Demok looked in his mother’s face and thought his heart would fall apart. She looked pale. She lay motionlessly and appeared almost dead. He glanced at the readings on the medical monitor to make sure she still breathed.
He came to sit with her and to read for her but instead of activating the padd, which he brought with him, his mouth opened and he said something else.
“The Klingons attacked us today, Mom. They came and attempted to destroy the station. They hadn’t declared war, so I hope it was just a rogue operation of a few insane individuals. I really hope there won’t be any war. I really do. I don’t want any dying around me. I don’t want suffering. I had seen too much suffering on Mazita. Can you imagine? They are dying there and there’s nothing we can do about it. Some idiots with excrements instead of brains decided to create something they couldn’t control and use it against other people. And then they refused to join the work on the cure. I know you had told me that those few people were blinded by hatred, but to this point? To refuse to help their
people? I am surprised that Krause would not have them executed, but he had told me that they have no death penalty on Mazita.
“You know, Mom, they created that virus because they wanted ‘freedom.’ But at what cost! Of their conscience. Of living with blood on their hands. They wanted to ‘free’ themselves from the Union, but what is so wrong about being in the Union to do something like that
? They have their own law, their own people to represent them. What did they want?” He shrugged. “I don’t understand that, Mom, I just don’t.”
“They have autonomy, but not sovereignty.”
Demok turned to looked at the owner of the voice that spoke behind his back. Captain Ronus.
“And what would that sovereignty make so different?” Demok asked. “What would it change?”
“Perhaps nothing,” Ronus said, coming closer to the sub-archon. “But they had been given away by the Federation government to the Cardassians. They had been abused by the Cardassians. They had suffered during the Dominion War because of their proximity to the border. They had been cut off from their families and friends in the Federation when the Cardassians isolated themselves from the quadrant. And that’s only the short list of major problems.” Ronus sat on a stool on the other side of the bed and looked at Jarol. Then he looked back at Demok. “Those colonists wanted freedom because being under someone’s rule brought them nothing good. And it doesn’t matter if we talk about the Federation or the Cardassian Union. They had been hurt by both and trusted no one.”
“And that justifies it?” Demok couldn’t believe his own ears.
“Of course not. But that explains it. For you, Cardassia is your home. It’s a place where you feel happy and safe. Peaceful; not free of problems, but no place is. It wasn’t always like this. Your mother took part in overthrowing a government because she believed that Cardassia needed to be changed and she believed she knew how to do it. If you ask her, she’d tell you that pre-war Cardassia wasn’t as quiet and peaceful as it is now. Ask Gul Brenok. Ask anyone who remembers those times.
“Those Federation colonist also remember those times and nothing showed them that anything changed since.”
“A human governor wasn’t enough?” Demok asked with a sneer.
“No, it wasn’t.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Then, the sub-archon said. “They were under our protection. They would be offered help if they asked for it. And when they did, they received help to the best of our abilities, even if that was hardly enough. They had the right to participate in Union-wise referenda and establish their own law. They were left alone. And it wasn’t enough.”
“What you call ‘protection,’ they call ‘abuses.’ What you call ‘help,’ they call ‘left us all to die.’ What you call ‘referenda,’ they call ‘naive imitation of real democracy.’” Demok wanted to protest but Ronus raised his head. “Yes, I know. You’re still trying to find a cure and you’re still trying to save those people, but they don’t know how sincere you are in your promises. You broke too many promises to trust you at face value. Your political system might seem good and normal to you, because you know no other, but believe me, there are better ways.” The Trill smiled. “See? I believe in mine just like you believe in yours.”
Demok didn’t say anything. He only observed Ronus. Finally, the sub-archon muttered. “We do the best we can.”
“You sound hurt and defensive.” I am!
Demok wanted to shout. “Forgive me, it was not my intention to attack you or Cardassia. I’m just trying to explain to you that some things don’t appear the same when you look at them from a different perspective. And I failed, as I didn’t manage to completely get rid of my own perspective and unintentionally judged yours.”
