2375—The Dominion War—Five days after the attack on Rondac III
Cardassian Rasgălor of Lessek
“Who’s on KP tonight?” Ensign Wilkes called, using the archaic American army acronym for ‘kitchen patrol.’
“Ngaer’s heading up the team with Prashek,” answered Crewman Yost from the other side of the mess hall. “I forget who all else is with them.”
,” Wilkes sardonically replied. “More lovely unbreaded, unflavored, fishlike sticks for us, I guess, considering that’s the only thing Ngaer seems to be able to manage without setting it on fire, and all Prashek’s good for is carting the fire extinguisher behind her.” The Aurelian came from a planet where all food was consumed raw; Ngaer’s lack of culinary proficiency was quite understandable in this light. As for the youthful Cardassian, Prashek, no one was sure what his
excuse was other than general gawkiness.
“Better to be on KP than T
P,” Lieutenant Commander Spirodopoulos cut in, hoping to lighten the mood. “Remember who just about headed the list when they posted the newest rotation? Guess they want to show that rank hath no privileges.” The ‘rotation’ was a list of names and dates: while the Cardassians had left the delegation of most of the camp’s tasks to the beings interned there, the soldiers who had been there the longest recalled that in the first weeks there was a series of bitter disputes as to who w0uld take the most onerous duties. Glinn Va’Kust, the head of the camp, much to everyone’s surprise, had responded not with the expected torture and executions for noncompliance, but with a list that rotated each person through kitchen and latrine duties. Grudgingly, those first prisoners had accepted the rationale behind the rotation if only as a means to maintain their unity.
Folani glared hard at her commanding officer. “We’re sitting here in a Cardassian prisoner-of-war camp and you’re actually making jokes
about it? We ought to be breaking out of here, not sitting around moaning about ridiculous things like food quality and insignificant drudge work! With all due respect, sir, why are we just frittering ourselves away like we’re on some Prophets-damned vacation
?” The Bajoran shot to her feet near the end of her sentence and slammed an interrobang into the table with her fist. The Cardassian guards hovering at the edges of the mess hall tensed and spun to face them.
” Spirodopoulos snapped in a most un-Starfleet fashion. Then again, Folani’s challenge itself nearly defied a number of regulations, and ever since he had been informed he was the ranking officer in the entire camp, the burden of enforcing some semblance of discipline fell on him. So when the Bajoran didn’t move quickly enough, he grabbed a wad of cloth on the back of her shirt and yanked hard, slamming her tailbone onto the metal bench with a jarring thud. The Cardassians relaxed slightly as Spirodopoulos took the lead; their hands, at least, moved further from their weapons.
“Not one word until I finish what I have to say!” he hissed with as much venom as he could manage. He sympathized with Folani; he truly did, but he had to control the situation with her lest the Cardassians control it for him. And there was something else. “When this whole mess first started, I was ready to do anything
to get out of here. And understand, I still want out as badly as you do. It’s true the logistics of a large-scale prison break are daunting—but it’s been done before and I agree that ordinarily the first duty of a Starfleet officer is to attempt escape. But I think there may be an even higher duty in this case. I am convinced something is going on in this place that we haven’t seen before. And that something I want to get to the bottom of.
“I don’t know if you read Cardassian, but I’ve kind of picked up their alphabet since we got here. If you read the inscriptions on their armor…with a few exceptions I think might be from that shipyard Macet mentioned, these people come from four ships—the Trager
, and Sherouk
, all Gălor
-class ships of the same Order. It’s weird for Cardassians to staff any ground facility on such a long-term basis with crew on detachment from their warships—fleet personnel don’t take kindly to this kind of boondocks posting. According to Ensign Wilkes and some of the others who came here first, this has been going on for a full six months. We’re pretty sure the guls of those ships are doing this on the sly. I know—I was wondering if the Obsidian Order or whatever it’s reconstituted itself as these days was behind it. But there’s something else. Tell me: is this what you remember, the way they’re behaving here?”
Folani glared. “I don’t care if our prison has a five-star rating; all that matters to me is that we are being held against our will behind enemy lines by Cardassians
“I understand your anger. Not all of it, though I’ve got a fairly good idea. But tell me…is this what you remember
The Bajoran officer focused her eyes straight ahead of her as she replied, “No. The way these Cardassians behave is nothing like I’ve ever seen.”
Spirodopoulos pounced. “Exactly! We’ve had the chance to observe for a month ourselves, and we’ve heard what the others here have to say. And it’s pretty obvious this crew isn’t operating out of the standard Cardassian training manual: not a single interrogation beyond name, rank, and originating starship—no killings, no maimings, no torture…nothing
. I truly believe we are at the closest thing to a Cardassian rebel base that there is. And that’s why I have delayed attempting escape: I think we owe it to Starfleet to gather whatever intelligence we can about who these people are, what they want, and what makes them tick. And if
the situation is appropriate, try and talk them into sending us home with a message from the rebels to Starfleet Intelligence. That kind of break might help turn the war, and I’m not going to pass it up.”
“A month is a long time—why haven’t you acted
“I’ve been watching,” Spirodopoulos countered. “But more importantly, as the ranking officer here, I want them comfortable with me—at ease enough with my presence that they might let something slip, something we can use. Maybe we can even get into the restricted buildings, see why it is they won’t let us near them.” Almost invariably, the restricted buildings reflected a more permanent construction, complete with clawlike mini-spires, than the spartan prefabricated structures comprising the barracks, mess hall, and command offices. All three were of a size that dwarfed the rest of the camp, suggesting just as Macet had said that a much larger structure had once been intended to go into place around them. “I’d be willing to bet they’re storing something in there that the Dominion wouldn’t like…which of course, probably isn’t something they’d want a bunch of enemy prisoners getting their hands on. But if we’re going to give a full report to Starfleet Command, we’ve got to know what they’re hiding.”
Silent, Folani ran the chain of her earring over the tops of her fingers. In every tale Spirodopoulos had ever heard of Cardassian imprisonment, even the clothes on a prisoner’s back were stripped, not a single shred of dignity or personal possession left. And they said human
prisoners got it easy in comparison to the absolutely bestial degradation the Bajorans had endured.
Yet they had let Folani keep the earring with its symbols of family and the faith they’d tried their damnedest to extinguish. And still tucked down the boot of Mike Spirodopoulos was that tattered photo of Stasya and the girls.