“You what?” Legate Danor asked in disbelief.
“Agreed on a ceasefire, Legate.” Gul Darek responded. “A ceasefire in our benefit. The Federation is surrendering all three colonies in the area and withdrawing from this sector in return.” Legate Danor sighed. No doubt Gul Darek would then remind him of the last time he insisted on an opposing course of action — the entire sector was nearly totally annexed by the Federation. Danor was not wont to make the same mistake twice. “What is the status of the order?”
“We have only a handful of ships left. Uptok Nor is undergoing heavy repairs.”
“You want me to release the reserves, don’t you?” Legate Danor asked. Darek titled his head in confirmation. If he was surprised by Danor’s accuracy, he didn’t show it. “The First Battalion has been totally destroyed, Legate. We do not have enough ground forces to hold the three colony worlds. We need more Galor warships to overview this, and for the Second Battalion to be called to the front.”
“I will have Gul Dojar’s force called to the front immediately. Central Command out.” The image faded, and Darek returned to work, poring over file after file, assimilating the data word by word, letter by letter, analysing, and concluding with a uniqueness of his own. He noticed that, not just in his sector, the war had come to a stalemate. Recent updates from the rest of the front had indicated that while the war still raged in other places, the Federation offensive had come to an end. And a Cardassian counter-offensive was nowhere in sight. The Cardassian-Federation conflict had lasted for decades, but Darek was sure it was soon to come to an end — with neither the victor.
One of the more unusual reports was the suicide of Gramac. It seemed that during the Federation assault on Uptok Nor he had vaporised himself. Darek looked over the data carefully, from his analysis of Gramac himself it didn’t seem like the type of action Gramac would take. Darek pursued this thread when others would have merely tossed it aside, but then, Darek would study anything to no end if he had any reason, no matter how small, to do so.
The station was slowly returning to normal. Busy engineers scurried across the promenade to quickly repair and replace damaged components. Most of the station was still being held together by emergency force fields, but it was enough. Torol had reopened his bar yesterday, and the exhausted engineers became his first customers. The handful of civilians lucky enough to survive began cleaning up their battered shops and piecing them together. Slowly, things were returning to normal. Operations was still a mess and unworkable, so Darek had decided to use the bridge of the Praklar as a temporary replacement. Darek paced across the Promenade with ease, passing threatening glances to officers and civilians alike as he traversed.
“Then make it work!” Someone roared, interrupting Darek’s thoughts. He immediately swung around to face where the voice had come from.
It was Gul Evat, the Commander of the Ghamok and one of the few task forces the Cardassians had left. He was a short and stubby Cardassian with a square-like build. At the age of forty, it was clear he was one of those men who would always be a solider. He did not have the ambition nor competence to move any higher than he was, nor did he want to. No doubt, Darek thought, he’ll be a task force commander to the grave. “I don’t care if we don’t have the parts, you hear me? You are still going to make those repairs and you are going to make them now!” Gul Evat roared again to a engineer on the deck above.
“But sir —” The engineer began.
“Don’t you interrupt me, mister, I want that repaired, and I want it repaired now!”
“No more excuses, get to work!” Evat finished. The dumfounded engineer trotted off, wondering how he was to meet those impossible standards.
“Would you mind explaining that?” Darek barked, grabbing Evat by the shoulder and whirling him around to face him. “Ah, Gul Darek,” Evat began, much more softly and with a more than healthy degree of terror. “you see, my engineers need motivation —”
“So you motivate your engineers to complete a task we do not have the resources do to so!” Darek snapped with a ferocity which most certainly topped Evat’s anger with his engineer a moment ago. Evat’s lips quivered and he opened his mouth to speak, but Darek didn’t give him the time. “Why do you assign your engineers to do tasks for which they cannot do when they could be performing tasks they can do!” Darek bellowed. Sheer terror had not just gripped Evat, but everyone in the Promenade. Suddenly, walls, rubble, and many other pointless things became the center of attention for everyone around them. Darek pulled Evat closer until all Evat could see where his eyes. Evat yelped a shriek of undignified terror, squealing like a pig when on the brink of death. “You will reassign your engineers to jobs they can accomplish, and you will do so now.” Darek snapped, and then pushed Evat away from him. Darek relaxed, and paced out of the Promenade, still locking eyes with anyone near him as he departed. Evat stood dazed and numb for a few seconds before he raced off to reassign his engineers with a vigor only total fear could induce.
