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In Harm's Way - Part IV by Epsilon Station

Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

 

Chapter Sixteen


Situation report
(based on Star Trek Star Charts by Geoffrey Mandel)

Stardate: 55078. 5 - Somewhere in Breen Territory

Tha'thot Pran of Bota Rez stood in the Chamber of Decision and looked about the assemblage of officers of thot grade. He was one of them, had been one of them for many decades. They had chosen him to lead the military expedition to aid the Dominion Founders in their conquest of the Cardassian Union and the Federation. Slowly he held up both his purplish-blue arms to silence the august group of leaders.

"Brothers and sisters, followers of the Truth. I present myself to you this day to seek further support as the supreme commander of our military efforts now in progress along our trailing borders, I seek a vote of confidence for my continuance as the Tha'thot." He paused to watch the expressions on the faces of his peers in reaction to his words.

"I will speak," the deep voice of Thot Glar or Dosa Ghen cut the silence of the room like a disruptor bolt. All faces turned to the elder leader of the council. "I would draw everyone's attention to the fact that Thot Dos of Xilk Tre is absent from this august meeting." Thot Glar also waited in response to the whispered conversations that suddenly swept the room. When they subsided he continued, "Is that because the brot'kar of the Xilk Tre has already taken actions outside the tha'thot? Does this body of senior officers, this high war council or our chosen representative Thot Pran of Bota Rez not mean anything?" It is obvious that the elder Thot Glar is in pain as he makes his way to the center of the cavernous Chamber of Decision. Then standing beside Thot Pran he continued, "This man, this leader, represented us at the Battle of Cardassia Prime. Had not the lizard Cardassians betrayed their oath to the Dominion of allegiance we would be standing in the Supreme Secretariat of the Federation right now." Thot Glar paused for the laughter that flooded the chamber. "I have reviewed both the digital records of the battle as well as read the accounts of many of us that are here today that were present at the battle. Including the official record of Thot Pran. Had it not been for the Cardassian treachery we would not be here today, we would all be taken our fair share of the spoils of victory in Federation space." Again Thot Glar was forced to pause due to the outcry of the assemblage.

Changing track Thot Glar drew the attention of the assembled leadership of the Breen military to the fact that one of their number of missing. "Following the Battle of Cardassia the Federation Starfleet transported the Dominion's tha'thot or war chief to the Bajoran space station called Deep Space Nine. There, isolated from her staff and advisors, she was forced to sign a treaty, the so-called Treaty of Bajor that unconditionally surrendered Dominion forces acting within the Alpha Quadrant. The Jem'Hadar were taken into custody and disarmed. Our forces were given time to withdraw back into our territory - intact." Thot Glar walked to stand beside Thot Pran and slapped him heartily on the back. "This single man through his negotiation skills, insured not one Breen warrior was taken in to custody to stand before a Starfleet or Romulan judge to receive punishment for his or her actions during the war. The same can not be said for our Jem'Hadar friends, or from what my sources tell me even the Cardassians even though they handed the Battle of Cardassia to the Federation and its allies."

At this point Thot Glar walked to the edge of the Sphere of Speech to address the assemblage in a more personal manner. "Thot Dos of Xilk Tre openly seeks your support as the new tha'thot of our war fleets, our brot'kar. He has complained that we were denied our rightful spoils as compensation for the losses taken in battle to rebuild our state war fleets. He has sought the council and support of the august clans of Kethu Dar, Yec Tanta, Pej Roak, and my own Dosa Ghen, which is a wise and just course of action on his part. But what is not wise is to take his own clan's brot'kar independently into Cardassian space to take spoils for himself. He is not here because he is in Cardassian space in contempt of our agreement with the Federation not to seek retribution!" Thot Glar stopped to point as specific thots that are seated near the front of the Seats of Listening. "By taking his entire brot'kar into Cardassian space he runs the risk of making the Federation and the Romulans believe we are all in support of his actions. The Earthers and Romulans will believe that we, the Breen People are in full support of renewed military action against the Federation or the Romulan Empire. They will not see the movement of the hundreds of ships belonging to the Dosa Ghen as small commerce raid, they will see it as an invasion."

Then turning to his long time friend and political ally Thot Glar makes the anticipated announcement. "I give my personal support and the support of Clan Dosa Ghen to Pran of Bota Rez to remain our Tha'thot and charge him to prepare our clans for battle with the Federation and the Romulan Empire if they invade our sovereign space." The Chamber of Decision erupted in applause as one after another of the Breen chieftains to show personal support for the leadership of Thot Pran.

Pran raised his hands to request silence from the assembled body. "I accept your vote of confidence in my leadership in this time of crisis. I pledge, as I have before to not squander either the lives of your sons and daughters, or the ships of your independent clan war fleets. I pledge to you that I will seek what is justly ours, and I will always keep in mind the greater good of our people, our clans, and our common commerce when deciding on a course of action. I will not set the needs and desires of Clan Dosa Ghen over those of the community. But hear me, I will not sacrifice the needs and desires of the Dosa Ghen either. I will provide in exchange for your support." The overwhelming applause and calls of support forced Thot Pran to stop. Finally as members of the council left their seats to come to personally congratulate him it became apparent to all that the assembly was at an end and the Thot Pran had received his conformation of continued command of the combined war fleets of the Breen.

Tha'thot Pran collapsed on the metal bench of the reception room while his aides ushered his most loyal supporters back into the hallway. He was exhausted but excited by the level of support he had received in the Chamber of Decision. He rubbed the sides of his face, massaging the fibers of his flesh that worked as muscles in other humanoid species. The ice crystals that had formed on the metal bench stimulated the sensory organelles in his near naked flesh refreshing him. His thoughts drifted to the customs and environments of the species that dominated the trailing regions of the Alpha Quadrant. Breen were forced to wear their cumbersome refrigeration suits when outside their native environments. Since their movement into space and the exploration and expansion movement, Breen fashion had evolved a philosophy of "Less is More." What would be considered as being skimpy by other cultures was accepted as the norm on Breen worlds, the purple hairless, non-mammalian bodies of the Breen were described as mannequin-like by the species that had actually seen them outside their heavily layered refrigeration suits. Esthetically, the Breen were a handsome species physically. Their purple bodies were all to a person streamlined and well defined. The features of both the males and females were not sharp but subdued and pleasant to look upon although they appeared to be thin or emaciated to most other species.

"Tha'thot, Thot Narn is here to see you." Pran's aide brought him back to reality. Standing behind the aide was Pran's Chief of Information and long time clan brother.

"You look fatigued, have you just arrived?" inquired Pran.

"Yes Tha'thot, I have not absorbed nutrients in quite some time," smiled back the younger man.

"Come join me, I was about to refresh myself before you arrived." Together both Breen senior officers moved to the nutrient bath in the adjacent room. As Thot Narn deposited his bag and sash of office on a stool Pran waded into the dark gray sludge pool and reclined in the nutrients.

Narn carried a data display device into the pool and handed it to Pran before reclining himself. Pran scanned the data retrieved from the Keep of Information quietly while his friend absorbed his meal. Finally after a few minutes Pran asked, "Narn are these Ferengi figures correct, the Cardassians lost over sixty percent of their armed forces in the War?"

"Yes Pran, the Dominion was keeping with their agreement with us to reduce the Cardassian military to the point that our occupation would be effortless." Narn slid over to view the data display held by Pran. Once our alliance with the Founders was fully negotiated the Cardassian troops were transferred to the front lines and repeatedly placed in a position to be reduced in strength quickly. My Ferengi contacts estimate that of the twelve military Orders, combined they are now only able to field forty percent of their former strength."

Pran asked, "Are the rumors true, the field commanders are not respecting the Cardassian tha'thot's orders to reconsolidate and regroup?"

Narn shook his head vigorously, "Yes, our cloaked electronic surveillance ships are receiving indications that the surviving commanders of the Orders are ignoring Legate Jak'Karr's order to assemble at Cardassia Prime. Also just as you predicted the animals in the Tzenkethi Coalition are massing their ships on their Cardassian borders too." Narn then laughed his subdued laugh, "The Ferengi are most nervous about the Tzenkethi cat-men because for them to expand into Cardassian space would cut them off from any future profits to float to the surface in the ruins."

"The trolls are nothing if not consistent." Pran joined his friend in laughing at the Ferengi's expense. "What of the Breezi? What has their ambassador offered us today?"

"The insectoid is as hard to read today as she is every day. It is a blessing that the insects' telepathy does not work on us; otherwise they would be our masters as they are every other species spinward of us. She still does not see the benefit of an alliance with us in a move against the Trailing Species. The Breezi are content to expand at their scheduled rate. We are fortunate indeed that they require warm planets or our empires would be in direct competition."

