Another office. Another government office. Oh, I didn’t think I had visited as many Federation officials, as Cardassian. Actually, I didn’t think I had personally visited any
At least, this time I wasn’t scared to death. Everything else seemed almost the same as in Gul Tarkan’s office: a secretary in armour behind the desk, the big door to the office, even the seat was identically uncomfortable.
“You may enter,” said the glinn-secretary.
The office was much smaller than I had expected. There was a painting of a village in a desert on the wall to the left and another of sand storm in a town on the opposite wall. There was a window opposite the door and it was big enough to give sufficient light even for my human eyes. In one of corners there was a low coffee table with three chairs. I moved forward, walking on a soft, thick carpet toward a medium-size desk, which was completely covered with padds. There was one spot free of padds, though—a small sculpture stood there, the same that she had kept in her office aboard the ship. A dolphin of some sort. A Cardassian dolphin, of course, with ridges at al.
“Eresh Kapoor.” Legate Jarol stood from behind her desk and approached me. “What can I do for you?”
I was wearing Cardassian armour with the eresh’s markings. She was wearing legate’s armour—silver and with the Union’s emblem on her chest. I noticed she didn’t wear the undershirt that legates usually wore under their armours, which covered their shoulder ridges. I wondered why.
“Actually,” I began to speak quietly, “In spite of wearing my armour, I came with a very private, personal matter.”
“Oh?” She seemed surprised. Her whole mannerism changed immediately. Her facial expression became less official and more curious.
“Glinn Karama and I are in the middle of our wedding preparations. It’s not going to be a very traditional Cardassian wedding...his parents are going to be absent.”
She nodded her understanding. “I know of Gul Karama,” she said simply.
“Yes.” I made a face, thinking of that monster. But I didn’t want to spoil this moment. “So, we want to have a modest ceremony. Still, I want to make it as traditional as possible for Tav...Glinn Karama and...” I hesitated. I’d made my decision and I was sure it was the right one, but now facing her—I felt like it was too bold to ask.
“Yes?” She encouraged me.
“According to the Cardassian tradition, I need two per’taye
s. I have only one. I would...” I silenced not able to finish, but she clearly understood.
Her posture changed, as she leaned to me. “Kapoor, you should ask your friends for it, someone close to you.”
“Legate, I have only one friend here—one female friend at least—and you are the closest thing to a friend there is. You will make me a great honour if you agree to be my first per’taye
“Kapoor, the honour will be mine.” She put her hand on her chest. “However, shouldn’t Ma’Kan be you first per’taye
? She is closer to you.”
“But you are a legate and you are older.”
She smiled, grabbed my elbow and pulled me to the coffee table. I sat in one chair, she sat in another and then she said, “Kapoor, a per’taye
is not about social function, position or age. It is about the place the woman has in your heart. Ma’Kan is your friend...er, this is Ma’Kan we’re talking about, right?” I nodded. “So she should be your first per’taye
“Will you be my second per’taye
?” I asked. Ma’Kan had told me the same thing, but I had been afraid of offending Legate Jarol.
“With pleasure,” she smiled warmly.
That was so strange. I had known her as a gul for such a long time and while I couldn’t complain, she had been nothing like a Federation captain, who called you by your given name from time to time. Now she was a legate, a member of the government and I had expected her to be even more distant and stiff... But she was nice and friendly, more like an older sister than a former commander. Why was that? Because she wasn’t my direct superior any longer? Because I came with a non-uniform matter?
“Our wedding will be on thirty-fifth of Yiyut,” I said.
“I’ll make sure to have that day booked for you.”
“Thank you, Legate.” I rose. “I’m sure...I can see you are busy.” I pointed to the desk and the padds. She stood up, too. “I’ll leave you to your work now. I have to study anyway.” Stop babbling, silly!
“Good luck, Kapoor.”
“Thank you, Legate.”
I left her office.
A member of the Central Command would be my bridesmaid. Wow, I ruled!
Ma’Kan waited outside of the building, bathing her face in sun’s orange rays. “Well, what did she say?” she asked me when I approached her.
“She said the same thing you had told me.”
“I didn’t doubt that. But did she agree?”
I smiled. “Indeed.”
“So, that is settled. What’s left on your preparations list?”
What? Did she expect me to pull the list out of my head and—of course she did! I squinted my eyes, trying to recall what else was left to do. “I still have to prepare our menu. This is not going to be a big party, but we must feed our guests.” I gave her an asking look. “Or not?” I had just realised that in the society of constant saving and rationing they might not expect a few to feed many.
“Have you decided to have the party in your new place or at a restaurant?”
“Why? Does it matter?”
