Jarol took her fork but didn’t take a bite yet when she realised that someone approached her table and stopped by it. She raised her head to look at the person, expecting it to be one of her officers. She was mistaken.
“What can I do for you, Captain Ronus?” she asked putting her fork away and leaning back on the chair.
“Could I join you?” he replied with a question. This was unexpected. “I know that you, Cardassians, don’t like to dine alone and I would also like to talk...I have some questions of political nature and...” She gestured to a chair, so he finished while sitting down, “And you seemed to be the most qualified person to have such a chat with.”
“Political questions?” She took her fork. “A dangerous ground.”
A waiter approached them and looked at Ronus. “I’ll have gomlok
stew and brown leaf tea,” the Trill ordered. If the waiter was surprised, he did not show. Jarol, on the other hand, was impressed.
“You know Cardassian food?”
“One of my previous hosts spent some time on Cardassia...many years ago,” he smiled.
“How old are you?” she asked, nodding toward his midsection.
“Two hundred and seventy this year.”
“And when have you been to Cardassia?”
“About one hundred years ago.”
“So, what would you like to know?” She didn’t want to start eating before he would get his food, so she put the fork away again.
“As I understand it, a lot has changed on Cardassia since the war. Some of those things are obvious—like your presence here and not in the Central Command Building—but some are a mystery to me.”
She smiled. “I’m afraid I can only tell you about the current status. You would know better how it used to be a hundred years ago. It wasn’t the same as before the war either.”
“I suppose not. We can share the knowledge,” he grinned. “If you want a piece of history from an unreliable and subjective source.”
She let herself a small laughter.
The waiter brought Ronus’s food so they started to eat and didn’t say anything for some time.
“Can I start from a big question?” the Trill asked.
“Why did Cardassia sealed its borders?”
“To lick its wounds in a dark corner not to be disturbed by anyone.”
“You also refused help. Wouldn’t it be better with help?”
“It wasn’t an easy decision, Captain. But we, Cardassians, are proud people. It was too much to be the bad guy in the war and then accept charity from former enemies. We would owe you forever and I am sure we would be reminded many times how grateful we should be.
“Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the help that the Federation offered, especially since the Federation suffered during that war too. In the beginning you asked for nothing, you cared about our people. Many years ago I had met Federation colonists that also helped Cardassians. When I’d asked ‘why’ they’d told me ‘Because we have hearts.’ I’ll never forget that answer. And I am sure many people in the Federation have hearts and would keep helping us without asking for anything back.”
“But not all,” Ronus guessed.
“No, not all. Shortly after the war the Federation started to make demands. Officially they called it ‘help in rebuilding,’ I call it ‘reshaping to their image.’ They attempted to change us without asking for our opinion. They wanted us to do things their way and if not...no food, no medicine.
“We could not agree to this. We needed to change a lot but not this way. Not under an alien pressure. We had to do that our way.”
“So your way was a military coup.”
“No. This wasn’t planned. Not in the beginning, at least. But Ghemor was agreeing to too much and if something wouldn’t be done fast, it would be too late. We had no time to play your democratic games, we had to act.”
“All right. So you removed pro-Federation leader from the power. But why the isolation?”
“We didn’t want to be disturbed. We wanted to clean our house without everyone coming by and giving their advices. And—most importantly—we wanted to avoid to be cut like a cake and eaten.”
“The control zones.”
“Yes. Each ‘good guy’ from the war got a piece of the Cardassian territory under their ‘care.’ We were guests in our own home. We are quite sensitive in this matter after the Dominion and we didn’t like that after the war we still were guests. Would you give a piece of Federation territory to the Klingons to rule there and ‘take care’ of it?” Ronus shook his head. “So why should we? You have been, at least, their allies for decades, we have been nothing more than enemies.
“Closing our borders was a clear and definite way of telling everyone to back off and leave us alone. To leave our territory or be destroyed. We didn’t want your help any more and certainly not in such a manner. We had to get rid of Klingons and Romulans from our territory as fast as possible or we’d never get rid of them. It was as simple as that.”
