Jarol stared at Brenok shocked.
“Do you... do you... do you...” she actually couldn't make herself ask the question.
“No, I don't,” he answered simply.
“Then why do you go there?” she didn't understand.
“Because it helps me. They are not what we were told. They are... mysterious,” he smiled slightly.
“How can they help? How could strangers do something I
couldn't!” she knew it wasn't right to make it about herself, and she didn't want to, but she couldn't understand...
He approached her and put his arms around her shoulders.
“They helped me to see that you were trying to help me. I'm sorry for all those nasty things I told you. You are my best friend, your father treats me like his own son. I have to remember that. I am not alone.”
She smiled sadly.
“Don't worry about my feelings,” she whispered.
Three months earlier
“Do you realise what you did?” Daset was angry, but not as angry as Jarol expected him to be.
His office reminded her of his quarters, which she had seen when he was leaving the Roumar. It was decorated with taste, full of interesting weaponry and art. There was nothing resembling the mar'kuu sculpture he had given her though.
“I didn't do anything,” she said.
“You did it, you just used someone else's hands and eyes. But I am absolutely sure the assassination of Ahal was your doing and will not believe your denial.”
“Jarol,” he stood up and started pacing in front of his desk. “There is no one to take over his responsibilities. Ghemor's so-called government is not interested in internal military affairs. Those idiots are so blind that they ignore dangers. They fear the Feds would stop sending their medicines, if we had strong army,” he snorted.
“You can take over,” she said quietly.
Daset stopped. “You gotta be joking,” he exclaimed, raising his hands to the air.
She shook her head.
“Because... because...” he knitted his eye ridges, clearly unable to find a good reason.
“Because why?” she pressed.
“I don't have enough support, nor background. Without background the support is necessary. I maybe have a distinguished career track, but am not a high born Cardassian. I shouldn't even dream about reaching highest levels of power.”
“Stop thinking the old way!” she said harshly. “Who cares about your family background? You care for Cardassia. Your career record proves you have the ability to lead and lead wisely. We don't need another high born Ahal, we need someone like you! Don't you get it? Some things have to change.”
“I would fail without support,” he said quieter.
“What if you had the Fourth Order's support?”
“It would have to include Gul Jotrel and Gul Tarkan.”
“I can talk to Jotrel. I don't know Tarkan, but I could contact him.”
“You're serious about it,” Daset sat back in his chair.
“Utterly serious. And the fact that you resist is the best prove you're the right person. You don't want power for your own benefit, you want something good for Cardassia. Stop wanting, start acting.”
“And you would support me?”
“I would, but under one condition.”
“You like conditions,” he grinned.
“You would officially cut yourself off of this Directorate group. You are to stand alone and work for good of Cardassia.”
“I am not going to be alone.”
“No. You are going to be by my side.”
“And you're going to talk to Jotrel. You know him.”
“I'm not sure 'know' is right word, but I'll contact him and talk to him.”
“I thought you served together.”
“We served on the same station, a big station, under the same Gul. Apart from seeing each other in ops from time to time and drinking on a few occasions in the same company, we had no contact.”
“Drinking is good enough for me,” Daset smiled.
Jarol chuckled. “Hopefully it's good enough for him too,” she said.
“Can we talk?” Brenok entered Jarol's office and sat in the chair on the other side of her desk without invitation.
“Looks like you wouldn't accept any other answer than 'yes'. What's on your mind?”
“Ahal. Or rather his death.”
“What about it?”
“If you think you could hide it from me, then you must think I'm stupid.”
“Stupid – no. Drunk most of the time – yes,” she said and immediately regretted her words. He ignored her remark.
“I know you hated him, but revenge?”
“Arenn, it wasn't my revenge.”
“Then what was it? Justice?”
“He needed to be eliminated, because this man was dangerous to Cardassia's integrity. We couldn't let him make important decisions.”
“You can fool yourself, you can fool Daset – as I'm sure he knows you did it – but you can't fool me. It was a revenge.”
He chuckled, but without amusement. “And why exactly Gul “by the book” Daset didn't arrest you?”
“Oh come on! You can't prove I did this!”
this. This very conversation proves it.”
“And why exactly are we having this conversation?” she always trusted him, but in his recent state of mind she wasn't sure he was still the same man she knew.
He only smiled. There was nothing menacing in his smile, yet she felt endangered.
“I just wonder why you didn't share the plans with me,” he said eventually.
“I...” he knew, right? So she could openly admit to it, right? She still could trust him, in spite of that weird behaviour he was showing recently. “I didn't want you to be involved.”
“Oh, so your secret was for my protection?” he asked with irony.
“Yes. Daset will not act, I will not be in trouble, but how could I know it for sure? If something went wrong, I could have been executed, but not you. There was no reason to endanger you.”
“I don't need this kind of protection.”
“I think you do. Everyone does. You were involved enough by securing those invitations. I don't want anyone to pay for this, especially not those, who didn't have anything to do with it. That includes you.”
“You could have told me,” he said quietly.
She wanted to say she didn't have to tell him everything, but bit her tongue in time. “Arenn, I didn't want to keep any secrets from you. It just was something I had to keep in secret. From everyone.”
