship is they need help, they seem to have a hull breach,” she shouted toward the comm officer.

    “We've lost port torpedo launcher,” reported Zamarran.

    “They appreciate the offer, but they say they can handle it,” Karama answered.

    “Switching life support to axillary power nods,” Mazdar's voice was shaking.

    After that everything became a blur. The battle was progressing, like any other battle, but this time she knew she fought for Cardassia's existence. This time the stakes were high, so high she couldn't imagine losing this one battle. It was either 'win' or 'perish'. Black or white. Zero or one. The binary choice.

    “The Dominion is withdrawing,” Brenok sounded surprised.

    “I would expect them to fight to the last soldier,” Mazdar commented.

    “So would I,” whispered Jarol. “What's our status?” she asked Zamarran.

    “Not so good, but we can make it to a shipyard... if we have any shipyards left that is,” he said.

    “There's a small Romulan attack warbird spinning out of control toward us,” reported Mazdar.

    “Any life signs?” she asked.


    “Catch them on a tractor beam.”

    “But that will drain our limited power even more,” protested Zamarran.

    “Take them on a tractor beam!” she roared at him. “They are like other Cardassians to you, they fought on your side, you will make a sacrifice for them if necessary!”

    “Yes, sir,” Zamarran manipulated his console. “Tractor beam activated.”

    “Life support on desks twelve to fourteen, stern section, is gone!” Mazdar said.

    “Systems shut down due to lack of power.”

    “Evacuate those sections!”

    “For Romulans?” Zamarran muttered astonished. Jarol gave him a hard look and he lowered his head, busying himself with his console.

    “Patch what you can, don't comment and don't you dare to contradict me!” she warned.

    “Yes, sir, sorry, sir,” he didn't dare raising his head to look at her. “Where do we tow them?”

    “To the nearest Romulan ship in sufficient shape to take care of them.”

    “Yes, sir,” helm crisply reported.

    “Karama, get some reports from Cardassia,” she told the communication officer.

    “Attempting, but it's all a mess.”

    She looked at Brenok. He stood, leaning heavily on his console and staring in front of him without really seeing.

    “Zamarran, take over,” she ordered, and approached Brenok, while the engineer nodded his acknowledgement.

    She pulled her friend to her office. He was stiff, like a puppet, he let her take him to her chair and she seated him there. Then she went to the door to look out through the glass to see how Mazdar was doing. She knew his parents lived in Lakarian City. The tactician seemed to be able to do his job, and she decided against disturbing his work in case it was his way of dealing with the terrible loss. She turned to look at Brenok.

    He sat motionless, his face wet from tears. She sat on the floor by his feet and put her hand on his. He looked down at her and his blank face became personification of endless pain.

    The door to the office opened and someone entered.

    “We've just got the news,” Karama's voice was soft and quiet. “Damar was shot while charging the Central Command building.”

    Steps, swoosh of the door and they were alone again.

    Brenok slid to the floor and sat next to Jarol. There was nothing else to say, nothing else to do. Nothing left. All they had now was each other.

    Cardassia became the land of orphans.

    End of Part 1

    Part 2 the tree is inclined

    What will happen to us now?

    2376 (2375-2376)

    Brenok laughed straight to Parn's face, leaning toward the man so close that drops of his saliva landed on Legate's skin.

    “Is that your answer?” the Legate clearly didn't appreciate being ridiculed.

    “How stupid do you think I am?” Brenok just shrugged.

    “If we thought you were stupid, we wouldn't invite you here.”

    Brenok shot a glance at the man, who had brought him here the first time. “You call this 'invited'?” He commented bitterly. “There is another word for this in my vocabulary.”

    “I suggest you rethink your answer.”

    Brenok moved away his hair, uncovering his ugly scar. “I'd faster grow a new ear than join your mouldy bunch of pig-heads, who haven't learnt anything,” he snorted and then turned and left.

    Six months earlier

    “No!” Jarol stood in front of people, spreading her arms wide. “You can't do it!”

    “We take it down! We'll take you[i/] down if necessary!” someone shouted.

    “You can't! He did a lot for Cardassia, you can't just erase him,” she protested.

    “Move!” a man charged with heavy tool in his hands.

    “No!” she didn't want to let him through.

    The crowd started closing up on her, but she didn't move. It was obvious she didn't want to allow them do that.

    Brenok couldn't watch it any longer. He ran to her and grabbed her sleeve.

    “Come, you won't stop them on your own,” he said, pulling her away.

    “So help me!”

    “No,” his reply was sharp and firm. She was astonished. “Come, let's go,” he insisted.

    Someone hit the column with a heavy hammer, chirping huge piece of concrete. “No!” she rushed to the man, trying to wrest the hammer out from his hands, but he moved away.

    Brenok grabbed her armour and pulled away. She tried to pull out, but he was stronger and kept her firmly.

    “Stop it,” he shouted irritated after a moment of her fruitless attempts. “Let it go!”

    “No! No!” she protested.

    He pulled her farther away, not paying attention to her protests. Finally, she gave up and silently observed enraged people destroying Dukat's monument.

    “Come on,” Brenok pulled her sleeve. “I'll buy you some kanar,” he said.

    “I can't drink,” she reminded him.

    “Fine, then I'll buy you Ferengi Slog-o-Cola.”

    She looked at him. She wasn't in a mood for jokes, but she let him pull her farther away.

    “Why do you care?” he asked, when they turned to another street and couldn't see the monument any longer, although could hear the sounds of dismantling it.

    “He saved my life,” she answered. “Yes, he made mistakes, but he doesn't deserve what they want to do.”

    “He also blackmailed you, molested, used, manipulated, the list goes on, and you know that! Not mentioning he was responsible for Corak's death.”

    “It wasn't his fault directly.”

    “Whole Dominion was 'his fault directly' and only his. We have to clean this mess now!” Brenok shouted angrily.

    She was surprised by his reaction. “But it still doesn't make it right,” she waved toward the direction of the unseen now crowd.

    Brenok only shook his head, giving up. He never understood Jarol's and Damar's loyalty to Dukat. No matter what he did to them or did in general, they always forgave him everything. Brenok's respect for his former commander evaporated long time ago.

    “Let's go home,” he said.

    “It isn't right,” muttered Jarol.

    “Home,” he repeated and gently directed their steps toward the street, where Demoks' house stood. “What did your father say?” he asked, trying to change the subject.

    “He agreed,” she said in a little happier tone. “I was sure he wouldn't, but he said 'yes' without hesitation.”

    “When will he come?”

    “Tomorrow. Zamarran could have beamed him here a few days ago, but dad said he wanted to pack some things. I won't be surprised if he comes with a few buckets of sand.”

    Brenok smiled, but his smile quickly faded. “Will you go with me to see my home?”

    She looked at him eye wide. “Why? What for?”

    “I need to see my house,” he said.

    “No, you don't,” she replied firmly.

    “I have to. Maybe there is something left, some object, anything. Something I could keep.”

    “Don't torture yourself,” she shook her head.

    “If you don't go with me, fine, but I will go anyway.”

    She didn't want him to go. She tried to shield him from seeing his loss. Knowing about the tragedy was one thing, having it before one's eyes was completely another matter. She saw deaths of her family, she didn't want him to share such a tragic experience with her. He didn't need more nightmares, he had enough of those already. Going to rummage in a rubble, which used to be his home and in which all his loved ones lived was not a good idea. She didn't worry he wouldn't find any object to commemorate his family, she feared he would find something and his pain would gain a new face. She wanted to spare him more suffering. How could she make him drop the idea?

    They arrived to a small building, one of few remaining on the street. There wasn't much left of the street itself, but at least the rubble had been removed. They walked through the garden, being greeted by neighbours on the way.

    She and Brenok had knocked at their door soon after the war ended. Although Jarol never met them personally, they greeted her like she was returning home, not visiting them. They insisted for her to stay, and after learning she was expecting didn't even want to hear about her leaving. They also offered Brenok a room as soon as they discovered he was hailing from Lakarian City, delicately never asking about his family. As it occurred Demoks offered home also to their neighbours, who lost their homes and had no place to go.

    She decided to make herself busy, so went to Talokan Demok's study. Demok senior was an archon, and was known as a fair and loving justice man. It was his idea to clear names of patriots and bring traitors to justice. One of tasks she took upon herself was restoring Gul Corak's good name, who still was officially considered a traitor, while it was obvious he was faithful to Cardassia until the end.

    Her husband's father wasn't in his study, but he had told her should she need to use it, she didn't have to ask for his permission. It still felt a little awkward to enter this room – a room with rich history of law and military service – and do as she pleased. She was just a peasant and this house reminded her of that. Not the people, not her new in-laws, but the surroundings. Demoks had a long history in the Guard and in Justice. If not the mess made by the Dominion, they would probably consider her a servant at best; at least she thought so. However both Demok's mother and father were nothing but warm and friendly toward her and Brenok. Once she saw Talada crying, touched by Brenok's singing. Well, Brenok's songs were very sad and dark recently, his heart was aching and it was his heart singing.

