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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“Have you studied Galor class schematics?”
“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.