Many thanks to Nerys Ghemor
for beta- and proofreading, her comments and patience.
The story was written for AdAstra March 2011 Challenge: “Phobias”
Of Wives, Apartments and Monsters...
I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. Instead of rolling over in bed and risking waking up my wonderful...I have to say it—I still can't believe this is for real—my wonderful, exotic and delicate wife
, I got up and went to the day room...yeah, Gli...I mean, Gul
Brenok (so many changes recently, it’s hard to get used to all of them; Gul Jarol left to become a Very Important Cardassian Official and her aide, Brenok, took over command of the Roumar
) had assigned us new quarters, bigger quarters. As a married couple we were entitled to this, he had said. Have you ever heard of a Cardassian warship with ‘family quarters?’ Seems like my human, In-dy-an
(that is a country on Earth, India, and she says she is an In-dy-an
) wife brought Federation customs with her. Not that I’m complaining...I wouldn’t dare to complain! Would you dare to complain to or about your
So I went to the day room and paced.
I hadn’t told her yet. I wanted it to be a surprise. I’d tell her during breakfast.
I logged into my computer to make sure the broker hadn’t sent any messages, or—please no!—cancelled our meeting. There were no messages from him. Phew.
I had started to check apartments shortly before our wedding ceremony and after a million awful, filthy hovels I had started to lose hope that I would find something nice and not outrageously expensive.
We don’t need much; there are just two of us after all (and it won’t change at least until Amrita graduates from the Cardassian Military Academy), but it doesn’t mean we’ll live in a building with cracked walls that threaten to give way under the weight of the roof. And not for that kind of money!
I understand that almost three quarters of the city lies in ruin, I can understand that there are more people than apartments, but come on! Does it mean you can rip off a poor glinn and his eresh wife (I can’t believe she is an eresh now! I can’t believe she’s staying on Cardassia with me! I can’t believe she is really, really, I mean really
my wife! I’m so happy!!!)?
I don’t know if I was lucky or what, but this broker really had that little apartment that I could afford to pay for and it was not another room with a bucket in a corner that served as a toilet. It was in an old district in the suburbs of Lakat that was still intact after the war, far from downtown but close to a Hostor
-palm park (at this time of the year fronds of Hostor
palms start to lose their fresh green colour and turn dirty yellow), on the fifteenth floor of a green building (they had painted all buildings green so they matched the palm park and contrasted against the desert beyond the city’s boundary—really nice, I must say). There were only three rooms and a small kitchen, and an even smaller bathroom, but it would suffice for the two of us. Well, at least until our family grows bigger...
Her sweet voice wafted in from behind me. “What are you doing up?”
“I couldn’t sleep; I didn’t want to wake you up,” I replied.
“Why can’t you sleep?” The worry in her voice was faint but I could hear it clearly. You can’t hide your feelings from me, my dear. You’re an open, emotional book and I love to read that book. One of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read.
“I have a surprise for you and I am too excited about it to sleep.”
She approached me. She put her hand on my head and ruffled my hair. “Why do you all have the same haircut?”
“What do you mean ‘all?’” I asked. “Haven’t you seen our gul?”
She chuckled. “Gul Brenok is a special case.”
Well, he was indeed. His long braid, which fell down his back, was hard to miss. It became his hallmark; it was the first thing people noticed about him, only to discover later that it was merely the beginning of his uniqueness.
“Tret Akleen had this haircut,” I said.
I shrugged. “So we all do.”
“What would happen if [i]aji[i/] didn’t?” She said the whole sentence in Federation Standard and let the universal translator do its job, but she deliberately used the Cardassian word for singular ‘you,’ as the Federation word was not specific enough to make the distinction and make it clear whether she meant ‘me, Tavor,’ or ‘us, Cardassian men.’
I shrugged again. “I have no idea.” And I didn’t. My hair was never a concern and I’d never given it any thought. “Go back to bed.”
“You must be kidding!” she shouted, giving me a fake, outraged look. “You told me about a surprise, didn’t tell me what it is and expect me to fall asleep?”
Good point. “Well, Dayita
, we are going to see—”
“What did you call me?” she interrupted.
Oh, no! I’d messed something up, hadn’t I? I had checked a Bengali dictionary to find some nice nickname for her in her native language and it seemed that দয়িত , pronounced dayita
(by the way, how could she complain about the Cardassian writing system when her native language used this
?!), would be a perfect word; it meant ‘beloved,’ or ‘wife.’ She was both for me. But what if I’d misunderstood something, or pronounced it wrong? What if I’d said ‘frog’ (apparently, judging from the image that had been attached to the description, it’s a kind of green, slimy amphibian native to Earth that would look tasty on my dinner plate), or a ‘pit?’ I remember seeing those words on the same page in that dictionary; was it possible I’d messed up? Ohhhhhh, no!
” I repeated quietly and without confidence.
“Where did you learn that?” Her big, beautiful, black eyes became even bigger. The elegant lines of short hairs above them rose higher—a sign of surprise for a human.
