[There's a bit of an inside joke in this section...I wonder if anyone will catch it? I realize this isn't a long segment, but the next one in line will be much longer.]
Spirodopoulos had returned to the Trager
in near-complete silence. He’d been a mere ensign, a security officer on Deep Space Five near Ivor Prime the first time he’d witnessed death. It had been a completely senseless altercation at the Cantina: a Talarian freighter captain, a young Andorian civilian, enough real alcohol to drown an Argoan, and ceremonial blades. By the time security reached the Cantina, the eighteen-year-old Andorian had a knife sticking in his side where his heart was, and his eyes already bore the unmistakable glaze of death.
That hadn’t been his last death, as a security officer. He’d had a slight respite on the Petraeus
when he began cross-training with the ship’s XO, who doubled as tactical officer as on all Sabre
-class vessels…first an insufferably arrogant Deltan woman by the name of Aial, and then Commander Pawlovic. Then Spirodopoulos had received the emergency transfer orders to AR-558—and Starfleet Command wouldn’t hear a word of Pawlovic’s protests. There, on the planetoid some of his fellow humans had taken to calling ‘Arras’ after a deadly stalemate in Earth’s First World War, he’d spent what felt like an endless time vacillating between stagnation and carnage with little else in between.
Indeed—Spirodopoulos had whispered too many prayers for the dead over the course of his career, and it weighed upon him. But if you ask me
, he thought sadly, it’s the ones who really
do get used to it that you have to worry about the most
. This pain…it was the cost of being human—of really
being human. Or whatever humanoid species you happened to be, aside from the genetically-altered slave races throughout the galaxy, those like the Jem’Hadar and the Borg who had had something critical in them irrevocably suppressed or excised. Some species’ cultures made a fine and deadly art out of walking that thin line. But as long as there were individuals…then there was some sort of hope.
That hope was all he had after hearing the unemotional, stoic voice of the dead—or so it had seemed—addressing him through the eyes of Cadet Subek. The cause to which he’d committed them…T’Ruveh had died for it. And she wasn’t the only one among their number.
Glinn Daro had relayed the message from Macet just after Spirodopoulos had beamed back over to the Trager
: Macet and the other guls had agreed that before they left the nebula, there would be a memorial service for the fallen, both Cardassian and Starfleet. The ceremonies of neither side could ever truly work for the other…this, too, would have to be a collaborative strategic effort just as critical as the planning of the Lessek battle. Daro and Va’Kust had been ordered to represent the Cardassian side; Spirodopoulos, Lieutenant Haeruuh, and Chief Librescu would offer their input on behalf of Starfleet.
Right now Spirodopoulos was on his way to the conference room, a young gor
named Yulinn he remembered from the Lessek camp leading the way. A young human man rounded the corner headed Spirodopoulos’ way, glanced over at Yulinn with a touch of trepidation at first—then decided that what he had to say, he could say in front of them both. “Commander…may I have a moment?”
Spirodopoulos glanced over at Yulinn. The swiftness of the Cardassian’s compliance surprised him: before he even opened his mouth, Yulinn gave a quiet bow of the head and withdrew to the end of the corridor. “Go ahead, Ensign.”
He almost hadn’t recognized the young man at first. His name was DeMarcus Rashad—and up until just yesterday, his hair had come down almost to his chin in a painstakingly-woven set of braids—but sometime last night or this morning, he’d apparently gotten hold of a razor and all of that was gone now, his hair trimmed almost down to the scalp. The young, bookish engineer was a proud native of Huntsville, Alabama who claimed that ‘the space program,’ as he jokingly referred to Starfleet, was part of the very air he breathed where he’d grown up.
That was far from Rashad’s mood now—rather, his eyes looked…desolate. “Sir…I just found out that Midzour Prashek’s ship didn’t make it off of Lessek yesterday.”
“Prashek…” Spirodopoulos considered this. “The Cardassian you were on rotation with?”
Rashad nodded, hollow. “With Ngaer. Yes.” He stared off into the distance for a moment, then fixed his eyes upon Spirodopoulos again. He’d been about to ask Rashad what he’d heard about Ngaer—but the young man…no older than twenty-five…had clearly heard, to judge from the expression on his face. “He was—I just…I should miss Ngaer more. And I do miss her.” He lowered his voice; even with Yulinn at a distance, he wasn’t about to take a chance. “Ngaer and I got along all right, but Prashek—I kind of got the feeling that if he hadn’t been Cardassian, if things had gone differently, he’s the kind of guy I would’ve liked to take fishing. This just feels kind of messed-up. Backwards—I mean, until just recently, we were POWs.”
Spirodopoulos crossed his arms over his cuirass as he thought. It was never easy when your squad took casualties, but here, where the definition had blurred so…
“In my belief,” he replied carefully—depending on your commanding officer Starfleet regulation could be rather dicey about the freedom to speak of faith, especially when one held a higher rank…and especially here, he had to maintain even regulations he disliked as closely as he could with his people, “we aren’t supposed to enjoy killing our enemies, even when we have to defend ourselves. It’s not supposed to be about vengeance, because we don’t know enough about others—about who they are
—to decide whether they, as people deserve
death. Especially not people we never meet face to face.”
He thought of the expression on Dr. Hetalc’s face as T’Ruveh died. He also thought of Berat’s resolve when he declared that in spite of what the Federation—or at least, a former citizen of the Federation—had taken from him, that he wanted to try for a second chance at Cardassian and Federation working together. “What’s making this situation so strange is that this time we’re actually getting to see
them up close,” Spirodopoulos said. “I think that considering what we’ve experienced, and learned about these people the last several days, it makes sense that you’d think of him in different terms than you would have before. You might well be right about Prashek…who knows? And that maybe you wouldn’t have had much to relate to off-duty with Ngaer…I don’t think that makes you disloyal. I think that’s just the luck of the draw.”