    She sat at the desk and activated the screen. There was one conversation she tried to avoid, but she knew she had to talk to her, there was no other choice. She felt deep shame and had no idea how she could look into this woman's eyes... And the question she wanted to ask... The answer she feared to hear.

    She took a deep breath and tapped the instructions into the padd. A Starfleet logo appeared on the screen only to be replaced by a man a second later.

    “What can I do for you?” if he was surprised to see a Cardassian, he didn't show it.

    “Can I talk to colonel Kira?” Jarol asked him.

    “Colonel Kira is busy right now,” he replied. “Maybe I could help you?”

    “I'm afraid not. Please ask her to contact me, Gul Jarol of the Fourth Order. It is important, not urgent, but important.”

    “I'll pass the information,” he promised.

    Jarol returned to files, which Talokan had already collected. Not much time passed, when the comm bipped. She activated the screen to see Kira's face. Seemed like she wasn't that busy after all.

    “Colonel Kira, I am Gul Jarol.”

    “Yes, I remember you. What can I do for you?”

    "We try to compile a list of Cardassian Liberation Front members and I wonder if you might have a few names for me.”

    “The whole idea was not to know names of others.”

    “Yes, I know that,” I'm probably alive thanks to this, she thought, “but if you could recall anything. Even one name would be something.”

    “I'll try. I'll send you a list later.”

    “I appreciate that,” she nodded her thanks, but didn't disconnect.

    “Is that all?” Kira asked after a short while of awkward silence.

    “Actually there's one more thing. More of a personal nature...”

    Kira seemed puzzled. What personal matters could these two women share?

    “You were with Damar when he died, weren't you?”

    “Thats correct.”

    “How...” Jarol swallowed. She tried not to burst into tears in front of that woman.

    “He died a hero,” Kira said. Jarol nodded, afraid to speak. “He fought until the end.” They kept looking at each other for a while.

    “Is that all?” Kira asked finally.

    “I'm sorry I was part of the... occupation,” this was the first time she used - she thought about using - the word 'occupation', not 'annexation'.

    Surprise on Kira's face lasted a second, then she sharply nodded once her acknowledgement - Joral doubted it was appreciation, after all one 'sorry' from one then low ranking officer meant nothing - and she disconnected.

    Jarol folded her arms on the desk, leaned her forehead against the arms and cried.

    Brenok was tired, but there still were things he wanted to do that evening, so he walked fast back home.

    He just stepped off the bridge, when someone spoke behind him.

    “Are you Glinn Brenok?”

    He stopped and looked back, but saw no one.

    “If you want to talk to me, have courage to show your face,” he said, slightly irritated.

    A man came out of a shadow. “There's someone, who wants to talk to you,” he said.

    “Is there?” Brenok didn't like this secrecy.

    “Come with me,” said the man.

    “Why should I?” Brenok asked.

    “"I advise you comply.”

    “Or what?” to his own surprise he wasn't scared, but his mind was telling him this whole situation stank.

    “You won't regret it,” the man assured him.

    “Do you have an Orion slave girl there?” the Glinn smiled slightly. Actually it started to amuse him.

    “Come,” the man insisted.

    “Say 'please',” Brenok laughed, but there wasn't any amusement in his voice. The man stared at him for a moment, but finally seemed to realise Brenok wouldn't yield, so he had to.

    “Please,” he said.

    “And where do I go?” Brenok was starting having fun. I'm probably outrageously reckless, he thought.

    “You'll see.”

    “Can I notify my mommy I'm going to be late for dinner?”

    “This is not time for jokes.”

    “Do I look like I'm joking?” Brenok barked.

    The man didn't say anything. The Glinn followed him, paying attention to every detail around him and burning them to his memory. Whatever was going on, it would be better to be careful. They went to the government district. Brenok didn't know Lakat well enough to know exactly which building was which department, but it didn't seem like he was taken to be slaughtered by some enemy. Not that he had many enemies – surprisingly – but he could be the perfect tool for Jarol's enemies and she had plenty of those.

    They entered a massive building, but it was too dark to read the plate above the huge door, so Brenok had no idea what this place was. He was led to the second floor and into a room, which looked very much like a council room of some sort. There were two Legates and four Guls present, sitting at the table and clearly waiting for him. The nameless guide stood by the door, gesturing to Brenok to go closer to the table.

    “Welcome to our humble council room,” said one of Legates. Brenok almost burst into laughter. He called this room 'humble'? This chamber looked like no war happened. Like all was as it used to be three years ago. Like Lakarian City stood there, and his mom sang songs to his daughter. He felt his anger rise.

    “What do you want?” his tone was sharp and hostile.

    “There's no reason to be angry, Glinn. We have a fantastic proposition for you.”

    “Do you?” What can you offer me? Bring my family back? Bring my Gul back? Bring my best friend back? Or bring Cardassia back?

    “We want to rebuilt was has been destroyed and we want you to help us,” seemed like he guessed right. The only problem was he started suspecting who those people were and he didn't subscribe to their point of view. “We need people like you.”

    “And what would you know about me, a low ranking Glinn from a warship of little importance?” he asked ironically.

    “I know enough,” said a familiar voice, and then Brenok paid more attention to Guls. Daset? “Nice to see you, Glinn Brenok.”

    Now that was unexpected.

    “Daset? You told them to bring me here? You haven't changed a bit,” he said.

    “And you still wear that non regulation haircut,” the - now Gul – commented.

    “What of it?”

    “Why? Your daughter is dead, you wouldn't scare her any mo...” he silenced, realising how cruel his words were.

    Brenok squinted his eyes with hatred. "But it will be ready for... my nephew,” he never thought about Jarol's child as his nephew before, but it fitted, didn't it?

    Daset didn't say anything more.

    "Why was I brought here?” Brenok asked. “Why me?”

    “We want you to join our cause.”


    "We need good, reliable and professional officers and you match that description.”

    “Says who?”

    “Say I.”

    Brenok couldn't believe his own ears. Daset thought he was a 'good, reliable and professional officer'? Since when? The Gul had made the engineer's life aboard Roumar real hell; he was picking on him because of Brenok's hair, and always seemed unhappy with Brenok's performance as an engineer. He even scolded Brenok for singing on duty, claiming it was against regulations, until Gul Corak said he didn't recall any regulation saying that singing on duty was forbidden (although he added it ought to be, if a singer was singing out of tune). That only made Daset more aggressive - he clearly didn't appreciate being corrected in front of a subordinate, especially since his authority was challenged.

    And now... now he appeared out of nowhere, like a bad dream, telling Brenok he... what? Respected him? Appreciated the good work the engineer did? What kind of joke was it? Daset clearly didn't change much, since Brenok's hair still bothered him, so what was the meaning of all this?

    “I don't have time for this,” he muttered and turned to leave.

    “Glinn Brenok,” the Legate's voice boomed. Brenok recalled his name. Parn. “Think about it. We will speak again.”

    No doubt by bringing him here without his consent again. Brenok only shrugged and left.

    “Why did you let him go?!” Jarol shouted.

    Talokan looked at her surprised. “Why not?” he asked. “It was his home.”

    “Yes, it was. And now it's a pile of pain.”

    “I'm sorry, I didn't think it would be so important.”

    “Oh, nevermind. I'm sorry I snapped like that,” she muttered, and stepped away. She picked her wristcomm, which lay on a table, pressed it and spoke. “Jarol to Roumar.”

    “Roumar here,” answered Zamarran's voice.

    “Zamarran, locate Glinn Brenok and beam me to his location,” she put the wristcomm on her wrist.

    “One moment.”

    She waited for a short time and then the engineer spoke: “On your mark.”

    “Mark,” she said without hesitation.

    She dissolved in orange light to reappear in a ruined city she's never been to before. She looked around, trying to locate Brenok. She saw him sitting on remains of a fence, or a wall, it was hard to tell for sure. His head was lowered, so she couldn't see his face.

    “Arenn,” she spoke softly, closing to him. She could hear him singing quietly a lullaby. “Why did you come?” she asked, sitting next to him.

    “I had to,” he answered. “I had to see it, I had to make sure it was for real. I...” his voice faded.

    She put her arm around his shoulder.

    She looked around. What she saw wasn't a city any more. Remains of walls, with glassless windows resembling blind eyes, remains of streets, with dark stains of blood, remains of people, with their souls hunted and emptied of everything. She new the city was one of most beautiful on Cardassia. It's long history and cultural heritage was priceless. Cardassia had its capitol, where Legates were debating, Detapa Council attempting to rule the empire, but here, in Lakarian City, was Cardassia's heart, its soul. This was the city, which produced singing officers. This was the city, which hosted the biggest art gallery. This was the city, which grew on their Hebitian heritage. This was a pile of rubble!