“Do you think that the Cardassians are evil?” Demok asked. He knew that his people had that reputation. He knew that especially after dealing with Prefect Krause. He didn’t understand that and thought it was undeserved. He didn’t see himself as evil.
“I think there are evil people everywhere. Not all Cardassians are evil, just like not all Trills are good.”
“Am I evil?”
Ronus shook his head without hesitation. “No.”
“Is Brenok evil?”
“No.” Again, Demok didn’t see any hesitation.
“Is Toral evil?”
“I don’t know him well enough to answer that question.”
“But you know Brenok.” It wasn’t a question, a statement rather.
“I had worked with him three years ago. I don’t know his full biography, but I know his personality. The last word I’d use to describe him is ‘evil.’”
“Your mother did a lot of bad things in her life.”
Demok’s memory brought that horrifying moment when she had admitted to assassinating Legate Ahal. The sub-archon tried not to think about it. He managed to push it deep into his unconsciousness and not dwell on it, but he knew sooner or later it would surface and ask him questions about morality, right and wrong, crime and punishment. Did Ronus know about this event from her life? Or did he talk about something else? How many secrets were there? What else didn’t he know about her? What could Ronus know that her own son didn’t?
“Does it make her evil?” he asked.
“No. But it doesn’t make her good either.”
“Why not evil then?”
“Because the universe isn’t just black and white, it’s also an unlimited number of shades of grey.” Ronus paused. “She didn’t do all of those things with pure intent of wrongdoing. She tried to do something good but chose wrong ways. It doesn’t make it right at all, but it also shows that she isn’t a villain. She lacks judgement that would always tell her what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Demok smirked. “How the Federation understands right and wrong.”
“Perhaps. We are not saints either and we also make mistakes. The difference is that you have to pay for your mistakes. Your mother didn’t pay for hers.”
Demok lowered his head and looked at Jarol. “Once, many years ago, before I was born, she publicly defied her gul. She refused to follow an order of killing Cardassian civilians. She was almost executed after that. But she wasn’t. So you say she didn’t pay for her mistake of defying her superior.”
“I didn’t know that detail from her biography. I can tell you one thing: this gul should have been punished, not her. That is one good example of what had been wrong with Cardassia.”
“Is it?” Demok’s head bobbed as he looked up at Ronus.
“Think of it! Was that gul punished in any way?”
“No. In fact, he became a legate after the war.”
“Ha! See? That
’s wrong too! No only he wasn’t prosecuted, he became a very important person. That wouldn’t have happened in the Federation.” Ronus silenced. “What happened to him? I assume that he didn’t stay in power long after your mother’s coup.”
“It wasn’t my mother’s coup, it was Daset’s coup. She was a participant.”
“And to answer your question: that man had been assassinated before the Shift.”
“‘The Shift.’ What a neat and tidy name for such an ugly political move.” Demok growled but Ronus didn’t seem to notice. “What happened to Alon Ghemor?” he asked suddenly, startling Demok.
“He left Cardassia Prime and moved to a colony.”
“Is he still alive?”
“As far as I know. He is not a public person any more, so news reporters don’t follow his life.”
“At least, you’re improving,” Ronus said.
“What do you mean?”
“A few years earlier he’d be killed without mercy.”
“I’m sure you want to say that she is not like that, that she wouldn’t do such a thing.” Demok swallowed the words before saying them. “She’s your mother, you see the best in her. I understand that. But not everyone sees her the same way you do.”
The Trill smiled. “She’s...interesting. She’s a mixture of ‘want to do right but don’t know how so will use bad examples I had been given and try that way.’”
“How little you know her.”
“I start to wonder how little you
“You have no idea what I know.” Demok’s thoughts returned to Legate Ahal again.
Ronus observed the sub-archon for a moment. “Forgive me again. It would seem I was too aggressive in my words.” He silenced for a moment, looking at the comatose woman and then he raised his head to look at Demok. “Let me ask you this: what do you think about the Shift? As an archon, I mean. What do you see, when you look at it as a lawyer?”
“This is not a question with an easy answer.”
