“Sir,” Kamara spoke from his seat. “We are in communication range of the Skarrat system.”
“I... I never 'de-boosted' our comm range,” he smiled sheepishly.
“I told him not to,” Zamarran spoke. “Actually I have sent the specification to other ships to do the same.”
Jarol didn't say anything, but there was a tiny smile playing with her lips.
“Hail Gul Marret.”
“Not the Prefect?”
“No, I want Marret.”
“This is Gul Marret,” the Cardassian's face appeared on her screen. “Ah, Gul Jarol. I'm glad you could come.”
“What's the problem, Marret?”
“Well, it's quite unusual. I got clear orders to inform and prepare them for our withdrawal, but they don't want us to go!”
“What?” she didn't believe her own ears.
“I know that the Federation makes demands and Ghemor listens to them, but what do we do if someone wants to stay with us? What would the Feds say? That we threatened them to stay? I don't want to be responsible for an interstellar conflict.”
“Calm down,” she said. Marret seemed confused and panicked. “Did you talk to their Prefect?”
“Yes. He's told me that even if we withdraw, he stays. He is going to resign his commission and stay on Skarrat.”
“Oh,” that was getting really interesting. “Can you arrange a meeting with him? I want to talk to both of you.”
“Let's meet in the Prefect's office in fifteen minutes.”
“I'll be there.” She looked at Brenok; he just shrugged. “What did you find in the database? Anything that would explain this?”
“I don't know. When we arrived to this system, the Skarrats were quite primitive. They didn't know warp and their technology was centuries behind ours. They never offered any real resistance. The planet lost its importance once it was stripped of all resources. Cardassian presence here is purely representative.”
“What can you tell me about the Skarrats themselves?”
“Reptilian bipeds. Matriarchal society. Peaceful. They have two sexes and lay eggs. Their bone and muscular build suggests they could be formidable warriors, if they chose to.”
“Gul Marret informs that he and the Prefect await your arrival,” Karama spoke.
“Fine. Brenok, with me. Zamarran, you have the bridge.”
They headed for the transporter room and soon were on the planet, in a modest office of the local official.
“Gul Jarol, please meet the Prefect of Skarrat, Gul Kadal.”
“Pleased to meet you, Gul Jarol. I am guessing this is Glinn Brenok. I appreciate you could arrive here so quickly,” Kadal was an elder man, surely past his hundredth birthday.
“I was quite surprised by the locals' stand regarding our decision of withdrawal,” she said.
“Yes, well, the situation here is rather... atypical,” he smiled. “Please, be seated,” he waved toward chairs on the guest side of his desk.
Marret, Brenok and Jarol sat, while he took his chair. The female Gul noticed a holopicture on the desk. There was an alien on it. Its skin was covered by scales, it was green and had a long snout. Oddly, there was a ring in its nostrils. It was also obvious it wore some kind of garment, as the photo included its neck and top of its shoulders.
“My wife,” Gul Kadal said.
Jarol looked at him. He nodded toward the holoimage.
“This is my wife.”
“You are married to a local?” she hoped her surprise wasn't obvious.
“Is it uncommon here?” Brenok asked.
“Actually, no,” Kadal smiled. “I was posted here fifty-four years ago. I made my life here and this is my home. I believe most of Cardassians, who came here long time ago, would say the same.”
“If you don't mind me asking,” Brenok started, and after Kadal shook his head he continued, “do you also have children?”
“Unfortunately no. Our physiologies are too different.”
, Jarol though. Reptilian Cardassians could have children with mammalian Bajorans, but not with reptilian Skarrats.
“It seems clear to me, that the Skarrats feel part of the Cardassian Union,” she said. “You have assimilated with them, so they don't see us as conquerors any more.”
