“You wanted to see me,” Jarol entered Daset's office and stood in front of his desk.
“Yes,” he rose and went round the desk to stand close and face her. “I have a task for you, a very delicate task.”
She looked at him, raising her head a bit, as he was a tall man, and waited for him to continue. She had never noticed before that his eyes had deep green colour.
“Please, take a seat,” he indicated a table in the corner of his office. So, it seemed like she wouldn't like her new task, or he wouldn't bother with such niceties as politeness. It was going to be a blow.
“What do you need me to do?” she asked, sitting down.
“Alon Ghemor asked for my assistance in planning our withdrawal from the annexed worlds. He is not a fool we took him for and he understands it cannot be done without a good plan, and as soon as I passed your ideas to him, he asked me for deeper involvement. And since those were your ideas, you will assist him.”
“You have to be joking,” she snapped.
“Am I laughing?” his eye ridge raised. He was irritated by her comment.
“No, you're not. But you know very well what I think about this government.”
“Pretty much the same I do. But we have to have some influence. I delegate you to represent our position and to help. This is not open for discussion, you will do it,” his tone of voice allowed no resistance. It clearly was an order.
“Understood,” she hissed.
She was still angry, when she returned home. She entered her room to find Brenok sitting on her sofa. She wasn't surprised he had managed to get in – she didn't feel a need to restrict access to her room in Demoks' house – however she was angry he was here at all.
“Do you need another massage?” she growled.
“So what the hell do you want?”
He didn't reply. She knew why he was here, but she didn't care. A small smile appeared on his lips.
“What is so amusing?” she stood in front of him, towering over his sitting figure.
“I wouldn't expect you to care about my pain now.”
“That's because you
are an ass, but I
still am a good friend,” her voice was still full of anger.
“What can I do?”
“Nothing. I just have to get over it. Now get out!”
He looked into her eyes. She was mad, but he knew he wasn't the reason.
The words growled out from depth of her throat, so he headed for the door knowing it wasn't a good moment to talk to her. He stopped and looked back at her, but her expression was discouraging, so he left without saying anything.
Alon Ghemor was shorter than she expected. And he seemed even smaller in his big office. Daset's office was much smaller, but he decorated it with a taste: he kept there some replicas of bladed weapons and a couple of paintings, and everything had been flatteringly arranged. Here, there was no personality in this office. It was only a huge chamber with tables and chairs and a Cardassian inside.
“Gul Jarol, it is a pleasure to finally meet you,” Ghemor greeted her with a smile.
? She wanted to ask, but bit her tongue in time. She just nodded her greeting.
“Please, have a seat,” he indicated a chair at a table, which stood by a window. She sat and looked out the window. The view would be beautiful some day; the window went out to the same garden she had talked to Jotrel in recently. In the distance she could see buildings under construction. She realised there were less and less ruins in Lakat every day. It made her smile.
“Would you like some tea?” Ghemor asked.
She looked at him, a little startled; she almost forgot where she was.
“Brown leaf tea...” she said.
He spoke to someone over the comm and then joined her at the table.
“I understand Gul Daset has informed you why I asked for your consultation,” he started.
“It's about the withdrawal from all annexed worlds,” she said coldly.
“That's right. Gul Daset does not think it was a good decision, but we would have to do it eventually. I understand you agree with my position.”
“I agree that withdrawal is inevitable, but not the way you want to do it. That would be catastrophic.”
“Well,” he smiled. “Actually I don't have any particular idea how to do it.”
“I see. So your Federation superiors told you to stop torturing those poor worlds and you said yes, even if it could be disastrous for Cardassia.”
Ghemor's smile faded for a moment.
“Gul Jarol, whatever I do, I do it for Cardassia.”
“Whose idea was it? This withdrawal, I mean?”
He didn't reply at once.
“We need the Federation's support,” he said finally. She just snorted, but he ignored her and continued. “The Breen don't want to give us back the territory, which the shapeshifter had given them for joining the... the war. The Breen don't want to negotiate and we are unable to take that territory by force. We need an intermediary, someone, who would help us to talk to them.”
“I'd rather go to war with the Breen and take back what's ours,” she said.
“I'm sure you would. But the question is not about going to war and fighting,” he said. “You and your crew are brave people, I don't doubt that. And you would fight, I don't doubt that too. But could you win
this war?” he asked.
She bit her lower lip. He was right, even if she didn't want to admit it. It's been two years since the end of the Dominion War and her ship – a flagship of a battalion! – still looked like a patchwork, due to lack of resources. There was no way they could win a war with anyone, with the exception of Ferengi maybe, and she wasn't so sure about that either.
