“I’m leaving,” Ullman said.
It was one of those rare occasions when we were both in our quarters.
“What do you mean ‘you’re leaving’?”
“I have asked Starfleet for a transfer and they agreed after receiving my report.”
I didn’t have to ask about the report; I was sure it was full of negative stuff about the Cardassians, especially Karama. I couldn’t blame her, but I felt it wasn’t fair. She didn’t give them a chance from the beginning and after that it only escalated. Too bad.
“Did anyone else treat you badly?” I asked.
“No, I think after his punishment they were afraid to do anything.”
Or they didn’t want to do anything in the first place, but that wouldn’t occur to her, would it?
“Does that include me? I mean—returning home?”
“No. I have received orders regarding me, not a word about you. If they recall us both, you will probably get your own message.”
I nodded. “When do you go?”
“Not soon enough.”
We fell silent and it wasn’t a pleasant silence. It hanged over our heads and it was all too clear we had nothing to talk about. We were never friends, only colleagues; and since we didn’t share our shifts, we hadn’t developed any subjects to talk about. I realised that I knew Karama, or Zamarran, or Ma’Kan or even Aladar better than her.
“I can’t believe you want to stay with them. Alone.”
I looked at her. I didn’t feel alone. It was true that some of the crew were glaring at me, but they were a minority and even that minority was shrinking. Zamarran and Ya’val were fair and didn’t patronise me; the rest of the engineering followed their example; they were all business. My night shift replacement, Glen Bedar, had to report my mistakes to Glinn Zamarran, but it was no malice. Ya’val had told me that Bedar volunteered to show me where and why I had made those mistakes; and Bedar did. He sacrificed his own free time after his duty to teach me. We hadn’t made friends, but good working environment was a precious thing.
I spent my evenings with Ma’Kan, Aladar and Karama. Initially the first two taught me Cardassian, but with time I started to assist Ma’Kan in her fascinating hobby—she liked to build models of ships. Not just plastic or paper models. Working models. That buzz, shine and possibly fly. She had asked me to help her design a tiny Federation spaceship, like a Galaxy or Sovereign model. I couldn’t help but admire her patience in cutting and connecting tiny pieces of plastic and metal to build a hull or a tiny engine.
Aladar was my passport to the lower decks personnel. He was a low ranking garesh, younger even than me, but being his pal secured my safety from other wild and untamed gareshes. In a way it made me ‘one of them.’
And finally Karama. My guide, my Cardassian encyclopedia, my friend
. I didn’t know about the others, but I knew I would miss him after returning home. I liked spending my free time with him. I liked the way he laughed and how he growled when he wanted to show his dissatisfaction with something. I still couldn’t believe how come it had gone so bad between him and Ullmann. If he had only ignored her comments she would have to realise he was not what she had taken him for and all this wouldn’t have happened. But he had played right into her fears and now, knowing him better, I couldn’t figure out why.
“Time to start my shift.” Ullmann logged out from her computer screen and rose.
“This is no fun at all.” She took some stuff and left.
Did I want to spend my evening here, or did I want some company?
“Kapoor to Karama.”
“Karama, go ahead.
“Busy? I’m bored.”
“No language lessons today?
“Today is not the day.”
“Come over than, I was just about to have dinner.
I hesitated. Maybe I was intruding. “Are you sure? Sounds like you have your evening planned.”
“Rule number one hundred and seven: Cardassians don’t like to eat alone
.” Was it smile I heard in his voice?
“I’ll be right there.”
And I was. With two salads and a small jar of fish juice, as I didn’t want him to use all his replicator rations on me.
“Ullmann is leaving,” I said when we were half-through our food. We had soup and grains mixed with vegetables, a bit like Korean bibimbap
, only not that spicy.
He looked at me and for a second I had an impression I saw relief in his eyes. Then he resumed eating. “Are you leaving with her?” he asked after a few spoons of his Cardassian ‘bibimbap.
“No. She asked to be transferred; I didn’t.”
He nodded his understanding.
We ate in silence for a while.
“Can you do something for me?” he asked. This time my reply was reduced to nodding only, as my mouth was full. “Please tell her I am sorry.”
