After returning to their ship, Jarol had stopped the DaiMon before he left the transporter room. “Delva, if you could...”
He smiled, inclining his head a bit to the left. “What can I do for my adorable legate?”
“I think it would be a good idea if you took one more look at the provisional agreement to make sure that there is nothing in it that the Ferengi could use against us.”
His smile disappeared. “And what if I find something that could be used against us?”
She knew what he was thinking: he feared to be in trouble, as it had been him who had prepared the provisional agreement. But she was not looking for someone to blame. “Then try to prepare some kind of defence. We have to be ready for any trick he might try to pull.”
He nodded; the relief obvious on his face. “I’ll do that.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly and headed for the door.
She arrived to her quarters and sat on her bed. The room was small and there weren’t many items in it: a simple bed, a computer monitor, a small pet bed on the floor under the window—currently unoccupied—a built-in wardrobe and a couple of bowls on the floor. She didn’t need much.
She freed herself from the outer part of her armour and sat at the computer. She was just about to log on, when she heard a sound behind her. “Meeeowwwww?”
She swivelled in her chair just in time to see a ball of fur crawling from under the blanket on her bed.
“Show me your eyes,” she said, nearing her face to the almost flat face of the Earth being. He looked at her with his round eyes, which always seemed to express enormous surprise at the wonders of the universe and he meowed again. The eyes were fairly fine, so she decided to postpone wiping them clean with a special liquid she had for this purpose.
She put him on her lap and swivelled back to face the computer monitor. The furry being curled on her thighs, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Absentmindedly stroking his long fur with one hand, she tapped at the computer control panel with her other one, entering her access code and accessing a database that wasn’t available to just anyone.
“Computer,” she said in a soft voice, so that her pet would think she was saying sweet words to him, “display photographs of unaccounted Obsidian Order agents, aged between sixty and one hundred.” She wasn’t sure how old was the man next to Ma’Kan, so she tried to check as wide range as possible and still plausible. The computer offered more hits than she had wished. “Refine search. Display only men with brown eyes.” Still too many. She wished he had a scar or another distinctive feature that would allow her to narrow her search. “See, Teti, this is going to be a long night.” She scratched him behind the ears.
Teti was a gift from her husband, who had given her the furry being from Earth on their wedding night. He had explained that the being was called a ‘cat’ and that this was a breed known as ‘Persian.’ The cat was brown and white, had long fur and almost completely flat face. Very quickly she discovered that he required a lot of attention and care, not only because he demanded it himself, but also because the ‘maintenance’ of a cat occurred to be a serious duty. If she didn’t brush his fur every day—it would turn into felt; if she didn’t clean his eyes andhis nose with a special liquid she had gotten from a pet medic—he would develop a mild condition, as his barely convex muzzle made him put his nose and eyes into food when eating.
Hatinn had regretted giving her the gift on that special night, as instead of doing what newly-wed couples usually did on their wedding nights, she had spent hours in front of a monitor, reading about cats. Apparently, those were smart animals; hunters with excellent night vision. Very quickly she discovered that hers didn’t belong to the ‘smart’ group. He was a silly, sloppy being, but it only added to his cuteness. His best features were his curiosity and enormous, constant surprise at everything around him. Everything was a toy. Everything was interesting. Everything was new, as clearly he didn’t have Cardassian memory.
Reading the information on the database she had learnt that cats had been domesticated thousands of years ago and that one nation used to worship them. She read more about that nation and their culture and decided to give her new family member the name of one of their kings—Pharaohs, as they were called: Teti.
Now, Teti was purring on her lap, as his species had an ability of emitting a soothing, vibrating sound, not unlike tribbles.
The chime at the door interrupted her search.
“Enter,” she said and the door opened to reveal Zamarran. “Any problems?” she asked him, worried that Delva had found some weakness in the contract, which could be used by the other Ferengi against them.
But the palaeographer smiled. “No, not at all. I just wanted to ask you if you’d like to join us for dinner.”
