An Empire to Build: “The Final Contingency” (First in the Series)
By Hadrian McKeggan
Published March 3, 2002
“And I have something I wanted, Captain. A world to conquer, an empire to build.” — Khan Singh, “Space Seed”
“I don’t see conspiracies everywhere, Daned. I see the potential for them. You treat your officers nice, and they get lenient. You give them free berth, and they get ambitious. And then the alliances form and the conspiracies follow. To stay in charge, you cut it off at the roots. It’s all about control, control in every and all aspects. Give them no quarter for error or mistake. Give them no options, and keep them apart, distrustful of each other and afraid of you. Break their self-confidence like you would an eggshell. And then, and only then, are you in control.” — Elam Darek, “Changing Times”
Dedicated to AdAstra
On the borders of Cardassian space, in the labyrinths of their Empire, it lay.
And within, prowled its owner. Its designer. Its creator. He was a legend in his own time, but not a legend that inspired awe or admiration — but raw, cold fear. To say that that Cardassian Legate had had a tumultuous career would be an understatement. He had not changed much since he had entered it — but he had only got better.
Ever since he was young, he had a keen eye for others’ weaknesses and his own foresight, abilities enhanced greatly by decades of rigorous training and testing his command style and execution in the field.
He had also weathered many political storms, had held both the highest respect and the lowest scorn. He had gone through things others would have dismissed as impossible, or at least extremely difficult.
Some attributed these victories to his ruthless, forceful drive for survival. Others to his perspective mind, evaluating almost every and any contingency.
But whatever he had possessed, he had proved unstoppable.
The Legate walked by the tubes.
Line upon line of Cardassians, sleeping in the seemingly blissful slumber of cryogenic freeze. There were hundreds of them throughout the ship, and he knew each one by name and face.
But they were not here out of loyalty, but coercion. It had been difficult to slip them out on an operation which would easily have been condemned by the Cardassian government, but they feared him more than anything else. For this was another trait the Legate possessed in abundance. To say he had a tumultuous career was an understatement, but to say he instilled fear would be a greater understatement still.
He was, of course, a man of contingencies. He planned for every event. Any event. Even events regularly deemed impossible.
And now, worse had come to worst. Damar and Weyoun were leading the Cardassian Empire to ruin, as the Legate could see all too clearly. He had advised them, but it had fallen on deaf ears. For political reasons, of course. The Legate had once nearly seized power, and Damar didn’t want him to have any support to do so again.
The Legate stepped onto the bridge of his best-kept secret, his plan for that final contingency, and looked onto the horizon, the twinkling stars in the distance.
His ship had everything. It had enough supplies to last eighty years, and enough equipment to start a colony.
It had taken a lot of time, though. He’d been building it in secret for the past nine years in conjunction with the Obsidian Order. He wasn’t fond of the Obsidian Order, but there had simply been none other who could have helped him.
He had begun when Cardassia seemed unconquerable, when plans for an evacuation would have seemed ridiculous. The Legate knew better.
He could see a decaying state when he saw one, and the seams he had seen slowly trembling apart were now snapping.
But somehow, he’d hoped it would never come to this. Leaving Cardassia was not something he looked on positively.
But he was no foolish patriot either. Fighting to the last was suicide, and he was the type of person who didn’t just want to fight another day, but fight another day with everything he needed and a tactical advantage over the enemy — and if he didn’t have it, he’d get it.
He began the countdown. Soon the ship would jump to warp to the destination he had selected. An uninhabited M-Class planet in the Beta Quadrant.
He made one final check of all the readings. He could never be too certain.
They checked out clear.
Satisfied — or close enough — the Legate walked over to his tube, not too far from the commander’s chair.
In many ways, he was one of the most dangerous Cardassians to ever live. He could not match some of the others Cardassians for callousness or ruthlessness, or pure man-slaughtering vigour, but he had enough. His strength lied in his sharply skilled elimination of competition. His strength lied in his obsession with possibilities and contingences, with his reports and information, with his shrewd ability to determine character, all utilised with his typically Cardassian photographic memory. His strength lied in his true love of his work, his absence of vices, his utter lack of trust of any kind. He had never lost a battle he had control over. He had quashed even the most determined attempts to remove him from the political scene or kill him for good.
