An Empire to Build: “Whisperings of Annihilation” (Fourth in the Series)
By Hadrian McKeggan
Published March 23, 2002
“In good order they await a disorderly enemy; in serenity, a clamorous one.”
A thunderous roar reverberated throughout Autanga Forest. The thick foliage shook as hoverbikes nosily careened across the greenery. Entak watched the bikes, virtually a blur, round across the forest. If he didn’t know better, he would have been relieved at the sight.
But he knew better. The impatient drivers, who to him were little more then fleeting and vague shapes, were Nobuan.
The Cardassian groaned as he lay on the brown dirt. Medical knowledge was not a Nobuan speciality, and Entak’s leg was a swelling, rotting disfiguration, a leg more suiting a corpse then the otherwise healthy man such as Entak. The Nobuan standing next to Entak, the one whom Entak had first heard addressed as Leader of the Guard and had later learned that his name was Haichi, looked arrogantly down on Entak with a toothy grin. He was flanked by four other Nobua, who stood to attention. “You should have never obeyed your Evil Ones, demon.” Haichi sneered at Entak with his deep voice. Entak began to wonder if all Nobua had deep voices. “You should have never answered their magic.” Haichi continued. “If you think that that is bad for your conjurors, you just wait until you see the forces of our Lord Sharguruk, King of the Laztanai, Daghe, Menai, and Lorkemo, Chosen of the Great Ones, go into battle. He has not the treacherous and short-lived backing of your Evil Ones, but the eternal and everlasting approval of the almighty Great Ones, who back him using their Almighty Power. You were fools to go up to him, and now we have mastered your magical tools. Soon you shall pay.”
As if a chorus to Haichi’s grim prophecy and determined will, the hoverbikes blasted right by near the two in tight formation. Entak, in response, rubbed his bleary eyes. He was tired, hungry, cold, and wounded. After so much gradual breaking down of his mind staying amongst the Nobua, he no longer cared about New Zareshan or its future. All he cared about was his survival.
All he cared about was his survival, New Zareshan, and the future. From his office, Elam Darek scanned through Jakar and Kelkar’s latest reports. He hunched over the console, taking everything in, reading the lines, reading them again, reading between the lines. Exhausting all possibilities. Examining the technical readouts, examining them again, and again, comparing them, evaluating them, approximating their efficiency. And adding them all to his ever re-refining, changing, twisting, mutating, plan. The basic idea was the same, as it had always been, as it had been when he started to plan to defend New Zareshan to begin with, but the plan had been modified, expanded, and contorted over time as he continued to expertly study the many, many variables involved in the defence and change, expand, and prepare it accordingly with his typical scrutiny. Jakar was working with Kelkar to construct a perimeter shield for New Zareshan. The shield, given its size and the shortness of time it needed to be made in, would not be able to withstand even the smallest energy strike, but could withstand indefinitely any physical objects such as spears. It would be able to protect the city in its approximate entirety.
It was not perfect, but Darek knew it was the best he could hope for. A barely operational shield was better then none at all, and the shield was specifically designed with withstand the bombardment which was most likely. It did not take into account the possibility that the Nobua might fell a tree which would hit the shield, or use captured Cardassian technology to disable it, but there was no opportunity to make a more refined shield which would expand over such a wide area in time. The shield was, at best, a delaying tactic which would give the defence time to mobilise. Its very construction relied in its speed of construction, and Darek, who was no scientist, was drawn to the various technical drawbacks in Kelkar’s part of the report. It was the 24th century equivalent of a hastily thrown together palisade. Their opponents could attack at any time, and they did not have sufficient ground forces to defend the city. The only realistic defense would have to rely on Cardassian technological superiority. Darek continued to labour over the details of defence in his mind. They were facing a ground force of unascertained strength — probably large. Armed with spears. Well organised and disciplined. And the only thing between him and them was an uncertain shield hastily assembled. Darek carefully pondered his overly-precise, typically intricate plan for the defence. It was not a plan most might expect, and it was a plan only the elite few who needed to know knew. It was risky, and there were large variables. Maybe it, as his strategy before, was doomed to failure, but he knew that it was the best strategy at all available to him.