“So you see my point,” he said after a moment, as she didn't reply. “We're in no position to bargain. The Federation's position is clear – we free occupied worlds, they help us with the Breen. We would have to free them anyway, sooner or later, and I'd rather not see our people under Breen rule.”
He was right, again. It bugged her he kept using the word 'occupied' tough. She wasn't fond of the 'annexed' term either, but somehow it didn't sound right in a Cardassian mouth.
“Help me,” he asked. “You seem most reasonable from all officers I heard of. You had served on Terok Nor and had seen it all atrocities with your own eyes. You want it to stop as much as I do.”
She kept staring at him. How did he know so much about her?
“Can I count on you?” he asked after another long moment of silence.
“Yes. But! Before I start working on some schedule of our withdrawals, I want to investigate the situation of all annexed Prefectures. Not all of them are like Bajor.”
“Agreed. It has to be done properly,” he nodded.
“Is that all?”
“No. There is one more thing. The Federation wants us to join their exchange program.”
“Exchange of what?”
“Officers. To learn more about each other, to know each other better.”
She squinted her eyes. She felt no need of knowing the Feds better. “What do you mean?” she asked slowly.
“Two Federation officers were chosen to join our fleet. I want them to be on your ship.”
Two Feds roaming around the Roumar; it was unbelievable. But then... she could keep an eye on them personally, in case they were spies.
“Fine. But only two.”
“Only two. You can expect them within a month. I don't have details yet.”
“Is it all now?”
“Yes, now it's all,” he smiled patiently. She knew her rudeness had to be irritating, but she had no intention of showing him any respect, or changing her behaviour. He had to know she didn't concur with his politics and she was not on his side, even if she agreed to cooperate.
Brenok returned from his Oralian gathering right for the supper. Most of Demoks' neighbours had moved out and the house was a family home again. Old Demok didn't approve of Brenok's attendance of those meetings, but he never said anything. Jarol suspected he didn't feel he had any right to do that. Her own father didn't seem to mind. He always asked Brenok how it was and if they did something new. It was rather a polite way of starting a conversation than a genuine interest, but it was clear he saw nothing wrong in those Oralian gatherings.
She was in the general room downstairs, sitting on the floor and playing with Laran, when Brenok entered.
“Do you need a massage?” she asked, not raising her head up, trying not to let Laran eat all his toys. She was still angry with Brenok.
“No, I won't need it any more. I mean – not after the gatherings.”
“Really?” she looked up at him this time.
“They've noticed I was suffering, so they decided to change the place. We meet in a new temple now. It's not finished yet, but is good enough for our purpose. The guide said my well-being was more important than their tradition of holding the gatherings in the historical basement.”
“How generous,” she snorted.
He left her remark uncommented. He didn't want another argument. He sat in an armchair and took a padd from a table next to it, which contained a book he had started reading an evening earlier.
“Mommy,” Laran raised his head to look at his mother. “Where is daddy?”
Her eyes opened wide. “Daddy?” she repeated, her voice hoarse and shaking.
“Grandpa Vares is your daddy. Grandpa Talokan is daddy's daddy? Where is my daddy?”
Her eyes filled with tears. She was looking at her son's face, so much like his father's, and couldn't force herself to speak. What could she tell him? How could she explain it to him?
She felt someone's arms around her. She didn't notice when Brenok came and sat next to her to hold her; she looked at him.
“Your daddy sacrificed himself so that you could be safe, Laran,” Brenok told the boy in a soft voice.
“When will I see him?”
“The same day I will see my daughter,” Brenok replied, hugging Jarol, who started crying.
“Why does mommy cry?”
“Because she wants to see your daddy too.”
“Can't we go together to see him and Tasara?”
“We will, but it will be very long time before we can do it.”
“I can wait,” the boy said cheerfully and his attention shifted back to his toys.
Brenok held Jarol in his arms, her tears soaking the sweater on his chest. He was stroking her hair and humming her favourite lullaby, the same he had hummed for her when Demok was killed. He realised he couldn't remember seeing her crying any other time than shortly after the destruction of Damar's ship. She was always there for him, for his tears, but she didn't shed hers. Maybe her time for mourning came today.
Old Darok entered the room and was shocked and then worried, seeing the scene. Brenok waved him away, so he reluctantly left, leaving three of them alone. He knew if anyone could help her, it would be her friend, of whom he thought as his adopted son.
The Mar'kuu Group's meetings weren't regular initially, as each battalion commander had his – or her – duties beside the political ones, but they tried to use each opportunity to hold a meeting once everyone was on or near Cardassia Prime. As new Guls supported or even joined them, they needed to arrange more formal form of their meetings and their small political group started resembling something much more. The name – The Mar'kuu Group – was Jarol's idea. The sea animal was extinct and could not be brought back, but they hoped that in spite of the Dominion's attempt to make all Cardassians extinct, they had a chance to rebuild their empire.
