Episode 1: The Maelstrom Awaits
Location: Mess Hall
Timeline: Day 13 at 1145
Ekal was careful. Her mother had taught her well enough. You do not approach someone when they are surrounded by their lackeys, and never when they're in their own realm. Wait until they venture out somewhere public, that isn't either yours or theirs, and do not corner them. Be aware of the atmosphere. Be aware of everyone else. Do not offer more than you can give.
"You are Lieutenant Commander Fargold, are you not?" Ekal did not ask to sit with her, but sat anyway, best not to give her the chance to deny the introduction.
The human female looked up from her PADD, and likewise her lunch, when she heard her name. She smiled at Ekal, nodding. "That's me. You would be Ensign Ekal, flight ops, right?" Deila remembered seeing this Cardassian around the ship several times, but she'd never had the chance to formally introduce herself. The captain kept her and Strat Ops busy trying to figure out everything they could about the Nogura and the Maelstrom.
"That's me!" She echoed, folding her legs and leaning forward to make herself look even smaller. From the right angle, she could look ten years younger and she was used to using that. "Ensign Ekal Dreisor, Chief of Flight Operations. Most people call me Ekal rather than Dreisor, and I'm not sure why, is it not custom to refer to most officers by their last name? Maybe they've confused cardassian and bajoran naming convention? Is calling me by my first name perjorative in some way? Then, we call our cheif engineer CJ, and not Matero, so perhaps it is a familiar term? Isn't it impolite to be overly familiar with strangers? Am I being insulted?" Bombarding her with questions should keep her from wondering why she'd approached her long enough for them to get into a conversation.
Deila blinked several times, her mouth slightly agape, words failing her. This....was too many questions coming from one source, in too short an amount of time. She thought for a second, crossing her arms and sitting back.
"To answer somewhat in reverse, no, not at all, you aren't being insulted!" She hastily said, to make sure there was no misconception about that. "I just assumed that's what you might prefer to be called. Yes, sometimes it's impolite to be overly familiar with strangers, but considering we're all on the same crew and I'm not exactly a complete stranger....but if you'd like me to refer to you by your second name I'd be happy to oblige."
"You are welcome to call me whatever is easier for you to say. It's simply strange for me to be called 'Ekal' so much in a professional setting. Only my mother and my brother called me that before I enrolled at the academy." If she had her way most people wouldn't even know her first name, but names were less precious here weren't they, "My last crew called me Dreisor, but I think that had more to do with the other individual's own prefferences more than my own. Would you prefer I called you Lieutenant Commaner Deila? Since we are not exactly strangers?"
Deila smiled, shrugging a little. "Fine by me. I've never been one for all the formality that comes with being a Starfleet officer. All the "sirs" and "Ma'ams"...really makes my skin crawl."
"So!" She resumed brightly. "What's it like in Flight Ops? All those shuttles, waiting to be flown, the interesting things you get to see. I'm a decent pilot myself, but my true skills lie elsewhere.
Ekal didn't have a good grasp on being tired of formality, but she could pretend to. "Flight Ops is the only place I know. We've been doing simulation training since I got on board, Lieutenant CJ's information makes it easier for me to construct the sims for our pilots. We have some fun with it." She looked at her food, lifting her fork and trying the terran salad. "Oh! and it's really been interesting to see what the flight crew- my crew, i suppose- remembers off-hand in astrometrics. Our mission is more exploratory, of course, so no one needs to have memorized distances, degrees, from member worlds to member worlds, but a few of our pilots could tell you the direction, distance, and time from San Fransisco to the Vulcan Consolate by rotation, relative distance, and warp factor used. I have the charts memorized, but I don't have the mathematical brain that they do, to come up with the answer through calculation. I just hope we can use their skills in our mission." And her own, of course. Already she was sure people only needed her for her skill, and any member of her team could be as useful as she was.
All this honesty left a bad taste in her mouth, but praising the flight crew was worth a little discomfort. It would be easier to accept when she was replaced if she knew everyone involved knew how good her replacement was.
Deila nodded as Ekal spoke, smiling when she mentioned the pilots who had all that information in their head. Underneath her smiling exterior, however, Deila was puzzled. Ekal seemed...the best word would be paranoid. Even though it was very well hidden under a friendly enough exterior, Deila could tell Ekal wasn't comfortable with this conversation.
"I'm sure your and your team's skills will be invaluable to us," she replied kindly. "A good pilot is as needed as any of our science officers. Now Ekal," Deila said, her voice shifting from one of pleasant conversation to a more serious and directed tone, "am I bothering you? You don't seem entirely comfortable."