    Her anger rose. She wished she could get a Vorta or - better - a Jem'Hadar in her hands and tear him into pieces, just like their had torn Cardassia's soul. Her people didn't deserve that. Whatever they've done, whatever their sins were – it was too much.

    She noticed a familiar shape among stones. It was alien, non-Cardassian, but so familiar; where did she see it; where did she know it from? Her eyes opened wide with shock and disgust. It was a Klingon mug, the one they used for bloodwine. She stood up and approached the object. First she crouched to pick it up, but she rapidly withdrew her hand not touching it, then rose and then started stepping on it with fury, flattening the damn thing. Was what this doing here? Did a Klingon come to drink over her friend's family's bodies? Did he enjoy the view of a four year old girl, smashed by her own room's wall or Jem'Hadar kar'takin? She took a stone – or a part of Brenok's house – and started hitting the flat by now metal with it. She couldn't stop, just couldn't. It was all she could do not to explode.

    A hand grabbed her wrist, preventing another blow and stopping her. She looked up at Brenok. He just shook his head, his face wet from tears.

    “You were right,” he said. “I shouldn't have come here.”

    She dropped the stone and hugged him, pressing to her with all her strength.

    “I know!” she said suddenly.

    Brenok pulled away and gave her an asking look.

    “I know which name would be the best for my son. Laran.”

    Brenok's face became less sad, for it couldn't be called a smile. “I like that. And I think he would like that too. This is a good name, a name of an unbreakable hero.”

    “Let's go home,” she said.

    He nodded and she contacted Zamarran to beam them back to Demoks' house.

    It took three months to bring Roumar to fairly usable condition. Continuous lack of materials made Zamarran's work difficult, if not impossible, but finally he could report that the warship could leave the dock. There were still many things to do, but they could be done on the way. Brenok volunteered to help.

    Jarol was glad to be back aboard. It was not fair to the people down on the planet, the scarred, battered Cardassia, but here she could run away from it. Her mind was still there, her heart was still there, but her eyes didn't have to imprint those terrifying images into her memory forever.

    She knew her crew was cut by one sixth. The Central Command, whatever was left of it, decided it was better to keep maximum available ships in service with smaller crews than scrap ships and keep the remaining vessels full. That way the fleet appeared to be more numerous, safer for Cardassians and more dangerous for enemies. She could do with two hundred fifty, she was sure of that. Even the bridge officers would have to double their posts, so she decided to combine communications with helm and tactical with engineering. She had two good engineers aboard anyway, so if Zamarran had to shoot, Brenok could repair. Brenok wouldn't mind that, she was sure. And she knew that he knew that he was no tactician. If necessary, she'd take tactical if Zamarran wouldn't do well enough.

    Karama welcomed her to the bridge with a wide smile. She didn't remember when was the last time she saw a Cardassian smiling so happily. Felt like ten thousand years ago, or in another lifetime.

    “Gul, the ship is ready to depart,” he announced, looking at her with bright eyes. She liked his enthusiasm, she found it refreshing.

    “Do you want to leave before rest of the crew boards Roumar?” she asked him.

    “No, sir. But if you wanted, we could do it, sir.”

    She laughed. And felt guilty. Laughing was like crime. No one laughed these days. “Did we receive our orders yet?” she asked.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then I'll be in my office,” she rose from her chair and headed for her office.

    Everything here was the same. Just like she had left it after the Battle of Cardassia. No, something was different. It wasn't as messy. The mar'kuu sculpture stood on her desk. It was chirped at the bottom, as it had fallen off the desk during the battle and almost broke.

    The door opened behind her, so she turned to see who entered.

    “We still need to fix the door,” Zamarran said. “As you can see it opens without chiming. I didn't want to be rude.”

    “Don't worry about it. A door bell should be on the bottom of your repair list.”

    “It is, sir,” he looked around. “I took liberty to clean here a little bit,” he said.

    Somehow she was glad it was him, not any random Garesh, touching her things.

    “I appreciate that,” she said. “Do you have any report for me?”

    “Yes, sir,” he handed her a padd. “Here's the full report on the repairs. It lists fully completed work, work in progress and status of that progress, and work on to-do list.”

    “What is the general status of the warship?”

    “It's in working order, but we better don't go to any battle any time soon.”


    He turned to leave, but stopped when she spoke: “Zamarran. Good job.”

    He smiled, nodded once and left.

    She sat at her desk, activated the screen and accessed her orders.

    She was to take Gul Madred to Cardassian space 'liberated from the Dominion' by Romulans and now occupied by them. The Gul had to negotiate release of Cardassian POWs from Romulan prisons. Jarol thought Romulans didn't take prisoners, but maybe it changed.

    Romulans. Just when she thought things couldn't get any more interesting... or any worse.

    The doors opened admitting Brenok.

    “Oh, I'm sorry, I thought it would chime as always,” he said a little startled.

    “It's broken,” she said. “The door's broken.”

    Brenok looked at the opened door and then entered. “Where do we go?”

    “Not far,” she said. How bad things got that they didn't have to go far to speak to Romulans! “We will deal with pointy-ear people.”


    “I didn't say anything about logic, did I?”


    She nodded.

    “Oh, joy...” he muttered. “I spoke with elder Talokan,” Brenok always used the polite form 'elder' when speaking of, or addressing Demok's father. “He dug out Corak's files. He said clearing his name would be only a formality. He told me...” he took a breath, “he told me that Corak didn't want to admit he was wrong and a traitor until the end. They tortured him to death. Our justice system tortured him to death.”

    “Our system – maybe,” she said. “But it had nothing to do with 'justice', Arenn. Nothing.”

    “Good point.”

    “Sir,” Karama's voice spoke over the comm. “Our new officer arrived.”

    “New officer?” Brenok gave Jarol an asking look.

    “Yes, we get four freshmen,” she confirmed. “Let him in,” she answered Karama.

    The door opened and a young, very young, too young woman entered. Jarol thought that she had never been that young herself. The – girl, really - looked at Jarol, then at Brenok, who stood next to Jarol's desk on the left, and then back at Jarol.

    “Dja Ma'Kan reporting.”

    Jarol searched her memory for a second. Ma'Kan. Tactical. So she, together with Zamarran, had to train this child to become a real tactician.

    “Is this your first posting, Ma'Kan?” Jarol asked her.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Have you studied Galor class schematics?”

    “Affirmative, sir.”

    “So go and familiarise yourself with the ship practically. Start from the tactical console, which you will share with Glinn Zamarran. He is our chief engineer and temporary tactical officer.”

    “Understood, sir,” the girl crisply replied and left.

    “Since when Zamarran is a tactician?” Brenok asked.

    “Since we got no one experienced. You will help him in engineering, if there is such need.”

    “Of course. Now, if you don't mind, I'll take care of my duties.”

    “No, I don't mind my officers doing their jobs, I don't mind at all,” she smiled to him and he smiled back. For the first time in weeks he smiled back.

    “Gul Corak's family wanted to express their thanks to you,” Talokan looked at Jarol. “They appreciate you didn't forget about him.”

    “How could I forget?” she recalled the sad picture, when the Jem'Hadar pulled Corak out of his office. The Cardassian was resisting and cursing him, while the Vorta stood there, watching whole scene with her cool, fish-like eyes. Jarol always admired Corak for his resistance; he didn't follow them peacefully, even though whole scene could be taken as pathetic. She admired his bravery, not pitied him then and she still admired him now, especially after learning that he never broke, no matter what they'd done to him. She didn't think she would have so much courage and strong character to resist until the end. “He was my Gul, you don't forget your Guls,” not the good ones, she added in the privacy of her thoughts. She wished she could forget Ahal.

    It was the last dinner at Demoks' house. They were supposed to leave the next day and Jarol had to admit she was looking forward to it. Gul Madred had already contacted her and he seemed a reasonable man. Last thing she needed was a high ranking Gul on her ship telling her how to command it. She hoped her first impression was correct.

    Brenok ate in silence. She couldn't tell if he was glad or sorry to leave Cardassia. His suffering – the first one of this magnitude he had experienced in his life – was overwhelming him and watching his pain was making her forget about her own.

    Especially since there was something bright in her life. Apart from the new life, which grew inside her, her father, her daddy, was sitting next to her here, at this very table. She'd feared he would feel displaced in the big city, with crowded streets and noisy vehicles and skimmers all around, but he seemed not to be bothered by it. He found himself two tasks: one was the garden, in which he started growing vegetables; the other one was the rebuilding process – every day during dinner time he went to a rally point to help in the kitchen and then stood with a ladle and poured soup in queued up soldiers' bowls. Her sister protested his decision to move and live with Jarol, but he made his mind and didn't care what his older daughter thought. He loved them both, Jarol knew that, but here he could feel useful, he could do something. Her sister could offer him babysitting tasks, not much more.

