Gil Yassel turned in her seat to face Dukat. “The Bajoran ship is hailing us.”
Dukat glanced at his communication officer, smiled at her, and then looked at the screen. “Put them through.” Jarol saw that Bajoran for the first time. “What can I do for you, Major Harran?”
“We are trying to contact our colony, but we have no response from them
,” the man replied.
The Bajoran glanced at his companion and then back at the screen. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but we wondered if you wouldn’t allow us to check what is the problem. We...err...we’d need one of your ships to assist us.
“Why?” Dukat’s voice was soft, but Jarol was sure his innocence was faked.
“Because our vessel’s warp capability is limited and your warships are fast
“I’m afraid our resources are too limited for such unnecessary trips. We can try to hail them, though, in case our communication technology is more advances than yours.”
The major didn’t seem happy with the solution, but he nodded. “We appreciate that
“We’ll let you know as soon as we know something.”
The connection was closed and Jarol expected Dukat to order Yassel to hail the colony, but no such instruction followed. Had he just promised something with no intention of keeping his word?
The glinn made herself busy with her task, impatiently waiting for her shift to end, so that she could return to her own ship. She hated this place more with every minute.
“We are being hailed by the Radalar
,” the communication officer reported some time later.
“On screen,” Dukat ordered and Gul Toral’s face filled the viewer.
“I would like to accompany the Bajorans to check on their colony
,” the young gul said.
“Their colony?” Dukat repeated slowly. “What about their colony?”
“They lost contact with it, did they not?
” Toral seemed surprised by Dukat’s reaction and so was Jarol.
“They did, indeed. Why do you want to go there?” the Ravinok’s commander asked Toral.
The young gul seemed to be taken aback by the question and didn’t have a ready answer. “To thank them for their assistance in bringing us here safely
,” he said eventually.
“We don’t have time for this.”
For a moment both guls stared at each other, but finally Dukat nodded. “All right. Take them aboard and take them there, but don’t let them gather any intelligence on our technology. Keep your Obsidian Order agent on their backs...let’s make some use of those...” He didn’t finish and only cast a hostile glance at Ravinok
’s political officer.
Toral disconnected, while Dukat turned to Jarol. “Did you relay the information to the other ships?” he asked with barely concealed anger.
“I did,” she answered, not sure what she had done wrong.
“You asked you to do that!”
“You did, sir.”
“You ordered me to relay all new information as it becomes available, so that all three ships have the same data at any time.”
She bit her lower lip, trying not to snap. Had he just suggested that she remembered incorrectly? The whole bridge heard his words, so he couldn’t claim that she had misheard or misremembered.
He smiled forgivingly. “That’s all right, Jarol, everybody makes mistakes. In the future, however, please consult with me or Glinn Damar, if you’re not sure.”
, she thought. “Yes, sir,” she replied. One doesn’t argue with her gul, but follows the given orders. Even when the orders contradict each other.
She wanted to be back on her ship!
Dukat turned back to the screen, while she looked around. Everyone pretended they hadn’t heard anything—she was certain they wouldn’t confirm his true orders either—maybe except for Damar, who sent her an encouraging smile.
“We’re in sensors range,” Nevir, the Radalar
’s chief engineer, reported.
“Scan the planet,” Toral ordered and then looked at Major Harran. “Where is the settlement exactly?”
The Bajoran dictated the co-ordinates and Nevir entered the data into his console. A moment later his eye ridges became rounder—an expression of startle and worry.
“What is it?” Toral asked.
“You’re not going to like it,” Nevir said, looking at his gul and then at both Bajorans. “The settlement...the settlement is gone.”
Lieutenant Sirad approached the Cardassian engineer. “Are you sure you entered the data correctly? There must be some sign of them.”
Nevir shook his head. “I don’t make mistakes of that kind. And I didn’t say there was no sign of the settlement, but that it was gone.”
“What does that mean?” The other Bajoran also approached the engineering station. Right now it didn’t really matter that none of them knew how to read Cardassian displays.
