“Gul Macet.” Commander Spirodopoulos regarded him with careful, searching eyes.
, Commander?” Macet rose from his seat with a restrained, purposeful motion, remaining just beyond arm’s length of the terhăn
. “Did you have additional concerns?”
Spirodopoulos shook his head. “I think you’ve made a sound choice of target. It makes sense—plus, those bastards…gen—khen—
,” Macet supplied in a low voice, knowing what Spirodopoulos was trying to say.
Spirodopoulos nodded. “Ghentregă’ămsthe
,” he repeated slowly, though it was clear the aspirated Cardăsda ‘gh
’ and ‘th
’ were still hard for him to pronounce at will. “They attacked my homeworld. They attacked the heart of Starfleet and strafed civilian targets, too. Giving the Breen some hell after that—it’s not exactly a tough pill to swallow, as we say. That is, it won’t be once your offer of proof is satisfied.”
It took a moment for Macet’s translator to make sense out of the lieutenant commander’s figurative expressions, but once clarified, Macet nodded in comprehension. “I expected so,” Macet replied, then made another attempt. “Is something else troubling you?”
“No,” Spirodopoulos said. “There was just something you said when I first came aboard the Trager
that I wanted to ask you about. You said you’d dealt with my people before…I just want to know what happened.”
Very interesting choice
, Macet thought to himself. He suspected he understood what Spirodopoulos was after, and he approved: the Starfleet soldier hoped, perhaps, to develop a greater sense of his reactions and intentions through his past interactions. While it wasn’t quite as subtle as most Cardassians would have gone about it—a culture without the restraints of the Cardassian Union would, of course, lack the practiced ease in communicating without stating one’s message directly—Macet had to respect the attempt.
This was about establishing trust, Macet decided; he would honor the request. “Are you familiar with what happened to Captain Maxwell of the Viynix
?” he asked, pronouncing the Vedrayçda
word as best as he could manage.
Spirodopoulos narrowed his eyes in thought; the terhăn
recollection process could be a bit unreliable when they didn’t have rapid access to their databanks and search protocols. “Yes—ve’
,” he added in Cardăsda with greater certainty, gathering his memories into shape. “He went rogue, crossed the border, started attacking Cardassian ships without orders. I heard Captain Picard went into Cardassian space to go get him.” The alien officer paused, then met Macet’s eyes with piercing gold-green ones. “I also heard a lot of rumors that Maxwell’s accusations were right, even though his methods weren’t.”
, Gul Macet thought to himself with a flash of regret and understanding. “I was the gul sent to intercept the Viynix
when it attacked. I did fire on the Enterprise
at first…because I was under the impression they were complicit in a deliberate attack on the Union. I did so with phasers only at that time because I was not certain…I hid our full power; I wanted to see how they would react. But what Maxwell did was so brazen Central Command suspected little else but war. Once Picard explained what was happening, I urged my superiors to let me work with Captain Picard to resolve the situation,” he related in solemn tones.
“They put me on point, gave me orders to do what I could to avoid a war. At that time, Central Command was finally starting to recognize the cost the Bajoran Resistance was exacting from our forces, and what would soon happen to us if we lost the resources we were taking from the Bajorans. They knew we could ill afford a war—and I agreed. I’m sure they at least suspected my leanings, and I had the feeling they were deliberately using me because of it. There are times I wonder if they engineered the entire situation knowing
Maxwell was deranged, and knowing
how Picard and I would react. I wonder sometimes if the entire thing was an attempt to build political capital to help us at the negotiation table.” Macet crossed his arms over his cuirass in disgust at the notion before he continued.
“Now the other part of my orders was to not speak of the rearming effort that was underway. Commander, I am sure your people will discover this eventually in the course of this war, if they have not already: until the Detapa Council took over—yes. Cardassia was indeed violating the terms of the cease-fire, which I strongly
disagreed with because I knew all it would do was provoke
a war, not prevent one. Open deterrence is one thing, and perfectly reasonable; even in nature, no species survives without its natural defenses being known to its enemies. Even subterfuge has its place. But we gave our word—there’s a special sort of anger that
provokes when it’s discovered, and I fear that wrath is falling upon our worlds even now.