"True enough my good friend, now back to the matters at hand. Tell me more of our Cardassian neighbors and what the Ferengi have learned for us."

"Your assessment that they are on the verge of civil war is correct. The Detapa Council has sided with the Federation seeking immediate economic and industrial aid, however Legate Jak'Karr and his militarists are concerned with the security situation along their spinward frontier. My contacts all agree that the word on Cardassia is that the Romulan thot named T'Cal has returned promising continued Romulan support for his government."

"For Legate Jak'Karr's government?" interrupted Pran.

"Yes. This is significant because the Romulans provided three of their brot'kar war fleets to the war effort against the Dominion. We have monitored what we believe the return of at least one of them back to our borders moving between Ferenginar and our space a few days ago."

"Their war fleets are much larger than ours, they have three times our numbers to each fleet. Over three hundred warships in a Romulan war fleet is there not?" questioned Pran.

"Yes. We believe that one of the three war fleets under Tha'thot Velal or as in their language "Ar'nal Belisarus Velal" is being stationed somewhere in Federation claimed space between our borders and the approaches to the Romulan Empire. We are not certain that the Federation is aware of this."

Pran interjected, "I can not imagine the level of trust between the Romulans and the Earthers being that great despite their current alliance."

Narn continued, "The current Praetor is a reformer and is very popular with the younger Romulans. He supports increasing contact with the Federation on equal terms. He is contemptuous of the Klingons and that has been a stumbling point diplomatically throughout the war." Then Narn allows himself to smile, "The Klingons are in turmoil with the return of the so-called common soldier to Qo'noS as their Chancellor. Although Chancellor Martok is a conservative and supports the noble families in the High Council, he is still an outsider. A self-made-man if you will. And adding to the stress is the fact that Martok came to power at the hands of Worf, the Klingon in Starfleet."

"The Klingons believe that Starfleet assassinated the former Chancellor to install Martok because he was a personal friend of Captain Sisko, the Deep Space Nine commander," added Pran.

"Precisely, the Klingon High Council is concerned about Martok's pro-Starfleet feelings. He was very outspoken in his admiration and affection for the Earthers he served with during the war."

"So sum it up for me," ordered Pran.

"We still have nearly one thousand ships at your disposal as Tha'thot. Two hundred of those are currently under Thot Dos' command probing the Cardassian frontier or conducting surveillance of the Tzenkethi Coalition and Ferengi borders. We have the renewed support of the clans so many more ships can be made available if we are successful in bringing profit to the clans that ally themselves to Clan Bota Rez. As is our way, the more successful the more support you receive."

"We know that the Cardassians are on the verge of collapse, and that the brutish Tzenkethi barbarians will swarm over them when they are weakened enough. Of the three Romulan war fleets we know approximately where two of them are. The third has probably been recalled to reinforce their Klingon border. The Klingons are also on the verge of yet another civil war and so will not be as ready to return to Cardassian space despite their love of war," thought Pran aloud.

"That leaves the Federation," stated Narn matter of factly.

"Yes, the beloved Federation…They began the war our Ferengi friends have told us with approximately 8,000 battle cruisers, a few hundred thousand personnel and less than a 1,000 starbases and outposts. Amazingly they were able to absorb the initial onslaught of the Dominion surprising I think even them selves. Their estimated losses were tremendous; they were forced to re-commission retired starships and personnel. Reports from the Ferengi were that they lost those old ships as fast as they could refit them and get them into the fighting. And yet they prevailed. Not only did they prevail, but also they were able to recruit their life-long enemy the Romulans into their ranks. They were stretched so thin that when we entered the war we were able to move directly to the Earth and kill tens of millions of their citizens by orbital bombardment. Now the Keep of Information estimates they have between three and five thousand surviving starships and a third of their starbases. Starfleets that once had a hundred battle cruisers are believed to now have tens of starships, and many of those are obsolete models that should be retired, yes the Alpha Quadrant is ours for the taking if we are bold enough," smiled Pran.

Stardate: 55078. 5 - Deep Space Nine

Admiral Alexandria Selkirk sat at the desk listening to Admiral William Ross talking on the screen of the desk computer. Behind her stood field promoted Captain Erika Strong, her newly assigned Chief of Staff. Both women listen intently to the senior fleet commander on the Cardassian frontier.

"Alex I want you to put your plans for the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant on hold. I am reassigning you to Cardassia Prime as the Federation ambassador until the Council can send a professional diplomat from Earth. Take the USS Kaiser and procedure there will all haste." The rugged features of the wartime Starfleet commander and chief for the Cardassian Theater of Operations showed the fatigue of great responsibility.

"Admiral Ross, with all due respect I think you are making a mistake. The Dominion are even untrustworthier than the Breen, we need to have a presence in the Gamma Quadrant established as soon as possible."

Ross shook his head on the screen of the desktop, "I agree Alex, but the situation on Cardassia is deteriorating. The Detapa Council has failed to form, the government is still in chaos; people continue to die from the harsh conditions following the detonation of so many weapons of mass destruction on the surface of the planet. Remember they lost approximately 800 million from the initial detonation, we are estimating that they will ultimately loose over a billion, nearly a third of their civilian population if we do not intervene from radiation and other sicknesses brought on by the level of devastation on the surface." Ross paused to let his words sink in, "I want you on the Kaiser and in route to Cardassia Prime now Admiral."

"Aye-aye sir," responded Admiral Selkirk, "Anything else sir?"

Ross smiled his crooked smile, "Isn't that enough?" Then he continued with a more serious expression, "Alex get them back on their feet then we will relook your plans for the Gamma Quadrant."

"Yes sir, I'll inform Colonel Kira that I will be leaving for Cardassia then beam over to the Kaiser get this mission started. Any idea how long it will be before a person from the Federation Council will arrive at Cardassia Prime to replace me?"

"No Alex I do not, they are still sorting through the disaster of the Breen attack early last year. You know they lost nearly 20 million from the Breen surface bombardment." Ross shook his head, as he appeared to quickly scan a padd in his right hand. "Right now the Federation Council is more concerned with bettering relations with the Romulans and the situation evolving in the Klingon Empire between the Great Houses and the arrival of Chancellor Martok. I am afraid any thing coming this way will be targeting the new Breen situation with their apparent abandonment of the Treaty of Bajor."

Admiral Selkirk sat back and regarded Captain Strong for a few moments once Admiral Ross had signed off. "This will leave the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant to the Klingons and the Romulans it would seem."

Captain Strong considered the admiral's worlds before commenting, "They both have fires at home that need tending to. I don't think that they will rush into the Gamma Quadrant with us abandoning its exploration."

"Oh we are not abandoning it Captain, no not by a long shot. I'll use the Cardassians if I have to explore it," corrected Admiral Selkirk.

Changing the subject quickly Captain Strong asked about the Cardassians. "Representing the Federation on Cardassia Prime is not going to be an easy task Admiral. From the reports I have been reading the place is still in a shambles, and will be for quite some time. The Breen invasion is only magnifying how unorganized the provisional government is."

"We are going to have to a good Chief of Security for this mission," commented Admiral Selkirk.

"We're going to need a good Strategic Operations Officer as well. And I have just the person in mind. I met him while serving on the IKS Okkam. He is a human that has worked for just about every government in the region, except the Cardassians whom consider him a terrorist and a war criminal."

"Really?" the smile Admiral Selkirk wore betrayed her interest.

"He was a mercenary that won some notoriety for helping the Talarians fight against the Klingons several decades ago. After the Klingons and Talarians negotiated a truce he moved to this region to work as an independent explorer for an Earth based colonial association. Almost immediately upon arrival the Cardassians picked a fight with his old Bear Claw-class courier ship. Over a period of about a year I think it was he engaged several Cardassian scouts and either captured or destroyed them. The whole time he was doing this he was providing intelligence on the Cardassian to the Federation and the Klingons."

"The Klingons? I thought you just said he fought against the Klingons on the Talarian side during their border war?" interjected Selkirk.

"He did, he apparently had a ready-made reputation for his smuggling skill and was approached by them for cross-border operations into Cardassian space," replied Captain Strong. "He worked off and on for the Klingons as a contact with the Bajoran Resistance. He apparently ran weapons and other contraband provided by the Klingons to the Bajorans. The assistance from the Klingons of course allowed the Bajorans to mount a classic guerilla war campaign that eventually won them their independence."

Now Selkirk laughed, "Captain are you saying this man is the Bajoran equivalent of George Washington?"

Captain Strong smiled back, "No sir, more like a Bajoran equivalent of the Marquis de Lafayette."

