Here it comes...I promise, the hints were there all along.
(Oh...and you also get to meet Tayben again, even though he's not called by name. Remember--he's a pre-
relaunch DS9 novel character. Let's see if anybody figures him out this time...)
Hands shook him awake. The Starfleet soldier started violently, nearly wrapping his hands around the throat of the adversary who dared roust him this long before sunrise. That Spirodopoulos restrained himself turned out to be a lifesaver: the men to waken him were Cardassians, Ador and Prashek. In the intense glow of stars unshrouded by city lights he could make out the young Prashek gesturing with a finger to his mouth to be quiet. They want to sneak me out of the barracks in the middle of the night, fine
, Spirodopoulos thought. But if I don’t come back, all bets are off.
It was him the Starfleet contingent was holding on for, of course, and that burden weighed upon him…but something told him that if he vanished, the rest would abandon his intelligence-gathering mission. And they would be perfectly right to do so.
Prashek nudged Spirodopoulos out the door past the other bunks where thirty other men slept—or if they weren’t asleep, wisely pretended to be. Once outside, the Cardassian guards led him towards a squat, prefabricated structure not unlike a Quonset hut that he recognized even in his half-asleep state as the base commander’s office. What the
hell could I have done to piss off Va’Kust so badly that he would feel the need to drag me in here at oh-dark-hundred hours to rake me over the coals?
The glinn in charge of the prison camp had shown a near-Vulcan temperament to the prisoners and as Spirodopoulos knew from long experience not just on the battlefield but as a security officer, those were often the exact sort of people who when they snapped, raged like a Category-5 hurricane and left just as wide a swath of pulverized wreckage in their wake.
Then he thought back to the scene with Folani in the mess hall and his subsequent comments. His stomach sank into and very nearly onto
his shoes. There had been more
than enough in that conversation to mark him as potential trouble, and if Glinn Va’Kust needed some rope to hang him by, Spirodopoulos had more than amply provided it.
The door to the commander’s office stood open, the vast silhouette of Va’Kust carving a gaping hole in the light. “Lieutenant Commander Spirodopoulos,” the glinn rumbled with all the grace of a tank over the alien rank and name. “Kiba’avzayn
.” Prolonged exposure to the Cardassians had resulted in the rather disconcerting effect of hearing beyond the Universal Translator to the original Cardăsda, when the words were familiar to him. Va’Kust’s greeting he recognized as a reasonably cordial one; nor did he discern any particular animosity in the man’s tone. Spirodopoulos had learned this word from informal language lessons a few of the guards were running to kill the boredom from which guards and prisoners alike suffered: to judge from some of the comments he’d managed to overhear, the Cardassians were almost as cut off from computer access and communications as the prisoners were.
“Good tidings,” Spirodopoulos replied with a reasonably faithful translation of Va’Kust’s greeting, figuring now was not the time to risk angering the man by mangling his language.
The base commander acknowledged the effort with a brief bow of the head. “Come in,” he commanded sotto voce
. “Prashek, Ador…you may wait in the adjoining room.” Once the guards absented themselves, he slapped his wristcommunicator. “Va’Kust to Gul Rebek. He’s here.”
“Acknowledged—on our way
,” came a crisp feminine voice: soprano, but substantive, the powerful voice of a cathedral singer.
Five Cardassians entered from the opposite direction to the one in which Ador and Prashek had retreated. The inscriptions on the armor of four of the five identified them as guls, one for each of the four ships from whom the camp personnel came. The fifth, a glinn with what almost looked like a receding hairline, accompanied a gul who looked at least twenty years younger than his subordinate. This gul stood with his hands folded behind his back, lake-clear eyes drinking in his surroundings, an odd sort of wariness as he evaluated Spirodopoulos: as if the man wanted very badly to trust but something held him back. Weird
, Spirodopoulos thought. I should be the one concerned about what
he’s going to do, not the other way around…
A lone female stood out from the gathering, her black hair in long braids that circled her head in opposite directions like a coronet until they met at the back of her head, joined by a pin bearing the sigil of her Order. From there the twin braids flowed down her back to a point just below her shoulders. This had to be Rebek. Kind of tiny for that big voice
, he remarked to himself, though at least the pitch of it seemed right. Glinn Va’Kust took up a position at her side, comically dwarfing his diminutive gul—she looked to be only 1.6 meters in height, compared to Va’Kust’s nearly 2 meters.
Next to Rebek was a grey-haired man with rugged ridges, a beige cast to his skin, and indistinct macroscales much like Macet’s: this, Spirodopoulos had learned, marked him as a member of an ethnic minority from the continent of Hăzăk on Cardassia Prime. He crossed his arms and glared at the wall just to the right of Spirodopoulos’ head. Yeah, I love you too
, the Starfleet officer snidely commented in the privacy of his own mind.
