Tarav, Nokar, Cardassia Prime
Brenok left the transporter booth and Jarol could clearly see that he immediately wrapped his arms around him. She rushed to him with a thick, heavy scarf and wrapped it around his neck.
“Why did you turn off the heating?” he asked her with a mock complaint.
“Sorry, this is the warmest town in Nokar,” she smiled apologetically.
“You call this warm
?” Brenok’s surprised was enormous.
“All right, let me rephrase that. This is the least cool town in Nokar. At this time of the year, that is.”
“You should have warned me.”
“I did. You ignored me. You said I was overprotective. Reminds me of someone else, who had said that, too, and now he wears fifty layers of clothing.”
“You think he’d share some?”
“Don’t count on it,” she said smiling. “Let go. We have heating in the hotel.”
Jarol didn’t think it was a good idea for Arenn to visit her at this cool time of the year, but he had insisted. She was sure he hadn’t realised that in Nokar it became really cold in the humid season, unlike warm and comfortable Eheen.
Luckily for Brenok, the hotel, in which Jarol and Demok stayed, was merely five minutes away on foot.
“It’s nice here,” the gul said, looking around. “Different from other cities on Cardassia.”
She smiled. “You mean ‘other cities in Eheen’. Elar is different, too.”
“I should travel more, shouldn’t I?”
They entered the lobby. Jarol picked the key card to Brenok’s room and continued to one of three lifts. “I suppose if one lives in the ‘most important city of Cardassian culture,’” she said the words in a pompous voice, “one isn’t dragged all around the planet to see other cultural treasures.”
He grinned. “We’re proud of our Nokar, aren’t we?” he teased her.
“No less than you are of your Lakarian City.” She mocked offence, raising her head high.
Then they both guffawed.
They entered Jarol’s room. Demok was there, reading a book; he glanced at Brenok. “Hi,” he said grimly.
Jarol knew he was still angry with his uncle for the war business. She hoped that the time they’d spend together would help them clear the air between them.
Brenok unwrapped the scarf from his neck—it was very warm in the room.
“How is the big world?” she asked, pouring the gul hot tea. “We here, in the province, don’t follow all the news.”
Brenok looked at her with a smile that said, ‘Stop that, already,’ and replied, “Legate Gortan is working closely with the Federation ambassador on changing our treaty.”
“Changing how?” she asked worried.
“They want to make it more...friendly. Not just ‘let’s stay away from each other,’ but more like ‘let’s hold hands’.” Her eye ridge raised. “Well, all right, maybe we won’t start dating, but they want it to be more than just non-aggression. Not full-blown friendship, but a step closer toward it.”
She put two cups with tea on a low table by the only window that looked out to the town’s main food market. “Good.” She was relieved, as for a moment she had worried that Gortan was just about to make a harsh cutting move. “I just hope they won’t agree to pool our military resources.”
won’t. I wouldn’t agree to that,” Brenok said. She knew all business regarding the military was Brenok’s responsibility and nothing could be done without his acceptance.
“Why not?” Demok barked from his corner, putting the book away.
“Because they would learn how weak we are.”
“So weak you wanted a war.”
“I didn’t want
a war, I—”
“But you still voted for it!” Demok rose and threw the book at the seat behind him.
“And then I voted against it,” Brenok barked. “You seem not to remember that!”
This was not good. She didn’t want them to fight, she didn’t want them to hate each other. Laran was still very angry, Arenn was hurt and reacted defensively. Telling a Cardassian that he or she forgot something was not
“Boys...” she said quietly, hoping she could help them end their little war.
Demok’s finger pointed at Brenok. “He
voted for war!!!”
“He had no other choice!” Arenn rose form the chair too. He was taller, but thinner than Laran.
“Stop...” she whispered. “Stop it, please.”
But they stopped paying attention to her. She was sure that harsh words and insults would follow soon, each next one worse than the previous one. Arenn was patronising, Laran was aggressive. She couldn’t take it, couldn’t stand it any longer. She covered her ears with her hands, begging them to stop, but they didn’t hear her whisper—they were too busy shouting. She closed her burning from tears eyes.
