Spirodopoulos blinked rapidly—surprise, concern, uncertainty all flashed across his face, though he tried valiantly to disguise them. Speros seemed to understand what was happening, though his narrow-eyed expression made it clear he disapproved. Hatel, on the other hand—it was hard to tell what the look on his face was intended to convey: shock? Fear of betrayal? Anger? And the gathered Cardassian soldiers, it seemed, were barely restraining themselves from murmuring amongst themselves at this unorthodox, unanticipated move.
“Before the sigil can be awarded,” Daro elucidated, “this ship requires a name. As per tradition, the guls of the Thirteenth Order wish to honor an act of bravery and sacrifice for the sake of the Cardassian Union. I myself bore witness to such an act on the surface of Lessek—a woman with wings of a zerayd
who took flight to destroy a Jem’Hadar cannon emplacement, volunteering herself without prompting, in full knowledge that this action would be her last.” Daro locked eyes with Spirodopoulos. The Hăzăkda glinn gave a tiny nod meant for Spirodopoulos alone: Yes—this is what I mean.
“Commander…I heard you speak her name just now, and I know you can do it greater justice than I can. Would you please speak it for me again?”
Spirodopoulos swallowed, gazing back at his own people. Then he spoke—his tone soft yet resolute, and perhaps with a hint of wonder at what was to come. “Ensign Ngaer of Ueitii.”
“Pokor malinzayn çad
,” Daro acknowledged—you do a great service
Spirodopoulos inclined his head. “Glinayn Daron—tihadpet rouk
.” It’s only duty, Glinn Daro
. The rapidity of these words to his tongue startled him. True, he was well used to speaking something other than his native language in the line of duty; he’d been raised to speak Greek first—Federation Standard as a foreign language, and he still preferred Greek off-duty, though given their circumstances he hadn’t spoken it for over a month. But now, for this
language to emerge so quickly, though incomplete his grasp upon it might still be…it took him aback.
Daro resumed his speech. “It would be difficult to name a ship something we do not pronounce as easily as she, or you, can…and an inadequate memorial. Nor do I believe, if this ship is ever reintegrated into the Cardassian Guard, that such a name would be retained. But the ranking officers here have discussed this and we believe we have a way to honor her, and what your people have done, in a way that has a chance of lasting.
“We name this ship the Zerayd
.” The image of a large, birdlike creature with black plumage appeared on a small monitor recessed into the ceiling of the cargo bay…the same monitor Spirodopoulos imagined had once been used to spit government propaganda even when Cardassian ships were out of port. The zerayd
seemed almost primitive to human eyes, like many Cardassian animals seemed to species where therapsids or reptiles did not dominate—partly reptilian, partly birdlike, something like the extinct rahnoavis
of Earth, but condor-like in size.
Oh, my God.
Spirodopoulos felt a lump in his throat. As the zerayd
silhouetted itself across the great red Cardassian sun, he could see the symbolism.
Spirodopoulos simply nodded at first, giving himself a second or two to gather his words—he felt not just Daro’s eyes upon him, but those of Gul Speros as well, boring into him as if seeking a core sample by which to take the measure of the man. Spirodopoulos bowed towards Daro and replied simply, “Glinn…you do us a great honor.”
He glanced back over the faces in the crowd. Even Ensign Folani seemed—if not disarmed by the Cardassians’ gesture, then contemplative much as she had been…God, just over a week ago…in the mess hall back on Lessek. Spirodopoulos sought out the eyes of Ensign Rashad—and indeed, they were filled with wonderment. The human commander barely quelled an urge to offer Rashad the reassuring smile he would have had he not stood on this platform where misinterpretation or even offense was so likely: surely this should dispel any fears on Rashad’s part that he grieved insufficiently or dishonored her by grieving for Prashek as well.
Then Gul Speros spoke. “Daro. Spirodopoulos. Tocsot oça’adep edek
.” I release you
. He addressed both men as clear subordinates…yet he did not simply give them the blunt order them to step down. Still, the glinn and the lieutenant commander both complied. Spirodopoulos resumed his place between Folani and Berat.
Now Speros raised the medallion—the sigil—for the entire crowd gathered to behold, not unlike a priest might raise the bread and wine before the congregation for the Divine Liturgy. Now that Spirodopoulos stood closer, he thought he spotted the name ‘Zerayd
’ among the Cardăsda letters. Speros turned, though, before he could be sure.
“Glinn Hatel,” he began. “The Cardassian Union—through me—recognizes your years of service and bestows upon you the most solemn office of acting commander. Remember this!” he interjected. “We have not left the Union—it is Skrain Dukat who has done so and we who shall bring the hand of justice to those who still follow his ways into oblivion. As for us—we will not forget what it is we serve! Therefore,” Speros continued, returning to what Spirodopoulos supposed to be the familiar ritual, “as you prepare to accept this symbol of the prestige and the burden of this office, you shall state your name and reaffirm the oath you swore upon your entry into the Cardassian Guard.”
“I am Glinn Bezerok Hatel,” the Cardassian officer declared, continuing without a single prompt from Speros or anything from which to read the ritual words. “I swear in this capacity that I shall always place the interests of the Cardassian Union above my own, to serve and defend it in the face of any and all circumstances I might face. I swear my loyalty and my obedience to my leaders. I swear to provide my crew, through me, the full support and vigilance of the Cardassian Union against all enemies within and without.”
Much like Speros, Hatel’s eyes practically burned at that last—in a simpler time, he would have been branded the traitor along with every Cardassian in this room. Now…he took up this mantle to save the Union from itself. “For each duty, I pledge my life. May it be forever so: gorhoç edek
.” I obey
“Then I bind you to that word, Glinn Hatel,” Speros stated. “Serve Cardassia and Cardassia will remember you. Betray Cardassia and Cardassia—through us—will have justice.”
Hatel bowed deeply, holding this position as Gul Speros slipped the medallion over his slicked-back hair and resting it between neck and shoulder lines of his cuirass where it could sit without irritating the sensitive neck ridges. “You are hereby granted acting command of the Cardassian Union warship Zerayd
. Lead its crew and wield its power well, Glinn Hatel.” And for the first time, Spirodopoulos caught a clear impression of something other than cynicism and bitterness in Speros’ eyes as he regarded his former first officer. It looked an awful lot like pride.
He’s not the only one
, Spirodopoulos realized, taking a long look at the rest of the Thirteenth Order, Starfleet and Cardassian alike. The deck upon which they stood, under the watchful eye of the armored Honor Vigil and the echo of this unexpected gift—this name, the Zerayd
, ringing in their ears…they all felt it. This might not be consecrated, but it definitely felt like hallowed ground.