She shook her head. “No, thank you.” She gave him the same answer she usually did.
“I must insist,” he smiled. “We prepared too much food and it would be a crime to waste it.”
Teti raised his head and looked at the visitor. “Meow?” Jarol was sure her cat understood the Cardassian word for ‘food.’
“We have also prepared something for him,” Zamarran said, nodding toward the animal. “It’s replicated, but I hope he won’t mind.” The young Cardassian looked at her expectantly, awaiting her answer.
Teti jumped off her lap and toddled to the guest, seeing an idle pair of hands that should be busy with petting him. Zamarran laughed, crouched and rubbed the cat’s head.
He looked at Jarol. “Please don’t say no. We feel like not being enough welcoming to you.”
She leaned forward toward him. “Oh, no, it’s not your fault. I just...like silence and seclusion.”
“I imagine that twenty years in the middle of chaos can do that to people,” he said, referring to her time as a legate in the Central Command. “But we are not a big crowd; there’s just three of us. Although Delva can talk for five.” He chuckled. “It takes a great talent to out talk two Cardassians.”
It seemed like he really meant it and she didn’t want to come off as rude, so she nodded. “All right. I’ll be there in a moment.”
“Wonderful.” Zamarran rose and was just about to leave, but Teti stood on his hind feet and leaned his fore paws on Zamarran’s leg. The palaeographer picked the cat up and took the pet with him. It wasn’t the first time that Teti got a free ride to the mess hall.
Jarol saved her search and logged out of the database and her terminal. Then she put on her armour, left the quarters and headed for the mess hall. She entered the room to see Delva and Vasan in the middle of a heated discussion. As usually, Delva couldn’t understand the historian’s claim that some things were priceless and there was no way to assess their real value in latinum. Delva argued that even life had its value in latinum, to which statement Vasan just snorted.
Jarol joined them at the round table that they were sitting at and listened. She didn’t dine with the others often, but she was sure that such a discussion took place each or almost each time they ate together.
Zamarran brought food—a few different dishes to share—and sat, too. “Oh, stop that already!” he shouted.
But Vasan wasn’t ready to give up, yet. “And how do you decide how much a life is worth?” she attacked the Ferengi.
“Oh, easily.” He shrugged. “Take my sweet legate for example.” He pointed to Jarol. “She is a soldier, so belongs to a highly respected group of people on Cardassia. She is a high-ranking soldier, which raises her value. Not only that—she speaks for the governm—”
“I only sign documents,” Jarol interrupted, but he ignored her.
“—ent and that makes her even more expensive. Add to that her experience: a tactician who survived two wars—hence a good one. A legate in your government—that’s something that cannot—”
“Expired,” she interrupted again. “That’s something expired.” She didn’t like him bringing her past—she hated her past. It wasn’t even her
past! Three years earlier Jarol had barely survived an assassination attempt on her life. She hadn’t died but had suffered an extensive brain injury, which resulted in serious mental complications, the most notable one: a radical change of personality. The woman Delva was talking about was practically dead and Jarol didn’t like being reminded of her. She had gotten a second chance to do something meaningful with her life and glorifying the dark side of her was not welcomed.
But Delva only gave her a patronising smile. “My lovely legate, you know very little about business.”
“Doesn’t the way how I became a legate influence my price?” she asked and immediately cast an ashamed look at the other Cardassians. It was true that she had been a legate but it was also the fact that she had become one by the way of a coup.
Delva seemed to ponder her question for a moment. “It depends who is the buyer. If a Klingon or a Romulan—it would raise the price. If a person from the Federation—it would lower it significantly.”
She had nothing more to say, so she remained quiet. Vasan, however, didn’t intend to leave it like that. “Delva, you can’t just reduce people to a brick of latinum!”
He looked at her with indignation. “I don’t reduce
people to anything. I only asses their value.”
“That’s the same thing!”
