So sorry for the long hiatus, guys!
Here's a chapter that gets into Spirodopoulos' head. The everyday reality of living
with such an alliance is far more complex than that one moment in the mess hall, and requires leaping over a lot
of mental hurdles.
Fifteen hours after the Battle of Lessek
Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk
He couldn’t get the images out of his head. Even as just
images, they were gut-wrenching enough: Breen attack fighters dodging and weaving their way through gaps in Earth’s defenses in a too-precise pattern, one that spoke of advance work done, no doubt by Founder spies. The Breen had tried with capital ships, hoping, perhaps, in one dreadful blow to prove their worth to the Dominion once and for all, laying waste to the most populous of the core worlds of the Federation, but Thot Gor’s attempt had seemed a bit halfhearted, a recognition, perhaps, of the staggering losses to his people that would have come from attempting it in earnest. Instead, the heavy cruisers had served instead to provide enough cover for the fighter force to penetrate the Sol system’s defensive perimeter.
And what the fighters had accomplished…if one dared apply such a word to a thing like that…it had been terrible enough.
The Cardassians’ official news agency had aired what looked like a combination of Breen gun camera footage and Cardassian intercepts of the Federation News Service’s own reports on the attack. He could see from the Breen vantage point as they’d swept down over the Academy, over Starfleet Headquarters, and opened fire without regard to whether they attacked the highest or the lowest ranking in the service.
And they’d swept over civilian targets, too...they had recognized the Golden Gate Bridge from the Academy insignia, and blown the bridge to pieces. The gun tape was clear: there had been foot traffic on the bridge, which had been closed to landskimmers long ago for fear of what modern propulsion systems might do to the old structure. A Cardassian reporter displayed an image of the Academy patch and the devastation visited upon the structure it depicted, her head held high, her eyes gleaming.
Spirodopoulos hadn’t heard the words she said, though. Gul Macet had played the attack footage in the conference with the sound muted, having apparently decided that whatever the reporter was saying, it would serve no purpose but to inflame. For his own part, Spirodopoulos was glad…the last thing he’d wanted was to hear some mouthpiece of the Dominion-absorbed Cardassian state trumpeting the deaths of so many of his people.
And who knows how many of the dead I know? My professors—and God only knows who might’ve been visiting at the time. And the staff officers…do I know any of them?
His dread only compounded when he thought how many others in the Thirteenth Order might have lost people they knew…maybe even friends or loved ones. And there was no way to know, here.
There was much Spirodopoulos could not know here. If I’d seen this same footage two weeks ago
, he questioned himself, what would I have thought of it? Would I have believed it?
Anything could be doctored…even in the late 20th century that had been true of visual footage, and by the 21st century the results were virtually indistinguishable from reality, if the right techniques were used. On a Starfleet vessel, there were certain safeguards a communications specialist could use to authenticate transmissions from most major Federation sources, FNS included. Here, though—those protocols were so tightly guarded, and even if the Cardassians did
know them somehow, they could be twisted to exactly the purpose they were intended to prevent.
That’s what it all boiled down to. It always had, all the way back to the moment of his capture, the moment of Macet’s revelation.
Even in the heat of the Sherouk
’s corridors, Spirodopoulos felt a chill. How could he be questioning this now, after Starfleet and Cardassian soldiers both had shed their blood? What would the sacrifice of Ensign Ngaer, or Lieutenant T’Ruveh, or any of the others mean if the Cardassians were playing them? Spirodopoulos had already leaped…already made his decision. Either this is the most elaborate holo-simulation I’ve ever experienced
, he thought, remembering his words back on Lessek, or it is what it is
The behavior of most of the people he had met in the Cardassian Guard seemed, to him, to be in earnest. The particular ship upon whose decks he walked right now was in itself a reminder of that—here the most vulnerable and the most open of the four guls commanded. Though he could not do so in combat as Macet, Speros, and Rebek could, Berat had
put his life on the line in the presence of Spirodopoulos and his men in the mess hall, after the Starfleet soldiers had been armed. Those two facts very much spoke for themselves.
