The Third Order: “A Dish Best Served Cold” (Eighth in the Series)

By Hadrian McKeggan

Published May 19, 2001

The airlock opened. Gul Daned turned to welcome the new attaché from the Obsidian Order to the Third Order. “Welcome to Uptok Nor, Mister Gramac. I’m—”

“Gul Daned, commander, Third Order.” The attaché interrupted. Gramac was thin, tall, lean, and was as dry and rigid as a stone. “If you excuse me,” Gramac said, and he walked off briskly into the throb of the Promenade. A bit stunned, Daned watched him go.

Darek shifted through report after report from the front lines. His careful analysis of Obsidian Order information, which spoke volumes more in it’s absence than presence, indicated Captain Keogh would soon return to assume command of Raymond’s task force. Darek looked up from his PADD and into space, the gaping, silent void, intermingled with the Cardassian station Uptok Nor, elegant and efficient in design but mocking of what Darek once was. Even the smaller and sharper nature of the window mocked him of the over viewing oval he once had. Moving away from these thoughts, Darek wondered how Daned would fare against Keogh, and he didn’t think the chances where high. A metallic bleep sounded. “Come.” Darek commanded, and he swivelled his chair to face the door. The door swept aside, and Glinn Ranad entered. “The Engineers have finished repairing the weapons sir.” Ranad reported. Darek responded with a cold glare. His eyes bore into the Glinn. Ranad whimpered, and searched his memories to see what Darek was mad at. “It wasn’t my idea sir to terminate—” Ranad began desperately.

“Keep me informed on the repairs, Glinn. Dismissed.” Darek interrupted. Ranad turned at left with increased haste. Darek looked back down at his PADD, and scrolled through the data again, to make sure he didn’t miss anything. Most commanders would do it once or twice, but Darek was on his eighteenth time. But that was, after all, how he worked. From his observation, Raymond’s task force was breaking up. The Federation had conquered — “liberated” as they probably called it — the M-Class Planet which the Third Order had conquered last. The force was breaking up into three smaller task forces, from Darek’s observation. Two task forces were bombarding the remaining two M-Class Planets held by the First Battalion. The last task force consisted of the Tecumseh itself and a few escorts, which remained in orbit of the planet. Interesting. Darek thought, and he got off his chair and exited the office, to give his tactical analysis to Gul Daned.

“Captain, all conventional methods of interrogation have been applied to the prisoner. No success.” A voice came over intercom. To Captain Raymond, this meant nothing. The conventional methods were, to him, just a necessary procedure to get out of the way before the real interrogation began. “Page Ensign Sovak to the Brig. I’m on my way as well.” Raymond said, and turned off the panel.

The doors swished aside to the Tecumseh’s Brig, and Captain Raymond and Ensign Sovak entered, greeted by a smiling Gul Malec and a security detachment. “Is this how you interrogate your prisoners, Human? By pampering them to death?” Gul Malec mocked.

“You won’t be laughing for long, Cardassian.” Captain Raymond responded. He nodded to Sovak, and Sovak approached the brig forcefield until he was just next to it. All the security officers took out their phasers and trained them solely on Malec. Malec’s smile vanished. “Now.” Raymond ordered. Simultaneously, the officer manning the brig console dropped the forcefield, and Sovak grabbed Malec. Malec struggled, but Sovak clasped his hand onto Malec’s forehead. “Our minds are merging.” Sovak said with Vulcan stoicism. “Our minds are one...” Malec subdued, and Sovak probed. Intense concentration was etched on the Vulcan’s face. The security officers stood rigidly alert, focused on Malec, ready to fire if anything went wrong. Raymond watched with a near Vulcan stoicism himself. But suddenly, Sovak screamed in pain, and Malec threw the Vulcan off him and across the room. Instantly, Malec collapsed to the ground from multiple phaser fire. Covered in his own green blood, and pale and shuddering, Sovak was beamed directly to sickbay. He was the only Vulcan on the Tecumseh, and the only idea Raymond had for interrogation which was on the outskirts of conventional interrogation. Raymond looked at the stunned Cardassian, a treasure trove of information with an unbreakable lock. Raymond began to think the unthinkable, and hastily left the brig with his taboo thoughts.

Gul Daned overviewed Darek’s data. Darek stood upright, scanning what was now Daned’s office and noticing many changes. Ornaments had been added, to give a less Spartan feel that Darek had maintained. Art rested where stacks and stacks of PADDs had once lied. It was no longer Darek’s office even in its aesthetics. “Interesting.” Daned said at last, placing down the PADD. “What do you suggest as a course of action?” he enquired.

“A quick strike on the Tecumseh and her escorts.” Darek replied. “If we destroy them it should unbalance the fleet.”

