And now a change of pace...
Eight hours after the Battle of Lessek
Cardassian Union Warship Trager
The first sensation to enter the awareness of Makis Spirodopoulos as he awoke from the dreamless sleep of the completely exhausted was the dull ache all over his body—not a bit of which he had felt in the heat of the battle. He could also feel the faint hint of a ship’s engine running through its frame and into the floor cushion upon which Cardassians slept…and the last time he’d felt that sensation of being aboard one of their ships, the circumstances had been entirely different. He couldn’t have imagined any of this. Couldn’t have imagined sleeping this dreamlessly, this peacefully in this
place under these
circumstances. Yet here he was, back aboard the Trager
—no longer in a hidden alcove of the cargo bay, but actually sleeping in a bed, or something like it. Only now, as he fully awoke, could he begin to take stock of his situation.
He had only barely begun to disrobe when exhaustion overcame him last night…if that was indeed the cycle this ship had been on…and he’d practically collapsed on the sleeping mat. And he was covered in sweat…which wasn’t exactly doing any good for the dust and the blood and the sweat of exertion from the previous day, either. Fortunately for him, he hadn’t even had time to turn down the covers—which the Cardassians seemed to like a more than ample supply of—before falling asleep, or the heat in his quarters…his quarters?
...might have overwhelmed him. He vaguely remembered Glinn Daro…and when had Daro transported back to the Trager
, anyway?...showing him the climate controls, but he had been too weary to bother by that point.
He’d been fortunate that the adrenaline of battle had been enough to sustain him through the much more critical discussions during and after the transit to the nebula…
Gul Macet had initially wanted to split the Starfleet soldiers throughout the fleet, to include the small, three-person-crewed Hide’eki
. “If you were in my position,” the gul said when Spirodopoulos raised an eyebrow at this, “would you not do exactly the same? Understand, I have seen much to suggest your commitment to our joint cause. But would it not be irresponsible of me to allow your entire contingent to congregate in one place? There may be ninety-eight of you, much less than our numbers, but that would still appear to my men as an undue risk.”
“Just as it would appear to my
people as an undue risk if I allowed any of them to be placed solo on a Hidekiy
without any other Starfleet crew around,” Spirodopoulos immediately rejoined. He wasn’t about to concede Macet’s point, however accurate it might be, without laying down some stipulations of his own. “They’re now living in what until very recently would’ve constituted hostile territory…they’ll be most comfortable if they’re able to keep tabs on each other.” Macet’s translator paused at that one for an instant, but it didn’t take long before a look of comprehension played out across his face. At that, Spirodopoulos continued. “I must at least insist,” said the Starfleet leader, “that my crew remain aboard the seven larger ships. Or six,” he added, fixing Macet with a strong, steady gaze, “if there is any
reason to believe there might be any ‘regrettable incidents’ aboard the Ghiletz
Macet’s nostrils flared for a second at that…but he seemed to realize quickly enough what might have given Spirodopoulos cause, in his mind, for that assumption. “Speros may hold no warm sentiment for the Federation,” he adamantly stated, “but he will
control his men, make no mistake.” He lowered his voice. “I shall endeavor to see that he conceives of it as…a point of pride, if you will, to ‘suffer’ your presence without incident. As to your other request…I suppose that is a reasonable compromise. Our executive officers will wish to work with you tomorrow in assigning your people according to their abilities and our personnel requirements. Without them we could never have hoped to pilot all of these additional ships, so we must allocate them properly as soon as possible.”
“And what about me?” Spirodopoulos replied. “I must be free to move at my liberty throughout the fleet. My people will all expect my presence, even if only on a rotating basis.” He did not add, however, that knowing they might receive one of his random check-ins at any time would give all four guls, and whoever would command the three new ships, a strong incentive to maintain an atmosphere of civility towards the Starfleet soldiers aboard their vessels. And adding some unpredictability to his movements would also complicate matters should one of them decide to turn.
“Sensible,” Macet decided. “A leader’s presence is required at least part of the time to prevent the degeneration of hierarchy into anarchy.” The Hăzăkda gul shivered visibly, almost instinctively at the thought. It made sense to Spirodopoulos, considering these people used the word ‘chaos’ as invective. “I do wish, however, for you to keep your quarters aboard the Trager
.” A flash of grief flickered in his eyes as he said, “I have quarters aboard this ship that befit a man of your equivalent position in the Cardassian Guard. It is my intention to illustrate to this fleet the status I have accorded you among us. Placing you on the lower decks would be…unseemly.”
“Did these quarters belong to one of your dead?” Spirodopoulos solemnly inquired.
The Cardassian nodded. “Indeed: to Dalin
Haravl, my head of maintenance, who reported directly to Glinn Topak.”
Spirodopoulos pursed his lips. “Might I offend some of your crew by living there?”