"Who?"

"Lafayette was a French nobleman that played a prominent role in the American War of Independence. This man I am speaking of played a vital role in providing support to the Bajoran Resistance Movement from the very beginning of the final phase of their revolt. But it gets better. He also was a prominent member of the Maquis and then went on to defect back to Starfleet and fought for the Federation during the Dominion War as a provisional officer."

Selkirk shook her head in disbelief, "He held a provisional commission in Starfleet?"

"Yes sir, he held the provisional rank of Captain and worked for Starfleet Intelligence."

"Starfleet Intelligence? How is it I've never heard of this legendary captain?" queried Selkirk.

"Because he specialized in covert and special operations. Small ships or flotillas that conducted raids deep into enemy held territory," replied Captain Strong. Sensing that it was time to finally reveal the name of this shadow warrior. "His name is Val Salvis."

"Val Salvis…I've heard that name before." Admiral Selkirk rose and stepped out from behind her desk to pace in the small office. "He is an Orion Syndicate operative isn't he, yes that is where I've heard that name. I've seen his name in Starfleet Security communications about Orion Syndicate activity in this region of Known Space."

"Yes sir," conceded Captain Strong. "But he is the man you will need to sort out the mess on Cardassia Prime while being able to take effective action on his own initiative."

"His own initiative? Captain the Cardassians will want to execute this man on sight!"

"Yes sir." The smile on Captain Strong's face was contagious and slowly spread to Admiral Selkirk's face as well.

"Will he work for us Captain?" Selkirk conceded that his value was becoming obvious even as the two officers spoke.

"Admiral I need permission to contact Captain Salvis. I sure if we agree to his conditions he will come on board."

"His conditions? What could his conditions be?"

"I know from conversations with senior Klingon officers on the IKS Okkam that he is notorious about working for gold or latinum. He prefers the rough and ready frontier environment of this region of space to the more pacified Federation core so we can assume he is already working in the region." Captain Strong considered the Admiral's question for a short while before continuing. "He has been fighting for a number of years here on the edge of Known Space. I think he may be ready for the security of working for the Federation full time instead of part time."

"Alright Captain, see if you can recruit this Val Salvis. But not as my Strategic Operations Officer, no he will work as a field operative for us, not a senior staff officer."

"I will contact some of my acquaintances on the Klingon colony of Ada and see if I can get some idea of where Captain Salvis is located," answered Captain Strong.

"Good, now what can you tell me about the Cardassian situation?" Admiral Selkirk refocused on the new task at hand.

Captain Strong took a deep breath, consulted her padd, then began. "Its not good Admiral. The situation is deteriorating quickly, as you know the Dominion detonated multiple high yield explosive devices on the surface of Cardassia Prime in the final minutes of the battle for the capital. Approximately 800 million Cardassians died in an instant. The devastation was incredible and on a scale never before experienced by the Cardassians or the Federation. There are still people dying their every day as a result of injuries received during the Alliance's assault on the planet or the detonations."

Captain Strong paused to scroll through more of the data on her padd. "It's been slightly over a year since the Battle of Cardassia Prime was fought. Granted a lot of the Federation's assets are being used for the reclamation of Earth itself, Betazed, and other Federation worlds occupied by the Jem'Hadar during the war. But it is possible that the Cardassia Prime casualties could reach the billion mark if action is not taken to assist them."

"You said it's been over a year, what has the Cardassian government been able to do?" Alexandria Selkirk resettled herself in her padded desk chair while she focused on what the younger woman was telling her.

"Initially a Gul Jak'Karr from the Second Order assumed immediate command of the local situation following the Battle of Cardassia. He was the senior surviving officer on site. I think he had command of a small squadron of Galor-class cruisers at the time. He announced that he was assuming the title of legate and placing himself as head of the interim government. Admiral Ross ordered Starfleet units to recognize him as the temporary head of the Cardassian government, but otherwise ignored the Cardassian situation and focused on fleet operation. The Romulans were the only one of the Alliance members to take Legate Jak'Karr seriously."

"T'Cal Whix…" whispered Admiral Selkirk.

"Yes sir, Field Primus T'Cal Whix arrived on the scene with a small Romulan flotilla and immediately engaged Legate Jak'Karr diplomatically. From all indications the flotilla was a senatorial honor guard of approximately four warbirds and some outdated cruisers."

"A respectable honor guard for a Romulan envoy to the Cardassians. No wonder Legate Jak'Karr was impressed," smiled Admiral Selkirk. "A hell of a lot more than I am going to arrive with."

Captain Strong continued, "Almost immediately Legate Jak'Karr announce that the Cardassian Union was entering into an alliance with the Romulan Star Empire and would enjoy protectorate status and participate in the Romulan Senate."

"This is when Admiral Ross took notice of the situation on Cardassia," Admiral Selkirk commented to herself.

"No Sir, it wasn't." Captain Strong continued, "A Starfleet task force of our own was then sent to Cardassia to ensure that the Romulans did not occupy Cardassia Prime by force. An Ambassador-class explorer and dozen or so ships made up the task force. It was assumed that the task force would be more than sufficient to intimidate the surviving squadron of Galors under the command of Legate Jak'Karr. Problem was Jak'Karr was willing to fight them. Then when the Ambassador-class explorer redeployed to a strategic Cardassian system nearby it was intercepted and destroyed by Romulan warbirds without warning in an ambush."

"T'Cal Whix is a master of ambush and surprise attacks," commented Admiral Selkirk. "He ambushed by own task force in the Gamma Quadrant before the Dominion War and then handed me and the survivors over to the Jem'Hadar in exchange for the Romulan survivors of their failed Tal Shiar assault on the Changeling homeworld. The Romulan Senate hailed him as a hero for returning their soldiers to their families and regaining prestige for the Romulan fleet."

"I didn't know that sir," Captain Strong whispered.

"Very few do. My squadron was the first attempt to send a task force into the Gamma Quadrant to seek military intelligence on the Dominion; the operation's code name was Pathfinder. It was back when we were just beginning to loose ships over there. Up to that point we had been sending single ships in to explore. We were ambushed in the Gamma Quadrant and destroyed by the Romulans. They promptly handed us over to the Dominion in exchange for their Tal Shiar survivors. Later in a prisoner exchange between the Federation and the Dominion we were released. But not before we were interrogated, repeatedly. I have no love for the Jem'Hadar or the Romulans." Admiral Selkirk's eyes burned with hatred Captain Strong had never encountered before in a Starfleet officer.

"Hmmm," Strong cleared her voice, "Starfleet immediately withdrew from Cardassian space with the loss of the Ambassador-class explorer basically leaving the Cardassians to fend for them selves. They reestablished the Detapa Council, an oligarchy of senior military and economic leaders. However Legate Jak'Karr was not senior enough to lead the council and was deposed as the government attempted to consolidate its power. The military is of course a shambles, a shadow of its former strength and power. Starfleet Intelligence estimates that there are hundreds instead of thousands of ships still operational in the Cardassian fleet. With the invasion of the Breen those ships will be needed along their frontier instead of providing support to the civilian recovery."

Selkirk interjected a quick question; "What about the other worlds in the Cardassian Union, what kind of shape are they in?"

"The primary worlds of the Cardassian Union are Amleth Prime, and the Arawath, Argaya, Aschelan, Celtris, Cuellar, Dopa, Kelrabi, Kora, Lamenda, Lazon, Omekla, Orias, Pentath Pullock, and the Rakal systems along with numerous small settlements in the Almatha and Algira sectors. All of them are well developed and established Cardassian worlds with substantial populations. They were all brutalized by the occupation of the Dominion, but they were not treated nearly as bad as Cardassia Prime was. They all have populations in the hundreds of millions with strong industrial and commercial bases that are strained but in tact."

"Tell me again about the military Orders, how are they situated in this mess?" ordered Selkirk.

Again Captain Strong cleared her throat, "The First Order was headquartered at Cardassia Prime and boasted a pre-war strength of three battalions which are similar to our Ground Force divisions, and eighty cruisers. It was totally decimated in the Battle of Cardassia Prime. The Second Order was also a garrison unit for Cardassia Prime and was thought to have had a single elite battalion and a fleet of seventy cruisers. The Second Order was the organization responsible for the exploitation of Bajor. The Second Order was used in support of Jem'Hadar activity between the Badlands and the Amleth Nebula which explains why Legate Jak'Karr's squadron survived the Battle of Cardassia, they probably arrived too late to participate in the brunt of the fighting. We believe that the Second Order has a single squadron of Galor-class cruisers still operational and is currently serving as the orbital headquarters for Legate Jak'Karr and the provisional Central Command.