Plus if it were a simulation
, he added to himself with a twist of the lips, why would they put embarrassing characters like Speros and Trughal in it?
And once he’d posed that
question to himself, he couldn’t help but think of some of the other sometimes embarrassing characters in history—especially a certain group of impulsive, rough-around-the-edges fishermen who participated in the parts of history he held most sacred, and whose faults it would have been much easier to smooth over in the interests of PR rather than display in three dimensions. The fishermen, of course, had ultimately followed their rocky and painful road to sainthood. Speros most likely was far from doing that
—but the fact that nobody hid the man’s unpleasantness from view did suggest these Cardassians were more interested in truth than looking their best at all times.
In the end, when he didn’t overthink the matter…the truth was that to Spirodopoulos, everything looked…and felt
…consistent. In the beginning—in those first few days—it had been a hunch, more than anything, a hunch supported by prayer, but not supported so much on a strict professional basis. He had done it simply because it felt right
When Chief Librescu and the rest of his crew reported back their results of the damage analyses, he would feel much more certain in his conclusion. There would still remain the tiny, outside chance this was all a ruse of some sort—but if the inconsistencies had failed to emerge by now, Spirodopoulos thought, it was more and more likely because there were none to emerge.
Now, as the doors to the Sherouk
’s mess hall slid open, Spirodopoulos looked up from his thoughts and surveyed the area. Like some of Earth’s navies back in the day, the mess hall was split into two clearly demarcated sections—one for officers, another for the Cardassian equivalent of enlisted personnel. The officers’ section sat on a raised platform that reminded Spirodopoulos of some of the pictures he’d seen of the commander’s office on Deep Space Nine, the message clearly being one of status. As Gul Macet had explained the rules, enlisted personnel were not permitted to ascend to the officers’ section without permission, but officers could, if they wished, step down a level into the recessed enlisted section. And most often, Macet had explained, the highest-ranking officers did not dine in the mess hall at all, but in their staterooms.
This sort of sharp separation was unaccustomed for Spirodopoulos. Officers and enlisted personnel carried out different responsibilities aboard a Starfleet vessel, and officers outranked the enlisted…but instead of carrying on naval traditions in that regard, Starfleet instead drew from the precedents of Earth’s air forces and early space programs. Back in those days, air and space crews had had
to live in tight quarters with each other by necessity, even tighter than a submarine while in flight. In the case of air force travel, sometimes a particular crew might be put up in a foreign hotel, and one’s crew was the only support when lodging off base: after all, protection in questionable regions came from sticking close together. The same had been true of some of United Earth’s earliest spaceflights; boomer crews and some of the first ‘Starfleet’ crews, which traveled in small craft often carrying less than a dozen people, had adopted the same practice.
As a result, while the chain of command was respected, in their off-duty hours, Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel shared almost all of the same social privileges. Accordingly, Spirodopoulos noticed that all of the Starfleet personnel aboard the Sherouk
who were currently on break or off shift had gathered in the lower section of the Cardassian ship’s mess hall, where all could congregate without separation.
That made the security officer and soldier in Spirodopoulos uncomfortable at first, looking at the layout of the room. If someone wanted to take a shot at them—and many of the Cardassians carried sidearms just as the Starfleet members of the Thirteenth Order did—the overlook gave them the perfect vantage point to do it. Then he noticed the deck patrol.
The Cardassian Guard maintained a much more visible internal security presence than Starfleet usually did; the deck patrol could be identified by the rifles they carried. What Spirodopoulos noticed was that Gul Berat, or his head of security, had placed two of his deck patrolmen near the overlook—and it was clear they were keeping an eye on their own people, on the officers’ platform, just as much as they watched what took place below.
And then Spirodopoulos caught sight of something else, in the enlisted section where his people gathered: it was Gul Berat, sitting at one of the mixed tables, chatting amiably with the assorted species.