“So I hope you understand this, Spirodopoulos. Because of my inclinations, I was there to provide plausible deniability for my government, and I strongly suspected even then that’s what they intended with me. Yet I truly did
want to prevent a war…and the only way to accomplish that was to carry out my orders to the best of my ability: learn to work with Picard, and help him retrieve his traitor before Central Command would ignore his aggression no longer. What else do you know?” Macet probed.
Spirodopoulos crossed his arms in echo of Macet’s gesture, testing the arithmetic. “I heard about Maxwell’s arrest,” he said. “As far as I know, he’s still serving his remaining time.” As if someone like him
ever ought to be out in his lifetime—or live at all!
the Cardassian commander thought to himself with a flash of indignation he carefully hid from his face. “And I know the rest of his crew made it out alive.”
“They did,” Macet confirmed. “And that was not
easily accomplished. None of the commanders you’ve met were serving with me at that time…and few of those who were, were as inclined to keep the peace as I was. I fired on the Enterprise
, yes—but hoping the entire time I wouldn’t have to destroy them. I will never understand why your people put families on a warship—and I did not
want to be the murderer of children. But some of the other guls had no such compunctions, and reining them in was a tough task…especially given Picard’s provocation.”
” Spirodopoulos burst out, raising an incredulous, dark-haired eyebrow. “The words ‘Picard’ and ‘provocation’ hardly
“Perhaps not by your people’s standards,” Macet acknowledged, “and to be honest, I suspect Picard didn’t truly comprehend how his actions were coming across to us. He did make some tough decisions at times—once the situation deteriorated badly enough, he assisted us in ways…” Macet paused; he wasn’t sure how Spirodopoulos would feel about the fact that Picard gave the Cardassian task force key codes for the rogue captain’s vessels, codes that perhaps could have allowed the guls in Macet’s task force to destroy the Phoenix
if they had been able to act quickly and decisively enough. “Ways I would have struggled with, had our positions been reversed. I respected that.
“But there were other things he said and did that to this day, I simply cannot make sense of. There are times I think he believed too much in the better side of his people’s nature, too much in unfounded hopes that Maxwell would simply—see reason and lay down his arms with just a word…and maybe not even that.
“While we were searching for Maxwell, we moved through our space at Warp 4. That was part of our initial agreement; we needed to limit the Enterprise
’s range in Cardassian space for security purposes. But when we located the Phoenix
, he was deeper in Cardassian space than we thought. And he was already beginning an attack. At maximum warp, we would have stood a chance to intercept, to save some of the people he ended up killing. Yes…Picard did give us information
that helped. But he never even suggested accelerating until after
650 people died as he watched. I was right there on his bridge—I had the authority to change the terms of the agreement in an emergency, and he didn’t even ask!
It seemed so obvious
that I didn’t even realize he wouldn’t come up with the idea on his own until it was too late. I don’t know what
he was thinking—did he want to stand back, uninvolved, while people died, so he could wash his hands of the responsibility? Did he think that Maxwell would repent at the mere sight of the Federation flagship? Who takes action like Maxwell did and just crumples at the first sign of trouble?
“A freighter crew and a full Gălor
crew died…there wasn’t even a chance to launch the escape pods.” He paused, allowing Spirodopoulos to compute the numbers. “They weren’t the first to die during Maxwell’s rampage. And they weren’t the last, not even when Picard finally caught up with the Viynix
. Now tell me, Commander Spirodopoulos—you specialize in security and tactics, correct?”
“That’s correct,” said the terhăn
“In your professional opinion, if a ship’s commander had committed crimes of that nature, and you had just witnessed the proof firsthand—how would you apprehend the perpetrator when you had him at a standstill? When he actually accepted a meeting between captains and lowered his shields to make it possible? Feel free to stay with generalities—I won’t ask you to divulge anything you don’t believe you ought to. But tell me…if it fell upon you, how would you handle it?”