He opened the tube and slid in. It closed automatically.
And with that, Elam Darek fell asleep as the Praklar II jumped to its destination.
With a hiss, the tubes broke open. They slid aside, creaking from the wear of age, and the cold air within evaporated.
The ventilators kicked in, and the air, which had long been allowed to go stale in the confines, was sucked out with a blast.
Artificial heat began to drum into the ship again. The lights, though dimmed for Cardassian sensibilities, switched back on.
The computer panels flickered alight and the large viewscreen in the centre of the mammoth Praklar II’s bridge flashed from a dull, empty screen to the horizon of space and a beautiful blue-green orb.
Darek stepped out of his tube and, silently, walked across the deck as the other bridge officers drowsily shook themselves awake.
Walked up to the raised platform were his command chair was and sat down. From his excellent vantage point he surveyed the bridge.
The officers walked over to their panels and began to work at them. Darek swivelled the chair around to view their progress. Everyone on the bridge was awake.
Except for one.
The single tube carrying Ocar, the head of the Obsidian Order, had not opened. One of the Glinns was checking it.
Darek got out of his chair and descended from the platform. This time, he made noise, the heels of his boots clanking sharply as he went down.
The Glinn bolted upright as he saw Darek approach him.
“How is he?” Darek asked coldly. His eyes bore into the Glinn. The Glinn nervously fidgeted with the tube controls. His lower lip quivered and sweat trickled down his face.
“I asked you a question, Hamar.” Darek said icily, and he leaned closer. Instinctively, Hamar backed away a bit — but Darek grabbed him by his arms and pulled him closer. Tears trickled down Hamar’s face and he began to shake unbearably.
“How is he?”
“W-well, sir...” Hamar began and then choked. But seeing Darek’s growing impatience, he quickly continued. “Um, the tube a-appears to have, ma-mal-funct-tioned...” He said in-between gasps.
Darek suddenly released him, and he staggered backwards. Darek paced around the tube and studied Ocar.
“He’s...” Hamar stuttered. “he’s...”
“Dead. I can see that, Hamar.” Darek said. It didn’t come as a surprise.
In fact, he was the cause. The Obsidian Order had made a total of twenty-four attempts on Darek’s life to date, and he knew that they’d jump for a twenty-fifth when they got the chance.
Even though he had needed the Obsidian Order to help him build the Praklar II, the last thing he needed was such a faction on his settlement so violently opposed to him.
So he had acted accordingly. The tubes of Ocar and all the Obsidian Order members who the Obsidian Order had assigned to the journey had extremely intricate security systems, but Darek was as good at breaking security systems as he was at making them.
Questions might be asked, fingers might be pointed... but those that did would never be heard of again.
This far away from the Empire, Legate Darek was no longer just a commander. He was the law.
Darek looked up from the corpse. Hamar was stood idly, semi-dazed.
“Get to work!” Darek roared. Petrified, Hamar bolted for his console and his trembling fingers darted up it.
Darek turned on his heel and ascended back up the platform.
He thumbed the small console beside him.
There had been no monumental changes to the M-class planet he had selected, he noted. It was still fertile and free of sentient life. The official designation of the planet by Cardassian astronomers was Healgu-2346729-II, the latter numeral indicating which planet it was in the system. But Darek had rechristened it New Traven of the New Traven System.
“Jakar!” Darek snapped. A fairly young Cardassian looked up at him. Darek glared down at Jakar extra-fiercely, just to temper Jakar’s brash — and worse still, slightly bored - expression.
Darek had much to despise about Jakar. He was headstrong and independent-minded. He was intelligent. Traits Darek had, yes, but traits Darek would want no-one under his command to have. He was the type of person who, if you weren’t careful, would kill and replace you. But he needed him. For the time being.
Jakar was the foremost expert in the Cardassian military on the establishing of military colonies. He had set them up himself, albeit never on this scale.
The Obsidian Order had provided five such experts, but they were now, of course, otherwise disposed...
And Darek needed that type of expertise. He may have been an obsessively brilliant tactician, but the construction of colonies was simply not his field.
From his Olympian position, Darek continued to glare down on Jakar.
