The Third Order: “The Relentless War” (Ninth in the Series)
By Hadrian McKeggan
Published May 26, 2001
Captain Raymond entered the brig of the Tecumseh, slowly pacing across the room. He felt a certain degree of satisfaction over what was going to happen next, but also a degree of frustration. The secrets the glaring Cardassian held could never be released now. “What is it now, Human?” Malec mocked. “Another border-line interrogation?”
“You are being transferred to the Discovery.” Raymond responded, looking at the wall. His eyes traced along the wall until they got to the cell and locked with Malec’s. “From there you will be taken to the nearest Starfleet Reformatory Facility as a prisoner of war.” Raymond finished.
Gul Malec seemed unperturbed on the outside, but he was stung on the inside. Until that moment he had secretly clung to the hope that Darek would counter-attack, that he would drive back the Federation and free him in the process. Although he hated to admit it, he knew Darek had a degree of tactical ability that could do that. But all those hopes were shattered now. He was being sent deeper into Federation space, beyond even Darek’s reach. But he maintained his composure even as the force field lowered and the transporter shimmered through his body. He was Cardassian; he wasn’t going to let these humans break him now, not ever.
Gul Darek leafed through each and every report, as he sat lounging in his office on the Praklar. As always, Federation misinformation was laudably see-through. After several methodical checks, he determined that a prisoners of war, specially all living former members of the Third Order’s First Battalion, where now being relocated to Federation Rehabilitation Facilities. The attack he had made recently had imbalanced the Federation’s position, but they still had the upper hand. He scrolled through his options, studying every position, every ship, every planet, star, and other stellar phenomena, and each well over a dozen times, predicting his enemy’s moves and how the Third Order should react or prevent. His door sounded. “Come.” He said.
The door swished aside — and Darek’s window exploded into a shatter of broken glass, the air being wrought from the room and ejected into space. Darek felt himself thrown against the window, his body crumpling and then flying out into the lethal cold of space, circling around with helplessness. The cold sucked at his skin. He held his breath, but the pressure was too much and he lost consciousness.
Captain Keogh sat in his chair, tense. “Reading ten Federation vessels, coming up on us fast sir.” His First Officer reported dutifully. Keogh knew it was his new Operations Officer’s job to do that, but somehow it felt more ... fitting ... his First Officer had the function. “Onscreen.” Keogh ordered. A tight formation of Federation ships appeared. Five of them flew over the Odyssey, towards the Federation. Must be the prison ships, Keogh thought. “We are being hailed by the Tecumseh, sir.” The First Officer reported. Keogh nodded the affirmative, and the screen changed to show Captain Raymond. “This is Captain Raymond, officially handing over command of this task force to Captain Keogh.” Raymond said monotonously. Keogh nodded. It was never an easy thing handing over command. Hell, he didn’t want to take over but Admiral Hanson’s orders were bleakly clear. “Condition of the Fleet, Captain?” Keogh asked. “Suffered some casualties, but we predict total liberation of the remaining two colonies shortly. It may be possible to strike the Cardassian Order of the region then, but details on this matter are sketchy.”
“Our Intelligence Operatives simply can’t wrest any significant information, so we are unsure as to the combat readiness of this Order. They could have a thousand ships, they could have one. Frankly, we don’t know.” Raymond supplied. Keogh contemplated this. A feeling of déjà vu swept over him. It’s happening all over again ... he thought, remembering the destruction of his task force and the flight from an exploding Deep Space Four. This time, it will be different, Keogh promised himself, hoping he had learned to get the better his opponent along the way. And he had a feeling that it was time to take a few risks.
Bright Light. Darek thought. And then, things cleared. He was looking at a ceiling. He felt a throbbing pain in his lung, and a similar pain in his head. Cardassian physicists where notorious for their nearly complete lack of treatment. If the patient wasn’t going to die, then the patient didn’t need to be treated, was their logic. The memories of the last few moments rushed through his mind. “This isn’t possible!” Darek shouted, lurching upright. The twisted and gnarled face of Uptok Nor’s physician, Glinn Merot, and a sudden back pain, convinced Darek to ease down back begrudgingly into his former position. Merot’s rotten hand hit his combadge so hard it nearly broke. A little chirp sounded for his effort. “Infirmary to Gul Daned.” Merot hissed. “He’s awake.”
“On my way.” Daned’s voice responded. Darek rubbed his forehead angrily, whishing he had the strength to throw the pathetic physician across the room. But he didn’t. He lay in quiet frustration, staring at the ceiling. Finally, Daned entered. “Gul Darek.” He said, moving to the bed. Glinn Merot flashed a grin of the few yellow teeth he had left and then went to accessioning his equipment. “What happened, Daned?” Darek asked, angry.
“When you opened your door, a probe detonator flew for the window, shattering it. This caused the air to fly out into space —”
“Impossible.” Darek protested. “My room has an instant force field to be erected the moment such a breach occurred.”
“The system was disabled.”
“It immediately informs me if it is and will self-destruct without my permission to be deactivated.”
“This system was also offline. It was disabled before the first.”
“In which case the computer terminal which it was disabled from would instantly explode.”
