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In Harm's Way - Part III by Epsilon Station

Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

 

Chapter Eleven

Stardate: 55021.5 - The Cardassian Warship Makarov

Legate Jak'Karr entered the flag bridge of the Cardassian Hutet-class battleship. The central command and control center for the newly forming Second Order battle fleet was impressive. The Hutet-class battleship was an unusual blend of Dominion and Cardassian technology. Had the Union had more time to build more of these impressive warships the end result of the Dominion War may have been different.

"Legate welcome to the command center of the Hutet," welcomed Gul Hanaka Soth.

"Welcome to the command center of the Cardassian Explorer Makarov you mean," corrected Legate Jak'Karr.

"As you will Legate Jak'Karr," replied Gul Hanaka with a slight tilt of her head in resignation to the fate of her beloved battleship. To be forced to endure the ultimate indignity, forced to rename her ship with the name of a human was nearly unbearable. She believed that Jak'Karr had forced this insult on her because of the political struggles between their two families during many generations of infighting within the Central Command. She watched as the monstrously oversized Jak'Karr walked to the head chair of the briefing table in the center of the room. Jak'Karr stood head and shoulders over his subordinate officers like a demigod of ancient myth.

After seating himself Jak'Karr surveyed the consoles and workstations circling the outer perimeter of the command center. There were spaces at the central table for his senior staff members to join him comfortably; each position had a small computer terminal build into the conference table for the staff officer to access critical information. The room was large enough that the technicians and staff officers could conduct their business without interrupting the discussions that would take place at the central table. Yet the design gave the command staff access to subordinates immediately. A sonic dampening field could be activated that would provide greater security in times when critical or sensitive information had to be discussed. A holographic field could also be activated encircling the conference table for privacy or viewing of graphic or tactical information on command.

Within a few moments of Jak'Karr assuming his position of authority at the conference table his entourage also seated themselves at the circular table. Two of his imported junior officers immediately activated their computer workstations and began to immediately call up information on their small holographic screens. Gul Hanaka slowly, almost cautiously, seated herself opposite Gul Jak'Karr at the table. She studied her new commander while he began private discussions with his junior officers.

Legate Jak'Karr turned toward Gul Hanaka once his discussion with one of his imported lieutenants was completed. "I have ordered the Cardassian fleet to assemble at Cardassia Prime, we will reorganize to meet the Breen threat there."

"Reorganize? You mean you intend to strip the Military Orders of their power." Hanaka whispered back at a tone barely audible across the table.

"Gul Hanaka, our forces are a mere shadow of our former strength, we stand no chance against the Breen Confederacy's forces if they launch a determined assault. If we charge blindly into battle now we are leaving the rebuilding of the Cardassian Union to the Federation and their allies for all our soldiers would surely die in battle against numerically superior forces."

"The Federation is weak and is no real threat to our people…" began Hanaka.

"Silence!" Jak'Karr slammed the table as he stood to tower over the others seated around it. "The Federation defeated us despite our alliance with the Dominion and the Breen Confederacy. The Federation currently leads both Klingon and Romulan warships in our sector, OUR sector. I will not underestimate any potential foe, no matter what their outward appearance." Calming himself the Legate reseated himself and surveyed the other faces looking at him from around the table. "Once our forces commanded warship that numbered in the thousands. Today we will be fortunate to muster a few hundred battle worthy warships. A revenge-seeking enemy to our rimward threatens our borders. Our newfound ally in the Federation will totally engulf us and obtain dominance of the Gamma Quadrant if we do not act to preserve our culture and our society. We must not provoke, yet we must also not step to the side. By consolidating our forces at Cardassia Prime we send a message to friend and foe alike."

"As you command Legate Jak'Karr. As always the Hutet stands ready to serve the Cardassian people." The use of the battleship's former name instead of the newly assigned name of Makarov was not lost to the officers setting at the conference table.

Gul Sakkatha immediately stood and pointed at the rebellious captain of the Hutet and shouted, "You go too far Gul Hanaka!"

Quickly Legate Jak'Karr stood and placed a calming hand on his loyal friend and ally's shoulder, "She speaks her mind, that is all Gul Sakkatha. Something we Cardassians must become accustomed to if we are to work with the Federation and their Klingon lap dogs." The other officers seated at the table erupted with nervous laughter at their leader's comment about the Klingons.

Then turning to a remarkably silent member of the newly formed command staff, Legate Jak'Karr asked, "Dalin Krav N'Gor are you prepared to brief the staff on the current situation evolving in our space?"

The younger Cardassian man stood, despite his junior rank he commanded respect from the more senior officers seated around the table. "Yes Legate Jak'Karr. I am Dalin Krav N'Gor, acting strategic operations officer for the Second Order." Krav N'Gor waited silently for the expected whispering to make its way around the table, rumors of his membership in the dreaded Obsidian Order had preceded the young officer to his new assignment.

"Our fleet's Galor warships once numbered in the thousands with millions of Cardassian soldiers serving the Union. Our dozen Military Orders served the people of Cardassia by both expanding our sphere of influence economically as well as politically and militarily. Each of our Orders was a small empire unto itself, responsible for their own resources, such as recruiting and equipment production. Their only restriction was the Central Command imposed doctrine of uniformity in equipment and training to ensure inter-operability in times when joint operations were required. Thus the strategy and tactics used by each Order to the pursuit of its objectives was entirely up to its senior commanding jaguls. Each Order was responsible in addition to building and maintaining a combat force capable of defending its interests and the strategic interests of the Union, to also build the infrastructure capable of supporting those military and naval units." Dalin Krav N'Gor paused for a minute before delivering the meat of his report. "During the Dominion War, the Dominion through their Vorta managers co-opted the various support infrastructures of each of the Military Orders and modified them to suit the needs of their army of Jem'Hadar. Our resources were purposely squandered in support of their military priorities. Our Galor warships and soldiers were used as shock troops in the assault on the Federation frontier. Our Orders were systematically disassembled and distributed through out the theater of operations shattering any cohesion and organization built over the years by our doctrine and experience. In short, we are a shadow of our former selves in nearly all respects."

Dalin Krav N'Gor stepped from his seated position at the table and began to slowly walk around the table in a clockwise direction, away from where Legate Jak'Karr was seated. He activated the holographic function of the conference table with a palm actuator. Twelve holographic models of a Galor-class cruiser appeared hovering in the air above the table. Beneath each model was the Order insignia representing the twelve military orders; in the center of the circle formed a three-dimensional map of the Cardassian Union. The national icons for each of the major Alpha Quadrant powers represented the locations of various military or Starfleet installations. Green holographic letters appeared beneath each of the Order insignia providing information on their troop strengths, ship status, and facility operations. The information being displayed was not inspiring.

"The Cardassian Union Central Command is organized into twelve Orders of Battle. Each of these military orders has the responsibility and resources to support their own military operations and strategic agendas. They more closely resemble corporate fiefdoms than a traditional military organization more similar to the Klingons and their Great Houses than to the conventional pure-military organizations used by the Federation Starfleet and the Romulan Imperial Navy. Each military order in the past was responsible to operate and maintain at least 100 Galor-class battle cruisers for the collective defense of the Union. Some of the more influential orders operate more cruisers in defense of their own resources and strategic concerns.

The Cardassian Fleet is organized around the battle tested Galor-class battle cruiser or the numerous variants created from the basic design for a particular mission profile or task.

Each military Order of Battle consists of four sub or battle fleets. Each fleet roughly corresponds to one-fourth of the Order of Battle's total combat power in theory. In practice however this is not always the case. There is a tendency in the Central Command to cluster the most effective warships into the first fleet of each Order then assign following ships appropriately in descending order of proficiency to the other three sub-fleets. The fourth fleet being the least effective, and generally assigned to reserve or support activities. The Fourth Order has traditionally been harassed by the first three Orders primarily due to this tradition although this is not really the case since each order recruits its troops and finances its operations independently.

The true leadership of the military is the Cardassian High Command, although this term is rarely used by Cardassians. 'Central Command' often refers to both the military and its leadership. The High Command consists of the commanders of the Orders, a council that dictates policy for the military and much of the Cardassian Union. At the height of our power during the early stages of the Dominion War, the officers of the High Command were the de facto rulers of the Cardassian Union."

Dalin Krav N'Gor stopped his pacing to continue addressing the seated senior officers. "The Cardassian military is divided into Orders, each of which serves or patrols a specific region of space and includes both space and militia troops assigned to that region. A soldier's Order is one of the most important factors in identifying him and his duties, and most Cardassian officers use their Order as part of their title, such as 'Gul Jasad, Seventh Order.' The highest ranked Orders are the oldest and most prominent, wielding the greatest influence in Cardassian affairs, and holding correspondingly greater responsibilities.

The pre-war Cardassian Central Command consisted of millions of troops and officers, supplied with hundreds of ships. Each Order had between 500,000 and a million. Of an Order's personnel, approximately one-percent (5,000-10,000) was gul-level officers, generally starship and unit commanders. Approximately five percent (25,000-50,000) were Glinn-level officers, serving as adjuncts to the guls and commanders of smaller units. Each battalion within the Order, numbering between 50,000 and 200,000 personnel, and was commanded by a jagul. A supreme jagul officer commands each Order, and held a position in the Central Command.

Although Cardassia's military force appeared vast, the millions in the ranks of Central Command are still small compared to the trillions of individuals in the Cardassian Union. There has traditionally also been a considerable turnover in the lower-ranks of the Central Command, as troops conscripted for mandatory military service leave for civilian life, with new recruits entering the ranks and a few choosing to move up the ladder through promotion and continued service. The restriction of military service to racially pure Cardassians only has also limited the Central Command's numbers. Normal garrison operations traditionally have the elements of the First Fleet of any Order of Battle protecting the most strategically significant location in the area of responsibility. The Second Fleet protects approaches to the strategically significant location, such as nearby systems or stellar phenomena such as nebula. The Third Fleet conducts security patrols throughout an entire area of responsibility. The Fourth Fleet is largely responsible for the protection and coordination of logistics support activities and convoys.

The Cardassian Central Command considers their military forces as two distinct entities, Space Forces and Ground Forces. Although their uniforms and rank structure are the same, the missions, training, and organizations are completely separate. Career Ground Force personnel never serve in the Space Force organization, the same is true for Space Force personnel. Starfleet personnel are cross-trained and assigned to both their space and ground forces throughout their careers. The Ground Forces are sub-divided in a similar fashion as the Space Forces are into Fleets. Each Order divides their available Ground Force troops into Battalions. Cardassian Battalions are similar in concept and organization to Old Earth divisions or field armies. They are quite large and fully capable of sustaining themselves in sustained ground combat operations. Some Cardassian Battalions command as many as one-third of the total manpower of the Order to which it belongs. Battalions divide their combat strength into Battle Commands commanded by officers of Gul rank. Each Battle Command is named for its current region of responsibility. Battle Commands control all assets assigned to them to conduct the missions required. A Battle Command further divides its combat power into subordinate Tactical Commands led by officers of Dal rank. Tactical Commands then subdivide into Combat Commands as needed.

Cardassia Prime remains the center of our Union," continued Dalin Krav N'Gor in his deep monotone voice, "however the loss of hundreds of millions of our citizens at the hands of the Dominion has crippled our homeworld's ability to continue its political and economic leadership of our people." Speaking over the protests that rose from the senior officers seated at the table the young intelligence officer continued. "The other heavy populated worlds of the Union includes Amleth Prime, and the Arawath, Argaya, Aschelan, Celtris, Cuellar, Dopa, Kelrabi, Kora, Lamenda, Lazon, Omekla, Orias, Pentath Pullock, Rakal systems along with numerous small settlements in the Almatha and Algira sectors. The Amleth Prime system is the home of one of our more prominent Central Command facilities and is buried deep in an emission nebula. Fortunately the Dominion did not destroy the facility during the Battle of Cardassia Prime. Our largest off world military depot is located in the Celtris System on the opposite side of the Union away from the Federation's demilitarized zone near to the new frontier with the Breen. I would suggest that government functions related to our security have their command and control functions based from either Amleth Prime or Celtris."

Gul Hanaka interjected a question despite the disapproving glares she received from the others seated at the table, "The naval shipyard at Omekla III is controlled by the Third and Ninth Orders. Will their Jaguls and guls support your continued dictatorial control of the newly reconstituted Federation supported Central Command?"

Before Legate Jak'Karr could respond to the challenge Dalin Krav N'Gor offered, "The Third Order is one of the three oldest Military Orders within the Cardassian Union, their loyalty to the Cardassian people is unquestionable."

Gul Hanaka cut the young Intelligence officer off with a wave of her hand, "The Third Order served the Union and the Dominion as the tip of the Cardassian spear, Starfleet would consider them to have been our version of their Rapid Response Forces. As such the officers and soldiers of the Third Order have paid a heavy price with their blood." Then Gul Hanaka directed a question to Legate Jak'Karr pointedly, "Will they support your bid for power Legate? Will the other distantly deployed jaguls and guls support your policy of cooperation with the Federation and their allies, the Romulans and the Klingons after so many of our young people have died at their hands?"

Legate Jak'Karr stood and addressed the entire assembly of his senior officers in response to the obvious challenge to his authority and power offered by Gul Hanaka. "Yes we are damaged but not beyond repair. There has traditionally been twelve Military Orders protecting our homeland under the leadership of the Central Command. I do not intend to change that tradition. We are a shadow of our former selves. We do not possess the capability to defend our sixteen central highly populated core worlds and the numerous frontier settlements of the Almatha and Algira sectors. It will take years to reclaim our former pre-war numbers; to replace the lost ships and the soldiers squandered during the Dominion War. Our civilization depends on what we do next. We must meet that challenge. We must be up to the task set before us. Our people expect no less from members of their Cardassian Military Orders. I expect nothing less of you."