    It felt good to watch her dad being happy. It seemed like he and Demok's father quickly became good friends. Darok's Unionese wasn't good enough to have long, colourful conversations, but it was improving and old Demok didn't mind any mistakes Darok made. Observing her late husband's parents she understood why Demok was such a cheerful, optimistic man – he had wonderful family. He inherited his smile and attitude from them. She hoped the feature would go down to their grandson too. All three of her parents were happy with her choice of the name; having a name of a brave, patriotic Gul was a promise for good future and honourable character. She hoped so at least. She only wished her mom would live to see it, but climate in Nokar was not gentle and claimed many lives before their time.

    They finished their dinner and everyone spread. The meal wasn't anything elaborate (the lack of food on Cardassia was very noticeable), but still the Cardassian need of dining as a family, a big family, was bringing everyone in the house together to one table. Relatives, in-laws, neighbours, everyone.

    When the door bell's sound spread in the house, Jarol was the closest one to the door, so she went to open it.

    “Glinn Daset?” she said astonished.

    He patted the right side of his armour with his finger.

    “Gul, of course, Gul,” she corrected herself.

    Daset smiled. “It's good to see you,” he said. Obviously he wasn't surprised. “Could I see Brenok?” he asked, her amazement rising.

    “Come in,” she invited him. She led him to the guest room. “Thank you for the sculpture.”

    “Do you still have it?”

    She nodded, and he smiled. “I'll get Brenok,” she said and left him alone.

    What could Daset want with Brenok? She couldn't imagine. Her surprise limits were tested again, when Brenok didn't seem surprised at all. She had an impression he expected Daset; there was something happening and Brenok didn't tell her anything about it. However she wasn't angry with him. If it was important, or if it was related to her, he surely would have shared it.

    “If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to him alone,” Daset told her, so she left.

    “What do you want? I gave you my answer,” Brenok said without any preamble.

    “Brenok, this is a chance for you and for Cardassia. You have seen what the civilian government did to it and how it ended. When Central Command was, well, in command, we were strong. We could be strong again!”

    “Gul Daset, with all due respect,” did he ever respect Daset? “Central Command was so weak that they were overthrown by civilians. Their wars made us weak, so weak that when Klingons attacked we had nothing and meant nothing. We were defenceless.”

    Daset didn't reply for a short moment. “Some things will have to change, that is sure, but the whole idea, whole system was not at fault. It were the people.”

    “And where are those people now?” Brenok interrupted the Gul. “If I remember correctly the last time I saw them was in that room there.”

    Daset's eye ridges rose in surprise. He was speechless for a moment, and Brenok used this opportunity to continue: “What about Gul Jarol? Why wasn't she invited to this new Central Command Directorate nonsense of yours?”

    “Jarol is a great officer and a good commander, but she has enemies.”

    “So you crossed her out of your list because she has enemies? Don't you have any?”

    “It's not just that she has them. It's who they are?”

    “And who are they?”

    “Do you remember the Legates in that room?”

    “Parn. I don't know the other one.”

    “Ahal. His name is Ahal.”

    Brenok understood immediately.

    “I suggested both of you,” Daset continued. “But Ahal's reaction was... how to put it mildly... he went totally bezerk. I know they had some dealings together, but I never knew what. I still don't. I know one thing for sure – Ahal will not want to see her supporting the Directorate. So even more we need you. You both represent the same thing.”

    Brenok shook his head. “No. Especially not without her.”

    “I understand your loyalty. But think about your future. It's a great chance for you.”

    Brenok kept shaking his head. “No.”

    “Will you reconsider it?”


    “Do you need time? What about giving your answer after your mission?”


    Daset looked genuinely disappointed. “Are you sure?”

    “Yes. Let's go.”

    “Where are we going?”

    “To that Directorate building I was taken last time. I'll tell them my decision myself.”

    Daset observed him walking out and then followed him.

    A step in the right direction

    2377 (2376-2377)

    Jarol took a deep breath in. It took all her inner strength not to look in where Ma'Kan had been a moment ago, before being beamed out back to a safe location; she knew she couldn't, as that would condemn the girl.

    It was chaos, everyone gathered around the body, someone called for a medic, but to her relief another voice said it was too late for a medic. She caught Daset's sight; his face expressed concern, but no surprise. He stared at her and after a moment his mouth moved: you did it. She didn't deny, didn't confirm. She needed his support to go on with this, and she still wasn't sure where his loyalties lay – with the Cardassia or the Directorate.

    He looked away and then pushed among the crowd to the body. She turned on her heel and left the hall. It was done.

    Ten months earlier

    “I'll never understand why he thought I was the right person. Why he insisted that I should support them?” Brenok chewed his food and spoke at the same time, sending flying pieces of food to the table in front of him.

    “Arenn, you know Daset from the worst side,” Jarol replied. “I had a chance to see the other side shortly before he left. He isn't a bad man. He just treats his duty seriously, too seriously, taking away all joy from the service. I know you were his victim on more than one occasion, and I hated him for that, but seems like in spite of how he treated you, he always respected you as an officer. He never broke you, you never complained. And you are the second in command aboard one of first warships, which started firing at the Dominion during the Battle of Cardassia. You are a hero and they need heroes to support them, so that they could win the elections, or whatever their goal is.”

    “Elections...” Brenok repeated.

    “I find the whole idea of people going and in a mass deciding who should be in power strange at least. The public doesn't understand the needs of power, the rules that... well, rule the power. How can a peasant like me know who should lead the Cardassian Union?” Brenok smiled at that; he never thought of her as a peasant. “And then a summary of those opinions of people, who know nothing, is a final decision about our ruling body? And the opinion of foolish masses would matter more than opinion of not many intelligent individuals, as there are always more fools than geniuses. This is sick.”

    “It is. Just as this... temporary government,” Brenok nodded.

    “Government,” she snorted. “Federation puppets. They want us to become like them, to apply their rules in hour home. I don't like it. I don't like it at all.”

    “So maybe that whole Directorate is not a bad idea?” Brenok wondered and then shook his head; he didn't believe it himself.

    “The system was right, the people were corrupt,” she said and Brenok realised it was in fact the same opinion, which Daset had expressed a few months ago in Demoks' house.

    “So you think we should go back to the old way, but a little differently? How differently?”

    “Well,” she put her fork away, “first we'd have to change our policy toward outer worlds. No more Bajors.”

    “We need outer worlds to provide our resources.”

    “Yes, but do we have to tear those resources out of their throats along with the throats themselves? Can't we ask politely? Can't we pay? Offer our services? Protection? There are lots of little, weak worlds near Tzenkethi border, they are between us and them. Scared. Terrified. Let's tell them: join our Union, we will protect you, they won't touch you. You'll be safe with us. We just need you to contribute to our wealth and share your resources. As much as you could spare and not a tad more would be taken from you by force. You can keep your rulers, but they have to file their reports annually, that's all.”

    Brenok stopped eating and kept looking at her. “And I was told I was an idealist,” he said.

    “I just think,” she was a bit hurt by his remark, “that it's our enemies that should fear us, not our own denizens.”

    “That makes sense,” he admitted. “So, do we take power and make new Cardassia?”

    “Maybe later. Now finish your food,” she spoke in motherly tone of voice, took her fork and resumed eating.

    It was cold. Jarol didn't like cold, no Cardassian liked cold. But apart from being cold the room seemed to be pleasant. An oval table was standing in the middle with chairs on each longer side, three for one team, three for the other. She motioned to her militia troops and ordered them to line up by the wall, mirroring the same positions the Romulans had taken. She has never seen a Romulan up close and now she was just about to face three of them.

    Gul Madred motioned toward the table and sat in the chair in the middle. Jarol and Brenok followed him. Her place was on the right side of the Gul, opposite a Romulan woman about her age. Brenok sat opposite a man about twice his age. Between those two sat even older Romulan, with a smug expression on his face.

    “I am Admiral Tebok,” he said. “This is Commander Karameth and Subcommander Tarak,” he introduced the woman and man respectively.

    “Gul Madred, my aides Gul Jarol, Glinn Brenok,” Madred introduced their group. “Let me use this opportunity to express...”

    “Yes,” Tebok interrupted him. “We know you, Cardassians, like to talk and are able to produce long speeches, however I'd appreciate if we proceeded directly to our matters, without unnecessary metaphors.”

    “Fine,” Madred said and Jarol was sure she heard a shadow of irritation in his voice.

