Episode 1: The Maelstrom Awaits
Timeline: Day 8 at 1230
Ekal had decided to visit the arboretum for a few reasons. First, plantlife is always interesting and reminds her of her mother. Second, the arboretum is kept a few degrees warmer than other parts of the ship she was welcome to dally in. Third, she knew Helin Lahm had made his way there following his lunch. Keeping your eyes open was helpful when identifying potential friends and foes. His path was predictable, most people did want to visit the designated restorative space, to grow familiar with it, early in the onboarding process.
Counselors expected honesty. Counselors expected to hear what worried you, what upset you, and there was not a cardassian in the universe who wanted counseling. Not that many of them had to deal with the threat of it, the concept of counseling was forgein to them and the job would never be taken up on Cardassia Prime.
"You are Ensign Lahm, aren't you?" She knew he'd heard her, but she had approached him like she would another cardassian, outside of his visual range. Every other race had better hearing than hers.
Helin Lahm had taken a seat on a bench near a vividly flowering shrub, vaguely aware that he had not been the only one in the green space for a little while. He was content to ignore the presence of others, respectful that a lot of crew might come to the arboretum seeking solitude and peace and the last thing they might want is to be disturbed. Reflexively, when the unfamiliar voice broke the silence, he turned at the torso toward her and took in the image of the woman.
He did not know her, but he knew of her. A cardassian flight officer, she sort of stuck out on the manifest for obvious reasons. Her name eluded him, though, stuck on the tip of his tongue, as the terran expression went. "Yes..." he rose from the bench. "Ensign... Del..." He hesitated. "Drelsin? No... I'm going to have to give in and ask."
"Ensign Dreisor, counselor. May I sit with you?" She gestured to the other end of the bench, letting her face fall into a polite but dispassionate smile with wide eyes. It would be rude of her to presume she'd be welcome to chat, especially since he hadn't remembered her name. Or did Trills not have eidetic memories, and it wasn't an insult? Whatever it was, not everyone would be comfortable with her approaching them, and she wanted to be sure he welcomed her presence for the time.
"Yes.. of course, please," he seemed more surprised by the question than he'd preferred, but of course he had been taken off guard by it. "My apologies for the name. I thought I would try to memorize the officer manifest, but," he gave a shrug, "perfection remains elusive." He motioned to the bench, waiting for her to sit before he would. "Is everything alright?"
She sat delicately, crossing her legs and leaning just a little forward. Ekal couldn't decide if she was happy he hadn't intended to insult her or not. Sometimes she just wanted to flirt. Not with the counselor, though. "Everything is perfectly fine, save for how bright everything is all the time! It is a pleasure to make our aquaintance. I wanted to meet you before we got underway."
"I'm glad you did. My office is always open, with variable environmental controls," Helin added with a grin. He looked away from her, toward a flowering branch of the bush, which he reached out for and ran a hand along the stem.
"I'd never been one to enjoy gardens when I was living on Trill, and we have a lot of them there," he said as he let go of the plant, "but now I kind of miss them so whenever I visit one I have this urge to sketch the plants, paint the flowers. I can see the movement of color in the petals and sweeping strokes of each leaf... except that I'm terrible artist. Seriously. I'm not giving up hope yet, but it's not good." He chuckled and glanced back over toward Dreisor. "What do you enjoy in your free time?"
Ekal let her eyes roam the plants as she debated telling him the truth- that she wrote poetry and climbed cliffs- but of course, where was the fun in that? This wasn't an official question. There was no reason to be honest.
"I actually maintain my own little garden in my free time. I'd invite you to my quarters to see, but we both know Trills don't enjoy the heat, and cardassian flora don't bloom in anything colder than fourty degrees celsius. I'm working on switching from the plants of my childhood to more cold-hardy plants in my quarters as I acclimate myself." She ranted, letting herself go as though she were excited and actually sorry she couldn't show him her plants.
The ambient temperature of the ship, twenty two degrees celsius, was intended to keep humans comfortable, mostly, but it worked for enough of the other races that it made sense to keep it. "I'm sure with enough practice you'll be a great artist. You seem passionate about it. You'll have to show me a sketch or two."
"Yes, indeed," Helin sealed the suggestion with a succinct nod. "And I would enjoy seeing your cardassian plantlife someday, as well. To see your hobby would be worth a few minutes of discomfort, maybe. If you ever felt comfortable."
"How long have you been aboard?" he asked, switching topics and somewhat concerned about feelings of isolation she might be experiencing being the only cardassian aboard. "Adjusting well? Meeting people, socially?"
"So many questions! You're quite curious, aren't you?" She'd have to get some more plants for her quarters and research botany, but her mother would just love to help her with that. "I've been aboard two days now, and I've had tea with Lieutenant CJ in a social meeting." Since he seemed to be asking that sincerely, she didn't lie to him. It was weird not to lie to someone asking if she'd made any friends. Time to tell a lie to wash that taste out of her mouth. "I doubt I'll be alone for long."