“Legate?” Jakar asked. “Have I — have I done something wrong?”
“Report to Geology.” Darek said coldly. “I want you and the geologists to select the appropriate area for beginning the colony.”
“Yes sir.” Jakar said and nodded obediently. He walked off. Darek’s eyes followed him.
He had seen no fear in Jakar’s eyes. But they had known each other for only a short period of time.
He would soon change both.
The site selected was not too far from the equator, at an area found to have generally Cardassian-norm heat but also not too excessive amounts of light.
A river to the south, forests to the west, and sand dunes to the north and east which formed the beginning of one of the planet’s largest deserts.
Engineers began to dissemble the Praklar II chunk by chunk. In one sense, the Praklar II was very much like the old colony ships of early space exploration — it was used as the foundation for the colony.
The outer layers had within all the facilities the early colony would need.
But within it was a somewhat different story.
The outer layers made the colony. The inner layers had a formidable dreadnought to defend her.
But independent of both dreadnought and colonial bulkheads were the four Hideki-class fighters, intended to be the planetary defence of the colony until the shields were operational and orbital batteries were constructed.
And now it was broken up, painstakingly separated like a jigsaw puzzle, with some of it being reassembled with equal hardship on the planet’s surface.
From his office — which would still be his office when it was moved to the surface - Darek watched the space suited engineers toil over the craft.
He again checked their latest reports and mulled over them. So far, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
The planet had all the prospects of being a new, peaceful haven for the Cardassians.
To many, that would seem like a good thing. But Darek wasn’t someone who often conformed to mainstream opinion.
Peace and lack of outside threat would increase the chances of a conspiracy against him — a common threat would allow him to more easily unite the colonists firmly behind him.
But that was not the only reason. Darek may have had no vices, and he may have tacitly abstained from sex... but like all sentient beings, Darek had desires. Darek had things that he wanted, but they were hardly pretty.
Darek knew, deep down, that he craved war and strife. Being a military commander had never been simply his job. It had been his life.
And not in the thrilling exhilaration, either. Darek craved the long, cold nights in Spartan facilities. He craved the methodical thought... the gradual, obsessive construction of information.
The strategies and counter-strategies. Gauging any and all possibilities.
And then, later, seeing his perseverance pay off as his forces struck to victory. Darek had been one of the few commanders who could have boasted to have defeated the Federation, the Maquis, the Klingons, the Bajorans, and even the Romulans. He did not boast of it, but he had always been proud.
He needed that type of life, as he knew too well. It suited him all too well. He was too detached to be an interrogator, and too paranoid to be a lover.
But, on the other hand ... Darek could adapt. It had always been one of his skills. He’d adapted to whatever contingencies had come his way before, and he wasn’t going to let this be any different.
He continued to brood and reflect over the reports as behind him, his vision quite literally unfolded.
It was two weeks later. It had taken a lot of effort, but the colony had finally been established. The first tentative flats were present, as were the military barracks and scientific stations. In the middle of it was a large, rectangular-ish slab that was the new Government building.
In the distance, the unearthly rhythms of alien life could be heard, and a kind of flying creature swooped overhead them, emitting a savage cry.
The streets — which were really just gaps between the dissembled bulkheads — were covered with the natural and beautiful flora and fauna of the planet.
Nearby, large tree-like plants stretched towards the sky.
The colony was indeed a strange sight. A piece of the urban world in the middle of a lush and semi-tropical forest.
But none of the inhabitants were admiring the nature. All of them, as if with one mind, focused on the Government building. They stood still, virtually motionless. The fear that emanated was so tangible you could almost touch it.
And soon the reason was apparent. With the metallic hum of a Cardassian transporter beam Darek materialized, right in front of the Government Building. For a moment, he looked around and surveyed the surface.
But not out of any appreciation of nature, but from a need to see their tactical situation from the ground level as well as the overhead charts he had already repeatedly constructed.
The rest looked on, distinctly uneasy.
And they became more so when he started to look at them. With sweeping, precise glares he made them all feel, in an instant, that he was looking right at them — individually.
“It has been done.” Darek began.