“Was it Ma'Kan?”
“And it still is a secret.”
She waited for him to say something more, but after a short while he rose and left her office. Was he hurt? Why did he take it so personally?
Shouting and insults dragged Brenok's attention to a darker corner of the plaza. He stopped and listened for a moment, but in spite of loudness, it was still too far to understand what was the subject of the quarrel. He hesitated, but finally decided to see what was going on.
He approached a group to see there were three civilians – two women and a man – and two militiamen.
“What is the problem?” he asked.
“The curfew starts soon and they are still on the street,” said the Garesh, a little startled by an officer's presence.
“Soon, it starts soon
,” the man said, emphasising the last word.
“According to their data,” the Garesh shook a data rod he kept in his hand, “they would not arrive to their address in time. They would breach the law.”
“They haven't yet,” Brenok pointed out. “And since you stopped them, they surely won't be able to reach their home in time.”
“Instead of stopping them and making problems, you should have escorted them back home safely, to make sure nothing bad happens to them.”
“The curfew wasn't established to bother good citizens, but to keep them at homes, when it's not safe outside, because so many bad people are crawling out of their holes in the night.”
“Yes, sir,” Brenok hoped the man really understood.
“You are not to bother good Cardassian citizens, you are to protect them.”
“Fine. Now, escort them home.”
“Thank you,” said the civilian man.
The Garesh made an inviting move with his hand, pointing to the direction they should go, but the older of two women approached Brenok and looked at his face. She was much shorter, so she had to raise her head high. Brenok felt disturbed by her standing so close, too close, violating his personal space, but something was stopping him from stepping back.
Then she gently raised her hand and put it on the front of his armour, where his heart was.
“You are suffering,” she said quietly.
It startled him. His heart started beating fast, he wanted to move away, but couldn't. He expected her to say more.
“You need to heal,” she didn't disappoint him.
Garesh gave him an asking look, but he ignored the militiaman.
“What do you mean 'heal'?” he asked quietly, so that only she could hear him.
“Come here tomorrow evening. By the sunset. Your healing will start,” she said. Her voice was soft and smooth.
He squinted his eyes, trying to read her face, but there was nothing, but sympathy.
“And what is going to be here tomorrow?” he asked.
“Come. You will see,” she stepped back and joined the other two. “Please, escort us home,” she spoke to the Garesh.
He nodded, shot the last glance at Brenok, who still didn't move, and then followed the civilians, along with the other militiaman.
Jarol and Brenok entered Daset's office to discover they weren't the only invited people. Not that there was a crowd. Only two more men. Jarol nodded her greeting to Gul Jotrel. She spoke to him on several occasions recently, but always through a comm. It was first time in almost 10 years that she met him personally.
She went toward him and Brenok followed her.
“Gul Jarol,” Jotrel extended his hands and grabbed her arms. “It's so nice to finally see you in flesh.”
“Likewise, Gul Jotrel,” she smiled. “I hope you are well.”
“I manage.” He pointed to the other man. “This is my aide, Glinn Toral.”
“My aide, Glinn Brenok,” she introduced her friend. “And where is Gul Daset?”
“Some business kept him, but he should be here shortly.”
She looked at Toral. A friendly smile appeared on his face, while he nodded to her his greeting. She nodded back, once.
The main door opened and Daset entered with Gul Tarkan – a tall, thin man with a sharp face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Daset said. “Ironically, the matter is rather urgent,” he motioned toward a small table in the corner, where six armchairs stood. “Please sit down, everyone.”
“So what is the urgent matter?” Jotrel asked, sitting.
Daset waited for everyone to find their places, then called his secretary to bring tea.
“The Directorate opposes my candidature,” he said simply.
“Which is not surprising, since you officially cut off any relations with them and stood apart,” Tarkan commented.
“Yes, well, you are right. They try to force their man to replace Ahal now and I may not be able to keep my position.”
“What do you need?” Jarol asked. She was no politician, she didn't know all the rules.
“I need a leverage, which would make it impossible for them to remove me. I have to make my position strong enough to make getting rid me not doable without them losing their strong position,” Daset said.
“The Fourth Order's support would be a good start,” Jotrel said.
Everyone nodded. At least they agreed on this.
“It might not be enough,” Daset said. “The Directorate still has most of the Guard behind them, especially the old, experienced officers.”
“They all belong to the same breed,” Tarkan commented.
“Yes, and that's why it would be so difficult, if not impossible, to change any of their supporters' minds.”
“Let's not change minds,” Brenok said. Everyone looked at him, some faces expressed surprise, some shock, some interest or a mixture of all those feelings. “What I want to say is that we need to look for support somewhere else. The core of the Directorate is practically the same as old Central Command. We can't go on, using old rules. Old model, yes, but we have to change something, or we would repeat their mistakes. The Feds try to 'improve',” he snorted the word, “our political system. They want people to make decisions. Fine. Let's follow that for a moment. You want support? Why do you look for it among old, rusty pig-heads? Why not ask the people, if they want strong, protective army?”
“And if they say 'no'?” Tarkan asked scornfully.