“No, it’s not.”
Zamarran, completely ignoring the two arguing people, reached for a bowl with a ganot
casserole and handed it to Jarol, who put some on her plate. She glanced at Teti; the cat wasn’t paying attention to anything except his bowl of kibbles.
“My father sends his regards,” the palaeographer said.
Jarol smiled in thanks. She had known his father, Gul Zamarran, for thirty years. They had served together on the Roumar
before, during and shortly after the Dominion War. The palaeographer was one of Zamarran’s eight children and nothing like his father. Gul Zamarran was a serious, composed man with principles and while the principle feature was common for both of them, young Zamarran was a short-tempered, talkative man, who didn’t always know when to stop babbling.
Jarol looked at Delva, whom she had personally recruited to their little team—but not before discussing it with Vasan, who was de facto
the team leader, and Zamarran.
The gul had grown to trust the Ferengi. He treated business ethics very seriously and was not a reflection of the general, negative reputation his people had.
Delva had helped her retrieve a lost statue a year earlier.
Two years ago her son had bought her a ‘knick-knack,’ which occurred to be a copy of a piece of a monument that had been sold by the Central Command in 2340s. After recuperating from her physical and mental health problems, Jarol had decided to follow the weak lead she had and employed Delva, who had owned the selling-copies business, to help her. It had taken a lot of lek
s to cover the Ferengi’s demand of losing a prosperous business, but he had helped her reach the man who had sold him the ‘knick-knacks’ and that way she had managed to find the original statue, on which the knick-knacks were based.
She had bought the statue from its ‘owner’ and returned it to Cardassia, to the hands of the Nokarian Society of Cultural Heritage, as the statue originated from her native continent of Nokar.
After being assigned as an official government representative for the team, she had proposed to hire Delva as someone who would understand business practices better than her and both scientists. Their only objection had been the money and how they would pay the Ferengi. Jarol had a solution to that prepared—all her remuneration went to Delva’s pocket. She didn’t really need it—her savings and her husband’s salary were more than enough for both of them plus the cat—and it kept Delva happy.
Vasan and Delva’s argument remained unsolved, as they both agreed to ‘seize fire’ and went on to eat.
For a long moment the only sound in the small mess was the ship’s humming and Teti’s smacking.
“So, have you found anything useful?” Vasan asked Jarol after a moment.
The gul shook her head. “Not yet. I wish I could talk to Ma’Kan to learn what she’s up to, but arranging such a conversation is too risky. I don’t want to blow her cover.”
“Maybe she’s not on the mission.” Vasan shrugged. “Maybe she switched sides.”
Jarol shook her head. “Impossible.”
“Money changes people,” Delva added.
“Perhaps,” Jarol agreed, “but Ma’Kan witnessed something and lost someone due to...certain circumstances and I don’t believe that the impact those two matters had on her could be cancelled by greed. Some things cannot be bought,” she said, giving Delva a meaningful look. She glanced at Zamarran. “Have your father ever mentioned her?”
The young man nodded. “Once. After he returned from Gil Sabal’s mourning ceremony.” Sabal had been Ma’Kan’s friend, who had been murdered by a madman. “He told me that she was in a terrible shape and that he was worried about her.”
“She left the military shortly after,” Jarol said. “And has been hunting down Obsidian Order agents since. Sabal was her best friend...and possibly more than that,” she added for the benefit of those who didn’t know her at all.
“Was Sabal killed by one of them? Agents, I mean?” Vasan asked.
“No.” Jarol shook her head, wondering how to answer the question without revealing top secret information. “But when that happened, she was involved in a mission related to the Order. They both were.” To the gul’s relief, Vasan didn’t asked more questions and accepted the answer with a simple nod.
“So what do we do now?” Delva asked.
“I wish I knew,” Zamarran sighed. “Any ideas?” He looked at Vasan and Jarol.
The gul slowly shook her head, but Vasan seemed to be lost in thoughts.