“Sir, Ochreg is here to see you.” A voice crackled over the com. Darek made a mental note to ’introduce’ himself to the glinn later, and replied “Send him in.”
The door slid aside, and the stubby figure of Ochreg stepped inside. Ochreg cautiously walked towards the table and placed a PADD on it. “Latest militia report, sir. All able-bodied personnel of this city are both capable of combat and are armed.” Darek folded his hands and leaned back on his chair ever so slightly. He gave a sharp glance towards Ochreg, but it didn’t need to last long because before long Ochreg had broken out into a sweat. “From now on, Ochreg,” continued Darek, evidently satisfied, “use the militia to perform sentry duty across the city. The cameras already in place will support them. Order them to report anything suspicious, no matter how remote, directly to me.” Darek had a contingency plans based on the different directions, and with how much force, the natives might attack. But he would need to know, when the battle began, which one of them to implement. Ochreg nodded. “Yes sir.” He said, hoarse.
Darek glared at him once more, and then said, tersely, “Dismissed.” Ochreg rapidly departed, avoiding Darek’s piercing, enthralling, and enveloping gaze, and Darek shifted his eyes to Ochreg’s report, which he began to consume, evaluate, and change his plans accordingly. In Darek’s view, one could never, ever be too well prepared. The very idea that that could ever be the case would be immediately dismissed as utterly ludicrous by him. Preparedness was the only way to ensure defence. No defence could ever have every single contingency fully covered, even if it was Darek himself who had masterminded it. One may not even be able to be fully prepared, He mused. But he intended to get the next best thing.
To be even able to see the King of All Autanga Forest was a great honor. But to see him in private was nothing short of divine favor. With slow and reverent strides, the Leader of the Guard, Haichi, walked towards his Leader — his Master.
Sharguruk was not sitting, as Haichi subconsciously noted. It had been a custom for all Kings of the Laztanai to sit while their subjects had remained standing, but Sharguruk had broken with that tradition after he had declared himself Chosen of the Great Ones, the man selected by those divine powers to bring eternal glory and unity to all of the Nobua, not just the Laztanai, the man destined to herald in an age the likes that had never been previously seen.
“You have prepared my forces for battle?” The deep, luminous, imperial voice of the King echoed through the empty hall.
A reverent nod was the response. None spoke in the presence of the King if there was not a way around it.
“Has the lair of the demons been scouted?” Sharguruk’s voice commanded, deep and forceful.
“Leader of the Guard, what is your plan?”
Haichi’s eyes did not move from the ground, but he knew when he had to speak up. So he told his King the plan. It was simple, but it was efficient. The King listened attentively to the Leader of the Guard’s words, and then began to suggest changes and alterations.
Within Autanga Forest, Sharguruk’s tactical abilities were legendary. It had been he who had reformed the army of the Laztanai from a loose tribal coalition to a militarised, organised force. It had been he who had defeated the Daghe, the Menai and the Lorkemo, whose combined forces were three times the size of Laztanai. And although Haichi had directed the battle of Autanga Forest, it had been Sharguruk who had masterminded that recent, crushing victory.
To a more advanced observer, Sharguruk’s victories would make them evaluate him as a shrewd tactician, a man before his time, cunning and devious. But to the simple, Stone Age Nobua of Autanga Forest, it confirmed that Sharguruk was a man chosen by the gods, destined for greatness. His mind was not merely shrewd, it was divinely inspired. Sharguruk was seen as the saviour that the elders of each tribe had spoke of. Sharguruk had capitalised on such simple beliefs, like many, many people leading similarly primitive cultures to make himself more then just a leader to his people. He did not believe any of it, but if his people believed it, so be it — he was more then willing to use their sacred religion as a tool to keep them in line. The Cardassians of New Zareshan merely feared Darek. It was an engrossing fear, but it was just fear. The Nobua of Autanga Forest, however, did not just fear Sharguruk — they worshipped him.
