Cardassian Union Warship Damar
Argaya Sector near the Cardassian Union border
26th day of the month of Lukyut, 532, Cardassian Union Calendar
Th’Arshar couldn’t believe his own eyes. He watched the recording, trying to concentrate on the team’s voices and not on the horrible vision.
Brenok stood by a window, looking out at the stars, silent. Zamarran sat just next to the Andorian and the captain could clearly see that the glinn’s eyes were everywhere but on the screen. He had watched it once and obviously didn’t want to watch it again.
The recording was quite clear, however sometimes the centre of the picture was shifted and not directed at the Cardassian on the table. Th’Arshar guessed that the camera was mounted somewhere on Karama’s body—a shoulder, the chest, the headpiece?—and the officer avoided looking at the horror as often as he could and in the result the angle of the camera was not fully controlled.
All th’Arshar’s suspicions were gone. He now fully understood Brenok’s precautions; he wouldn’t want this to leak out of a highly secured archive too. Not only this was proof of terrible crimes the Obsidian Order had been able to commit, it was also something not every stomach could stand and not every person should watch for their own sake.
The recording came to an end.
“I don’t even ask if you want to watch it again, Captain,” Brenok said, looking at the Andorian who was sure he was as pale as an Aenar. Right now he wished he was as blind too.
“Do you have any technology to help this man?” th’Arshar asked.
“I am not sure. Medic Taret couldn’t find a safe way to remove him from there, but he didn’t investigate the matter fully. It was more a guess than anything else. I was hoping we could combine our forces.”
“According to the newest information we have, there is another one like this in the engineering,” Zamarran said.
Th’Arshar shook his head. “Unbelievable. What was the purpose of this?”
“I would appear that these men are in control of the ship. That would explain why the controls are limited. There is no need for a crew to man the vessel. They do it.” Brenok went to the replicator. “Anything, Captain?”
“Only if you have Andorian ale there. Duty or no duty, I need a drink.”
A moment later the gul put a glass of ale in front of the captain. He himself drank some kind of tea with a very strong, but not unpleasant, odour and Zamarran got a mug of fish juice. With a gesture of his hand, Brenok invited th’Arshar to sit at a small coffee table in a corner of his big—twice bigger than th’Arshar’s ready room—office. Zamarran stayed where he was and took one of padds that were on the gul’s desk.
“If we can’t move these men here, we would have to work aboard the Obsidian Order ship,” Brenok said.
“We could probably set up a kind of field hospital there and temporary transfer medical equipment and personnel to that vessel,” the Andorian agreed.
Brenok sat with his head lowered and didn’t say anything for a long while. Then he raised his head and looked at th’Arshar. “We are not like this, Captain,” he said, nodding toward the monitor on which the Andorian had watched the horror a few moments ago.
“I know, Gul Brenok, I know. Whatever my opinion is...was about you, the Cardassians, it would never occur to me to think that you all, or ever a majority, would condone something like this. This is a product of a sick mind.” He silenced for a moment, not sure if he could ask but decided that he had to stop to worry about the Cardassian’s reaction to his every word. “I just wonder... How long was this ship drifting? How come those men are not dead yet?”
“According to the data that Gil Kapoor had found, the vessel was designed to keep them alive for about one hundred years, after which they would be replaced. They are fed and their biological needs are covered sufficiently for their survival. Since the ship had been drifting for a long time—the first log entry is dated twenty-five years ago—and used very little energy, the stored resources hadn’t been used as extensively as it would be the case during normal operation. As the result they could last longer than those one hundred years.”
“You mean this ship had been adrift for...twenty-five years?” Brenok only nodded. “Is this man there in pain?”
“According to Taret his nerves are connected to the ship and in many cases exposed. There were no precautions taken to make him immune to pain.”
“You mean...he feels all this?” Brenok nodded again and it didn’t escape th’Arshar’s attention that he shifted his right shoulder under his armour for the second time that day. “Are you in pain now?” he asked, to his own surprise: worried.