The tall, lean gul who stood at the front of the group he knew immediately: Macet of the Trager
. “Commander,” Macet began in genteel tones, “good to see you are well. I trust the rest of you have fared the same?” Spirodopoulos nodded. It was true enough: the entire group was in good health, at least.
“I wish I could say the same of my own men,” the gul of the Trager
continued. “You made the correct estimation of me earlier when I brought you here: I and the others with me have entered into active rebellion against the Dominion. It has cost us dearly…but we know that if this war continues, the losses to all our peoples will be far more staggering and frankly—the fate visited upon Cardassia is not one I would wish upon anyone now that I know it firsthand.”
“Your concern is touching,” Spirodopoulos coldly remarked as the accumulated frustration of a month’s confinement spilled forth, “but the fact remains that from where I
stand, I’m the one in captivity and you’re the one roaming free. Tell me why you dragged me here into what looks like some sort of high-level meeting…and I’m the one who doesn’t exactly match the rest.” Part of him remarked at how similar his words sounded to Ensign Folani’s—but before his people, he as their commanding officer was not at liberty to speak so freely. He cursed himself. Restraint and higher duty had been easy to extol away from the architects of this entire situation but not so easy to demonstrate in this room.
The gul to Macet’s left, whose armor declared him the commander of the Ghiletz
deepened his already impressive scowl, to Spirodopoulos’ amazement, and formed a fist. Macet’s hand flew immediately to clasp the other’s shoulder in a gesture that managed to look both commanding and deferential at the same time. “Please, Gul Speros. How have we felt on the bridges of our own ships all this time? Give this man some latitude, if you would.
“Commander,” Macet said, stepping forward, “I don’t know how much you’ve been told of the progress of the war since you came here, but things have taken a grave turn for the worse for everyone threatened by the Dominion. The Breen answer to the Dominion now and they wield an energy dissipater that has knocked the Federation and Romulan fleets out of the fight. Only the Klingons remain, and their forces are outnumbered twenty to one. And I regret to inform you that the Breen breached the defenses of Terhăn Terăm
and attacked San Francisco. Starfleet’s facilities took the brunt of the assault, but the civilian areas took serious damage as well.”
The news slammed into Spirodopoulos’ gut like a steel-tipped boot—until it occurred to him that would be exactly what one might say as a prelude to interrogation. “If you think I’m going to tell you anything, you’ve got another think coming!” Macet blinked as his translator rendered the twisted grammar a little too accurately.
“We’re not here for information,” said the young gul on the far right, stepping forward in Macet’s silence. “And I understand the position you’re in…and your skepticism…more than you’d think. But consider—if what Gul Macet just told you is correct, that means your people are almost defenseless. With that in mind, please listen to the rest of what we have to say.
“The four of us—” he gestured with a sweep of the eyes, never unclasping his hands from behind his back, “are about to seize the shipyard on this planet and from there, the orbital drydocks. There are a number of new vessels here, including an enhanced Gălor
in orbit, which we intend to commandeer before the Dominion can take control of it. They have a chokehold on our troop movements; there is no way to draw reinforcements from Cardassia with or without their permission. It’s been tried…and that gul and his entire senior staff were caught and executed. This means our crews are stretched quite thin. For us to man the Gălor
, not to mention the assortment of smaller vessels, would be impossible.”
“And this has to do with me how
Macet took over. “We offer you the opportunity to take the fight to the Dominion behind their lines when the rest of your people cannot,” he said. “Between our crews, the base personnel, and your people…we would have enough to raise something of a rapid strike force.”
And with that—everything snapped into place: the maneuver on AR-558, the secrecy aboard the Trager
, the low-tech prison camp, even the Federation-like treatment of prisoners...everything. There was nothing he could do, not even with two glinns and four guls all armed and all staring straight at him, to keep his internal reactor from meltdown. “Holy shit!
” he bellowed, not caring how the Cardassians’ translators took the abuse. “Holy shit!
This is what you’ve had in mind all along! This is a garrison
you’ve been building here, isn’t it?” His finger stabbed towards Macet’s chest. “Do you have any
idea how many interstellar laws you’d violate by forcing us to be your cannon fodder? You’re out of your god—”
” Macet snapped, hooded eyes flaring with indignation. “You haven’t let me finish—there is no coercion! We Cardassians know enough by now about serving as live targets against our wills, and that is not
what we are doing here. This is not about coercion. It’s about choice. My hope—”
“And exactly what
would be my incentive to fight for a foreign power? You can’t buy me—I don’t need money where I come from. You can’t convince me your cause is worthier than that of the Federation because I know where my loyalties lie. I know what ‘choices’ people have to make when they fall into Cardassian hands, and I choose death over betrayal!”
