In excitement, instead of chiming, I used my fist to ‘knock’ on Karama’s door. It opened a moment later with him standing in the doorway and staring at me with his narrow eyes.
“They agreed!” I shouted and moved inside, completely forgetting about sticking-out threshold. I stumbled and would fall if he hadn’t caught me.
“Please, come in,” he said, laughing. “They agreed to what?” he asked. The door closed and I went to the sofa but didn’t sit. I couldn’t; I was too excited.
“My superiors. They withdrew the transfer orders. They extended my stay for another six months.”
“That’s great!” he cheered up and then, suddenly, composed himself, as if ashamed of his happiness. “Would you like some fish juice?” he asked. Why did I have an impression he tried to cover up his perplexity. But why would he be perplexed?
“Sure,” I said. We both knew that ‘fish juice’ really meant orange juice. After many ‘Would you like fi...orange juice?’ we had agreed to stop bothering ourselves with such details.
“Did they give you any special orders?” he asked, going to the replicator.
“No. They said my previous orders stand. They asked if I thought if I needed some help, but I told them that I can manage on my own.”
He came to me and handed me a mug. “Why don’t you sit?”
“What?” I realised I was still standing by the sofa. “Yeah, sure.”
I sipped the juice. “There’s something I wanted to ask you about.”
“I hope it’s not a problem that it’s a political question.”
“No, not at all.”
“I watched a news broadcast today and you had some kind of elections two days ago?”
“There were some parties, two or three, if I remember correctly.”
“Three. The Directorate, The Mar’kuu Group and the Reunion Project. The last one won and now Alon Ghemor is our castellan.”
“The head of the Cardassian Union.”
“So, you had elections...Did you vote for him, for this Ghemor?”
“No. I didn’t vote at all.”
“Why not?” I was surprised. I thought voting was my citizen’s duty. And the Cardassians were all about duty.
“How could I?” He was surprised by my surprise. “What do I know about politics? How could I choose who rules the empire? It’s not my place to do such a thing! I don’t know enough about the situation, politics, or the man to say if he is the right person or not.” He shook his head. “You don’t just choose
your boss. Do you choose your captain? Do you choose your father? Why would you choose the head of your empire? This is unnatural; this is against the hierarchy. You have to prove you are the right person by your work; you have to deserve to reach that point. Not
be given by masses, which don’t really understand what they are doing. I could vote if I knew who were these people. Ghemor came from nowhere. I don’t know anything about him and I wouldn’t give him my life, because he promises me something. Promises are well disguised lies.”
Did I understand what he was trying to tell me? There was some sense to it, but...Yes, the Cardassians had that strong need of following their leadership, no matter who it was. All right, they had proven that it did matter who it was, but still they couldn’t break out from that obedience conditioning. Hmm...maybe it was related. Maybe they were able to follow their leadership because they ‘knew’ their leaders were the right people. In theory. In practise...well...I didn’t know much about Cardassian politics but I was sure those guys before the war had not been the right people at the helm.
“So you will never vote?”
“I would vote if there was an option to choose. This Ghemor is no one. The Directorate’s candidate, Legate Parn, is an old blockhead and represents everything that had been wrong with the Union for the last twenty-odd years. Gul Daset, the Mar’kuu Group leader, is a total ass and believe me, I know, as he used to be the Roumar
’s second-in-command. What kind of choice is that? Three incompetent people. Am I to choose the lest evil?”
“Sometimes, yes, that’s what you have to do.”
“Then I’d choose Daset. But if he’d rule the Union how he ruled the Roumar
, I’d ask for asylum in the Klingon Empire.”
“Who would you like to see there? As the...how did you call it?”
“As the castellan?”
I didn’t expect that. “You mean...you’d want her to be the head of the Cardassian Union?”
“Sure. I trust her. I trust she makes the right decisions. She is tough but she’s not a stone-head
“We call all those old, inflexible and compromised guls and legates of the previous governments stone-heads
“So your only reason not to vote was that you didn’t know the candidates?”
