Thirteen hours after the Battle of Lessek
Cardassian Union Warship Trager
Her eyes were joyless. Not that everyone had to have the same semi-permanent sparkle in their eyes as Gul Berat, of course, but there was a definite lack of…something there, Macet thought as he studied the altered face of Gor
Mindesa Rhos. Even the cool mask of calm Cardassians often exhibited, by long conditioning, under tough circumstances—that still wasn’t enough to explain it.
Have I asked too much of her?
he silently questioned himself. She still wore Vorta features, though thankfully a Cardassian heart still beat underneath. The trouble was, as Dr. Istep had explained it, he’d had to reprogram her immune responses to accept the grafted, scaleless Vorta skin that she’d needed to fool Dominion security protocols, and the longer they waited to restore her true appearance, the greater the odds that the deprogramming would be…incomplete or completely inadvisable, for repeated tinkering with the DNA tended to strain the body past the outer limits of its endurance.
Restoring her ridging cartilage and the tendons and nerves running under the neck ridges wouldn’t be that difficult, for she still had Cardassian internal tissues tissue elsewhere in her body. Her immune system would recognize it even if there were difficulties with the reprogramming. The trouble was the skin that covered those ridges, for the attempt to regrow it might be met with a swift and deadly autoimmune response that would make even Yarim Fel syndrome look mild in comparison. Even now, there was a fair likelihood that she would be on immunosuppressants for the rest of her life if her appearance were restored right this minute.
Macet dearly wished he could allow her restoration. Even if she did
have to have a pharmaceutical implant and restricted duty for the rest of her life, it would be far better than what she lived with now. The trouble was, as long as the war went on, she would still be needed to intercept intelligence, fake their way past patrols, and all sorts of tasks no unaltered Cardassian and certainly no Starfleet soldier could do while they wore their own scales and skin. And each day diminished the probability that she could return safely to her natural Cardassian appearance.
He had warned Commander Spirodopoulos of what to expect, of course, before they’d even left Lessek. Still, Macet had deliberately waited to introduce Rhos to the terhăn
until they had some distance from the fire and fury. Now the senior staff of the Trager
filed into the briefing room as their counterparts aboard the other Thirteenth Order vessels did the same. Spirodopoulos, of course, was one of the first to enter the room, along with Chief Librescu and Ensign Folani. Others of his people, including Lieutenants Yupanki and Haeruuh, would join the briefing from the other vessels of the Order.
Even knowing what he’d see, the Starfleet commander still stiffened the instant he set eyes on Gor
Rhos, the very image of a Vorta. Rhos returned his gaze with those unnaturally bright orange eyes, but a stony expression that to him was unmistakably Cardassian, rather than the simpering, overweening demeanor she’d been forced to adopt when playing the role of Arawil. For she, too, was taking the measure of him.
It was quite the image, this Cardassian in Vorta skin facing a terhăn
man in Cardassian armor and wondering what to make of each other. “Gor
Rhos,” Spirodopoulos greeted simply, inclining his head slightly. He still struggled a bit with the ‘rh,’ but it was clear he was trying.
“Commander.” Rhos never smiled, but returned the gesture with a quick bow that to Macet read of appreciation, that he had acknowledged her as Cardassian.
It sufficed for the moment. The gul called, “Rhevet-ra—Maset
.” Macet to Rhevet.
,” replied his chief investigative officer. Rhevet speaking.
“What are your orders, Gul?
“Ensure the uplink is secured, and then patch in the other commanders.”
“Gorhoç edek, Gul
,” she acknowledged. Then, a few seconds later: “Tightbeam link secured. All ships in compliance. The channel is yours to open
“Do it,” Macet ordered. The Cardassian commander began without preamble. “My fellow guls—Commander,” he added, with a nod at Spirodopoulos, “we are now in position to operate as the rapid strike force we have envisioned for the past several months. That said, given the fluidity of the tactical situation over that period, we have refrained until now from deciding upon our post-Lessek objectives. We must decide quickly, though—the Kounamab Nebula only tolerates visitors for two, perhaps three days at the most.
“Of course,” he emphazied, “we now have additional inputs to consider. Therefore, while I have a proposal I wish to make, I would like to hear the thoughts of everyone cleared to be here as to what our primary objective should be. Please note this does not preclude the possibility of attacks upon feasible targets of opportunity…but we cannot simply wander aimlessly. Now…your thoughts?”
Over the uplink, Gul Speros spoke first. “The Founder knows the wormhole creatures have cut off reinforcements, and your attack on Rondac III has ensured that once the Vorta are dead, they’re dead, and possibly even their memory engrams. The Dominion’s losses would be permanent…except for one thing: their industrial capacity. They can still grow armies and build ships overnight. We’ve got to hit them to where they can’t regrow
Gul Berat, not surprisingly, objected. “I’m sorry, but how much good is it going to do if the rest of the quadrant can’t capitalize on those losses? As long as you’ve got the Breen in the mix, it’s basically the Dominion, the Breen, and our people versus the Klingons. How long do you think the Klingons can guard their borders
and those of the Federation
and the Romulans at the same time? The key is that energy dissipater. We need to figure out how it works, how to fight back.
