Rathosia, Yapplorettix City, Federation Observation Point #567887
Ensign Tibaut walked carefully, hoping that she wouldn’t trip and drop the tray with food. If she had ever had any doubts, she had none now—a waiter’s job was a difficult one. Three bowls of some Cardassian food were like monsters that threatened with spilling all over the bulkheads. The Cardassians had been transferred to a prison cell and locked behind a forcefield and she was assigned to deliver them food two times a day.
She had never seen a real Cardassian before. Of course, she had studied their anatomy and she knew a lot about them, but had never met any. They weren’t the friendliest race in the quadrant and they had a reputation—not a good one.
She realised she was scared. She would have to enter the cell and leave the tray inside. What if one of them wanted to attack her? The people in the base gossiped that they were cocky and arrogant and that they claimed they had greater rights to the planet.
The doors opened before her and she entered the brig. Lieutenant Pemutruch was there and she smiled to him. She felt a little safer knowing that he would be the one to protect her. Not without a humour she thought that he should try twice as hard as with anyone else, or their date tonight might not happen.
Pemutruch took out his phaser and approached the forcefield. Tibaut followed him and stood ready to enter. She looked at the cell’s occupant and completely forgot about all her fears, her anthropologist’s instincts kicking in. This was much better than any holodeck simulation. They weren’t just a computer-generated, motionless statutes. They were the real thing, breathing and reacting to her.
Pemutruch lowered the forcefield and trained his phaser on the prisoners, while the ensign entered. She slowly walked to one of hard benches and put the tray on it. One of the Cardassians, she wouldn’t give him more than twenty-five years of age, moved aside and she was grateful. Not that she still feared them, she worried that her boyfriend might interpret any other move as threatening and shoot.
“Here,” she said. “Your lunch.”
,” said the one that was sitting on another bench. He seemed the oldest from the group, so she assumed he was their commander.
“You’re welcome,” she automatically replied and just then realised that he spoke in Federation Standard to her. “Where did you learn that?” she asked before stopping herself.
“From my friend,” he answered, this time with the help of the universal translator.
“He speaks Federation Standard?”
“She is human.”
“Really?!” Tibaut asked in a high voice. She didn’t expect that.
He smiled. “Really,” he confirmed.
“I hope you’ll like it. It’s replicated and the only Cardassian dish in our replicator.”
“It smells wonderful,” the youngest one said.
She nodded to them and stepped out of the cell. Pemutruch raised the forcefield and returned to his post behind the console. She went to him.
“They’re not what I expected,” she said quietly.
He nodded. “I know. They sit there, talking about things, but nothing aggressive. They seem to be worried about their ship and the Rathosians. It’s not what I would expect from an invasion force.”
Maybe they aren’t an invasion force
, Tibaut thought, but didn’t dare to say it aloud.
She looked at the Cardassians. Each took a bowl and a spoon and ate in silence. They seemed calm. She observed them, especially their leader. His hair was strangely short—she had never seen a simulation or even a two-dimensional photo of a Cardassian with such short hair, so she had no idea that they wore that kind of haircut. She couldn’t help but stare at their fascinating neck ridges. She wondered if their uniforms were heavy and uncomfortable. She wondered if they were hot in these heavy boots. She wanted to ask them so many questions, but she knew she couldn’t. They were the prisoners and all she was allowed to do was to bring them food.
There was one thing that struck her most—a clearly visible hierarchy. She didn’t read Cardassian, so wasn’t able to read the ranks on their uniforms, but could easily point out to the commander and not only because he appeared to be the oldest. The other two were following him in everything. They didn’t reach for their bowls before he did that; they didn’t start to eat before he did that. They were looking up to him, to lead them and show them what they should do and when. And all that without words. Just actions. She wondered how much of that was the training, how much cultural raising and how much their instincts.