Suddenly it became quiet. She feared to open her eyes but then slowly did just that. Both men were looking at her. Their faces were painted with worry.
“I’m so sorry, Atira. We shouldn’t argue,” Arenn said.
“Stop this. I have only you two and my dad. Stop hating each other, please.” Her voice was shaking and breaking. She was surprised hearing it herself. She became so weak; anything could make her cry, anything could break her. What was wrong with her? Was she going mad? Was her head so badly hurt that she was now a shaking, fragile weakling that couldn’t even stand witnessing an argument?
Laran sat on the chair next to her. “I’m sorry, Mom. Uncle’s right, we shouldn’t quarrel in your presence.”
“We shouldn’t quarrel at all
,” Arenn pointed out.
Laran sent him an unfriendly look. Arenn leaned to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “Will you be all right alone for a moment?” he asked. She nodded. He grabbed resisting Laran’s hand and pulled him to the adjacent room.
She could only hear muffled voices, but did not understand words. She could recognise who was who, though; Arenn’s voice was smooth and gentle, Laran’s was resembling his father’s more with each year—rusty and coming from deepest parts of his throat.
She drank her tea and hoped that they would really solve their problem and clear the air between them, instead of agreeing to not to argue in her presence. She didn’t want them to fight. She didn’t anyone to fight.
She didn’t know how much time had passed when they returned to the room. She looked at their faces to see if she could guess how the matters were now; they both were smiling, but they couldn’t fool her—their smiles were a little too wide, too happy and too forced.
“I’m glad no one was killed in that room there,” she muttered. She knew her voice sounded angry, although she wasn’t.
Laran poured tea to all three cups—after disposing of his own and Arenn’s already cold beverages—and sat at the table.
“Tell me more about the treaty,” Jarol asked her friend. “What do people think?”
“Well,” he started, rubbing his chin, “the Union Institute of Opinion Polls and Statistics has already carried out two surveys. Most people want us to be on good terms with the Federation. Some would like out relations not to be changed and a few percent would prefer to stay in isolation. So it would seem that the majority supports the current direction.”
“That’s good,” she commented.
“What would you like, Mom?” Laran asked her.
“Does it matter?” she looked at him. They didn’t talk about politics during their trip. She wondered now if it was his choice, or it just never came to those subjects during their long conversations.
“It matters to me,” he answered.
“Why? Don’t you have your own opinion?”
“I do. And I know it. Now I want to hear yours?”
He observed her for a moment. “Is it a secret?” he asked eventually.
“No. I...” She didn’t finish. She looked at Arenn. What was he thinking about it? “What do you think?”
“I would prefer for our relations not to change. I think it is fine the way it is.”
“How about you, Mom?”
Maybe there indeed was nothing hiding behind his question; maybe he also was just curious and asked without hidden reasons. Maybe he wasn’t testing her, maybe it wasn’t a challenge, just innocent curiosity.
“I think it’s time to rejoin the quadrant. We cannot pose as a serious partner if we keep hiding in a corner like a scared gotresop
.” She shuddered at her own thought of comparing Cardassia to a small mammalian pest that harassed Cardassian kitchens since forever.
“So why hadn’t you negotiated such a treaty?” Laran asked.
“It had not been not the time for that, yet. But things change. This has changed too. Will you fight again?” she asked them suddenly, without making a pause between her previous thought and the question.
The sudden question took them by surprise. They looked at each other.
“No, we won’t. I promise,” Arenn said finally.
promise,” Laran added.
“Good,” she said quietly. She felt tired. She rubbed her burning eyes.
“Are you all right?” Arenn asked, leaning toward her.
“I’m fine. I just need some rest. We went hiking yesterday and it took a bit longer than we had expected.”
“Not mentioning,” Laran added, “that the trail was more difficult than we had thought.” He grinned.
“You walked out in that cold?” Arenn asked with incredulity in his voice, pointing to the window.
“It’s not that bad...once you get used to it,” Laran replied.
That was much better. Talking. Joking. Having tea together. No shouting. No sword-shaped words slicing through flesh deep into the heart.