“And how do you think we’re going to pass that information on, Berat?
” Even over the audio-only channel, his tone and his refusal to acknowledge the young commander’s equal title made Speros’ contempt evident. “You don’t think it would make a bit of difference if it was just
our little fleet that had the countermeasure, do you? The balance of power would have to be evened out. The Federation would have to be told—they’re the least likely to stick a knife in our backs…they wouldn’t know what to do with one anyway
Every one of the Federation officers, Spirodopoulos included, glared at Speros’ disembodied voice from the speaker. Macet winced and rubbed the outer part of his right eye ridge. He respected his mentor’s age and skill—but he certainly hadn’t learned his tact from the man. Macet didn’t look forward to the conversation he would have to try to initiate with the senior gul later…assuming Speros would even be willing to listen.
Speros wasn’t finished. “Where do we cross the Federation border, that isn’t guarded by the Dominion and the Breen? And you realize we’re going to have to cross, Berat. We can’t signal in the open and we aren’t set up for covert operations, so that’s our only option
“If we went that way,” Spirodopoulos carefully interjected once Speros finally left more than a second’s pause, “I’d be able to get Starfleet to pay attention. If you can bring them schematics of this weapon, and especially
if you can bring them countermeasures, they’d leap at the chance to get back in the battle.” And, of course
, Macet added to himself, he and his people would have the chance to go home.
Without at least some hope of return, he knew it wouldn’t be long before the Starfleet crew began to see themselves as prisoners of a different kind.
“I think you both may be missing the key here
,” Gul Rebek said. “We need to spread the resistance.
That’s what’s holding the Dominion at bay right now—even with only one adversary in the fight! We can attack the Breen…that’s great…we can attack their industry…great, too, but this is
our territory, and if the Cardassian people rise up in great numbers, we can expel the invaders. They’re using our Central Command as their headquarters, and our bases on our worlds. I’m thinking a mass resistance by the people, not just the military. It worked on Bajor
“We are not Bajorans
,” Speros cut in, and Ensign Folani stiffened. “How likely do you think a popular resistance really is? Was there any resistance to
” To Dukat the Traitor? “Not to mention…we swore to
protect Cardassia, not drag every man, woman, and child into this war! Would
you like to be responsible for bringing civilian targets into play?
” The caustic gul’s voice rang with the years-old rage of a father who had lost his child and future daughter-in-law thanks to some Bajorans who had decided attacking unarmed civilians…however unjustified their presence on Bajor…was the right way to make their point about the Occupation.
to speak here; Rebek was well-intentioned, but this particular discussion was a potentially inflammatory diversion, and Speros was worked up quite enough already—not to mention it was a dangerous strategy. “Gul Rebek, I am afraid that option simply is not feasible…not for us, anyway. Our final communiqué from Legate Damar stated quite clearly that we were best not
to make contact with other elements of the rebellion. The more decentralized we are, the less likely each element is likely to endanger other elements if it’s compromised.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Macet noticed the dark-skinned Bajoran ensign nodding—perhaps without even realizing it—at the truth of his words. Thank goodness
, he thought. “In addition,” Macet continued, “I believe our strength is in our mobility and autonomy. We’re not tied to a fixed base of operations; that allows us to be more proactive than a fleet that’s concerned with a particular defensive as well as offensive objective other than our own survival.”
Rebek’s voice came across the uplink somewhat chastened; he could almost hear her inclining her head. “My apologies, Macet; I was unaware of Damar’s order
“Do not apologize,” Macet said. “It was my
decision not to share all of the information I received from Legate Damar until all of our vessels had purged their Dominion contingents. As you know, the Ghiletz
was unable to do so until after the massacre at Septimus, so I dared not send transmissions in their vicinity that openly named Damar…not even on a secured frequency. We will, of course, be remedying this with a tightbeam transmission after this meeting.”
,” she answered simply. I understand.
“If I may, then…here is my own proposal.” Macet paused for a moment; though he commanded this particular venture, Speros’ years demanded at least a short attempt to wait for him to speak. “I believe, as Guls Speros and Berat do, that a realistic objective for us is indeed the Breen. That said, should we come in contact with other Cardassians who are resisting, Rebek is correct about their importance—while we would not deliberately seek it out, I would not pass up the opportunity to help them should one present itself.
“Speros…Berat…you two have sound ideas for objectives when it comes to the Breen. I think for now, however, that Gul Speros has a wise choice for primary objective—disruption of supply lines is eminently suited to a mobile force like ours. There are signs that the Dominion has begun supplementing their industrial efforts here in the Union with raw materials from the Breen Confederacy…and if we can cut them off from those supplies, we can accelerate the strain upon them.
