“Peace is good for business, Thirty Fifth Rule of Acquisition”, Jotrel said.
The Ferengi looked at him impressed.
“You memorised Rules of Acquisition?” he asked impressed, showing his crooked teeth in a smile.
“Ah, I read them once,” Jotrel waved his hand dismissively.
Jarol could barely stop her laughter. Heavens be blessed for eidetic Cardassian memory.
Six months earlier
“Slaughter them!” Gul Tarkan was furious.
“Ah, slaughter yourself!” Brenok barked angrily.
“How dare you!” Tarkan turned to face the young officer.
“How dare you
!” Brenok didn't seem intimidated in the least. “How dare you ordering to shoot at our own citizens!”
“They have rebelled!”
“Oh...” Brenok stopped himself in time, but Jarol guffawed. She almost heard “oh, shut up!” and Tarkan's face expression clearly indicated that so did he.
“While Glinn Brenok's reaction is out of line,” Jotrel seemed actually amused, not shocked, “he does have a point.”
Tarkan glanced at Jotrel and then back at Brenok.
“We cannot start shooting at our own,” Jotrel continued. “The Obsidian Order times are gone and for one I'm happy about it. Those people did not 'rebel',” he looked at Tarkan. “They are scared and desperate. They need help, not an attack of armed to teeth troops. We're not Jem'Hadar and we can't become Jem'Hadar.”
“We can't allow people to start riots!” Tarkan barked.
“No, we can't. But do you really think executions and massacres would help?”
“They would fear to start another one when they'd see how we punish rioters.”
“That's incredibly short-sighted, Tarkan,” Jarol snorted. “I have no idea how you could have come to such appalling conclusions.”
“No one asked you!”
“Excuse me?” Her eyes opened wider with anger.
“You're the lowest ranking Gul here, so shut up and listen to experienced commanders.”
Glinn Toral didn't participate in the discussion, or the quarrel rather. He stood aside, glancing at Daset from time to time. However when he heard Tarkan attacking and insulting Jarol, his blood boiled. He moved closer and stood behind the female Gul.
“Go back to your children, because you're no good to command a ship!” Tarkan hissed.
“This is counterproductive,” Jotrel interjected, but Tarkan was in full aggressive mode and didn't pay any attention to him.
“You should command an orphanage, not--”
“That's enough!” Toral boomed. “Sir,” he snorted with contempt.
Tarkan was speechless, Jotrel surprised and Jarol sent a warm smile toward her unexpected hero. That last thing was enough for Toral to never ever regret his action.
“What happened to the famous Cardassian military discipline?!” Tarkan shouted when his voice was back. “No surprise we lost the war with people like them!” he pointed to Brenok and Toral.
“Calm down, everyone!” Daset's voice wasn't loud, but sharp like a razor.
Everyone silenced and looked at him.
“We have to solve the situation. Not by force,” he looked at Tarkan. “We must be effective,” he added. “Be their parents, teach them the good behaviour, not only punish them for bad behaviour. Those people are desperate, hungry and sick. We must give them hope, food and medicine.”
“Beautiful words, worth of a politician,” Tarkan said. “But how do we apply them in practice?”
“That's your job. I am a politician, you are my advisers. So advise. And may your advices help me in my political career, not destroy it before it even starts,” the last words were clearly directed to Tarkan, although Daset wasn't looking at anyone in particular, when he spoke them.
Gul Tarkan was first to leave the room. Jarol grinned, patted Toral's arm and looked at Jotrel.
“I hope he's not in trouble?” she asked him.
Jotrel shook his head and then waved to his aide and they both left the room. She looked at Brenok.
“Sir,” she noticed Daset stood with his back to the room, looking out the window.
He didn't react, so she and Brenok left his office without any more word.
“That was very stupid what you did there,” she said.
“I know. But I couldn't help it,” he admitted.
“Don't do that again. I won't be able to protect your from some people.”
“Who will protect us from Gul Tarkan?”
“I don't know, Arenn, but maybe he should join Ahal before he does any real harm.”
“You joking, right? Tell me you're joking.”
“I am,” she smiled slightly, but he wasn't so sure about her declaration.
They saw Jotrel waiting for them in the corridor.
“You two,” he looked at both Glinns, “go and check the proceedings, which follow insubordination and defying a ranking officer. We, Guls, have something to discuss.”
Both Glinns left and Jarol grinned.
“Something tells me your aide is not in trouble too, in spite of his terrible
behaviour,” she said.
“He's a good officer, always following rules. However it occurs it takes a beautiful woman to throw his career away,” Jotrel didn't smile, but his face expression showed amusement. “But I won't hold it against him.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Ahal's assassination investigation.”
“What about it?” she knew there was one for a show and Daset promised her it was led by one of his people, so she was safe, but what would Jotrel know about it?
“Let's go somewhere else.”
They went outside and walked in the newly rebuilt garden near the government building. The grass was rich and spotted by flowers, but there were no trees yet. It would be many years before thin, delicate baby-trees would become the real thing. However, in spite of that, the garden was beautiful and a welcome sight in still half-destroyed Lakat. Smell of flowers in hot, humid air was almost overwhelming.
“Brenok did sloppy work,” Jotrel said.
“Brenok?” she didn't understand.
“That riffle you used. It was a good idea to choose something from the criminalistic armoury, and you chose a good weapon, but the DNA work wasn't done as well as it should have been.”
“What do you mean?” she worried about Ma'Kan's safety.
She had made a decision to use one of riffles, which were designated for destruction. That kind of riffles, formerly used by Obsidian Order snipers, was attached to its user. A riffle was programmed to its owner's DNA and no one else could use it. It was for the owners' safety, in case their weapon would be taken from them.