“The database...” My voice wasn’t any more certain than a moment before.
She smiled. “I had no idea you have access to things like that.”
I could feel my cheeks getting hot. “I did some hacking,” I admitted. After all, a non-Federation Standard language wouldn’t be readily available in a Cardassian database.
She frowned. “I hope you won’t be in trouble.”
“Do you want to know about the surprise or not?” I changed the subject. I would go to any trouble for her. The truth was that as a communication officer assigned to a warship I had access to sources that weren’t readily accessible for everyone. In this case, I wasn’t exactly allowed to access that database without a good reason, but...well...I had a good reason, right? Most likely, no one would even ask me; they would just assume I had
had a good reason. If
anyone noticed and I wasn’t so sure that would happen. A dictionary didn’t contain any sensitive information, after all. Just words.
“We are going to see...? What?”
“Maybe our apartment.”
Her hand slid from my head to my neck ridge. “Really?” While she awaited my confirmation, her fingers absentmindedly played with my neck-ridge scales. My poor, lone one row... Oh, how I envied all those attractive men with two or three rows! My cheeks flushed hot again, although she most likely couldn’t see it; it took really a lot of redness on one’s face to make it visible through the scales.
“What is it like?”
“Small, tidy and nice.”
She smiled. “I like it already.”
“We will meet with a broker and he will show us the apartment.”
Her fingers froze and she looked at her hand on my neck ridge. “I shouldn’t do that, should I?” she asked, realising that what would be an innocent touch for a human had a deep erotic meaning for a Cardassian.
I remembered the first time she had touched my scales. She had already known that this was something reserved for married couples. After our wedding she still hadn’t moved her hand anywhere close to there until two days after our vows when I had grabbed her hand and gently directed it toward my ridge. She had looked me in the eyes, making sure that had been the sign of my permission and that it was the right time and then she gently put her soft, brown fingers on one scale. I remember how her hand was shaking and I remember how she kept looking in my eyes. Since then her hands were all over my neck ridges. Was she trying to make for all the time she hadn’t been allowed to touch them? Or was it because they were so different from most bipeds’ anatomy? Or was it because they were mine
‘Please go on’ and ‘please stop’ fought in my mind. The former, because I loved when she did that; the latter, because I knew that would mean we wouldn’t be ready on time to meet the broker.
I took her hand in mine—will I ever get used to the softness of her scale-less skin?—and kissed it gently. “Go on and get dressed,” I said.
She nodded and a moment later I was alone in our quarters again.
My best friend, Zamarran, had asked why I would waste money on renting an apartment, when both of us lived aboard the Roumar
; we would hardly ever be there and would spend most of our time aboard the warship. But I needed a home, a place I could call my own and always return to each time we went back to Cardassia Prime. Maybe it was selfish, with so many people having no home at all, while we had these quarters here, but...I wanted to be selfish, I wanted my own home and I wanted to be sure that my wife had a place to stay, a safe place, when she had to be on Cardassia for her examinations at the Military Academy, while I was away on another patrol. I’d rather die than ask that old prick I had the misfortune to call a ‘father’ to allow her to stay in his house. I know my mom wouldn’t mind, and my brother would accept it, and so would his wife, but that old prick? Forget about it. He would accept it only so he could abuse her verbally...and knowing him I’m not so sure if he’d limit himself to verbal abuse only. Bajoran men were deprived of the chance to protect their wives, but I am in a position to protect mine!
Don’t think about him; think about your apartment instead!
No, not about her fingers on your neck ridge, Gil Dirty-Mind, about the apartment
I love being married!
I had been here once already, but it felt so different being here with Amrita. Broker Polor, a skinny, short man, was leading us to a light green building on the edge of an estate. I knew that some of the windows looked out to the palm park, while the kitchen window looked into the yard between buildings.
“It’s nice here,” Amrita said, grabbing my hand.
“The estate was built eighty years ago but it was renovated shortly before the war,” the broker explained. “It’s pure luck that Jem’Hadar troops didn’t reach this part of Lakat and destroy them.”
He led us to a huge gate. Four buildings, each in the shape of the Federation Standard letter ‘L’, formed a hollow rectangle. The gate opened to a yard between the buildings, from which we proceeded to our building’s main door. A guard in the lobby eyed us with curiosity, but as soon as he saw Broker Polor and me, he smiled.
“You’re back,” he said. “Still interested?”
“Indeed,” I confirmed.
He glanced with open curiosity at Amrita; she smiled to him and he smiled back.
We entered the lift and the broker pressed number fifteen. A moment later the car arrived on the right floor and we left it, entering a small entrance hall. I pulled my shoes off and so did Polor. Amrita seemed to hesitate for a moment but then followed our example. We set our shoes neatly by a wall and the broker opened the door with a magnetic key. It slid open and he moved aside, letting us enter first. I gestured to my wife to go in, and followed her.
We were in a small hall, not much bigger than the entrance hall. There were five doors there, two on the left-hand side, two on the right-hand side and one at the end, opposite the main door.