The four Hideki class fighters did a quick, sharp formation turn and careened down towards the surface. It seemed as if they were out of control, as if they were going to smack full-force onto the ground and detonate in four fiery blazes.
But at what seemed the last possible, conceivable moment, the Hideki craft veered up expertly and swooped in towards what had once been the Praklar II’s shuttlebay and was now the hangar of New Zareshan.
The four craft landed. The doors slid aside, and the crews of all four walked out. Among them, coming from the lead craft, was Gacmar. “That wasn’t funny.” Gacmar’s co-pilot said as they descended from their craft. “We could have been killed by that stunt.”
“It wasn’t meant to be funny.” Gacmar replied. “I was testing your ability. I can’t allow my pilots to go lax. What use would we be in combat if we couldn’t perform such a manoeuvre instantly?”
“Given the possibility of fatality, and more importantly, the destruction of actual craft, it would be more advisable if you performed such an act in a simulator.” But it was not the voice of the copilot.
Gacmar broke into a cold sweat and turned to the corner of the room were the owner of the voice stood against a bulkhead. He cleared his throat.
“Legate, sir. We did not expect you here...”
“Which is precisely why I am, Gacmar.” Darek replied coldly. The pilots and crew of Gacmar’s fighters quickly discovered just how engrossing staring at a blank panel could really be.
“I needed them to be... not expecting the manoeuvre, sir. So that I could see... what their reaction might really be, while in combat.” Gacmar said, shaking a bit.
“Then you were not entirely confident in their ability?” Darek struck. Although he was not legendary for it, Darek could do a pretty good job at twisting people’s words around.
“I have the best of faith in my pilots.”
“Then why bother to order this maneuvre?”
“I needed to test their ability —”
“— which you would not need to if they were perfect pilots. Which means that they could have failed, am I correct?”
Gacmar swallowed. “Am I correct, Gacmar?”
“You see, sir —”
“Answer the question.” Darek said with a deathly cold voice. He glared viciously at his fellow Cardassian. Gacmar shook. “Am... I... correct?”
“Y-yes, sir.” Gacmar said, barely avoiding a whimper. “It won’t happen again, sir.” He added.
“It better not.” Darek replied, ominously, in a darkly threatening voice — a voice which Darek could do all too well. “Or you will lose your command. And perhaps more.”
Not waiting for a reply, not waiting even for the shocked look on Gacmar’s face which Darek knew that he would have, Darek promptly turned on his heel, and left.
Entak, personally, was never one for ceremony. But even he was awed — and more than slightly intimidated — as he saw the Nobuan army in line after line, row after row, column after column, standing attentively and reverently looking away from their King. The sheer might of the army extended into the distant horizon, beyond Entak’s view entirely — and for all he knew, there were even more beyond that. He had been haphazardly placed a few feet behind the King, being carefully watched by a few guards. In front of the formidable army Entak could see Haichi, who too was giving his King supplement. Even if the Nobua had microphones, Sharguruk would probably not use one. His deep and accentuated voice flowed throughout the forest, loud and clear, with an apparent lack of any effort. “Soldiers.” He began, his voice heavy and ominous.