    Both leaders activated their padds and started talking. Madred had told Jarol clearly that she was not to interrupt. She and her aide were part of the delegation, as highest ranking Cardassian officers in the sector, but she had no experience in conducting such talks. She fully agreed with him and was rather relieved she was off the hook. She was there just to be there – her only task was to support the Gul by her intimidating presence.

    She wasn't sure if her presence was intimidating anyone, so she took the opportunity to take a better look at the Romulan Commander.

    The woman's hair was cropped close to her skull in the typical Romulan fashion. Her dark eyes were observing Gul Madred – his every move, his body language – sometimes switching to Jarol and Brenok, who sat almost motionlessly. Her puffy uniform made her look big, but Jarol was sure the Romulan's silhouette was rather slim, just as her face.

    Her aide on the other hand was a chubby man. He kept making notes on his padd, glancing up at his Admiral from time to time. Jarol had checked their bios before arriving to the outpost, so she knew those two served together longer than she had Brenok at her side. If anything went wrong, if the talks failed, they would be formidable opponents in a battle. Not mentioning their huge, green, resembling bird ship. Roumar was still licking her wounds and even in the top condition she wouldn't be able to stand up to a D'Deridex class warbird. Not alone anyway.

    She didn't pay much attention to the negotiations, but from those few moments she concentrated on what was being said she knew it wasn't going well. Tebok was refusing literally each argument and proposition Madred had to offer and she clearly saw the Gul was loosing his patience. She didn't blame him, as so was she.

    She looked at the Romulan troops lined up by the wall. They stared blankly in front of them (or maybe at their Cardassian counterparts), like statues. No one was armed – that was one of most important rules during the negotiations. She imagined Cardassians in Romulan prisons and camps, under cruel watch of guards not unlike those men and women here. She knew they couldn't leave them in those camps.

    Yes, women. There were many women here. Cardassian Guard didn't forbid females to join their ranks, but it was rather rare. There probably weren't more than fifty, maybe one hundred female Guls, maybe a little more of lower ranking officers. Women were supposed to be scientists and military career wasn't an easy choice for someone, who should be at home with her children and elders. It was possible to combine those two, she knew that from the experience, but it was a challenge. She was going to face that challenge soon. Again. And she looked forward to it.

    A raised eyebrow on the Romulan Commander's face made her realise her little, private thoughts about her baby crept out to her face in a form of a smile. She just raised her eye ridges, ignoring surprise on the other woman's face and smiled a little wider. Karameth lowered her eyebrow and smiled back, nodding slightly. Jarol wondered if she had any children.

    Madred rose, and Jarol and Brenok followed his example. The Romulan Admiral rose too. None of them said anything and then Madred headed for the exit. His face expression was telling everything.

    Brenok didn't enjoy the prospect of co-operating with Romulans, but these two seemed reasonable. He also clearly felt Karameth's discomfort when she had to stay in one chamber with him. He was sure she dealt with Cardassians before and it was nothing pleasant. He was nothing but polite to her, but nonetheless felt her antipathy toward him. Or maybe it was just her distrust, after all the war ended only short time ago.

    “And where exactly is Gul Jarol?” Tarak asked one evening.

    “She's on an extended shore leave,” Brenok explained.

    “Did something happen? It's rather sudden,” Karameth commented.

    “No, but it was necessary to send her back home.”

    He didn't want to go into details. After all it wasn't their business and Jarol having a baby had nothing to do with their work. Their task was to plan releasing Cardassian prisoners and that was what they should concentrate on.

    “How can you read that weird, chaotic writing?” Tarak looked at Brenok, raising his slanted eyebrow and looking over Glinn's shoulder at the Cardassian display.

    “I wonder how you can understand your sentences.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “You write linear sentences, right?”

    “That's right,” Tarak confirmed with a nod.

    “Well, how do you know which word is attached to which word? I'll give you an example. Let's take an easy sentence. 'I really like red leaf tea'. The word 'really' is attached to 'like', see?” he pointed to the right words on his screen, which he typed to visualise his explanations. “It is like that because 'really' brings additional meaning to 'like'. 'Like' gives additional information to 'I', so it is directly behind 'I'. Now, you have here the word 'tea', because that is what you like. Below 'tea' is 'red leaf', as additional information for the word 'tea'. If you'd like to add 'hot' and make it 'I really like hot red leaf tea', you write 'hot' above 'tea' word.”

    Dołączona grafika

    Tarak kept nodding. “Interesting. But how do you know if the first word should be written vertically or horizontally?”

    “Oh, that is a matter of stylistics and context,” Brenok explained.

    “And that.. um... circle here?”

    “It denotes beginning of a paragraph.”

    “And these dots?”

    “Oh, they usually emphasise a word, or point to the most important word or notion in the sentence.”

    “Like underlining? We underline words.”

    “Yes, probably,” Brenok wasn't sure what underlining was for, so he didn't know if the comparison was really correct.

    “You said 'usually',” Tarak gave him an asking look.

    “Dots, as we call them dims, have also other functions, but this would require a longer lecture.”

    “I see. You know, Brenok, languages are a passion of mine, so if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you more questions at some later time.”

    “Wouldn't a database answer all your questions?”

    “I prefer to converse with a real living, breathing person.”

    Tarak smiled and Brenok smiled back. If circumstances were different, he could befriend this pointy-eared man.

    They went back to work.

    Brenok looked tired. His eyes seemed to be deeper in his ridges than normally and his skin had a pinkish hue, which didn't indicate anything good. She worried about him, but didn't know if he'd tell her the truth if she asked.

    “How are you?” he asked, smiling. “How are you both doing?”

    “We're great. Laran is an adorable, sweet being and everybody loves him. He's the first baby born to this family after the war, so even more precious.”

    Brenok smiled. “When can I see him?” he asked.

    Jarol motioned to someone and her father entered the frame, carrying an infant. He smiled to Brenok. “Here he is, son. He could use some singing,” Darok said.

    The Glinn felt warm wave in his heart. He didn't think anyone would call him 'son' again, and never expected to sing for any baby. Warm wave was quickly replaced by icy pain.

    “He looks like a copy of his father,” he said.

    Little Laran indeed looked like a miniature of Demok, with the exception of eye ridges. They weren't as round as Demok's, but they weren't slanted like Jarol's; it was something in between, in oval shape.

    Brenok thought it was good it was a boy. If Jarol's baby were a girl, his soul would break into millions of little pieces right here, right now.

    “Get some rest,” he said, trying to end the connection. He wanted to do it delicately so that she wouldn't realise he was suffering.

    “How are the Romulans?” she asked.

    “Reasonable. Karameth is difficult at times, but the subcommander is a nice guy.”

    “And how's Madred treating you?”

    “I think he's happy leaving me all the details to work with the Romulans. Most of the time he is in his quarters, talking to someone over the comm. I hardly see him.”

    “Does he have a problem with a Glinn running the warship?”

    “No, he didn't show me any disrespect at least. I think he understands that you had to leave, and even if he was unhappy at the beginning, he doesn't mind any more. I have proven I can handle the Romulans, he acknowledges my reports without comments. Sometimes has a suggestion or two, but that's exactly what they are – suggestions.”

    “I'm glad to hear that. Keep my ship safe.”

    “Absolutely,” he smiled and was painfully aware this smile revealed all his feelings.

    She observed him for a short while and then said: “I'll be with you soon.”

    “Don't worry about me,” he replied and disconnected. His eyes burned with tears he didn't want to release. He rose and went to retrieve the object, which became his best friend recently. They spent many evenings together these days.

    He just didn't know if he tried to drown the pain in his heart or shoulder.

    He would never again hold his little girl in his arms. He would never smell Asra's hair. He was scared. He had nothing left, no family, no future, not even a home, not even a wall. He felt he was drowning... in his pain... in his tears... in kanar... He wanted to forget, stop his brain from working, from reminding him every day that he was returning to a cold, empty bed, that no one waited for him to return home, because he had no home. How could he go on? Where was his past? There was nothing to look back at. Nothing to look forward. He wanted to die.

    It was his fault! He did it! He provoked them and they killed his family for this. They destroyed everything that had any value in his life, because this bastard decided to rebel and brought it all on his little girl. If they wouldn't kill him, he would strangle him with his bare hands!

    He rolled on the floor, weeping. Forgive me. Please, forgive me.

    He choked on his own tears. He couldn't breathe. He didn't want to breathe. Take me, take the air out of my lungs and let me join my family. I am nothing without them. An empty shell. I don't want to live... I don't know how...

    He laid on the floor in embryo position, absently scratching the scar on his neck ridge.

    “Brenok is currently not available,” Jarol said.

    She returned to duty only a few days ago and still wasn't used to its rhythm. She missed her little boy, but it was no time for long shore leaves. She needed to build Cardassia, so that her baby would have a place to grow and become a man, hopefully as brave as his father and his namesake.

    Daset glared at her from the screen. “I do not want to talk to Brenok,” he explained.