“Actually they never did,” Kadal smiled. “When our people arrived here, the Skarrats knew no warp, no transporter technology. They saw people, who appeared out of nowhere in orange light. They thought we were gods, who came to them. With time that superstition was cleared, but now the Skarrats see us as someone, who helped them to develop technologically and reach stars. They accepted our presence as a blessing. There was some resistance, but it was dealt with. We never had to use force against them since. I would lie if I said there were no problems here, but when I arrived, I decided to stop any abuse of them, I made sure they were treated fairly and...” he shrugged. “And somehow we live next to each other in peace today. I talked to my wife about the withdrawal and she says it scares them. They don't know what they would do without our help and support. She's not the only one, who--”
“Wait,” Jarol raised her hand. “Help and support?”
“Yes. We have left their planet as barren as ours is. This is not fair. We couldn't leave them like that, so I made sure there are regular resources shipments to ensure well being of everyone, who lives on Skarrat, both the Cardassians and the Skarrats.”
“So if we withdraw, they would be... abandoned,” Jarol said.
The Gul looked at Marret. He seemed completely lost.
“Gul Jarol,” Kadal addressed her. “I know that Alon Ghemor promised to free all annexed worlds, but does it also include those, who don't wish to be 'freed'?”
She was speechless. Here was a Gul, who really took care of his Prefecture, who cared about his people and the locals, who never abused them and even married one of them. How different it was from most of Prefects, who used force and labour camps, who used women like toys, who abused their power.
“Gul Kadal,” she started. “I am very impressed by what you have achieved here. I will have to investigate the matter more to gather proofs, but if the Skarrats really wish to stay being a part of the Union, then we have no right to simple reject them.”
“What kind of proofs do you need?”
“I honestly don't know. However we must be able to prove that the Skarrats aren't just people, who are too terrified to defy us and are forced to stay. I need something that would convince politicians that the Skarrat Prefecture is not a Bajor.”
“I understand. I think you could talk to our officials, local officials, who could provide their testimonies. I can also provide you with some documents, which prove that the Cardassians and the Skarrats live together and without problems. The Skarrats adopted our education system and our children and their young go to schools together.”
Jarol couldn't stop her smile. Kadal spoke of his adopted home with such passion that she believed every his word. She only hoped the Federation would believe too and not accuse them of falsifying data to keep one of their annexed worlds.
“I'll tell you one thing, Gul Jarol,” Kadal continued. “If Cardassia abandons this place, I will not abandon it. I will stay here and try my best to take care of these people.”
“This sounds almost too beautiful to be true,” she said.
“Do you think we, Cardassians, are worse than we really are?”
“Sometimes I do,” she smiled sadly.
“Some of us are good people. I have many good people here. I hope everyone currently present in this office belongs to that group too.”
“All right, Gul Kadal,” she rose and so did Marret and Brenok. “I will file my report. I cannot make any promises, as it's not me, who makes big decisions, but I will do everything in my power to help the Skarrats stay with us, if that indeed is their wish.”
“Thank you, Gul Jarol.”
The three Cardassians left the Prefect's office.
“And what do you say about that?” Marret asked.
“Do you really think they live here in peace, as one society?” she asked him.
“I had scanned the planet as soon as I arrived here. I found nothing suspicious here. It's a quiet, calm place. Mines are abandoned. Cities are crowded with Skarrats and scattered Cardassians. Offices are filled with Skarrat personnel. I've even found Obsidian Order files on Cardassians, who assimilated with locals and started families with them. Kadal had been investigated as a possible traitor, but they'd never found anything to accuse him of. It's confirmed that he requested trade shipments. The Skarrats are skilled artists and they sell fabrics, art and other goods for resources and food. He really made it work,” Marret was clearly impressed.
“I wonder if the Feds would be satisfied.”
“Frankly, I don't care what the Feds would think,” Marret snorted. “Ghemor made a mistake, listening to them. He started a chain reaction. He gives them one thing and from now on they will keep asking for another, and then another, and another, and in the end we would be just another Federation world, listening to their orders,” his voice was full of bitterness. “I don't see myself wearing a Starfleet uniform.”
“Neither do I,” she agreed. “It would press on neck ridges.”