"No, I expect not. Everyone here has seemed quite welcoming to me, anyway," the counselor agreed. "But to make sure, perhaps we should start something. I don't know many people and it doesn't sound like you do either. Perhaps we can get together and check in on each other when we can... maybe while jogging, or a game of springball or something?"
Ekal raised her eyebrows and spoke gravely. "You seem to be under the impression that I do cardiovascular exercise regularly." She laughed, then turned her confusion and offense into amusement. "I'd love to meet with you for jogging or springball sometime, to check in with you from time to time. You'll find I enjoy listening."
"Is that code for 'I don't like talking about myself'?" Helin asked wrly. "It's okay, if not. Just letting you know the door is open."
"Have you ever met a cardassian, counselor?" She floated the question lightly, but it was serious. Her eyes went from scanning the room to his and her smile fell.
"No, not... personally," he admitted, turning a bit towards her. He let that linger in the air, but it was an awkward pause and it looked like he wanted to say more. He weighed the risk of a misstep here: say the wrong thing and he'd close himself off from her, say the right thing and he might also close the door. Failure might be an inevitability because it might not even matter what he said.
"I learn by experience and I value honestly, even if it's a brutal honesty," he invited.
"Honesty, counselor, is a matter of opinon," Her smile didn't return, "For many of my race, the only way to tell the truth is to tell a story. I've grown to be able to force the truth out plainly in order to survive among all of you federaji-types." She waved her hand dismissively. "Honesty is always lacking truth. The nuance of a situation is lost when derived into facts and figures and the truth of my experiences would be lost if I told you what I remember plainly. Our people have perfect memory. We have no reason to revisit our memories and write them down, only to offer a new perspective every time. You might not understand, but I have a sister-in law who has learned never to ask questions of her mother. If she wanted her to know, she'd tell a story. The truth of the matter is always plain to see within the morals, the emotions of the story."
"I can accept that fables have a place in the conveyance of morals and cultural truths, but fables often do not translate well between cultures. You leave yourself open to misinterpretation and excessive scrutiny. Maybe even distrust." The counselor shrugged as if considering. "It's unorthodox, but if it's your preferred communication style... and it's not just to obscure fact... I would welcome it in our dialogs."
“Distrust was always going to be how others viewed me. It would be foolish of them not to. As a pilot, a lot of faith is placed in my skills, which I never want to throw into question, but myself? It would be short sighted of them to trust my words. Now, I’d never tell a lie in a way that the truth cannot be deciphered, but misinterpretation is to be expected and welcomed! If someone misses the truth in my lies in favor of what they think they see it tells me more about them than me.” Ekal dropped her gaze from his, “Communication is more important than just stating the obvious, but there are risks involved.”
Helin allowed her words to hang there for a moment unrebutted. He wasn't here to challenge her beliefs or her way of dealing with people, just assess her fitness for duty and watch for signs of trouble. That did involve establishing a baseline pattern of behavior. He could already see himself questioning what he heard versus what he thought he heard and he was intrigued. "Building relationships based on distrust probably isn't... particularly... eh, helpful but it's genuine and valid. It gives us a starting point."
"Am I under obligation to give up how I understand the niverse in favor of how you do in order to make it easier for you to understand me?" She finally gave in and pulled her legs up onto the bench, curling up. "You all speak so openly it used to scare me."
"Of course not," he answered the first question without hesitation. "No one is here to rid anyone of their culture. Starfleet has wrestled with cultural differences since the very beginning. We're stronger because of our differences not because they make everyone homogenous." He paused the length of a heartbeat before asking, "Why Starfleet?"
She paused to decide how genuine the question was, looking over the flowers closest to her. "My father was a pilot in the military during the Dominon war." Her tone was soft, "He never left Cardassian-occupied space. Apparently, he expressed a desire to defect, privately. He spoke of picking a star and following it until he ran out of power. Imagine dying out there in space, cold and alone, because you couldn't repair your generator, becoming just another peice of space debris. He'd never have been forgiven what he'd done to the federation, or for defecting from the Central Command, so his only out seemed to be to leave everyone ans every thing. Including me, my brother, and our mother. I like to think the journey would've been worth it, counselor, but he died when his ship was destroyed in a skirmish the first time he was on the border." Time to test how good he was at reading between the lines with a story a child could decipher.
"Well," Helin said slowly with a nod. He seemed almost defeated, though that would not have been a descriptor he would have considered using. "That does give me a lot to think about. I'll mention to your counselor that we met. I'm sure they'll want to touch base with you when you can. Did you want to start that jogging thing soon? A couple days from now? Maybe an hour before alpha shift?"
Her dissapointment -not in him, but that he didn't understand -was evident in the inhale she took once he changed the subject. "I'd love to, and that schedule sounds perfect. So long as we don't jog too long! I like to have enough time to shower and put on all my thermals before shift." She smiled. It wasn't genuine, but it was a smile.
"We'll keep it short to start and adjust later if it all works out," he promised, knowing that she did in fact not want to go jogging with him. Somewhere, he thought, there was irony in there. He stood up and nodded, "Until then."
"Until then." She did, in fact, want to jog with him. She left the Arboretum as quickly as she could.