“No. I didn’t vote because I can’t hand so much power to people who didn’t prove they can be in power. You should work your way up, not be given it. Would you like to serve on a ship, which captain had been chosen in elections held at the Starfleet Academy? Instead of becoming an ensign, then a lieutenant, then a lieutenant commander and a commander and finally, if they prove themselves, a captain? Or never becoming a captain, if they seem not to be capable? You just vote for a cadet and—” he snapped his fingers “—here you have the captain of a starship. Would you want to serve under him?” I didn’t reply. “So you see...our empire is much more than one starship and we can’t hand it to a cadet from some academy.”
“But you need a government. You couldn’t function with that provisional government you had until now.”
“True. Due to arrogance of Gul Dukat, who just illegally claimed power and brought the Dominion in, we have lost our lawful way of establishing power.”
“But before that...you can’t say that the government was good.”
He stared at me for a moment. “For you, as a Federation, it certainly looked bad. We fought wars with you. Your government didn’t appear very nice to us too.”
“How about your government appearing to you, Cardassians.”
“They fed us. They gave us strength—”
“And how did you use that strength?” I interrupted him.
He gave me an attentive look and I thought it hadn’t been the best thing to say. But I didn’t intend to back down. What was he going to tell me? That Bajoran occupation was good? Necessary?
After a long while of looking into my eyes he lowered his and looked into his cup of fish juice, silent.
“What if such an unknown, elected person proved himself? What if this Alon Ghemor occurs to be a great leader?”
He raised his head. “That would be luck. But we can’t entrust our lives to someone, hoping he’d occur to be the right person. It’s too great a risk.”
“It would be only temporary. With such elections come also ways to remove—legally remove—people who bring harm.”
He inclined his head to his left, giving me a curious look. “How do you know? Even I don’t know the new law to such a detail yet.”
“Oh, I just assumed. This is how it works in a real democracy.” Damn, I hoped he wouldn’t take the word ‘real’ as offensive.
He squinted and his eyes became thin slits. If I didn’t know him that well, I’d think he was angry, but I knew it meant he was thinking. “A real democracy...like yours?”
“Yes, like ours. That’s how the Federation works.”
“And why exactly should we be like you?” There was no attack, no anger in his question. No question either. He was making a point.
I opened my mouth but didn’t know what I could say. “I just think,” I said after a moment, “That we function based on some model and you could use it, instead of battering down an open door.”
“Yes, but why should we function based on the same model?”
“Because it’s the best.” I shrugged.
He looked amused. “The best?”
“Kapoor, the Federation didn’t exist yet, while the Cardassian Union thrived. What gives you the right to claim your way is better than ours?”
“The result of your ways. Your people used to be terrorised by your own government. Your people used to conquer other worlds and make inhabitants miserable. You brought the Dominion to the Alpha Quadrant which almost destroyed us all, including
you. Do you really believe your way is better?”
“I didn’t say it was better. And I didn’t say it was perfect. But we are Cardassians. We don’t give power to anonymous men who came from nowhere. We know our duty to our empire. We made mistakes and I hope we have learnt from them. We don’t claim we are the best and everyone must be like us. Can you say the same?”
“But our model works.”
“Good for you! We have our own model...err...no, right now we don’t have anything. We are in ruins.”
“Because of the previous model.”
“No, because of the people who abused it. Can you say that there were no such people in your history?” I couldn’t. “Why do you insist we should adopt your democratic elections?” he asked.
“We want to help you?”
“And is that a condition for this help? To become like you?”
“Because we believe that it’s the best for people. That it makes you happy.”
“And what if we don’t want to be happy your way
“I always thought there is just one way to be happy.”
He smiled. “What makes you happy?”
“Tell me. What makes you happy? When are you happy?”
I thought for a while. “My family makes me happy...for the most part. Exploring the galaxy and exploring myself. Exploring Cardassia makes me happy.” He smiled slightly. “My work and satisfaction from my work make me happy. Listening to my favourite music makes me happy. A good meal after hard work day makes me happy.” Spending time with you makes me happy
. “What about you?”
“My brother and my mother make me happy. My service to the Union makes me happy. A won war against the Union’s enemies makes me happy.” He paused. “For us, Cardassians, two things are sacred. The family and the State. Our duty is to protect both.”