“I think I need a nap,” she said.
They both rose to help her up and for one dreadful moment she feared they would start fighting over the right to escort her to the sofa that was opposite the window. But they didn’t; they only helped her up and then allowed her to go there herself. Laran brought a blanket and covered her with it.
Her last thought, before sleep took her, was the hope that Arenn and Laran wouldn’t kill each other while she was not there to separate them.
Brenok and Demok returned to the table and their cups of tea.
“I’m worried about her, Uncle,” the young man said quietly, glancing at his mother to check if she was sleeping and didn’t hear. “I’m really worried.”
“What’s going on?” The gul put away the cup; his tea was already cold anyway.
“She’s very emotional. She can go from euphoria to sadness within seconds. Sometimes I hear her crying at night. I asked about this once but she immediately changed the subject.”
Brenok recalled what Nerot had said: the bleeding in Jarol’s brain had been located in her frontal lobe and the damage could have influenced her thinking processes, emotional stability and even caused change of personality. The damage didn’t seem serious on scans, but Nerot had said that there still was a lot of things that medicine didn’t understand about how the brain worked and he hadn’t been able to guarantee that Jarol would fully return to health and her old self.
“Maybe she just needs more time,” Brenok whispered, aware that his shaking voice was everything but reassuring.
“You saw her reaction a moment ago. We only talked, it wasn’t even a heated argument. But she behaved like we were just about to kill each other. She is over-sensitive. She takes everything in and it doubles in her mind.” Demok paused for a moment. “She’s been a bit better for last two days, since you had confirmed your arrival. It cheered her up.”
Brenok thought that Laran should have remembered about it before starting that argument. He was glad they had agreed not to talk about it any longer, as they were unable to come to any sensible conclusion. What had been done, had been done and couldn’t be undone.
He looked at sleeping Atira. “Maybe we should consider a therapist.”
“I have already searched for good specialists and I have a few names. I’d like you to take a look at those names and their qualifications. And...I’d also like you to tell her. She would be less likely to reject the suggestion if it came from her brother than from her child.”
“All right. I’ll take a look at that list later.”
Demok rose. “There’s a small dessert shop nearby. I’ll go and bring some fruit milk shakes. She likes them. It would be a nice surprise when she wakes up.”
Brenok nodded and smiled weakly. “Good idea.”
“I’ll be back soon.”
After Demok had left, Brenok looked out of the window. Demok had warned him that her condition was deteriorating, but the gul hadn’t thought it was so bad. Her reaction to their mild argument was the best proof that she was very fragile. It wasn’t the first time they argued and some of their arguments had been really wild—Demok was a young man with his own opinions that didn’t always match Brenok’s—and she had never interfered, she had never had a problem with that. But today...she had reacted as if they had taken weapons and were ready to assault each other.
She suddenly sat, startling Brenok. He went to her; it was obvious she had a nightmare. He sat next to her on the sofa.
“It’s just a dream,” he said softly.
“I had a dream,” she whispered. “On the station, after the attack.” Brenok hadn’t known one could dream in a coma. “I was on a bank of a river and on the other side stood Corat and Mayel. They didn’t call me, didn’t want to come to me, didn’t pull their hands toward me. They just stared at me. With blank faces.” Her eyes, looking somewhere ahead of her, filled with tears. “They didn’t want to come to me. I called them and I tried to get to the other bank. I couldn’t swim over to them—I don’t know why...but I couldn’t...They didn’t want me. They were cold and didn’t want to be with me...” Her voice started to break and at some moments Brenok could barely understand what she was saying. He wrapped his arm around her. “My children didn’t...want to come to me...they...they—rejected—me...” She pulled her legs up and curled up on the sofa; Brenok stroked her hair gently. “They rejected...meeee...For what I am...”
“Shhh, this was only a dream.”
“No!” She jumped up to sitting position, leaned on her hands and looked at him. “No, it wasn’t! It was more than that. It happened! They hate me!”
“Atira, they died long time ago.” He knew it was horribly cruel what he had just told her, but he thought it was a lesser evil than her own thoughts.