“Because the Shift happened when another law applied. Should I judge her from the point of view of the law currently in force or from the previous one. Considering that back then the law was in a state of flux, it would be difficult to tell where new law started and where the old law, either the Dominion’s or the previous Central Command’s, ended.”
“Is there any difference in any of these rules regarding the sentence for a coup participant?” Ronus asked.
Demok was sure the Trill knew the answer to that question. He just wanted the sub-archon to say it out loud. He couldn’t. “Not every coup is the same.”
“The law doesn’t see those differences.”
“But it should.”
“To excuse her?”
Demok felt his anger rising. “Why didn’t you ask her
any of those questions? Scared too much?” he asked with contempt.
“I did. She doesn’t think she did anything wrong.”
“She tried her best.”
“But she chose wrong methods.”
“Oh, I’m sure she should go to a park, promise a lot of food for everyone and they would vote for her for the Castellan.” Demok’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Isn’t it how it’s done in the Federation?”
“No, not really.” Ronus smiled and Demok’s emotions raged again—he felt the smile was patronising. The Trill had to realise that too as it suddenly disappeared from his face.
“And now comes a moment of education for the stupid, young Cardassian,” Demok barked.
“No. But I can clearly see that you share your mother’s definition and it’s not exactly the correct one.” The sub-archon tried to calm down, or at least not to show how angry he was. “Our process is different and it’s not as simple as you seem to think it is. Of course, a lot of people would be happy to know that they would get food from your mother, should she win elections, and would vote for her, but there would also be lots of people that would ask ‘how will you do it?’ They wouldn’t just accept her promises at face value, they would ask her for details how she wants to keep her promises. She would have to present a detailed plan of changes and improvements and if she would find supporters, she could win.”
“But anyone, literally anyone, can try. Even someone without any knowledge or skill. Even someone who would want only grab some power.”
“Let’s talk about part one of your question.
“Yes, everyone can try. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone would be elected. If voters decide that this particular candidate is not good enough, they don’t vote for him. The case is closed.
“As for the power-grabbing people...They are everywhere and no system can prevent them. But at least our system keeps them in power for a short time. Your system used to give them power for their lifetimes. It changed, but as far as I know it’s still not easy to remove a legate from his office.”
“You know little.”
“All right, I admit that. There is a lot that I don’t understand in your current politics. Can you admit to the same?”
Demok pursed his lips. “I don’t understand your political system at all,” he said. He had almost failed the exam from the Federation political system and its history. He had memorised it but some things seemed so alien, strange and chaotic to him that he couldn’t comprehend how it could work. Neither his Mom, nor Uncle Brenok had been able to help him. It seemed logical and make sense in theory, but he thought that it was impossible to apply it to practice. “So, you think my mother should be executed,” he said, returning to the earlier subject of their discussion.
“No.” Ronus shook his head energetically. “I wish no one to die. But she should face charges. And other participants too.”
“You do realise that Brenok is one of them, don’t you?”
Ronus was clearly surprised. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“Making them criminals would cancel everything they had done since then. It would render whole new law and set of rules illegal and delete them. We would be back to the status from after the Dominion War—with a choice between the Dominion’s law and the previous Central Command law. Thanks. One exile to go, please.”
Ronus laughed. “At least you don’t believe in glory of the old Cardassia.”
“I believe in Cardassia. I don’t believe in idiots who happened to ruin it.”
“So your mother is not an idiot because she didn’t ruin it. You have the comfort of time perspective and you judge the results, not the methods.” Ronus said.
“Do you want me to say that I would want to see my mother executed?” Demok shouted heatedly.
“No, never.” Ronus sighed. “Maybe we should change the person, because political discussions about one’s mother are not as theoretical as I’d like them to be. How about Brenok?”
Demok smiled. “Genetically he is a stranger to me, but I call him ‘Uncle’ and love him as if he were my own father. Are you sure he’s a better example?”
“Obviously not.” Ronus’s smile was sincere and warm. “So maybe we should refrain from using any specific examples and talk about theory.”