Gul Hanaka Soth sat back in her cushioned seat, the hatred of this Second Order legate clearly seething from her eyes.

Stardate: 55021.5 - On the Vor'cha-class Assault Cruiser Okkam orbiting Deep Space Nine

"What is that pointy eared freak doing?" Brigadier Wotan, son of Marok and commander of the Imperial Klingon Tenth Expeditionary Fleet paced his office like a caged Regulan Eel-Bird.

"Our scouts report that there is no indication that the Romulans have moved off from the Wormhole's event horizon. They apparently did not uncloak upon arrival in the Gamma Quadrant," offered Brigadier Wotan's most trusted operative, Captain Freya.

"I do not like this. The Romulan Empire is becoming too friendly with the Federation. Our intelligence on this T'Cal Whix indicates he will not stand for a weakening of Imperial power. He is too unbalanced, too unpredictable. He may take his armada back toward Romulus to assume the role of Praetor or take his ships to the front of the developing battle front between the Breen and the Cardassians." Wotan shook his head as he continued to pace. "He loves to fight. That is his only consistency."

"But Brigadier," interrupted Captain Freya, "He negotiated the surrender of the Cardassian Union to the Romulan Empire through the Cardassian Second Order immediately following the Battle of Cardassia. Rather than fight the Federation and us he went to the senior surviving Cardassian commander following the battle and negotiated a treaty that made the Cardassian Union a protectorate of the Romulan Empire."

Laughing Wotan added, "Yes, with only a dozen or so ships. Obsolete senatorial guard ships too no less, I think the pointy eared demon only has between two to four warbird-class starships under his actual command. And he probably stole those!" Wotan paused and enjoyed a heart-felt belly laugh before seating himself in the room's only chair. "The demon has iron for testicles I'll give him that."

"Copper my lord, not iron," added a smiling Freya quickly.

Smiling back with his toothy rotting smile Wotan acknowledged his subordinate and friend's correction to his statement, "Yes, copper you're absolutely right. Copper runs through those veins for sure. Cold and calculating green blood, you're absolutely right. He is not a warrior in the true sense of the word. He is a politician to be sure." Wotan drew his mek'leth dagger from his belt and began stabbing at the rugged wood of his desk as he thought.

"Captain Freya, take the Rayzor and assume direct command of our ships currently in the Gamma Quadrant. Find out if the Romulan is in fact playing a game of klin-zha with us. I will remain here in personal command of the Okkam and continue to assess the situation here at Bajor."

"My lord, is it wise to separate our two Vor'cha-class assault cruisers at this time with the Breen invasion of the Cardassian Union?" queried Freya.

"I have the rest of the Tenth Expeditionary Fleet at my disposal, and in fact has just issued orders to my other senior captains concerning deployment and disposition of forces." Almost as an after thought Wotan offered this to his first lieutenant, "I do not trust this apparent weakening of the Romulans concerning their long running feud with the Federation. For example they let the Remans for the first time take an active role in the defense of the Empire as ground forces for the Romulan fleet during the Dominion War. The Remans will not forget what they have seen even while on the leash of their Romulan masters. This is not the time to weaken their domestic policies to pacify their new Federation allies. They will pay a price for allowing the Remans to see what the outside universe is like. I think this new Praetor of theirs is too weak to rule the Romulan Star Empire. Knowing the Romulans the way I do I believe his days are numbered. It has been twelve or thirteen years since the Romulans revealed themselves to the Federation Starfleet in the so-called neutral zone, but they have not changed despite their efforts to prove they have to the Earthers."

Again smiling Wotan returned to the present, "I want you to take the Rayzor and take charge of the mission in the Gamma Quadrant. I will remain here at Deep Space Nine with the Okkam and direct our efforts in the Alpha Quadrant. I will notify our support base on Ada to forward what members of my staff I need to replace you. You have done well for me Freya in rooting out what the Earthers intend to do, now find this Romulan demon for me and stay on his trail."

Captain Freya smiled and slapped his right fist against his chest armor in return. "It is an honor to serve the Empire."

Stardate: 55021.5 - Main Bridge of the USS Unification, Galaxy Class Starship NCC-71959

Captain Isaac Paul sat in his command chair watching the efforts of his crew to collect real-time intelligence on the Gamma Quadrant quickly. They all suspected that the Romulan commander T'Cal Whix had ordered a small fleet into the Gamma Quadrant early in advance of the Starfleet on impulse. That act had forced the Unification to come into the Gamma Quadrant before the mission commander Admiral Alexandria Selkirk was really prepared to do.

Commander Darmstadt, his first officer walked down to the lower bridge from the science stations located along the aft wall of the upper bridge. "We are ready to brief you sir," his thick German accent betraying his own excitement at having started the mission early.

"Very well lead the way to the briefing room Commander Darmstadt." Captain Paul indicated for his executive officer to take the lead to the senior briefing room located just behind the Command Bridge.

Already waiting in the spacious room seated around the curved table sat Captain Paul's senior staff. The Vulcans, Lieutenant Commander Nevik served as the senior science officer on board; Lieutenant Senior Grade P'Taan was the Ship's Counselor. The young Andorian female Lieutenant Junior Grade Suelin Cato served as the Alpha Watch's helm officer. The Bajoran female Lieutenant Senior Grade Jola Batir served as Alpha Watch's operations officer. The ship's chief medical officer Lieutenant Commander Galen Marik-Tours was from Alpha Centauri. The rest of the senior staff was from Earth itself or its many colonies. They had all served with Captain Paul on his previous assignments. Lieutenant Commander Declan Murphy besides being the chief engineer was also a North American, as was the ship's tactical officer Lieutenant Junior Grade Kentaro Romero. Lieutenant Senior Grade Harry Williams was the Alpha Watch bridge science officer and was from Great Britain. Lieutenant Junior Grade Nasreen Arrain was Iranian and was Alpha Watch's duty engineering officer. Finally seated in his customary location opposite the Captain was Lieutenant Goran, the Klingon exchange officer and acting chief of security.

"As you were," ordered Captain Paul as he entered the room. "Alright Commander Darmstadt has told me your ready. What have we got?" Captain Paul sat down in his familiar seat at the head of the table, then looked around the assembled officers before settling on Lieutenant Commander Nevik.

"Captain we have conducted a sensor scan out to a range of approximately seventeen light years from the event horizon of the Bajoran Wormhole. We have detected nothing unusual or unexpected." The serene Vulcan ended his report without flourish or illumination bringing a smile to Captain Paul's lips.

As expected Lieutenant Goran interrupted abruptly, "Captain we can detect no sign of the Romulans. I believe they have left the area and have already began their mission of surveying the Gamma Quadrant for their own personal use."

"You're probably right Lieutenant, however our mission is not the pursuit of the Romulan, it is to select future sites for Alliance facilities on this side of the wormhole." Paul then turned to his flight operations officer, "Lieutenant Suelin what is the lay of the land?"

"Sir?" responded a confused Andorian lieutenant.

"Lieutenant what are our options as far as exploring the quadrant? Where do we take the ship from here?" returned the Captain.

The Andorian cleared her throat before beginning, "As you know Captain, Starfleet sent many missions into the Gamma Quadrant before the Dominion War began. Admiral Selkirk commanded the first squadron to enter the wormhole to explore the quadrant as a group but was ambushed as you all know resulting in the loss of her command before any exploration could be accomplished. We were able to glean information about the quadrant by the use of independently operating starships like the USS Defiant. We know from these previous exploration missions that there are at least four major spacefaring cultures within a hundred light years of the Gamma-One Relay Station, the Dosi, Karemma, Rakhari, and the Wadi. Tailing Gamma-One by approximately ten light years is the Chamra Vortex, an energetic plasma field similar to the Bajoran Badlands along the border of the Cardassian Union. The Vortex is approximately three to five light years in diameter and spherical in shape. An initial survey by the USS Defiant indicates that there is tremendous potential for encountering numerous pre-warp cultures that were possibly technologically tampered with by the Dominion to hold control of the region."

Lieutenant Williams interrupted to add sociological information to the briefing, "Dosi are a reptilian species that is an official member of the Dominion. I would suggest sir that this world will probably be an intelligence source on our movements for the Dominion. The Dosi did conduct trade at Deep Space Nine before the war."

"They were probably collecting tactical intelligence for the Jem'Hadar," stated Lieutenant Goran matter-of-factly.

"The Karemma are a humanoid species that contacted the Federation five years ago in 2372 requesting assistance in liberating themselves from the Dominion through the Ferengi. Their current status is unknown but one can only assume the worst after seeing what the Dominion did on Betazed and Cardassia Prime. Parada is a world just past Wadi, the Parada are humanoid with loose folding skin similar to the Mizarians. The Parada are experts at creating humanoid replicants for espionage and surveillance. We can only assume that the Parada will be hostile to any expansion in their direction from the Alpha Quadrant despite frequent visits by their ships to Deep Space Nine before the war. The Wadi appears to be an advanced prosperous culture that has somehow avoided the wrath of the Dominion. How they avoided Dominion attention is not clear. Vulcan contact with the Wadi has been constant from 2369 until the beginning of hostilities with the Dominion. They appear to be a mercantile culture with many contacts throughout their local space."

Lieutenant Suelin interjected quickly, "Captain I have a graphic to show you." She activated a two-dimensional map on the wall screen behind Captain Paul. "Sir here are the major spacefaring species indicated in the briefing, the rest of these systems have not been explored by the Federation. As you can see we have a lot of work to do."

Captain Paul stood and walked to the wall map. Pondering the display he identified a small group of systems, "I need more data on these systems here?"

"Yes sir, I'll get right on it sir," replied Lieutenant Suelin.

 

Chapter Twelve

I AM THE WAY TO THE CITY OF WOE.

I AM THE WAY TO A FORSAKEN PEOPLE.

I AM THE WAY INTO ETERNAL SORROW.

SACRED JUSTICE MOVED MY ARCHITECT.

I WAS RAISED HERE BY DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE,

PRIMORDIAL LOVE AND ULTIMATE INTELLECT.

ONLY THOSE ELEMENTS TIME CANNOT WEAR

WERE MADE BEFORE ME, AND BEYOND TIME I STAND.

ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE.

The inscription read at Dante's gates of Hell, from The Inferno

Stardate: 55077.6 - USS Iranon, one week after the Battle of Septimus III

The Excelsior-class Federation starship was wounded but making progress toward healing. The USS Iranon was part of the Starfleet's 27th Fleet (Mobile); it had been patrolling the Inkarian Sector near the Breen Confederacy's frontier when it had responded to a Cardassian call for aid a week ago. The Iranon had represented itself well in battle defeating a Breen heavy cruiser, however the cost had been great. The "Old Girl" had lost six crewmembers in the engagement and had an additional 152 wounded and of those seven critically. The ship had lost the main deflector dish from power feed back and had extensive hull damage to the forward saucer section. The ship had lost 26% of its total hull integrity, all of the damage located in the forward and top sections of the saucer.

Captain Randy Carter paced around the outer ring of the bridge; he sipped hot brisk tea as he wandered from workstation to workstation. He did not say anything to the specialists working each station, he simply smiled as he looked over their shoulders and moved on. He looked over his own shoulder at the sound of the portside turbolift doors opening. He smiled slightly as he recognized his Scottish First Officer, Commander Hadrian Connor Macleod. The Commander looked worn with fatigue, as did the rest of the Alpha-Watch bridge crew.

"Good afternoon Captain," the Scot smiled as he approached Captain Carter. "Ah, the lads are doing a tremendous job for yea sir, yes they are."

"Good show old man, splendid." Captain Carter pointed the way to the lower bridge and his command chair, then followed Commander Macleod down. "How is our good Deltan Doctor Warrd coming along with our casualties?"

Commander Macleod responded to the query as the Captain took his seat, depositing his teacup on the computer access module setting between him and the flight control console. Many Excelsior-class commanders had used the module as a makeshift coffee table over the years. "Well as you know Captain we suffered twenty-percent casualties during the battle, most of them are recovering well, the Doctor has been able to get all but seven of the lads and lasses back to duty sir."

"Very well, how are the repairs to the forward saucer section of the primary hull progressing?" was the next question on the Captain's mind.

"Thank the Starfleet Corps of Engineers for the laminate ablative armor or we would have faired far worse sir. We look worn and worse for wear, but we are coming along sir. We're shoring up the forward end of the ship but the Ship Integrity Field is doing most of the work for us. We can get underway but our hull integrity remains at 74% of our norm. Sir we look like Hell, but we are still battle-worthy. We will need dedicated yard time for the repairs we need to be 100% again, at least three to four months, longer if we have to do it ourselves."

"Yes things would go a lot smoother if the Gul Takar would provide more support. What is the Cardassians situation, any changes Connor?" queried Captain Carter.

"Aye sir, it would be easier on the lads and lassies if Gul Takar would be more cooperative. No sir, he has not I am still arguing with his first officer, Dal Munar over access to mineral resources from the surface we need to replicate key parts for repairs." Commander Macleod gestured for permission to access the Captain's Chair computer terminal. Captain Carter casually waved him access. "From what Lieutenant Commander Kasar Thulsar and I have been able to determine the 9th Order traditionally was an exploration command. It was charged with the exploration and security of the spinward edge of the Union. Its force appeared to have been predominately smaller patrol ships or cruisers modified to act as support ships for the scouts. The 9th Order may not have had many combat capable Galors to begin with, and those that it did have may have been stripped by the Dominion for use in other commands. These four surviving Galors may be all the combat worthy ships the 9th Order still commands." Commander Macleod paused to key up new data, "From what Thulsar and I can gather the 9th Order split itself into two elements, one patrolled coreward of Septimus, the other patrolled rimward. From communications traffic we monitored at the beginning of the battle we know that both squadrons were engaged."

