“We have received your report, Lieutenant
” On my monitor, Commander Calderon looked up at me from a file on her padd. “I must say I am quite surprised by the discrepancy between your and Lieutenant Ullmann’s description of the events
“Yes, Commander. I believe I can explain that.”
“You are not trying to claim that her report is inaccurate?
“Oh, no, not at all.” How could she even think that? “I am sure Lieutenant Ullmann’s report is a faithful representation of her point of view. What I’m trying to say is that my point of view was different, as a bystander’s. Lieutenant Ullmann was unhappy in that assignment since the beginning and she alienated some of the Cardassians; Gil Karama especially and he took it really badly. However, I can assure you he would not act on his threats. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Ullmann didn’t want to believe that.”
Calderon stared at me for a very long moment. “You do not apply for a transfer back to the Federation
.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
“I do not,” I confirmed.
She sighed. “Lieutenant, this exchange program is clearly a failure
,” she said. “The Cardassians obviously are not ready to be a part of the Alpha Quadrant and I do not think this is a good idea for you to stay there.
I fumed. It was a very unfortunate incident, but it wasn’t entirely Karama’s fault and certainly not all Cardassians’ to judge them as a people that can’t be a part of a greater whole.
“With all due respect, Commander—”
“I will forward my recommendation to recall you from your current assignment,
” she interrupted.
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Commander, this was one incident, a very disastrous, no doubt, however let’s not cancel the whole program because of it.”
“No, Lieutenant. We cannot be sure of your safety aboard that Cardassian warship. I think it’s in your best interest to return home. You should expect your orders soon
“Yes, Commander,” I replied, but didn’t hide my disappointment. She signed off.
Okay, so I’d known this wasn’t permanent. I hadn’t expected it to take more than a few months. But things had changed! This turned out to be as great assignment as on a Federation starship it would be—I had my commanding officer, I had my head of my department, I’d made some friends. It was so...normal
. For the most part.
The naked truth was that I didn’t want a reassignment. I felt fine where I was. Sure, some of Cardassians were not friendly, some were annoying, some were patronising, but for the most part they were okay. I didn’t have any guarantee that my new captain would be less scary than the Dragon Lady and my chief engineer more forgiving than Glinn Zamarran.
A door chime sounded, so I muttered “Enter.” The door parted and I saw Karama standing in the corridor. He didn’t enter but stood there looking at me. “Why the long face?” he asked eventually.
“Come in,” I said and he finally entered my quarters. “Fish juice?”
“No, thank you. Actually, I’m headed for Ma’Kan’s quarters. Want to join? She is almost finished with the Hideki, but needs to do some precise work. I think your tiny fingers could be very useful.” He silenced and then added. “That was a joke.”
“Funny,” I muttered humourlessly.
“Apparently not so.” He sat on my bunk and leaned toward me. “What’s happened?”
“They recall me back to the Federation.”
“Oh.” He sounded genuinely disappointed. “So soon?” Should I tell him that it’s because the Ullmann incident? It could make him feel guilty and I didn’t want him to feel guilty. “Do you want me to stay with you?” he asked very quietly.
I looked at him. I didn’t expect that. It was clear he’d assumed that in my present mood I wouldn’t like to go to Ma’Kan and struggle with her little toy models. I appreciated so much that he didn’t insist. But to stay with me? To just...be with me? So that I didn’t have to sit with my sadness alone? To share my grim mood?
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I want to if you need it.”
That was the sweetest thing any man had ever said to me. “Do you mind if we listen to some music?” I asked.
He shook his head, so I turned on something I grew up with. It was too cheerful for my mood, but I hoped it would help me improve it a little. Karama seemed surprised by my choice or by the music itself—I couldn’t tell and didn’t want to ask.
I sat next to him and leaned against the bulkhead behind me. “How long do you serve on the Roumar
?” I asked him.
“Let me think...” He silenced for a moment. “Eight years, since the graduation from the Academy.”
“Is it typical? To be posted on one warship and never transferred?”
“Usually there is no need for a transfer. If you’re doing your job properly then your gul wants to keep you. A lot of people stay on one ship for years, until it hinders their career and then they have to transfer.”
“Like to move somewhere else to become someone’s first officer?”
“In a way. A gul’s aide is usually chosen from the crew as this person could not only be trusted but also familiar with the warship and its crew. But such things as a transfer from outside happen and they aren’t a rarity.”
“What would happen to your tattoo if you resigned?” I knew he had a tattoo on his chest just below his right collar bone ridge and I knew Aladar had one too.
“Nothing. Everyone who joins the military gets a tattoo. Even if you retire you still have a history of the service in the Guard, which is a great honour. We wear them with pride even if usually they are hidden under clothing.”
“But your tattoo is different than Aladar’s.”
“I am an officer, Aladar is a non-com. I have the Union symbol, he has the Fourth Order’s symbol.”
“Non-coms, once assigned to an Order, stay in it forever. Transfers are possible from one post to another but always within the same Order. Officers can be transferred between Orders, although it doesn’t happen often.”
“Interesting. We are transferred all around Starfleet. Do Ma’Kan and Gul Jarol have tattoos too?”
“They have to. Being women doesn’t change the fact that they are soldiers and officers.”
“How long have you been posted in your longest assignment?” he asked after a short moment of silence.
“That short?” His eye ridges raised slightly in surprise. “Why? Did you do something?”
“No. They needed an engineer elsewhere and my ship could spare me.”
I knew how it sounded to him. I wasn’t good enough to keep me, so I had been the first one to be kicked out. The Cardassians valued efficiency and in his eyes I had to be inefficient if my commanders had bothered with allocating me and resources somewhere else. Transferring me had cost them less than keeping me. It hurt a bit—to know he thought that way. It wasn’t his malice, I knew that, it was his mentality—but it still stung. I wasn’t particularly talented, I was good at my job and I did it well, but I certainly didn’t belong to that group of miracle workers who could make a warp coil from a piece of wire and bubble gum. I was only a regular professional, no fireworks.