“What do you mean: the Ferengi?” Daset's reaction to Jotrel's idea was much harsher than Jarol's had been.
“Why not? We've done business with them before.”
“Yes, but... do you want to rely our whole economy on the... Ferengi?”
“Errr, no. I just want to start somewhere. If you have better ideas, please, share them with us.”
Daset only glared at Jotrel. “Did you read it?” he asked Tarkan.
“Yes,” the Gul nodded his greying head.
“What do you think?”
“It's stupid. But I agree we have to start somewhere. Ghemor's government doesn't have a clue how to bring our economy back on its feet, so stupid idea could be what we need... if
we don't spread the word too much. People would ridicule us.”
“I never said it had to be official,” Jotrel got defensive. “It's even better if we kept it a secret.”
“How do we choose a Ferengi? Does anyone have any contacts?” Daset asked, looking around the faces.
“Actually yes, there is one individual I'd dealt with,” Jotrel nodded.
“Is he trustworthy?”
Ferengi?” Jotrel smiled.
“Is he trustworthy enough for our purpose?” there was a smile crawling on Daset's lips too.
“I think so.”
“All right. Contact your Ferengi. This is your project, so you take care of it. I just want detailed reports on your progress or lack of it.”
“Actually I'd like to hold an official meeting, on which all of you would be present.”
“Why?” Tarkan clearly didn't like the idea.
“For two reasons. He would see we are serious about it. And we could intimidate him a bit if he thought he could cheat us. You, Gul Tarkan, could intimidate him particularly successfully.”
“With pleasure,” Jarol thought it was the first time she saw Tarkan smiling.
“All right,” Daset agreed. “Coordinate the time of the meeting with my aide and try to find a spot when we all are available. My aide should be able to provide this information at all times.”
“Gul Tarkan, you also have some proposition to present today,” Daset looked at the commander of the Third Battalion.
“Indeed. Our last conversation,” he glanced at Brenok and Toral, “left me with one conclusion: we need to change the way that ordinary people see the military these days. We need them to believe we are here to protect and serve them, not threaten them.”
Jarol was impressed. Tarkan was openly, although not directly, admitting that he had been wrong ordering forceful solution of the difficult situation on Cardassia.
“We have to bring order back into the military, replace the chaos that exists there now. And I believe the militia troops are the first target. I have a sketch of small reforms regarding regulations, conduct and training,” he raised a padd. “I will transfer a copy to each of you for your review. I'm open for any amends.
“I would also like to separate militia training from officers' training. As of now, both forces attend the Military Academy. I would prefer to open a school, or rather schools, possibly one per each big city, which would thoroughly train professional militiamen, who would later serve as ground security service and aboard ships in the form they serve now. I'd also like a separate division for training guards of all sorts. Apart from regular training, I would like them to have a goal.
“I was thinking about it for some time, and decided to share this with you and ask your opinions. I want to create a special troop of the best of the best. Their role would be representative. They would be guards of most important people in the Cardassian Union, they would be our guests' guards, they could perform shows of martial arts and such. Only the best militiamen could apply and be accepted, so joining this troop would be a privilege and the greatest honour. I would like to see it as a goal for each man to reach, which would make them do their best to become perfect soldiers, as any trouble would close the door to this special unit permanently.
“I would like this troop to be named “the Damar Guard”,” he smiled to Jarol. “And have them wear armours with golden edges.”
Jarol was surprised. She glanced at the two guards, standing on each side of the door, and tried to imagine them wearing golden armours. She had to admit she liked the idea.
“An interesting idea,” Daset said after a moment.
“I like it,” Jotrel nodded toward Tarkan.
“So do I,” concurred Gul Marret, one of their new supporters.
“Martial arts?” Toral asked.
“That's something of a hobby of mine,” Tarkan said with... was that a sheepish smile? “It's good for discipline of the mind and the body. I myself am quite skilled with the art of hark'nor
fighting. There are schools of martial arts, but I'd like this to become an official discipline each and every militiaman and officer would be familiar with.”
?” Brenok looked at Tarkan impressed. “Do you really know how to fight with it?”
Tarkan only nodded.
Jarol had seen hark'nor
in a museum once, but she had never had an occasion to see it used in any manner. It was a heavy and long bladed weapon, not much unlike a Klingon bat'leth or a Jem'Hadar kar'takin.
“Sounds good to me,” she approved.
“Do you mind the name?” Tarkan asked her.
Why did he ask her permission? Was it because she was friends with Damar? Then why didn't he also seek Brenok's approval? She was puzzled.
“I think it's appropriate,” she agreed. In fact, she loved the name for the troop.