I arrived to Gul Tarkan’s office almost an hour too early. I approached the glinn at the reception desk and told him I had an appointment with Gul Tarkan. The glinn didn’t take his eyes from me and politely replied that I was much too early. He didn’t have to check it—he just remembered. Did he memorise the gul’s schedule for a day every morning?
He told me to sit and wait.
So I sat and waited.
I hadn’t slept last night. Tavor had told me that Gul Tarkan was an old, traditional gul, stiff in his ways and rough in his conduct. He hadn’t intended to scare me but that was exactly what he had done. So I hadn’t slept, fearing this meeting and regretting that I had asked Jarol to arrange it. Tavor had told me that most likely even Jarol was afraid of Tarkan.
The glinn busied himself with his duties and I sat there, staring at the wall opposite me and trying not to throw up. My stomach twisted and danced in my guts. I hadn’t been able to have breakfast and I was grateful for it now, as it could have returned the same way it had gotten in there.
Time was passing. Slowly. Sloooooowly. Slooooooooooowly. The glinn glanced at me from time to time and then returned to his work. A secretary in Cardassian armour.
“You may enter,” he suddenly said. He nodded toward the big door to his right—my left.
I glanced at the chronometer and it was twenty minutes too early.
“Thank you,” I said—muttered rather—and approached the door.
It parted quietly and I entered a huge room behind it.
Please meet Godzilla.
He was huge
. Twice the size of a Cardassian. Three times. Ten times. Enormous! He stood by a big window, his hands clasped behind his back. “Please, sit down,” he said gesturing toward a chair in front of a bulky desk.
“Thank you,” I replied hoping that my voice hadn’t shown how nervous I was.
He sat too. He took the padd that lay on the desk and activated it. “I have been told that you had resigned from Starfleet,” he said looking at me, not at the padd. I only nodded and swallowed. “I’ve been also told that you would like to join the Cardassian Guard.”
I nodded again. And then I thought I shouldn’t make an impression of a coward; Cardassia didn’t need cowards. “Yes, sir.” I hoped my voice sounded strong but all I heard was a thin mouse squeak.
“Why?” It wasn’t asked in an aggressive, demanding manner. It was just a question. A question I was not prepared for. I had an answer but I don’t think he was interested in my love life. My hesitation had to be obvious, or lasted too long, as he said, “Let me rephrase the question. Why do you want to serve in the military of your former enemy?” That was supposed to help me to answer? He let the padd go and it fell to the desk with a loud ‘clack!’
I stared at it for a moment and then took a deep breath. “I don’t see Cardassia as my former enemy. I see it as my new home.”
“And what if your new home goes to war with your old home? Where will your loyalties be then?” His voice was still levelled. Was it a test? Was he trying to check if I’d betrayed the Federation? Did he fear I would betray Cardassia some day too?
“I don’t know,” I said quietly.
He stared at me. I felt he could see through me. Inside me. Outside me. All over me. His small, grey eyes pierced through my head. I knew Godzilla would eat me in a moment. He wouldn’t even have to chew, he’d just swallow me whole.
“Why did you join Starfleet?” he asked.
Finally a question I knew how to answer. “It seemed like a good career. And an interesting job. I’m an engineer and I don’t see that kind of job only as fixing broken things. This is also a way to learn about devices and tools. One of the reasons why I volunteered to serve aboard the Roumar
was that I could learn more about Cardassian devices and tools. To discover them, in a manner of speaking. In Starfleet I had a chance to work on many interesting projects. It’s like an...adventure.” Was I babbling? I wasn’t, was I? But at least I was becoming less nervous.
He seemed to listen carefully. “Do you know that the Cardassian Guard’s mission is not exploration?” he asked me after a moment of silence.
“I do. I have been working on the Roumar
for over a year now.”
“‘Discovering’ Cardassian technology,” he said. “What will happen when you know everything and there’s nothing more to discover?”
“There’s always something to discover, sir.” I smiled. I really dared to smile!
His frown softened for a moment and then he asked, “Why do you want to stay on Cardassia, Kapoor?” That question again. “The truth.”
“I will marry a Cardassian,” I said. He wanted the truth, he got the truth.
He inclined his head to the left and looked at me with a new expression. He was surprised—I could tell that for sure. He shifted forward and leaned toward me, leaning his forearms on the desk. “If you want to stay in the Guard, you will have to go through the same process as any other Cardassian.”
“Do I have to go to the Academy?” I can’t say I didn’t expect something like that.
“Yes and no.” He paused, pursed his lips and after a short moment continued. “You have graduated from one academy and I see no need to waste time and resources to teach you the things you already know and train you in a way that you had been already trained—if not at the Federation academy, then aboard the Roumar
. You don’t have to attend classes but you must pass all exams. You can study at home, or have a private tutor and approach exams when you are ready. That should speed up the process for you.” He most likely overestimated my memory. “After successful completion you will start as a d’ja and climb the ladder of your new career from the bottom, like everyone else.” He paused again. “I’ve already talked to Gul Brenok and he is willing to keep your aboard the Roumar
. You will be an eresh in training. That should help you with your study.” I nodded. That was really good news. “However...” Oh, no! “I have another proposal for you.” My eyebrows raised. “I am attempting to gather a team of engineers to work on innovations and improving Cardassian technology. I believe you will be a great asset to such a team. With your Federation, non-Cardassian experience and knowledge you could bring unique ideas.” What was he saying?! He was offering me a job? “I can understand that you might feel like betraying your...old home.” He leaned back in his chair and shrank a bit. “That’s why I would like you to take time and think about my offer.”