“Let's make them want
us,” Brenok said. “Let's find heroes of Cardassia. Let's find those, who opposed the Dominion, those, who fought in the war and tried to protect civilians from the enemy. Let's look for them not only among the brass, but also – or maybe even especially – among low ranks. Everyday heroes. A Garesh, who protected a family from being slaughtered by Jem'Hadar. A hungry man, who gave a child his last piece of food. Things like that.”
“Let's send part of our troops to rebuilding works,” Jarol interjected. “I did it once and my men were happy to go and help.”
“Let them see the military doing something else than fighting another war,” Brenok said.
“The Fourth Order's mission is protecting Cardassia,” Jotrel said. “It doesn't have to mean only military protection,” he added, smiling at Brenok. “I like the way you think, Glinn.”
“All right,” Daset nodded. “So we show our soft, non-military face. Then what?”
“Then we watch how people react,” Brenok said. “Watch them feeling safer. Watch them asking us for more.”
“Do you really believe it could work?” Tarkan gave Daset a doubtful look. “This sounds like a fairy tale.”
“Do you have a better idea?” Jarol asked him.
Tarkan eyed her, but said nothing.
Brenok looked around. Tarkan didn't seem happy with his ideas. Daset was thinking, touching the tip of his nose with his finger. Jarol was observing Daset. So was Jotrel. Toral was looking at Jarol and clearly not thinking about the subject of their conversation.
Finally Daset rose.
“I will talk to a few friends and present Brenok's ideas. Hopefully they would agree with our plans and join us,” he said.
“And if they wouldn't?” Tarkan also rose.
“Then we're on our own,” Daset said.
They exchanged their polite farewells and spread back to their warships.
Jarol entered the bridge and looked around.
“Where's Glinn Brenok?” she asked. He should be on duty.
“Here,” he rose from her chair.
“Oh, I didn't see you,” she motioned toward the chair, while he vacated it for her. I didn't hear you
was what she actually meant. Usually his singing was giving away his position. Now, to think of it – when was the last time she heard him humming anything?
“Karama, you said Gul Daset wanted to talk to me?” The comm officer nodded. “On screen then,” she ordered.
She saw an empty chair on the screen. A moment later Daset quickly sat in it.
“Sorry,” he muttered; it was clear he was busy and in rush.
Ma'Kan gasped. Jarol looked at the tactician and saw absolute admiration on her face. Daset looked at her too and smiled warmly. Then his eyes returned to Jarol, while Ma'Kan lowered her head and her dark grey cheeks gained even darker shade. The Gul tried not to smile, but it didn't work, so she bit her lower lip.
“You wished to talk to me,” she said to Daset.
“Yes, indeed. I forgot to tell you your orders.”
“And they are?”
“We had some raids on the Federation convoys. There is one heading for our space as we speak. You have to make sure it reaches Cardassia safely. Your comm officer should have all details now.”
Jarol looked at Karama and he nodded his confirmation.
“Good. Jarol, make sure they get here in one piece. We don't know who attacks those ships, but the Feds can't spare their armed forces, so they send quite vulnerable vessels. It's in our interest to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
“Shall I also find who attacks them?”
“That would be perfect, but their safety is your priority. If you can spare time and resources to investigate and, hopefully, solve the problem, well, that would look great in our portfolio, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” there was nothing better for a politician than a long list of successes and she knew very well Daset was more a politician than an officer now; and not without her and Brenok's active participation in the whole affair.
“Proceed,” he said and disconnected.
“Sorry about that, Gul,” Ma'Kan said ashamed.
“Don't worry about it, nothing happened after all,” this time she managed to stop her smile from crawling out to her face.
She completely understood the tactician's reaction: Daset was a handsome man, probably most handsome she has even seen in her life. What surprised her was Daset's reaction. He clearly felt flattered, and this particular officer sending such a nice, warm and friendly smile to someone of such a low rank was something she wouldn't believe if she didn't see it with her own eyes. There was a lot about Daset she didn't know.
“Can we talk?” Brenok whispered to her.
She nodded and he headed for her office. She followed him, not sure what it was about
: a private or official matter.
“Yes?” she asked, when the door closed behind her.
“Do you need me on this mission?” he asked.
“Get to the point.”
“I would like to apply for a shore leave, an extended shore leave.”
“Why?” she was surprised. She thought work was the only thing that kept him sane, otherwise he would brood over his loss. She wanted to make him busy and feel useful, not to drink locked in his room.
“I need time,” he said quietly.
“I don't think this is good idea, Arenn.”
“What do you know?!” he snapped. “Sorry,” he added a second later.
She approached him and stood so close that their armours almost touched. “Talk to me, Arenn, please. I'm not your enemy. But I don't know how to help you, I don't know what I could do for you.”
“Give me a shore leave.”
“Talk to me as your friend, not your Gul.”
“Do you deny my request, sir?”
She looked at his hard face and her heart ached. She didn't know what she could do, what she could tell him.
“Request denied,” she whispered.
His lips created a thin line. “Can I at least request this evening off?” he asked.
“We don't leave until tomorrow morning,” she said.
He went around her and left the office. She sighed.