Chapter 2 – Day 2
The next morning, on our way to the bridge to start our 'observing duty', Gil Karama joined us in the lift.
“I like your hair,” Karama said to Ullmann once we had exchanged polite 'good mornings'.
She made a step back and looked at him.
“I've never seen hair like this,” he added.
She didn't say anything, only kept staring at him, so he ignored her and looked at me.
“How was your first night?” he asked.
“I slept like a baby,” I said.
He opened his mouth to say something, but the door also opened and we left the lift.
I went to the same chair I had been sitting on the previous evening, and Ullmann was directed to another console, where some Cardassian was busy with something. Mr. Zamarran did not arrive yet, but I was sure he would soon. We didn't come very early and I couldn't imagine Mr. Zamarran being late. Cardassians were famous for their punctuality.
Indeed, it was only a moment later when he entered the bridge, together with Glinn Brenok.
“Sir,” I nodded to the engineer and he greeted me back.
And finally the Gul arrived in all her glory. Everyone on the bridge became smaller and she became bigger. She demanded reports and each officer delivered his in a crisp voice. The famous Cardassian efficiency.
And then something amazing happened. Our Gul was hailed by another and I could see how she became smaller and the Cardassian on the screen was the biggest ever. She spoke to him the same way Brenok spoke to her, and Zamarran spoke to Brenok. This was fascinating.
They talked about some 'annexed' world, and it wasn't difficult to guess that it really meant 'occupied'. I glanced at Ullmann and she sent me a horrified look. Yeah, it wasn't nice. I knew what they had done to Bajor and wasn't sure if I wanted to see what they've been doing to this world.
The Cardassian on the screen signed off and Gul Jarol demanded information on this occupied planet. Glinn Brenok read some info from his console monitor. His report was so dry, so formal, but I knew it really described atrocities. They've been on that planet for over one hundred years! They ruined it completely and there was nothing left. Poor inhabitants. Bajorans managed to regain their freedom before their planet was completely destroyed.
I tried to concentrate on something else and not to think about it.
There was a hierarchy here. Relations between individual Cardassians were ruled by a kind of strict code of who stands where and how should be addressed. I still didn't understand it fully, but it was a mix of a rank, age, connections and who knows what else.
The rank bit was obvious. A Glinn was ordering Glens and Djas around. An older Cardassian was ordering a younger one around. It got interesting when you observed a younger one with higher rank and an older one with lower rank. Like Glinn Brenok and Glinn Zamarran. Their respect was clearly mutual, but I noticed that Zamarran was “smaller”, more respectful when dealing with Brenok professionally, and “bigger”, with authority – when their contact was less professional and more private. And there was some 'private' contact – when they talked about engineering matters. I wondered if it bothered Zamarran that Brenok outranked him. If it did, he hid it well.
I also noticed that connections played an important role. Karama was a Gil, and there were more of those on the bridge. But somehow Karama seemed to be respected more, or shown more respect, even by other Gils. His contact with Zamarran was less stiff, less official than with others and I had an impression that this relation influenced his social rank among other bridge officers, who were not in such a good stance with the chief engineer.
The more I thought about it, the more I was sure I didn't see a lot of things. I never wondered how our own society dealt with respect and positions; you don't think about it, it's the way you were raised and how it works. Cardassians, however, seemed to place a lot of importance in this aspect of their lives and it was easy, too easy, to make a serious mistake; just as I had done last night.
Efficiency was another word that rang in my mind. I would be the last person to say that Federation ships were loose and undisciplined, but here? Everyone knew their place. They were efficient and the way they worked was really impressive. I thought that their super-memory helped them in that. They just had to read some information and then didn't have to check and re-check it again to prepare their final reports. Their minds were more like computers, more like Vulcans' minds.
Zamarran glanced at me. It was just a few seconds, but it looked like he wanted to say something. Then his face turned back to the console.
“You're busy?” he asked, not raising his head.
I wasn't completely sure the question was directed to me, but I answered: “I'm observing.”
Lines on his cheeks deepened for a moment – I think he grinned.
“Take the padd,” he handed me one of padds he was working with.
I took it, retrieving my TP. Lines on his cheeks deepened again.
“Now,” he started, glancing at me and... Yes! He was smiling! “Compare it with the data from your monitor.” He tapped something in front me and a string of data appeared on the screen.
Would it be wrong if I asked him what it was? Or it was not expected of me? Or maybe I should know already.