“Would I be able to resign from that team if I wanted to?”
“Of course. However, all your input will stay Cardassian property.”
In other words, if I invent a weapon and they start shooting my people with it, I can leave in protest but they keep the weapon. “What kind of inventions will those be?” I asked.
“For a start, I think we need a new, better warship. And more efficient replicators. We had received a few industrial replicators from the Federation a few years ago and they are better than ours.” He thought for a while. “I could even give you an option to choose your projects. Non-military only, if you wish.”
“Even a frying pan can be a weapon if your intent is to kill,” I said before I stopped myself.
Godzilla...smiled. No, he chuckled
. And shrank a bit more. He became serious again. “Will you consider my offer?”
“Yes, sir, I will.”
“Very well, then. Glinn Hertop will have a full curriculum for you. Report back to the Roumar
. Notify Gul Brenok when you are ready to take the first examination and we will continue from there.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
He looked a bit surprised at me. That’s right, Cardassians didn’t have that sweet habit of thanking their superiors. “You’re welcome,” he answered in an unsure voice.
Godzilla shrank. He was a tall and slightly overweight Cardassian, but by no means a gigantic one. I smiled to him and left his office.
The glinn outside rose when he saw me emerging from Tarkan’s office. He approached me and handed me a padd. “This is for you,” he said. Ah, so this was Glinn Hertop.
“Thank you.” I smiled to him and he grinned too, although his smile wasn’t any more sure than Gul Tarkan’s voice a moment ago. I found it amusing.
I left the building and outside was met by a hot, dry wind.
That part of Lakat wasn’t as badly destroyed as other districts—not mentioning Lakarian City—so I decided to take a walk. Tavor had given me a padd with a city plan, so I retrieved it from my bag and activated it.
I passed by government buildings, with majestic Central Command Headquarters in front of it, and headed for the oldest district, hoping to see some historical buildings and how Cardassian architecture had been changing through centuries.
It was a hot day with hot wind, dry air and a lot of city noise. And crowds. I smiled to myself—it reminded me of Calcutta, only the humidity level was different.
I stopped by their kind of pedestrian crossing—seven thin lines stretching from one curb to the other—and waited with other people for the signal. They didn’t have red and green lights one above the other, they had Cardassian letters one next to the other. A girl, four- maybe five-years-old, raised her head and looked at me. I smiled at her and she hid behind her mother, who gave me a surprised look. Was the child afraid of a stranger or an alien? Or both?
The Cardassian character on the street light changed and I crossed the street together with everybody.
The nearer to the old district I was, the emptier the city seemed. There was no rubble—it had been cleared already—but the holes left by destroyed buildings screamed about the great tragedy that fell on Cardassians. I remembered hearing some of my colleagues saying shortly after the war that the Cardassians brought it on themselves, but what did that little girl do to have her home devastated? What was her mother guilty of? Yes, the Cardassians were not the gentlest and friendliest race in the quadrant, but if someone should be punished, then punish the guilty ones, not just everyone with ridges on his or her face.
Something caught my attention. There seemed to be some kind of public gathering on a plaza; I headed there curious. As it occurred, there was some sort of open-air exhibition of photos, drawings, paintings and holoimages of Lakat. In front of many items there were circles drawn on the ground but I had no idea what was the purpose of that. I walked between the works and thought that the city used to be really beautiful. Dominated by brown and ochre colours, with everywhere present ovals and triangles—did those shapes have a special meaning for the Cardassians? I’d have to ask Tavor. Some people stopped, seeing me. Some started to point out to me and whisper something to their companions. Some faces expressed surprise, some hostility, some curiosity. There was one man that stared at me intently and didn’t avert his eyes when I looked at him. He didn’t like me being there and he didn’t hide it.
One drawing drew my attention especially. It was a panorama, with spires and roofs, and buildings. I stopped in front of it and studied it. Some man stopped next to me and waved for me to move to my left. Was he shooing me away? Why? He pointed to the circle on the ground and then I understood that he wanted me to stand inside
it. I looked around and noticed that other visitors did just that with the other circles. Why? Did the state command from which place you should admire art, too? However, I listened and stood in the circle. The man smiled and went away. I looked at the drawing again and then it dawned on me.
From the spot I was standing in I could see the drawing and what was behind it...It was exactly the same view, the same landscape. While standing in the circle one could see what had been—in the picture—and what was—in the brutal reality. Tears filled my eyes and I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to muffle my gasp. I blinked and blinked, but tears didn’t want to clear. I dried them with my hand and looked around, wondering if anyone had noticed. The hostile man had, but he wasn’t hostile any longer; his face was graced by a sad smile. Had he seen me as an enemy and now realised I didn’t condone what had been done to his planet any more than he did?