It was believed that DNA setting could be done once only, so a riffle could never change its owner. However there was a design flaw, which allowed to re-renter new DNA. Jarol adapted one such riffle to Ma'Kan's DNA and then removed the DNA and signs of tempering from the programming.
“I mean that there were traces of DNA left,” Jotrel whispered. “You can't simply remove the DNA programming; to completely erase current DNA you'd have to enter a new one. And depending on a riffle and its particular safeties, it could not always work. I thought Brenok would know such things.”
“Why do you think it was Brenok?”
“He's an engineer, that's an engineer's work, isn't it?”
“He had nothing to do with it,” she said. “He didn't even know.”
“Then who did it?”
“Oh, I see. Well then, you did a sloppy work. The remains of DNA were sufficient enough to track it to you tactical officer.”
“What now? Is there anything I can do for her?”
“Don't worry. I have erased all traces and all programming,” he said. “I just warn you not to be so negligent next time you try something like this. For engineering work ask Brenok... or me.”
That's right! Jotrel was the chief engineer of Terok Nor.
“Now I have a debt,” she simply said.
“You do. And I collect my debts,” he grinned.
“I'm sure you do.”
She worried. How come so many people knew it was her, who killed Ahal? She was not as safe as she'd believed she was.
“There's also one more thing I'd like to talk to you about,” Jotrel sat on a bench near a tree-to-be. In thirty or forty years the tree would cast a romantic shadow over the bench.
“What is it?” she sat next to him.
“I'm sure you're not happy with all the help we receive. I mean – with the fact we need charity from former enemies.”
“I had an idea recently. I talked to Toral about it and now would like to talk to you. I would need your support, because I'm quite sure Gul Daset would not think it's a good idea.”
“I see,” she had no idea what to expect.
“What do you think about Ferengi?” and even if she had had an idea, she wouldn't expect this.
“They are short, ugly, treat their women like cattle, but they are good businessmen.”
“I'm interested in the last part. What if we start a cooperation with the Ferengi. Something that would let us become independent and not relying on Feds' help.”
“Do you have something specific in mind?”
“Actually it's not very
specific, merely a general idea, but here's what I think we could try to do,” he started. “Ferengi are businessmen, as you said. They know the market, they know what sells and for what price. What if we could offer something for sale and buy everything we need?”
“I don't know.”
“What would we pay with? Leks are worthless these days.”
“I don't know.”
“Sounds like a great plan to me. No surprise you're an engineer, not a tactician.”
“And no businessmen, but that's what the Ferengi are for.”
“You mean... you want them to be a kind of intermediary between us and whoever we might have to deal with?”
“They are not trustworthy!”
“They value profit. If we arrange it right, we could trust them to some degree. I have a few more ideas and Toral too, so I could send them to you for your review. Maybe you could add something too. And Brenok. He's a clever guy. I'm going to contact Gul Marret too.”
“And you think Daset would agree to such a thing?” she was doubtful.
“Daset is a traditionalist, in his mind Cardassia is strong, self-sufficient and such. But if we both tell him the same thing, maybe he would be able to... not to refuse it at once and give it a chance.”
“Daset is an ass, but he's not stupid.”
“So, what do you think?”
“I think I want to see what you and Toral had prepared so far,” she smiled.
“Splendid,” he smiled back.
“I am not sure I can...” she didn't want to refuse, but couldn't even imagine herself touching him. Not in this manner.
“Pleeaaaseee,” he extended his right hand; it was shaking uncontrollably.
It took just a glance at his shivering limb, then she decidedly knelt next to him, reached to the table to activate the instructions clip, wetted her palms in the substance Brenok had prepared for this activity according to Kirkland's instructions, and put her hand on his shoulder. She feared she would hurt him, she feared she would inflict even more pain, so she observed his face intently, but there was no change. He suffered and possibly couldn't suffer more.
She followed the instructions to the best of her ability, and discovered it wasn't so difficult to press right places as she imagined it would be. He grunted a few times and each time she asked him if he wanted her to stop, but he kept shaking his head. The tension on his face disappeared gradually to be finally replaced by relief.
She sat on the floor next to him, lowering her hands. His neck ridge and shoulder were oily, and so were her hands. He sat on the floor, pulled his legs up and held his arms around the calves.
“Do you feel better?” she asked.
He smiled slightly and nodded.
“Why do you return there if each time after those... gatherings your shoulder hurts so much?” Jarol couldn't understand. Every time he returned from an Oralian meeting, he suffered. This time it was so bad that he actually called her for help, for this
“Because they give me something that is more important than lack of pain in my shoulder. They remove the pain from my heart.”
“What do they give you? What do they do that no one else can? What I
“I lost all my family. You don't know how it is to have no one left!” Was she no one for him? “You have no idea how it is to lose a child!”
“Maybe you've forgotten that Bajorans murdered my husband and two children,” she whispered, “but I
She got up and headed for the door, trying to stop her tears. No one have said more cruel words to her in her entire life.
Brenok raised his hand to cover his mouth. How could he have said something like this, how could he have forgotten?
“Atira, I'm sorry,” he called after her, but she disappeared behind closing door. He followed her, calling her name, but she didn't turn and kept walking in an even pace. He knew he's just put a knife into her heart and twisted it. He was so focused on Laran that he forgot the boy wasn't her only child. He wished he could eat his own words, or turn back time and erase them. He felt like trash. He was so consumed by his own pain he forgot he wasn't the only one suffering.