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.
“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 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.”
“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.
“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.