The Third Order should be in pretty good shape. It was deployed toward the Talarian frontier near Omekla III. The Third Order was the Cardassian's rapid response force and as such was committed to combat early against the Klingons. We do not have verifiable numbers on their strength but they should still be fielding at reduced strength five Ground Force battalions and as many as eighty cruisers. As I stated earlier, the Third Order was forward deployed and headquartered at Omekla III. We do know they saw a lot of action against the Klingons during the entire war.

The Fourth Order was in charge of the Union's industrial security and much of its forces were assigned to supporting the industrial activities in support of the war effort. The Fourth was headquartered on Cardassia Prime but had the majority of its units deployed on the worlds of Pullock, Regulak, Goralis, and Tevak. It's believed that the Fourth was able to keep its two battalions and thirty cruisers in fairly good shape. It is also believed that most of Legate Jak'Karr's resistance from within the military is coming from this Order. The Second Order and the Fourth Order are know to have been at odds over the exploitation of Bajor and were often in competition for the same resources.

The Fifth Order probably did not survive the war in tact, originally it was charged with the security of the Union's industrial infrastructure in the same manner as the Fourth. Starfleet Command believes that since it was stationed almost exclusively on Cardassia Prime that it lost most of its assets in the final battle. It had before the war its Ground Force strength was five battalions and eighty cruisers. All of which were probably deployed throughout the Union or with Dominion units at the front. We know the least about this Order.

The Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Orders were all moved from their respective areas of responsibility to direct combat assignments for the invasion of Federation space. They entered the war with a combined Ground Force strength of fifteen battalions and 250 cruisers. These units were squandered by the Dominion in their push towards Vulcan and the Federation core. Starfleet estimates that there are probably seventy-five cruisers that survived the war currently in Federation space that were captured or surrendered at the end of the war because they were trapped on the wrong side of the border. Starfleet is in the process of consolidating the surviving Ground Force troops, approximately 250,000 soldiers, for eventual repatriation to the Cardassian Union in the near future.

The Ninth Order was charged with the security of the spinward edge of the Union during the war. It boasted a troop strength of three Ground Force battalions and eighty cruisers. Most of these forces were bled off during the war to replace losses in the other Orders. Starfleet Intelligence currently believes the Ninth Order has less than a battalion of its Ground Force left and probably twenty or less warships in its Space Force.

The Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Orders were assigned combat operations in the region of space running along the Breen Confederacy toward the Ferengi Alliance during the Dominion War. This war fleet began with a Ground Force of eight battalions and a Space Force of 240 cruisers. These Orders fought their way back to Cardassia Prime in the final months of the war despite often being abandoned or blocked by Breen and Jem'Hadar forces. Their hard fought delaying action allowed the Breen and Jem'Hadar to rally at Cardassia Prime for the last battle. Starfleet Intelligence believes that this force ended the war with approximately twenty heavily mauled cruisers and almost none of its Ground Force assets. However there may still be units lost in the space between the Breen Confederacy and the Tzenkethi Coalition."

"So what exactly does Legate Jak'Karr command?" asked an amazed Admiral Selkirk.

"Not much sir, most of his best ships come from the rival Fourth Order, about thirty ships that have been held at the four main industrial planets near Cardassia Prime. He has the Third and Ninth Orders that have ships deployed spinward of the actual union in the frontier. But both Orders are resisting leaving their current locations due to the Breen situation. The Ninth is reportedly taking a pretty serious beating at the hands of the Breen. The Third appears to be consolidating its power around the naval shipyards at Omekla III. The Order's Jagul is probably anticipating a Breen attack on their facilities there. He has whatever survivors from the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Orders that make past the Fourth's bases at Pullock and Regulak. But to be honest Starfleet Intelligence believes any of those survivors have been stopping at those two worlds and are being recruited by the Fourth to join its ranks. There is some intelligence that suggests that surviving Cardassian ships returning from the Ferengi approaches may have entered Tzenkethi space and are holding up in Tzenkethi systems but that has not been confirmed."

"The Tzenkethi are extremely xenophobic aren't they? I would be surprised to learn that Cardassians are being given political asylum Captain."

"Starfleet Intelligence believes these Cardassian survivors entered Tzenkethi space at the height of the fighting seeking refuge in hostile environment or marginally habitable systems and are still hiding," explained Captain Strong. "Admiral they were being mistreated by the Breen and Jem'Hadar units they were fighting beside and probably saw the Federation and Romulan advances in their theater as signs of their eventual defeat."

"Oh that is right, the Romulans were the main fleet element in that theater of operations. Those Cardassian formations were fighting Romulan war fleets supported by Starfleet." Selkirk changed direction abruptly, "So Legate Jak'Karr probably has less than a tactical wing to defend the Union with against the Breen invasion."

"Yes sir, with minimal support from his own troops, hardly no support from us, and his old ally T'Cal Whix standing between him and a Breen victory with only one hundred ships."

"How ironic, T'Cal Whix standing in harm's way to protect Federation interests, my interests. That will be all Captain, make your contact with Captain Salvis. We will leave for Cardassia Prime in the morning." Admiral Selkirk watched Captain Strong leave before swiveling her chair to look out the office window into deep space. "How ironic she thought…"

 

Chapter Seventeen

Stardate: 55078.9 - Orbiting Cardassia Prime

Legate Jak'Karr sat at the head of the command conference table in the Combat Information Center of the great battleship Makarov. He slowly spun the conference table chair so that he could survey the activity that was taking place around the large room's perimeter. The CIC was unique in design. Around the circular outer ring of the room were consoles providing real-time communications and intelligence, at the center of the room was the large oval table he now sat at. Hologram projectors were imbedded in the ceiling as well as force fields so that the officers conferencing at the table could have privacy and security when classified or sensitive material was being discussed such as now.

The command center duty officer continued with his briefing, "Currently there are seventeen Cardassian transport ships now in system. Eight of them are in parked orbit over Cardassia Prime waiting to deliver their cargoes from the worlds of the Iron Path, the Union's primary industrial worlds of Goralis, Pullock, Regulak, and Tevak. Five of the transports are outbound for agricultural worlds in the Ameth sector. The other four are inbound from various colonies throughout the Union with medical supplies and other emergency equipment. Groups of civilian transports are due in within the hour replacing joining these. Between one hundred to two hundred commercial starships rotate through the system daily. The vast majority of them are Cardassian but a growing number are Federation, Ferengi, and Romulan. The Second Order cruisers DeShal and Herros have been handling traffic control for the system for the past six months very effectively."

Jak'Karr smiled and then interjected, "Yes Guls Grovna and Paskit are very effective commanders."

The staff duty officer continued his daily briefing for Legate Jak'Karr. "We have heard nothing further from the Ninth Order operating from the Septimus system since the arrival of the Romulans there. We believe Gul Takar is still in command of the Septimus garrison but there is still no confirmation. There has been no further contact reported either by our forces or Starfleet since the initial engagements in the spinward frontier. Starfleet's 27th Fleet is currently moving coreward parallel to the Breen Confederacy's border. Starfleet Admiral William Ross is reportedly marshalling a second larger fleet in Federation space as a contingency if full scale war erupts."

"What about the Klingons, they have a token force in the region do they not?" queried Legate Jak'Karr.

"We initially believed they had left a single battle fleet of twenty-seven warships to represent their interests in the region. However we are not receiving electronic intelligence that would indicate that there may be as many as three times that number still operating in the area."

"You're saying that the Klingons may have as many as one hundred warships still patrolling our trailing border?"

"Yes sir," quickly responded the staff officer. "Our communications surveillance indicates between eighty to one-hundred different sources of communications being operated by the Klingons along our border with the Federation.

"Very well," Jak'Karr waved the meeting to an end and leaned back in his conference chair. Jak'Karr had come to know this room as his home over the past days as he moved his surviving Galor-class cruisers into orbit over Cardassia Prime. His twelve Second Order ships now served as the nucleus of the surviving Cardassian Home Fleet. From this vantage point he had overseen the recall of the fleet to the home world, and the actions of the survivors on the surface trying to restore some semblance of normalcy to the chaos and destruction left behind by the Changelings and their Dominion. Jak'Karr absentmindedly reached over and retrieved one of many computer interface boards lying on the conference table. He slowly called up the statistics for Cardassia Prime then read them silently to himself for the nth time.

The central star for the Cardassian system was a bright red dwarf; the humans used the classification M2 V he remembered. Cardassia occupied the third orbit from the central star. Cardassia Prime as it has come to be known shares the system two other habitable worlds; Cardassia IV and V, both of these worlds are only sparsely populated due to their environmental conditions. There are a total of eight worlds in the Cardassian system. Two in the center of the string outward from the star are gas giants, the rest are rock worlds with either solid or molten cores.