“I guess so,” Rashad mumbled, sounding like he was still trying to convince himself.
Spirodopoulos firmly fixed the ensign’s gaze. “I’m not going to let us forget where we come from—or who we’re fighting for.”
Rashad straightened up and matched his commander. “Yes, sir.”
Spirodopoulos clapped him on the arm just below where the half-sleeve of the cuirass connected with the shoulder. “Carry on, Ensign,” he said, allowing himself a subtle smile as Rashad nodded smartly and resumed his progress down the corridor.
It had been a grim task, Daro reflected, putting together the final arrangements for the memorial service to be held aboard the new Gălor
in two hours—not only had there been the cultural details and the logistics to work out, but there had been the final compilation of the list of the dead. There had been no way to retrieve all of the bodies. Nor had there been any written record of the prisoner rolls, of course: they had dared not leave such evidence in their ships’ computers to be found by the Dominion or even their fellow Cardassians.
Instead, the guls who would found the Thirteenth Order had relied upon the memory of Glinn Zebreliy Va’Kust. Va’Kust had spent what felt like hours with Daro and the three Starfleet officers reciting the list to the computer while they listened for mistakes or omissions. Then they had reconciled that against the list Daro had compiled of the confirmed living and dead. Those who never appeared on the second list—they were presumed dead.
Though his alien features made it a bit difficult to tell for sure, it was readily apparent to Daro that the terhăn
commander struggled under the weight he had never expected to bear at this point in his career—and especially not here under these circumstances. Spirodopoulos’ Starfleet rank made him sound something like a dalin
—one who channeled the input of his subordinates, someone who was getting used to looking at the greater situation as he would someday for command, but to whom it was still not fully familiar territory.
Daro found himself thinking back to his time as a dalin
in the Mechanized Infantry, before that moment when Gul Vuraal had given the unconscionable orders…his position then had been much the same as Spirodopoulos’ on AR-558. He could never forget what it felt like that moment when he realized that Vuraal and Glinn Liset had no intention of listening to reason when the situation on the planet shifted so drastically. It was an awful feeling for a Cardassian, to feel that there was no choice left but to subvert nature and defy one’s commander in that manner, to take for oneself what should have belonged to those of a higher station. And even then, after all of that, for it to make so little difference…
This time, at least, Daro had the luxury of a gul—in fact, four guls—acting in concert. They
were the ones who bore the brunt of it this time, that crawling sense of knowing they were outside the system…as good as exiles, even within Union territory as they were. For Cardassians, the company of their own—but more, a sense of place and certainty in the structures of command and obedience was a deep, psychological need. He wondered if humans felt like that as well.
He’d watched how even the thought
of rebellion seemed to thin the atmosphere that Gul Macet breathed. They had been incredibly fortunate the Vorta had been so ill-attuned to the gul’s personality, because as cool as he seemed on the exterior, Daro had never seen Macet’s headaches come with such frequency, and a few times the gul even seemed to have difficulty drawing breath. Thankfully he hadn’t had one of those asthmatic episodes since they’d beamed down to Lessek to meet the Starfleet…prisoners, at the time.
Gul Speros’ temper, not surprisingly, was flaring even more than usual—but then again, like Gul Vuraal and too many other commanders in the Guard, that was his usual way of dealing with things and his crew was used to that by now. Bow deep
, went the saying: that way you won’t be as far from the ground when the gul slaps you down
. Technically, of course, it was a violation of the military code to strike even a subordinate, and as far as Daro knew Speros had never gone that far, but such things happened, and unless the subordinate in question was well connected, the act was almost never punished. Gul Jasad, for instance, had sent his chief investigative officer to Sickbay after his failure to locate the Bajoran Wormhole…never mind that it had been scientifically impossible to find it when it had swallowed Dukat’s ship and sealed itself. And Daro himself had, on that fateful day during the Federation War, been on the receiving end of a dreadful beating from Gul Vuraal.
As for Gul Berat…it was hard to tell with him, if the stress of the current circumstances was affecting him: some of the usual signs were merely symptoms of his neurological condition, and if anything, he seemed to feed off of the excitement and the disorder in an almost ta’cardăst
way. Maybe that was
his way of coping with the stress: throwing himself headlong into it like a tide-rider of Hăzăk. Whatever it was, it had to be working…he couldn’t imagine how else Berat could be doing it with everything else he had to deal with on a regular basis.
Gul Rebek was the true mystery. The shadow of Septimus III still hung heavily over her, but Glinn Va’Kust had remarked on it just a few minutes ago: that grieved her indeed, and yet it seemed as though the rebellion, the separation from the rest of Cardassia, troubled her not at all. She still seemed anchored
somehow, as if there had been hardly any disruption to her sense of hierarchy at all. Daro wasn’t sure what that meant—if it signified that the proper instinct was attenuated in her, or if perhaps she’d discreetly subordinated herself to one of the other guls…but neither of those explanations felt right.
Daro had sent Va’Kust and the three Starfleet officers ahead of him. Though the main service was to be held aboard the new Gălor
, there were viewing areas to be set up aboard the other ships and much work to do. He hated that the memorial was to be this rushed—but they could only remain in the Kounamab Nebula for so long.
In the silence of the conference room, he reviewed the words he planned to speak, making a few last-minute changes and imaging the final draft with his eidetic memory. Speros had had a few choice words about the most significant thing he planned to do—and for that matter, he hadn’t told Spirodopoulos about it either. But Macet had backed it, and Daro had a feeling the terhăn
and his Starfleet comrades would find it most fitting.