“Gul Brenok!” Ronus called the Cardassian. Brenok stopped and let the Trill to catch up with him. “Could we talk?” he asked. “But not here, a more secluded place would be better,” he added, looking around the busy corridor outside the infirmary.
“The legate’s office,” Brenok said.
They headed for the lift. Ronus observed the Cardassian gul. Brenok seemed tensed and lost in thoughts. The Trill could understand that: the station had been attacked, Brenok’s friend was in bad condition in the infirmary, there were difficult decisions to make...
They arrived to the office without a word. It was empty. Both Zamarran and Borad were in the command centre, obviously very busy.
“What is it?” Brenok asked, when the door closed behind them.
“I wanted to assure you that you can count on my support regarding the recent Klingon attack.”
The gul seemed puzzled. “Support? What kind of support?”
“As a Federation representative I can confirm that the attack was unprovoked and the defence, including the destruction of two ships, was necessary.” He had observed the situation from the tactical centre and it seemed that destroying the third ship was not
necessary, but wasn’t sure it was the best moment to ask Brenok about that.
“A Federation representative...” Brenok repeated slowly. “I’m not sure what you mean, exactly.”
“My testimony would endorse your actions and solutions. It would prove that you are not to blame, that you didn’t provoke the Klingons in any way.”
Brenok narrowed his eyes. “And who do I need to prove that to?” he asked in a low tone.
“The Federation would—”
“And what does the Federation have to do with that?” the gul interrupted. “What is it business of yours?” His voice became louder and more on the edge. Ronus could see that Brenok barely concealed his fury. “Are you some kind of interstellar tribunal that has the final word on who is right and who is not? Are you a troop that would point to the ones at fault and punish them? Why should I care what you think about it?!”
On my spots
, Ronus thought, is it me phrasing everything so badly, or the Cardassians are extremely irritable today?
“Gul Brenok, that’s not what I meant. I merely offer myself as a witness, an impartial
witness, should you need one.” He emphasised the last part of his sentence to make sure Brenok didn’t think he forced anything upon the gul.
“Should I need one for what exactly
? Whom should I justify my actions to that I might need a witness to support my claims?”
“I don’t know.” Ronus tried to calm Brenok down. He was glad he didn’t ask about the third ship, as it would be the worst moment possible. “But if such a need arises, you can count on me.”
Brenok stared at the Trill for a long while and Ronus wasn’t sure if the gul was considering his offer or trying very hard not to hit him.
“I’ll remember that,” Brenok said finally.
“That’s all I ask,” the captain said softly. “Now, if I may be dismissed.” He thought that showing a behaviour of submission would help to placate Brenok.
Ronus left the office.
This did not go as he had hoped it would. First, Demok had been taking his words the wrong way. The sub-archon had acted defensively during their whole discussion and the Trill was sure that there was a lot of misunderstanding between them. He understood that Demok wanted to stay loyal to his mother and wouldn’t want her any harm, but he could also clearly see that the young lawyer didn’t know how to reconcile the love for his mother and her not-so-clean past. It didn’t escape Ronus’s attention that Demok had said that everybody
knew that a coup was a bad thing and his later verbal lapse ‘it was wrong’ corrected to ‘maybe.’ Ronus certainly hadn’t wanted Demok to make a choice between his mother’s life and his duty as an archon. Demok had repeated her words but Ronus wasn’t sure if Demok really believed in what he had said or he had just tried to find a way of not admitting that what she had done was wrong. It was wrong and Demok seemed to know that; he also seemed to struggle with that. What he didn’t seem to understand was that admitting to that wouldn’t automatically mean that he didn’t love his mother, or that he wished her harm. Ronus had an uncomfortable impression that he unintentionally had driven Demok to the wall.
And now Brenok and his hostility. Ronus wondered if it had been his unfortunate wording, or Brenok was on the edge and the Trill had chosen a bad moment to talk to the gul. Brenok never seemed unreasonable to him but a few minutes earlier...? Ronus would expect such words from Jarol, but from Brenok?