“So do I!” the bearded Cardassian retorted with equal ferocity. “I am already
dead in the eyes of those who claim the leadership of Cardassia, because I refuse to stand by and watch the Dominion betray my people and I have already once struck back against them. Your choice does not
involve death or torture or anything else you have ascribed to me after interrupting me for the second time in a row!”
Macet paused, probing Spirodopoulos’ demeanor. Finding him satisfactorily silenced, Macet spoke again, his voice lowered an entire octave. “No one has to join our rebellion who does not wish to. Those who do not will be freed into the foothills with food, water, and a map detailing where they will be safest from Dominion detection. We also will provide a comm beacon to monitor news of the war; eventually you could use it to signal a Federation vessel should one enter the system, and return home to your families. Whichever way you choose, I would like to see as many of you make it home as possible.
“But if you do
join us…I promise you the chance to do what the rest of your people currently lack the technological wherewithal to accomplish: to help us truly make a difference for ourselves and the rest of the quadrant. We would not simply send you to die—you would not leave without proper supplies any more than we would send you into the foothills that way. And on that subject, I understand from Glinn Va’Kust that you had some questions about the restricted buildings.” Damn it!
Spirodopoulos swore to himself. If this little meeting hadn’t taken a turn for the insane, I would already be dead!
Come to think of it, his spat with Folani probably had
dropped the ambient noise level in the mess hall to a point where the rest of the conversation was an open book to all. Damn!
Va’Kust laughed softly under his breath. “Cardassian hearing may be weaker than yours, Commander—but contrary to popular belief we’re far from deaf. Had the guls not arrived tonight, this meeting would have been a warning to be more discreet.” Oh, yeah, go and rub it in
, he thought bitterly, nearly missing the fact that Va’Kust had never envisioned his death. “We’re not on opposite sides. I was wary when Gul Rebek informed me I was her choice to come here, but the more I’ve dealt with your people, the more I have come to believe this might be viable after all. I’ve come to see that your loyalty to your Federation means just as much to you as any Cardassian’s loyalty to his own world, even if you show it differently. And though I’m not privy to everything my superiors are…it looks to me like a situation where those loyalties converge.”
Is there even
one of these men who couldn’t walk onto the Academy forensics team and hold his own against the entire lot of them from sheer stubbornness?
Spirodopoulos noted with annoyance. The damned thing of it was, the combined effect of Macet, Va’Kust, and the gul whose name he had never managed to catch, was growing rather persuasive. “It wouldn’t be easy to convince this entire crew of that,” he mused. “Even getting them to believe the situation for the Federation is as bad as you say it is would be tough. That’s something I’m
finding difficult to swallow—I have no real evidence except your word.”
“Is that so?” interjected Macet. “I think, in the persons of those Federation soldiers who have been here the longest, you have a plethora of evidence. In Ensign Folani and Crewman Webene I think you have even more.” Macet struggled with their names, pronouncing them ‘Volaniy’ and ‘Vebiyn.’ This struck Spirodopoulos, for it suggested the man was either a poor student of languages or that Bajoran
in particular was new to him. “Do not judge us as ‘Kardiy-çăs
,’” he insisted, bending the Federation Standard epithet into the Cardăsda plural for foreign loanwords. Macet practically spat the rest. “Judge us by our actions. Nor should I
be judged by my cousin. I will not have my fate tied to his any longer!”
Spirodopoulos marveled. The blood tie explained much …and, he was forced to admit, it had to be driving some of the cognitive dissonance, for Macet’s proposals and demeanor clashed violently with that unnerving resemblance. “I can’t make a decision on something this drastic right away,” Spirodopoulos finally replied. “And even if I had, I can’t just drag everyone into it without any say in it.”
“Understandable,” Macet acknowledged.
Va’Kust spoke up again. “You’ll have the mess hall entirely to yourselves tomorrow; I’ll see to it. Just one thing,” he added, lifting one stern pylon of a finger. “Don’t discuss the restricted buildings…just tell them we have a way to provide what you’d require. I am trusting you to be responsible with this knowledge, Spirodopoulos. You have us well outnumbered and we’ve just put into your hands the means to destroy us all. Show me with your
actions that I’ve judged you correctly.”
what am I getting myself into?
The Starfleet soldier straightened his shoulders, closing his eyes for a moment and drawing in a deep breath as he prayed that he did not swear himself into treason. He nodded then, addressing all six Cardassians.
“You have my word.”