I hovered my TP over the monitor and my question was answered. Those were some tests results, engine test results.
Well, if he expected me to do it manually, then he would be disappointed. I didn't intend to stare at those codes line by line. I downloaded the padd's content to my console's memory and told the system to compare files. They were different. All right, now I had to find where they were different. I entered required algorithms and started working.
It felt good to do something, instead of just staring at busy people.
“Sir, can I ask a question?” I took a risk.
“Uhm,” he muttered.
“It's about functions and officers' duties,” I clarified, so that he wouldn't have to worry I'd ask about his underwear.
“Go ahead,” he replied.
“There is a difference between Cardassian positions and Federation positions. For instance, you have no science department. Why?”
“We do not fly from one system to another to explore,” he said. “If we encounter an interesting phenomenon, we gather all possible data and send it to Cardassia, so it can be studied by qualified scientists.”
“Wouldn't keeping a few of those scientists aboard speed things up?”
“This is a warship, not a laboratory,” he said. “We'd rather have torpedo launchers, then vials with chemicals aboard.”
“How about a communication officer? On a Federation ship this task belongs to operations or tactical. It used to be a separate position, but it isn't any more. Hailing occasional aliens or friends can be part of duties, but not the sole one. So what does Mr. Karama do all day, if there is no one to talk to?”
And Karama was busy, that was obvious.
“He is...” Zamarran searched for a proper word, “he is listening.”
“To everything,” he shrugged and the lines got deeper again. I started to like him.
“Everything, as what?”
“Whatever is out there. Spacial noise, phenomena signals, other warships...” he finished in a conspirational tone. I definitely was starting to like him.
“You mean...” I lowered my voice and whispered, “he eavesdrops?”
Zamarran only nodded.
“But aren't most communications coded and scrambled?”
“And you think what keeps him so busy?”
“He breaks the encryptions...” I whispered.
He glanced at me. His smile was so wide that it was showing his teeth.
“Don't you tell me some secrets now?” I asked him and then thought that it probably was too direct and I shouldn't have asked him such a question in such a manner. You don't joke with an older, outranking you Cardassian, do you?
You don't. He stared at me for a moment, as if wondering if to get angry or not, and then replied. “It's not a secret here. Everyone, who graduates the Academy knows about it. If you are to serve here and do your job well, you have to know how we function.”
“Is Mr. Karama good at this? I mean, at decoding business.”
“He's one of the best. I'm pretty sure the Obsidian Order would recruit him, if they still existed,” he returned to his work.
“That's good for him, but bad for others,” oh, no! I joked again!
He looked at me and stared again. It must have been outrageously rude.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
He kept staring. And staring. And lines on his cheeks got deeper. And he bit his lower lip. And... and then he burst into laughter.
Everyone on the bridge looked at us with astonishment. Zamarran waved his hand, indicating that nothing happened, but he couldn't stop laughing. I must have had the most stupid face expression ever. Some other faces smiled too and returned to their duties. Glinn Brenok observed us for a moment and then returned to his work too.
The chief engineer managed to calm down finally.
“I hope I didn't do anything very offensive,” I whispered.
“No, no,” he shook his head. “It's just... you reminded me of my daughter.”
“When she was... four,” he added, smiling and deepening the lines in his cheeks. Now I was certain I liked him and I liked those lines too. “She didn't know how to behave too.”
“Ah?” I giggled.
I noticed Glinn Brenok looked at us and I tried to shut up. His eyes returned to his console, but there was a smile on his lips too.
Ok, so I've become the ship's idiot, right? As clever as Zamarran's daughter, when she was four years old.
Oh, how much I wanted to ask about his family. However I was pretty sure it would be inappropriate.
I concentrated on my task. I wouldn't say anything stupid if I would stop talking, that was sure.
Karama approached us with a padd in his hand.
“Zamarran, could you run it through our database?” he asked, handing the padd to the engineer. “There is something familiar in it, but I can't put my finger on it.”
“Of course,” Zamarran put the padd on his console and downloaded the data.
Karama looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
“Do you want me to check something specifically?” Zamarran asked him.
“Er, no. I'd rather have the computer confirm my suspicions and maybe answer my questions.”
“It's going to take some time.”
“That's all right. No rush. Are you going to let her have a meal break?” he asked, nodding at me.
“You hungry?” Zamarran asked me.
“A bit,” among all those new experiences around me I completely forgot about food.
“We don't wait till the end of our duty?” I asked.