Maybe they weren’t different one from another that much after all.
Brenok, Jarol and Demok. They certainly were a family and if he ever had any doubts, they were gone now.
He had a report to make. He had to tell his superiors about this sneak, mean Klingon attack. Maybe Brenok didn’t care at the moment, but Ronus would not allow the Cardassians to be blamed for this. He would not allow another ‘they deserved that for what they are like’ argument. And he certainly would argue if anyone tried to insist that the Cardassians in any way provoked the Klingons.
But why did Brenok destroy the third ship? Why didn’t he just allow them to retreat? Not today, but Ronus would ask that question eventually. He had to. He had to, to keep his faith in the Cardassians. And in Gul Brenok.
Laran Demok entered Jarol’s office, now occupied by Brenok, and stood by the door with an uncertain look on his face. The gul raised his head to look at the sub-archon.
“What is it?” he asked after a moment.
“Uncle...” Demok approached the desk. “Uncle...” he started again and, again, didn’t continue.
Brenok leaned back in his chair and patiently waited for the young Cardassian to continue. Whatever he came with, it was difficult for him and Brenok didn’t want to press.
Demok sat. “Uncle, are we going to war with the Klingons?”
Brenok didn’t expect this
question. The worst thing was that he didn’t know the answer. It was barely over an hour since he had talked to Legate Ekoor.
The Klingons knew very well what they were doing, attempting to first eliminate Jarol, the station gul, and then attacking the outpost. They tried to cut the head off and then destroy the rest of the body. They managed to protect the station but the political aftermath was incredibly difficult. The Cardassian Union was not strong enough to fight the Klingons and they would soon lose that war. The most obvious option—declaring a war—was not a solution. However, if they wouldn’t declare a war, the Klingons would know that the reason is their weakness and inability of defending themselves and would keep attacking. That way or another they had a war on their hands, a war they couldn’t win.
They desperately needed a third option, but so far no one had any good ideas.
Brenok looked at Demok to tell him that war might be inevitable and he would opt for declaring war against the Klingons to at least appear strong and act with honour and bravery, but seeing Laran’s face expression, seeing what was in the young man’s eyes...
Brenok noticed that Demok’s eyes wandered to the scar on the gul’s neck ridge. He had been merely two years older when he had been almost killed by a Klingon in another war. The sub-archon knew it. He witnessed Brenok’s pain and limitations caused by his mild disability. Demok didn’t know Brenok without this disability.
That’s what a war was: pain, suffering, destruction.
“I am trying to find a reasonable solution to this problem,” the gul said at length. “We all are.”
“Uncle...” Demok whispered. “I’m not a child, tell me.”
“All right.” Brenok did not intend to insult the sub-archon by treating him disrespectfully and not appreciating his age and experience that had been gathered recently thanks to his own orders. “Either we respond to the attack by official declaration of war and we go to fight or we don’t react at all and get attacked by the Klingons, who will take us for weaklings, and we go to fight.”
“But if we declare war, can we win?”
Brenok slowly shook his head.
“What?” Demok’s eyes opened even wider.
“I know it’s not something you can hear in a news broadcast but that is the fact. Believe me, if there is anyone in the Union that knows everything about our military’s strength, it’s me.”
The sub-archon shook his head, tears in his eyes. Brenok hated scaring him like this but he wouldn’t lie.
Demok took a few deep breaths and composed himself. “Can’t we get someone, some kind of intermediary, who would help us?”
“Any attempt of not letting the war happen would be a clear sign that we’re not ready for it and that we’re ripe for conquer.”
“What about the Federation?”
Brenok remembered that the Federation had tried to talk the Klingons into dropping their idea of a sneak attack on Cardassia. It had ended the Federation-Klingon treaty. He shook his head. “I don’t think the Klingons would listen to anyone.”
“How about a good and strong ally?”