“Yes. The guests must know beforehand. You shall greet them with some food, but they won’t come empty-handed. They’ll bring rations for you to use later, or their own food to share with everyone, or share costs of the bill if the party takes place at a restaurant. They will also notify you earlier if they bring food or rations, so that you’ll know how much food you should prepare. Nothing ruins a party more effectively than little food to eat and lots of ration allocations on padds.” She chuckled.
“This is so new to me,” I admitted. “I can barely get used to thinking about money and paying for things. Rations? This is just too damn weird.”
“I’d feel like a thief in the Federation,” Ma’Kan said. “To take things and don’t pay? You go to prison for that here.” She laughed. A moment later she became serious again. “As to the menu, don’t plan anything yet. After you invite all your guests and they confirm their ‘return gifts,’ then and only then you can start planning what to feed them with.”
“Noted.” I paused. “Now what? You told me you had a surprise for me.”
“Have you ever been to a fresh market?” she asked.
My eyes opened wide. “No.”
“Want to go?”
“And you will tell me all about food over there?”
“Naturally. This is going to an educational field trip.”
“Anything you must do?”
“Nope. Let’s go.”
We took a tram—a modern, fast mini-train—and arrived to one of districts, in which I hadn’t been before. Ma’Kan explained that the biggest fresh market in Lakat was over here.
Sometimes there were moments when I felt on Cardassia just like at home. The heat, the humidity, the crowds—it all was so similar to home that no Federation starship could imitate this unusual feeling.
The fresh market was no different and gave me a strange feeling of home. It was surrounded by a wire net fence with a gate—I assumed there were many of those in different parts of the market—to enter. By the gate hung a huge plan of the market. Ma’Kan went over there and let me study it for a moment. The plan clearly showed which part of the market was dedicated to fruits, which to vegetables, meat, fish, and kitchen equipment—yes, on the market one could buy not only food but also all necessary items to prepare it.
“Let’s start from fruits,” I suggested looking at Ma’Kan. “Are we allowed to sample?”
“If we’re lucky,” she answered. “Vendors usually sacrifice a fruit or a few to sample, but once those are eaten, no more is offered.”
“I see.” It made sense—one wouldn’t waste their precious goods on customers who just ate and didn’t buy.
We entered the market: narrow streets between stalls filled with noisy people. Vendors called and praised their goods and I quickly realised that I drew a lot of attention. They waved to me to approach them, tempted me sniffing their fruits with delighted facial expressions, or offering me something to try.
I stopped by a big stall. “What is this?” I asked Ma’Kan. The vendor was busy spraying his goods with water, undoubtedly making sure nothing got spoiled or too dry in the hot sun.
“This is fop
,” she answered. The fruit was greenish-yellow and oblong. “There are two types of these; one is like this one, the other one is more of red colour.” While she was speaking, the vendor turned to reach for something on the other side of his stall and handed me another fruit, very much like this one, just reddish-yellow. “Yeah, this is it.” Ma’Kan smiled at him. “Want to try?” she asked me.
I looked at the vendor. Up until this moment the dja and I used the universal translator, but I decided to be brave. I turned it off and asked, “Yat? Zdar?” One? How much?
.” He showed three fingers. “Hufnap lek
“Ten leks for three,” I repeated after turning on my translator. “If I hate it, will you take the other two? Consider it a payment for this trip.” A thought occurred to me. “Do you like them?”
“Everyone likes them. And it’s a deal, but I’m quite sure you’ll like them, too.”
I paid the vendor ten lek
s. To my surprise, he offered me a damp cloth. I gave my friend an asking look. “It’s to clean them, in case you wanted to eat one now.”
I meticulously wiped my fruits clean and returned the cloth to the vendor. Then, I took a bite. The juice dripped out of the fruit to my chin and then down to my armour and boots. The vendor chuckled, but it wasn’t a mean laugh. He handed me another cloth, this time a dry one, to wipe the juice off my armour.
,” I thanked him, hoping that I’d chosen the right ‘thank you,’ since there were two in Cardassian language, each for a different kind of situations.
was delicious. I managed not to make more mess of my appearance before finishing it, but I was sure that applied only to my clothing. I could feel sticky, sweet smears of dried juice on my face.
We moved on to another stall and another kind of fruit drew my attention. It was dark purple, very thin and very long. It reminded my of an eggplant in a way. I pointed to it and looked at Ma’Kan.
,” she said. “You peel off the violet skin and eat pink meat inside.”
I bought two and I liked it. In spite of looking like an eggplant, it tasted like a combination of a banana and a jackfruit.