“Under my banner, soldiers, and with the blessing of the Great Ones, we have won many victories. We have brought unity to Autanga Forest. We have united all of the Nobua that dwell in Forest, all of the Nobua of all of Ipnir, with the only exception of the Karkarkash. Our armies have been unstoppable because of the divine will that they were backed with. But we know, as the elders and the elders before them have told us, that to win the favour of the Great Ones without the resentment of the Evil Ones, and we, my soldiers, have proved no exception. And then the Evil Ones began to resent the power that we wielded on land through the will of the Great Ones. So they sent their armies of demons, their infidel. We defeated those armies once before, when they tried to destroy all that we have built. And now, it is our solemn duty, as patriotic Nobua, as pious Nobua, it is our duty as Nobua from any and all levels, our duty as the chosen, to destroy these monsters. To, with the force of our divinely guided spears, send the demons back into the Black Pits from whence they came. This is war unlike any war ever fought before. This is a holy war. This is a war which the Great Ones and the Evil Ones are fighting as they did in the great Olden Times, before they went to Above. Now they fight the war again through us. And we cannot deny the call that the Great Ones made, cannot deny the task that the Great Ones have assigned to us. We are their tools, and we are the tools that will destroy the magic of the Evil Ones. Now is the time that we will prove our worth as the chosen. We will destroy all the henchmen of the Evil Ones that sit beyond our forest, all the demons that befoul the land — our land — with their sickening stench. Accomplish this task for the Great Ones, for all Nobua — and for me, Chosen of the Great Ones and your King.”
A thunderous roar greeted the King, as the uncountable men of his army eagerly greeted his demand. Over the chaos, trumpets blared and the army — performing a feat that shook Entak even more than its mere size — disappeared into the undergrowth of the forest. Within seconds, it was like they had never been there. One of Sharguruk’s guards picked up Entak and hurled him onto his back. Sharguruk, still striding firmly and with authority, led the way away from the meeting grounds and back towards the catacombs. Entak strained his ears, and in the distance he could hear the low, threatening hum of the hoverbikes.
Not too long ago, he had ceased to care about the future of New Zareshan. His fate and its fate were no longer, after all, interlinked. His fate lied in the hands of a foreign, and currently somewhat benevolent, lord.
But even he, who was no longer concerned, was filled with dread of the blackest kind after that display, daring to not even think what carnage those hundreds of blood-lustful zealots would do in the name of their religion. Entak knew all too well what a powerful motivator religion and patriotism could be in wars, what terrible tools they could be. From one point, Entak found himself grimly accepting Sharguruk’s logic. He had twisted the most powerful and profound feelings of his people, those that they held dearest, those that they had fought for dearest, for his own purposes. To stir up the full possible ferocity of his men, he had made the war not just a mere contest over control or possession, but a sacred duty. He had made the war a religious act.
Did even Darek stand a chance against such an unstoppable, unappeasable torrent?
His hands folded, Darek brooded over his console. He tweaked a minor concept here, another one there. He studied the various possibilities in depth. There were so many ways, after all, these natives could feasibly launch an attack, and Darek also had to be on guard for utterly unexpected things, which had nothing to do with the natives. After all, he had to be prepared for all contingencies, and that didn’t just include the many, many things the natives could feasibly or possibly do given the limited information on them. Although Darek did not yet know it, the time for speculation, the time for calculation, and the time for all other Darekian duties was about to run out...
“Zamel, your militia shift is on in five minutes.” A scientist within the New Zareshan Institute for Scientific Study and Research — a high sounding name for a rather drab laboratory that, at the command of the Legate, focused primarily on military and surveillance technology — said to her colleague.
The other scientist, whose name was indeed Zamel, didn’t even glance up. She was rapidly typing at her console, utterly embroiled in her work. Her companion frowned. “Zamel!” The colleague shouted.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Zamel said, still starting down at her monitor. “Give me a minute.” The other scientist rolled her eyes.
“I know you’re coming, Zamel, but when?” Zamel waved her hand, absent-mindedly, at her colleague. Her eyes where still glued to the console.
“Just let me finish this.”
“Finish what? What’s so important about this?” The colleague insisted.
“There’s something odd here...”
“Zamel! What is it?”
Then, suddenly, Zamel stopped, rigidly still. “Oh my...” She said, her voice barely a whisper. The colleague, instantly concerned over Zamel’s reaction, strode over. “Zamel, what is it —”
But before she could finish, they heard an explosion.