The gul tried to keep his face straight; the last thing he wanted was to insult Demok with a soft, fatherly smile. Here he was, half of his life a soldier, most of his career the highest commander of the Cardassian Guard, listening to advices of a very young civilian that never even experienced war.
“We had an ally the last time,” he said.
“I don’t say ‘let them into the government.’ But maybe there is someone to whom the Klingons pose a danger, too. Separately we’re...weak, but together we could show those bumpy foreheads where their place is.”
Former Legate Jotrel also had suggested such a solution.
“You’re your mother’s son, no doubt,” Brenok said smiling. “You are thinking like a soldier.”
Demok didn’t grin. “Will you keep me informed?”
“I will,” the gul promised.
The sub-archon started to raise but sat back in the chair. “Uncle, do you think Mom would have some good ideas?”
“I don’t know but I wish she were here.”
Demok nodded with a sad expression painted on his face, rose and left the office. Brenok wondered if the young man resented the fact that the gul used his mother’s office but quickly discarded the thought. Demok was not so petty-minded.
Brenok left his office and approached Captain Ronus, who worked at his console.
“Captain, could we talk in the office?” he asked. He couldn’t say ‘my’ office.
Av’Roo continued Ronus’s monitoring work and the Trill followed the gul.
“Please sit down.”
Ronus sat. “Gul Brenok, if this is about my contacting the Federation an hour ago, I had asked Glinn Borad for permission before establishing the connection. It was an urgent duty
Brenok sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. “I assume you filed your report regarding the attack,” he said calmly.
“That’s correct. I know you think it’s not a—”
Brenok raised his hand, silencing the Trill. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He paused for a moment. “Please accept my apologies. My reaction was uncalled for. I was under stress. It doesn’t justify it, I know, but that’s the only explanation I have. I know your intentions were good and I paid you with an aggressive attack. I shouldn’t have happened.”
“That’s all right, Gul.” Ronus’s face assumed a softer expression. “I fully understand that the situation is difficult. I should have found another moment.”
“I don’t think any moment would be good,” Brenok sighed.
“I have one question but I’m not sure if it’s...safe to ask.”
“Was the destruction of the last Klingon ship necessary?”
The short and firm answer seemed to shock Ronus. “Then why did you do it?” he asked after a moment.
“The Klingon captain refused to retreat. I didn’t want to destroy his ship and kill his crew, but he would keep pounding at the station endlessly.”
“Klingon honour...” Ronus muttered. “He thought a retreat would equal cowardice.”
“It seemed so. He wanted to die in battle. I don’t understand that Klingon glory of dying, reminds me too much of the Jem’Hadar, but if that was what he wanted, I gave it to him.” Brenok shuddered at the thought. He looked at Ronus; why did the Trill look relieved? “Why did you think I did it?”
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to think.”
“You thought I murdered him in cold blood.” There was no anger in Brenok’s voice; he said it calmly, almost dispassionately.
“No, Brenok. You are not a person who kills anyone with a complete disregard for life and that’s why I had been confused and wanted to ask this question.”
“Why did you stay on the station? It wasn’t your battle, it wasn’t your problem and in case of destruction, you would die with Cardassian soldiers.”
“Believe it or not, I consider myself a sort of soldier too. I know, I know,” Ronus said, seeing Brenok’s amused smile. “I am a scientist in Starfleet and now also a diplomat, but even Starfleet prepares us for combat situations. Also psychologically. I couldn’t just run away and you have no idea how difficult it was to just stare at your soldiers and not participate in the events. Not that they needed any help. It would feel like an act of cowardice. I don’t run away from a sinking ship, Brenok, and it doesn’t matter than this ship is not mine.”
“It’s a station,” Brenok corrected him, puzzled by his choice of words.
“It’s a figure of speech,” Ronus smiled. “It’s origin is Earth. They believed that a captain of a ship should be the last person to leave it, should the ship be in danger. I am not the captain here, but abandoning this place and all people here would feel...wrong. I consider myself a part of this crew, even if I’m just a guest.”