Jak'Karr tapped in some directions then read the new material shown on the tiny screen: Cardassia Prime is a habitable planet with an oxygen-nitrogen and argon atmosphere. Only forty percent of the planet's surface is covered by small oceans and a number of salt lakes or inland seas, making the atmosphere extremely dry with not much humidity in the air. One striking feature of Cardassia Prime is the absence of long rivers on the planet. Before the war the homeworld boasted a population of over six billion inhabitants. Over the last year the questionable statistics indicated that they had lost nearly a billion to the initial holocaust and the subsequent terror-stricken months following it. He supposed it could have been worse if the Federation had not immediately responded by providing seven industrial replicators, but they could have done far more.

The detonations set off had two purposes to them. First to punish the Cardassian people for their betrayal of the Dominion in the final days of the war and the Battle of Cardassia in particular, and to cause suffering for many decades to come by the removal of key industrial centers, research and medical facilities. Finally culturally significant areas that could be used to rally the spirit of the people during the slow recovery were the last priority targets of the Dominion. The Changelings were nothing if precise and proficient. The recovery was taking an excruciatingly long time. A modern culture that used transmitted energy as the lifeblood of its everyday existence was totally crippled when that free access energy is withdrawn. Mundane everyday tools were useless pieces of plastic and metal. Vehicles would not operate, computers could not function, and like all modern societies, and computers were everywhere from kitchen appliances to complex communications and utility hubs. What had not be rendered useless from the sudden loss of energy had been destroyed by the electro-magnetic pulses that had spread out from the gargantuan city destroying explosions that had dotted the surface.

And that had only been the beginning. A militaristic, highly regimented society like the Cardassians who had been brutalized by the Dominion occupation as severely as any Federation world had fallen into total and complete anarchy following the destruction of their government and their military forces. Only now was there some semblance of normalcy beginning to appear in the city streets and the rural communities as local groups were beginning to organize at the grassroots levels. Now it was his responsibility and the adhoc "Cardassian Council" to provide resources to these local leaders that would be the salvation of the Cardassian people. Jak'Karr sensed the approach of his chief intelligence advisor, the young nobleman Krav N'Gor. The former Obsidian Order lieutenant reminded Jak'Karr that the meeting of the councilors would be within a few hours and that his appointment with some of the key leaders was nearly at hand. Jak'Karr rose quickly and followed the younger man to the executive transporter room.

The site of the new council's headquarters was a moderate sized community that had traditionally served as a resort for the elite members of the various orders for decades. It was located in the mountain range that separated the two most economically powerful regions prior to the holocaust. These two regions were now the centers of the most need during the reconstruction.

Jak'Karr and Krav N'Gor materialized on the balcony of one of the resort buildings that housed temporary quarters for dignitaries and their families during periods of recreation. Jak'Karr remembered that the humans called these facilities hotels or something like that. The view of the mountains and the distant plains were majestic and awe-inspiring in these troubled times. Choosing this place to locate the temporary government had been wise. Jak'Karr enjoyment of the intoxicating vista was cut short by the touch of Krav G'Nor's hand on his elbow indicating that he should follow. The balcony and other nearby public places had been designated as the official arrival site for incoming traffic to ease the strain on the public transporters within the city's power grid. Jak'Karr dutifully followed his aid through the large pavilion and the open park to the area of offices and professional suites now acting as the headquarters for the Council. The lack of fanfare and ceremony for his arrival spoke volumes about the dire straight the Cardassian people were in.

The military guard at the entrance of the large facility Krav N'Gor led him were wearing Fourth Order insignia, just like the crew of the Makarov. Each of the twelve Cardassian Military Orders were responsible for specific regions of the Union and had trained and equipped their ground and space forces appropriately. The Fourth Order had been charged with the defense of four of the most heavily industrialized old colony worlds in the Union. During the war while other Orders were being brutalized by the stripping of their troops and ships to feed the war effort the Fourth had been left pretty much intact to provide security for the huge logistics convoys from the core worlds to the three major battle fronts. Now they were the best equipped and trained of the Orders still operating.

The lack of respect displayed by the four guards was obvious as Jak'Karr approached them, as was their lack of discipline. Closer examination revealed that they were conscripts recruited from the population of the homeworld. They probably did not realize who he was or the power over them he had. He said nothing and followed his lieutenant into the lobby of the building. The interior was huge and full of functionaries and delegates walking alone or in clusters. Uniformed officers worked the four reception desks taking incoming communications and directing information to runners and couriers who in turn would take recorded information or computer downloads on storage devices to some unknown location presumably in this building complex.

Grav N'Gor ushered Jak'Karr into a small lift and together to road to a floor many levels above the ground. Silently the two men stood, not commenting on the alienness their own world had assumed in the past year. The crisp orderliness and precise formality of Cardassian culture had been the first casualty of the holocaust. Finally the small personnel lift stopped and the sliding doors opened into a more calm and orderly hall. The guards snapped to attention as Jak'Karr walked out toward the indicated door at the end of the passageway. A functionary also snapped to attention as she stepped out of one of the many side doors as he passed. One of the two soldiers opened the manually operated door for the two men as they closed on their destination then resumed his position of attention as the passed.

Jak'Karr straightened his back and rose to his full two-meter plus height when he walked into the room. Seated at various chairs and a couch were the powerful survivors of the holocaust. From Deep Space Nine and a former member of the Obsidian Order, Elim Garak. Setting across from him in a large easy chair was Legate Lasko Soth, Gul Hanaka's father. Standing next to a large picture window overlooking the city of Mon Connas stood Arjagul (General) Tarska Hesar, commander of the First Order's Ground Forces. With Arjagul Hesar stood Gul Tokli Yenar, new commander of the Fourth Order's Space Forces, and Gul Bernak representing the survivors of the Fifth Order. Finally setting together at a small table near the window were Jagul Koros Shamar of the First Order and the cleric Turo Padile. No one stood as Jak'Karr and Grav N'Gor entered the room.

Finally with his customary nervousness Elim Garak rose and welcomed to two men to their informal gathering. Garak facilitated the customary formal greetings with each of the men present for Jak'Karr. Then offered the oversized legate his seat on the couch facing directly opposite Legate Soth. Garak then stood in the center of the room clapping his hands together in an aggravating fashion.

"Well at long last here we are, the leaders of Cardassia." Garak smiled at each of the men. "Our esteemed Legate Soth representing the four worlds that are providing the most assistance to our beloved homeworld." Garak made a slight bow to Legate Soth that returned the gesture with a slight bow of his own head. "With him the commander of the Fourth Order's Space Forces, Gul Yenar." Then shifting his attention to the two men standing with Gul Yenar, "I welcome the hero, Arjagul Tarska Hesar of the First Order who has personally supervised the efforts of his Order's Ground Forces on the surface of the homeworld over the last year. With him stands Gul Bernak formerly of the Fifth Order that has organized and supervised orbital traffic and surface transport operations during these horrific times. Let us not forget the heroic efforts of Jagul Koros Shamar that through his own personal Vesala and the prestige and influence the First Order, stabilized our world's commercial networks and financial institutions offworld in the rest of the Union. A most heart felt welcome to Legate Jak'Karr and his aid Grav N'Gor of the Second Order. His quick action in the face of foreign encroachment saved Cardassia from a second occupation by the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans in the days immediately following the defeat of the Dominion. And finally I welcome Varhet Turo Padile, leader of the Parektar spiritualist movement and the moral compass of our people in these terrible times." Garak held his hands out, palms up and swept the room with his most charismatic smile, "I welcome all of you to this most important meeting of the leaders of Cardassia."

"And let us not forget to thank our host Elim Garak of the Obsidian Order," chimed in Arjagul Hesar, "Who arrived on a Federation vessel during those first days after the fall of the Dominion."

Smiling his most enchanting smile Garak replied, "Well of course my good General, it was the only ship coming this way immediately following the battle with elite class accommodations." The assembled men all laughed and appreciated Garak's handling of the implied affiliation between him and the Federation and Starfleet.

Jak'Karr held his hand up and stood, his towering frame had not lost its imposing stature in the exotic setting of the luxury suite. "Garak called you all here at my request. We each have been independently serving the Cardassian People and the homeworld in our own way independently for over a year, resisting consolidation with each other for fear it would undermine our own agendas."

"That is not true!" interjected Legate Soth, "We are all members of the Council and have abided by that groups dictates since its formation."

