She donned her armour. Her new armour. Her silver armour.
She was terrified. She was a girl from a small village in a middle of a desert; she still didn't speak the Union language well and she sincerely doubted she ever would. How was she supposed to do what was expected of her? How was she supposed to know what was right and the best?
She looked at Laran, who observed her with widely opened eyes. She smiled to him, but his face expression didn't change – he stared at her like hypnotised. His memory training had started a few months ago and she wondered if this picture – of his mother standing in front of a mirror and looking at herself with disbelief in her eyes – would burn in his memory forever.
It would in hers.
Seven months earlier
Alon Ghemor greeted Jarol with a smile. She eyed him suspiciously and then weakly smiled back.
“Please sit,” he invited her to take a chair on the business side of his desk and then sat in his chair.
“This rod contains all information we have gathered during our investigations,” he handed him a data rod, which he took and immediately inserted into a reader. “It contains my assessment of the situation, reports of each Gul, who investigated a system assigned to him, and all additional information we have found, which can be even vaguely related to the subject.”
“And about the plans?”
“I suggest to start from those places, in which we... inflicted more suffering.” He looked at her a little surprised, and then his eyes returned to his screen. “My proposition is included on the data rod. There is one exception, though.”
“The Skarrats,” he said.
“That's right. They do not want us to leave them.”
“The withdrawal must be full and complete.”
“That's the difference. For them we wouldn't withdraw, we would abandon them.”
“Maybe, but I see the difference.”
“Why do you care?” he looked at her again, but this time his gaze stayed on her face.
“Gul Kadal asked me to personally make sure that you understand their unique position.”
“Gul Jarol, we withdraw from every world, no exceptions.”
“But they don't want that! They are dependant on our resources shipments and stopping them would have tragic repercussions.”
“We don't have to stop the trade only because they wouldn't be a part of the Union.”
“But we would have no obligation to defend them in case of trouble. Our people would be recalled from their planet.”
“The Federation made it clear, Gul Jarol. We have to withdraw from all occupied worlds, without exceptions.”
“Damn it, Ghemor!” she jumped up and leaned her hands on his desk, towering over him. He glared at her and she sat down. “Sorry,” she muttered, took a breath and finished in a calm voice. “What is more important? What the Feds say or what our own denizens want?”
“The decision is final.”
She didn't say anything else. There was nothing she could say to convince him. It wasn't his mind she would have to change and she had no way of reaching those, who made the decision.
“Are you going to send those files to the Federation?” she asked.
He looked up at her. “Why would I?”
“I don't know why, but there's a lot of things that I don't understand why you do them. I ask, because there is some sensitive information, which I'd rather not hand to the Federation.”
“Like the massacres on the Skarrats?”
“No, like detailed information on our military strength,” she should rather say 'weakness'. “You may consider them your best friends, but giving them this kind of data would be foolish.”
“I don't intend to be foolish,” he replied.
“Is that all?”
“Yes. I will contact you if I have additional questions.”
“Acceptable,” she nodded. Then she stood and looked at him. “Regarding the Skarrats,” he looked at her again. “I will make it public that you refuse their request to stay within the Union, following your Federation... decision-makers,” she intended to say 'masters', but wanted to keep it serious and civil.
“It that a threat?”
“No. It's a courtesy of informing you of my plans. Prefect Kadal and Subprefect Zarr would officially back up my position.” She had already talked to the Gul and the highest Skarrat official about that. She had promised them to do everything in her power to keep the matters status quo, but seemed like the Castellan didn't care about their wishes and it would be impossible to take care of it any other way. She couldn't stop him from withdrawing from Skarrat, but she could make him pay for his decision. Losing support is the worst punishment for a politician, whose position depends on people's votes. He wanted the Federation democracy, he can have it.
She turned and headed for the door. He did not call after her, so she left. Now she had to convey the bad news to Gul Kadal.
She returned to the Roumar.
“Sir, can we talk in private?” Brenok asked her when she entered the bridge.
She nodded and they went to her office.
“Daset has approved your plans regarding my future,” he said.
“I was not aware you had any plans regarding my future.”
She looked at him. Was he disappointed?
“I don't think I'm ready for this,” he said after a moment.
“The fact that you think you're not ready is the best proof you are the best choice.”
“But... what if I fail?” he asked quietly.
She moved closer to him, entering his personal space, gazed into his eyes and said quietly, but seriously. “I am sure you won't fail. You represent everything we need in that position. No one else can do it.”
“But I'm only thirty-three!”
“And you sometimes are wiser than Tarkan, Daset, Jotrel and I combined,” she smiled.
“No, I'm not!”
“Arenn, you have a heart and you have never let anyone convince you otherwise. Most of us had been trained to forget that we had hearts and we realised we still had them when the Jem'Hadar slaughtered our families and friends. The risk is that we could forget again. You won't.”
“I don't want a desk job,” his protest was much weaker.
“Arenn,” she laughed. “You will be the one who decides who sits behind a desk. You don't want to sit behind a desk, you won't have to. No one would be in power to order you to.”
“And how did you convince Tarkan to agree to this?”
She smiled deviously. “Actually, the little speech about hearts is Tarkan's.”
“Unbelievable, isn't it?”
“What will he do?”
“He wants the troops education. He wants to make sure we have more officers like you than like him... or me.”
“There is nothing wrong with you.”
“But I'm not as good as Corak.”
“No one is as good as Corak,” Brenok smiled and she wondered if the Glinn wasn't actually heading there, to be as good or maybe even better than their late Gul.
Within her whole career Jarol didn't talk to as many Guls, as within last few months. She searched her memory for decent people she had met in the course of her military career, traced them and contacted. Too many of them were dead; either executed by the Dominion, or died on the front, or in Jem'Hadar massacres. Luckily, some were still there.
She probed their political loyalties and opinions. She searched for a shadow of a chance they could join, support or at least not interfere with the Mar'kuu Group's plans. Their support and co-operation was most welcomed, as the Group needed as many troops as it was possible. Ironically, the more people they had, the safer it would be.
She knew Jotrel, Daset, Tarkan and others were doing the same thing. Every week they were adding or deleting names from their lists. There were some people they could trust, some that they weren't sure about, and some, who didn't want to have anything to do with them. There were also some Cardassians, with whom they didn't want anything to do with.
The most difficult part of their task was keeping it secret. While it was impossible to completely cover their intentions, they hoped no one would know the real
reason behind their actions. Officially they were contacting other Guls to prepare a full report on the Guard status. Unofficially they probed and poked each Gul, asking them questions, first cautiously and then, depending on a particular situation, bolder and more detailed, or dropping the whole matter completely.
The trade with the Ferengi started bringing real fruits and Jotrel suggested to widen the scope of the trade. He was in process of preparing full proposition, which targeted the loss of resources, caused by their withdrawal from annexed worlds.
They knew they couldn't rush things, they couldn't allow themselves to be sloppy, but they all felt things on Cardassia were going the wrong way, and headed there too fast. Initially they planned their preparations to take about two years, but when Alon Ghemor agreed to the Federation demand of limiting the Cardassian military strength to a particular number of ships – which was supposed to ensure safety of the quadrant, as the Cardassians were still considered too aggressive to trust them, at least according to the Federation Council – they knew they couldn't wait any longer. The Feds either wanted to make sure the Cardassian Union would stay weak and be ready for conquer, or they knew there was something happening behind the doors to Guls' offices and wanted to stop it, before it would blow in their faces.
Two years time shrank into six months. They could wait no longer.