“And you think that I would be able to forget that my mother and my uncle could be examples for that theory?”
“I have a question, if I may.” Demok nodded, so Ronus continued. “How is such an act—overthrowing a government by means of a coup—punished, if at all, today?”
“Why?” Demok blinked, not sure the intentions behind the question.
“Yes, why? The current leaders had overthrown a government. Why didn’t they change the law to make it a legal way of taking power and clean themselves.”
Demok ignored the mistake that Ronus made—none of the current leaders had been involved in the Shift—and answered the question instead. “The law doesn’t work backward. Besides, do you think they would like to be overthrown themselves?”
“So they knew this was wrong.”
Demok sighed. “Everyone knows a coup is wrong.”
“Everyone but your mother.”
“Yeah. She’s just that one stupid Cardassian that slits babies’ throats and can’t comprehend why people want to hang her.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“That’s what I heard.”
“What do you
think? About a coup in general, as means of taking power. You had used the word ‘everyone.’”
Demok didn’t say anything at first. He knew some day someone would ask him this question. “I think,” he said at length, “that this is a risky way of getting power, as it can backfire in so many ways. But if there are no other ways of removing a harmful leader, then it has to be done.”
“Were there no other ways?”
“Aside from assassinating Ghemor? No. In Cardassian tradition, power was held for life. Once you’re in the Central Command or Detapa Council, you stay there until you die, or resign, or get kicked out by other members. There were only few cases of resignation. A few more of getting removed by others, but never caused by real political reasons—usually it was a petty vendetta. Until Daset’s government, there was no way of relieving anyone from their governmental position. Only by force. That’s why every change in our history was bloody and brutal.”
“And now there is. I can direct you to the chapter of the Charter that describes it in detail. There was no way of immediate removal of a current Castellan, except for not voting for him the next time.”
“I would appreciate that tip regarding the chapter. One more question: wouldn’t it be worth to wait for the next elections and that way remove Ghemor, if he was so wrong? I doubt people would vote for him and his mistakes. As far as I know they had been unhappy with his politics and that’s why Daset’s party managed to hold to power, in spite of the methods. And if Daset took power that way—no one could complain.”
“You mean—‘unvote’ Ghemor after
he disassembled the military? That would do us a lot of good!”
“You could rebuild the military.”
“And in the meantime what would protect us from the Klingons? Or the Romulans? Or the Breen? Or the Ferengi? You?”
Ronus smiled. “Perhaps.”
“And the price for that protection would be...?”
The smile on Ronus’s face faded. “Probably high.”
“Look, Captain. If you want me to say ‘that coup was evil,’ I won’t. If you want me to say ‘any coup is evil,’ I won’t either, because that would include that particular coup. I may be under my mother’s and uncle’s strong influence, but I am far from saying that it was a mistake. It was wr—maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but it created the Cardassia around me and I happen to like this Cardassia.” Oh, no! I didn’t almost say that, did I?
“So the ends justify the means.”
“Not always. But sometimes you have to get your hands dirty to get the work done, because there is no clean way of doing it. And I’ll stand by my mother’s side on this until the last breath. You can assign me to the same bag of grey as you assign her. I don’t care.”
Ronus didn’t say anything at first and just observed Demok with a slightly inclined head. “You remind me of someone.”
“Someone who lived long time ago. And I think you are not so sure of what you’re telling me now, as you’d like me to believe. You are torn between being a lawyer and being a good son. There’s nothing wrong with that and you don’t have to admit to anything to me. Just keep thinking about it. Keep thinking.”
Ronus rose and glanced at Jarol.
“You will never
hear me saying that I want my own mother dead!” Demok said firmly.
The Trill said, “I know.” Then he left, leaving Demok with his own, bitter thoughts to himself.
The sub-archon put his hand on his mother’s. “You don’t deserve an execution. You did too much good to be paid for that with a death sentence. And even if you didn’t, you are my Mommy and I’d never want you to die.” Her hand felt warm but she remained motionless. “Mommy, please wake up,” he whispered.