Jarol shifted and growled. At first she wasn't sure what was wrong, but then she realized she had just woken up and this wasn't her bed. Why wasn't she in her bed? When did she go to sleep?
She abruptly sat, almost falling out of the chair, realizing what had just happened. She tapped her wristcomm and replied in a hoarse voice: “Good morning, Dukat.” When was the last time she had greeted someone that way? She couldn't remember, but it came back to her so naturally, as though this response was programmed into her and no military conditioning could remove it, even after almost thirty years of the 'reporting for duty, sir' greeting she had been using since joining the Guard.
Her eyes burnt and her bones ached; she had fallen asleep in the chair the previous evening. The last thing she remembered was looking at a holopicture of Corat, Mayel and Joret, trying to see their faces through tears that had been filling her eyes. The holopicture must have slipped to the floor and was now lying next to the chair below the place where her hand had been when she woke up. She rubbed her eyes, but instead of making the burning sensation go away, she made it even worse. “Would you like some breakfast?” she asked Dukat, her voice sounding better this time.
She got up and shifted inside her armor; she hadn't taken it off the previous evening and now could feel all the consequences of it. She went to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. She saw a tired, broken woman looking at her with puffy, red eyes. She closed her eyes and opened them again, but the woman in the mirror was still there, not looking much better. Why do you look at me this way?
she thought at her reflection. Because you know I killed my own children and husband? Because you know that they are dead because I am such an egoist? Do you think
I don't know that?!
Now Dukat spoke. “I would appreciate that, Gul, thank you.”
She absently listened to Dukat's reply as she leaned against the wall behind her, eyes closed, the back of her head resting on the hard surface of the bulkhead. “We will bring you something soon,” she told Dukat, trying her best not to let her demons to sneak into her tone. “I'll also check with our engineer to see how he’s doing on finding a way to send you back.” He thanked her politely. How unnatural it sounded, how strange those words were when spoken by this
voice. The contrast between the politeness and gentleness in this voice and the authoritative tone she was used to hearing in this voice were stranger than the vocabulary the voice was using.
She contacted Brenok, who was still working with Zamarran in Engineering, and asked him to pick up breakfast from the mess hall and then join her in her quarters. Then she took a shower, the full ten minutes her ration would allow her, and tried to hide all signs of her difficult night. She doubted, however, that she would be able to fool Brenok, but hoped that Dukat wouldn't notice anything.
The shower made her feel better, but not look better. She settled for a simple bun, trying—and failing—to catch all wisps of her hair into it. She donned her armor and waited for Brenok.
He appeared shortly after, carrying a tray that seemed too big for one dish. “I thought he would like some company, so I told Garesh Zanap to prepare food for three,” he explained, seeing her surprised look. Then he noticed something was wrong; he put the tray on a table and approached her. “Atira, what's happened?”
She shook her head, biting her lower lip and trying not to burst into tears again. He moved closer and offered her a chaste, supportive linking of the arms—the closest physical contact among Cardassians who were not married—to show her his support. She thanked him for his ‘hug,’ smiling slightly. “Let's go,” she said. “I'm sure he's hungry.”I
did wake her
, Dukat thought. He knew they had said ‘any time,’ but he had still hoped that wouldn’t be the case. Maybe she would send Glinn Brenok instead, and go back to sleep. After straightening up his sleeping area, he sat in a stuffed chair, opposite to one of the non-functional viewscreens.
It wasn’t long before the door slid open…probably the chime, assuming it had one, wasn’t working either. Dukat immediately rose to greet the officers with a shallow but respectful bow. “May the song of the morning greet you,” he said more formally this time, hoping that if he had breached protocol earlier, this would make up for it. Yes, it was more of a Kurabda phrase than anything, but the connection to the Invocation would be obvious to any Cardassian—and even then, the tone with which he spoke would be instinctively read, and he hoped it would convey the proper respect.
As he straightened, he caught a whiff of the breakfast they had brought him. “That smells excellent…you must have used real ingredients.” Then he caught sight of Gul Jarol. She had wrapped her hair up into a much simpler bun this time, and her eyes looked…bloodshot, and years older than before. Glinn Brenok looked as though he had gotten ready quickly—a few strands poked out of his braid—but he didn’t seem inordinately exhausted. Maybe they work on different shifts
, he thought. But there seemed to be something else to this, judging from the way his heart had caught when his eyes made contact with the gul’s. “I apologize,” he said, and pointed to the clock. “I did not know whether it was morning or evening time.”