Transporters across the Federation fleet energised again, scooping the masses living on the first colony off the surface. Captain Keogh remembered the shock on Admiral Hanson’s face when he told the Admiral of this clause, but unfortunately they had no more choices. No one had protested at the move, not even the colonists themselves. They had been treated horrendously by the Cardassians when they occupied the planets, and they didn’t want to be here when they did so again. The operation was carried with haste, as Keogh quickly shifted through the latest reports. Some ships would concentrate on some sectors of the planet’s surface, others on others. The First Officer of the Odyssey was coordinating accommodating these officers. By now all of the Odyssey’s crew would be bunking together, and still that may not be enough. A hastily assembled and specialised force of cargo ships with skeleton crews, commanded by Admiral Hanson himself, were due to arrive tomorrow to assist. Keogh only hoped he could have all the civilians out on time. It could be weeks before the Cardassians began to make their claim to this world a reality, it could be hours. In any case, time was not on his side.
Gul Dojar’s task force had arrived, decked out to do its job. There where cargo ships stuffed with all the components necessary to replace the damaged systems of Uptok Nor, there were transports ferrying the soldiers of the Second Battalion. And a flotilla of Galor warships. All wet behind the ears, Darek observed as he stood at the airlock. He had gone over Gul Dojar’s file in detail. The Gul had spent most of his career on the homeworld in the reserves. He had got promoted due to special police services in petty crimes. From what Darek could infer, Dojar was naïve and gullible to a fault. The door swerved aside and Darek broke from his musings. Walking uncertainly into the Promenade, Dojar approached Darek. Dojar was around the same age as Darek, but he didn’t look it. If a Cardassian could ever be said to have a baby-face, Dojar would be the one to fit the description. Compared to the freshman face of Dojar, Darek was hardened, bitter. “You are the commander of the Third Order?” Dojar asked, striding up to him. Darek merely stared at him, a biting, venomous stare. Dojar stood uneasily, swaying from side to side. “W-why do you shun me, friend?” Dojar asked uneasily.
“I am not your ’friend,’ Dojar.” Darek said in a low threatening voice, barely a whisper. “If it wasn’t for your prestigious family, you wouldn’t be a Gul, and the same token is the one thing between me breaking your neck.” Darek snapped at him.
“But friend —” the glare intensified “— sir, I am here for the glory of Cardassia. We must work together for our glorious victory. We cannot fight amongst ourselves.” Dojar managed to say until he became silent. “Glory. Victory. Tell me Gul, how many battles have you fought?” Dojar remained silent. “How many enemies have you slain? How much territory have your conquered in the name of Cardassia? What is your goal in bringing this war to its ’glorious conclusion?’” Only shocked silence greeted him. “You haven’t done a damn thing! So what makes you so sure that you know how to win this war?” Dojar whimpered slightly, edging back towards the shaft. Darek eased. He had dealt Dojar a blow, but he also taught him a lesson which he needed to learn. “Gul, prepare a third of the Second Battalion to occupy the first world. Do not bother to prepare a Galor escort, I will divert some of the ships already here to serve that function. In the mean time, I want a full duty roster of your task force so I can implement my continuous reassignment program.” And without another word, Gul Darek walked off, leaving a bewildered Dojar to stand at the airlock and digest this information. Darek was indeed different from any other commander he had served under.
“Sir, Gul Manec of the Anlor reports that the task force is ready to get underway.” Glinn Jerec reported, standing uneasily in Darek’s Praklar office. As a test of competence, Darek had decided to put the recently promoted Manec in charge of the task force for the first reoccupying. Darek gave Jerec a customary sharp glance and then left the room for the bridge, beckoning for the Glinn to follow.
