The Third Order: “Once More Unto the Breach” (Sixth in the Series)
By Hadrian McKeggan
Published May 3, 2001
The USS Odyssey limped through the endless abyss of space. The warp drive was damaged beyond repair, and the com system was inoperative. Never before had the abyss of space seemed so large, so incrossable to Captain Keogh. He peered across the dim-lit bridge, and at the weary officers manning their stations. It could take decades to reach the nearest Starbase, Keogh thought dismally. There was a bleeping at the tactical station, and the First Officer, who had nearly dozed off, bolted upright again. “Captain, I am detecting a fleet of starships headed this way!” He barked. Keogh too bolted upright. “Red Alert, Shields up!” He snapped. Almost as an afterthought, he added “Put them on the main viewer, Commander.” The First Officer nodded and pressed a few buttons. Keogh watched as a Federation fleet dropped out of warp, with ships of different shapes and sizes in a tight formation. Keogh slumped back on his chair, relived. “Stand down Red Alert.” He ordered.
“Yes sir.” His First Officer replied. “We are being hailed by the Tecumseh.” He added. “On screen.” Keogh ordered. The face of Captain Raymond appeared on the viewer. The Captain leaned back in his chair, commanding, alert, but relaxed on the smaller and more utilitarian bridge of the Excelsior class. “Captain Keogh, it's good to see you again.” The younger Captain stated.
“You too, Raymond.” Keogh replied. “Quite a fleet you have there.” He added.
“We hope it's enough. You see Captain, the Third Order has been a thorn in our side for too long. It's time to strike back.” Raymond said with grating finality. Keogh was left speechless. Could Raymond follow up his ambitious threat or would his fleet merely be added to the long list of the Third Order's slain enemies? “Our sensors tell us your warp drive is inoperable, and I am directing the Minerva to tow you to the nearest Starbase.” Raymond said after a short moment. “Tecumseh out.” As his ship was town to salvation, he watched Raymond's fleet fly towards a more uncertain fate. “Godspeed.” He whispered.
Malec stood at the com system, almost completely covered in blood, with a wound on his forehead. Etched on his face was an expression of grim glee, and he held a bottle of kanar firmly in his right hand. “Report, Gul.” Darek ordered, leaning back his chair, hands folded, peering at Malec over the com system. “The last Federation resistance has been obliterated.” Malec responded. Darek absent-mindedly glanced at his dagger hilted in his side, and wondered if he should carry out his vow of killing Malec a bit early. The ground battles were over, after all. Pondering over it, he soon brushed it aside. The Federation could counter-attack, and he would most certainly still need Malec then. He locked eyes with Malec, his threatening glare a parting reminder. Malec looked into those eyes, and he could almost feel the knife against his neck as he did on that fateful first encounter. His palms began to sweat, and he dropped his bottle of kanar, which smashed on the ground. “Uptok Nor out.” Darek said at last, and Malec breathed a sigh of relief, only for it to be stifled with a final menacing look by Darek as he cut the commlink. Darek then slammed another button. “Ops, this is Gul Darek.” He snapped.
“Ops here.” A voice replied over the link. Darek instantly recognised it as Glinn Omar. “Glinn Omar, hail Cardassian Central Command and relay message to my office.” Darek said over the commlink, regretting not being there with Omar to make the new assignee uneasy. “Yes sir.” Omar replied.
“Gul Darek out.” Darek finished. Darek swivelled his chair to face his oval-shaped window while waiting for the transmission to be established between him and Legate Danor. Darek had no such thing as a “gut feeling,” the very concept to him was impractical. But his careful and methodically study of recent tactical data had led him to the conclusion that the Federation was finally retaliating as he had predicted months before. He knew if he had played a more defensive role than he had, he would have been able to easily crush any and all Federation incursions. But that would have cost him his career. So he had gone against his opinions to decisions he considered irrational. So far, he had had a total success. But he knew more than anybody they were not to be permanent. So, he decided to convince Danor to change his mind and allow him to retreat from certain sectors, or to face his first defeat. A bleep sounded, and Darek's chair snapped around to face the viewer. Danor's face was on the screen.