Captain Carter asked with a low voice, "Has there been any further communications with the second 9th Order element since the Breen assault?"

Commander Macleod answered with a somber expression, "No sir, there has not. Sir Gul Takar to my knowledge has not sent any transmission back toward Cardassia Prime since the battle ended."

"I am not surprised, Legate Jak'Karr, their new chancellor or supreme leader has called for a consolidation of the Cardassian Military's assets at Cardassia Prime. If Gul Takar opened communications with Central Command he would undoubtedly be ordered to fall back. He would have to leave the Gas Giant he has been using to conceal his ships to transit in open space. Any remaining Breen would pounce on him in an instant with torpedo weapons. His command must be as bad off as you're alluding to Connor, or worse."

"Aye sir, I estimate he has four Galor-class battle cruisers that are combat effective, and if he is lucky a half dozen lighter ships."

"So you believe Gul Takar only has ten ships give or take hiding in that gas giant?" returned Captain Carter.

"Yes sir I do, based on the tactical data we gathered on our arrival, and the communications we have monitored over the last week between his flagship in orbit here over Septimus III and units still hiding in the gas giant. I believe he has ten or less ships in his current command based on the evidence."

Captain Carter shifted gears and directed the next question to Senior Lieutenant Adam Bowers, the Alpha Watch flight operations officer or helmsman. "Lieutenant what is the 27th Fleet's current position?"

The young man turned to respond to his commander's question quickly, "Sir the last information we received from Admiral Hiroshi's flagship, the USS Thunderchild, placed it and the 27th Fleet's first tactical wing near the systems of Mariah and Dreon in the Inkarian Sector. The second tactical wing is moving toward the Kobheerian system on the border of the Inkarian and Hebirian sectors."

"To me sir it looks like the good admiral is attempting to cut off the Breen avenues of approach to the Cardassian core systems," offered Commander Macleod.

"Usually a tactical wing has between twenty to forty combat starships when their mission is a priority. Admiral Hiroshi will be lucky to field twenty combat ships for the whole fleet. He probably has his heaviest ships organized in the first wing and his fast movers in the second. His support starships are most likely pulled back to the Rolor Nebula to hide," added Captain Carter. "Lieutenant Bowers, how long will it take us to get to the Rolor Nebula at best possible speed?"

"Another week sir, give or take a day or two," responded the flight operations officer.

"Connor, what do you think? Do we continue repairs while underway or do we wait here at Septimus III for further instructions while we continue our own repairs?" asked Captain Carter.

"Or do we move through the Cardassian Sector to Bajor and Deep Space Nine?" countered Commander Macleod.

"Captain our lateral sensors had just detected ships decloaking to our aft!" interrupted Lieutenant Bowers.

"Red Alert, man battle stations!" shouted Captain Carter.

Commander Macleod jumped up to the outer bridge and ran to join Lieutenant Commander Kasar Thulsar at the tactical station on the portside of the bridge. Buy the time he got there the tactical officer already had the images of the warships on his tactical screen. Nearest the Iranon materialized four D'deridex-class Warbirds, then shimmering into view came Winged Defender-class light cruisers, finally at the end of the forming line of warships came four more ancient Nova-class battle carriers. All the ships hung silently in space, in precise order and distance from each other, their green-copper hulls luminescent in the blackness of space.

"Well these lads are a wee bit off their normal patrol route I would imagine," offered Commander Carter from the tactical station. "Captain, they have raised their shields and charged their weapons."

"Thank you, Mr. Macleod. Mr. Thulsar, keep our shields raised, bring our phasers and torpedoes on line but do not attempt a sensor lock at this time."

"Very well, captain," returned Commander Macleod.

"Captain we have an incoming hail from the Romulans," the operations manager called from her station.

"Let's hear what they have to say, put them on the main viewer please." Captain Carter moved to stand between the flight and systems operations managers to his front, his hands grasped firmly behind his back, hiding how tense he had become.

The image of a stone-faced Romulan male appeared on the screen, he had a full head of curly gray and brown hair. The chiseled face portrayed years of suffering and pain by deep wrinkles on the Vulcan-like brow and surrounding the cold blue-gray eyes. "I am Admiral Tal, sub-commander for Field Primus T'Cal Whix of the Romulan Empire. What is your purpose orbiting Septimus III?"

"I am Captain Randolph Carter of the Federation starship Iranon. We are here in response to the call for assistance of Gul Takar of the Cardassian Ninth Order," carefully responded Captain Carter.

Admiral Tal also quickly responded, "The Senatorial Fleet of T'Cal Whix will provide further support to Commander Takar, you are dismissed Captain Carter."

Captain Carter paused for a moment considering his next words carefully, "Admiral Tal, I am not at liberty to withdraw until requested to do so by Gul Takar. As a member of the alliance which defeated the Dominion the Federation has responsibilities to other members, particularly the Cardassians."

On the holographic main viewer the members of the Iranon's command staff could plainly see Admiral Tal obviously taking instructions from someone off screen. The elder commander then addressed Captain Carter with a slight smile on his lips. "Of course Captain Carter, I apologize for my error in protocol. I will take this matter up directly with Commander Takar myself."

Captain Carter stood and quietly considered the image of the Romulan starships that replaced Admiral Tal on the main viewing screen. The Romulan fleet was spreading out in a giant wedge with two D'deridex-class warbirds guarding each flank. The two small light cruisers held the point positions in the center of the wedge. To the flanks of the light cruisers spread the large Nova-class assault ships; a formidable flotilla to be sure.

Stardate: 55077.8 - On board the IKS Okkam, flagship of the 10th Expeditionary Fleet

Brigadier Wotan, son of Moark, sat restlessly in his command chair. It had been days since his last intelligence report on the Romulan or the Federation Starfleet's actions in the Cardassian Frontier. His people had taken the greatest risks during the war with the Dominion; they deserved a greater share of the spoils, had this not always been the Way of the Warrior? He stabbed his ceremonial dagger into the plastic armrest of his command chair while he sat and thought. He, Wotan, was a general officer in the Imperial Defense Force. He deserved better than to set and nursemaid the Federation as they attempt to find what the Dominion was doing in the Gamma Quadrant. He deserved glory and power the same as his ancestors had enjoyed. His people had been reduced to being the lapdogs of the Earthers and their Federation it seemed. The Dominion had their Jem'Hadar, the Earthers had his people to do their bidding and spill their blood for the "greater good," who's greater good, the Federations or the Empires?

He commanded twenty-seven warships organized into nine squadrons led by senior captains. Three Vor'cha-class assault cruisers led his fleet, the Okkam and Rayzor were two, the IKS Zartan now at Ada was the third "restless brother." His mandate was too patrol the Cardassian demilitarized zone, collect intelligence, and assist the Federation in their occupation of the Union's territory. The remainder of the war fleet had returned to the Empire with the new chancellor to establish his control of the home systems. The remainder of his fleet consisted mostly of Birds of Prey K'Vort-class cruisers and scouts with one squadron of K'tinga-class cruisers used as his fleet's support ships. But his three Vor'chas were magnificent, the envy of any fleet commander. They were the core of his force, with speed and power to rival anything any world could build. His warriors grew restless with the inactivity of peace, they needed combat to keep their senses honed to a razor's edge.

Lieutenant Kashe, Wotan's battle operations officer, stood beside the brigadier respectfully. "My lord, the ships are dispersed as ordered and the orders to Captain Tor have been sent. He is to assume command of all Gamma Quadrant operations." Brigadier Wotan grunted signaling the younger officer to continue. "All ships are dispersed and operating under cloak. The Ada garrison commander has acknowledged your order to seize any appropriate support cruisers for transfer to the Bajoran militia as soon as possible."

"Hmm, Commander Kortov is an able leader, he will send me the ships I need quickly." Wotan commented to himself aloud for the benefit of Lieutenant Kashe. "Remember when you obtain a command of your own someday lieutenant, but your most trusted warrior as your supply base commander. It is vital to have a trusted friend and ally controlling your resources and reserves or you risk having them taken from you at your most critical moment."

"Yes my lord, but if I may ask why have you made me your battle operator, a mere lieutenant?"

Wotan stood with lightning speed; he grasped the young warrior by his armor at the neck, and drew him close so that no one else could hear. "Because of respect and loyalty to your father's house, because you come from a great house of the Klingon Empire, and because your ambitious. Here is another lesson for you young Kashe, son of Wart, keep those who envy your power and position close at hand, it is easier to watch them that way." Wotan shoved Kashe away from him forcefully, almost making the younger warrior trip and fall as he back stepped. "Now get back to your duties "Battle Operator" I want more information on what is happening on Bajor. I need to know what our Commander Erika Strong is doing and I need to know NOW!" Wotan shouted the word "now" to motivate Kashe to leave his sight.

Wotan went back to his pondering of his strategic situation as he reseated himself. Chancellor Martok had withdrawn the main fleet back across the Alrescha and Betreka sectors to Klingon space to help him establish his rule of the High Council on the Homeworld. He had been a common soldier that had worked his way through the ranks to general. But he had been placed at the head of the council by the traitor Worf, and that fact alone was enough to bring civil war to the empire if not handled wisely. Martok had valuable allies in the Federation. He had commanded Klingon forces brilliantly and had literally saved the Federation's Starfleet from certain disaster by fighting a masterful delaying action along the former demilitarized zone at the edge of the Cardassian frontier even though by doing so he had exposed the Klingon Empire's rimward territory to attack. Many in the fleet believed he had shown more loyalty to the Earthers than to his own people. Others thought he was the soldier's soldier, a master tactician and strategist that could see beyond his own glory and power to that of the Empire. Still others thought he had just been lucky and had been in the right place at the right time.

Wotan considered his options; he alone had been left to command the rear guard, the occupation force left in the Cardassian Union. He and his twenty-seven light warships, he was not even left with an army to command how was he to ensure that the Empire received its just shares of the spoils won in the war without an occupation army? How was he going to increase the power of his house without spoils of war to attract more warriors to his banner? He smashed his mailed fist into the armrest drawing the attention of his bridge officers and warriors. The Romulan demon T'Cal had won the entire Cardassian Union to his cause following the collapse of the Dominion only to see it slip through his fingers by the manipulation of the Cardassian populace by the Federation. The Federation was their enemy, they stole the glory and the spoils of war from their very fingers, from their very fingers by the fist of Kahless! Now he and his warriors were mere mercenaries working for the Earthers as they expand their empire into territories his family, his brothers and sisters had bought with blood on the field of honor. This could not continue. The Empire had the right and obligation to take what it has won honorably and to use for the benefit of the Klingon people.

Commander Erika Strong reported to the office of Admiral Alexandria Selkirk unannounced. "Enter," the admiral's voice answered when Commander Strong requested permission to enter.

"What can I do for you, Commander Strong is it not?" the much older woman greeted the Klingon liaison officer as she nervously entered the room.

The normally strong and forceful human female hesitated before answering, "Yes ma'am, Erika Strong. Admiral I have a dilemma, a conflict of interest that I need advice on."

Admiral Selkirk was taken back for an instant then asked the young woman to be seated in one of the chairs in front of her desk before continuing. "Commander, my specialty is administration not counseling. What can I possibly help you with in the advice category?"

"Admiral, I am currently assigned to Brigadier Wotan of the IKS Okkam, as the Starfleet liaison officer and as his first officer. Now that the war is over I am no longer comfortable with that assignment. I am requesting transfer from the Okkam back to a Starfleet assignment."

"Commander, many consider an officer exchange assignment with the Klingons to be a feather in their cap if seeking a career in the Command Division of Starfleet. How long have you been on the Okkam?"

"Over a year sir, well over a year."

"I see, have you requested a transfer from Brigadier Wotan?" asked the admiral.

"No sir, he is unaware that I am aggressively seeking reassignment. However I suspect he is aware of my growing discomfort with serving on the Okkam," returned Commander Strong.

"Commander, I am commanding a paper fleet, the 43rd Fleet (Mobile) is in the building stages right now. Officially I have only one ship assigned to me at this time, the USS Unification, and it is currently in the Gamma Quadrant." The panic in Commander Strong's eyes told Admiral Selkirk volumes. "Alright, I pull you to be my chief of staff. I'll site your experience with the Klingons and this region of space as being my justification. Wotan will probably torpedo the station but I am sure he can manage without you."

"Admiral if the station wasn't Bajoran he would torpedo it." Commander Strong whispered.

"Pardon me, commander?" queried Admiral Selkirk.

"Nothing, Admiral Selkirk, thank you very much for doing this on short notice and without more justification than I gave you."

"Not at all commander, in fact I really do need a chief of staff. I would introduce you to my staff, except I do not have one at this time. You’re my first pick. Lucky you." Selkirk stood and smiled at the obviously worn out commander. "Your new title is Chief of Staff, 43rd Fleet (Mobile), consider yourself promoted to the rank of brevet captain. I want you to get a set of captain's pips on your collar immediately. I will inform Colonel Kira and the Starfleet staff here on the station of your appointment when I send your reassignment orders to Starbase 310 for forwarding on to Starfleet Headquarters. Now go see Commander Jast for quarters here on the station. I assume you have left nothing valuable on the Okkam?"

"No sir, I have nothing of value on the Okkam."

"Very well, dismissed, Commander Strong." Admiral Selkirk watched as a weak smile formed on the young woman's lips. She turned and walked nervously out of her office. Something was terribly wrong on the IKS Okkam. Something that was dangerous enough to make Erika Strong risk her career and possibly her life to escape, she would have to pay more attention to what the Klingons were doing from now on.