Ekal took pause, sipping her drink to cover it. She'd approached Deila, not the other way around. If either of them should be worried about bothering the other, it should be her- and judging by Deila's question, she had bothered her somehow. Her acting was usually impeccable. It was strange that Deila seemed to care so much about her comfort that a crack in her fascade warranted such gravity. Strange, but sweet.
"You'd be surprised how hard it is to get comfortable in this cold, bright place, not to mention all the honesty. It's impossible to get used to, so far, but I am trying. You are not the problem at all, my dear, and you needn't worry about it." She probably should've lied more, so she did, "I recieved a communication from my mother. Her health is fair and her crops are flourishing. She my have selected a new lover now that her den is free of kits, and I have no way of investigating them from way out here. I worry for her safety."
Deila was still unsure as to the truth of Ekal's statements, but she didn't press any further. If Ekal wanted to close herself off, that was her prerogative. She put on a genuine smile.
"Understandable. I worry for my parents sometimes too. My father was recently treated for radiation poisoning, and he hasn't fully recovered yet. What's your mother like?"
Ekal had to remind herself that this wasn't rude for a human to ask another. "She is a good chemist and a better gardener, even if the latter is more of a man's work. After my father's death she took up the cause of restoring the soil in my childhood hometown. She had her hands full with two children and a career in shambles following both wars and what had become of the cardassian territories- Dominion bioweaponry is not kind. But no matter how busy she was, she found the time nightly to brush my hair and sing the early works of Iloja of Prim to me and my brother." Best to keep the focus on her early childhood if she could, "What is your father like?"
The blonde smiled. She liked smiling, it made her feel warm inside, and it usually worked to make others around her feel at ease. That didn't quite seem to be the case with Ekal, unfortunately.
"Well, he's what people in my home, England, would call "a proper old geezer." He's the kindest and softest man I know, always willing to lend a hand even though he's getting too old to be of much help. He and mother were always so careful to look after my every need. One might say I was spoiled during my childhood," she paused to let out a light chuckle, thinking back to all the things her parents got for her as a kid. "Even now, he hasn't changed. He tries to give me advice of all sorts, always trying to convince me to go easy on myself and not to overwork. Mother's tried to tell him to stop but he won't, and I don't mind it. I'm glad to be so close to my parents."
"I'm glad to hear you are close to them." Ekal nodded, "I was definitely spoiled as a child- all cardassian children are- but primarily with attention and education. My mother did her best to raise us while working, but I was the one small enough for her to carry into the feilds with her. There she told me many things my teacher could not. My brother would go off an get into trouble." Ekal couldn't help but wonder what her own father would've been like.
"Your father sounds like a pleasant 'geezer'," She paused for effect, "-and a good example of a human, and I do hope him all the better health. Was England a good place to grow up?"
She shrugged, tapping her fingers against the mess hall table while she thought. "I suppose it was as good a place as any. So much of earth's ancient history was centered around England and it's neighbors, but I'm not much of a history person. Father and mother were always taking me to long forgotten castles, or old towns, or sites of ancient battlefields. It's interesting in it's way, but I just never enjoyed it as they did. My passions were elsewhere."
"What about you? Did you grow up on Cardassia?"
Ekal sipped her tea, putting her lies in order, "Yes, I did. There are some swampy regions near the equator, my mother was involved in the reclimation of the farmlands there. It was probably a far less idyllic place to grow up than anywhere in the Sol system. Not to complain, but the ruins loomed over my childhood and the bioagents salted the earth." as with all good lies, only part of it was untrue. She'd grown up in the Dopa system, in a swampy equatorial region of Dopa II, where the ruins were not of major cities but of the military shipyards and the bioagents affected mainly the region she lived in, not severely damaging the whole planet. "I only spent my academy years on earth, but I've heard it's far more diverse than Cardassia, ranging in temperature and climate nearly kilometer to kilometer. I can't imagine living anywhere colder than San Fransisco, but if you warm-blooded humans made the best of it, I'm sure it can be lovely. A home is where you build it, and I'm sure andorian visitors have the same reservations about Earth's tropics as I do their polar regions."
"Why did you choose Star Fleet? No offense meant, but if I understand correctly, humans aren't required to serve the state as a matter of course, and can choose any job in the Federation with confidence. What drove you into the arms of Star Fleet over, say, art or trade?"
Deila leaned back, pondering the question, unprepared for such a deep one. Since she joined, she hadn't really thought about her reasoning for joining Starfleet. She just kind of...knew it was her calling.
