He froze. Literally. He stopped moving, with his hand awkwardly levitating above the console. Then slowly, veeeeryyyyy slowly his head turned to face me. His eyes were dark brown and huge with surprise.
“Excuse me?” he said quite loudly.
“Is there a problem?” Brenok turned toward us.
What did I do?!
“No, sir, no problem,” Zamarran answered Brenok, but did not answer me. He just returned to his work.
“Sorry,” I whispered, although I had no idea what I had done.
I noticed Karama was looking at us. He smiled to me and then turned back to his console. He knew what I did, didn't he? I would have to ask him later.
“I am finished,” Zamarran suddenly said. “You can stay and watch, but nothing special is going to happen,” he added.
He got up and moved out from behind the console. Some other Cardassian replaced him, giving me curious glances. Karama got up too and came to us?
“Supper?” Zamarran asked him.
“I think our guest has some questions,” Karama looked at me and winked.
“Suit yourself,” the engineer muttered, said something to Brenok, who was busy with a padd, and left the bridge.
“Supper?” Karama looked at me.
“Sir,” Karama addressed Brenok, “Gil Karama and Lieutenant Kapoor report end of their duty.”
“Dismissed,” the Glinn didn't look up from the padd.
Karama waved to me and we headed for the lift.
The mess hall was dark – surprise, surprise. And almost empty.
“What do you want?” the Gil asked me.
“I don't know. I'd like to try something Cardassian, but it should be something light.”
“All right. Sit down.”
I sat at one of free tables and he went to a replicator. A moment later he returned with two plates, on which was something resembling pancakes.
“They are not as good as my mom's, but they're ok,” he said, putting my plate in front of me.
I sniffed. Smelled good. I took a fork I was handed and tried a piece. It was quite good. A little bitter and spicy at the same time.
“So what did you do?” Karama asked.
“When I angered Mr. Zamarran?” he nodded, chewing. “I asked him why there was a timer in my bathroom. It stopped the water flow.”
He almost spurted the food out. He managed to swallow and then started to laugh.
“Sorry,” he said finally, calming down a bit. “First of all, don't worry, you didn't anger him. He was just shocked and surprised, because what you did was very inappropriate.”
“Why? I only asked a question?”
“You asked a private question not only a man much older than you, but also a man, who is your superior. You cannot do that. It's very rude.”
“Oh, I didn't know. But if it's rude than why do you say I didn't anger him?”
“Two days before our arrival Glinn Brenok had given us a speech. He had said we should remember not to take offence of silly things you might do and also to apologise if we do silly things and offend you. You didn't mean offence and I'm sure Zamarran realised that, so don't let it bother you.
“We, Cardassians, follow some strict society rules. One of most important ones is that you don't treat as equals those, who are older than you and who have higher ranks. And I don't mean only military ranks. Any ranks. The hierarchy must be respected. This brings order and everyone knows their place.”
“Are there no exceptions?”
“Of course there are, but they are rare. I'll give you an example. Glinn Brenok is our second in command. He is also one of youngest officers on board. No one minds his age, because his experience is so vast it exceeds his age. I think he is the youngest Gul's aide in whole military. But it doesn't change the fact that he is respected, in spite of his youth.”
“Is he younger than you too?”
“Yes, he's three years younger.”
“Do you mind it?”
“No. I only wish I had so much experience.”
“How about you and me?
“You rank is lower, and you are younger... I think... How old are you?”
“I'm twenty-eight and it's rude to ask a girl about her age in my culture.”
“Because we like to be forever young.”
“Why?” his was astonished.
“Because... I don't know why. Because young is beautiful?”
“But old is wise. Isn't it more important to be wise than beautiful?”
“It is. Continue, please.”
“Ah yes. So your rank is one step lower and you're a bit younger, but we still are pretty much on the same level, so there is nothing wrong with our off duty contact, especially since it was initiated by me – the older one.”
“I see. So can I ask you a private question?”
