The crew had celebrated Torlek's inauguration and Laria's induction into the Order of the Bat'leth in typical Klingon fashion. After the required two day recovery from the hangover, they were proceeding back to the Republic of Cardassia at maximum warp.
Now, as quickly as their jubilation erupted on Ty'Gokor, it dissipated back into the reality. Alex and Scharr had joined the rest of the crew on the bridge.
"We're receiving the signal, Sir," Katie said.
"On screen," Tigranian said with a deep breath. The symbol of the Romulan Star Empire appeared.
"The following is an authorized transmission of the Romulan State. Jalon Tru."
The symbol disappeared and was replaced with the smiling faces of Praetor Neral and an older Cardassian Man in a traditional suit. They stood together at a podium addressing a huge crowd of cheering Cardassians assembled in the capital city of Simperia, the most developed planet in the Romulan Zone of Occupation. Behind them was a pair of flags: the Romulan banner and a new one never seen before. It was burnt orange. A Cardassian crest topped with a raptor was centered on its field.
"The Intelligence Database identifies him as Erkan Harok," Annabeth said examining her chair's display. "He was a Gul in the Cardassian Military during the war. He was later outed as a Tal Shiar informant when he switched sides to join Legate Damar's Resistance Movement."
"Brave citizens!" Harok said addressing the adoring crowds. "Today is the true day of glory for Cardassians! Unlike our poor brothers and sisters suffering under Federation and Klingon imperialism, we declare our sovereignty as a new nation. Hand in hand with our brave Romulan liberators, we will work to restore the prestige of our people. We will bring back prosperity, glory, and safety. We will eliminate crime. We will secure our borders. We will eradicate the painful memories of the recent past. We will destroy all that stands in the way of a free and prosperous Cardassia."
"Free from everything but Romulan tyranny," Scharr said from the aft of the bridge.
"Today, we declare our new and independent nation! We declare the State of Cardassia!"
The crowd roared in mandatory approval under the watchful eyes of Romulan soldiers and Cardassian collaborators. The Pershing's crew absorbed the hard reality that the former Cardassian Union was now two distinct and separate countries.
Tigranian closed his eyes as the transmission cut to a prerecorded propaganda reel.
The musical strains of a choir were overlaid with the images of a group of Cardassian families leading their children through a field of grain ready for harvest.
"We are rising from the ruins to a new Cardassia!
Our future is laid out before us. Hand and hand, we march to victory."
The pictures shifted to Cardassian workers erecting new buildings and crafting goods in factories.
"We will build. We will farm. We will advance together in unity…"
Next the image of a Romulan soldier handing a disruptor rifle to a Cardassian appeared followed by clips of warbirds and Cardassian cruisers sailing together through space. The music took on a more ominous tone.
"All brotherly peoples stand together to destroy our common enemies…"
Finally, a young Cardassian mother appeared holding a baby in her arms. She smiled down at two other young children at her feet. One held a Romulan flag and the other waved the new flag of the State of Cardassia. The music reached a joyous crescendo.
"Let peace and love be upon our families so that no mother mourns her children!"
Let our stars continue to shine over Cardassia! Over Cardassia shine!
The transmission abruptly terminated.
"We're receiving reports from Starfleet Command that they have already begun installing anti-ship minefields and tachyon detection grids along the border with the Republic. The Romulans and Cardassian State forces are also engaging in joint patrols," Katie added.
"Is that to keep us out or their people in?" Phil asked from the helm.
"Probably both," Alex said shaking her head.
"I never thought that I could feel sorry for Cardassians until this moment," Laria said from behind her station.
"This nightmare will end for them," Annabeth said remembering a terror from her own people's past. "It may not be in any of our lifetimes, but the Cardassians will one day reunite under a free and democratic government."
"You sound pretty sure of that, Ma'am," Katie said skeptically.
"It's because I know it's possible, Katie. We just can't lose hope."
That evening, Tigranian sat on the edge of his bed and stared out the window. Laria cautiously approached from behind and placed her hands on his shoulders.
"Talk to me, Daniel."
He looked at the streaks of stars rushing past and shook his head.
"Our mission was to make things better for the Cardassians, Laria. Now, they're worse off than ever. I was just thinking how different things would be if we never got involved with the Romulans: Kival, Selonia, Neral...
I was wondering if this disaster could have been averted," he looked down and shook his head. "If instead of all this terrible bullshit, we could have somehow found each other another way and lived a quiet, happy life categorizing pulsars in deep space like good, little Starfleet officers."
She squeezed him close before turning his face to meet hers.
"But it's not what happened, and that life is not ours. We will get through this and we will find victory when defeat seems certain. After all, didn't Kahless say, 'If you fall down eight times, you should get up nine times?"
Tigranian suddenly smiled.
"The Ninth Precept…you read the the qeS'a'?" he asked surprised.
"Of course I did," Laria replied, "it's very important to someone I care about."
Tigranian sat transfixed as he stared into the face of his wife. She was a scholar, warrior, Hero of the Empire, and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
"I don't know how it's possible," he said shaking his head, "but I love you more every single day."
"That's because we were meant to be together, Daniel," she said. "We make each other strong."
Tigranian suddenly leaned forward and kissed her. He gently wrapped his arms around her waist and started lifting her t-shirt.
"Wait," she said pulling back. "Are you sure you're ready? I'm not going anywhere."
"Exactly," he said touching his forehead to hers. "Knowing that is why I'm ready."
She smiled as she started pulling his clothes off as well…