“No, but when I think that he feels in his whole body what I feel only in my shoulder and he has been feeling that for last quarter of century...” Brenok closed his eyes. “If we can’t help him, we’ll have to kill him for his own sake.”
A few days earlier th’Arshar would think that Brenok was a bastard—but not any more. He could see the pain and shame in the gul’s eyes. He was facing the same choice that many captains faced when fighting the Borg: let them assimilate your crewman and let him live as a drone, or kill the poor guy and spare him the fate. Sometimes death was the better...no, take that back...the less bad
“We will do everything to help him,” he assured the gul. “Hopefully you won’t have to make that decision.” He didn’t want to sound like he wanted to push the responsibility on Brenok’s shoulders only, but the man on the table was a Cardassian and he didn’t want to claim that he, th’Arshar, had any right to decide about that Cardassian’s life. “Whatever you decide, I will support you,” he assured him.
Brenok smiled and for the first time th’Arshar saw not a scary, important Cardassian gul, but a man. A fellow captain who had difficult matters to deal with and who was...younger than him. He never thought about it before, but Brenok appeared to be very young for his position and if the Andorian recalled correctly from the gul’s limited profile, which was available in the Federation database, it wasn’t only youthful looks—Brenok was young, especially for Cardassian standards. Zamarran would fit better for the ship’s commander position; he seemed old enough to be Brenok’s father. How come their roles were so reversed?
“What is it?” Brenok asked, obviously puzzled that th’Arshar found something amusing.
“Nothing. It’s just... I was thinking that your first officer is much older than you and that your roles are reversed. And then I thought that I should shut up, because my first officer is older than me too. About two hundred years
Brenok’s face brightened a bit and he grinned too. However a moment later they both were as serious as before.
“How come you are commanding whole Cardassian fleet for such a long time? If you don’t mind me asking...” th’Arshar added quickly. “You couldn’t be more than thirty when you took command.”
“It was a matter of who I knew,” Brenok replied.
“The coup. You were part of it, weren’t you?”
“Yes. I was considered a ‘new face’ of the Guard. Someone who would reform it and change its rotten and corrupted face into a new and honest one.”
“Did you succeed?”
“I’d like to think so. I hope so. But it feels wrong to chastise and punish officers for promotions thanks to their connections if your own promotion was a result of connections.”
Th’Arshar smiled. This wasn’t an answer of an arrogant man. He started to believe he terribly misjudged Brenok.
“Couldn’t you refuse?”
“I don’t think they actually gave me that choice. It was more an order than a request. I was the best candidate. I was the only candidate. Can you imagine, I’m indispensable,” he laughed but there was little humour in his voice.
“I think that you are unique indeed, Gul Brenok,” th’Arshar admitted. No other Cardassian gul he knew would care what was his opinion of the Cardassians after watching the Obsidian Order horror project he had been presented earlier. This one did care. “What do we do about the missing away team?” he changed the subject.
“They aren’t missing, we know exactly where they are.”
Of course, the famous Cardassian precision, even in words. “What do we do about the away team with which we have lost contact?” th’Arshar rephrased his question and a small smile played on Brenok’s lips.
“My people are working on it. A security team is trying to get into the engineering to let them go out. We can communicate with the ship—or rather with the man who controls it—and we asked him to release them, but his only answer is ‘cannot’. We don’t know if he doesn’t want to release them or is unable to do that.”
“I want to beam there,” the Andorian said.
Brenok observed him for a moment and then said, “Zamarran, Captain th’Arshar and I will beam to the Obsidian Order ship.”
“Sir, I advise against it,” the glinn replied. “We cannot assure your safety. What if you get trapped just as the away team? For all we know they could be dead.”
“You have the bridge,” Brenok said as if Zamarran hadn’t said anything.
“Yes, sir,” Zamarran nodded as if he hadn’t said anything.
Th’Arshar envied Brenok. His own officers’ attempts to change his mind wouldn’t end so soon, they would keep nagging him for quite a while. Here he could observe the Cardassian discipline at its best. The gul commands, his glinn follows.
Did they still execute for insubordination?