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
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.”
“Same to you down there.”
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.
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.”
“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.