“I will not allow it,” Macet declared. “Dalin
Haravl gave his life at Rondac III, in the Trager
’s first act of rebellion. I intend to remind my people in no uncertain terms that you honor the same cause, regardless of species. As to the rest of your men—I intend to make assignments according to rank—”
“Only as long as they’re all in individual quarters,” Spirodopoulos cut in. “I don’t care if they have to bunk two or three to a room…I insist
that they all have a place to sleep that is behind a door they can lock. Again, I mean no offense to you—”
“But you are being prudent,” Macet assessed with a thoughtful nod that came completely unexpectedly, as far as Spirodopoulos was concerned. “You approach with shields firmly raised; that is just as we would do. It speaks well of you—it does not behoove one to be too trusting, even in apparent safety. I
may not be a threat, nor any number of other people, but you would be deluding yourself to believe unreservedly in the good will of every single Cardassian in this fleet, no matter what we as their guls do. They are not given to disobeying orders, neither by training nor instinct…but these are extreme circumstances. You defend yourself, and you recognize our people as strong enough that it merits consideration. It speaks well of you.”
Macet paused, taking stock of the human man’s increasingly uncomfortable expression at this line of conversation. “I don’t say this to suggest the likelihood of betrayal. If you keep your word, make no mistake—I will defend mine to my dying breath. But I have dealt with humans before, and the astounding na´vetÚ I witnessed…it pleases me to see that perhaps we will be working with someone rather more sensible
. Your request is therefore granted, Commander: rest assured, we will make all necessary arrangements.”
“You’ve had other dealings?” Spirodopoulos couldn’t help asking. “What happened?”
Macet’s brown eyes darkened even further for a moment. “Perhaps later,” he shrugged. “My feelings on the subject are…quite complex, and I fear that perhaps neither of us is in the proper condition to discuss it.”
The Cardassian focused back on Spirodopoulos in the here and now. “It has been a long and grueling day…now is the time to rest as best we can.”
Now, as Spirodopoulos rousted himself achingly from the bed, he shambled slowly to the shower. That’s right
, he thought to himself with a faint, oddly grizzled smile for a man still far from sixty, no more bath-in-a-bottle, from here on out...
The official name, in Starfleet, was ‘waterless hygiene solution,’ but one almost never heard them called that except with a derisive sneer on one’s face. Inspired, perhaps, by the waterless hand sanitizers that gained popularity in the years before World War III, the bath-in-a-bottle was supposedly the all-in-one bathing solution for dirt, sweat, microbes, and everything else. But no matter how much anyone insisted that it got one clean in all the important ways, it never felt the least bit satisfying.
Often on AR-558, that had often been the only recourse they had. And on Lessek—that had been the case for the entire month, for the hastily-abandoned training base had had no sonics or even basic plumbing installed…hence, of course, the dreaded latrine duty. Spirodopoulos still wasn’t sure how the Cardassians had come by such a massive supply of Starfleet-issue bath-in-a-bottle, but he strongly suspected it had something to do with the crashed supply ship they had pulled Webene from.
But now, as he rounded the corner to the private washroom attached to these small quarters, he beheld something he never thought he’d see on a twenty-fourth century starship. A real, honest-to-God hot-water shower. I haven’t had one of
those outside a holodeck in two years—and
this is where it finally happens?
Surreal…that was the only word for it.
He stripped off his dusty, combat-worn clothes and opened a wall compartment that shared the room with the shower and head, and shoved the balled-up fabric inside; by the end of what promised to be a lengthy shower, the recessed personal laundry unit would have everything cleaned and ready to wear again. This wasn’t surprising from the power- and resource-conscious Cardassians, who found it more difficult to power the kind of carefree replicator use that Starfleet vessels could afford.
Spirodopoulos leaned into the shower and switched on the water, carefully testing the temperature—Cardassian skin, he was well aware, could withstand greater temperatures than species lacking their microscale layer. Finally, a decent steam rose towards the fan—just enough, he determined—and he stepped in.
Glancing over at the side, he found something that looked like it passed for a soap dispenser...but decided against it for now. Who knew what effect a cleanser meant for scaled skin might have on a human? And what’s up with that scrub brush-looking thing, anyway?
he wondered of the object hanging off of a hook on the back wall of the shower. Looks like a sandpaper pad on a stick!
A good long time in the water, and a thorough scrubdown with the washcloth and towel that had been provided for him would have to suffice until he got an answer to that soap question. For now, there was the immense satisfaction of bathing in real water—and that, plus refreshed clothes, was enough to make him feel cleaner than he had been in months.
After several minutes, though, he noticed the ambient temperature spiking to a point where he actually began to feel lightheaded. Damn!
he thought to himself, as he quickly cut the water temperature down to much cooler territory, recovered for a few seconds, and then stepped out. He’d gotten so caught up in the pleasure of a hot shower that he’d forgotten the fact that he still hadn’t lowered the room temperature. Still, it wasn’t enough to diminish the intense overall relief of the experience.
Of course, such things could not last forever…the very fact of where he was ensured there would be much to do during the day ahead. Quickly toweling off, he pulled open the door of the laundry unit and reached in to find his clothes restored just as expected, aside from some of the scuffs and threads pulled loose.