“Yes Gul?” Danor asked, impatient.
“I have reached the conclusion a Federation invasion is imminent and I am requesting permission to withdraw my forces to more defendable positions.” Darek said, concisely. Darek tapped the console before the viewer at a rapid pace. “Sending my predictions for the outcome if my idea is not accepted.” Darek said. Danor turned to a readout and watched the overhead, 2-D simulated carnage unfold before his eyes. After seeing this, he turned back to the viewer. “Request denied.” He stated, unwavering. “May I ask why?” Darek inquired, slightly irritated.
“You have made many such predictions of doom, Gul, and yet you always seem to have come out the winner in the end. Persist in this activity and I will most certainly demote you. Central Command out.” He said with grating finality, and the channel closed. Well, at least I tried, Darek thought absently, and begun working on the defences. He knew they would not be enough, but it was better than nothing. He called up his reports once more, and began his endless routine of shifting through them and noting everything.
“Sir, Gul Ocatt of the Varnor reports she is under attack.” Omar reported, standing uneasily in the doorway of Darek's office. Darek bolted up. This is it, Darek thought. “On my way.” Darek responded, and exited his office, making his way down into Operations, pausing only to venomously glance at Omar. The young Glinn stepped back considerably. Darek walked into the centre of Ops. “Tactical Display.” He ordered, and Glinn Ranad obediently tapped at his console. “Display activated, sir.” Ranad reported. The screen came up — in time to see the Varnor fade out of view. “How many ships are we dealing with?” Darek asked, his eyes fixated on the viewscreen. “According to the Varnor's last sensor data, twenty-five ships sir.” Ranad said, looking up grimly. “Twenty-five.” Darek echoed, his voice barely a whisper. The entire Third Order didn't have that amount of ships combined, and with the Order spread out the way it was, the chances where slimmer still. He couldn't reassign any of the frontier ships to compensate, which left him with one option. “Glinn Omar, prepare the Praklar for my arrival, and order all ships stationed at Uptok Nor to power up and join the Praklar.” Darek took one last glance at the view-screen.
“I'm going in there.”
The soft vibration of the Praklar's hull brought back memories to Darek, but he quickly cast the nostalgia aside as he stepped onto the bridge. The ship had been docked at Uptok Nor for nearly a month now, and had been reduced to a skeleton crew, an empty hull of its former self. He had quickly reassigned personnel from the station to the ship to compensate. He strolled through his bridge and eased into his old chair. The bridge was dark, metallic, and sharp, and at times emulating Darek himself. “Docking clamps off, all ships standing by.” Glinn Ranad reported. Darek nodded. “Have the fleet set a course near the last known coordinates of the Federation fleet, warp nine, silent running.” He ordered. All non-essential systems shut down at once, and the others set to a minimum to avoid being detected. Darek shuddered slightly as the bridge became extremely cold. He adapted, but noted the suffering of a few of his officers with amusement.
“We have lost contact with the frigates sir.” Glinn Entak said as he approached Gul Malec, who was lounging, feet up on a table, a bottle of kanar in hand, in what was once a administrative building of the former Federation colony he was in. Gul Malec rose, and strode towards the Federation panel, rapidly pressing. “They've... gone.” He said, immediately wary. Then a hum of transporters. But not a harsh Cardassian one, but a more refined Federation one. He whipped out his phaser rifle, and began gunning the force as it appeared in the street. He got a few, but one of the Starfleet officer's shots struck home and Malec collapsed on the floor, stunned. Entak turned to the panel Malec was using moments before. “This is Glinn Entak to all soldiers of the First Battalion. Battle Alert, Battle-” Entak too was cut down by a phaser blast. The Federation officers beamed in more and more, spreading out and cutting down an unprepared Cardassian defense.
“Dropping out of warp at the fleet's location, sir.” Glinn Ranad said, bringing Gul Darek back from his musings. “One of the M-Class Planets the First Battalion invaded.” Darek noted. “I'm reading massive transporter activity sir.” Glinn Ranad said. “No doubt.” Darek said. “Have the task force split up, one half led by us to the North Pole of this planet, the other half to the south.” Darek ordered. Ranad nodded. The end was most certainly near, and now he was viewing it with his own eyes. But he hadn't given up yet. Darek never gave up.