Spirodopoulos let out a soft breath, averting his eyes. Did he know already how Picard had actually handled the situation? The Starfleet security officer, however, gave little hint one way or the other. “I would have taken the commander into custody,” he carefully replied. “I would also have slaved the controls of the other ship over to my own, remote-controlled them back to the nearest starbase, probably with a tractor beam too, just in case. True, the rest of the crew would’ve kicked up a hell of a fuss, but sitting there in the middle of—ah…foreign territory isn’t exactly the time to sort out potential co-conspirators from the rest. I’d rather have an innocent crew mad at me for commandeering their ship to pull them
back out of danger than let potential co-conspirators go back on the warpath.”
Macet nodded; a grim smile of approval tugged at his lips. “Well proposed,” he replied. “I wish it had really ended that way. But it didn’t. Picard thought he could just talk
to Maxwell, just ask
him politely to follow him home—nothing you suggested. Not even a tractor beam. Do you think a madman like that was going to slink meekly home with his head bowed low? Do you think he would accede to soft words and reason
? Of course not—reason
was what he lacked! He escaped again, engaged another one of our ships, nearly attacked.
“And then, after all of this—yes. Picard found the evidence of what Central Command was doing, or at least had enough sense to suspect. But after the halfheartedness of his actions, he had the nerve to suggest that I couldn’t understand loyalty as a terhăn
can, because I pointed out how misplaced his loyalty to Maxwell was, and that of his crew. Yet his
notions of loyalty are blind even to the point of refusing to see treason before his own eyes, and they led over a thousand of my people to their deaths, when you count the station and all of the ships Maxwell destroyed. Battles in war
have been fought with fewer losses! And Picard recklessly endangered his own crew and all those families and children
Some remote ideal that was clearly
unachievable in that situation?
“I no longer answer to Central Command; they are corrupt—and it’s been that way for a long time. So I’ll tell you now what I wish I could have told Picard. I both acted and
kept my silence so I could stay alive and prevent a war in spite of that man’s naďveté and my government’s
failure to honor its loyalty to its word. As for Picard…I respect his dream of peace. But I do not understand or respect his blindness to reality. To the corruption in the cardasdanoid nature.”
The look in the lieutenant commander’s eyes was difficult to read, at first. Perhaps, Macet now thought, he hadn’t
known exactly what transpired in Cardassian territory, how many lives Picard’s failure to act decisively had taken, and how many others it had endangered. Yet Spirodopoulos’ own thoughts had been at such odds with one like Picard. And Macet could almost swear he’d caught a subconscious nod of agreement from Spirodopoulos with his final declaration.
“Maxwell was insane,” Spirodopoulos said, carefully refraining from any direct remarks about Captain Picard. “Anyone who’s seen the things I’ve seen and really thinks they want
a war is insane. It’s one thing if someone takes aggressive action towards you. But to go actively seeking it the way he did…he’d lost his mind.”
“But as you say,” Macet countered, “sometimes you have to take action. And you can’t act in accordance with dreams in those times…but with reality, however unpleasant. ‘Defense is the highest duty,’” the Cardassian commander quoted in a low voice, and meant it. “And it carries the highest price. I’ve seen things too, Commander, and so have most of us in the Thirteenth Order. I want it to end so I don’t have to fear for my family and my people anymore. That’s why I’m acting. I think it’s the same for you.”
Spirodopoulos nodded, glancing down at his feet…or more particularly, Macet suspected, what he carried tucked in his boot: the picture of his family. “I don’t want them to ever have to go through something like this.” Then he fixed Macet’s eyes with a powerful, appraising gaze. “And I want to see them again.”
“I want you to as well,” Macet sincerely replied. “I understand that. You’re…” So much more like one of us
, he thought to himself. “A soldier,” he finished, “and that too is something I can understand.”
After a brief moment of silence in which they took stock of each other, Macet spoke again. “Have I answered your questions, Spirodopoulos? Is there anything else I can assist you with?”
“I think that answers my questions for now,” Spirodopoulos decided, inclining his head in a very Cardassian-like acknowledgment. “Pakar malin çada. Yozol…
” He paused, searching for the right word—and realizing what he had just said wasn’t entirely correct, either.“Youzol klet çadav edek
.” Thank you. I will see you soon.
“Me çadel edek
,” Macet replied. And I you.