This was it. He was alone with her. The thought had filled him with such dread even this morning—but now…there must be thousands—billions of universes out there, maybe even more than that. Could it be that Oralius has turned the Bajorans’ sin against itself again?
Even as degrading as Vedek Tora’s actions had been, Oralius had gained a soul in the person of Ziyal Dukat. Maybe now, in their perverse attack upon the very boundaries of the universe, there was a reason he was here
, in this
universe. Not to mention the fact that the truly evil, the most guilty among them never acknowledged any sense of guilt—and certainly not false blame. A person like Tora, regardless of species, could not feel what Jarol clearly felt now.
He had to do what he could. “Gul...if you are able, could you tell me what’s on your heart?” He tried to meet her eyes, though she only seemed to be able to hold her gaze for a few instants at a time.
She crumpled a napkin in her hands, staring at her full, untouched plate. “Do you have children, Dukat?” she asked not looking at him. “I have a son. He is the sweetest thing in the world. But he is not the only child I’ve had.” She looked up at him and her eyes immediately returned to the plate. He seemed to feel her pain, to share it. She barely knew him, but for some reason she felt she could talk to him. Or maybe she desperately needed to talk to someone
, anyone, to get it all out. “They were killed. Exactly ten years ago they died, because I was a bad mother. I wanted to see them so badly, I missed them so much that I brought them to me, to a dangerous place where I was working at that time...and they paid for this with their lives. I killed them,” she whispered in a shaking voice. She raised her face, tears pooling in her eye ridges. “I'm sorry, it's not your problem. I will leave...”
“Please don’t!” Dukat’s voice shook, and he felt his eyes welling up. “Jarol—don’t go…I know what it’s like. Five years ago…the Bajorans murdered my wife, and three of my children. All except for one. My daughter...” What do I say? How do I explain?
“She never had the chance to know her mother or siblings. My wife…she wasn’t a fighter, but she loved me, and she was willing to give up the relative ‘comfort’ of the city to make a family with me. I had gone out on a mission—I believed with all my heart that our base was safe. And I loved her, and loved them so much, that just the thought of…not bringing them into the world, even though we’re occupied…I would never take back that choice. They deserved to live. But—they didn’t deserve to die. I took risks on that mission. I was taken prisoner, and three weeks later, they stormed our cave, took my wife and children…and they just lined them up and shot them in cold blood. They didn’t even bother killing everyone else on the base, even though they had them at their mercy…they just…targeted
my family and executed them just to make some kind of sick point!
“I look back on that mission—and I could drive myself insane wondering what I could have done differently. If I’d planned it differently, if I had taken more support, just done something
different so as not to be captured…” He let out a slow breath. “But I don’t know what kind of parent I would be if I didn’t
wonder, if I didn’t worry. If I didn’t care. That’s how I know…I can still raise my little girl. It hurts because I love them. Because I love her. It’s true, there are all of these what-ifs. But I didn’t kill them. I…” He couldn’t help the tears now. They spilled over quietly, but he made no move to wipe them away. “I did not pull that trigger. I did not decide that an innocent woman and three children ought to die.
“Jarol…” He almost reached out towards her—but he didn’t dare. It would have been hard enough anyway, had she actually wanted to touch him…but she was apparently in a relationship as well, and the last thing—the last
thing he wanted to do was interfere with the sacred. Never
would you believe it’s your fault?”
“I used to...” How could she tell him that? How could she justify that? “I worked on a space station in Bajor's orbit. We had invaded them;, it was wrong, terribly wrong and now that we’ve been invaded ourselves, we understand that better than ever. But back then... things were different. We were different.” She took a deep breath. “I was there and couldn't go back home to visit my husband and two children. My gul wouldn't let me. But he let me bring them to the station for a few days. He warned me it would require security precautions and I thought I did everything right. We spent a wonderful ten days together and then they boarded a transport ship to return home. Bajorans targeted that ship and it exploded in front of...my... eyes.” Her voice shook. “I was punished for my negligence, but not severely enough. If not for my wrong decision, they would be alive. If not my egoism, they would never have left Cardassia to come to that damned station.” She put the napkin to her mouth, trying not to sob. “My husband was a civilian clerk. He had an artificial leg, because he had lost his own. He was no threat to anyone. My son, Corat, was only seven, Mayel—ten. I understand the Bajorans were fighting to get rid of us, I understand they wanted us to go away, but I don't understand why they targeted a handicapped man with two young children, not the woman in armor. Why not me?!” She raised her eyes and looked at Dukat like she expected him to have an answer for her. “If anyone deserved to die, it was me
, not them!”