“The settlement was destroyed,” Nevir said. “I detect weapons signatures, no life signs and clear evidence of destruction.”
Major Harran’s face became paler and Toral wondered if it was a typical reaction of his species with the same meaning as Cardassian ridges going wide.
The gul stood up. “Lorrun, scan the system.” The last thing he wanted was to be attacked by whoever had obliterated the Bajoran colony.
“I detect a craft of unknown configuration,” Lorrun at the main tactical station reported a moment later. “I am unable to assess if they have detected us. They are barely within our sensor’s range.”
An unknown configuration. Toral would be surprised if anything that far from home were of a known design. And being on the edge of the sensor range could mean that the craft was hiding—had they detected the approaching Cardassians and moved farther away? He considered his options. He wanted to take better scans and provide more information for the Bajorans, but not at the cost of his ship and his crew lives. “Is that ship a match for us?” he asked.
“I’d say it’s smaller, but I detect significant weaponry. We don’t know the strength of their fire power, but if it was them who destroyed the settlement, we could assume that it’s a well-equipped warship, in spite of its size. It could pose a threat.”
“Do you think it’s them who destroyed the settlement?” Major Harran asked Toral.
“It’s possible. It’s also possible we’re in their territory.” The gul wasn’t happy about the whole situation. “Is the other ship doing anything? Does it seem like they detected us?”
Lorrun observed his display for a few seconds and then shook his head slightly. “No, sir. They’re holding their position.”
The gul hesitated for a moment longer and then turned to face both Bajorans. “I’m sorry. I’d like to help you learn what happened to your colony, but the cost might be too high. Maybe I could convin—”
“Sir, we are being hailed,” Yamuc at the communication console said suddenly and then lowered his head in apology for interrupting his gul. “It might be important,” he added to explain his behaviour.
Everyone on the bridge looked at the screen, as if expecting to see on it the alien ship in far distance, while the ship was visible only on sensors but not close enough for the naked eye, even if the eye was using a display.
“On screen,” Toral ordered, standing in front of his chair.
A bridge appeared on the viewer. The central place on the screen was taken by a smiling, benign looking being with smooth face and very long, wrinkled ears. He bowed slightly and smiled wide. “It’s a pleasure to meet you
,” he said in a quiet, soothing voice.
Toral barely managed to keep himself from asking ‘Why?’ His attention wasn’t purely on the benign alien, though. The alien was surrounded by menacingly looking, tall and covered by thick low reptile-like skin beings, who undoubtedly looked like warriors. Grim faces, bony protrusions on their jaws and foreheads creating an intimidating look and weapons on their belts told everything about their main tasks. The only thing that Toral couldn’t interpret as a typically soldier objects were strange tubes coming out—or in—of their necks.
“I am Gul Toral of the Cardassian Union,” he said to the non-warrior being.
.” The word was followed by another small bow.
Was it his name? His empire? His race? An insult?
The being didn’t say anything else, so Toral started to wonder why they had been hailed in the first place. Just to take a look at them? However, he decided not to lose the opportunity to pose the most dire question. “Do you know what happened to the colony on this planet?” he asked.
“We had to destroy it
.” The answer was given in a casual tone that sent shivers down Toral’s spine.
The Bajoran major gasped. Toral thought of one of border Cardassian colonies that had been obliterated by the Romulans in the last month of the war as their final “argument” to force the Cardassians to sign the peace treaty and he felt sympathy for the Bajorans—they had to feel exactly the same how he had felt the day he learnt about the colony’s fate.
“Why?” he asked.
“The Founders gave us such an order.
” The man’s voice was almost surprised.
Toral’s eye ridge raised slightly. Who were those founders and what had they founded?
“Founders of what?” he asked.
“The Founders of the Dominion. Do you claim you never heard of them?
“We’re not...from this neighbourhood,” Toral explained.
“Was it not your colony?
“Err, no...and yes...” he added, thinking that the two Bajorans were now a part of the Cardassian team and belonged to “we” as much as anyone else on Toral’s warship. The gul shook his head apologetically. “I’m sorry, I’m not a diplomat.”
