“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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“Sir, there is a task force in Tira sector. It would take them forty-eight hours to reach Amarat system.”
“And our ETA is...?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.