"Yes we are all members of the adhoc Detapa Council. And our representatives or we set daily and participate in the endless debates and arguments over the allocation of resources delivered to the surface through the efforts of Gul Yenar's transport ships and cruisers, or the shuttle fleet of Gul Bernak's Orbital Command. The Detapa Council was the organ of government of our pre-war days. It consisted of representatives of the geographic regions of the homeworld and the major colonies, the Military Orders, and various industries and markets Union-wide. It is a shadow of its former size and power. It was crippled by the Klingon invasion and dismantled by the Dominion during their occupation and you all know that. It is floundering under the inept control of amateur power seekers that have manipulated the situations in their home regions to gain a set on the Council. It is teeming with trash that would never have been permitted to enter a government facility in the past much less occupy a seat of authority."

Varhet Padile quickly stood and moved beside Legate Jak'Karr in the center of the room. "What you say is true, we as an entire people have lost our way, but we have risen to the occasion and circumstances of our situation Jak'Karr. Yes the delegates and council members of the Detapa Council are amateurish at best, and many of the members are seeking advantage for themselves in the political and economic landscape that now is our home. But that is because those that would normally be here are dead, we are surviving and we are making progress. We are not the people that lived on this world before the coming of the Dominion. We have been tested by fire and have survived that ordeal. We are better."

The mummers of agreement that swept the room alerted Jak'Karr that he had to change his strategy if he was to accomplish what he had come here to do. "As you know I have been charged with the leadership of our foreign policy efforts due to my contacts with the Romulans and the Federation that evolved in the days just following the end of the war. I am assuming that most if not all of you are aware that both the Romulans and the Federation recognize me as the sole representative of the Cardassian Union to their governments." The nods of agreement around the room verified his authority in their eyes. "It is growing increasingly impossible for me to adequately represent our people without a formal government. It is totally impossible for me to defend the Union from Breen aggression and to seek assistance from the Romulans and the Federation with our government in its current state of disorganization."

Gul Yenar angrily interjected, "By what authority do you presume to have the command of the forces defending the Union?"

Quickly Jak'Karr spat back, "Moral authority as the person that first acted on behalf of our people as our enemies swept into orbit of our homeworld. I invoke the authority of the one who acted while all others stumbled in the protection of distance and position."

"You go too far Jak'Karr," warned Legate Soth.

"I do not go far enough," returned Jak'Karr. "The Fourth Order has hoarded valuable resources on their worlds of Pullock, Regulak, Tevak, and Goralis while the other surviving Orders fight over scraps of supplies and repair parts throughout the Union. The Ninth Order is this very moment locked in a life and death struggle with superior Breen forces and yet I see no support coming to their aid from Pullock. Why is that?"

Quickly Soth looked at the faces of the other men in the group before answering; "Our resources have all been diverted to Cardassia Prime of course."

Jak'Karr quickly turned to Krav N'Gor and retrieved a computer information device and throws it at Soth who clumsily attempted to catch the small plastic pad. "Why are there no Forth Order capital ships in orbit above us then if all your resources have been diverted here?" Jak'Karr turned to the others in the room and continued, "The Fourth Order has consolidated their cruisers at their four worlds of Pullock, Regulak, Tevak, and Goralis to give them a military advantage over the other surviving Orders. Their troops are continuing to garrison those worlds even as the situation here on Cardassia continues to worsen." Jak'Karr then turned to address Soth directly, "Of your Order's prewar strength of over 300 cruisers how many have survived and where are they?"

An infuriated Gul Yenar stepped forward to intervene the verbal assault on his leader, "You are not the head of the Central Command Gul Jak'Karr, you are a ship's captain in the Second Order. Buy what right to you challenge a Legate of the Fourth Order openly like this?"

Quickly Jak'Karr grabbed the chest plate of Gul Yenar's armor and pulled him close to speak to him, "My authority to lead comes from my ability to do so. You and your Order are holding back valuable resources from the industrial worlds that are needed here on Cardassia. We have lost a billion lives to your type of greed and arrogance. I will not permit the loss of one more." Then still holding Gul Yenar at arm's length Jak'Karr turns his wrath on the others standing or setting around him. "I have reformed the Central Command and will transfer its command and control assets to the colony world of Amleth Prime to take advantage of the surrounding nebula in detecting Breen surveillance. You will provide me with the administrative support I need by forming a government that can manage our resources effectively. The Federation defeated the Dominion through the strategic employment of its resources throughout the war. Garak seek their aid in that area without becoming dependent on them. To balance the Federation's involvement and keep their Starfleet at bay we must develop a relationship with our best allies the Romulans. They were our allies before the Collapse began and are our best allies now. Over 100 Romulan warships now stand between the Breen and this world as we speak. Do not squander that loyalty. Jagul Shamar and Legate Soth I strongly suggest you seek out Field Primus T'Cal Whix and seek his advice."

Finally Jak'Karr released the breastplate of Gul Yenar. "It is a year after the war and we still do not know the whereabouts or status of many of our starships. That is because we lack unity or have provided beacon of stability to the ships that are still out there surviving by their wits and luck. Our field commanders think the Federation or the Klingons have occupied us. The hoarding of the Fourth Order's resources while other surviving Orders struggle and die in place like the Ninth is doing now is intolerable. As of this morning I know that the Fourth Order has a full thirty warships ready and capable of reinforcing the Ninth's twenty. We could organize at least 100 Galor cruisers of our own if we cooperate right now. I know that the Federation has another 75 Galors held within their space that could be returned if we press them diplomatically. My sources indicate that maybe as many as 250,000-ground forces troops may also be held by the Federation and are simply waiting transport to be returned to Cardassia. The entire Third and Fifth Orders are unaccounted for, and may yet be out there waiting for some sign of a strong Cardassian government to return to."

With a deep tone to his voice Jak'Karr continued, "We are squandering the precious resources we have left. We know the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Orders were used as the shock troops of the Dominion for the invasion of the Federation and probably are the source of the Federation's prisoners I just spoke of. The Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Orders saw action against the Romulans and they may hold some even now. The Romulans are notorious for using war prisoners as slave labor; we may never again see those troops. The Third and Fifth Orders were deployed rimward against the Klingons…only the gods know were those men and women are now. But we gentlemen control the fate of the Union, not the Detapa Council. It is our obligation to lead because of who and what we are."

Then turning to Gul Yenar, "Do not forget that the Romulans are here with a battle hardened fleet. They will stand on our border and help defend our worlds from Breen invasion, or they will come here. If they come here it will be at my command. Do not challenge me again." That said, Legate Jak'Karr turned without further comment and left the meeting alone to return to the orbiting Makarov. With his departure all eyes turned to the cold, calculating face of Krav N'Gor who met their stares with confidence and strength.

Stardate: 55079.2 - The IKS Okkam in high orbit over Bajor

Brigadier Wotan, son of Moark, walked down the central passageway of the Imperial Assault Cruiser Okkam in full Klingon regalia. On his sash he bore the insignia of his father's house which would one day be the insignia of House Wotan. Below that he wore the insignia of his battle fleet, the Tenth Expeditionary Fleet, below that his brigadier rank insignia. His personal armor was resplendent with all the traditional tools and weapons of a Klingon warrior and nobleman. Waiting for him in the transporter room was his honor guard and the lieutenant that would accompany him to the Bajoran surface.

Wotan moved to the center of the honor guard and signaled his personal technician to begin the transport. The image of his dark and foreboding quarterdeck was slowly replaced in a swirl of red electronic haze by the bright and crispy clean Bajoran landscape. Immediately as they are trained to do, his honor guard began scanning the surrounding area with their hands on the butts of their disruptor pistols. Wotan had transported to a suburb of the newly designated capital city of Jalandra. Wotan was unimpressed with the mundane surroundings the Bajoran foreign minister had selected for their first meeting.

The small estate was situated on a low hill that was apparently the center of a small residential enclave on the outskirts of the city. There was a low adobe wall that isolated the house and supporting buildings from the other residences but did not obscure the view of the arriving Klingon warlord. Wotan noticed only one Bajoran militiaman standing at the gate entrance to the compound, and one other standing at the primary residence entrance, but no others. Beyond the city could be seen the beginnings of the famous Bajoran farmlands and in the distance wildlands. Commander Strong would have called the imagery "picturesque."

"Ah Brigadier Wotan, welcome to my private residence," a tall middle aged Bajoran woman walked quickly toward him from a side garden entrance of the residence. In tow behind her was a small entourage indicating she was the individual in charge here. "I am Second Minister Laulaar Vino, head of our Foreign Ministry. Welcome to Bajor Brigadier."

Wotan grunted his greeting and then waved his right hand in a grand gesture encompassing the residence compound. "Very impressive estate Lady Laulaar I am honored by your invitation to see me here rather than in the city." Wotan smiled his toothy smile, "It is good to breathe the clean air of the country after so long in the stale air of a starship."