    “Oh, don't you? So what can I do for you?”

    “There is no reason to get irritated, Jarol.”

    “Am I irritated?”

    “You sound like you are. And I'm sure you know all details of my dealings with Brenok. For now I consider the matter closed.”

    “For now? You expect him to change his mind?”

    “Brenok is a clever man.”

    “Shame you didn't notice it when he served under you.”

    “I did,” Daset said firmly. “But let's talk about our business.”

    She leaned back in her chair. “What is the reason you contacted me?”

    “We have significant personnel problems. Many people lost their lives and that includes officers. Most experienced Guls died either during the war, or joined the rebellion and were slaughtered along with everyone else,” he paused. “That forces the Central Command to shift some officers and assign them new duties.”

    “Are you taking some of my people away?” she asked worried, although didn't show it.

    “No. This is about command level, not internal ship matters.”

    “So what does it have to do with me?” she asked.

    “You've been serving in the Fourth Order for long, haven't you?”

    “I've been in the Fourth Order since the beginning, however there was a short period of time when I was... not in any Order,” she tired not to go into details, hoping Daset wouldn't ask.

    “So you know the general mission of the Fourth Order,” it was a statement, not a question.

    “Of course I do.”

    “Good. There is just one more thing.”

    “Thing? You didn't tell me what is this all about yet.”

    “I'm sorry, you are right, of course,” he paused for a moment to take a look at his padd. “We need to shift some commanders on the top level of the Order. Gul Jotrel, you should remember him, you served together on Terok Nor, is going to take command of the Fourth Order's Battalion One. I want you to take Battalion Two.”


    “That's right.”

    “Why me?”

    “You don't think you're ready?”

    Should she admit that was the truth?

    “Look,” he continued, as she didn't reply. “We need people, good people, to defend Cardassia. We need to deal with all the mess we have here. We need to deal with Romulans, Klingons, Federation, Breen and everyone else, who doesn't want to give us back our territory. We need young officers, who would look at things from fresh perspective. You are one of such officers, so I suggest to make yourself ready.”

    “And this thing you've mentioned?”

    “Your direct commander would be me, but on the top of the chain of command is Legate Ahal.”

    She stared at him with disbelief. “Ahal? He won't work with me, you can be sure of that.”

    “Can you work with him?”

    She thought for a moment. “No,” she said eventually.

    “Jarol, I know you have history, but you sh...”

    “It's not about our history,” she interrupted. “It's about him. He is a reckless, cruel and opportunistic ass and I don't intend to serve under him ever again. Not because I don't like him, not because I don't respect him, but because at some point he could give me another wrong order. He should not be in power. He should not make any decisions. I will not follow him. That is not negotiable. You want me, you get rid of him.”

    “How could I get rid of him?” Daset looked at her surprised. “Don't overestimate my influence. I am just a Gul here.”

    “Sounds like an important one. First Grade?”

    “I wish. Third only.”

    A shy thought planted itself in her head.

    “All right, but if you want it to work, I don't have to deal directly with Ahal. You will pass everything to him and from him.”

    “I'm giving you an order, so you are in no position to make any demands.”

    “I know,” she smiled.

    He smiled back. “I'm glad you still have that sculpture.”

    She wasn't aware that the mar'kuu was visible in the frame. “I do.”

    “Gul Jarol, you are now officially commanding battalion four-two,” Daset was all business now.

    “Yes, sir,” so was she.

    He disconnected.

    She checked the holosuite programs in the computer's database. She skipped all 'leisure' ones, knowing very well how militia troops from lower decks 'leisured' themselves, and accessed the training programs. She searched for a moment, and then found some basic scenarios she needed for her purpose. They seemed quite simple, but she could write more advanced ones, if there was such a need later.

    “Dja Ma'Kan,” she said after pressing her wristcomm. “Report to my office now.”

    The door opened a moment later and the young officer entered.

    “Dja, I have a special task for you,” Jarol said. “The information will be passed to you on need to know basis and you are to discuss it with no one. Absolutely no one. I that understood?”

    “Yes, sir,” the girl replied crisply, squaring her shoulders.

    Jarol eyed her. She knew she'd have to test the Dja's loyalty too, but she could do both things simultaneously.

    “How is your eye?”

    “Pardon me, sir?” the young woman asked surprised.

    “There is a program for you. In holosuite two. You will activate it using your personnel code. You are to discuss it with no one. You are to use it alone. I expect you to report back to me when your achievement is at least ninety-seven percent three times in a row. You have three weeks to reach that score.”

    “Understood. I will report there after my duty.”


    The Dja left and Jarol wondered is she just didn't make one of biggest mistakes of her life. Everything could still be taken back, but she was on a good way to hell.

    “Remember what you said the other day when we had that dinner?” Brenok said. “Act on it!”

    “We're in no shape to fight!” she reminded him.

    “That way or the other we can't let the Tzenkethi bother our borders. Daset made you a battalion commander. Call for reinforcements.”

    “They won't get there on time.”



    “You're the tactician, I'm just an engineer, so you know better. But this is our chance to stop our 'Bajors' and you know it!”

    She indeed knew he was right.

    “And if we die?”

    “And if we die hopefully others would see what we tried to do and follow us. Let's help Aramatians. Let's not be Klingons.”

    “All right,” she agreed reluctantly.

    They left her office and entered the bridge.

    “Karama, which task force is the closest to the Aramatian system?” she asked the Gil. “Ma'Kan, I want full evaluation of tactical situation in the Aramatian system. Zamarran, we need to be battle ready against the Tzenkethi, so whatever you have up your sleeve, it's time to implement it now.”

    Officers made themselves busy with their tasks, while she sat in her chair.

    “Brenok, what do we know about Amaratians?” she asked the Glinn.

    He accessed the database. “Amaratians live on the fourth planet in the arbit of Amara, a red star. They are mammalian, small bipeds. Their technology is not very advanced, in comparison with us at least. We have conquered them seventy-eight years ago and they provide mostly raw minerals. Their mines are quite advanced and it's probably the most advanced branch of their technology. We didn't have any problems with them. They are weak, submissive and cowardly,” Brenok raised his head to look at Jarol. “At least officially,” he added.

    She cocked her eye ridge. “And why would you say that?”

    “For a race, which isn't a problem, the Cardassian contingent was raised five times within last twenty years. It's three hundred percent more troops there now than there used to be before the first reinforcement.”

    “So they are not as submissive as they might appear.”

    “Clearly not.”

    “What's the name if their prefect?” she asked.

    Brenok searched for a moment. “Gul Moskelt.”

    “Never heard of him.”

    “Gul Moskelt was posted as Amarat Prefect eight years ago. Not much on him in the database.”

    “Karama, establish contact with Gul Moskelt.”

    Karama only nodded, acknowledging her order. She knew he was already busy with other tasks she had given him, so accepted the nod as sufficient.

    “Sir,” Zamarran looked at her. “I could, I repeat – could – make the ship look menacing, and we could take a few shots, but there is no way we could become battle ready, no matter what.”

    Jarol felt temptation to ask Brenok to recheck everything to have his confirmation of Zamaraan's assessment, but knew it wouldn't look well. Not that she didn't trust Zamarran, it's that she used to trust Brenok's opinions best.

    “Understood. However you must try to do your best. Fight could be inevitable.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Sir, there is a task force in Tira sector. It would take them forty-eight hours to reach Amarat system.”

    “And our ETA is...?”

    “Forty-one hours.”

    “So we would have to do without them for seven hours,” she spoke out her thoughts.

    “There are only ten ships in the task force. The rest is still in docks.”

    “What is their current task?”

    “Patrolling our borders between Tzenketh and Breen Confederacy.”

    “Sounds like they are not busy. Brenok, order them to regroup. Two ships will continue patrolling the border, however eight warships in best condition should proceed to Amarat system.”

    “Yes, sir,” he acknowledged.

    “I have Gul Moskelt,” Karama reported.

    “On screen,” she looked up at the screen embedded in the front wall of the bridge.

    The viewer was filled with a face of a middle aged Cardassian.

    “I'm Gul Moskelt, Prefect of Amarat.”

    “Gul Jarol, commander of Fourth Order Battalion Two. We have been informed you are in danger of Tzenkethi attack.”

    “We have detected their ships, yes. They seem to be on course to Amarat.”

    “Can you tell me how many vessels we speak about?”


    Not good.

    “Do you have any defence system there?”

    “We have a number of orbital weapon platforms, but I am not sure they would stop them for long. Can we count on you?”

    “Cardassian Union Warship Roumar will arrive there in forty-one hours, however the rest of our forces can't be sooner than forty-eight hours. How long do you estimate the weapon platforms could stand an attack?”

    “Not long. Especially if the Tzenkethi start from destroying their power sources.”

    “When will they arrive?”