“Our duty is quite long, Kapoor,” Karama explained. “We are short-handed, so we need to fill double posts and work long hours.”
“Oh. Until the evening?”
“That's right. Each day shift and each night shift is divided to alpha and beta shifts.”
“Then I'd better grab something. Sir?” I looked at Zamarran.
“Go,” he nodded. “Take your colleague,” he added a second later.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” I went to Ullmann. “Let's go and eat something.”
“Good idea, I'm starving,” she replied.
There was some rule, or a tradition, I wasn't sure, but I knew it had to be done.
“Sir,” I stood next to the throne and looked at Glinn Brenok. He raised his head to look at me. “Lieutenant Kapoor and Lieutenant Ullmann report end of their alpha day shift.” I hoped I did it right.
“Noted,” he said and we both headed for the lift.
We had to wait for it, so I heard Karama reporting end of his duty to Brenok. He used exactly the same sentence as last evening. Hmm, maybe it was just this particular phrase that had to be used and I unnecessarily made it so precise and complicated.
Karama joined us and all three of us entered the lift when it finally arrived.
“Did I make a fool of myself?” I asked. “By my reporting of leaving the bridge? Was to too... innovative?”
“It was... unusual, but don't worry about it. You at least tried to follow the protocol.”
“Is it a serious offence to leave the bridge without being officially dismissed?”
“Yes, it is quite serious. Even if it's obvious you leave, the officer in charge must be notified.”
“How is your day so far?” he asked Ullmann.
“It is fine,” she replied quietly.
“So what have you been doing?” he moved closer to her to take a look at a padd she kept in her hands.
“Stay away from me?!” her reaction was violent. I stared at her astonished.
And so did he. He was looking at her, not sure what to do and then asked calmly. “What is your problem?”
“You, you are my problem! Don't you dare to touch me!”
His face expressed total surprise, but then it suddenly changed. At first I thought he was angry, or irritated by her attitude and I thought he felt offended by her rude behaviour, but a moment later he smiled. He squinted his eyes and put his hands on his hips.
“But I would so looooove to touch you,” he said in a deep voice.
She gasped and I thought she'd hit him, but the door opened and he left to the corridor. He winked to me on his way out – I liked when he did that.
We entered the mess hall and it was full.
“You two sit here,” he pointed to a table, at which two seats were free.
“How about you?” I asked him.
“I'll find something, don't worry,” he smiled to me and left, looking around.
“Uffff, I was afraid he was going to join us,” Ullmann whisper to my ear to make sure other Cardassians at the table didn't hear her.
“Why afraid? He's nice.”
“No, he's not. He scares me, he doesn't take “no” for an answer and I fear he won't stop on threats.”
“Threats? What threats?” was there something I didn't know about?
“Didn't you hear what he said in the lift?”
“Oh, come on! He was joking.”
“I don't think so. It's not the first time he said something like this.”
“Don't you remember? You were there too! He talked about my hair.”
“Oh, I think I remember. But he only said he liked it.”
“Yes, but it's how
he said it.”
“Oh, you must be deaf, really,” she got irritated.
We ate our food in silence. I could see she was upset, but I thought she exaggerated. We were barely in the middle of our meals, when Karama appeared again.
“You finished?” I asked him, not seeing any dish in his hands, therefore assuming he didn't come to join us at the table.
“Yes. I have lots of work today. I just wanted to say 'see you on the bridge',” he smiled to me. Then he leaned very close over Ullmann and said quietly in a growling, lewd voice, “I look forward to see you again later.” Then he made a move like he smelled her hair and left, followed by laughter of a few crewmen, who witnessed the scene.
Ullmann curled on her chair and became visibly smaller. She had tears in her eyes.
“Ullmann, he is not serious,” I told her. “Don't let it bother you.”
“It's easy for you to say. He doesn't say those things to you
“To be honest – you started. Even when he was just neutrally nice you assumed he wanted to rape you then and there. He just started to play your game.”
“Why do you defend him?” she shouted.
“Because he is not what you think he is. He is really nice.”
“He's a rapist!” she said way too loudly.
A few heads turned toward us.
“This is Cardassia, not Romulus. People are not guilty until arrested, and so far I didn't see him raping anyone, you included,” I was getting annoyed.
“Oh, so you'd rather wait for him to do it?”
“Don't twist my words,” I said and pushed my plate away. I lost appetite. “I go back to the bridge before Zamarran sends troops for me.”
“Fine,” she muttered.
She didn't speak to me for the remainder of the day.