“Thank you for coming, Jarol. I wasn't sure how to deal with this situation. Orders were clear. Situation is not.”
“It hardly is recently.”
They bade farewell and Jarol and Brenok returned to the Roumar.
“You know,” Brenok said, when they were walking back to the bridge from the transporter room, “Kapoor and Ullmann could be assigned to the investigation team. If their signatures would be under the report, the Feds would have to believe that.”
“Unless the Feds would think we tortured their officers to get those signatures.”
“Are you sure? They see us all as monsters. Even I have problems with accepting Kadal's words at face value, and I know there are great Cardassians among us. The Feds think we all are murderers, unless our name is Ghemor.”
“I still suggest to include them in the investigation.”
“Do that,” she agreed. “Even if their superiors won't believe it, these two will see it with their own eyes.”
Gul Kadal was very helpful in providing documentation and also invited Jarol to visit the capital city. She accepted the invitation and on the third day of their investigation she and Kadal went for a walk.
The city was... flat. There were very few tall buildings and if there were any, they resembled Cardassian architecture more than anything else. The Cardassians walked without guards and at first it distressed her, but she soon realised that no one paid any special attention to them. Some passers by nodded their greeting to Kadal, but most of them behaved like no aliens were present among them.
“It's hot here,” Jarol commented.
“Indeed. It's hotter than even Cardassia.”
“Are they poikilothermic?”
“They are. Would you like to sample some of local fruits?”
“Why not?” she smiled.
He took her to some kind of dessert shop. They sat at a table outside and he chose some fruit desserts for them. While they were waiting two Skarrats passed by the shop. There wouldn't be anything special about them if not their clothes. Their garments were clearly made of fabric, but the resemblance to a Cardassian armour couldn't be accidental.
“That's interesting,” she commented.
Kadal glanced at them and then back at her.
“Yes. About thirty years ago they adopted our design for their uniforms. Those men here were local security force, and they were wearing their duty uniforms.”
A waiter brought their order, so she grabbed a long spoon and tried a bit of an orange-yellow fruit. It was sweet, juicy and quite tasty.
She spent whole afternoon with Kadal and she had to admit she enjoyed it.
“Sir, Gul Daset wants to talk to you,” Karama reported as soon as she appeared back on the bridge. “In private.”
“My office,” she said and headed for her room.
“How's the situation?” he asked.
“Fascinating,” she replied. “I should have full report this evening,” she could still taste local fruits and beverages in her mouth.
“Good. However this is not the reason I contacted you.”
“So what is?”
“I will transfer Brenok to my office. I have already sent him notification--”
“I won't allow it!”
“You have no choice, Jarol,” his voice got stronger. “This is an official order.”
“I have received a report regarding his medical condition. He cannot stay in active duty.”
“He is fine!”
“No, he's not. And you know it. You probably know more about it than I do. I'm transferring him and that's final.”
“Jarol!” a shadow of anger appeared in his voice.
“You can't. I need him.”
“That's an order.”
Her lips created a thin line. She was furious.
“His medical condition is only a pretext, isn't it?” she said eventually.
“I need him more than you do. I need his fresh mind. I need his soft advices. He's the only officer, who thinks more like a civilian than a soldier, that I know of. I need him, Jarol.”
“Then ask for his advice, when you need it.”
“I won't let you take him.”
“And what can you do?”
“Don't do this. You need him in active duty more than his advices.”
“Because his presence represents something. He's a symbol of something. We need him for big things, we need him to stay on command track. You know that. I have plans for him, big plans, and transferring him would ruin everything.”
“I need him to prepare everything for the Shift. I need his insight.”
“We need him to fulfil an important role after
the Shift. He must stay where he is now.”
“I can always transfer him back.”
“After relieving him because of his irreparable medical condition?”
“Damn it, Jarol!”
“Leave him alone.”
Daset disconnected and she wasn't if sure she won or lost. She hit the desk with her first.