“Even if it wouldn't be appropriate, I suppose you have to ask someone to learn. So go ahead.”
“Why did water stop after ten minutes?”
“We must ration water. We don't have that much of it and since the end of the war we don't have much of anything. We ration our resources. You can use ten minutes of water each morning and each evening.”
So that's how life on a planet poor in resources looked like. You learn to ration everything so there is a little bit for everyone.
Karama had one row of scales on his neck ridge. He noticed I was looking at his shoulder and stopped eating.
“I think your neck ridges are soooo coooool,” I said before thinking. What if I said something stupid?
“Really?” he cheered up.
“Really. They are so different from our necks. They look great. And I noticed that every Cardassian's ridges are a little bit different.”
“Oh,” he sounded disappointed and his smile faded. “Well, yes, everyone has their own pattern.”
“Tell me, does different number of rows of scales mean something? Why not everyone has the same number, like two, or three.”
“For the same reason not all have brown eyes. Genetics.”
“Why do you have only one row? Is there a reason?”
“No. It just is like this. We shed our scales from time to time and new ones grow and sometimes number of rows changes, so I hope when I'm older I'm going to grow a second row.”
“Does it matter?”
He smiled sheepishly. “Our neck ridges... We find them attractive, as in – sexually attractive. The more rows, the sexier it is.”
Oh. He had thought I liked his
neck ridges, not neck ridges in general. That's why he cheered up and then his spirits drooped.
“And it's the same for women? I mean – do you, men, look at their ridges too?”
“Ok, now it's going to be really weird question. You can refuse to answer, if it's too uncomfortable, ok?”
“Do you think your Gul is pretty.”
“She is,” he said at once; he didn't need even a second to think about his answer. “It's not only her physical appearance, but also the power and dignity that are part of her.”
“Does she have a husband?”
“She's a widow.”
“Oh,” that was sad.
“Do you have a wife?”
He shook his head. “Career went first and...” he didn't finish. It surely wasn't a matter of one row of scales on his ridges, was it?
Was he handsome? He had a pleasant face, and a bright smile, and he was really nice and friendly.
“Do you have friends aboard?” I asked.
“Zamarran is my best friend.”
“Really? In spite of age difference?”
“Sometimes age doesn't matter. I am here longer than he is, that also made a difference.”
“Are you close enough to call yourselves using your given names?”
“Do you know his given name?”
I so wanted to know Karama's name, but I didn't dare to ask. I would probably cross some line one time too many. Would it be in their database? Speaking of databases.
“I have another question.”
“Go ahead,” I think he was amused with me.
“What about my access to the database? Is it restricted? If I try to access some file, would it just inform me of restriction, or I'd set up some alarm and be in deep shit?”
“In deep what?” his eyes opened wider.
“In trouble. It's just a figure of speech.”
“Oh, good then. I thought you, people of Federation, think we punish people putting them into faeces.”
“No, no!” I laughed.
“Answering your question: you would be informed of the restriction and your attempt of access would be logged and later investigated.”
“Investigated?” that was scary.
“That's a standard procedure. To make sure the access wasn't intended in harmful way. In general we know our clearance levels and don't attempt to access information that is not for us. However in your situation, before you learn what is what, you could trigger some alarms. As long as it's nothing sensitive, you shouldn't worry about it. Dja Ma'Kan would make sure you meant no harm and leave you alone, maybe with a warning of not doing it again.”
“Clear guidelines would be helpful,” I muttered.
“Don't you have them on your 'welcome padd'?” he asked.
I've completely forgotten about that.
“You're right, maybe there is something there. I just didn't have time to get through all the information on the padd.”
“I suggest you do it.”
And I would, but somehow I was sure I would be investigated on more than one occasion.
“Well, I think it's time to call it a day,” he smiled.
I agreed. It was a long and exciting day, but there was another waiting for me just after this night and I didn't want to yawn on the bridge.
I returned to my quarters to find Ullmann sleeping already. After an express shower I joined her just a second after putting my head on my pillow.