The commander finished his bowl and put it back on the tray. When all three of them finished, the leader took the tray and stood in front of the forcefield with a clear intention to give her the tray back. Pemutruch took his phaser, but she stopped his hand. “That won’t be necessary,” she said. He frowned, but listened to her. “Just lower the forcefield.” She went to the cell and a moment later the tray was in her hands. The Cardassian, as she expected, didn’t try to pull any tricks. She wondered if it was some kind of polite custom—to give the tray back.
She was just about to turn and move away, when he spoke. “If you don’t mind...it’s a little too cold for us. We’d appreciate either raising the temperature, or some warm blankets.”
“Certainly,” she said, nodding. Of course, the Cardassians liked hot. She decided to go straight to Golek to get the permission to grant the Cardassian’s request.
There was nothing more left for her to do, no more excuses to stay—she didn’t have to wait for them to finish their food, she could have come back later to pick the dishes—so, reluctantly, she headed for the exit.
She decided to volunteer to deliver them food for as long as they would stay.
Cardassian Union Science Ship Marritza, Gil Kapoor’s quarters
Kapoor was tired and all she wanted to do was to take off her armour and lay on her sofa with a book. She reluctantly approached her computer terminal, which emitted a sound in regular intervals—it indicated an awaiting message. She accessed the terminal to be informed that a call awaited her and that it was urgent. No, not urgent—important.
She activated the connection and waited for a short time before it was answered. She found it quite strange that she couldn’t tell who was the caller. All she knew was that the call was from Cardassia. Why would anyone want to hide his or her identity?
The children? Did Tasar call her to tell her that something was wrong with the kids? Did something happen? But then it would be not only important, but also urgent and she had already determined that it was not the case. And he surely would hide his identity.
Her thoughts started to create the most terrible scenarios and the few minutes started to drag into long dozens of minutes. Finally, the call was answered and she saw the face of the person that she hoped to never see again.
“What do you want?” she asked rudely, not even attempting to conceal her hostility. She almost regretted that the habit of using end-sentence particle ‘go
’ was so deeply rooted in her by now that she automatically addressed him properly as an older person, in spite of her harsh tone. Oh, how she wished she had omitted that one tiny word! It probably would be more disrespectful than calling him names.
“Amrita, please, listen to me before you cancel the connection
She winced. Technically, he was her father-in-law, but they had never gone through that little, adorable ritual of acceptance into the family and switching the way of addressing each other from ‘strangers’ to ‘family.’ So how did he dare to call her by her first name, especially since he used the end-sentence particle ‘ga
’ appropriate for addressing a younger person, not a daughter—he clearly didn’t consider her one. She found it extremely offensive and she knew that was exactly the effect he wanted to achieve. “Aji tar ergan go
,” she barked. Speak. Again, ‘go
’ slipped out of her mouth in spite of her best efforts. At least a growling Cardassian language make ‘barking’ more possible than any language of Earth would and she used the opportunity to produce growling ‘ghr’ sound, although usually she opted for a Federation Standard version of ‘g’—Tavor had told her that she sounded like a native Nokarian speaking without a growl, as Nokarians—including Gul Jarol—didn’t growl and their manner of speaking was softer than a standard Lakatian accent, which in fact was Unionese language. Now, however, she forced her throat to produce the angry sound, as it perfectly showed her feelings.
“You must convince Tavor to return to Cardassia. Only for a short time, but he must come.
Gul Karama considered his answer for a moment—or maybe he considered telling her the reason—and finally replied. “It’s time for my shri’tal and I need Tavor to be here for me.
“Why talk to me? Why don’t you ask him?” Shri’tal
, she thought. So the old bastard was dying.
“I already did. He refused.
” She wasn’t surprised. In fact, she was surprised that Tavor even talked to his father. “He didn’t even want to talk to me.
” So she knew her husband well after all.
“And what do you want me to do about it?” she asked in an annoyed voice.
“Please, talk to him. I know that you can’t even imagine the importance of this tradition, but this ritual is sacred and I need one of my sons to be there for me, when the time comes.
“Are you dying?”