The man on the other bridge smiled. “Neither am I
,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t talk, does it?
That seemed to be too much for the poor major. “Talk?! You murdered many people and now you want to talk?”
Toral gave his communication officer the sign to cut the audio. “Calm down, Major, this will take us nowhere,” he whispered. The Bajoran gave him a furious look. “I know how you feel, but we are in an unknown territory and face an unknown enemy. All we know about them is that they are cruel and have no conscience. Do you want to make them angry, so that they call their comrades and blow us to pieces, or do you want them to pay for their crime?”
“What do you think?” Harran barked.
The gul smiled. “So let’s try to be diplomatic.”
“Sir.” Lorrun looked up. “If he’s no diplomat, why does he want to talk?”
“I wouldn’t believe a word he says,” Toral answered. “Keep an eye on their weapons. I want to know if they are changing their status the moment it starts happening. Audio!” He looked at the screen. “I am not authorised to have any official talks, so I would have to contact my superior and relay your wish to him.”
“Please, do so
.” And he signed off.
“What were those guys behind him?” Nevir asked no one in particular.
“Soldiers, definitely soldiers,” Glinn Korel, the gul’s aide, answered.
Toral looked at his political officer. “What do you think?”
“I think they mean trouble and a lot of it,” the Obsidian Order agent replied. “Contact Dukat and secure the connection. They certainly will try to spy on us.”
“Why did they hail us in the first place?” Tassar wondered.
“To see us? I guess they were as curious as we were,” the agent said.
“I wasn’t,” Lorrun muttered.
“Yamuc, get me Dukat. Secure the connection and secure it well.”
“I can add a few scrambling codes,” the Obsidian Order agent offered. “Their agent should be able to unscramble them.”
Toral nodded. “Please, do.”
Jarol logged out of her console and headed for Dukat to report leaving the bridge. He accepted her announcement with a nod, so she turned and headed for the lift. It arrived quickly. She entered and turned toward the closing door to see Dukat also entering the car.
“I assume you are going to beam back to your warship now,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” she confirmed.
“You might be my officer, but you are also my guest,” he said, while she thought she was not his
officer. “It would be rude not to treat a guest appropriately.”
“I am on duty here.”
“Not any more. You duty has just ended. Now it’s your leisure time and I’d like to steal a moment of it?” Up until now she kept looking at the closed door of the lift, but now she glanced at him, while he continued, “I’d like to invite you for dinner. Something special to celebrate your first day on my ship.”
She wasn’t sure if she could refuse and she couldn’t find a good reason to tell him why she couldn’t be able to join him. He didn’t give her a lot of time for finding such a reason. The lift stopped on his deck and he gestured for her to leave it first. The car would proceed empty to the deck, on which transporter chambers were located.
She submissively followed him without a word.
She had never seen a gul’s quarters before and she was surprised by the vast space. Did Zamarran have such a huge space too?
“Please, sit down.” Dukat gestured to a chair at the dining table. She sat and looked at the table, which was already prepared for a meal—it had been set for two. She shot a glance at Dukat, certain now that he had it planned all along.
The gul approached with a tray full of food and placed it in the middle, between plates and just next to a thin vase with one purple flower. “I’m afraid some of it is replicated, but I hope you’ll enjoy the real dishes.”
“I am sure I will,” she assured him.
He laughed. “Don’t worry, you won’t be executed if you don’t.”
She gave him a bit suspicious look, but it seemed like a genuine joke, so she smiled. A little bit.
He entertained her with a conversation and she began to relax. She wasn’t here to be executed, or even chastised for her “mistake” on the bridge; she was here to enjoy her time over quite good food.
It was almost the time for a dessert, when they were interrupted. “Sir, we are being contacted by Gul Toral
,” Yassel’s voice said through the comm. “It’s very important and you are needed on the bridge.
Dukat threw his napkin on his plate and looked at Jarol. “Seems like we are not off duty, yet. Let’s go.” He rose and she followed him, wondering what Toral had found on the Bajoran colony that was so important.