Rayak Nor, the gul’s office
Toral knew he missed Jarol, but he hadn’t been aware how much until he found himself in the command centre of her station, merely seconds from facing her again.
The door to her office opened and he saw her leaning over a padd at her desk. She looked up at him. He knew she smiled, he was aware she said something, but his brain registered a completely different thing.
He stared at her for a long moment, not being able to say anything. Finally, he realised that her happy face turned worried.
“What is wrong?” she asked him.
He went closer to her desk and she rose to be on the same level. “What did you do to my Legate Atira?” he asked slowly.
Her face expressed astonishment. “W...what?”
“Where is my Atira?” he repeated.
“Hatinn...I...what are you talking about?”
She looked like death. She looked like a shadow of herself. Her eyes were red and surrounded by puffy eyelids. Dark grey shadows—bags—under her eyes strengthened the impression of tiredness. “When was the last time you slept?” he asked. Her neck ridge scales appeared separated, dry. Armour hid her body well but he knew—she was half of her old self. “When was the last time you ate?” he added. His anger grew: why no one noticed it? Why did they allow for this to happen? It was obvious something was very wrong.
Or was it something she hadn’t told him about? A medical condition?
She sat without answering his questions. “I’m fine.” So, she tried to dismiss it. Ignore it.
“You call this ‘fine’?” he shouted angrily.
“Don’t yell at me,” she said quietly.
He harrumphed. “I’m sorry,” he said after a moment, which he needed to compose himself. “I’m sorry, but you don’t look fine. Are you not all right? Are you feeling unwell?”
“Burning?” Did she have a fever?
“Inside. I’m burning inside.”
He silenced. He knew she was troubled, she had been since the attempt on her life, but he had no idea it went this far. His irritation returned: why no one noticed? Was everyone on this station blind?
“When was the last time you slept well all night?” he asked her.
“I don’t remember sleeping all night,” she replied.
“Can’t Albek or Taret give you something?”
“Taret said that sleeping without dreams is called unconsciousness and there are no pills for this. At least, none that he would give me.”
For a moment he stared at her confused, wondering what she talked about. And then it dawned on him: she didn’t want to sleep because she had nightmares.
He approached her and forced her to stand up. Then he pulled her toward a soft bench in the corner of her office, where no one could see them through the half-glass door. He made her sit down and sat next to her, holding her hands.
“Tell me about these dreams.”
“It doesn’t concern you,” she muttered.
“Everything about you concerns me,” he protested.
“Hatinn...” She started with her head lowered but then she raised it to look at him. “We have to stop. I would be a shameful burden for you.”
“Hatinn, this would be—”
“I will not listen to it,” he interrupted her and immediately felt sorry that it sounded so harshly. “Tell me about the dreams,” he demanded again, softer.
“They are not dreams, they are messages,” she answered and seemed to regret her explanation as soon as it left her mouth.
“Messages? From whom?”
“My children. They send me visions.”
“They...what?” The gul frowned, not sure what to think about it. What was she talking about?
“Since that day I almost died...I think they try to show me how wrong I was all my life and give me a chance to fix it before my time really comes. But I failed miserably and they are very angry with me.”
He listened to her talking about lost chance to redeem herself and how rotten she was and he slowly started to understand something. This had nothing to do with her children, with messages or mysterious visions. He put his fingers gently on her mouth, stopping her filled with pain monologue and said, “Atira, your dreams, your nightmares are not messages from your children, dead husbands or bodiless spirits. They come from you
. You create those filled with hate, pain and suffering visions to punish yourself
“I would never, ever believe that any child would do to his or her mother what you describe. Look at your son, the living son. He loves you. This should be the proof of what the other two would feel. They would love you too.” Tears shone in her eyes. “I don’t believe in visions or messages from the dead. I believe in the power of the mind. Your minds tries to tell you something. Your children don’t hate you. You
hate yourself. Your sense of order hates lack of order.”
“No, I’m not. I can’t imagine any child hating their parent to such a degree, but I know people can hate themselves if they cannot find a way to forgive themselves or to amend their mistakes. We are the worst archons for ourselves, because we know everything about ourselves.”
“What can I do?”
“Bury it. Visit the grave often and don’t forget, but don’t let it eat you. Try to fix the wrong with the good.”
“I cannot face the tribunal. Some stupid rules that cannot be overcome. And Jotrel and you have destroyed any evidence of my guilt so effectively that the reopened investigation gave Colissa nothing.”
Toral looked at Jarol soberly. “You could point your finger at us,” he said.
“I wouldn’t. This is my time of redemption, not yours. You were stupid enough for covering my actions, but I wouldn’t drag you with me.”
He hesitated. If it really meant so much to her, he could admit to his participation in the cover-up. Two admissions should carry some weight even without evidence. But that would mean she would have to face an executioner. Never mind his years in a labour camp.
“Do you want me to come out?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Never.”
“I would do it,” he assured her putting his hand to where his heart was. “I would do it, if this is what you need.”
“No, don’t do it. You would only add to the tally of the people that I have wronged.”
“So you are left with one option,” he said after a thoughtful moment. “You cannot turn back time to undo your mistakes. But you still can do good things. You cannot erase the past, but you can shape your future.”