He was silent for another moment. He shifted in his seat and finally answered, “I am in advanced stage of an overgrowth disorder. It’s a popular name for internal cell mutation synd—
“I know what it is,” she interrupted, rolling her eyes; he didn’t have to explain her the basics. Cancer
, she thought. So, finally bad karma returned to you and now twists you alive upside down, just like you did to others all your life—this one and previous ones, too, and most likely also the next ones
. She didn’t feel sorry for him. She felt that he got what he deserved. “Why don’t you ask Tasar? Isn’t it the right of the oldest child?” she asked.
“You understand very little of our traditions.
“Insulting me isn’t the best strategy when asking for my help,” she said sourly.
“Forgive me, you are right.
” He paused for a moment and then continued, “What I have to share is of great value in the right hands. Tavor is in much more powerful position than Tasar. He could do a lot more with this information. He is also much better protected. It must be him.
She observed the old man. Arrogance still rang in his voice but he tried his best to hide it. He used words like ‘forgive’ and ‘please’—words that she had no idea he knew.
She couldn’t not notice that he lost a lot of weight and his hair was almost completely grey. Prematurely for a Cardassian. It was obvious that he was very ill and she thought that he had to be really desperate to ask her
of all people to convince Tavor to talk to him and to agree to take part in the ritual of sharing secrets. She wasn’t sure, though, if her husband would like to know his father’s dirty secrets. Gul Karama had to know a lot of terrible things and Tavor wouldn’t want to have anything to do with that.
“Why do you think I would be able to convince him?”
“You are his wife. You are the woman for whom he left his family. You have enormous power over him. You can do it.
Unbelievable how misguided this man was! Tavor didn’t leave
his family, he just cut himself off of his father. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the man whom he despised and who didn’t accept his wife because of her species. Old Karama believed that Tavor’s insistence to marry her was her spell and power over him; he clearly never understood that his own, Gul Karama’s racism, wouldn’t stop his son from doing something that wasn’t that weird in other parts of the quadrant.
“And why would I want to convince him?” she asked.
The old man stared at her without a word. He slowly blinked and then said quietly, “This is more important than what you or I want. This is not about liking each other. This is about...
” He shook his head. “You won’t understand. You cannot even imagine what I know and about whom. I want him to have that information. I want him to secure himself with that information. You turned him against me, but he still is my son and I still love him.
Her mouth opened in shock, but she was only able to shake her head. She
turned Tavor against him? She did it? Not years of beating and humiliating? He loved
Tavor? With his heavy fists in Tavor’s face?
“You know something?” she said angrily. “I won’t talk to Tavor about it? You know why? Not because you keep insulting me, not because you twisted the reality to fit your imagination. Because he wouldn’t want to and I don’t intend to have a family quarrel over you
! You are not worth it. I won’t anger my beloved husband for you. Forget about it. Your son hates you so much that you will have to die with your secrets. I’m sure he wouldn’t even want to know any of your dirty thoughts.” With that she disconnected.
She felt terrible. She felt like she had just done something really, really awful—she stood between a father and a son. What if this was the last chance for them? What if Tavor wouldn’t forgive her—and himself—that he didn’t explain things and didn’t participate in shri’tal
before it was too late? After Gul Karama’s death all would be lost and it couldn’t be undone.
But would Tavor ever want to come to terms with his father? Would he even have a need of talking to him and explaining everything? Tavor waits for the old man to die to take his mother to his brother’s home. And so does Tasar. Both brothers had turned their backs on their father, who had abused them all their lives and didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Gul Karama had struck Tavor in front of Kapoor! She had been so shocked and later her shock even grew as she had realised that no one else had been shocked. It was a routine for them! Hitting your son in the face was so normal that no one cared!
Still...she felt uneasy.
She decided to mention to Tavor that his father had called her. Not to convince him to do anything, but to inform him that this had happened. What she’d do next would depend on her husband’s reaction.
A terrible evening had just gotten worse.