Jarol's eyes followed Dukat's finger and stopped on the object he had pointed at. “What is this
?” she asked after a moment, her voice full of surprise.
“Oh.” Brenok put the tray on a dining table and approached the clock. “This is a pendronome
.” Both Dukat and Jarol looked at him. “It emits a very quiet ticking sound. The Flower Girl, an Oralian friend of mine,” he added for Dukat's benefit, “gave it to me. It's very old, and since I lost everything in the Lakarian City Massacre, she wanted me to have something very old to keep as my personal treasure. And...this sound is supposed to help in my meditations.” Jarol's eyes opened wider. “To suppress the pain,” he told her, pointing to his right shoulder and a long scar that marred his neck ridge. Then he returned to the dining table and uncovered the contents of the tray to reveal their breakfast. “Indeed, our cook has used real ingredients. The smell makes me, pff,” he blew away a stray wisp of hair that fell over his eye, “hungry,” he finished.
“You're quite cheerful for someone who didn't sleep at all.” Jarol motioned to the table, inviting Dukat to sit first.
“I think we have some progress in our little investigation, but there are things we have to check first before we can tell anything for sure.”
She noticed. Dukat was trying to be discreet, but she noticed that he was observing her. Seemed like her appearance hadn’t improved after the shower as she'd hoped it would. “Did you have a restful night?” she asked him.
It took Dukat a moment to respond. It almost sounded as though Brenok was not Oralian—yet he wasn’t from one of the Revakian tribes, either. He knew that not every Cardassian believed, but apparently the assumption he had made based on the glinn’s hair was completely wrong. And—Lakarian City Massacre? What happened in this world? Is that where Glinn Brenok was injured…and his child killed?
Dukat returned his attention to the gul’s question. “It was a combination of prayer and sleep—but it helped. And Glinn…I see what you mean about the pendronome; I found it very relaxing. But if you need it back, just say the word.” Maybe Brenok might lend it to his gul?
“Oh, no, you can keep it for now.” Brenok shook his head, smiling. “There are so few things working here; at least this one is not dependent on a computer. It shows the time and you could use it for your meditation...if you meditate, that is.”
Jarol was quiet, staring at her plate. She wasn't hungry. For some reason she couldn't stop thinking about Bajorans, children, death, Oralians, Prophets, everything mixing in her mind. She should have sent Brenok with the breakfast alone; she should have stayed in her quarters and cried her eyes out.
“Atira?” Brenok looked at her, worry clear on his face. She didn't seem to hear him, lost in her own world. “Atira,” he said softer, putting his hand on hers. She raised her eyes to his face, but they looked like she didn't really see him.
“It's my fault,” she whispered.
“No, it's not. It never was.” His voice was soft, but firm.
Something had happened. This woman who had seemed before to be made of ice, who had even appeared to hold his fears in contempt, suddenly seemed…alive. In terrible anguish, yes, but alive. Glinn Brenok wasn’t the only one who had known some kind of grief in his time. Whatever had happened in this place, whatever it had done to these people, there was something here that he could understand. He thanked Oralius that she had her friend…her beloved?...to offer some comfort. But in this moment, however well-intentioned Glinn Brenok’s words were, they seemed to do almost nothing.
Are you all right?
sounded nothing short of ridiculous to him. It was very clear that Gul Jarol was anything but
all right. The only question was, would she consider it trespassing for this stranger from another Cardassia to intrude upon this moment? “Gul Jarol…has something happened?”
She looked at him with surprise in her eyes; it appeared as if she had forgotten he was there at all. She shook her head, ashamed, trying to compose herself. “No. Yes, but it happened long time ago.” She looked at Brenok again. “Do you know it's been ten years already?”
“I know.” He nodded. He opened his mouth to add something, but his wristcomm beeped. He tapped it and barked, “Brenok.”
“Sir.” Zamarran voice was crisp and clear. “I might have something.”
“I'm on my way,” Brenok said and signed off. He looked at Jarol; he couldn't leave her like this, he couldn't abandon her in her weak moment, but he had to.
“Go,” she told him.
He rose and wanted to take her back to her quarters, but his eyes rested on Dukat.
He was an Oralian. The Flower Girl was an Oralian. She has been helping him with his pain and his loss. Maybe Dukat, that strange, Oralian Dukat could help his friend? It was a long shot, but he decided to take that risk, realizing that if it failed, she
would pay the price for the failure. He hesitated for a moment and then said to their guest, “Take care of her.” Then he leaned by Jarol's ear and whispered, “He will tell you why it wasn't your fault.” He squeezed her arm gently and left the room.