Starship: 55077.8 - Bridge of the USS Unification in the Gamma Quadrant

"Alright Andreas, I think its time for me to retire to my quarters for the evening." Captain Isaac Paul stood and stretched his arms and back while smiling back at his German executive officer, Commander Andreas Darmstadt.

"Very well sir, I have the conn." Darmstadt announced for the benefit of the ship's computer and the Beta-Watch bridge crew now manning their posts. Now he was the command authority for executive decisions to be referred too.

Captain Paul walked to the portside turbolift for the ride to his personal quarters. Once there, he decided to spend some time reviewing the incoming data on the planetary systems nearest the Bajoran Wormhole exit point. He had a decision to make concerning where to establish Admiral Selkirk's beloved Gamma Quadrant space station. The conventional wisdom was to build the thing in the Alpha Quadrant and then tow it through the wormhole to be stationed right here, at the exit point. Starfleet had placed one of its subspace communications relay stations here before the Dominion War, it had been one of the first casualties of that war, right behind Admiral Selkirk's exploration flotilla. Now the current thought was to establish a grounded starbase, a colony that could be self-sufficient if it were isolated for an extended period of time. Of course the argument could be made against that approach too. The Bajorans had established a colony with Starfleet's aid on a Gamma Quadrant world only to have it massacred by the Dominion in the early days of the war. The Dominion itself was an unknown factor in this enterprise. The Dominion had ended the conflict with the capture of its primary agent at Cardassia Prime, presumably due to the efforts of Deep Space Nine's Security Chief Odo, a fellow Changeling allied with the Federation. The surrender had been expedient and hastily ran through. The Dominion was not defeated outright, simply outmaneuvered in the Alpha Quadrant. The combination of the covertly waged biological war by the Federation, and the defection of the Cardassians to the Alliance thus surrendering the Dominion's primary foothold in the Alpha Quadrant to the Federation and its allies temporarily caused the onsite Changeling leadership to hesitate and falter.

Paul had no way of knowing to what level the Dominion would resist the Federation's intrusion in their Gamma Quadrant space. He half expected the Unification to go to Red Alert and come under attack from Jem'Hadar fighters at any second. But the Federation had to know what was occurring in the Gamma Quadrant, and the wormhole entrance was sufficiently far from the Dominion that the risk of establishing a new outpost was acceptable. Paul realized that Admiral Selkirk was simply a figurehead, the real success or failure of this project rested solely on the shoulders of himself and his crew.

He entered his stateroom and walked to his personal desk. He retrieved a padd and walked to his favorite easy chair and sat down. He called up the information of the planetary system he had decided to move to first. Its temporary designation was Idran, it was an L-class world that vegetation had developed on but no indigenous animal life had evolved. It had been the planet that Captain Benjamin Sisko had first encountered the Dominion on. The planet had an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and could sustain humanoid life. In fact the trick would be protecting the native plant life for animal-based ecological contamination from the colonists and base personnel. But Idran was the first choice for the establishment of an initial planet-based outpost. He would have his crew place a beacon communications satellite and do the initial survey for placement of a settlement on the surface. He had a small flotilla of runabout and scout-class warp shuttles for expanding his area of surveillance if he decided to use that option. He wanted to see the Dominion's initial reaction to their return to the quadrant first before deploying his shuttle assets.

In actuality the region around the Bajoran Wormhole was vast and apparently relatively abandoned. The Federation had barely began to explore the region before hostilities had begun. The space controlled by the Dominion was huge compared to the explored regions of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The Dominion itself was estimated to control an area of space twelve-times larger than the Federation. Its assets had to be tremendous, thus deepening the mystery of why the Changeling Leader had ended the conflict so abruptly just over a year ago. "Where were the local indigenous civilizations that should be dominating this region of space?" Paul thought to himself as he reviewed the astronomical data. Compared to the region of the Alpha Quadrant, this region of the Gamma Quadrant was devoid of inhabited systems.

To date the Federation was only aware of a handful of civilizations on the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole despite the volume of space to be explored. The most promising species was that of the Wadi. They had however resisted more than casual ephemeral contact with Federation representatives. The Bajorans of course had expressed an interest in re-establishing their colony at New Bajor in a system approximately 100 light years from the wormhole's event horizon nearly in the opposite direction from Dominion space. And there was the Ferengi success in establishing trade relations with the Karemma Foundation; a small single system civilization just beyond the Dominion allied Dosi Confederation. Both of these civilizations were a couple of hundred light years from the wormhole. Again the question of the scarcity of humanoid civilizations in the region came to mind for Paul. Did the Dominion purposely interfere with local sentient life to thwart technological development or was there truly cultural desert here in this region of space? If this region truly was abandoned so to speak, why or how did that occur here? Was the Alpha Quadrant unique in its density of technological civilizations to rise to interstellar capability?

Captain Paul squeezed the bridge of his nose to relieve the growing headache from fatigue that had begun when he began reading the data on the small padd screen.

"Fatiguing isn't it?" a male voice calmly stated behind him and to the side.

Instantly Captain Paul was on his feet and spun around to face the intruder. "Computer intruder alert." Paul instantly contacted the computer to alert the crew to the invasion of his privacy and security.

"Captain is that really necessary?" The figure standing before him was a human male, in his mid to early thirties. He had dark hair and a Van Dyke beard. He smiled in a most charming and innocent way. He was wearing a costume appropriate to a Shakespearean era play. He smiled even more broadly and made a deep bow throwing one leg forward and stretching his opposite arm back elevating a flamboyant wide brimmed hat with exotic feathers extending from it. "May I present myself sir, my name is Don Q, and I am at your service sir."

"Q?" was all that Paul was able to say before it happened.

 

Chapter Thirteen

Stardate: 55021.5 - The Cardassian Warship Makarov

Legate Jak'Karr stood and addressed the entire assembly of his senior officers in response to the obvious challenge to his authority and power offered by Gul Hanaka. "Yes we are damaged but not beyond repair. There has traditionally been twelve Military Orders protecting our homeland under the leadership of the Central Command. I do not intend to change that tradition. We are a shadow of our former selves. We do not possess the capability to defend our sixteen central highly populated core worlds and the numerous frontier settlements of the Almatha and Algira sectors. It will take years to reclaim our former pre-war numbers; to replace the lost ships and the soldiers squandered during the Dominion War. Our civilization depends on what we do next. We must meet that challenge. We must be up to the task set before us. Our people expect no less from members of their Cardassian Military Orders. I expect nothing less of you."

Gul Hanaka Soth sat back in her cushioned seat, the hatred of this Second Order legate clearly seething from her eyes.

Legate Jak'Karr continued, "We will begin our reorganization by moving Central Command away from Cardassia Prime to Amleth Prime in the Amleth Nebula. This is marginally closer to the front but provides natural protection from surveillance by cloaked ships and moves our command and control assets to a more defendable location not directly under the noses of the Federation and the Klingons. Our logistics base at Celtris will serve as our marshaling point for a war fleet to engage the Breen in combat operations." Legate Jak'Karr paused for a moment before continuing, searching the eyes of all who were seated at the conference table. "We will begin forming auxiliary security units from the indigenous populations of non-Cardassian worlds within borders of the Cardassian Union." He paused to allow the shocked responses from the senior officers seated at his table. "Our experience with the Dominion has provided us with enlightenment concerning the yoke of occupation. Our own struggle against the Jem'Hadar for liberation from the tyranny of the Dominion serves as an inspiration for this enlightened new policy born of the instinct for survival. We are weakened, outnumbered, and ill equipped, but we are not defeated. By extending the privilege of self-defense to the populations of worlds within our borders capable of doing so lightens our burden and strengthens our cause. Our fleet will still be responsible for the defense of open space within the Union; the auxiliaries will defend the individual star systems and their primary worlds. They will be trained and equipped to Central Command standards by a cadre of veteran Cardassian soldiers."

Legate Jak'Karr leaned forward on to the conference table and looked from face to face of the men and women setting before him. "Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake, the coming months will be a difficult time for our people. It will take the combined effort of the entire Union to see us through this dark period. We must keep our goal in mind at all times: to defeat those who would be our conquerors and defend the basic ideals of Cardassian culture. Our spirit is strong and our resolve steeled for the task ahead. I am confident that we will prevail." Slowly he straightened his back and stood towering above them, hands on his hips.

"Now before I dismiss you to your assigned tasks let me put one thing to rest here and now. I do not seek to be a dictator or governor, or any other such ruler. If you remember I was on my way to the Gamma Quadrant to explore new worlds and seek out new civilizations for the glory of the Cardassian Union. The Detapa Council called me back from Terok Nor to coordinate the defense of Union and to meet the Breen threat. That is what I intend to do. We are all members of the military of the Cardassian Union. As such our first duty is to Cardassia herself and then to our fellow soldiers. At this period of our history there is no room for the petty and shallow political infighting that has plagued the Central Command for generations. We are beyond that. If there are no further questions, you are dismissed." As the senior and junior officers of the Second Order began to rise to begin their assigned tasks, Legate Jak'Karr said one more thing, "Gul Hanaka, could you please escort me to my cabin?"

The two senior officers waited for the others to clear the conference area in the center of the large room, Legate Jak'Karr considered Gul Hanaka as she stood waiting at the far end of the table. She was an aristocrat forced into service by the losses inflicted on Central Command by the Dominion. As were many these days, she was far to young to hold a command with such authority. Her family had a long history of affiliation with the Fourth Order and as such she had many commercial as well as political contacts on Cardassia Prime itself. To move her to Amleth Prime would distance her from her family's contacts and dramatically lessen her Vesala, or personal influence. Her family and the Fourth Order had faired surprisingly well during the Dominion occupation. They had lost troops and ships as had all the Military Orders, but their infrastructure had remained fairly intact despite being centered on Cardassia Prime. She and her father were quickly become the apparent main challenge to Legate Jak'Karr's influence with the Detapa Council and his control of the Second Order.

Gul Hanaka ushered Legate Jak'Karr from the conference room into the passageway of the Hutet-class battleship. The corridor was uncharacteristically large for a Cardassian warship allowing crewmembers to move in both directions unimpeded by others. This allowed the two senior officers to walk side by side to the Legate's quarters.

"Gul Hanaka, I have served the Cardassian Union for nearly four decades. In that time I have fought against humans, Romulans, Klingons, Ferengi, and a host of other adversaries that you in your youth have never heard of. In all that time I have served with some of the finest that the Union has to offer. Many of those fine men and women are now gone, sacrificed upon the field of honor for the greater glory of the Union. I do not take that sacrifice lightly. They fell serving the Union. Do you really know what it means to serve Gul Hanaka? Do you? It means putting the Union above your own personal needs for power, wealth, and position. It means regardless of personal cost you do your duty and accomplish your mission." Legate Jak'Karr paused for a moment to let that sink in to the young flag officer before continuing.

"You and I are two different breeds of animal. I have risen to the rank I am through sacrifice, blood and sweat. I have the scars to prove it. You are very young to be a gul level officer. I have read your dossier in detail and while it is academically impressive there is very little in it to warrant such a rapid progression, particularly during wartime. Average marksmanship, below average personal combat skills, average tactical prowess, and almost no combat experience despite the Dominion occupation of our homeworld. The Fourth Order's primary mission and responsibility is the protection of the homeworld. That is what bothers me the most."

Jak'Karr stopped to face the young woman in the center of the corridor ignoring the passers by moving to avoid them as they quickly moved around them to their destinations. "How is it during the dark days of the Dominion War that you and this incredibly powerful ship somehow missed the bulk of the fighting? It seems to me that someone has paved the way for you. Prove to me that you deserve the insignia you wear upon your chest." Then Legate Jak'Karr straightened to his full height and stature, "You are dismissed."

Seething with anger and hatred Gul Hanaka quickly stepped away and began down the corridor in the direction away from the command conference room. "One more thing Gul Hanaka. Like it or not you are assigned to my command. This is still a military organization and governed by military laws and regulations. I will not tolerate insubordination, especially from senior officers. Keep your family views and opinions to yourself. They have no bearing on the task at hand. Do I make myself clear?"

Gul Hanaka hissed her response, "Exceedingly clear, Legate Jak'Karr."

Stardate: 55077.8 - USS Unification in the Gamma Quadrant

Captain Isaac Paul stood looking at a man that appeared to be right out of Earth's 16th or 17th century. The man had identified himself as "Don Q." Immediately Captain Paul assumed that the man had meant "Q" as in the Q Continuum, the race of non-corporeal super entities that had plagued Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise and others over the last decade. But this gentleman did not meet the description of the entity as described in Starfleet records.

"Don Q is it. Are you Q?" repeated Captain Paul.

"Yes my dear captain, I am Q, although not the exact entity your good Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway befriended, no, no, no." The young man almost pranced around the captain's quarters as if he were on stage. "No I am an all together different character dear sir." The young man paused and gave Captain Paul a threatening stare to emphasize his last statement. No senior I am Q but not Starfleet's Q, I am your own personal…how should I say this? Devil, is that the correct word?" The young man smiled broadly as he hoped over the back of one of the captain's two sofas and landed in a seated position, he then put his booted feet up on the coffee table and relaxed back in a casual familiar way.

Their conversation was interrupted by the queries of a security team at the captain's door asking if he was all right and if they were needed. Captain Paul looked at the young man now setting on his sofa and excused them immediately. Their personal sidearms would be useless against a being as powerful as this Q.

"Why are you here? Why my ship?" Paul cautiously stepped to seat himself at the other sofa across from the coffee table.

