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?”
“Do you trust him?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.