    “If their speed doesn't change...” he checked some readings, “over forty hours.”

    “I see.”

    “Gul Jarol, please understand we can't afford to lose this system,” Moskelt said. “Especially not now, when we need to rebuild everything. The resources here are still rich and if we keep extracting them, it would surely help Cardassia. We can't give this system to Tzenkethi.”

    “I understand, Gul Moskelt.”

    She noticed the Gul's attention was dragged to something off screen. He shook his head, as answering to someone, and then looked back at her.

    “We await your arrival,” he said and disconnected.

    Jarol waited for Brenok to answer the chime, but there was nothing. Where could he be? She was just about to leave, when the door opened. He stood in the doorway.

    “Oh, it's you,” he said and let her in.

    “Did you expect someone else?”

    He didn't reply. His hair was a mess and his face was a bit swollen, so she guessed he slept.

    “Are you feeling well?” she asked, worried.

    “I'm fine,” he rubbed his upper eyelids just under the ridges with his thumbs. “I just need a tea,” he went to the replicator and ordered a tea. The warm beverage materialised and he reached for it. His hand was trembling. He grabbed it with the other hand, but they both were far from stable.

    “Arenn?” she approached him.

    “I said I was fine,” he snapped at her, surprising her. This was everything, but fine, but she didn't want to push. “I'm sorry,” he whispered after a short moment. “I didn't mean to behave like this. It's just...” his didn't finish.

    “What?” she encouraged him in a gentle tone.

    “My hand hurts.”

    “Your hand?”

    “Actually whole arm, from the shoulder to ends of my fingers,” he made a fist of his right hand and then stretched his fingers out.

    She looked at the scar on his neck ridge. “When did you start feeling this pain?”

    “Recently. I went to the infirmary, but the medic said there was nothing wrong with me. He said it was only in my head. Phantom pain, he called it.”

    “Now, after all these years?”

    Brenok just shrugged. “I'm not a medic, don't ask me. Ask him, maybe he would tell you the truth.”

    “Oh, don't tell me you think he lied to you!”

    “I don't care what he said. I know what I feel,” he scratched his non-existing ear.

    Roumar entered the orbit around Amarat and Jarol waited in the transporter room for the prefect and two more people.

    She didn't expect what she saw. Two tall and one very short bipeds materialised on the pad. The short one was maybe one metre tall, all furry and reddish-green, he – or she – wore a heavy coat covered by colourful patterns and lots of jewellery, mostly chains. On the alien's head rested a strange hat, made of some kind of shiny metal.

    “Gul Jarol,” the prefect spoke. “Let me introduce you to First King of Amarat, Zzarriss.”

    She nodded her greeting, hoping her astonishment wasn't obvious.

    “This is Glinn Dok, my aide,” Moskalt gestured to the Cardassian, who accompanied them. The Glinn nodded his greeting to her.

    “Let me express my greatest gratitude,” the king's voice was low and slightly fricative. She was glad the translator worked. “We are in danger and we need your support.”

    She glanced at Brenok, who was also present in the transporter room. This was not what she had thought she'd see. Was her expectation twisted by her service on Terok Nor and her experiences with Bajorans? This man didn't look rebelled at all.

    Or was he a... how did Bajorans call such people? A collaborator?

    “We will do everything in our power to protect you,” she assured him.

    He showed his fangs. Was it a smile? It looked more like a threat, but the prefect patted king's shoulder, so seemed like it was an amicable expression. A smile then. Showing all the king's sharp teeth.

    “Shall we proceed to the briefing room?” she said.

    She headed for the exit with their guests following her and Brenok closing the group as it's tail.

    “Gul Moskelt, what can you tell me about Amaratians,” she said. It wasn't only a polite way to ask about his job, she was genuinely curious.

    “Amaratians are interesting people, Gul Jarol. Their culture is rich and fascinating. They have unique writing system, ah, several actually. The planet never unified, so the king here is a representative of the nation that welcomed Cardassian rule.”

    “What about the others?” she asked, wondering if her initial assumptions weren't as wrong as she now thought.

    “Well, we have some problems with them from time to time, but those are internal matters of Amaratians. We just help them in dealing with them.”

    “Amassans are the problem, esteemed Gul,” spoke the king, bowing low. “But with your valuable help we can keep them in line and solve the problems they cause. It gives us work force, so needed in mines, and brings unity to whole planet.”

    “Work force?” she repeated.

    They entered the briefing room, so she gestured for everyone to sit.

    “Yes, someone must work in mines,” Zzarriss confirmed. “We, Samaans, are not good for this. We are noble born people. They are good for work. It always was like this.”

    Jarol caught Brenok's disgusted face expression.

    “Do I understand right?” she looked at the prefect. “You support one nation and help them enslave another?”

    “Enslave is too strong word, Gul Jarol. They are at war. They have always been. We just help one side – the side that supports us – to finally defeat the other side. The unity on the planet would bring long lost peace for everyone there.” He leaned toward her and said in a low voice. “And more resources for us.”

    “Why did you ask for more people?”

    “We not only arm and train them. We also send our soldiers to fight by their side. That assures victory.”

    She leaned back in her chair. So it was another Bajor. And its prefect seemed to be very proud of his 'cleverness'.

    “What is the other nation's attitude toward us?” she asked.

    “Well, they fear us, rightly so.”

    She looked at the king. Little, furry, mammalian being. Why did she have an impression that under all this fur it was slimy, wriggling like a mud worm? Yuck!

    “We will do our duty and protect you from the Tzenkethi, as you are part of Cardassian Union, however some changes will have to be applied,” she said.

    “What changes?” Moskelt asked, clearly not happy. True, she had no power over him, actually her rank was lower, but she knew someone with a rank and position, which would let him issue Moskelt orders. She just needed to convince Daset she was right. He was a reasonable man.

    “You will discuss it with Gul Daset at later time. For now let's concentrate on our immediate problem of invasion,” she said.

    She knew it was a long shot. She had no idea Daset would support her, so it would be better not to say anything to Mosklet, but she couldn't stand his self-satisfied smile. She glanced at Dok. The Glinn's face was unreadable; whatever he thought, he kept it to himself.

    It was quiet on the bridge. Jarol hated waiting. She hated waiting for a battle, but even more waiting and not knowing if there would be any battle at all.

    First Tzenkethi ships were in range of their sensors. Orbital weapon platforms were ready and Jarol positioned Roumar close to main power source asteroid to protect it, in case the enemy knew how to disarm the planet's main defence system.

    But the Tzenkethi stopped and were not entering the system. What were they waiting for? Reinforcements? Or they didn't expect any Cardassian presence and hesitated, not sure they should or shouldn't attack.

    So she waited. It was already a few hours and her patience was almost gone. She feared she would decide to attack them, tired of endless waiting. It was a Cardassian territory, so she had the right to attack, correct? No? She wasn't sure. Normally no one in Central Command would tell her she broke any protocol, as technically she could do what she saw fit, but in the warship's current state it would be equal to suicide and she had no intention of killing her own crew. Good crew.

    “They're on the move!” Karama reported. He sounded excited. She knew no one here feared fighting. They were brave crew too.

    “Zamarran, how are we?”

    “Looking menacing,” he said. “The shields would hold for some time, but I will have to keep an eye on power source and redistribute it as necessary manually.”

    “How much can we take?”

    “Not much, Gul.”

    “Sir, I detect eight Galor class warships coming out of warp near the system,” Ma'Kan reported excitedly. Or maybe it was happiness in her voice.

    “Tell them to position themselves in the hutet formation behind us,” Jarol ordered.

    “Yes, sir,” the Dja replied immediately.

    “Screen on,” the Gul barked and Karama activated the screen.

    Tzenkethi ships were closing. They were smaller than Galors, but she knew it didn't mean weaker. Their hostile neighbours were known as formidable enemies and dangerous warriors. She leaned forward on the edge of her chair, putting one leg farther forward for better balance.

    The Tzenkethi stopped and hanged in the vacuum of space, as if they were observing the Cardassians. Eight Galors joined the one near the planet, but did nothing more than that. Both formations hang there, not moving, waiting, expecting, ready for the other to make the first move. None of them wanted to make that move.

    Jarol stood and made one step forward. Her muscles were tensed, she was aware of her chest filling the armour with each breath, trying to control the speed of her breathing. She worried the Tzenkethi had something hidden up their sleeve and in spite of her best efforts they would surprise her unpleasantly.

    “Sir,” Ma'Kan's voice startled her in spite of its softness. “We just received orders from Legate Ahal.” She paused to read off her screen. “He orders us to withdraw. Take as many Cardassians off the planet and withdraw.”

    “'Withdraw' as give the planet to Tzenkethi in case they decide to attack, instead of just looking into our pretty eyes?” Jarol asked.

    “Yes, sir.”