"Oh why are any of us here my captain? To explore! To cross the horizon and go where there be dragons is it not? No my parents, well one of them anyway is fascinated by your species and speaks well of you, as a people. He goes on and on about his two favorites, Jon-Luc and Kathryn. He is very proud of them you know? My other parent likes to impersonate you, well not you specifically, but members of your species, she has assumed the role of a Vulcan doctor, a Klingon diplomat, the list is endless."

"I find this very fascinating - Q, may I call you Q?" asked Captain Paul.

"Don Q please, its so much more in line with my character don't you think?" Don Q paused, "Aren't these clothes smashing? I designed them myself from your planet's first period of truly global exploration. I actually visited Sir Francis Drake for inspiration. Quite the look is it not?" The young man was obviously very pleased with himself.

"Yes they are, I particularly like the daggers. But now to the topic at hand Don Q, why are you here aboard my starship and why now?" repeated Captain Paul.

"Oh yes that, well father thought it would be more appropriate if I did it than he, he has been under so much criticism for his use of humans to support his agenda that he did not want to bring any more attention to himself over this," started Don Q.

"Over what?" pressed Captain Paul.

"Over this!" Don Q smiled in a most sinister way sending a warning to Captain Paul, but unfortunately too late.

Reality winked. Captain Paul was not sure what he had experienced, but he knew something was wrong. Don Q had instantaneously vanished at the same time he had felt the sensation of subtle movement. Everything in his cabin appeared, as it should, except it just felt wrong.

"Captain Paul to the bridge." The call to action brought him instantly out of his concern over the missing intruder. He sprinted out of his quarters past to approaching security guards and to the executive turbolift at the end of the corridor. He emerged from the lift access door at the right front side of the Galaxy-class starship's command bridge near the holographic main viewing screen. He looked over his right shoulder at the impressive image on the screen barely believing the size of what he saw.

Commander Darmstadt stood from the command chair and moved to his position at the right of the center seat. "Sir, I have gone to Red Alert status. The shields are up and phasers and photon torpedoes are ready."

"What is it?" Captain Paul asked as he proceeded to take his captain's chair.

Darmstadt responded quickly, "I don't know sir. We just dropped out of warp and there it was, it was the weirdest thing. I've never experienced a warp deceleration like that before. It felt instantaneous, one moment we were cruising at warp five, the next we are here standing nose to nose with…that thing."

"Lieutenant Cato, verify our position." Paul quickly ordered the female Andorian flight operations officer.

Cato looked confused, "Sir our instruments are wrong." She automatically began to recalibrate her control board.

"Explain lieutenant?" Darmstadt queried standing to move behind her to observe her re-calibration.

"Sir according to my readings we are back in the Alpha Quadrant," offered the confused Andorian officer.

"What! That is impossible," spouted an angry Commander Darmstadt, looking at the ship's operations officer seated to Lieutenant Cato's left he ordered, "Reconfigure your control board to navigation and verify Lieutenant Cato's readings." Quickly the Bajoran operations officer complied, shaking her head to verify she agreed with the Andorian. "That is impossible," repeated Darmstadt.

"Where are we?" questioned Captain Paul who had remained calmly seated during the discovery.

Lieutenant Cato responded by changing the main view screen into a holographic map of the Alpha Quadrant large enough to encompass the Federation in the center, the Romulan and Klingon empires at the far right, and the Cardassian Union, Breen Confederacy, and Ferengi Alliance to the left. Then she brought the image into focus by narrowing the view to a few sectors centered between the Federation, the Ferengi Alliance, the Cardassian Union, the Tzenkethi Coalition, and the Breen Confederacy. Finally centering squarely on the Cygnian Sector.

"This is the region Captain Picard's USS Stargazer was lost in 2355 isn't it?" responded Captain Paul.

"Yes sir it is. But what the hell are we doing back in the Alpha Quadrant and only twenty-five light years from a Federation member world?" returned a clearly stunned Commander Darmstadt.

Captain Paul knitted his brow at Darmstadt, "What Federation world are we near too?"

"Fellebia and Denobula Triaxa are the nearest sir," returned Commander Darmstadt as he sat at his workstation at Captain Paul's right hand. "However, the Ferengi Alliance is only about ten light years coreward of our apparent new position, the felinoid Tzenkethi Coalition are about the same distance rimward, and the Cardassians just beyond that." Darmstadt shook his head in disbelief, "But all this doesn't make sense. This can't be right."

Paul stood and moved to the open space between his command seat and the two operations consoles in front of the main viewing screen. "It makes perfect sense Andreas following the visit of a member of the Q Continuum in my stateroom just minutes ago."

"Q was here!" Darmstadt joined Captain Paul standing behind the two operations officers who were now looking over their shoulders at the two senior officers.

"I don't think it was Picard and Janeway's Q entity. I think this is a new member of the Continuum. But considering their power, this is very possible. We need to focus on the artifact before us now, for better or probably worse, we are here now and for a reason." Captain Paul ordered the map off the main screen.

All four Starfleet officers together turned to once more look at the image now dominating the forward view screen. The object was monstrous in size; fully half of the object appeared to actually be a moonlet or planetoid. Emerging from the lower half of the planetoid were structures of tremendous and mind-boggling size. Structures far beyond the technological capabilities of anyone save the reclusive First Federation or the long dead builders of the Dyson Sphere discovered by the USS Enterprise-D dominated the southern hemisphere of the object. The visual impact of the artifact was stunning.

Captain Paul was the first to break the spell of the image, "Lieutenant Jola, what do our sensors tell us about the…what? Shall we call it a planet?"

"Yes sir," responded the Bajoran female, "scanning."

Lieutenant Cato spoke up quickly, "Captain we are not in a solar system, we're in open space. I have verified our location we are in the Cygni Sector just outside Federation Space in the Alpha Quadrant. The nearest charted star system to our present location is the binary system 16 Cygni. The nearest major starbase is 527 between the before mentioned Fellebia and Denobula Triaxa systems. Vega Colony, Tellar, and Sigma Draconis are just beyond that. In the opposite direction spinward lay the Breen Confederacy."

Commander Darmstadt interjected, "Status of 16 Cygni, Lieutenant?"

"Uninhabited system, currently used as the marker star for the sector sir."

Lieutenant Jola at Ops interrupted, "Captain there are no life signs on the planet. There are numerous energy emissions however. There are also low level electronic emissions between various locations around the altered or developed side of the planet. But they are very low level bursts of what appears to be coded data transmissions."

"Captain, is there any chance this is a Borg base?" queried Senior Lieutenant Kentaro Romero from his station at the tactical console behind the executive officer's seats.

Both Captain Paul and Commander Darmstadt turned in unison to look at the young Italian-American officer behind them. Captain Paul walked up the portside ramp to the upper bridge to confer with Lieutenant Commander Nevik. Both Captain Paul and the Vulcan Science Officer reviewed the data that was streaming in on the planet from the ship's sensors.

"Captain, I am impressed by the number of apparently derelict spacecraft that are hanging in stationary orbit near the developed half of the planet. The abandoned vessels are not Borg design, nor do they show signs of Borg alteration," offered Lieutenant Commander Nevik.

"Well that is good news." Captain Paul straightened and looked back over the main bridge of his ship toward the main view screen. Out loud he reviewed what he knew so far, his ship had been teleported tens-of-thousands of light years back to the Alpha Quadrant by a member of the Q Continuum. They were now in a strategic but undeveloped sector between the Federation, Ferengi Alliance, the Cardassian Union, the Tzenkethi Coalition, and the Breen Confederacy. Located before his starship was a bizarre half-planetoid, half-artificial construct of immense size but apparently abandoned. Orbiting the so-called "developed" side of the planetoid was an armada of also abandoned spacecraft hanging like ghost ships frozen in time.

"How old is that thing Mr. Nevik?" Paul turned his attention back to the Vulcan seated at Science Station One.

The Vulcan science officer adjusted his instruments to answer his captain's question. He looked up from his workstation with an unemotional expression. "Sir the construction on the developed side of the surface appears to be over 5,000 years old. The majority of the spacecraft orbiting the planet's developed side are of similar ages."

"Mr. Nevik, do those ships correlate with any known designs recognized by the Federation or our allies?" Captain Paul asked as he used a subordinate console to zoom in on an image of one of the spacecraft in question.

Quickly Mr. Nevik responded in his customary fashion, "Yes sir they appear to match to some degree descriptions provided by pre-Federation Andorian and Vulcan archival records of a species known as the Vegan Tyranny. The records are from pre-first contact with humans and are very limited in detail. Apparently the Andorians provided the greatest amount of information about infrequent contact with hostile warships which came to be known as the Vegan Tyranny due to their origin being from the direction of the marker star Vega, or spinward of Andoria. The specific name of course is the English translation of the Andorian name."

"Of course," smiled Captain Paul as he pondered the information provided by his science officer. "Do you have any more information on the Vegans themselves Mr. Nevik?" queried Captain Paul.

"The Andorian contact was during the Earth's mid twenty-first century. The Andorians had been exploring interstellar space for little over two decades when they began encountering warships of immense power and ruthlessness. These hostile encounters may have fueled their aggression toward other spacefaring species such as my own during the initial years of space exploration of that era. The encounters were ferocious with very few Andorian survivors if any. The actual origins or physical appearance of the Vegan Tyranny were never determined; the few Tyranny ships that were overpowered destroyed themselves rather than be captured. The Vegan Tyranny was certainly thought of in their day as a tremendous threat by the Andorians as we currently do the Borg. The Andorian records imply the fighting was entirely in Andorian space, very near the Andorian homeworld of Procyon. Records imply that the Andorian scholars of the day believed that the Tyranny was cybernetic rather than organic in nature. The provided data does not elaborate on why the scholars believed that however."

"Your data indicates that planetoid is part of the Vegan Tyranny?" repeated Captain Paul.

"No sir, the data indicates that many of the spacecraft orbiting the developed side of the planetoid match the profiles of ancient Andorian records of the Vegan Tyranny," clarified the Vulcan.

Commander Darmstadt approached the Captain and Science Officer from the lower bridge. "Did you say they were cybernetic Mr. Nevik?"

"Yes sir, the data indicates that the Tyranny was cybernetic in nature, but there is now elaborative information in the computer data base."

"What are the physical conditions on the surface of the planetoid," asked Captain Paul.

"Sir you're not going to beam down to that monstrosity are you?" demanded Commander Darmstadt.

"Andreas the Q Continuum brought us from the Gamma Quadrant for a reason to this specific spot and time. My gut instinct is that the reason for that is down there on the surface of that dead planet. I feel it is imperative that we determine if my instincts are right."

"Aye-aye sir." Commander Darmstadt returned with a nervous smile.

Stardate: 55077.8 - USS Iranon orbiting Septimus III

"Captain I have a communiqué incoming from Deep Space Nine," called Lieutenant Silva de Paulo from the Ops console behind Captain Randy Carter's command chair.

"Very good Lieutenant, please flash it to my chair monitor would you please," responded Captain Carter as he carefully placed his cup of tea on the table-like computer access module to his immediate front. Then he leaned back to get a better view of the small monitor screen in the armrest of his chair. A bearded human with gray hair and chiseled face appeared on the screen, he was wearing a red collared shirt and commander's pips indicating the Command Division of Starfleet.

"Captain, we received your report on your status just before we are selves were attacked by two Jem'Hadar battleships coming through the wormhole on an apparent raid. We ourselves have sustained considerable damage and lost the Nebula-class starship Aldebaran in the attack. This puts an entirely new edge on our strategic situation with the Breen incursion. Admiral Ross has been notified and is in route to Deep Space Nine on the Prometheus-class explorer USS Cerberus. Admiral Hiroshi on the USS Thunderchild is still coordinating Starfleet's response to the Breen incursion using the 27th Fleet (Mobile). Admiral Ross has assumed overall command of Starfleet rapid response assets in the spinward regions of the Federation. His assumption of command is pending confirmation by Starfleet Headquarters. It is currently unknown if the Breen and Dominion attacks were coordinated. That said, you are to remain under the command of Admiral Hiroshi and part of the 27th Fleet. You are advised that the status of the 27th is currently unknown. You are also advised that the disposition of the Breen forces in Cardassian space is also unknown. Your report on the location of the Romulan task force under the command of T'Cal Whix is appreciated. Keep us posted on his movements if you can, but the safety of your ship is paramount. Your stated option of falling back to space near the Tzenkethi Coalition although risky is considered your best option by our tactical people here but the decision is yours. Keep us informed, Commander Elias Vaughn out."

Captain Carter sat dumbstruck. Deep Space Nine just attacked by two Dominion Warships emerging from the wormhole? How was that possible with the treaty in effect? Starfleet was finally mobilizing for another war with the Dominion apparently, but where did that leave him and his ship so far extended deep in enemy territory? From where Captain Carter sat, events were beginning to spin out of control. Too many things were beginning to happen at once for his liking. He needed to get his ship repaired and fast.

He sat pondering the tactical display that had replaced the image of the Starfleet officer from Deep Space Nine. Ten Romulan starships were now orbiting Septimus III. Four thought obsolete Nova-class battleships and two Winged Defender-class cruisers were lower in orbit than the four warbirds in the classic high-guard position in higher orbit. Four more Cardassian Galor-class cruisers had joined them from their hiding positions in the local gas giant. The Cardassians were licking their wounds and repairing their ships using the resources of the colony below. The Romulan had been silent since their first verbal exchange. He had spoken with an elderly Romulan identifying himself as Admiral Tal. Captain Carter sat back in his command chair and considered contacting the infamous T'Cal Whix directly as he began to rub his chin in deep thought as he considered his options. Should he make a run for Deep Space Nine or go toward Tzenkethi space, or remain here at Septimus under the dubious watch of the Romulans and the hostile Cardassians. He was not happy with the cards fate had dealt him.