Ronus listened attentively. She wondered if he really understood what she was trying to explain to him.
“You feared you would be conquered through the back door again,” he said after a moment of silence, his voice thoughtful. “You feared that alien governments would sneak into your Central Command and take over, just like the Dominion did.”
She sighed. “The Dominion was invited, which makes it even worse.”
“What about the Federation colonies. They got stuck on your side.”
“They have full autonomy, their own prefects that they choose in any democratic, Federation style they wish. That prefect—they don’t even have to call them that way, we do—answers to the Cardassian government, but on his colony he can do whatever he wants and the way he wants. I must admit, it was disturbing to have a new prefect every few years, but if the colonists like it that way, it’s their prerogative.”
Ronus smiled. “You don’t think highly of a democratic system, do you?”
“To give power to an anonymous person who promises you something? In our system you have to prove your worth first and then have a chance to advance on the ladder of power. Like on a warship. No one is born a gul, you have to work your ass to get there. No one will promote you for your pretty smile and promises that you might not keep.”
“It’s not that simple, actually.”
“Maybe not, but no one cared to explain that to Cardassians before forcing it on us.”
Ronus didn’t say anything. He scrutinised her for a moment. “A question, Legate. But I would like an honest answer. Not a polite one, an honest.”
“Do you like the Federation?”
“Do you resent my presence here?”
“Your, as Captain Ronus, or as a Federation member?”
“Is there a difference?”
“Of course there is,” she was surprised by his question. “You are a polite, curious man with spots that seems to enjoy his Cardassian dish. On the other hand, you represent people who always treated us like monsters without conscience. I don’t have anything against you personally. Give me time and a few more dinners together and I could even grow to like you. But I sincerely doubt I would ever like your government and their politics. I have to tolerate it but don’t have to agree with it.”
“Why did you negotiate the treaty? Why did you decide to slowly come out of the isolation?”
“Because we can’t stay isolated forever. There had to come a day when we would re-join the Alpha Quadrant. My personal feelings are irrelevant.”
“Because now we are strong enough not to be bothered by more demands. We can afford to be independent. We can issue our own demands and not be laughed upon, refused but not laughed. We are not wounded weaklings we had been shortly after the war any more.”
“You had been in contact with the Ferengi all that time.”
“Business. Information exchange.”
“You, of course, realise they were selling some information about you too.”
“That’s why we never shared anything important with them,” she grinned.
“And they never brought you anything important either,” he grinned back.
“Perhaps. But we’d at least know if a new war would start.”
He laughed. “You said you could grow to like me. Do you dislike me now?”
“No. I have not formed by opinion yet. Do you dislike me?”
“I shit my pants each time you’re in range.”
She sniffed, leaning toward him and he guffawed.
“Why?” she asked.
“What do you mean ‘why’? You intimidate people!”
“Nah,” she waved her hand dismissively. “I have to assume a particular attitude of power but intimidating? You’re exaggerating.”
“You mean you didn’t notice how nervous I was the first time we met?”
She thought for a while, retrieving the situation from her memory and replaying it. “Now, that you mention...” she said slowly. “But I assumed it was normal stress in such a situation. I didn’t think it was me, I thought it was the station.”
“Oh yes,” he confirmed eagerly. “The station is intimidating too.”
“Let’s hope the Klingons agree with you.”
They ate in silence for a while. The waiter came and replaced their cold teas with hot, fresh ones.
“Captain,” she said. “I have been...ordered...to grant you a permission to contact the Federation territory whenever you wish.”
“And you don’t like it.”
“My opinion doesn’t matter, I have to follow that order,” she opened her eyes wider, still not believing who issued that order and how. “I would like your word of honour that this wouldn’t be used against the Union.”
“I give you my word of honour,” he said seriously. “I don’t want to abuse you. We just want to stay in touch with our families. You are a mother, you would understand why Commander T’Sarik wants to call home every day.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” Jarol smiled sadly. The last thing she would want was to be responsible was forcing T’Sarik to bring her family to Rayak Nor
and...who knows what might happen, these weren’t safe times. She shook her head to clear it from the unpleasant memories.