"Interestingly enough," she began slowly, "I once considered a career in art. As a child, I just loved to express myself through drawings, or painting. I just couldn't get enough of Earth's ancient artists, and soon I expanded my studies into other alien cultures. But around the age of 14, or maybe 15, my artistry fell by the wayside. I was struck by a new passion. I wanted to explore, and to know. To discover things no one has seen, and to go places no one has been. I wanted to be free, to escape the confines of one place. In Starfleet, I could do that. I could travel the stars and explore the vastness and infinite possibilities of space. To me, this job is all about the opportunities."
She closed her eyes, smiling, remembering back to her first days on a starship, as a young and cheery ensign who wanted to please everyone and see everything. She opened her eyes again and reciprocated the question to Ekal.
"And you? What was your reason to join?"
“I’ve known I was meant to pilot since the first time I saw a ship, especially since my brother followed his artistic and architectural designs over our father’s blood. My mother would probably have preferred I stayed and became a chemist like her. She mandated that I was not to join the military, which got our father killed. I don’t know how much you know about civilian vessels in cardassian space, but they don’t have much freedom. There are set routes and limits on exploration of any kind, especially outside of the small region the military feels it has under control.” She leaned forward, “so I chose another way. Without disrespecting my mother’s wishes or my own dreams the only option was to leave the union entirely.”
"I...don't want to sound rude but..." Deila hesitated, not sure if she should continue. "But Cardassian policies seem a little...well, quite harsh. Doesn't really seem fair to me. I think you made a good choice, leaving the Union to become the best person you could hope to be. Limitations on freedom are what keep people from becoming better. Stifle our natural interests, our choice, and what do we become?" She paused again, this time wondering over her own question. She shook her head, switching the subject. "At any rate, it sounds like your career is off to a fabulous start. Ensign, and already head of the flight department. You must be proud!"
"Human policies seem rather lax to me, so pointing out the discrepancy is hardly rude. Whether or not I made the right choice, however, is a matter of perspective. As is what we consider 'fair'." Which perspective she took was intentionally left vague. "Limits on freedom ensure security, but where the line belongs is up for every society to decide. Cardassians typically err on the side of security, especially in my lifetime. I wouldn't say I'm proud, exactly. I'm happy with my progress and skillset, as well as with the team we have here, but pride in myself would be both overconfident and unnecessary. Pride before the fall, I believe, is how humans phrase it." She spoke with her hands exaggeratedly, finishing with a demure tap to her chin like she was struggling to remember the phrase.
This woman is getting even more confusing, Deila was thinking as Ekal spoke. It's wasn't glaringly obvious, and if she didn't already suspect her, Deila would have nothing to say about Ekal's way of explaining things, but right now it seemed to her that Ekal was trying to gloss over everything, from specifics to vague details. She couldn't understand why.
"There's no shame in being proud of something you've accomplished, until you led that pride get to your head and ego. Do you think Picard wasn't proud when he was given command over the flagship of Starfleet? Or Sisko wasn't proud to be promoted to Captain of the Defiant and Deep Space 9? It only becomes dangerous when you let it control you, making you act out of ego."
She looked down at her PADD, frowning. "Ah, I'm going to have to cut this meeting short. I need to organize a briefing for my Strat Ops team. It was a pleasure, Ekal," she finished, standing up and holding out her hand.
“Oh of course! Don’t let me hold you up.” Ekal stood to shake her hand, “Do not hesitate to contact me if you’d ever like to discuss emergency flight patterns or, in a personal sense, anything at all! I hope we can become friends.” Her smile seemed genuine, but then, most of her smiles seemed genuine. From where she stood, she had very little to be proud of, unless one could count betraying her people and leaving her mother alone. And that not to mention how uncomfortable she made everyone here. Her face showed none of this.
Deila smiled back, truly genuinely. "I hope so too Ekal. A good friend is hard to come by. I'll be seeing you around," she finished as she collected all her things and headed for the mess hall doors. As she left, she tried to understand Ekal, but it was proving difficult. At every turn, Ekal was lying. Or at least, if she wasn't lying, she was trying very hard to cover up the truth. Perhaps it was just the Cardassian species' natural paranoia, but it seemed more than that. Ekal wasn't your normal Cardassian, and one would think after spending enough time in Starfleet and around other, less paranoid races, she'd learn to lighten up. Deial sighed, shaking her head. She'd get through to the young Cardassian, one day.
Ekal sipped her tea, shuddering for a moment under the weight of all the truth she was forced to share. Delia seemed 'nice'. 'Nice' like the federation, 'nice' like human food, 'nice' like some would want her to be. With some caution, she'd be a good ally to maintain throught her career.