Allllll righty, guys--long section alert! Expect two weeks or so until the next one.
“I cannot believe
you held out on us like this,” Glinn Va’Kust glowered as he loomed from not even a meter away over the senior Lessek shipyard officer present at the resistance camp. “Ten entire cases of Hăzăkda kănar
—and you don’t bother to bring it out until we have to share it with four times the people at a go! Unbelievable
Poor Iymender practically wilted under Va’Kust’s scrutiny. “But…but Glinn,” he stammered, “I didn’t have a chance at convincing the requisitions computer to release the stuff until we got four Gălor
-class warships parked in orbit to help me cover my tracks…”
“I know, I know…I just couldn’t help myself!” Va’Kust clapped Iymender on the back and grinned wickedly. The lanky young Cardassian let out an awkward chortle of relief—or was that half the wind being knocked out of his lungs? “You did good work securing it for us at all. Let’s hope you prove as deft at overriding base defenses as you did at sweet-talking the requisitions computer.”
Iymender promptly snapped to. “You have my best, Glinn.”
Spirodopoulos shook his head at the scene and Macet, who had approached the Starfleet officer unannounced, voiced the human’s thoughts in a most disconcerting manner. “Familiar, isn’t it?”
“It is, Gul.” That scene, but for a twist of fate, could easily have played out aboard the Petraeus
whenever Chief Aaberg managed to finagle one of famous Romulan ale shipments from God only knew where and someone caught wind of it before Aaberg managed to stash away the best for himself.
The base mess hall itself had transformed though the décor had not…for a base
it now was, no longer a prison. Cardassians who until now had stood in the periphery with rifles slung over their shoulders to ward off an uprising now mixed in cautious groups of two or three with the men and women they had once called prisoners—soldiers who thanks to the armor…and sidearms now…for the most part mirrored them in all but planet of origin. And none of those weapons have managed to work their ways out of their holsters...yet, thanks be to God.
The obsidian- and charcoal-feathered Aurelian Ngaer, who wore only a wristcomm and a silver baldric improvised from a gun belt, threw back her head and released a cawing cackle at something Prashek had said. The young Cardassian’s gestures sketched out a roaring fireball and Ensign Rashad shook a mocking index finger in their direction.
Spirodopoulos glanced at the work rotation that still hung on the wall and noted that DeMarcus Rashad had been part of the same oft-maligned KP squad as Prashek and Ngaer. Funny how bearing the displeasure of the entire base made a team out of them
, he thought. Mike considered his own experiences. His name had never made it to the top of the kitchen rotation, but on his unfortunate encounter with latrine duty, he had been utterly flummoxed by the appearance of Glinn Va’Kust himself.
Once they had reached their position outside the camp gates Va’Kust had shoveled out a disposal hole of his own, tossing Spirodopoulos a number of anecdotes in the process about his home in the Nevot region of Cardassia Prime. Va’Kust came from a family of farmers, which Spirodopoulos would have expected to indicate low socioeconomic status, but quite the reverse—ever since the devastating climate shift that had destroyed so much of the world’s agricultural capacity centuries ago, the owners of what precious arable farmland remained were quite well off indeed. Va’Kust, however, seemed to value his ability to coax life from Cardassia’s thin soil more than he did his family’s wealth.
Spirodopoulos had pointedly ignored Va’Kust’s reminisces during that backbreaking outing, but now, in light of the newborn alliance, they resurfaced and brought with them a sense of familiarity, even if not quite good will yet, towards the man. “It wasn’t an accident,” Spirodopoulos concluded, “the way Va’Kust placed his own people in the rotation with the same teams every time. That’s the outcome he had in mind,” he said with a nod towards Ngaer, Rashad, and Prashek.
“Va’Kust did quite well at converting potential disaster into opportunity,” Macet acknowledged. “He is an adept student of social dynamics and I should think Rebek is as pleased with him as I am. We ought to turn to strategy tomorrow—but my fellow commanders and I believe tonight is not the time to touch such matters.”