Stardate: 55078.4 - Deep Space Nine, the aftermath of the Dominion ambush

It has happened so quickly, three Jem'Hadar strike cruisers had come through the wormhole with their shields up firing immediately on the newly arrived USS Aldebaran destroying it in an instant. The Klingons had moved off to orbit Bajor itself so the station had been completely alone. By the time Brigadier Wotan had brought the Vor'cha-class attack cruiser back to the station the battle had ended, but its implication as to the current situation developing in the Cardassian Union were serious. Two separate attacks one by the Breen and the other by the Dominion within days of each other did not bode well for the already stretched thin Starfleet and Klingon forces in the area.

Admiral Selkirk slumped back in her chair defeated by the emotions of the last few hours. Her dream of the peaceful exploration of the Gamma Quadrant and the establishment of an outpost on the far end of the Bajoran Wormhole died with the attack of the Jem'Hadar. A hostile and active Dominion on the far side of the Wormhole killed any hope of her pathfinder project. Dejectedly she threw the padd she had been reading on her desk table. Admiral Ross was coming on the USS Cerberus to assume direct command of the operations here at Deep Space Nine. Undoubtedly that would mean a military incursion into the Gamma Quadrant. She squeezed the bridge of her nose in an attempt to block the growing headache. The nature of Deep Space Nine's mission had just changed from one of supporting the peaceful reconstruction of the Cardassian Union and the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant to being the forward battle command center for a new war.

 

Chapter Fourteen

Stardate: 55078.5 - USS Thunderchild leading the 27th Fleet (Mobile)

Admiral Andre Hiroshi sat in his command chair on the Flag Bridge of his Akira-class heavy cruiser. Before him on the bridge's main viewing were the images of his small fleet of rapid response ships spread out to increase their sensor capability. His four primary capital ships were together in the center using the classic diamond formation with his flagship, the Thunderchild in the trailing position. Spread out around the Thunderchild and its three sister Akira cruisers were ten other small clusters of various classes of starships forming two expanding rings. The inner ring consisted of four four-ship groups holding station at the four cardinal points relative to the Thunderchild's course at about 300,000 kilometers from the flagship. At the point position or "northern" group were four additional Akira-class heavy cruisers. The Vulcan captain Sontak commanded that group and was the fleet's vice commander. To the Thunderchild's flanks flew four additional battle groups. Furthest outboard on the port side Admiral Hiroshi had located his Norway-class light cruisers. Next inboard between the Thunderchild and the Norways were his group of aging Excelsior-class heavy cruisers. These ships he used as his core support element-carrying most of the fleet's resupply of photon torpedoes and other supplies. Next inboard on the starboard side he had placed his four agile New Orleans-class light cruisers. These ships were designed and built. during the Galaxy-class and Nebula-class test period reflecting many similar characteristics as the two larger ships. The New Orleans group was to protect the command and logistic groups if the fleet got into a brawl. Finally outboard on the starboard side he had located his six Steamrunner-class cruisers. Trailing the main battle line were two groups, his electronic warfare ships the four Nebula-class cruisers, and a trail guard of six old Miranda-class light cruisers. To the front of the main line he had three battle groups spread. To the very front and center Admiral Hiroshi had placed his group of four Nova-class light explorers to act as scouts. To their portside he had placed his first group of Saber-class escorts, to the starboard side his second and last group of Sabers. In all, of his nearly sixty-ship command, he had been able to mass forty-eight of them, the others were distributed throughout his fleet's area of responsibility. Of those ships, five were unaccounted for.

"Incoming communications sir, it's the Dreamquest of Iranon sir." Captain Laura Higgs looked back from where she was standing looking over the shoulder of Lieutenant Commander Thar Brael, their Tellarite Chief of Operations.

The compact Oriental admiral squirmed in his chair as he maneuvered his bulk to read the transmission data on his command chair's screen. "Ah this is good. Put Captain Carter on the main screen Commander." Admiral Hiroshi was of French-Japanese heritage, raised in Montreal, Canada.

The transmission was a recorded message. Admiral Hiroshi had quickly moved his fleet coreward away from Cardassian space and the invading Breen when the hostilities had erupted days earlier at maximum warp. His plan was to position his fleet so that he could flank the Breen attacking force and cut them off when the Cardassians launched their expected counter attack. His actions were necessary to trap the cloak-capable Breen. Had he stayed to engage them he was convinced they would have been able to avoid his main body. By moving his fleet quickly to the right flank of the assumed main invasion force he had hoped to get his ships completely off the Breen sensor net. Currently the 27th Fleet was closing on the Ferengi Alliance spinward border. To the fleet's portside stretched the vast unexplored Breen Frontier. The Federation had been aghast to discover just how large the territory claimed by the Breen Confederacy had been large.

Admiral Hiroshi and his senior bridge staff listened quietly as Captain Carter detailed the battle at Septimus III. The USS Iranon had done well defeating a Breen heavy cruiser and its escorts saving a Cardassian battle group. After Captain Carter's message had played out Admiral Hiroshi ask how far the fleet had moved from the Septimus system.

Lieutenant Commander Brael responded, "Admiral we are currently in the Cygni Sector passing near Mu Draconis."

"Very well bring the fleet around and make heading three-zero-zero mark zero-zero-zero, bring us to Warp Eight."

"Aye-aye sir."

Captain Higgs walked back to her seat at Admiral Hiroshi's right hand. "You've decided to move into Breen space as we discussed then?"

"Yes I think it is time to move against them. If Carter is pinned at Septimus and we haven't heard from the others at all then I have to assume that the Cardassians are being beaten back very quickly. We need to move now to divert the Breen's focus from the invasion front."

Captain Laura Higgs nodded her head in agreement. 'so we begin hitting their frontier outposts and try to draw them this direction into unclaimed space."

"Their outposts are fixed positions, their cloaks will be negated as a strategic asset," returned Admiral Hiroshi as he rubbed his bearded chin. "Captain get Commander Sanov and Commander Sin Loa on finding me some targets as we close with the Breen space. I want to start delivering some damage to them as soon as possible."

"Aye-aye sir," she said as she moved back to the tactical console to confer with Lieutenant Commander Sanov, their Vulcan Chief Tactical Officer.

Stardate: 55078.5 - Deep Space Nine

The events of the last few days had flown by leaving few of the station's personnel able to effectively deal with them. A Bajoran monk had been murdered on the station just preceding a surprise attack by four Dominion attack cruisers. In that attack the Nebula-class cruiser, USS Aldebaran, had been destroyed. The station and the Defiant had been severely damaged attack but had survived. Brigadier Wotan had moved his Klingon battle group to Bajoran orbit and had not been present when the attack had been launched. The station's Bolian first officer had been one of the score of casualties, dying on the bridge of the Defiant.

Now Rear Admiral Alexandra Selkirk sat in Quark's bar, sipping a root beer and wondering what would happen next to forestall her intended exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. Before the Dominion War she had been assigned the mission of leading the first large-scale exploration mission of the Gamma Quadrant. She had led a task force of a dozen ships through the wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant just as hostilities with the Dominion was beginning, just before the alliance with the Cardassians had become public. She her command had been ambushed by the Romulan T'Cal Whix just as she had exited the wormhole. The Romulan had been sent my his beloved Praetor to bring back the survivors of the combined Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar fleet that had been decimated by the Jem'Hadar earlier that year. For some reason she still did not know the answer too, the Romulan had turned on the Federation ships and ambushed them in the Gamma Quadrant. She had ordered her ships to disperse and fight their way back into the wormhole. The ships did not make it. Her task force was overwhelmed and captured by the Romulans. T'Cal Whix then negotiated with the Dominion for a prisoner exchange, her and her officers were exchanged for the surviving Romulans. T'Cal Whix returned to the Alpha Quadrant a hero of the Romulan people. He had retrieved their lost sons and daughters. Eventually she was returned to the Federation as an act of humanity right before the Dominion occupied the Cardassian Union. The rest of her former crew was never heard from again and are still listed as missing in action.

The attack by the four Jem'Hadar attack ships had brought all her suppressed memories flooding back, the holding cell on the prison asteroid, the endless interrogations, the torturous beatings. They all came flooding back during the attack on Deep Space Nine.

Suddenly the glass in her hand exploded from her grip. Shocked she looked around the nearly deserted bar to see if anyone had seen her. One of Quark's bartenders came over with a cloth to clean the mess she had created. She looked down to see her right hand was bleeding from two small wounds. She smiled at the bartender as she stood and exited the bar and headed toward the nearest of the station's many infirmaries. The Bajoran medic quickly cleaned and repaired the two gashes without question; there had been too many battle wounds to mend over the last few days to ask questions.

Admiral Selkirk made a decision and tapped her combadge, "Selkirk to Kaiser."

"Yes Admiral?" responded the voice of the USS Daniel Kaiser's duty operations manager.

"I am going to come back aboard, I'm relocating my staff to the Kaiser as well. I intend to return to Starbase 357 to confer with Admiral Ross. Please return from Bajor and pick me up for immediate departure."

"Yes sir, I will inform Captain Bryant immediately of your orders," replied the ops manager.

"Very good, I'll be ready to transfer when you arrive. Selkirk out." She tapped her combadge to close the connection. Admiral Selkirk then decided to make her way back to her office on station. As she walked she could not help but look at the faces of the Bajoran and Starfleet personnel moving about around her. The Dominion sneak attack had been devastating for the station's morale.

"Admiral Selkirk!" Selkirk turned to look to see who had hailed her. It was Brevet Captain Erica Strong, her new Chief of Staff. "Admiral I was just briefed by Colonel Kira, Admiral Ross is coming here to Deep Space Nine on the USS Prometheus. He is bring a combined task force of Klingon and Romulan ships with him."

"Captain I have already contacted Captain Bryant to bring the Kaiser back from Bajor to transfer too. I am going to change my strategy concerning the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. You may say I have had a revelation about our Romulan allies, a change of heart." Erica Strong arched her eyebrow as she watched her new commanding officer turn and continue in the direction that she had been before she had hailed her.

Stardate: 55078.5 - The Imperial Klingon Vessel Rayzor

"Send the recall." Captain Freya ordered his weapons officer to rally the scout ships that had entered the Gamma Quadrant before he had brought his Vor'cha-class assault. cruiser through the wormhole. He had seen the approaching Dominion attack cruisers but had opted to remain cloaked until he could bring the six scout ships together. Now he was cloaked and prowling Gamma Quadrant space.

"Captain, the Mek'leth and Dak'tagh have reported in." The weapons officer then responded to his indicator that another incoming transmission was occurring as he spoke. "That was the Bat'leth and Sy'beth. Now we are waiting for the Mek'tagh and the Epee to report."

"Humph" muttered Freya as he returned his attention to the tactical display he had ordered to the main screen. His gaze dwelled upon the icons of the two ships escorting his own Rayzor. The smaller ship was General Martok's own K'Vort-class cruiser, the Rotarran. The second vessel was the Qapmoc, a Kiting-class cruiser.

Freya then slammed his fist into the armrest communications controls on his chair, "Captain Mar'lan begin laying the Tachyon Detection Network emitters at the maw of the wormhole."

"As you wish," returned the disembodied voice of the captain of the Qapmoc.

Freya watched as the Qapmoc's icon disappeared from his tactical display. Under cloak the Rayzor's sensors were just as blind of his subordinate ships" locations as the enemy. Before the icons represented the positions of his two escorts based on their assigned stations trailing the flagship.

"Captain, all of the scouts have reported in." The weapons officer's voice interrupted his concentration.

"Good. Have them report to me in the galley when they arrive at this position." With that order Freya stood and made his way off the bridge, slapping the shoulders of his warriors as he passed them offering praise and encouragement. Slowly he made his way to the forward galley of his Vor'cha-class assault. cruiser. The Rayzor was a new ship that had joined the fighting in the Dominion War only weeks before the final assault. on Cardassia Prime. The new Rayzor was nearly 500 meters in length boasting a crew of almost 2,000 warriors. The name "Rayzor" had belonged to an older D-7 battle cruiser commanded by Brigadier Wotan's father, General Marok decades earlier. It was a tribute to the Brigadier's confidence in him to give him the command of this particular vessel.

Freya walked boldly into the galley that he had designated as his meeting place for the captains of his scout ships. He greeted each of the warriors, men and women both, as they left the room with a slap on the shoulder or a growl of recognition as they passed. As he watched the last warrior pass the threshold of the galley entrance saw his approaching Battle Captain, or as the Starfleeters would call him, the Strategic Operations Officer.

"Captain the scouts are all here, the ship captains will be arriving on board shortly as ordered." Captain Karn stepped into the galley with him to allow the sliding door to close.

"Good," Freya walked over to the metal keg of blood wine as the junior officer followed him. He continued to listen as he poured himself a tankard of the mildly toxic alcohol. "Have you decided which of these Dominion spoiled worlds we will survey first for our forward base of operations?"

"The Federation will seize the first inhabitable world nearest the wormhole to build their forward outpost. The Bajorans will most undoubtedly try to reestablish their massacred colony of New Bajor also if for no other reason than to serve their Prophets."

Captain Freya turned around and scowled at his Battle Captain, "What are you then suggesting Captain Karn? That we ask permission from the Bajorans or Starfleet to establish a base somewhere here in the Gamma Quadrant?"

"No Captain. The Federation in the past moved their ships toward the Dominion's border from the maw of the wormhole. I would suggest that we move away from the direction of the Dominion toward the Chamra Vortex, in the opposite direction. We could use the mass of the nebula to hide our activities, and we would have the Federation and the Romulan outposts as early warning alarms if the Dominion decides to contest our moves in the quadrant."