I didn’t see that coming. I stared at him and he noticed my astonishment; he smiled sadly and explained. “What I did...I realised that...I became something I don’t want to be. Why I did it...is because of that something. I did it because she took me for that something and I didn’t like it and...I became this...” His voice shook and he didn’t finish.
“I’ll tell her,” I promised, although I doubted it would make any difference for her. Did he want to talk about it? Should I encourage him by asking?
“I never wanted to be like him,” he said very quietly. “I was always very careful not to resemble him in anything, even though I have chosen to join the military too. She...Ullmann treated me...she talked to me like I was him. I hated that. I hated that she formed her opinion about us based on things he had done and now I have to pay for it.” He dropped his spoon and looked at me. His eyes were full of pain. “I am not him. I don’t want to be him. But she plastered me to him like we were one. She didn’t know that; she didn’t understand that but it was awful for me and I snapped. I...I changed into him. Gul Jarol was right; I only enforced Ullmann’s wrong impression instead of correcting it. I became
him. I became that heartless, cruel bastard, who treats people like trash and women like sex toys. I hate him for everything he did during the Border Wars, for everything he did on Bajor, for everyone whom he tortured to death, for every woman he raped and every child he slaughtered.” Tears appeared in his eyes. “I don’t want to be him.” I wasn’t sure who he talked about. His father? “And now...I came so close.” He raised his fingers and neared this thumb to his little finger leaving small space between. “It doesn’t matter I didn’t want to hurt her, really hurt her. She thinks I did and that’s what counts.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “He raised me to be a monster and he succeeded!” I shook my head, silently filing my protest. “What? Don’t you agree?”
“I don’t,” I said quietly. “If you were a monster, you wouldn’t regret what had happened. You would think she deserved that and more. You would act on your threats.”
“Kapoor, why do you talk to me? Why didn’t you side with her? You are her friend.”
“Because I know you. Because I know your other side. You made a mistake. But that wasn’t really you. If it were, I wouldn’t be here now. I would be too scared to be in one room with you.” I moved with my chair closer to him. I knew Cardassians didn’t like a direct touch, but I had noticed that there was one type of touch they did allow; I put my hand on his arm—he wore a thick tunic that day, so I didn’t touch his skin—I wouldn’t dare to go that far. “I am not afraid of you. I trust you. You are my friend.” His eyes stuck to my face. “In fact, you are my best friend on this ship,” I said and I meant it.
He stared at me for a long time. His pupils were wide as he studied my face. The lines of grey marbles around his eyes gave him a panda look—his skin inside the eye ridges was of the same colour is the rest of his face, but deep shadows cast by the ridges created the impression that the skin around the eyes was darker. The lower eyelid was almost straight; thanks to it his eyes gained a crescent shape when he smiled. I wished so much he smiled now. It was so sad to watch him suffering. He was the only Cardassian I knew whose ear-to-chin ridges didn’t recede, but were connected. They surrounded his face, giving it a round, cute shape, cut in half by a small, but sharp nose. I didn’t know if he was handsome; I didn’t know if he was handsome by Cardassian standards; I didn’t even know if he was handsome by my
standards, but I liked his face so much. I liked all the ridges, and the hooded eyes, and the marbles of his scales, and his crescent blue-grey eyes and his round cheeks and round chin. And now this face that I liked so much was so sad, so full of regret, shame and sorrow.
He lowered his head and looked at remains of his meal.
“My father is a gul in the Fourth Order. He is an active member of the Directorate. He has a past of ‘good service’ for Cardassia.” His words were soaked with irony. “He did lots of terrible things and he is proud of them.” Irony and contempt. “I don’t want to be anything like him.”
“You are not.” I gently squeezed his arm.
“How can you tell?” he snapped at me.
“Because I am here, sharing a meal with you. Because the last time I was here you played kotra with me. Because you let me touch you. Because you laugh at my silly jokes. Because you don’t mind I’m a human and you never did. And that means you are nothing like him.”
“Kapoor...” He grabbed my hand, took it off his arm, but didn’t let it go. He didn’t say anything else; we just sat there, in silence, in a comfortable