“They died, but they are not gone. It’s not the end.” She curled up again. “Not the end,” she whispered.
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. He dreamt of his daughter sometimes, but those were usually good dreams. Not always, sometimes he dreamt of her death or of her reaction to his right ear, but usually he had sweet dreams, as sweet as she was. He couldn’t imagine how he would feel if she were cold and indifferent in his dreams. He knew it would hurt, because dreams were all that was left after her.
“What if Laran feels the same?” Jarol asked quietly. “What if he wouldn’t like to cross the river too?”
“He loves you.”
She ignored his words. “What if he would not want me to swim to him? What if he would turn and go away? He’s an archon, he should do that. He should do that.” She silenced for a moment. “I told him about Ahal. He was appalled. I know he should be, everyone should be, but...it’s terrible when you—your own ch—child—” Her voice was trembling “—despises you. When your...own...son
is...horrified upon learning who—you...are...” She started to sob. “All three---ee of them know what I...have...become...
” She whispered the last three words.
“What are you talking about?” he whispered. “They loved you. You are a good mother.”
“But a bad...Cardassian
Brenok sighed. Did she really believe that her children—the spirits of her children—disowned her? It was merely a dream, a product of her imagination, of her brain, not more real than any other dream or nightmare.
He wished he knew how to help her. He promised himself to contact at least one specialist from Demok’s list before the end of the day. It couldn’t be left like this. She tortured herself and it had to be stopped.
Suddenly, she sat up. “But I know what I’ll do!” she said emphatically. “I know! I knew as soon as I woke up after that vision!” She turned her face to Brenok and he understood what Demok had meant saying that her moods had been changing suddenly from one extreme to the other: she was smiling. She looked like someone who solved a difficult problem and presented her remedy with a great satisfaction.
“What will you do?” he asked. He had no idea what else he could say.
She neared her face to his and looked into his eyes. “I can’t tell you,” she said. “I can’t tell you, because they cannot think that it’s for a show. But you will see and you will know. If you don’t see, that would mean I do it wrong.”
Riddles. Brenok didn’t know what to think about it. He was tremendously worried.
“I’ll clean myself,” she said raising. “Where’s Laran?” she asked.
“That’s a secret. He should be back soon.” He wanted to grin but he knew she would see how forced it was. He was too concerned to smile.
“Oh.” She observed Brenok for a moment and then headed for the bathroom.
Demok returned with six cups of different milk shakes and a bunch of flowers. They put three cups into a small ice-box that stood in the kitchenette and then made the table: they put the flowers in a vase in the middle of the round dining table, three chairs—not on opposite sides but near one to another—and waited for her to emerge from the bathroom.
When she finally joined them, she looked much better. Brenok hoped it would be enough for Demok not to guess how rough the nap had occurred to her. They seated her between them and Brenok demanded a detailed report from their trip so far.
Brenok was having his second cup of the milk shake—which indeed was delicious—and Jarol had her third, as Demok had given up one of his so that she could have more, when something materialised in front of them. The gul’s eyes opened wider; what was that! He was just about to press his wristcomm and call security, but Jarol reached for the small box. He glanced at her—she was grinning.
“Good timing,” Demok commented.
Brenok was confused. He understood nothing of this. Jarol unwrapped the box and opened it. There were six pieces of chocolate inside. She treated Brenok and Demok to one each and then closed the box without taking one herself.
The gul suspiciously studied the chocolate in his hand. “Where did it come from?” he asked eventually.
“Gul Toral sends them,” Demok explained.
Brenok felt his mouth stretching in a smile. He put the sweet inside. He wondered why she didn’t eat any; they were having dessert after all. Did it mean Toral’s efforts went unanswered? “Don’t you like them? They are delicious,” he said, trying to get an answer to his question without asking directly.
“I love them but three milk shakes are my limit for today.”
“Keeping fit?” he teased her.
“Contrary to Toral’s assurances, I’m not that certain he would like me if I looked like Legate Fostor.”
Did her answer mean she wanted Toral to like her? Did she want to look attractive for him?
He was glad to see that her mood improved. He wondered if Toral’s visit wouldn’t be a good idea.