Dukat’s eyes went wide. Cardassia—Cardassia
invaded a planet…? How could we? Oralius, what happened here? Why is everything so twisted, why have they lashed out against you like this? I can’t stay…they’ll destroy my soul here…! I have to go home!
But if anyone looked destroyed here, it was Gul Jarol. And even among the Bajorans on his world—there were good men and women. The people who had risked so much to get him out of Vedek Tora’s compound, to smuggle him back to Cardassia Prime had been good people. And it was clear from Gul Jarol’s face that her role in the atrocities, whatever it had been, haunted her almost as much as the death of her family. Enough so that she would surrender her life in payment.
He wanted the Bajorans off his world. But there were lines he refused to cross—and this
was why. “Your gul…he commanded the station?”
Jarol nodded. She would not meet his eyes.
“And he discussed this idea of bringing your children to the station with you?”
Jarol nodded again.
“As station commander, he could have forbidden it. He could have given you the order, but he didn’t do it. What else were you supposed to think from that? He was your commander, and he told you it could be done. And all of the station’s security forces would have answered to him—they were his
responsibility. For him to then turn around and punish
you for a decision that he himself convinced you was a reasonable thing to do and that he allowed you to carry out aboard the station that he was responsible for…that’s perverse
! It’s entrapment! It would be like…” He paused, swallowing hard. Even in the vaguest, most impersonal terms, speaking these words was an act of will, for he had feared just such a thing upon returning to Cardassia Prime with Ziyal in his arms. “Like punishing a person who was raped because they couldn’t fend off their attacker. It would be like raping them again.” He shook his head.
“Whatever punishment he gave you, you never
deserved it. Ever.
She looked at him through her tears. He seemed to know exactly what she was feeling and how she was feeling it. “If I could turn back time…” she started and then she went silent. If she turned back time and that never happened, she wouldn't have married Demok and wouldn't have Laran now. She couldn't imagine her life without her three-year-old boy. “I still can't stop thinking that if I’d made a different decision that day, if I hadn’t...they would still be alive. They would be alive if I weren’t there at all, but I didn't have that choice. I had a choice not to bring them to me.” She stopped, trying to make sense of it and failing. “They didn’t deserve to die; I did! The Bajorans should have targeted me,” she said, looking in Dukat's eyes. There was so much pain in them. Was it the reflection of her suffering, or his very own torment? She leaned toward him. “I need to be punished, I need
to punish myself.”
“No…no…” Those words emerged without a voice as Jarol spoke. After she finished, he found his voice again. “Don’t—don’t let them do that to you. Don’t let them put their sickness into you. Don’t let them keep taking and taking from you even after they’re gone…people who do those kinds of things—that’s the only thing they love. They want to make themselves
a part of your soul. They want you to think that because you can’t choose or change the things they do to you, that there’s no choice left except to feel what they want you to feel. But that’s an illusion…you do
still have a choice. To forgive yourself.”
“How could I for—” She didn't finish. She didn't want the terrorists to be part of her. She didn't want to be anything like them. She had done bad things in her life, but she never glorified them. And now, more than ever, she knew how wrong they were. How mistaken her Cardassia sometimes was. “Do you think they
would forgive me?” she asked aloud, her question partially directed to Dukat, partially to herself, partially to no one. “Do you think my children wouldn't hold me accountable for their deaths?” She always thought they would.
Dukat nodded. “I’m sure they know who it was that was trying to kill them. And they know who it was who loved them, and just wanted to share that love with them. And I think they would know now what information you did and did not have at the time it happened. I believe they would want you to forgive yourself, not to drown yourself. I think they would want that for you, and for the son you have left. That’s what I try to do for my daughter’s sake.”
She smiled sadly. “I don't want to drown my son. I want to tell him wonderful things about his siblings when he grows bigger.” She kept looking into Dukat's eyes and realized something: Gul Dukat had apologized for punishing her; even he
understood she was not to blame. Why couldn't she?