    She turned back to the screen to look at the enemy.

    “Sir,” Ma'Kan asked quietly, as if she was ashamed to disturb the silence on the bridge. “What do we do?”

    “We stand,” Jarol said calmly, but firmly. No way she would abandon those furry people and leave them to... what did Tzenkethi look like anyway?

    “Yes, sir,” the Dja confirmed. Jarol searched doubt in her voice, but heard none. Good. She still had to fully test the girl for her plans, but everything looked promising so far.

    “Sir, they move,” Brenok reported.

    Her eyes glued to the screen. The enemy ships broke their formation and... started moving away.

    “Is it just me or the sensors say the same?” she asked.

    “They seem to have plotted course back to their space,” Ma'Kan said.

    “Hold your positions,” Jarol ordered and Karama passed the order to other ships.

    She kept the ships in formation for one hour after the Tzenkethi left and were beyond their sensors range. Then she ordered four to stay on the orbit and sent the other four back to their patrol territory.

    “Karama, get me Gul Daset,” she said, heading for her office.

    “Sir, Legate Ahal wants to talk to you,” Karama turned to her.

    “Ignore him. Get me Daset as soon as possible.”

    She sat at her desk and waited for the connection. Daset's face expression was far from happy.

    “Ahal is furious,” he said.

    “So am I. I told you he is a bad commander and he would give wrong orders. And so he did.”

    “And now you want me to protect you.”

    “I'll deal with him myself.”

    “So why did you want to talk to me?”

    “I need you to order Gul Moskalt to stop interfering in internal Amaratian matters.”


    “Tell him to stop arming one side. Tell him to help them make peace. Not by one side being conquered by the other one, but by co-operation and talks. Make it work.”

    “Are you ordering me?” he actually sounded amused.

    She closed her face to the screen.

    “You want new, strong Cardassia? Amaratians are friendly. At least some of them. Let's make them all friendly. We just saved their asses from the Tzenkethi. In spite of our orders. Let's not lose it. Do something about it. Use the opportunity. And if you don't care about this aspect, look at it from another side: wouldn't you rather have all those men on Cardassia, helping in rebuilding process, instead of fighting someone else's civil war?”

    Daset inclined his head to one side and stared at her for a long while.

    “Damn, Jarol, I smell Brenok's work here.”

    She didn't react, didn't speak, didn't even change her face expression.

    “What's your answer?” she asked flatly.

    “Fine. I'll do what you suggest,” he raised both his hands, palms toward her, like giving up.

    She let herself a weak smile.

    “Is that all?” he asked.

    She nodded and he disconnected.

    “Splendid,” she muttered to herself. She pressed her wristcomm. “Ma'Kan, report to my office.”

    The young officer entered a few seconds later.

    “Ma'Kan, how is your practice in the holosuite?”

    “Progressing, sir. However the changing circumstances make it difficult to achieve the result you have set up for me.”

    “Real life is unpredictable. You have to be ready for anything.”

    “What does it mean, Gul? Do I practice sniper skills for a real assignment?”

    Jarol wondered if to tell her now. No. It's too early. She wasn't even sure of the girl's loyalty, she definitely couldn't reveal her plans yet.

    “Keep practising. I will add a new program soon.”

    “Understood,” the Dja straightened her back.

    “Return to the bridge.”

    She turned on her heel and left.

    It was third time Brenok did not come to their dinner and she wondered why. Those dinners became a kind of habit: once a week they ate together and it was the third week in a row he didn't appear without saying anything. He could be busy, she knew, helping Zamarran in the engineering, but was notifying her such a trouble?

    “Jarol to Brenok,” she said tapping her wristcomm.

    There was no answer. She tried one more time and then decided to pay him a visit – again. Would she see shaking hands again? She had seen shaking hands once and she knew what it meant. Was the reason here the same? Or was it his pain he claimed he felt. She had gone to ask the medic and he'd told her the same thing he'd told Brenok: it wasn't real.

    “Come,” said Brenok's voice on the other side of the door, answering to the chime.

    She entered to see him sitting with a holopicture in one hand and a bottle of kanar in the other. He didn't even bother to use a glass.

    “I knew it was you,” he said, not even looking at her.

    “If you knew it was me, why didn't you hide the bottle?” she asked.

    “You came here as my friend, or as my commanding officer?”

    “The former.”

    “So there's no need to hide the bottle,” he said grimly.

    The holopicture – it was his daughter sitting in his wife's lap.

    “Arenn, I know you suffer, but...”

    “I don't want to talk about it,” he said dismissively, cutting her off.

    “Even to me?”

    “And who are you to be any different?!” he snapped, looking up at her.

    Her eye ridges raised in astonishment, but she didn't say anything.

    “Get out!” he shouted, leaning forward and almost dropping the holopicture. She realised he was drunk.

    “Glinn Brenok, I expect you to be ready for duty tomorrow morning. After your duty tomorrow you will report to the infirmary for full check up.” She wanted to say that if the medic would find something wrong with him, she would dismiss him, but she feared the medic would find something and she would be forced to act upon her own threat... and she didn't want to.

    He only glared at her. “You know where the door is,” he grumbled.

    Her eyes flashed with anger, but the feeling quickly subsided. She knew he suffered and she worried about him. She wasn't sure how she could help him, but she knew she had to do something. Drowning his pain in kanar was no solution.

    Instead of returning to her quarters, she decided to head for lower decks. She knew Ma'Kan was training the troops; she wanted to talk to the young tactician and could also inspect how the young woman dealt with militia troops, who were everything, but gentle. She still remembered the first time she had to train them: she was older, but very nervous. She had to gain their respect and submissiveness, she had to become authority for them and they had to trust her judgement. Now, as their Gul, she probably knew the lower deck troops better than any Gul in the fleet, unless their path to the command chair was similar – through tactical.

    She entered the gym and stopped by the door, looking for the tactical officer. She couldn't spot her anywhere and just started wondering if the troops were left alone with orders to practice, when she noticed that Ma'Kan was in front of the long jogging line – she led them.

    Jarol smiled inwardly. Why didn't she even think about it? Ma'Kan had a great idea to simply join the men in their exercises, be with them, not just issue orders. She stood, observing the practice. Athletic men, their chests bare, muscles working under their scales and their Order tattoos visible below their left collar bone ridge and above ribs ridges. They looked astonishing: precision, discipline, strength, all the best in a Cardassian soldier.

    Ma'Kan noticed her; she said something to the troop leader, who was directly behind her, and then slowed, breaking the formation. She approached Jarol.

    “Sir, I didn't expect an inspection.”

    “It is not an official inspection,” the Gul said. “I wanted to ask how is your other practice.”

    “It is progressing, sir.”

    “You have to be ready next month,” Jarol said.

    “Already?? I am not sure it's enough time.”

    “Make it enough time. Use all your spare time. You will be paid accordingly,” Jarol was ready to give the Dja her own monthly pay to have this done.

    Ma'Kan said nothing.

    “Dja, I you can't do it, I have to know it now.”

    “I can do it, sir,” the officer replied crisply.

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yes, sir, I am sure.”

    “Good. Proceed,” Jarol nodded toward the troops. The Dja joined them and the Gul observed the exercises for a while longer and then returned to her quarters. She needed to talk to Brenok the next day.

    “I still don't understand why you wanted me to get invitations for us,” Brenok said, sitting in his place. Jarol sat next to him. “That would give them an impression I think about their offer, while I don't.”

    “I want to hear what they have to say.”

    “Why?” he was surprised. “You don't agree with their reasoning and more than I do. And why did you bring Ma'Kan?” he looked around. “I can't see her now. Where did she go?”

    “Don't worry about her. She's nearby, she has a job to do.”

    “Oh, does she. Well, I expect it to be one boring evening.”

    Brenok had been very surprised, when she asked him to secure two invitations for the Directorate meeting. He asked why she wanted to come, but she gave him some dismissing answer. He was clueless.

    Legate Parn's speech was long, colourful and... boring. He spoke, and spoke, talking about Cardassia's glory and bringing that glory back, but didn't say anything on the subject of how to bring that glory back. Jarol's face expression clearly showed what she though about this speech – she smirked and observed the obese Legate with a contempt in her eyes.

    Daset was next. He seemed to be one of the youngest delegates. He spoke of needs of Cardassia. He thanked people, who were helping in the rebuilding process.

    Then it was Ahal's turn. When he entered the stage and took his place by the podium, Jarol smiled devilishly. Was it satisfaction on her face?

    Suddenly Ahal collapsed. Jarol's hands moved slightly and Brenok caught her touching gently her wristcomm. It could be an accidental move of her hands, but something was telling him it wasn't, he had an impression she sent a command somewhere. He looked at the stage, seeing crowd gathering around the podium. He couldn't see Ahal.

    Jarol stood up. It was done.


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