“We have finally finished what we had came here to build. New Zareshan is no longer merely an idea, it is a city. Though we have the technology and supplies we need, further work is needed to truly put this colony on its feet and make it a productive center. And let me make this clear. You all have a duty to perform, and I have already given it to you. Anyone found doing less then that duty will be ... disposed of.”
It was not a speech designed at increasing patriotism or respect, for such a speech had been meaningless. The project had been founded on fear. It had been motivated by fear. To change tactics now was simply ludicrous.
Still, it was a very inspirational speech. Darek turned and walked into the Government building — formerly, the Praklar II’s bridge and the trance was broken. The citizens of New Zareshan, as they could now be called, dispersed and started to work, Darek’s foreboding speech lingering in their minds as he intended it to.
The hovercraft shot across the dunes. The Cardassian Glinn driving it made another sweep with his sensors. It had been deemed that manned reconnaissance might give a clearer picture than the previous orbital scans, and had begun in earnest.
A large stone pelted the Glinn’s forehead. He cursed and rubbed his forehead in pain. He slowed the hovercraft. How the hell did that happen?
The Glinn looked down at his readings. Nothing. There were no animals nearby, and no natural occurrences that might have caused that.
The Glinn was about to shrug it off and continue his scans — when a spear impaled him.
One of the Cardassian biologists walked deeper into the forests, moving her scanning equipment up and down, examining the wildlife. In there, she knew, could be the cures to any number of diseases, excellent sources of foods — and also poisons.
She heard a timber snap behind her. Probably one of the animals.
Something ran up from behind her. She turned around to look at it — and it slit her throat.
Darek sat in his office, and leafed through reports. The construction of buildings and organisation was coming along nicely. The economy was beginning to form under the auspices of Zorat, a Cardassian economist Darek had coerced into joining his expedition. Kelkar’s engineers were making the first tentative steps towards industry with the preparations to construct new buildings, converting using such energy like water to power the replicators so that the needed material could be produced. Entak’s security officers had already formed a police force to Darek’s liking — and with the utterly subservient, though efficient, Entak leading them it was likely to stay that way.
Darek himself could already foresee as well, not too far off, a secret service made to rival the Obsidian Order — and answerable only to him.
But that was the future. Darek continued to study the reports and took some time to gauge the potential strengths of all those in the limelight. Most would be purged, eventually, when their usefulness had run its course. They were often simply too charismatic and independent to survive.
Yes, they were fearful of him now, but the moment they had a coalition behind them...
Darek had also made sure that in every industry and endeavour, the people within each were continually moving from unit to unit.
He had made certain that the people he selected for his city had been total or virtual strangers to begin with, but it was a tactic which had been implemented so well and effectively during everything he’d worked on for the past twelve years, and he was sure this was to be no exception.
A bleep sounded. Darek looked up. “Enter.”
The doors parted to reveal Glinn Hamar, who was currently his aide.
“What is it, Hamar?”
“Three of our nine patrols have not reported back, sir. They are three hours overdue. Eighteen scientists have also gone missing while studying the planet.”
Darek stared at Hamar. Hamar was quite uncomfortable enough, but a little more wouldn’t harm.
When Hamar began to shake slightly, Darek responded.
“From this point on, Hamar, no-one is allowed to leave New Zareshan unarmed and without my explicit and personal permission.”
“I’ll relay the message, sir.” Hamar said and turned to the door.
“Glinn!” Darek barked. Hamar instantly stood still, riveted.
“I did not say ’Dismissed.’” Darek said, sharply.
“S-sorry sir.” Hamar whimpered. Darek let Hamar fumble awhile before saying:
“Dismissed.” Hamar, relieved, exited.
Darek turned back to the reports and read them in-depth again.
“This is ridiculous.” A Cardassian scientist said as she walked through the forest.
“What is?” The security officer trailing behind her asked.
“Having you here.” She responded.
“Eighteen scientists have died already for thinking the same thing.” The security officer said with a smirk.
“They weren’t armed.” The scientist spit back as she walked through the undergrowth.
“And who says you can handle a phaser rifle?” The security officer shot back, still grinning arrogantly.
“Who says I can’t?”
“If you could shoot, you wouldn’t need me here.”
“And that’s why I don’t need you here.”
Suddenly, there was a crack. The security officer wheeled around.
“What was that?”