“This is what Starfleet taught you?”
“Yes, it is.”
“So you decided to stay.”
“Yes. I also thought that...” he didn’t finish.
“That you could be a witness.”
“Yes. Maybe you wouldn’t need one, but I am sure the Federation would want to know what happened here today and my report is what they need: from someone who experienced it personally.”
Brenok smiled bitterly. “And they wouldn’t believe us.”
Ronus’s smile mirrored the gul’s. “I am not sure. There had been air of distrust between us, the Federation and Cardassia, for very long time and then you had cut all relations with everyone. You’re emerging now and we are in the process or rediscovering you again, but there are many for whom it’s not enough. They still see you through the old prism. They need some time and a lot more information to see what the Cardassians are like now. Information with which you are not forthcoming.”
“We try to keep to ourselves.”
“You don’t want to be a part of the quadrant? You don’t want to be a part of a bigger community?”
“This is not a question for me. This is a question for politicians.”
“Can’t you answer as a Cardassian citizen?”
Brenok thought for a while. “I don’t want Cardassia to be isolated any longer, there was time for it and that time came to an end. We recuperated and don’t need to remain in seclusion. However, I would prefer if Cardassia minded its own business and the others would mind their own business.” With the Klingon attack it didn’t seem like his wish would come true. “I don’t mind cultural exchange or contact with other races, but I don’t want to be a ‘part of community.’ We can be good neighbours and I’d like that, but I don’t want you to drop by for a cup of fish juice every afternoon.”
“A good neighbour but not a friend.”
“Neither an enemy, mind you.”
Ronus smiled. “I can understand it. I disagree but I can understand it.”
“You want to be friends with everyone?”
“No. I am very careful who I choose as my friends. However, I wouldn’t say that I would like to be friends with no one. That would be darn boring!”
Brenok smiled. “And you would like us to be your friends?”
“Honestly?” Brenok nodded. “But don’t tell anyone, ok?” Brenok nodded again. Ronus leaned toward him and whispered, “I would choose you over the Klingons as an ally any moment.”
The gul didn’t expect to hear that. At first he thought that the Trill joked, but the captain’s face was as earnest as it gets. “Seriously?” Brenok asked after a long moment of silence.
“Because it takes a lot more than a ‘dishonourable’—whatever that means—act for you to break a treaty. For the Klingons it could be anything. For you—it takes a lot of bad treatment and a treason before you turn your back on your ally.”
Brenok knitted his eye ridges. “How could you know?”
Ronus didn’t answer at once. “The example isn’t something you’d like, but I think it pictures perfectly what I mean. The Dominion. Think how far they had to go in mistreating the Cardassians before you turned on them. It took very little for the Klingons to cancel our treaty. The Federation would never do to the Cardassians what the Dominion did, and the Cardassians would never break a treaty as a result of a minor disagreement. We could be so much more than just neighbours. Together, we could be stronger and safer.”
Brenok chuckled. “Also from each other.”
Ronus laughed. “And I wouldn’t turn around my axis and roll into a coil watching my ally eat live gagh
on a diplomatic dinner, because you don’t eat live
Brenok’s eyes opened wide. “You wouldn’t what?” He burst into laughter.
“My symbiont has spoken.” Ronus joined him and giggled. “Sometimes it feels like they eat...well, me.”
“They say the Cardassian cuisine is the worst in the quadrant.”
“It’s second worst. In my personal opinion the Klingons take the gold medal.”
“Thank you...I guess,” he added, pretending to have an afterthought. His naughty smile betrayed his true feelings.
Suddenly, the smile disappeared from Brenok’s face. How could he laugh when she was there in the infirmary and no one could tell if she had any chances for a normal life? How selfish he was! How insensate!
Ronus seemed to understand Brenok’s sudden change of mood.
“I’ll go now,” he said, raising. “I’m sure you’re very busy today.”