I returned to my quarters aboard the Roumar
completely exhausted. All I wanted was to lay down and die. It had occurred that working aboard the warship was different when you were a Federation lieutenant and different when you were a Cardassian eresh. It wasn’t a matter of being treated poorly or with disrespect—although I had noticed that lower ranking officers considered me to be lower on the hierarchy ladder and acted accordingly...to their new interpretation of respect—but the amount of boring, mundane tasks I had been being given was...exceeding my limits of acceptance. Suddenly, I was not educated enough to do things that I used to do before I’d changed my uniform to armour. I had dared to complain to Zamarran and he had told me not to take it personally; they just followed the protocol and they were not allowed to assign me tasks, which—in theory—I wouldn’t be able to complete. The problem was that I was
fully able to complete them. I’d asked Zamarran if it wasn’t wasting my skill and he had pondered my question for a moment. Cardassians hated wasting anything; for them the word ‘waste’ was almost a curse. Finally, Zamarran had told me that the protocol was the protocol and it had to be followed—especially in an unclear situation and that one was exactly that.
So I’d given up and followed the damn protocol.
And now I was tired and bored—and all I wanted was to sleep.
I was on my way to my closet—I still lived in the same quarters that had been assigned to me when I’d arrived aboard the warship almost two years ago—when I noticed something on my table. Intrigued, I approached it to see...a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It didn’t look exactly like ours, as it had an uneven, serrated shape, but it was undoubtedly a jigsaw puzzle. It was quite big, too: almost seven centimetres in diameter.
I took it into my hand and studied it, but my examination was interrupted by a chime at the door. I went to open and saw Tavor. Without a word I raised the puzzle and gave him a questioning look, because I had no doubt that it had been him, who had ‘burgled’ into my quarters to leave the puzzle on the table. In the answer, he raised higher a big, flat square he held in his hands, which looked like a painting wrapped in brown paper.
“What’s this?” I asked.
He entered my quarters and went toward the table. “Sit down,” he said. I did so. “Now.” He unwrapped the ‘painting’ and I saw a board on two rails: one on the top and one on the bottom. He unattached something from the back of the board and it occurred to be another board. He placed it on the table. If it were green, not dark brown, it would look like a mini mahjong table. “Take a good look at your puzzle.”
Even though I had already studied it, I did as instructed. “Done.”
“Done,” I repeated a little irritated. Was this some kind of game?
“Give me the puzzle.” I placed in on his stretched palm and he hid it behind him. “Now, take a good look at this picture. I will give you twenty seconds. After that I will hide the picture again and you will put the puzzle in the correct place on your board. Do you understand?”
I nodded. He grabbed the board and slid it to the left on the rails, revealing a picture on the board under it, which I hadn’t noticed earlier. There were three baby animals playing in grass in the picture. I studied it carefully, trying to guess which part of the image my piece was. I couldn’t be sure if it was a leg, or an ear, or maybe something entirely else. Suddenly, Tavor slid the front board back to its place, covering the animals.
“It’s time to place your puzzle on the board.” He gave it back to me.
My hand hovered over the ‘mahjong board’ and I couldn’t decide where to put it. “What if I’m wrong?” I asked.
“Then you’ll have to correct it later.” I moved my hand over the board and Tavor added, “But once you place it, you cannot move it until next day.”
My head jerked when I glanced at him. “What?”
“Place your piece carefully.”
I hesitated for a while longer, choosing the place and glancing at Tavor with hope that his facial expression would give me tips, but his face was made of stone. I decided that the picture on the puzzle was a part of a leg, so I placed the puzzle in the lower section of the board. “Now what?” I asked.
“Tomorrow you will get another puzzle and another look at the board. As the game progresses, you will be given less and less time to look at the board. If you place your pieces incorrectly, you will have a chance to fix it, but only one at a time.”
“Normally, the speed matters. This game is played by several ch...people and the one who finishes the picture first, gets a prize.”
Had he just almost said ‘children’?
“But why can’t I look at the picture when placing my puzzle?” I asked. And then it dawned on me. “It’s a memory game!” I shouted, grabbing his hand. “Isn’t it? It’s a memory game!”
“That’s right,” he confirmed. “I thought that you might want to practice your memory in some enjoyable way.”
“So let me repeat to make sure that I understand correctly. First I look at my puzzle, then at the whole picture and then place my puzzle in place, recreating the picture in my mind’s eye. I have to do my best to print the picture in my head, so that I don’t make any mistakes, because if I make any, it takes time to correct them and the point of the game is to be the first to finish the whole puzzle.”