“But according to this, the fleet is getting a new commander in two days.” Daned replied skeptically. “In war, two days can be a long time.” Darek said knowingly. Daned pondered Darek’s words, and conceded. He would not admit it, but Darek was the better tactician.

“Very well, I will prepare a task force to attack the Tecumseh. Is the Praklar’s repairs finished?” Daned asked.

“Not yet.” Darek responded.

“The Anlor will, in that case, lead the task force.” Daned decided. “Gul, I am ordering you to assume temporary command of the Anlor for this mission.” Gul Darek titled his head in confirmation. He was aware that Danor had given Daned permenant command of the Anlor after Daned was assigned as the commander of the Third Order, and he had wryly noted Daned had kept the Praklar as the flagship. He walked through Ops into the elevator shaft, noting that the Glinns on duty didn’t even give him a passing glance compared to the days they looked up in terror. “Promenade.” Darek ordered the shaft and it went downwards. Darek stepped out of the shaft and strolled through the Promenade towards upper pylon three, the docking location of the Anlor. On his route, he locked eyes with civilian and officer like, giving them biting glares which still at least had effect. But one person returned his glare with equal measure. Darek knew that face. Gramac. The name echoed through his mind. Gramac had been an aide to the prestigious Obsidian Order member who Darek had killed, the death which had earned him his now-forfeited command of the Third Order. Hastily Darek pushed through the crowds to avoid him. Gramac was the new Obsidian attaché to the Third Order, and it was solid proof they where still after him. With a quick paced but still normal stride, Darek passed through the Promenade to the airlock. He pressed a button and the door swished aside. Already the door leading to the Anlor was open. At attention was a glinn. “Welcome to the Anlor, sir. I’m Glinn —”

“Manec. Yes I know.” Darek interrupted. Darek menacingly glared at the Glinn, for him to... adjust the Glinn to Darek’s type of command. The other glinns passing through the corridors saw the confrontation and moved with utmost haste about their duties. It quickly came unbearable for Manec. “W-we are ready to get, uh, under way sir.” Manec spluttered to break the icy silence. If such a thing was possible, Darek’s glare intensified. Manec finally let out a pig-like squeal of terror before Darek broke off, striding through the corridors, his hand waving Manec to follow. A bit dazed but scared of what his temporary commander might do if he didn’t obey, Manec followed Darek, stumbling behind the Gul. Eventually, they entered the bridge. Darek noticed that the Anlor’s bridge was technically identical in design to the Praklar, but it felt... different. More cosy, perhaps. Manec relived the Glinn at his station while Darek sat down in the commander’s chair. It was far too... comfy. Darek swivelled his chair around, passing a warning glance to each glinn at their stations. The Glinns soon became very fascinated in their work indeed. Smiling at the quickness of their... adjustment, Darek swivelled his chair around again to face the view-screen. He folded his hand and brooded, mentally checking the situation. “Receiving a message from Uptok Nor.” Glinn Manec said. “Formation orders.” Darek noted his pilot instantly compiling with the information being fed into his console. Darek moved into a more upright position. “Manec, show the formation on a tactical display on the main viewscreen.” Darek ordered. The screen showed all five Galor-class warships in a distinct V, with the Anlor in the lead. “Get me Uptok Nor.” Darek continued. Manec pressed a few buttons, and soon the display was replaced by the face of Gul Daned. “Yes Darek, what is it?” Daned asked.

“I want you to change the formation to the formation I am sending you.” Darek ordered, typing into his panel. Daned looked to a panel off screen as Darek’s data was fed in. “Are you sure? This data—”

“Will put the Anlor just next to the center ship. The enemy will be fooled into thinking the lead ship is the head ship and will concentrate their fire on it.” As always, Daned observed with irritation, Darek’s tactics were simple yet effective. Darek noted shocked glances exchanged among the bridge crew. “I will compensate.” Daned responded, and severed the link. The five Galor-class warships formed into a concise V, and resembling a pack of carnivorous animals the warships shot off towards their prey.

Captain Raymond sat in his office, adrift in a sea of thought. His First Officer entered. “You called, sir?” The First Officer asked. Raymond turned to face him.

“I have decided to brain-wash the Cardassian prisoner.” Raymond said. A wave of cold shock hit the First Officer. Hard. “That’s — that’s unethical! It’s —”

Cardassian?” Raymond supplied. “What I suggest doing to him is something he has probably done thousands of times —”

“Don’t try to justify your actions!” The First Officer shouted. “If you persist in this line of thought I will relive you of command!”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Raymond accused.

“To hell I wouldn’t! This conversation alone can be used as proof of mental instability.” They calmed a bit. A tense few minutes passed, each officer staring at the other.