The hoverbike impacted full force on the shield of New Zareshan, and with a mere crackle, it was deactivated, destroyed.
It was not alone.
Two dozen hoverbikes burst out of the forest with a tremendous, mechanical roar, and another, organic yet inhuman roar followed them. They reared up when they saw the destroyed hoverbike on the ground. “Do not be fooled by their magic!” Insisted Haichi as he drove up from behind them in a hoverbike. “You have a much greater power on your side. Onward!”
It was all the encouragement they needed. The hoverbikes blasted into New Zareshan.
The alarm was quickly sounded. From the Government Building, Darek began to watch the battle play itself out. The enemy — or at least their first wave — were attacking from the Forest direction. They had disabled the shield. That was indeed a setback, but the shield had only been intended as a delaying tactic to begin with. And Darek had, of course, a plan in event of something like that happening — he simply wouldn’t be Darek if he didn’t.
So he began to issue his plans accordingly...
“Come on! They’re attacking! Come on!” barked Ochreg to his militia. The half trained force burst out of New Zareshan’s barracks. They ran through the streets haphazardly. “Force One to Forces Two and Three.” Ochreg snapped into his combadge. He was referring to the only two other militia units that were commanded by the two other survivors of the battle of Autanga Forest. “The Enemy is attacking. I repeat: The Enemy is attacking. From the forest side. Report to Forest side —”
“Countermand that order.” Another, sterner voice interjected through the com. Instantly, Ochreg shuddered. There was no mistaking that voice, but how the hell did he get here? I know he monitors the com signals, but he can tap in too...?
“Force One, destroy any enemy forces encountered and attempt to hold the line. Forces Two and Three, report to New Zareshan Center and form perimeter defence line. Force One, retire to second defence line if your defence is no longer feasible. Darek out.” The voice added.
Ochreg turned to his bewildered force. He saw one of the hovercraft used for scouting nearby. Smaller and simpler then the hoverbike, and not as fast, but it could be useful...
Ochreg ran over it and got onto it. He powered it up. “Follow me.” He commanded.
With a blast, the four Hideki fighters shot out of the hangar, Gacmar’s fighter wheeling and twisting in the lead. The four fighters and their fighter crews had been on permanent standby, waiting for the order to depart. Had Gacmar had an interest in the history of Earth, he might have compared it to the pilots of Britain during the Second World War... but Gacmar had no such interest.
The fighters shot up into the dizzy blue, spinning about like performing a stunt. From the superior aerial view, Gacmar took a moment to survey the battle. He saw one detachment of hoverbikes. He selected it, and the four fighters fell back towards the ground in a sweeping, elegant move.
They dove forwards, hurling towards the ground but beginning to pull up and ascend. “Weapons locked.” Gacmar’s co-pilot stated matter-of-factly. Gacmar watched the commandeered hoverbikes rise on the screen for a moment — but only a moment. “Fire.” He spat. On that word torpedoes exploded out of the fighters, fiery balls of doom ripping from their innards and soaring towards the hoverbikes. The Hideki swooped upwards as they delivered their fatal cargo, and a booming detonation followed them up as the Nobuan hoverbikes selected ceased to exist. But the exaltation was to be short lived. For as the Hideki once more ascended into the blue...
A blue stream burst forth from the undergrowth. A blue stampede exploded from the forest. It spewed forth as if it was from hell itself. An uncountable, unbelievable mass of Nobua hurled themselves onwards towards New Zareshan. It rolled over the countryside, clouding the face of the earth in an unending blue wave, a torrent rolling inexorably towards its target. The roars of the advancing army seemed to echo throughout the entire planet. Their movement seemed as though the foundations of the planet itself were shook by it. But the fact that they were regimented, organised, and moving by plan was still all too evident in that sea...
Another hoverbike exploded and two others nimbly darted away as Ochreg’s force moved to pursue. Ochreg’s hovercraft was about to swerve around to intercept them — though he could hear some more than highly audible complaints coming from the militia on the amount of walking they were being forced to do — when he heard it.
