2375—The Dominion War—Six days after the attack on Rondac III
Cardassian Rasgălor of Lessek
“They’re so full of crap that it’s leaking out their ears!”
“Commander! What about Earth? How many casualties? What did they say?”
“Are you stupid
, Wilkes? You actually swallowed that?”
“Excuse you, Crewman!
How long have I
been here, and how long have you?”
“It’s a hell of a chance to stick it to the Dominion!”
“They’ll just pick us off on the way out the door!”
“Logic dictates they have had the opportunity to do that
every day, but the fact that they have not dispensed with us to reallocate their resources elsewhere speaks volumes.”
“If they’re really going to arm us, why don’t we just take the weapons and—”
The free-for-all had been going on for a full five minutes, and Spirodopoulos had had every intention of letting it go for another few before intervening. They had to work it out of their systems—but that last comment was too much. Did Lieutenant Haeruuh really
want to give the Cardassians a reason to do what Chief Librescu suggested they would? They might not be present in the room, but any suggestion outside the confines of the mess hall that Haeruuh’s statement might represent even a sizable minority consensus was the last thing Spirodopoulos needed right now.
Maybe standing back and letting them hash it out wasn’t the smartest idea after all. Yeah, I’m not anybody’s captain here, but I guess I really should’ve moderated this thing a lot more…here’s to hoping I can salvage this before I miss the window of opportunity completely!
The ranking Federation officer clambered onto a bench, cupped his hands around his mouth, and bellowed, “STOP IT!
To his astonishment, all one hundred and twenty-six beings fell silent. One month ago, he had been a soldier and former shipboard security head with little more to think about than holding the line on some accursed rock in the Chin’toka system. He hadn’t even been the commanding officer of the entire garrison; that was Commander Settles’ problem. And now, simply because he happened to be the highest-ranking officer these dissidents had managed to snatch up, he
was the man who might hold the key to a chance to really stir things up behind Dominion lines. Or lead us all to our graves. Or the largest mass court-martial Starfleet has ever seen.
He hadn’t forgotten any of that—not in the slightest. And he was exhausted—or should have been. But something within him was on fire. The more he had tossed and turned that sleepless night-into-morning, the more he listened now…the more he realized his mind was irrevocably made up.
“I understand how much I’m asking of you,” he acknowledged, “and that’s why I’m not just ordering
you to do it. After a great deal of thought, I have come to believe that if the Federation truly is in the situation these Cardassians have said it is, and they really are willing to put us on an even footing with them, weapons and all…then we may be just about the only Federation citizens in a position to fight. Everything about this place says to me they’re desperate and they’re in earnest. Either this is the most elaborate holodeck deception I could possibly envision—and I’ll allow a small possibility that it is—or the opportunity to turn the entire war. Either we drive ourselves crazy with paranoia…or we act.
“Even though we find ourselves in a place and among people we didn’t choose, I believe taking the chance to make a difference is in keeping with our oath as Starfleet officers even though make no mistake…it may not be taken as such by all who learn of this, if we make it home. You may not have a career when you get back. Hell, this thing might begin and
end in a penal colony. I encourage you all to weigh this very carefully. But for myself…I will go.”
Ensign Ivy Wilkes, one the first officers brought to Lessek when the Trager
beamed a clutch of survivors out from the disintegrating wreckage of the Gora bim Gral
, stood and strode over to the bench upon which Spirodopoulos stood. “I’m going with you,” she vowed.
Lieutenant T’Ruveh followed next. “If the Cardassian resistance fighters move against the Lessek shipyard without our aid, especially if they must rely on a ship-to-ship assault without being able to mount a ground offensive, the odds are 89.31 percent that their efforts will fail, which will bring Dominion assault troops to this planet in overwhelming force. No matter what munitions and supplies the Cardassians are able to provide us to take refuge in the wilderness, our capture and execution following a Dominion buildup on Lessek are nearly inevitable. As resistance fighters alongside the Cardassians, we each stand a 35.29 percent chance of survival. While less than a 50 percent probability, this chance is significantly more favorable.”
the math—I want to kick some icy Breen butt!” Petty Officer Saar yelled. This triggered a round of table-pounding from his fellows from the troop carrier Westmoreland
, who rose to their feet as one chanting, “Go! Go! Go! Go!
The next to stand was one of the two Bajorans—the red-headed Crewman Webene, rescued by the Ghiletz
after the Starfleet supply ship Biko
was forced to crash land on Pullock V. A ripple of hushed murmuring silenced the Westmoreland
cheering squad as the burly young noncom, almost Va’Kust’s equal in size, began to speak. “I grew up during the Occupation and I have seen things even this war has yet to match. I used to pray the Prophets would dish it all right back out on the Cardassians, blow for blow. Now that it’s really happening…I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like I thought it would. The Cardassians gave me more than enough reason to hate and I can tell some of them
are just barely restraining themselves. But they all seem to agree that if they step out of line, Va’Kust will make them regret it. And if that’s the tone they’re setting from the top…then maybe there’s hope.”
The nineteen-year-old Webene wore a bemused expression as in the wake of his encouragement, over two thirds of the Federation soldiers took to their feet. Spirodopoulos scanned the room and noted a deep furrow on Ensign Folani’s brow. Though Webene Grathis was by far Folani’s junior in age, his cogent words seemed to have struck a nerve. Something occurred to Spirodopoulos then, resurfacing from those adrenaline-engraved memories of the final battle on AR-558. That Cardassian she stabbed…he couldn’t have been any older than Webene. He would have still been in grade school at the end of the Occupation
. And in that light, it was no wonder the man Spirodopoulos had grappled with had been so outraged at his young comrade’s death—especially at the way Folani had taunted him as he’d died, for everything she had accused him of had been impossible.
Not that I’ve been much better
, he thought as a Kobheerian engineer from the civilian freighter Aidos-Regaul
stood and with him, the other three survivors from his wrecked vessel’s crew. The resolve of these civilians, who on their cargo runs had seen firsthand the everyday indignities suffered by Cardassian civilians in the Dominion alliance, did the work of compelling almost every other Starfleet crewperson in the room to stand. Only a few, Ensign Folani among them, still remained seated.
Spirodopoulos said nothing—he simply remained standing, as did the other seven AR-558 survivors from the Petraeus
. Folani Jederia bowed her head, eyes closed, her face a contorted, unreadable maelstrom of emotions. She stood, her eyes staring off into a distant abyss.
“I’m not doing this for the Cardassians, sir,” she stated tightly. “I’m doing this for Starfleet.” Then Folani, who had been one of his security officers on the Petraeus
, looked Makis Spirodopoulos squarely in the eye. “And I’m doing this because time and again, trusting you has paid off. I don’t like it…but I’m going to trust you with this one, too.”
And with that concession—however desultory, all final resistance broke.
That’s a go for launch
, Spirodopoulos thought as his stomach wadded itself into a ball.