She put her hand on the table, close to Dukat's. She didn't touch him, she didn't put her hand on his—it wouldn't be appropriate—but her move was obvious. “What is she like? Your daughter?”
It was somewhat easier for Dukat not to flinch at Jarol’s sudden move, than it would have been just a few minutes earlier. He hoped he had managed to hide the reaction enough that she might not notice. “Ziyal is such a bright star in my life…she’s only five years old but she’s already such a smart little girl. She did so well with her memory training that it doesn’t matter that we have to home-school her. She reads everything
.” He laughed gently to himself. Just like her father!
“Who knows…I think she could be a writer—even the stories she comes up with for her dolls are amazingly intricate. She could do anything creative that she finds the means to do. I know there will be challenges for her…we don’t live the kind of life I did, growing up, and she doesn’t have a mother the way Eral, Kadresh, and Breka did.” Dukat’s face grew somber again. “The hardest thing—she’s starting to understand that she’s different from other Cardassians…but she doesn’t really grasp yet what it means
. I want to hold on to this time forever…but I know she can overcome those challenges. I just don’t want her to have to go through it alone. I couldn’t leave her on Bajor, and I don’t want to leave her now.”
Then it hit him, exactly what he had just said. He was so proud of Ziyal and the person she was already starting to become: a little girl with a lot of spirit, learning the ways of Oralius. And in the wake of Gul Jarol’s painful revelations, he could see now that whatever it was that had gone wrong in her universe and twisted the Cardassian people so, that something
in her remained unmarred, and capable of being more than just a brutish conqueror. So he had kept talking—but still, it hurt. He bowed his head. Please…let her understand that Ziyal isn’t to blame.
Jarol listened. Ziyal
. So she was there too. She listened to Dukat and a smile crept to her lips without her realizing it appeared there. And then...he fought the Bajorans, so how could he ever be with...
Was there, in his reality, some Jarol who paid for her sins? Because it looked like this Dukat paid for sins of her former commander. He’d had to suffer the same thing Bajoran women had had to suffer at Gul Dukat’s parties for high-ranking officers. She had always found that kind of behavior appalling for two reasons: using women like tools—Bajoran or not Bajoran, it didn't matter—and being unfaithful to their wives back home on Cardassia. This man here had suffered the same fate; she remembered what he had said earlier—his words replayed in her mind—and now understood better than before.
And he loved the girl in spite of everything. She was the only family he had left. “It's important that you didn't leave her,” she said gently. “Too many children suffer because adults forget about them.” She sighed. Cardassia was inundated
by orphans now and the Cardassians had to quickly learn to accept them as part of their society and absorb them into their families instead of rejecting them and leaving them on the streets to die. “I hope you will be able to help her through the difficult time. Make sure she knows it's not her fault and tell her that her little nose is special and cute and that you wouldn't want it to look any other way.” She paused for a moment. “My son doesn't know his father and never will. Tiron died as a rebel, fighting our invaders, before Laran was born. My boy asks, ‘Where is Daddy?’ and he doesn't understand yet that he will never meet his father. I must be both for him, just like you are both for your Ziyal. I hope you have someone there to help you. Brenok lost everyone in the last war; he has no living relatives left, so in a way I am his only family now and he is part of mine. And he is the closest thing Laran has to a father. I really hope you are not alone there.”
“Thank Oralius…I am not. My cousin and his wife are there, and so is our Guide, and a few other friends. As for the rest of my family—they’re either dead, or if they are
alive, I dare not have any contact with them. For their own safety.” He hadn’t seen his parents, or his brothers and sisters since the day of the invasion. And…do I have nieces and nephews?
“I don’t know if you have this in your universe…” Would they, if as he suspected, they had pushed Oralius and the study of her texts away? “But if you have the same memory disciplines we do, then you can give Laran a glimpse of his father, no matter how bad your material losses might’ve been. That’s a blessing, that he has you.”
“Yes, we train our memories and I remember every single detail.” She smiled. “The sound of his laughter, the kindness in his eyes, the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled, his rusty voice and how he talked about his sons. He would adore Laran. I wish I could be a telepath to transfer all those memories to my son's head. I can tell him about all this, but he wouldn't experience it. If I—” She didn't finish, as the door behind her opened. She turned to see Brenok.