“And what if your State takes your freedom from you? What if it dictates you everything? What if you have to sacrifice everything for the State?”
“For a Cardassian, sacrifice is the highest and most important notion. Our lives are led by sacrifice. There is nothing more important than the Union. We are the Union, so by serving the Union, we serve ourselves.”
“Even at the cost of your freedom?”
“I read about duties of a Cardassian and I must say that it scared me. Your lives are ruled by hundreds of regulations, by duty, by service. You have no freedom. You are controlled to a point where you stop thinking, because you don’t have to.”
He leaned back and sat comfortably. “I could never understand that about you, the Federation, Kapoor. You speak of freedom, but don’t you have some laws, governing what you can and cannot do? Don’t those laws limit you? Then your freedom is an illusion. We don’t live in an illusion. If following regulations secures safety of my family and my empire, then I call it a small price to pay. I don’t need ‘freedom.’ I need order. I need to know my place in the society. I need to know my role in the Union, my duty. If the illusion of freedom shall bring my empire to destruction, if it makes it unsecured—I would fail as a Cardassian. We sacrifice a bit of us for the greater good, because this is our duty to other Cardassians and to the future generations.”
“Your empire had been brought to the destruction,” I said.
“By a man who ignored his duty and thought he had freedom to do as he pleased.”
“So how do you explain Bajor or Maquis massacres?”
He opened his mouth but didn’t say anything at first. “Those things were results of people who served the Union at the cost of others. Believe me, I hate what had been happening on Bajor for personal reasons. And the Maquis...they were killing Cardassians. They were massacring Cardassians. How do you call it? If a Maquis kills a Cardassian, the Cardassian deserved it, but if a Cardassian kills a Maquis, it’s murder? They kept attacking our people. My duty is to protect civilians. That’s why I wear this armour. That’s why I am a soldier. To assure their safety.”
“The Maquis were civilians too.”
“Armed to teeth by the Federation government.”
“That’s not true!”
“Did you know that Gul Jarol had been tortured by the Maquis?” I froze. I didn’t know. “That other candidate I had mentioned, Gul Daset. So was he.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know because they hadn’t return to the ship in time. I know because two men of the small group that had beamed to talk to the Maquis hadn’t returned at all. Those two men had been tortured to death.”
He said it calmly but I saw fire in his eyes. I couldn’t believe it was the truth but he certainly believed it. He didn’t say anything more, just kept sipping his juice, which surely was cold by now.
“So what’s going to happen to Cardassia? You don’t like to adopt the Federation style democracy. What do you want?”
“Return to roots? Eliminating corruption and evil guls, cleaning the system and making sure this time it doesn’t get twisted.”
“How can you do it?”
“We can’t. Not with the Federation making demands and putting their noses into our internal affairs. Don’t get me wrong, Kapoor, I have nothing against the Federation or you, but I’d prefer if you left us alone and stop interfering. Some people believe that you do it because you want to help. I think you do it because you want to widen your political influence and have a puppet government on Cardassia. This Ghemor is supported by the Federation. For Cardassians it doesn’t matter who the Federation supports. It’s none of the Feds’ business.
“We were a puppet for someone and we are tired of it—not mentioning how badly it ended for us. If Ghemor goes as far as Dukat, he’s going to be declared a traitor too. And rightly so.”
“If you’d be more happy with Gul Daset winning, why didn’t you vote?”
“I wouldn’t be more happy. I would be less unhappy. And I wouldn’t give my vote of support to someone whom I don’t support. Simple.” He paused again. “Actually, I am against this kind of voting. It’s chaotic and unfair. It’s wrong.”
“I think you’re going to discover that it’s not as bad as you think. You’ll see I’m right.”
He gave me an attentive look. “So you think we should adopt your model.”
He nodded slowly, thinking. “So you think that millions of Cardassians are wrong and you, one, are right?”
“You had watched the news broadcast. Did they say how many people participated in the election?”
“Do the math. That means that seventy percent didn’t take part in it. What were their reasons? Take a guess.”
I looked at him. His face had a pleasant expression, his eyes gazed at me with curiosity and suddenly I didn’t think about politics any more.
?” I asked.
“Sure!” He put his mug away and rose to bring the board.