“The multi-ship away team reports unlimited success so far sir. They are spreading out.” The Tactical Officer of the Tecumseh told Captain Raymond.
“Thank you Lieutenant.” Raymond responded. Raymond looked at the seemingly serene planet below, the image not showing any of the chaotic bloodshed which was occurring below. He wanted to give those damn Cardies a lesson they would never forget. “Captain, sporadic energy readings at the other side of the planet.” The Operations Officer reported. “What kind of readings?” Raymond asked, concerned.
“Unable to tell sir, they are so faint.” The Operations Officer responded. “It's probably nothing.” Raymond said at last, leaning back in his chair.
But it most certainly wasn't. “All the ships are in place over the poles sir.” Glinn Ranad reported. “Order all ships to power up, Glinn, battle alert.” Darek responded.
“Done sir.” Darek nodded, savouring the moment as the welcome heat returned.
“Order all ships to pick a target of the Federation fleet, and then charge in and fire at them.” Ranad raised a confused eyebrow, but he knew what happened to those who did not obey Gul Darek. “Done sir. Shall I pick a target for the Praklar as well?” He asked. Darek pointed to the fleet layout. “That one.” He said. “That's the lead ship.” Then the ships dived at the Federation task force from above and below. The shields where down to transport their officers to the surface, so many ships quickly and suddenly exploded as the Cardassians moved in. The Praklar dived towards the Tecumseh, as fast as it could. The Tecumseh saw the Praklar coming in the total chaos which had just erupted and pulled up. Darek watched as the ship moved into a tactical position. “She's raising shields.” Ranad reported.
“Change flight pattern to skim above the ship but get as many shots out as possible.” Darek ordered. Ranad complied. The Praklar dived, but the Tecumseh got the first shot out. Sirens blared and the bridge shook. The pilot's console exploded, the pilot decapitated. Darek lurched for the console, throwing the corpse on the ground and taking the pilot's seat. The deadly barrage then erupted onto the Tecumseh, smashing into the vessel. Darek flew the ship into a sharp turn upwards, having the vessel dodge enemy firepower as it retreated.
“Our task force is gone sir.” Ranad reported. “We're the only ones left.” As Darek had not doubted, his attempt had been unsuccessful. “Engage maximum warp!” Darek ordered over the blaring sirens. One of the Federation vessels got a good parting shot on the rear of the ship, seriously damaging the rear shielding. Darek gripped the pilot's console tight to keep his balance. He bolted back a bit as the ship jumped to warp, and he set Uptok Nor as the course. “Pursuers?” He asked.
“None sir.” Ranad responded. Darek nodded. Perhaps they think we have backup. He thought. He felt something odd, so he wiped his face, his grey hand returning dark violet. Blood. And it was his own.
“Coming up on Uptok Nor sir.” Ranad said.
“Onscreen.” Darek ordered, and he set eyes again on his command post. He noticed a Galor class warship docked on one of the pylons. There weren't any ships when I left, Darek thought. “Ranad, can you identify the ship docked?” He asked. Ranad pressed the panel a few times. “The Anlor, sir.” He responded. Despite the heat, Darek suddenly was cold. The Anlor was Legate Danor's personal ship. “We are being hailed sir, audio only.” Ranad reported.
“On speakers.” A familiar voice drifted over the speakers of the battered bridge of the Praklar. “Praklar, you are clear for docking.” Legate Danor said. “Gul Darek, report to your office the moment you are on board.”
Darek entered his office. Someone was sitting in his chair, staring out the window. The chair swivelled around to reveal a Cardassian that Darek had not seen before. From the other side of the room, Danor approached him. “Gul Darek, meet Gul Daned, the commander of the Third Order.” Darek turned around.
“You mean?” He said, for once in his life at a loss for words.
“That you are, as of now, relived of command.” Danor stated.