“We are throwing away a lot by not doing this, Commander.” Raymond said at last, breaking the ice. “But at least we are not sacrificing our morals.” The First Officer responded. “Now, if you excuse me, I am needed on the bridge.”

He had no idea how right he was.

“Dropping out of warp.” Manec reported. Darek broke from his musing. “Have the two Galor warships on the outer edge of the formation attack each escort.” He ordered. “The three main Galors will attack the Tecumseh.” The Tecumseh had two Miranda-class starships as escort, which either meant Raymond was either overconfident or assured the Cardassians did not know the weakness. Either way, it is his first mistake, Darek thought, as he watched the enemy ships grow larger on the confined viewscreen of the Anlor. Again he seemed taunted, remembering his display on Uptok Nor, but he brushed the thought aside. It wasn’t the time. The Galor warships raced towards their targets, lancing out. All three Federation starships went to Red Alert, but it was too late for one Miranda, since the phaser shot sliced through the hull. Like a pack, the Galor warships advanced, elegant and lethal. Several shots let rip from the ships, impacting on their prey and causing damage to the shields. The undamaged Miranda and the Tecumseh countered. The bridge of the Anlor rocked slightly as two photon torpedoes impacted. The Anlor and two other Galors swept over the Tecumseh firing as one, smashing through the shields. The primary hull was scarred, the right nacelle leaking. The damaged Miranda exploded. Her attacker turned to the remaining Miranda. A barrage of photon torpedoes and phaser shots let loose on what was supposedly the lead ship, as Darek had predicted. “Glinn Manec, order the other Galor warship to move in and distract the Tecumseh from the damaged one.” Darek ordered.

“Yes sir.” Manec said. The other Galor led the attack, the Anlor supporting it from behind, as the damaged Galor withdrew to a safer firing position. At that moment, two things happened. The remaining Miranda exploded, and a fleet of Federation vessels dropped out of warp in the vicinity. “Order all ships to withdraw, and send Uptok Nor the code signal.” Darek ordered. The Galors raced for escape. The damaged Galor exploded on the retreat, and the Anlor found itself bringing up the rear. Shots lanced out from all vessels on the Anlor, particularly the vengeful Tecumseh. The bridge rocked and reeled. Darek grabbed his armrest with a hard grip, staying upright. Others were not so lucky. Consoles exploded, the unfortunate operators being gutted and thrown to the floor. Some fell, sliding arcoss the deck, and bumping their head on the ground. When they finally stopped, blood trickled from their fractured skulls. Darek jumped to the pilot’s console, the pilot having been thrown to the other side of the deck. Darek punched in maximum warp as a second barrage erupted from the Federation fleet. The Anlor was the last Galor-class warship to leave, the rest were well on their journey home. Glinn Manec had finally staggered upright and got back to his console. “That — that was a disaster.” He panted.

“No Glinn,” Darek corrected, “it was a masterpiece.”

“How?” Manec asked. Darek swivelled his chair around to face Manec, his face covered in blood and yet still terrifying. Manec’s palms got clammy, and he immediately stared at his console, snivelling. Darek turned back.

Of course, Darek was right. It was a masterpiece. The code signal was the go-ahead for the second task force. While the bulk of the fleets raced to defend the Tecumseh, two more Galor divisions warped into the planetary systems they had hastily abandoned and started a counter-bombardment of the planet-bound Federation defenses. Darek hoped it would bring sufficient disarray to the situation so a military victory was still tangible. He pondered this, carefully analysing the memorized data in his brain, checking, double-checking, with very conceivable and a few not conceivable backups and redundancies in place. “We have dropped out of warp sir.” Manec reported. “Anlor, this is Uptok Nor.” A voice crackled over the com that Darek recognised as Omar, “you are clear for docking.” The Anlor docked uneventfully, and Darek walked out the airlock to be “briefed” by Daned.

“Is this a trait, Darek?” Daned asked as he paced across his office. Darek noted some more ornaments had been added. If this continues his office will be a museum in no time, Darek dryly noted. “Darek?” Daned pressed.

“What trait?” Darek asked.

“Every time you come back from a mission you come back with a battered ship.”

“I put it down due to the intelligence of the Federation Commanders.” Darek said, knowing his enemy all too well.

What?” Daned said dumbfounded.

“Even if I put another ship in the lead, transmissions can be traced and the ship making the most transmissions to other ships is most likely the commanding one.” Darek responded.

“Then why not transmit your orders from another ship?”

“I’d have to be on that ship to transmit my orders from it, and I’d still come home with a crippled ship.” Darek responded. Daned nodded.

“Ah, I see. Dismissed.” Darek left, noting Daned’s growing insecurity. Perhaps I can use that to my advantage, he thought idly as he departed to the Praklar.