Perfect, my mood just got worse.
“I don’t want to be transferred,” I said quietly and realised that my voice shook like I was just about to cry. Karama gave me an attentive look. Did he hear tears in my voice or was he just surprised by my statement? I couldn’t read his face. Not tonight.
“You can’t refuse it, can you?” he asked.
I only shook my head, afraid to speak.
We went silent and just sat there, listening to the music. He pulled a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders.
“Computer, raise the temperature by three degrees,” I said.
“You don’t have to do this,” he replied. “I’ll be fine under the blanket.”
“That’s all right. Where I come from, a city called Calcutta, this is an average temperature in summertime. It reminds me of home...kind of.”
He smiled. “I didn’t know our homes had something in common.”
“I think if you dig deep enough you can find a lot of similarities. After over four months I know we are much more alike than any of us would like to admit.”
“It’s not four months yet.”
four months. I still think like an Earthling.”
“How many days do you have in your month?”
“Thirty or thirty-one or twenty-eight. Or twenty-nine,” I added after a second.
He stared at me surprised. “Why so complicated?”
“Because Earth doesn’t want to circle Sun in a more regular manner,” I replied smiling slightly. “It took us centuries to establish a calendar that works.”
“Interesting.” He turned his whole his body to face me. “So how do you know how many days will be in the following month?” It seemed that he thought it was more complicated than it really was.
We talked about our calendars, about the histories of our calendars and about histories of our planets. How could someone claim this mission was a failure? There was no information about the Cardassian calendar in the Federation database, there was limited information about their history—except for some obscure facts about the Hebitian Empire, which Karama called the ‘Hebitian Republic’—and there was no useful information about their culture. I could bring all that information with me, if only Starfleet gave me enough time to collect it. The Cardassians were much more than just a Galor class warship blueprints. Their armours were cold but the hearts underneath were warm. Their scales were thick but they were emotionally vulnerable, just like us. They grew tough and hostile but the more I knew them the more I understood they were taught it, it wasn’t in their nature. I had an impression that it was much more natural for them to smile at the thought of their families than frown at the thought of their enemies.
Maybe I was blind, maybe I was totally wrong and my perspective was distorted because I was among them, in the middle of their nest, inside the dragon’s cave, but sometimes I had a hard time associating these people here with what I knew about Bajor.
I had studied Gul Jarol’s profile. I didn’t have access to all of it but there was enough of information to draw a picture of who she was. She had fought in the Border Wars. She had been posted in a former Federation colony. The Roumar
—with another gul in command at that time—had been assigned to pacify the Maquis and she had taken part in massacres of civilians. She had led two of them! Of course, in the Cardassian database those things were presented as heroic and noble service to the Union, but I could read between the lines. She was some kind of terrible monster, without conscience, without a heart, without anything inside that cold, hard armour.
But she had also fought the Dominion. She had helped a Romulan vessel and had saved it from destruction and had worked with a Federation captain to find who had been attacking his convoys. She had nearly lost her life when she had refused to follow her gul’s order to poison Klingon invaders and Cardassian civilians—such collateral damage was unacceptable for her and she had been ready to die trying to protect them.
She scared the hell out of me each time she was in my sight but I knew I could go to her if I had a problem with anyone. She had dealt with the Ullmann and Karama incident; she was even angry at me for not reporting it. Karama had told me that she hadn’t ruined his career by putting a note in his file, neither permanent nor temporary; she had only given him a ten minute speech and postponed his promotion.
So was she a monster? She was no angel—that was certain—but was she the devil’s sister? Her crew respected her; they would follow her to hell if that was her destination. It was not fear, it was not terror that she used to rule the warship. It was fairness. It was her dedication to her crew. She respected them and they answered in the same manner.
How was that different from a Starfleet starship?
How many of our captains were true angels? Especially after the last war? True, they didn’t massacre anyone, they didn’t brutally pacify the Maquis, but...
There were Cardassians and Cardassians. Some were like Karama’s father and Gul Dukat, some were like Gul Jarol and Glinn Brenok and some were like Karama and Garesh Aladar. You can’t just put everyone into one bag, mix and say: these are the Cardassians; the Klingons say they have no honour, the Federation says they have no conscience, the Dominion says they are traitors and only the Romulans know what they would say, but I didn’t expect it to be any more fair that the three other opinions. I say—if anyone were willing to listen—they are people. Tall and short. Fat and slim. Mean and nice. Dark grey and light grey. With thick ridges and with delicate ridges. They love, they hate, they laugh and they die—just like all of us.
I didn’t want to return to the Federation, not yet. I had to find more Karamas, and more Aladars and more Ma’Kans and I was sure there were many more of them. My assignment was not only to gather data for the Federation, but also to know the Cardassians and to bring that information to the Federation. My assignment was far from accomplished; I had to make sure Starfleet knew that.
I sat. “Please don’t think I’m ungrateful, but I have to do something and I have to do it now, before my courage vaporises.”
“You want me to go?” he asked neutrally as if making sure he understood me correctly.
I nodded. “Please, don’t be angry.” I leaned to him and closed my face to his. “I want to write a report for Starfleet and I hope they will let me stay for a while longer.”
“That’s okay,” he smiled. I really hoped he didn’t feel like I’d slapped away his helping hand. “Good luck with your report.” He rose and headed for the door. “See you tomorrow. I believe you have a bridge duty?”
“That’s correct,” I confirmed. He grinned; it was a nice, sincere smile; the one that I liked so much.
He left and I sat at my desk to prepare my great speech for my superiors in uniforms made from fabric.