"Please walk with me to my setting room." Then quickly turning to a uniformed militiaman she instructed, "Colonel please escort the Brigadier's security detachment as they inspect the residence and surrounding grounds."

"Yes ma'am," responded the colonel who then promptly and correctly identified the senior Klingon guard and invited him to inspect the facilities physical security preparations while Minister Laulaar and Wotan watched. With a nod from Wotan the Klingon lieutenant with two guards departed with the Militia colonel leaving Wotan's aide de camp and a security guard.

"Second Minister these are lieutenants Kashe and Jarnas, my personal aides." Both of the much younger Klingon warriors straightened their backs and squared their shoulders glaring at the Bajoran dignitary despite what they had been instructed earlier.

"May I introduce Minister Guala Nand, the leader of our Defense Forces here in the Bajor System." A robust middle aged Bajoran male stepped forward to greet Brigadier Wotan with a similar squaring of the shoulders following the example of the two Klingons earlier. Then he broke into a wide genuine grin of welcome.

"Welcome to Bajor. I hope that our time here is well spent for all parties concerned. I am very aware of the critical role the Klingons played in the success of the Federation Alliance against the Dominion during the war, and I am honored to meet one of the Empire's best known military leaders." Minister Guala looked Wotan straight in the eye and offered his right hand in friendship as the humans often do at the beginning of their meetings.

"As do I Minister Guala, let us not waste time with Federation style pleasantries and get right to business," offered Brigadier Wotan. "Bajor is the heart of this sector of space. I am responsible to represent the interests of the Klingon Empire here. I require access to your ports and repair facilities as well as logistical support. What must I do to obtain them?"

Both the two senior Bajoran ministers were speechless, the abruptness although refreshing was not what they were used to during meetings and negotiations. Second Minister Laulaar spoke first, "Brigadier I am at a loss. I thought that as a member of the Federation Alliance against the Dominion you have full access to Deep Space Nine? Is there a problem with the station?"

"You do not understand. I represent Klingon interests in the region, not Federation. Deep Space Nine is a Starfleet base, not a Klingon Defense Force base. As part of the Treaty of Bajor, the Alpha Quadrant allies are granted full access and right of passage through the Bajoran Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. The Klingon Empire has decided to exercise that right and begin the exploitation of that region of space. You are aware of Starfleet Admiral Alexandria Selkirk's plan are you not?"

Minister of Defense Guala spoke up first, "Not really. I am aware that Admiral Selkirk is in residence at Deep Space Nine but I thought she was supervising the logistics operations there for Starfleet Operations in the region. I had assumed she was in charge of Starfleet's activities in and around Cardassia Prime."

Wotan let loose with a belly laugh that caused all the Bajorans to step back in surprise, "No, no, no my friends." Wotan paused to regain his composure; "Admiral Selkirk is the supervising officer for the Federation's expansion into the Gamma Quadrant. Starfleet has not told you of their plans?" Putting his broad arms around the shoulders of the two Bajoran officials, Wotan leads them into Minister Laulaar's home doing the second thing Klingons like best, telling a great yarn.

Stardate: 55079.2 - Surface of the Vegan Tyranny Artifact

Captain Paul and his away team had been exploring the inner labyrinth of tunnels and gargantuan conduits for over sixteen hours. The alien environment of the artifact gave them all the impression they had shrunk in size to meer inches in size. Everything was tremendously oversized and out of scale for them. Captain Paul had expected to be assaulted following the blasting away of the outer airlock door by Lieutenant Goran. But nothing had happened. Slowly the four men and two women of his team had made their way into the inner chambers of what appeared to be a logistics site. The only source of light in the tunnels had been from their suit helmet lamps and wrist flashlights.

The pristine interior was devoid of any indication that biological entities had ever trod here before. There were no life support, emergency facilities, or other of the many small indicators of people anywhere to be seen. The Science Officer, Lieutenant Harry Williams was the first to notice the absence of latrines or other toiletry facilities. Nor were their water dispensers, or electronic communications terminals, or any of the other mundane appliances used by a technological people in the work place regardless of how industrialized the site. All there was were kilometers and kilometers of pipes, wiring, and plasma conduits in gigantic sizes.

Scattered about the cavernous tunnels they had encountered monstrously large bipedal insect-like robots that appeared to be heavy lift machines. Their engineer, Lieutenant Nasreen Arrain had spent some little time inspecting them with her tricorder as they passed them. She indicated that they were strictly robots and not vehicles of any sort. There were no internal compartments or other passenger facilities of any type inside their armored shells. Nor were there any signs of organic material read in her sensor scans of the giant machines. Not even at the molecular level indicating they had never been touched by an organic being of any sort.

"Captain we've been at this for sixteen hours sir," complained Lieutenant Williams. "Sir I've seen no change in scenery since we entered these tunnels. My tricorder readings have not changed despite how deep into these tunnels we go."

Captain Isaac Paul stopped to consider what his senior human Science Officer had said. They had been taking care to not proceed too deeply into the tunnels and had been circling their entry point working outward. Their tricorders had been an invaluable navigation tool in this maze utterly dark identical tunnel. All they had been doing had been walking through giant alien Jefferies Tubes for the last few hours.

"Captain this place is a tomb," echoed the Klingon Goran. "There is no life here, nor has there ever been according to Lieutenant Arrain."

Suddenly across their helmet communicators William's voice cut in, "Captain I have found something!"

They all turned to see William's blue trimmed suit waving off in a new direction. He seemed almost toy-like against the backdrop of oversized tunnels. Out of the darkness as they approached the side wall of the tunnel appeared an almost man-sized version of the bipedal industrial lifting robots they had encountered numerous times earlier in their exploration. The robot was smaller than they were at about a meter in height. Located in the center of the white ceramic armored head dome was a single dark lens. The head dome could rotate completely around giving a full range of vision. Next to the lens was an opaque glass plate. The robot had black rubber covered joints at the normal key locations on its appendages. As the humans walked around the robot they noted that it had a humped back, just like a spacesuited human would in an environment suit. The proportions of the small robot were very humanoid in nature. The small robot outwardly could have been a heavily armored space suit.

"What do you think Nasreen?" Captain Paul queried his engineer.

"I don't know Captain." Lieutenant Arrain drew her hand phaser and adjusted the emitter setting to act as an energy cutter. "Captain request permission to operate." Her smiling face appeared shadowed in the recesses of her space helmet.

Also smiling now that he had an artifact to take back to the ship for all their walking over the last sixteen hours. "Holster your phaser lieutenant. We'll take our new friend back to the Unification with us." With that Captain Paul opened communication with the Unification and ordered their transport with their spoils to the starship.

 

Chapter Eighteen

Stardate: 55079.9 - Starfleet's 27th Fleet (Mobile), four light-years from Alrakis

The forty-eight starships of the 27th Fleet moved silently through the void of space. The Akira-class heavy cruiser Thunderchild moved at the center of the formation escorted by three other cruisers of the same class. The fleet was moving in its customary cross formation that placed five battle groups abreast in the center of the formation. Three battle groups of the lighter Saber and Norway class starships were abreast ahead of the main battle line acting as a picket line. Trailing the main battle line followed the Nebula and Miranda class support cruisers. Before the Dominion War the 27th would have been considered a tactical wing of a larger fleet formation. Today in the aftermath of the largest and most costly war in the history of the Federation, forty-eight starships were considered a fleet.

On the bridge of the Thunderchild Captain Laura Higgs sat chewing her lower lip. The Starfleet captain serves as Admiral Andre Hiroshi's executive officer as well as the commander of the USS Thunderchild's Akira-class battle group. "Position?" she queried the Thunderchild's flight operations manager.

"On course, passing the Alrakis system," barked back the irritable Tellarite officer manning the conn.

"As you were Lieutenant Commander, we're all nervous passing this close to the Breen border," whispered Captain Higgs.

Lieutenant Commander Thar Brael turned slightly in his chair to apologize to Captain Higgs. Her smile put him at ease and he returned to his duties of guiding the flagship in formation.

"We're not picking anything up on long range sensors Captain." Beside Higgs sat Lieutenant Commander Shin Loa, a Polynesian woman of Chinese decent from Earth. Lieutenant Commander Shin was Admiral Hiroshi's Strategic Operations Officer.

"Captain!" the Vulcan tactical officer raised his voice ever so slightly. "The picket line is under attack."

"Go to Red Alert!" Higgs shifted her attention to Lieutenant Commander Shin; "Loa put the fleet tactical information on the main screen." Captain Higgs stood and moved to stand closer to the holographic main viewing screen at the front of the bridge. As she passed the ship's operations manager she said almost as a side note, "Inform the Admiral that the fleet is being engaged."