Spirodopoulos nodded. “Agreed. They need a night to let it all sink in,” he said, subconsciously gesturing to his own chest…how strange this layered Cardassian regalia still felt! Probably a
lot more than one, but something tells me we haven’t got that kind of time.
“Come with me,” Macet said, gesturing towards the center table that since the establishment of the base had traditionally been claimed by the ranking Starfleet officer—starting with Ensign Wilkes and eventually falling to the lieutenant commander from the Petraeus
. “The senior officers are gathering and we’d best be sure there are seats enough for some of your people as well.”
After Spirodopoulos named a group of officers and the ranking NCO, Senior Chief Alexandru Librescu of the Shran
, to join the senior Cardassians, he said, “One question before we sit.” His eyes roamed back and forth and he leaned closer to the tall Cardassian.
Macet replied with similar discretion and they drifted back to the periphery of the hall. “Go ahead.”
“The other guls…I couldn’t exactly tell how well this sits with them. The oldest one especially,” he said, referencing the man’s age with far less circumspection than he might have with humans or some other species. To Cardassians, one’s years were a badge of honor to be worn with the pride of a legate’s sigil and to single out a man by maturity was a mark of respect—one Spirodopoulos especially desired as he called attention to Gul Speros’ less-than-amicable demeanor.
Macet gave a closemouthed chortle. “Gul Speros…yes, there is much to be said about the man. I had the privilege of serving as executive officer on the Ghiletz
before I made gul. His experience is a thing of legend as is the discipline of his crew—but so too is his rather…shall we say, frank manner, which all, including Speros himself, agree has barred him from ever taking the legate’s sigil that skills and age should have afforded him.
“Of course, I mustn’t leave you with the impression that there’s nothing to him but an old curmudgeon. To have the privilege of calling upon his expertise in this matter, to have him respond, however recalcitrantly it may seem at times, to one of my own proposals…it is a great honor. To Speros the glinns who serve under him are very much protégés. It is said of him that he creates
guls much as a carver brings grace to a rough old bone…in fact, he has even made a legate or two. His whittling blade is sharp, though. Under Speros’ command I was tried in ways I could never have imagined on any other vessel upon which I had served prior to then, and I learned much about how to lead. For that I owe him. Still…though I will never breathe a word of it to him,” Macet wryly added, “I also learned much from him about how I did not
want to command.”
“I know the type,” Spirodopoulos remarked as he recalled a certain tactical officer under whom he had served on the Petraeus
before promotion had removed him from the scene—thankfully before he’d reached his breaking point with the woman.
“Some things are universals,” Macet observed with a lengthened gaze. “Now from the others, you have less to be concerned about. They are of another generation…one that has had less time in their lives, proportionally speaking, to know a Cardassia that was not a servant of its own folly. For some like them, it lends them a certain elasticity of mind, the sort that that is essential to our success—”
” Glinn Va’Kust boomed like a tuba in a Munich beer-hall, adopting a bench as his platform much as Spirodopoulos had that morning. Not that he actually
The base commander’s dark eyes flitted to the side for a moment. “I don’t know yet what to call this combined force, but I speak to everyone gathered here.” Macet and Spirodopoulos quickly wound side-by-side through the leftmost of the two main aisles and found seats reserved for them on the other side of the table opposite Va’Kust, Rebek, and the two senior officers from the Sherouk
They just barely managed to sit before Va’Kust continued. “There’s a tradition in the Cardassian Guard for graduates of initiatory training when they receive their first armor—one that Riyăk
Iymender and I have gone to great lengths to ensure on short notice can be properly carried out tonight.” The glinn swept his arm at the kitchen as six of the younger Cardassians emerged from the kitchen with a collection of what reminded Spirodopoulos of whiskey glasses each full to the brim with a blue substance not unlike Aaberg’s Romulan ale…but noticeably slow
to slosh about in the glass. Spirodopoulos reflected upon that exchange between Iymender and Va’Kust with a mental groan: Uh-oh…he really meant it.