“This was disabled before that.” Daned supplied. When his men had investigated they had been surprised at the load of disabled systems. Darek had a few hundred for every contingency.
“Then the —”
“Darek,” Daned said, interrupting the Praklar commander for the first time, “they were all disabled when we found them. We tried to trace, but there was too many backup systems.”
“Then how did you get me here?”
“We detected the event and beamed you here, of course —”
“Then whoever did this is playing with me.” Darek supplied. Daned could not belive this. “What?”
“The person went to the trouble to disable and discover all my backups, and didn’t do the basic procedure of disabling your transporter?” Darek asked.
“Well, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume —”
“No, it isn’t, Daned.” Darek bit back unnaturally sharply for someone wounded on a biobed, but very much in character for himself. “Whoever did this, did this to scare me, to prove their ability.” Darek finished.
“Then you know who it is?”
“No, but I have an idea.” Darek said. Daned looked down at Darek. He hated the man, but he knew he needed him. “I’ll be back in the hour.” Daned said, and left. Darek then looked at Merot who was still filing stuff away. “Doctor!” Darek shouted, even though his breath wheezed at the “or.” Darek’s eyes locked with Merot’s as he turned around. Merot was clearly a lighter shade of white. “W-what is it?” Merot asked. “I want every one of my wounds and injuries treated now, Doctor. Not in a moment, not tomorrow. Now. Or would you like me to show you my interrogation technique?” Darek threatened.
“Not at all, sir.” The grisly voice of Merot replied, riddled with fear. Merot made the sudden decision that this physician was going to treat his patients to full health, and he began treating Darek.
The hull ruptures were fully sealed. Glinn Ranad entered Darek’s office, and picked up the handful of remains of what had once been a probe, turning the signed shreds of metal over in his hands as if they could tell him what had happened. The mystery was gnawing away at him, each question bringing more questions and no answers. The door swished aside, and Gul Darek entered the office. “Get off my chair, now!” Darek barked. Ranad stumbled upright; awkwardly realising he had subconsciously slipped onto Darek’s chair. Darek started at the Glinn with total, unbridled anger. “S-sir, I can explain—”
“Put the probe remains down, and get out!” Darek roared. Ranad obliged with frenzied haste, nearly throwing the remains on Darek’s desk and rushing out of the room in fear of his life. Darek paced across his room and sat back in his chair. He inspected the probe, scraping away the signed and feeling the rough and melted metal. Cardassian design, he decided at last. Which of course proved nothing, if his attacker was as resourceful as he seemed. Darek turned on his computer system and carefully leafed through the files. He knew that if his enemy had done this, they had covered their tracks well but he was confident he would find clues in the files that the others couldn’t. He savoured code-byte after code-byte, analysing each with Darekian scrutiny. He looked over them dozens of times, methodically searching for answers. A code end here, an empty cell there and Darek began to painstakingly construct his answer. The systems had been accessed and disabled and tracks cleared Darek himself would have been proud of, but the slightest stutter in the file could alert him. He had found his saboteur. A grim smile spread across his lips. He’s good. Darek thought. The traces all lead to Eneb Darek, Elam Darek’s deceased brother. Darek’s opponent was mocking him, but Darek liked a challenge. He pulled up his file on everyone to set foot the Praklar or Uptok Nor, and looked through carefully at each file. The hours passed as he analyzed the profiles. Finally, he had looked through them all, each in detail. There was only one person on the record to fit the bill.
That person was Gramac. He checked, rechecked, but the result remained the same. He turned his computer panel off, ready to counter when the clanging of the klaxons echoed through the room. Battle Alert, he thought, and he raced out from his office. He marched down the corridor, the glinns scurrying to their posts giving him a wide berth.
At last, he stepped back onto the bridge of the Praklar. Engineers making repairs scurried to the empty stations. Ranad was already at his. Darek lurched down through the bridge and slid onto his chair. “Report!” He ordered.
“There is a fleet of Federation vessels coming out of warp, heading straight for the station.” Ranad reported.
“Do we have impulse?” Darek barked.
“No sir. We have shields, weapons, hull integrity, life-support, but no impulse or warp.”
“Then get me maneuvering thrusters!”
“Put the Federation fleet onscreen.” Ranad nodded.
The viewscreen shimmered to show a fleet of Federation starships, advancing rapidly and being spearheaded by a Galaxy-class starship. Darek didn’t have to check the sensors; he knew it was the Odyssey.
“We are being hailed. It’s from a Federation starship, audio only.” Ranad reported. Darek titled his head, and Ranad put it on speakers.
“This is Captain Keogh of the Federation Task Force. If you stand down, you will not be harmed but if you resist we will be forced to destroy you.” The voice crackled.
“Uptok Nor is ordering all warships to converge to the station sir. And Glinn Manec reports he is taking command of the Anlor for this situation.” He said.
“How many Galor-class warships are in the area at present?” Darek asked.
“Five.” Ranad returned.
“Amount of Federation vessels out there?” He continued.
“Fifteen.” Ranad supplied. Darek folded his hands, contemplatively, relaxed but totally focused. He watched the Federation starships loom. There would be mere seconds before the firefight broke out, a firefight that he could not win or run from. But he was Gul Elam Darek, and to him nothing was impossible.