“It was probably nothing —”
“No wonder you need me here.” The security officer responded, but trying to shut her up more then annoy her.
His eyes darted around. “It came from —”
A spear shot right through his face.
Two security officers tiredly patrolled the perimeter of New Zareshan. One covered his mouth as he yawned.
Then the Cardassian scientist bolted out of the forest. A slightly unearthly bellow followed her.
Not pausing even for breathing, she ran right past the security officers into the safety of the city.
The two security officers stood upright instantly and raised their weapons.
There was an eerie bustle through the undergrowth.
“Maybe we’ll need reinforcements.” Said one.
“Against animals?” said the other.
“Well, animals don’t have phasers. Keep your pants on.”
A spear was flung through the sky. It shot through the air and slammed right into the more arrogant officer’s midsection. He fell to the ground.
He cursed. The other officer, nervous, fired shots into the undergrowth.
He could here some more twigs snap and another threatening growl — and then silence.
“Get a bloody doctor here, you moron!” The other one barked up at him, snapping him out of his trance.
“What did they look like?” Darek asked, sitting atop what had once been the command chair of the Praklar II and was now his throne. He could scare her later — right now, he needed the facts.
The scientist stood directly beneath him, and well over half the city’s population crowded across the room.
“They were humanoid.”
“That’s impossible!” A scientist said from the crowd. “Our scans specifically showed no signs of humanoid —”
Darek glared at the insubordinate scientist, and he quickly quietened. He glanced back at the one beneath him.
“Do animals throw spears?” The security officer who had been impaled — the wound could still be seen — shot back, nonetheless.
“What else?” Darek pressed.
“They... had blue skin. And they were wearing primitive clothing. Beyond that, I cannot remember anything.”
Darek then permitted himself to make her uncomfortable for a moment. After he was satisfied that she was sufficiently disturbed, he said:
“Very well. You may depart.”
The scientist filtered back into the crowds. Darek swept his powerful, gripping gaze amongst them.
“Somewhere out there, deep in the forest, there are humanoids. They cannot be detected by our scanners. They are extremely aggressive. They have excellent hand-eye co-ordination. And they are fighting in terrain they no doubt know very well. They most likely outnumber us.
“But we have our advantages as well. We have our superior technology, our superior co-ordination, and discipline.
“And we will crush them whenever they stand in our path.”
Darek meant every word. To the casual listener, it would have sounded like an almost patriotic exhortation.
To the casual listener.
But those present knew better. In its own way, it was a threat. They could face these natives... or they could face Darek.
And Darek knew full well there was only one choice they would make.
Darek paused, and slowly swivelled his chair right around, peering across the audience and letting his gaze linger on those people whom he thought were too independent minded — he knew them all by name — and once his perverse pleasure was finished, he said “Adjourned.”
The meeting broke up, and the Cardassians soon filtered out.
Darek left his seat and retired to his office to look at his files. He began to scan over all the information they had on the forest — which had came mainly from orbital scans.
Once again, he had an enemy to confront. Darek, though he would admit it to no one, felt invigorated by that opportunity. He had an enemy to confront and to outthink, a practice he prized above virtually everything else. He had a way to firmly and unrelentingly unite New Zareshan behind him and purge it of all threats, which were entirely at this state both merely imagined and potential.
And he didn’t have just that. He had an excuse to blame things on. If the people suffered, he could say the reason was war armament. People could conveniently ’go for a walk in the woods’ and ’disappear’, making purges far less easy to question.
Buildings of potential rivals could even be destroyed outright and he’d still have an excuse.
Darek reflected. He had come a long way since he’d been commander of the Third Order, and had first started to command people on a large scale. He’d learned a lot, and had been given ample time to develop and refine his strategic thought. But he as a person had changed little over the past few decades.
He had become older, and he had become more reserved... at times, but nothing else had changed.
And perhaps it is better that way, Darek mused as he calculated likely settlements of the people whom he was up against.
He had not changed, but he had no reason to have. He was ruthlessly precise and obsessively determined then, and he had no reason to be otherwise now.
And if Darek could pity anyone, he’d pity the humanoid inhabitants of this world.
But Darek never showed pity, mercy, or any compassion of any kind.
And that was one of the many reasons he was so dangerous.