At the end of the table behind Spirodopoulos, the quadrupedal Mathenite Petty Officer Te-Mae-Do loudly whispered, “Why is it blue
?” Her kănar
had arrived in a stew dish, the closest the Cardassians could approximate the vessel from which her people usually drank.
Her shipmate, Mehmet Burakgazi, a human colonist native to the planet of Nivoch near the Cardassian border, whispered, “Call it ‘pale ale’ back home, we do. Comes from a different plant than the brown stuff, but it’s still kănar
. Believe you me, this is the good stuff.” Burakgazi’s speech bore a distinctive form of border-colony syntax—the oddly common verb-first construction an influence most of them would rather die than acknowledge as Cardăsda in origin.
“I have made a command decision,” Va’Kust announced over the crewmen’s chatter, “that we’ll go easy on you given the unfamiliarity of most of you with kănar
—and, I am not ashamed to admit, a strong desire to preserve as much as possible of our limited supply for those of us who are
used to it.” Hushed laughter worked its way through the room. “Only one glass…but according to the tradition, we ask that all of you whose races are physically capable of consuming kănar
drink to this occasion. ‘Serhokt’oçekse sot’oçeks bizad oste ghengu’ulouç nou
,’” Va’Kust declared, and for that syntactic nightmare Spirodopoulos was grateful for his subcutaneous translator: ‘Let the unit that shares a drink together band together
“We’ll begin the toast as soon as everyone is ready. Cardassian tradition is that the commanding officers lead with the toast and in finishing the first drink.”
Va’Kust leaped down from the bench with more finesse than one might have expected from an individual of his size. “Needless to say,” he quietly explained to Spirodopoulos, “the junior crew have no wish to wait for their kănar
, so expect them to make you very
aware of every second you take!” At that moment, Ador arrived with a tray and began to pass the glasses down the line. The Cardassians thanked him with grateful smiles, most of the Federation soldiers with the polite nod he recognized from a cultural exchange dinner with the Klingons during his Academy days.
Then Spirodopoulos noticed something—it looked as though Ador had miscounted. His row was short one glass. Va’Kust’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he reached under the table and pulled out another glass, this one twice the height of everyone else’s, albeit slightly thinner. It had yet to be filled. The glinn reached across the table towards Ensign Folani, who sat two down from Spirodopoulos’ on the right. “Since you arrived out of uniform,” he deadpanned as he proffered the glass with a flourish, “this
one is yours, to make up for it.”
Spirodopoulos held his breath. Clearly the Romac
XO intended it to be humorous, but he was taking one hell of a risk considering the incident for which he’d been present just that morning. Come on, Jederia—remember what I said, read the situation, take it in stride…!
Folani glowered at first. Then she met Va’Kust’s eyes with a thin, predatory smile. “Think I won’t finish? This isn’t my first kănar
. You’re on.”
The Greek officer let out a sigh of relief. Well, Va’Kust didn’t get his nose shoved into his sinus cavities
…I guess that’s progress
Va’Kust laughed heartily as he reached behind him with his right hand. On cue, Ador supplied a half-full bottle. “Maybe so,” he replied as he personally poured the Bajoran’s drink, “but…this will be sufficient.” He tipped the bottle up just as Folani’s glass reached the halfway mark. “After all,” he explained with a lopsided grin, “I trust yours
won’t end up sprayed across the table the moment it touches your tongue.”
He nodded and moved back to his place next to Gul Rebek. The man had been walking a narrow tightrope, that was for sure, and thankfully he had let it drop at exactly the right moment. Hopefully Folani recognized it as Va’Kust’s way of showing his willingness to have her in their resistance, but he would have to continue to scrutinize their interactions to be sure.