The tumultuous roar as the Nobua poured into New Zareshan. In the distance, at the edge of New Zareshan, Ochreg could see what looked like a dim blue fog.
And then he realised what it was and broke out into a cold sweat. Unbidden, memories of this last encounter, of the fumbling in the undergrowth, of the spears shooting up and killing all those around him, entered Ochreg’s head. Panic seized him, and he tempered it as best he could.
The Nobua entered the streets and began to spread through the city, as Ochreg could see in the distance. Phasers were being fired by automation and by desperate Cardassians, but they did not seem to make even the slightest dent. With timed marches, their united foots hitting the ground with such a force it pained Ochreg to hear it, the Nobua marched on. They split up into ground and began to scatter whatever resistance they faced. Grimly, Ochreg cleared his throat.
“I think it’s about time we retired to the second perimeter...”
The fighters soared downwards, careening towards the mass of Nobua flooding into the city. Torpedoes were funnelled out of the craft, and the torpedoes impacted on the ground, causing tremendous explosions and killing many of the natives — at least, as far as Gacmar could determine.
But many, it seemed, wasn’t good enough. Gacmar cursed colourfully and continuously, but there was nothing he could do.
The natives continued to spread through the city, quickly and ruthlessly. The fighters dove again, their torpedoes rapidly meeting their targets. And they dove again. Spears had been flung up against them in response, and one or two hand-held phaser shots from those natives who had them. It didn’t hinder the fighters, but the fighters were also unable to hinder the ground forces. And it was the ground forces that would decide a war...
Legate Elam Darek’s expression was calm and measured. He was the only Cardassian in New Zareshan to look that way. He watched the natives charge through the city. They did not burn and destroy the buildings or equipment, but they seized them, took them intact — a quite unnatural decision for such a primitive race, and again Darek thought he saw the hand of their invisible, anonymous leader at work.
The many countermeasures that he had installed throughout the city, mostly automatic types of explosives and phasers, were slowing them down — but not considerably. And there was nothing left he could do to halt them. The Praklar II’s torpedoes could destroy them, but they would also destroy the city — in which case the Cardassians would no longer be able to stay on the planet anyway, because without the city’s resources they’d be even easier prey for the natives when they tried to attack them again. There was only one other option...
“Force One to Darek.” Ochreg’s voice crackled over the com. “We have redeployed to the second perimeter. Orders, sir?”
“Stand by. Darek out.” Darek switched to another com channel.
“New Zareshan to Praklar II.” Darek said matter-of-factly into the com channel.
“Praklar II here, sir.” The disembodied voice of Gul Ochgenck replied.
“Gul, transport all Cardassian lifesigns except mine to the Praklar II.”
“Except yours, sir?”
“I’ll be following in a moment. Darek out.” And with a jab, Darek cut off the link. He looked around his office. Darek was not one to be sentimental, but he decided to give it a brief look over. It had been the headquarters for his boldest and most daring operation in the history of his career: The place where he had forged a new state.
And he knew that he may not ever see it, or his state, ever again. Failure had always been a setback for Darek, moving him a step or two back and which he then began to proceed to take back.
But he had never had a setback on this scale.
With a press of a button, he turned on the last automated defences for New Zareshan. And then he hit his combadge. “Darek to Praklar II. Transport.”
The doors to the Government Building were crashed aside. The remains of many Nobua who had fallen prey to Darek’s traps lay smoking on the floor. The Nobuan guards stepped into the room, accompanied by many other Nobua.
Haichi followed them into the smoking room. His eyes drifted over what he called the magical instruments of the Evil Ones. It was unlike anything Haichi had ever seen. But not even this ’magic’ had not saved the Cardassians from the sheer brute force of the Nobua. Haichi turned to a nearby aide. “You! Go back to Laztan. Tell the King...” Haichi licked his lips, feeling the taste of raw power and a dizzying victory.
“...I have it.”