“To the right,” Polor said, so we entered the nearest room on the right.
“Wow!” Amrita ran to a huge window opposite the door.
The view was magical. The apartment was high enough to see what was behind the palm park—a desert. The contrast between the greenish and brownish leaves of the palms and yellow-brown sand of the desert was worthy of a painting.
“This is the day room,” Polor said, standing in the doorway.
Amrita stepped away from the window, spread her hands and spun. “Wheeeeeee!” Her black, shiny hair fluttered and so did her dark blue skirt. She was like an ocean nymph, like a sea typhoon, like a...I don’t know; I’m a communication officer, not a poet. “It’s so big!”
Big? She called this small day room ‘big?’ How tiny were human homes?
Polor smirked at her words and I didn’t like it at all. Was he planning to raise the price because she obviously liked it? Or was he thinking that this little human was behaving like a child? Or was he surprised that she considered an apartment for a one-generation family ‘big?’ All those things, perhaps? Or something else, even nastier? He caught my glance, cleared his throat and assumed a neutral expression. That’s better. Grrr... Watch your face in the future, Broker.
“Would you like to see the other rooms?” he asked.
“We would.” Amrita stopped and I wondered if she felt dizzy after that turning and spinning.
He led us to the next room. “This is the master bedroom,” he said. The view out the window was the same as in the day room. “There is a smaller bedroom that could be a children room.”
The smaller bedroom was the room with the door opposite the main entrance and its window faced the opposite building and overlooked the street and the yard.
“What’s in here?” Amrita entered the next door, opposite the bigger bedroom.
“That’s the bathroom,” Polor said. “I’m afraid the water is turned off, but it can all be prepared by the time you move in. If you decide,” he added after a moment.
I tried to follow her into the bathroom, but...well, yes, tried
. It was too small for both of us, even though Amrita was half a size of a Cardassian. My sweet little tribble. I looked behind to see where Polor was. I couldn’t see him, so he couldn’t see me; I wrapped my arms around my short, ridge-less wife with her huge eyes and hugged her. She purred quietly. We stood like that for a moment and then I let go. I stepped back, letting her out and I re-entered the bathroom to check the pipes and other fixtures.
The shriek was bloodcurdling; I could feel its vibration deep in my bones. With my heart pumping like crazy, I jumped out of the bathroom to see Amrita running to the entrance hall and frantically pressing the button that called the lift. I looked at Polor but he seemed as clueless as me.
I ran to her. “Amrita? What happened?” I asked.
“There, in the kitchen, there’s a monster. I want to get out of here, now!”
“A what?” A monster? What monster???
!” she yelled, punching the lift button.
I stroked her back. “Calm down, Dayita
, calm down. I’ll check it out, all right?”
However, she didn’t pay any attention to me. She just kept pressing that damn button and I wondered if it was possible to push it all the way through the wall.
I went back to the apartment and into the kitchen.
Just a kitchen, like any other, only smaller. A quiet rustle drew my attention to an ol’rot
on the floor, trying to hide behind a built-in cupboard. I stomped my foot loudly, scaring it away; observing where it ran would help me to learn how it got in and seal the crack so I wouldn’t let any more bugs enter my kitchen.
“What is it?” Polor stood on the threshold.
,” I said.
“What? She panicked after seeing an insect
?” I didn’t like the smirk on his face, I didn’t like it at all. He was smirking too much for my taste. Is this how business is now done on Cardassia? By smirking at your possible clients? “Doesn’t she know they are harmless?”
I scowled at him but didn’t say anything. I went back to Amrita. “Starlet, it’s gone. And I’ll make sure it doesn’t come back.”
“I will not enter that apartment ever again,” she said, shaking. “Ever again!”
“It was just a bug. I know they are big, but they don’t bite. They—”
“Ever again!!!” she shouted in my face.
I heard a snicker behind my back. I spun angrily and looked at Polor. His face froze, twisted by his mean chuckle. I slowly approached him. “If you think I would rent an apartment from you
, with your smirk and with a huge monster in the kitchen, then you are very, very wrong,” I hissed.
Karama!” Until now I didn’t care how he addressed me, but suddenly it became critically important to emphasise my military rank.
“Yes, Gil, I didn’t—”
“No, you didn’t,” I interrupted him again, not even trying to conceal the sarcasm in my voice. I had no
intention of making any deals with a man who was rude to my wife
, no way! What kind of husband...what kind of man
I would be to allow such behaviour to be targeted at any lady of my family?
I heard the sound of the lift arriving, so without another word, I turned away from him and joined my wife in the car.
“It was a nice apartment,” I said while we were descending.
“No, it wasn’t,” she said in a strong and firm voice, shaking her head; her hair moved softly around her face and across her shoulders. She was so incredibly lovely.
“No, it wasn’t,” I repeated. If she hated it, I hated it. If she was afraid of bugs, I didn’t like bugs either.
But where on Cardassia would I find a home without
any bugs getting in from time to time???