"A sound move Karn, I admire your ability to keep the strategic objectives in mind. Once I get the required oath of loyalty from the scout captains I will order them to move toward the Chamra Vortex."

[By Anthony Campbell]

The Praetor's Hand

T'Cal Whix, Field Primus of the Romulan Imperial Navy stood on the command bridge of his flagship the Imperial Winged Defender Shadow Walker gazing outward at the glittering stars. The Imperial Nova Class Battle Carrier Stormbringer swung in a graceful arc as she deployed her forty Wraith-class Swarmships. The small attack vessels flitted around their mothership, the black and grey patterns of feathers on the underside blending into the darkness of space. They formed a diamond attack formation and cloaked disappearing as one as they made a mock attack run on the Ar-Pharazon, her sister Carrier. The Primus smiled as he watched the attack begin, gauging the effectiveness of the attack in his head even as the readouts began their spew of data to Command Center. One of the many busy Crewmembers turned from the communications station

"Lord Primus, incoming transmission from Commander Telaron, Sector Fleet 287." She looked at the Field Primus awaiting his words, as his gaze became thoughtful.

"Send it to my Personal screen, Centurion." He said.

"Yes my Lord." She stated as she activated the viewer in his Office. T'Cal entered his war room and sat in a large chair. He swung toward the screen and engaged the main viewer. A stark-faced Romulan appeared bearing the sash and insignia of a Fleet Commander. He had a small scar on his face, given in personal combat with a Borg Drone during the Empire's struggle many years back.

"Field Primus T'Cal, my forces are within a days travel at warp from your position. I have orders to place my fleet at your disposal. I have also brought reinforcements direct from home fleet, to include two Direfalcon Class Warbirds from your House shipyards on Redava. It appears that after the deaths of many of your enemies in the Imperial Senate they have found time to answer your requests. I bear an Imperial Warrant direct from the Praetor. With it you are to consolidate our presence here on the frontier. The new Praetor is not pleased with the events out here on the borderlands. He has seen the threat of the Breen Confederation and its danger to the Empire and its allies. More aid is on the way here and he is confident that you shall bring the situation to fruitful conclusion. I have taken command of this fleet from Fleet Commander Yorlik. He is even now on his way to Homeworld to answer charges of Treason." He said with a dark smile on his lips.

T'Cal smiled back. "So it seems my old friend that they still do not want me to return to home space at this most delicate time." He said as he poured a glass of pale green ale from a small carafe. He drank deeply, and continued. "This I knew…as the new Praetor promised me these "Requisitions" in exchange for my support in his bid for the Imperial Throne. In exchange, I promised that I would not return with my fleet to "Cleanse" the homeworld and turn Remus into a pile of molten slag. He assured me that Remans responsible would be terminated and that they would once again know their place as loyal subjects of the Empire." He said as he rotated the glass in his hand. "I shall see you then in a days time, my friend, until then be alert. The Breen are pressuring the Cardassian forces all over the region. Soon they will face us in open battle, and they will know what death is at the hands of the Imperial Navy." The Primus said rising. "Hail the Praetor! Glory to the Empire!" He said bringing his fist up to his chest.

"For the Praetor, and victory my Lord Primus!" The old Romulan said as he brought his own fist to his chest. The transmission ended. T'Cal sat for a moment in thought and then began forming a message to Legate Jak'Karr of the Cardassian Union. "Old Friend, Once again we can join together to defeat those who would destroy us…" The Field Primus continued even as his fleet continued their drilling…preparing for the Conflict to come….

T'Cal Whix smiled as his personal Shuttle made its way around the New Dire Falcon Class Warbirds. The Remans weren't the only ones building ships in secret. These Warbirds were the next generation of the Winged Defender Class style warship. Three times bigger than their predecessor, They mounted a vast array of long range heavy disruptors, quantum torpedo launchers, and T'Cal's dream made real, four RPL-XIV, the newest plasma weapons developed by the Romulan Navy. Their new generation of hulls shimmered with armor, a dense form of plates formed from pure neutronium, first encountered by the Federation starship Enterprise on an ancient "Doomsday" weapon. The Romulans discovered a dormant vessel not long after, and the Imperial Scientists had been working on a form of it ever since. This was the fruit of their labors. The thin but heavy plates augmented the Hull and the frame of the powerful ships.

The Primus enjoyed their beauty, their strength, and the fact that they had come from his own family's shipyards. He stood as the shuttle entered the docking bays. His many campaign medals glistening, but none more prominent than the Imperial Great Comet, Showing his unswerving service to the Empire, the greatest award a Romulan could ever achieve. The massive bays held troop transports of Imperial Romulan soldiers. An Honor guard of one hundred of the stoic men was lined up along the bay. He walked from the open door onto the deck; Commander Telaron awaited him with his staff. The troops all saluted as the Commander raised his arm to his chest "Be welcome aboard the Praetor's blade my Lord Primus. T'Cal's formidable mind powers sifted over the soldiers as He passed them in review…Tasting their surface thoughts…Looking for a possible Changeling in their midst. He smiled as found nothing but fierce loyalty…loyalty to the Empire and to his house…Yes at last he had the tools, now he would return the Empire to its rightful place in ascendance…."Show me my "Gifts" Fleet Commander…I am awash in anticipation…." He said as he paced proudly to the lift doors at the end of the bay.

[Provided by Doomhunk@aol.com]

Stardate: 55077.9 - USS Unification in close proximity to the Vegan Tyranny Artifact

On the bridge of the Unification, there was a definite buzz of surprise and anticipation in the air. More than one of the bridge station crew had caught their breath at first sight of the huge planetoid, and were still sighing heavily and shaking their heads, especially after the mention of Don Q.

"Captain, the physical and atmospheric conditions on the surface of the planetoid are hostile, there is no surface atmosphere. Conditions similar to those encountered on the surface of Earth's moon." responded Nevik in his encyclopedic fashion. "Sensors at present give no indication of the interior of the planetoid." Nevik paused, and glanced at the Captain. "Sir, it would appear to be a most fascinating construct. The inclusion of a senior science officer in the away team would be most wise."

"Thank you, Mr. Nevik. I shall consider your advice." Captain Paul drummed his fingers for just a few seconds before nodding. "Yes, you will accompany the away team."

Darmstadt raised an eyebrow. "Away team composition, Captain?"

Captain Paul swallowed and frowned. "Yourself and Mr. Romero must remain onboard. You will take my role while I am absent, and Mr. Romero will be your second."

Kentaro straightened up from his screens and sounded a loud "Aye-aye Sir!" and then did a little punch the air and grinned around at the bridge.

Darmstadt tried not to react at this surprise assignment, and could not help noticing Helmsman Cato's look of disgust, as Captain Paul continued: "Lt. Jola Batir will keep communication channels open between the away team and the bridge."

"Aye-aye sir," came the very swift reply from Batir.

"And try to get a message through to Starfleet to find out what they know about this construct and how it got here. On the slight chance of any Andorian communications, get some input from Cato." The Andorian nodded briskly at Batir. Turning to Darmstadt, Paul continued, "The away team will consist of myself, Mr. Nevik, Lt. Goran of course plus Mr. Brenton from security, Dr Marik-Torus, Mr. Williams, and Mr. P'Taan. Don't frown, Mr. Darmstadt. See to it that they are ready in ten minutes." He tapped his communicator. "Mr. Murphy, how are our power readings? You haven't noticed any fluctuations? Keep your eyes open for any strangeness."

In the engine rooms, Murphy acknowledged the captain and smiled, calling to Arrain who was checking warp core readings. "Cap'n says to be wary of power spikes and gremlins in the cables" he grinned. She smiled weakly back, and returned to the readings. Murphy watched her as she went about her work, and shrugged. He knew a little about her past, something about being captured by the Borg, which probably accounted for her vacant stare and affinity with the drives. But it never stopped him from trying to make her smile. "Gremlins" he shouted, half to her, half to the engines.

On the bridge, Darmstadt waited until Paul had finished briefing before detaining him an extra minute. "Captain, sir, with the possibility of cybernetic presence, and the degree of unknown elements in this...puzzle, I request that you let Mr. Nevik remain on board to assist with whatever scientific data we may be processing from whatever you are facing."

Captain Paul looked at his hands for a moment and breathed slowly. "Very well. I shall. Lt. Arrain will take Nevik's place. Mt Nevik!" The Vulcan looked up from his readings. "You will remain here to assist with data processing." Nevik nodded, and looked at Darmstadt for a moment before returning to his data screens.

"And sir, do you think it could be the Borg? Or something like them?" Andreas was surprised at the swiftness of Paul's reply.

"There is nothing like the Borg Mr. Darmstadt."

Darmstadt winced. "I mean, sir, are you sure that you should go? I'll gladly take your place."

"This is not Wolf 359 -" started Paul tensely, and then shook his head and smiled regretfully. "What I mean, Andreas, is that you are starting to sound like P'Taan." Paul looked quizzically at him until both were smiling. "I'll be fine," reassured the Captain, "and all the better for your having asked. The ship needs you. And I need to know why Q has led me here."

Ten minutes later in the transporter room the away team was present and ready. Nevik was manning the transporter controls, and was apparently attentive to them. "Well then, let us meet with whatever tyrants we can find within this Vegan Tyranny," smiled Captain Paul, nodding to Nevik to proceed.

"Although your statement is somewhat rhetorical," replied Nevik calmly, "I must remind you that the term "tyrant" as derived from your ancient Terran societies of city-states around the region known as Greece, does not have the negative connotations that later modern Terran societies added to it. A "tyrant", for example, the famous "Tyrant of Athens", was merely a charismatic leader of society. I therefore suggest to you that any meetings with tyrants may be far less aggressive than previously believed."

There was a fizzing sound, and then seven souls were dematerialized from the Unification. On the bridge Darmstadt noted their departure, tried to put the faces of the Captain and P'Taan out of his mind, and took a deep breath.

 

Chapter Fifteen

Stardate: 55077.95 USS Unification in close proximity to the Vegan Tyranny Artifact

Seven vacuum-suited officers materialized in what initially appeared to them to be a large impact crater on a lunar surface surrounded by Everest-like peaks. In reality after closer examination by the five men and two women the distant crater rim was actually a constructed surface and the distant spires incredibly tall buildings. "Alright ladies and gentlemen, lets move out." Slowly the seven began their trek across the Artifact's surface. Captain Paul surveyed the distant horizon through the clear visor of his suit helmet. Each of the suits was reflective white except for their padded abdomens, which were the color of the wearer's service division. Captain Paul and Lieutenant Goran's suits sported red chest pads, Lieutenant Arrain and Ensign Brenton wore gold chest pads, while Doctor Marik-Torus, Lieutenant P'Taan, and Lieutenant Harry Williams wore blue chest pads.

"How far are we from the edge of this area?" Lieutenant Goran's brutish voice cut the near silence caused by the isolation of wearing a vacuum suit.

"Just over three kilometers," responded Williams holding his tricorder to his front and sweeping in a wide arc to electronically survey where they were all heading.

"Just a walk in the park," Doctor Marik-Torus chuckled between breaths as he huffed at the physical exertion.

"Are you picking up any sign of an environment yet?" Lieutenant Nasreen Arrain's voice reflected her seriousness concerning the task ahead of them.

"Negative Lieutenant, there is still trace gaseous elements leaking from the lower levels, no life forms although the metallic nature of the environment does continue to reduce the range and accuracy of my readings." Lieutenant Williams then directed his tricorder's scanning toward the surface they were walking on.

"What are the trace gases?" queried Captain Paul.

"Methane, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, argon, and very little, almost no pure oxygen," returned Lieutenant Williams.

"Methane?" interjected Doctor Marik-Torus, "Don't the Breen breath Methane?"

"No, Doctor the Breen breath oxygen like we do," stated Williams.

Doctor Marik-Torus snorted a quipped "Really?"

"However they do have a different physiology than most humanoids in the quadrant. They do not have internal organs the same way most species do," explained Williams. "At normal temperatures that most humanoids are comfortable at they burst and evaporate away."

"Captain, I am picking up structural indications of a doorway or gate of some kind," interrupted Lieutenant Arrain.

The seven Starfleet officers stopped to listen to the directions that Lieutenant Arrain gave, she pointed about ten degrees off the course they had been heading on across the artificial crater. They easily made out the outline of the structure in the base of the towering rim wall. It was indeed some type of service or garage door based on the size.

"Captain, I believe this is some type of landing pit; look at the other door-like structures ringing the crater's perimeter? I believe this was a vehicle landing facility," explained Williams.

Captain Paul rotated at his waste to survey the entire rim. "I think you're right, Harry." He then resumed leading the party toward the newly identified service entrance. As they approached the edge of the rim the true height of the wall was realized.

Lieutenant Nasreen Arrain estimated the walls of the crater were hundreds of meters high. They all stood before the door examining it centimeter by centimeter. "No sign of a mechanical control to operate the door sir," the Iranian engineer said as she lowered her tricorder.

"What is on the other side of this wall?" Captain Paul asked.

"Vacuum sir, no atmosphere," returned Harry Williams. He stepped closer to the wall using his tricorder, "Sir, I am reading some type of instrumentality but I also can not detect any mechanical means of operating the door."

In the vacuum of space no one heard the whine of the phaser as the red-orange beam splashed against the gargantuan metallic door. Everyone scattered seeking cover where none was to be found as Captain Paul turned to see the origin of the phaser attack. Standing with feet spread to steady his aim stood Lieutenant Goran, the Unification's Klingon exchange officer and acting Chief of Security. To angry to speak Captain Paul turned to look back at the door, now standing with a man-sized hole in it. Beyond the still glowing maw was utter darkness.

