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 had not arrived yet, but I was sure he would soon. We hadn’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’d been on that planet for over one hundred years! They’d ruined it completely and there was nothing left. Poor inhabitants. The Bajorans had 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 a higher rank and an older one with a 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’d never wondered how our own society dealt with respect and positions; you didn’t think about it, it was the way you were raised and how it worked. 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 the padds he was working with.
I took it, retrieving my TP. Lines on his cheeks deepened again.
“Now,” he said, 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 than 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 grin was so wide that it was showing his teeth.
“Aren’t you telling 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 had happened, but he couldn’t stop laughing. I had to have the most stupid facial expression ever. Some other faces smiled too and returned to their duties. Glinn Brenok observed us for a moment and then also returned to his work.
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 either.”
“Ah?” I giggled.