I gave him a suspicious look. “How old are children
who solve this particular picture?”
He bit his lower lip. “Five.”
I felt my eyebrows travelling high. “Are they better than me?” I asked.
“They would have been in memory training for two years already and would have solved many puzzles like this one before.”
“In other words, they are better,” I stated flatly.
He looked a bit worried. “I didn’t want to choose something too easy,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to offend you...I just...I think you’ll do fine with this, once you get used to the game.” He paused. “I’m sorry...maybe we should just forget about the whole thing.”
I smiled. “No, Tavor. It’s all right. It’s not news for me that kids over here have better memory than I. And I think it’s a good idea to work on mine. I’ll stop forgetting your name, Arenn,” I joked. Maybe I should have chosen a different Cardassian given name, instead of our gul’s, but at that moment I couldn’t think of anything else.
My assurances seemed to cheer him up a little, although I was absolutely sure that my using Gul Brenok’s given name grated on him tremendously.
He put the board under his arm. “Supper time,” he said.
“We’re eating at your place?” I asked. “Can I bring something with me?” He gave me an asking look. “It took hours to force the replicator to make something that would at least a little bit resemble a pappadum
and I’m not going to waste my time by not replicating and eating it.”
“And what’s that?” he asked.
“Did you program only the replicator in your quarters, or aboard the ship?”
“Only in my quarters. I don’t have access to ship-wide program. I’m just an eresh, rem—” I bit my tongue a bit to late and I was certain I almost accused him of forgetting.
He graciously ignored it. “Well, yes, but you can send your addition to the quartermaster and he could accept it.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You still haven’t memorised the rules,” he stated. “I know it’s not easy for you, but you must try. You had a lot of time for it.”
“It’s not that I have nothing else to do, you know!”
He smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, Amrita, I didn’t want to sound patronising.” He paused. “So, supper?”
“Let me just replicate my food and I’ll join you in a moment.”
“Great.” He left my quarters, taking the board with the puzzle picture with him.
I went to his quarters with a bowl of pappadum
. As soon as the door opened, I was welcomed by a smell of warm food. I was sure it was all replicated, since there was limited possibility of cooking elaborate meals aboard a warship, but I didn’t mind.
He eyed my dish suspiciously and then reached for one thin piece of crispy pappadum
. A little surprised by its texture, he bit and helplessly looked at crumbs falling to his feet. “Salty,” he said with approval. He took the plate from my hands and placed it in the middle of the table.
I sat and looked at my plate, filled with steaming hot food. “Tavor, what’s this?” I asked, touching a piece of some meat with my fork.
“Fried zobar oppanat
,” I said. “It’s like a cow, isn’t it? A kind of cattle?” I amended my question seeing his look; of course, how could a Cardassian know what a cow was.
“That’s correct. Why?”
I pushed the plate away. “I’m sorry, but I cannot eat it.” This moment had to come some day. I avoided eating zobar
meat and it never was a difficult task, considering how varied Cardassian cuisine was, but I never had been presented with it so directly until this evening. I couldn’t just choose anything else without explaining why I wouldn’t eat the food he had prepared especially for us.
“Why not?” He was surprised and disappointed and I realised that it was the time to tell him something about me. He knew that I had something in common with the Oralians, but we had never discussed the details of my faith. I understood that I owed him a full explanation, so that he wouldn’t feel so disappointed by my refusal of eating the food that he had replicated with such a care.
So I told him about the meaning of cows in my religion and how people ought to treat them. And how wrong it would be of me to eat a cow.
“I know that a zobar
is not the same animal, but...it still feels wrong. Unclean.”
And then he did something I’d never expect him to do: he pushed his plate away. “If it feels wrong to you, then it feels wrong to me, too.”
I knew he loved zobar
meat. “Tavor, you don’t have to do this for me. I don’t mind you eating what you like. But I wouldn’t touch it.”
“Not good for you, not good for me,” he insisted. Before I could say anything else, he rose, took both plates, placed them in the replicator, recycled and then asked for the same dish but with meat replaced by sisstu
. I smiled at him when he was putting the plate in front it me. If I only knew how to express my appreciation not only of his understanding, but also of his...little sacrifice.
I looked at my food, graced by Cardassian corn-like vegetable, and started eating. “Delicious,” I judged and he grinned.