Stardate: 55078.6 - Orbiting Bajor

The Imperial Klingon vessel Okkam orbited the blue-green world of Bajor majestically. Slowly the K'Vort-class cruiser Rotarran and the K'tinga-class Qapmoc pulled up slowly behind the much larger Vor'cha-class assault cruiser, each taking a wing position behind the flagship of the Tenth Expeditionary Fleet.

"The butlh has gone where?" growled Brigadier Wotan to his escorting staff communications officer.

"Commander Strong has fled to the Starfleet station here in system my lord," the female Klingon lieutenant answered.

Suddenly Wotan spun and struck the woman squarely in the chest driving her backward on to the metal deck grating. He then yelled so violently that spittle sprayed the passageway from his passion. Then standing over the stunned officer he ordered, "Bring Commander Gerhron to me at once!" Scrambling backward and getting to her feet the Klingon lieutenant acknowledged Wotan's command and hurried off down the dimly lit passageway toward the flagship's bridge. Wotan stood and allowed the anger and frustration to bleed from him, slowly he calmed himself and cleared his thoughts. He should have anticipated Stone's loyalty to her people and to Starfleet. Allowing one last growl he turned and continued down the passageway himself, also returning to the bridge.

As he entered the bridge Wotan scowled at each of the watch members in turn beginning with the engineering station watch stander then he moved his murderous glare to the life support systems officer, then the senior officer manning the helm. As he crossed to his command chair he met the stare of the weapons officer on the ship's starboard side who held the glare for of his commanding officer knowing to look away would loose his respect. Then Wotan kicked the back of his heavily padded command chair to spin it around for him to set in it. As he spun his chair back to facing forward he pounded the ship intercom button on his left armrest, "Lieutenant Kashe report to me on the bridge."

It did not take long for the senior lieutenant to make his way to the Okkam's command bridge. He walked to the left side of the command chair, as is the custom for reporting to a senior officer. All the eyes of the bridge watch officers and crew were on him as he approached Brigadier Wotan warning him to brace himself.

"Brigadier you summoned me?" he calmly asked his senior officer.

Wotan laughed his customary laugh, then as a bolt of lightning; the large Klingon had gotten up out of his command chair and shoved Lieutenant Kashe into the portside bulkhead. Holding his head with both hands he moved his own face a mere centimeters from Kashe's so that the other officers present could not easily hear their conversation.

"The Earther has defected back to Starfleet," Wotan hissed into his ear. "She knows of my plans. She will betray me to the Federation pugh." The Brigadier tightened his grip on Kashe's head as he twisted it ever so slightly to put pressure on the younger Klingon's neck muscles.

"You can use this to your advantage my…" Kashe's voice was cut short by a sudden twist of his head.

"Whisper targ or you'll die here where you stand," whispered Wotan, his foul breath permeating the air that Kashe was now gasping for.

Now whispering Kashe continued, "My lord…I would suggest we this opportunity to gain access to Admiral Selkirk. Take her into you confidence."

"Choose your next words carefully for they may be your last Kashe," Wotan warned in a very low but determined voice.

"My lord, the Bajorans are known to be seeking membership in the Federation, if we approach them now with an offer to serve the Empire they will decline. But if we approach them as allies and friends of the Federation they may be more accepting in hopes that their aid will make them more attractive to the Federation and thus ease their way." Kashe whispered.

Wotan eased his grip on the younger Klingon's jaw and throat, "Tell me more."

"Commander Strong could not violate her oath to Starfleet." Kashe began anew, "All she knows is that you are interested in developing closer ties to the Bajorans, she does not know to what lengths you are prepared to go to secure a base of operations within the Bajoran Wormhole's system." As Wotan eased his grip on the young Klingon's throat both me straightened up. Kashe rubbed his now raw neck and then continued, "I will discredit Commander Strong; make it appear she was overcome by the stress of working on a Klingon warship. I will also investigate Admiral Selkirk more carefully and determine if there is any way to gain control of her as an operative."

Wotan now laughed openly, "You're going to recruit a Starfleet admiral as an agent?"

Slowly Kashe pushed himself off the bulkhead and to his full height, "Yes my lord, what better intelligence source than one of their admirals?"

Wotan released Kashe and turned to return to his command chair. Once seated he rotated it to face Kashe who still stood where he had been pinned by the Brigadier. Wotan slowly stroked his mustache as he pondered Kashe's suggestion. "Eighty years ago a Federation admiral had been used by General Chang in his bid for power and it brought him death and dishonor."

"If I may, sir, death was caused by the interference of a legendary Earth captain named James T. Kirk, not because of the betrayal of the Starfleet admiral," offered Lieutenant Kashe.

Wotan straightened his back and firmly held his two armrests assuming a regal position as the monarch of his command, "Lieutenant begin this task, your honor and your life are forfeit if you fail me, if you fail the Empire."

Lieutenant Kashe snapped to attention and smashed his right fist into the armor on his chest, "Yes my lord." Then the young officer quickly made his exit from the bridge to begin marshaling his resources for the new task at hand.

"My lord," the voice of the on duty communication crewman drew Wotan's eyes from the departing intelligence officer's back.

"Speak."

"My lord, I am receiving a coded transmission from the Ada garrison commander," reported the warrior.

"Put it on the screen." Wotan ordered as he swiveled his command chair to face the main viewing screen at the very front of the bridge.

The haggard appearance of a older Klingon warrior replaced the red triangular grid that normally occupied the main screen. "Hail Wotan, son of Moark."

"Commander Kortov, I hope you have good news to report for a change," responded Wotan resuming his notorious smile.

"I do Brigadier, your allies in the Empire have not abandoned you, at least no yet anyway." Both Klingons sneered at the older warrior's comment of the state of current Klingon domestic politics.

"What news Kortov, what have you done for me?" Wotan's toothy grin betrayed his hope that his recent fortunes were only temporary.

"General Karnan has responded to your call for support. He has promised to send you retired warships scheduled to be scrapped because of their war wounds being too severe to merit repair and return to duty."

"What!" Wotan is again brought to his feet in disbelief. "What good will a squadron of derelicts do me?"

"Brigadier Wotan, the ships are being taken off the active duty rolls. They will no longer be tracked by the High Command," Kortov smiled as he saw recognition appear on the face of his warlord.

"How many starships will we receive?" Wotan asked as he retook his seat.

"Potentially as many as fifty. Varied classes also, everything from Birds of Prey to heavy transports."

"With need of extensive repairs correct?"

"Yes sir, all of them will be severely damaged but with intact hulls."

"Weapons and shields?"

"Those that have survived the war will be left in place," replied a broadly smiling Kortov.

"Well done Commander Kortov, very well done."

Commander Kortov slightly bowed his head, "Success my lord."

"Success to us all!" Brigadier Wotan smashed his right fist into his chest armor saluting all his warriors' efforts on his behalf.

Wotan sat back in his command chair, his legs spread wide as he reclined in thought. Currently the resources of his command; the Tenth Expeditionary Fleet, consisted of twenty-seven warships. Chancellor Martok had been generous in allowing him to have a reasonable mix of starships. Of his three Vor'cha-class attack cruisers, he had deployed one in the Gamma Quadrant while holding two here in the Bajor system. He reflected on the deployment of his remaining eight cruiser, scout, and support squadrons training near Ada. The additional ships that his long time ally, General Karnan, had arranged would be a huge asset if they were not to greatly damaged, the Ada garrison had been a forward staging base during both the Cardassian-Klingon War and for a short time near the close of the Dominion War. His Ada garrison could handle moderate battle damage. Any ship that could make if from the Empire to Ada under its own power could not be too badly damaged. Wotan smiled to himself with his back to his crew. He could hear the crewmen working behind him as he sat facing the main viewing screen.

"Communications!" he shouted over his shoulder without looking back, "I want to speak to Captain Tor immediately."

"Yes my lord."

"I wish to confer with the good captain." Wotan smiled as he said the last statement quietly to himself.

Stardate: 55078.6 - The 287th Command Fleet or the "Praetor's Hand" orbiting Septimus

Tal Diann Legate Telaron stood before the main viewing screen considering the blue-green planet turning below his Star Command Fleet. Immediately to his front sat the flagship's pilot. To either side worked teams of weapons officers and tactical specialists. Slowly he turned and bowed his recognition to the ship's female commander of the Dire Falcon-class Imperial Warbird, the Black Sword, flagship of his coalition fleet. Commander Tal Narus acknowledged his departure from the command center and gracefully rose to follow him into the tactical conference center. As the pair walked down the staircase into the oversized room, it seemed odd being on an Imperial warship. The cavernous tactical conference center appeared to be a tremendous waste of space. The room resembled a great hall more appropriate on the surface of a world at a noble's estate rather than here. Legate Telaron moved to stand in the approximate center of the great room. Commander Tal Narus walked over to stand behind a console to the left of the grand staircase. As she began manipulating the controls the slate gray walls of the hall faded to be replaced by an awe-inspiring hologram of the fleet moving through space.

Legate Telaron stood with his hands grasped behind his back as he admired the lines of his fleet. The floor of the great hall remained visible giving him a frame of reference as he stepped nearer to where Commander Tal Narus stood, "I would like to examine the Black Sword more closely Commander."

"As you wish Legate," replied Tal Narus as she began to manipulate the hologram controls. From the point of observation in high orbit the image zoomed into the lead ship in the massive formation. The Black Sword had taken its name from the dark plates of neutronium that covered the ship's outer hull. The Black Sword was the first in a new series of Dire Falcon class warbirds currently being designed by the Imperial Navy. The huge starship was a multipurpose starship, a prototype that combined the capabilities of an entire squadron into one warship. Telaron's attention was attracted to a flight of swarmships flying close enough to the Black Sword to be included in the holographic image. The Black Sword carried an entire wing of the small swarmships. Prior to the Dominion War the Romulan Star Navy had abandoned the use of small tactical fighters and has built its naval tactics around the use of large capital-class warships, the warbird classes being the pinnacle of this doctrine. During the war the Romulan Ground Force had taken horrendous losses because of the lack of close orbit and surface support it had received from the Star Navy. Of the 500,000 Romulan soldiers that had been sent to war against the Dominion's ground forces only 190,000 returned. The Dire Falcon was the Navy's answer to this problem, but it had been finished too late to deploy during the war. Now the second in the Dire Falcon series, the Black Sword was leading the relief fleet moving into the Cardassian Theater of Operations.

During the Dominion War the Praetor had placed one of his most trusted lieutenants in the military intelligence arm of the Star Navy, the Tal Diann, in supreme command of the Cardassian Theater of Operations. Prime Legate Velal organized the many Command and Senatorial fleets assigned to the theater into a unified command subordinate to the Tal Diann. Command and control of the unified fleet fell to the able hands of a special war council that served as his executive council. Operationally the war council created three supreme war fleets under the command of Tal Diann legates. Each of the Tal Diann legates commanded between 275 to 350 capital class warships. With nearly a thousand warships were deployed five 100,000 strong legions of Imperial troops. Due to the losses incurred during the war Prime Legate Velal ordered the consolidation of the surviving forces into one war fleet to remain on guard in the Cardassian Theater of Operations.

To command the reorganized fleet Prime Legate Velal had surprised everyone by selecting a Senatorial fleet commander, Field Primus T'Cal Whix. Legate Telaron's current mission was to deliver the new frontier defense fleet to the capable hands of T'Cal Whix, for use in securing the Romulan Empire's most distant border.

Now trailing behind the Black Sword followed 250 various ships organized into three "avara" or centuries of warships. The fifty ships of the Prime Wing included the fleet's command and control as well as support ships organized around a battle phalanx of the two Dire Falcon dreadnoughts and ten D'deridex and newer Vereleus warbirds. Each of the other two avaras consisting of one hundred warships of various classes dominated by the D'valek and T'rasus-classes of starbirds led by warbird flagships in ten-ship Command Wings. All told the Praetor's Hand or more officially, the 287th Command Fleet, fielded 20 tactical Command Wings and 5 Assault Wings. Distributed within the fleet was a single legion of the famous Tal Shiva, or Imperial Marines, 100,000 troopers strong.

Commander Tal Narus' voice cut through the concentration Telaron had wrapped himself in. "Who is this Field Primus T'Cal that Prime Legate Velal trusts him with the command of this fleet?"

"He is a patrician from the Whix family on Redava. He has been a player in Senate politics for a number of years. He also established himself as an able commander on the trailing borders during numerous encounters with Borg probes. He is notorious for his preference of our culture's classical era. He is himself a throw back to that simpler time presenting him self as some kind of nobleman or knight of the empire. He is known for his opposition to negotiations and compromise with the Federation and Klingons. He has often stated that the Klingons can not be trusted among themselves much less than by Romulans. He sees the Federation and humans in particular as naïve and a nuisance to be dominated rather than taken seriously. He embarrassed the Federation by supporting the ascendance of Legate Jak'Karr to head of state of the Cardassian provisional government immediately after the fall of Cardassia Prime to the Alliance. The Cardassian legate allied the new government to the Romulans and ignored the Federation and Klingons until the Detapa Council was formed and sought a more conservative political future for the Cardassian people." Legate Telaron smiled back at the striking Tal Narus, "Shift the view to our new commander's personal senatorial fleet."

The image of the Black Sword faded and returned as a view of a small cluster of battle scared Cardassian and older model Romulan ships, and a single heavily damaged Excelsior-class Starfleet cruiser orbiting blow them in a closer orbit to the surface of Septimus. The feline laugh of Tal Narus brought Telaron's gaze back to her. "He conquered the Cardassian Empire with those ships? He is either the Romulan people's greatest soldier or their greatest fool."

"Actually, many on both sides of the Romulan Neutral Zone think he is both," returned Telaron then lowering his voice, "And I am one of them."

 


Proceed to Part IV

 

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