He didn’t think about it for the first few seconds, as he pulled on the shirt, pants, and socks. Though tailored differently from what he was used to, it could mostly have been a civilian outfit at that point, if you ignored the shin and forearm guards…black, mostly, with some simple, coordinated pattern work on the outsides of the sleeves and pant legs. But after another minute to put himself completely together—Makis Spirodopoulos looked up and for the first time, caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror.
The olive-green eyes that stared back at him were largely unchanged…there were a few lines around them that had not been there, perhaps, before his deployment to AR-558, though he couldn’t be sure, because although someone had hung a mirror in the makeshift washroom, there had never been any time to scrutinize—to even think
about what the constant rigors of combat were doing to him. And on Lessek…which had indeed had little more than the basics and mirrors hadn’t been one of them…opportunities to catch a glimpse of oneself in a mirror had been rare indeed.
And even in the evening-like light the Cardassians seemed to prefer, Spirodopoulos could see that during his month on Lessek, he’d definitely tanned from the exposure to the light of a real star. And his curly black hair had definitely grown out over the past several months, to the point where it stood out from his scalp by well over an inch all the way around. Still…these were his
If he spoke, it would be with the same voice as before—a soft, American-sounding baritone flavored with a dash of Greek that, in San Francisco, had been faint enough that people sometimes mistook it and came up to him speaking Spanish, alternately amused or affronted when he could not reply likewise. His voice may not have been the thundering bass people tended to expect from a security officer, but it was still a voice capable of speaking firmly nonetheless when required. All that held the most importance was undeniably the same.
And yet…the reflection staring back at him was absolutely surreal
It wasn’t as though he’d never seen Federation species dressed after the fashions of other worlds. In fact, one woman he’d served with when he first came aboard the Petraeus
, Lieutenant T’Naiah, had become a participant in the Federation Starfleet-Klingon Defense Force exchange program. But
, as he thought to himself now, for better or worse, the Klingons were our allies when she first went over there.
That was not how things had remained for what should have been the entire duration of her assignment. He still remembered the day hostilities had broken out between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, when T’Naiah had been forced to commandeer one of the qajunpaQ
’s shuttlecraft—there had been no lifepods, of course, no other option for escape but that. Spirodopoulos had been there in the transporter room when she’d beamed back, her shuttle just one direct hit away from destruction. Her black hair had grown long, straight down to her shoulders by then, and her eyes…she had grown accustomed to letting a certain air of defiance burn from within them—part cultural concession, he supposed, and part defense mechanism as the situation had suddenly soured between the two great powers. He’d never thought he’d ever see anything quite as odd, as incongruous as that…
…but now he beheld himself
This dark, armored uniform…this weapon he carried...never had his mind thought to transfer this image to himself, nor even to any other species but the Cardassians who had designed it to fit their particular physique. Six days ago, he would have said, if asked, that dread and malice dripped from its very aspect—an image strongly rooted in the darkest days of Earth’s history, of the Second and Third World Wars and their horrors…the very same horrors played out on an interstellar scale at the blood-stained hands of Central Command and the Obsidian Order. And he would have left it at that.
Five days ago, that veneer of simplicity had crumbled away. The spirit of rebellion: some had said their very natures suppressed it, however just the cause. The spirit of benevolence: some had said it didn’t exist on this side of the border, that their cultural conditioning destroyed it irrevocably, down to a man. And now…he had taken a chance on the belief that he had seen something different. He had donned this foreign armor and issued the challenge to his countrymen. They had fought…some had shed their blood and others now lay on biobeds aboard the four Gă’ălour
, the battle still ongoing for them as they struggled for their very lives. There was no telling now how long this might last.
God, how he hoped he was sure of what he’d done.
And now as Mike Spirodopoulos regarded the image in the mirror…yes, the Cardassian armor he now wore was unmistakably military
in nature—nothing like the shipboard jumpsuits or even the so-called battle fatigues he had worn before. Sometimes, in the trenches, they’d called the Cardassian soldiers ‘diamondbacks’—a derisive reference to the therapsid species’ reptilian traits, and the diamond motif on the cuirass. And in that, and its austere alien aesthetic...yes, it presented a formidable and forbidding aspect. Until you looked into the eyes of the man or woman who wore it. Until he looked into his own eyes.
. What was he? Calculating ruthlessness or tempered strength—this was a choice
. He could only pray that this one would not be betrayed. It had to be right. It had
to be right. And whatever the outcome…he had to own it.
Lieutenant Commander Spirodopoulos of Starfleet, of the Thirteenth Order, squared his shoulders and stared hard into the mirror for a few more seconds—until the door chime sounded. “Commander
,” came the softspoken tones of Glinn Thouves Daro, “Gul Berat hailed just a few minutes ago from the
Sherouk. The word from Dr. Hetalc isn’t good, I’m afraid; if you wish to bid the lieutenant goodbye, you had better come with me now
Spirodopoulos swallowed hard.
“I’m on my way.”