“However, Gul Berat…learning the secret to the Breen weapon, even if we can’t capture one of their ships, should also be a priority objective. I would like you to head up the research effort; I’ll also be assigning Riyăk
Iymender to the Sherouk
to assist you in whatever ways he can, as soon as he’s recovered enough. On a related note—I also want an analysis of all of the Dominion systems put aboard your ship and the Trager
for clues, as well as the databases of the Zerayd
, the Ghemor
, the Turrel
…and,” Macet added, the last words with what he wished could be a grudging sigh, “the Tăspar
The first two ships were named after heroes of Cardassia—heroes unrecognized by too many, Macet thought, but most certainly heroes. Legate Turrel had been among the first three executed by Gul Dukat when he seized power: as the architect of the Cardassian-Bajoran Treaty, as far as Dukat was concerned Turrel had put his signature upon the destruction of his reputation as prefect. Kotan Pa’Dar, too, had died that day for forcing Central Command’s hand at the time of withdrawal, along with Gul Russol who, as the rumor went, had discovered too late what Dukat was doing with the Dominion and tried to stop it. As for Ghemor—he would surely have died at Dukat’s hand as well, if he hadn’t already been exiled and condemned to die by his own body.
And then…we have the
. He knew exactly how Berat had come up with the name: from his remark just after Septimus III, when he’d commented that the Dominion thought of Cardassian soldiers as mere ‘tăspar eggs to throw at the alliance’s windshields
.’ Macet had preferred a more serious name for the Hidekiy
-class craft, but Berat had spoken first and the name stuck.
Now, Berat acknowledged Macet’s suggestion with what Macet could have sworn was a slight undercurrent of glee at making Macet speak the name, even as he gave a perfectly serious reply. “If information on that weapon is to be found
,” Berat stated, “we will find it
“Very good,” said Macet. “But hold off for the moment—I want to hear suggestions from our Starfleet members. Please, don’t hold back…if you have any reason to believe this plan is not sound, you have another idea to discuss, or you have any other questions that ought to be addressed, I want to know.”
“Two things,” Spirodopoulos said. “First…if
we are to engage the Breen, we’ll need to be briefed in on all of the intelligence you have on them. Federation contact with the Breen has been very, very limited and I’m suspecting that your people know more now than we’ve learned over decades. If we’re going to help you, we’ll need access to whatever information you have.
“But my biggest concern is this. When we were first…ah…taken, the Breen had made no hostile moves against us. You told us that’s what had happened, and that our people were out of the fight because of their weapon. While my first impulse is to believe you, the fact remains that this time, you’re asking us to join you in aggressive actions against a race that according to the last news we received from our own people, was not engaged in hostile action against us.”
“You require proof that the situation is as we say it is,” Macet stated.
“Yes,” Spirodopoulos replied, carefully speaking the word in Federation Standard.
Macet nodded his comprehension. “That can be arranged. Before we leave this room, I will show you footage of the attack on Terhăn Terăm
. I can also offer physical proof of Breen opposition to the resistance—do you have anyone who knows Cardassian technology well enough that they can take one of our tricorders, inspect it, wipe its memory, and restore it to its factory settings?”
Chief Librescu lifted a hand. “It’s been a little while,” he offered, “but I’ve done it.”
This did not surprise Macet. Longtime infantry soldiers assigned to the same front, as Librescu had been during the Federation-Cardassian War, typically learned how to use the enemy’s technology over the course of the war; as Glinn Daro had explained it, sometimes conditions were far from ideal, and you had to use what was available. Purging such equipment’s memory after analyzing it and resetting it was critical to making sure the enemy couldn’t leave a sabotaged device for the sake of confusion.
“Then I would invite you, Chief, Commander Spirodopoulos, and any science and language experts that the commander designates to analyze the damage the Trager
sustained in our attack on the cloning facility at Rondac III.” Gor
Rhos, who had served in maintenance before her transformation, shifted uncomfortably at this, but Macet met her eyes with a level expression: not quite the sort intended to force instinctive submission, but one that clearly said, I deem this absolutely necessary
. The subtle dip of the head reassured Macet—this reaction was pure Cardassian.
“We were attacked by Dominion and Breen forces simultaneously,” Macet continued, “and while we have recordings of the battle, I think the damage itself…the time it was sustained, and its type…will speak. We received only partial repairs at Lessek, and there is still much evidence of it shipwide. You will, of course, also have the opportunity to examine damage sustained in our last offensive as a control variable. I believe that in combination with the recordings, this will provide evidence that the Breen and the Dominion acted together to head off the attack…that they are indeed Dominion allies.”
nodded—clearly not quite committed yet, but open-minded enough to grant the idea due consideration. “I’ll discuss that with my people, and we should have a team together soon.”