Darek entered the bridge and sat down on his chair, Jerec hastily following him and weaving over to his panel. Once again, in a distant command of a force, Darek noted. He had not been so for quite some time. “Gul Manec reports that his task force is in position and has went to warp, sir.” Jerec reported.
“Put the 2-D tactical display on main viewer.” Darek ordered. The familiar site appeared of the surrounding area, focusing on a group of clearly marked Cardassian Galor warships and transports. Darek folded his hands and silently reanalysed the situation in his mind, as motionless and secure as a great pillar, waiting. The bridge was eerie silent. No-one dared disturb him. Soon only the blips from the panel betrayed the existence of sound at all. The minutes dragged agonizingly by. All eyes locked on the shapes representing Manec’s task force as it travelled across the screen, waiting for it to reach it’s destiny. Jerec’s console bleeped. “Gul Manec reports that his task force has dropped out of warp.” Finally, the tense silence was shattered.
“There are Federation ships in orbit.” Darek noted, pointing two the Starfleet emblems appearing on the viewer, quickly being replaced by the specific class of ship. Among them, as Darek expected, was a Galaxy Class starship. “The Anlor is being hailed.” Jerec stated.
“Tell them to patch it into our viewer.” Darek responded, nearly casually. Keogh’s face appeared on the viewscreen. “Cardassian Commander, this is Captain Keogh of the Federation Task Force. We have not yet finished evacuating the colony, but we will shortly.” Darek pondered this. From his analysis he knew well the problems Keogh had. And, for the moment, there was no real reason to interrupt him. “Very well, Captain. We shall wait.” Darek said, and nodded to Jerec who cut the link.
“Tell Gul Manec to have a detailed scan of the operation and the planet, and for his force to hold their current position.” Darek ordered.
The operation proceeded much faster, merely a matter of beaming the civilians up in full, somewhere to put them or not. The ships were in chaos as they rapidly beamed up as many people in as many groups as possible. The transporters were tested to the ultimate limit carrying as much as possible. Keogh didn’t want to test whether Cardassians have patience or not.
Gul Manec would have preferred to fight the Federation and storm the planet, but he had his orders. A memory, unbidden, flickered into his mind. The memory of his first encounter with Darek. Manec put the disturbing thought out of his head, he didn’t need to be reminded of his superior’s ferocity to carry out his duty. Detailed scans where made of the planet’s surface, of the intermittent beaming signals pulsing up to the ships, and of the peacekeepers themselves. It was gruelling, but necessary. Manec wanted a good impression of his first assigment, so he would do things in full.
As Darek expected and hoped from Manec. He studied the readout from the viewscreen as the area’s detail was enhanced. “Gul Manec is hailing. The scan is complete.” Jerec reported. Darek titled his head in confirmation.
“Tell them to hold their position and take no further action unless in self-defense or I order otherwise.” Darek said, totally adrift in thought.
Total pandemonium. The fleeing from the planet was more frenetic now. People raced off the transporter pad mere seconds before the next batch. Hallways where crowded with civilians wandering aimlessly throughout the vessels. On the bridges, all eyes were focused on the Cardassian task force. The tension was rapidly becoming unbearable for all. Keogh retrained from fidgeting. He needed to set an example as Captain, so he sat in silent contemplation, reserved and sincere. Someone for the crew to look up too, to anchor their trust in. Such was his duty. “Captain!” Came a joyous shout from the First Officer.
“The last of the people on the planet have beamed onboard.” Jerec reported.
“Tell Gul Manec to begin beaming the troops from the Second Battalion down at once.” Darek ordered. So far, the reoccupation had gone without incident. Peace prevailed, for the time being. But the Third Order, struggling from its ashes, was slowly beginning to rebuild. This was the first step towards reclaiming the Order’s glory of earlier days. As Darek left the Praklar’s bridge he silently vowed that nothing, not surprise Federation attacks, not incompetent superiors, not naïve officers, nothing, would stop him.