We left the fruit section and proceeded to vegetables section. I stopped and asked a lot of questions about a root stall, as apart from prices there was something else on the price tags stuck in the goods: a drawing of a Cardassian silhouette with parts of the body marked. For each root a different part was coloured. Ma’Kan explained that root-vegetables were very healthy and the vendor made sure that her customers knew which one was the best for which organ. She also told me which ones had an awful, bitter taste.
Again, my attention was drawn by something exotic. It looked like a giant wheat—a long grass with heavy grains on top. “What’s this called?” I asked my friend.
. This is sisstu
. You can eat it raw in salads, or cook it, or bake it, or mash it, or whatever. It’s good. I’m sure you had it in something. Usually it looks like little balls in your meal.”
“Those little orange and brown thingies?” I asked and she confirmed by nodding. “Ah, yes. I had no idea they grow like this.”
“You can also buy them without the grass, just grains. Or canned.”
The colour was hilarious; it was glowing red. You’d forgotten your torch and had to enter a dark cave? Take a vegetable! It’d light your way and fill your tummy.
“This is ganot
—a glowing, red cabbage. Just next to it was mini-ganot
—glowing, red Brussel sprouts.
We returned home with a few bags of fruits and vegetables. I invited Ma’Kan for dinner to pay her for her time and lessons on Cardassian fresh market.
Tavor was staying in his brother’s place. Tasar and his family were currently out-of-town, so their newly rented apartment was almost empty. Tasar and Inaya had moved out of Gul Karama’s house, because they had decided to live on their own without terrorising presence of the father, who had just retired and was at home all the time. They had invited Tavor to stay at their place whenever the Roumar
was orbiting Cardassia, so my fiancé was happy to free himself from the ship’s quarters and breathe the real air. I had to stay aboard the warship—no naughty stuff before the wedding was allowed!
But having meals together was not naughty, so Tavor and I had a chance to spend a lot of time together and to almost feel like living together...just without the bed thing.
When the door to the apartment opened, my friend and I were literally attacked by loud music. We went to the kitchen, not even trying to speak in that noise and then searched for my husband-to-be.
Ma’Kan found him first. She stood in the doorway and leaned on the door frame, observing him with her jaw on the floor. I joined her to see Tavor wiping clean—or perhaps polishing—a shelf in a cabinet, rocking on his feet and shaking his bum to the rhythm of music. We stood there, observing him. He finished the shelf and moved on to the next one and just then noticed us; two unmoving people in the door had clearly startled him. He turned the music off. “What did she say?” he asked me.
“I hope we won’t make news,” he muttered and then resumed his activity. It was the first time that I thought Tavor didn’t like the idea of Jarol being my per’taye
. I decided to talk to him about it later. I didn’t want any part of our wedding to be unpleasant for any of us and I regretted that he hadn’t said anything earlier, before I had asked the legate.
“What are you doing?” Ma’Kan asked him.
“My brother let me live here for a while, so I see no reason not to repay for it by cleaning his house,” Tavor said. “They still have a lot of work before their move is over and I could do at least some cleaning.”
Ma’Kan looked at me. “Wow,” she just said.
I chuckled. “He’s not for sale.” I looked at Tavor. “Ma’Kan is staying with us for dinner; I hope it’s all right with you.”
“Sure,” he said with his head between shelves. He adjusted the volume level and then turned the music back on, but a bit more quiet.
Ma’Kan and I went to the kitchen. “That’s interesting,” I said. “We didn’t hear a sound coming from the apartment, while it was so loud in here.”
The tactician looked at me. At first there was surprise on her face, but then her expression changed to something else that I couldn’t decipher. “All houses on Cardassia are now built this way—soundproof.”
“Clever. That way no one disturbs their neighbours when listening to loud music.” The look she gave me...I knew there was something behind it. “What?” I asked.
“You don’t want to know,” Tavor said, entering the kitchen.
“What?” I insisted.
Ma’Kan sighed. “Walls are soundproof, so no one could hear when the Obsidian Order came for you, beat you to unconsciousness and then took you away.”
I hoped it was her poor attempt of a joke, but her facial expression was deadly serious. I looked at Tavor and he didn’t look any better. This was for real. “So that’s how people disappeared without a trace,” I said. “No one even knew when.”
None of them said anything. It was a few years after the Obsidian Order had been gone and it still triggered fear in them. I couldn’t even imagine how terrible the Order had to be...and I didn’t think I wanted to imagine.
Tavor inspected the bags, sniffed inside one of them and whispered with a delight, “Freshhhhhhh fishhhhhhhh...”
Grateful for his attempt to defuse the unpleasant atmosphere, I started to tell him about our trip to the fresh market.