“I’m afraid to make any decisions. I fear they would be all wrong.”
“You have to trust yourself.”
“I don’t. I’m not trustworthy.”
Toral silenced, stroking her hair. Finally, he said, “Atira, you are a strong woman. Use that strength to build, not to destroy.” Especially, not to destroy yourself
, he thought. “Don’t just give up. You fell from the riding hound and you fear to get back on it, but you have to. Change the hound if you don’t like this one. But you must get back on it, or you will live your life in fear, hating yourself and bringing the worst to your dreams. Create the good in the attempt to equal the bad. That’s what I try to do.”
It slipped out. He didn’t plan to say it, he didn’t want to share it with anyone, ever, even with her. She looked at him; her eyes pierced into his. “Do you have nightmares?” she asked him.
“No. Not any more.”
“Did you do a lot of bad things in your life?”
“Even one bad thing is too many.”
“So true.” She silenced and looked before her. He observed her, wondering what was going on in her mind. Did she understand what he had told her? Would it help her?
“I’m scared,” she whispered.
“I’ll be there, by your side, all the time, until the end. Don’t be scared.”
“Promise me you’d stop me from doing something stupid.”
“I promise. And I will start right now. The first task of ‘not stupid’ is to finish your work and then eat something nutritious. After that you will return to your quarters. There, you will go to sleep...” She shook her head in protest. “And I will be with you all that time. I will stay with you and make sure that nothing haunts you. No demons, only you and me. I will watch you sleeping and will hold your hand. I will be there with you.”
“I don’t deserve it.”
“I don’t give a damn. You’re my forest nymph.” He paused. “And after you wake up rested, I will share my sins with you. And then I will ask if you want me, but will not expect your answer, yet. Only the consideration.”
She didn’t say anything.
He knew it was too early, he knew he should wait longer, he knew that she was far from her normal self and that she was vulnerable, so he wouldn’t expect her to keep her word. He would help her to compose herself and when she would be able to stand on her own he would ask her again. He didn’t want to abuse her, or to use her vulnerability to make her commit to a marriage she might not want. Her mind had to be clear for such a decision and he would wait until she would be ready.
Now, however, she needed support and if that support meant giving himself all to her, then that’s what he would do. He loved her regardless of everything and he wanted her to know that. He didn’t want her, however, to think that she loved him if in fact she only needed a strong arm to lean on. He didn’t want her to marry him because she felt she owed him something for his support. He wanted her to marry him because she couldn’t imagine living without him...just as he couldn’t imagine not having her in his life.
“Finish your work,” he said, raising. “I’ll be back within fifteen minutes. Inform Glinn Borad that you will be unavailable until tomorrow morning and that you should not be disturbed. If he needs anything, he can contact me.”
“Yes, sir,” she said quietly.
He smiled. “Good.” He headed for the door. “You are dismissed, Gul Toral,” he said to himself. “Thank you, Gul Toral,” he replied to himself and glanced if there was a shadow of a grin on her face. There was; a faint one, but he managed to amuse her. “I’ll be back soon,” he said and left the office.
Cardassian Union Science Ship Marritza, the bridge
A gasp behind the communication officer made her raise her head and look at the main viewer. She almost gave a gasp of her own.
The Talarian ship was firing at the planet and at a small ball of fire. Seltan was sure that the ball of fire was the Hideki—it was falling and burning in the planet’s atmosphere.
“Transporter!” Zamarran barked.
“We’re out of range,” Talis said quietly from behind the engineering console.
Something growled dangerously in Zamarran’s throat. “Torpal, attack the Talarian ship. Fire at will.”
“Why are they firing at the planet?” Yassel asked.
“They probably think that if they destroy valuable resources, we would lose our interest in Rathosia and leave.” Zamarran paused. “My bluff backfired,” he added angrily.
The Hideki burnt completely before reaching the planet’s surface.
Zamarran stood behind Seltan’s chair. “Seltan, transmit a message to the Talarians. Tell them that their either withdraw, or they will be destroyed.”
“Will they belief the bluff after we saved their ship?” Seltan asked.
“That’s not a bluff,” she heard Yassel saying.
“Yes, sir,” the communication officer confirmed. And she agreed—no mercy for murderers of her comrades. Her father had thought her that all Cardassians were her comrades and that she should take care of all of them.
Not mentioning all those Rathosians on the planet who were in danger.
She prepared and transmitted the message. She received a signal and was just about to say that the Talarians confirmed receiving it, when she realised that it was something else. “Sir, we have a location beacon activated on the planet. It included number three.” That meant ‘three survivors.’ It was a standard procedure to include the number of survivors in a simple message to help with rescue operation. “The co-ordinates are...in one of cities.”
“Seems like the Cardassian Union just paid the Rathosians a visit,” Rotan muttered.
“The Talarians?” Zamarran looked at Torpal.
“They seem to be withdrawing, but I am sure it’s just a ‘recess.’ They’ll be back. Soon. With reinforcements.”
Seltan could not disagree with Torpal’s assessment of the situation.
Zamarran returned to his chair. “Ask for reinforcements,” he said, looking at Torpal. “And beam our people back to the ship.”