Captain Higgs then turned her full attention to the three-dimensional representation of the battle that was unfolding at that very moment. The pressure she was under was evident by how hard she clasped her hands behind her back. "Commander Shin who are we fighting?" Captain Higgs had no doubt of whom she was fighting but the question had to be asked.

Lieutenant Commander Shin answered back immediately, "Breen Captain, initial numbers indicate we've found ourselves a full strength battle fleet."

"Well," Captain Higgs paused before attempting to put a cheerful side to their current dilemma, "Nothing but the best for the Twenty-seventh." The tall Englishwoman turned and smiled at the Asian junior staff officer.

Then Captain Higgs drew her attention to the battle unfolding before her on the holographic screen of the main viewer. She considered the battle now raging between the fleet's forward picket line and the ambushing Breen. The Breen apparently had stretched themselves before the oncoming Federation fleet under cloak. As the Starfleet lead ships passed within range of their weapons the Breen had opened fire with a salvo of warp capable photon torpedoes. The attack had forced the three leading battle groups to spiral back to provide a covering force for the main body until the Breen revealed their actual strength. In modern space warfare both parties had to want combat for a battle to occur. One side or the other could withdraw from combat by simply going to warp speed.

"Captain initial enemy strength estimates are light, our three lead battle groups were engaged by less than a dozen Breen light cruisers," called Lieutenant Commander Shin from the tactical station at the rear of the bridge.

"That would be their Kaath Pek-class light cruiser." Captain Higgs said to herself.

"Admiral on the bridge." Higgs turned at the sound of the tactical officer's voice announcing the arrival of Admiral Hiroshi. The short Japanese man was still fastening his uniform tunic as he walked to stand beside the Thunderchild's captain.

"What is happening so far Laura?" Admiral Hiroshi asked as he himself studied the tactical display on the large holographic screen.

With one hand still behind her back she pointed with the other to the top of the display. "The forward battle groups were just attacked by a salvo of photon torpedoes as they passed. They have begun their backward spirals to loop back to cover our approach to the suspected launch sites."

"Has Captain Sontak's Akira battle group been attacked yet?" Hiroshi took his usual stance of having both hands planted firmly on his hips.

Captain Higgs pointed to the lead battle group directly to the front of the Thunderchild's group slightly out of line with the rest of the main battle line. "Not yet, but he is ready."

As if on cue the Starfleet icon indicating Captain Sontak's group of heavy cruisers flashed red and enlarged in size indicating it was in contact. Instantly three Breen diamond shaped icons appeared indicting they had uncloaked and now being tracked by Sontak's group. Captain Sontak was the senior ship commander in the fleet and commanded the second Akira group. Admiral Hiroshi had placed his group immediately to the front of the Thunderchild's battle group slightly ahead of the rest of the battle line.

"I count eighteen light cruisers, is that correct Captain?" Hiroshi asked openly wondering where the rest of the Breen attack force was located.

"I concur, excuse me Admiral." Captain Higgs turned to the flight manager and ordered, "Bring us to course zero, zero, five, mark zero, one, zero." The conn repeated then acknowledged the order quickly.

Admiral Hiroshi walked back to the right side of the bridge off the shoulder of the ship's operation manager. The admiral shared a tactical console with his strategic operations chief. To his rear were communications and science stations with tactical displays. To his front was a tactical console that allowed him to track the fleet's status and call up specific data on each of the starships under his command. Lieutenant Commander Shin with two command specialists manned the console with him. He checked with Lieutenant Commander Shin briefly before setting himself in a command chair slightly to the right of Captain Higgs' command chair.

Captain Higgs walked back to seat herself in her own chair, her executive officer, Commander Sanov taking his seat to her left.

Lieutenant Commander Shin called from her console on the starboard side of the bridge, "The Breen are staying, Captain Sontak is slowing to sublight to engage. The Asian woman paused before continuing to consult her sensor readouts, "Captain Sontak is firing his own photon torpedoes…volleys are being exchanged."

"This is Admiral Hiroshi, all groups converge on the Breen formations now engaging Captain Sontak's battle group. Be prepared to give chase when they break and run." Hiroshi believed that if there were only eighteen of the Breen they would break and run as they remainder of his force surrounded them. Not to do so would be suicide."

"Admiral the casualty reports are coming in from the picket line, they are light sir," called Lieutenant Commander Shin from her console.

Admiral Hiroshi examines the incoming data on his command chair computer terminal then comments to Captain Higgs, "Their torpedoes have excellent penetration; they appear to be comparable to our Mark 22 torpedoes."

"They have excellent shields too, their light cruisers are taking everything Captain Sontak's Akira-class heavy cruisers are dishing out to them," added Captain Higgs.

"That tracks with the intelligence reports I read about the fighting in and around Earth near the end of the war. Their ships are exceptional, that is probably why the Dominion approached them in the first place," agreed Admiral Hiroshi.

"Admiral, Captain Sontak's group is closing to phaser range with the Breen. The Breen are not blinking sir." At hearing Lieutenant Commander Shin's comment Captain Higgs ordered her group of Akiras to increase speed to come to the aid of Captain Sontak.

"Conn take the battle group toward the lead ships of the Breen," she ordered. The Thunderchild and the escorting heavy cruisers of its battle group dropped suddenly out of warp and closed with the melee of starships now forming up as the eighteen Breen light cruisers began to swarm around Captain Sontak's four Akiras. "Now let's see exactly what these Breen are made of."

Now nearly two dozen starships were maneuvering to gain advantage at near light speed. The battle was over huge volumes of empty interstellar space as the ships fought like old style aircraft during Earth's world wars. In the tradition of their service, the Starfleet ships fought independently flying varied and different battle plans now that the fighting was engaged. Speed, and overwhelming firepower had always been Starfleet's main strategy in fleet actions. Coordinated attacks between more than two starships were rare as each starship commander fought as an individual rather than a subordinate.

Captain Higgs was no different than any other Starfleet trained commander. She ordered her conning officer to activate a preplanned battle strategy already programmed into the Thunderchild's computer. The ship followed the fleet plan as far as angle of attack. But the method of engagement and target selection was entirely her own. The Thunderchild's four-ship battle group activated the program on time, and began their battle run together. The Swiftsure began to engage trailing Breen instantly firing while the group was still over 800,000 kilometers away. Photon torpedoes streaked from the flanking Akira as the group closed with the already engaged Breen cruisers.

"Admiral our Excelsior and New Orleans class cruisers are entering the battle," announced Commander Romanov, the ship's operations manager.

"Excellent, where are our picket ships? Where are the Nova and Saber class ships?" queried Admiral Hiroshi.

"Taking position to give chase once the Breen break ranks and run sir," returned Lieutenant Commander Shin.

"Fire!" Captain Higgs called to the side of the admiral. The conning officer changed the main viewer to the standard image as the Thunderchild fired its salvo of Mark 80 Type II quantum torpedoes. The bridge crew all stopped what they were doing to watch the main viewing screen. Quickly six torpedoes flew toward the nearest Breen cruiser. Only two of the five torpedoes hit home breaching the Breen's shield the others impacted harmlessly against the shield's energy bubble. The Breen's shields were reduced by twenty percent; pieces of hull and ignited atmosphere erupted from enemy ship. The Thunderchild's tactical officer now followed up as the range between the two ships closed with a burst of phaser fire. A single lance of yellow-orange phased particle energy leaped from the Akira heavy cruiser's phaser emitter slicing into the rear of the Breen light cruiser. The phaser beam pierced the Breen's damaged shield and impacted on the rear hull causing some slight damage.

"Damn their shields are strong." Captain Higgs turned to the tactical officer and ordered, "Belay the use of phasers use only quantum torpedoes!"

"Aye-aye sir!" yelled back the tactical officer. On the main viewing screen the number of Starfleet ships had grown now overpowering the eighteen Breen cruisers. Rather than running at warp speed the Breen broke into supporting groups of three ships, they weaved between each other swapping ships from one cluster of three to the other. In the melee the Federation ships were abandoning the battle plan and beginning to pursue individually. The Breen's superior shields were giving the ability to take the Starfleet phaser assaults somewhat in stride. But slowly due to the sheer number of Federation ships joining the fight and giving chase or firing as they passed the Breen shields quickly began to weaken. One by one they were beginning to weaken and be forced to drop their shields.

The Thunderchild and one of its fellow Akira starships flying in the wing position locked onto two Breen cruisers closing on a group of approaching New Orleans class cruisers. Both the Thunderchild and the Waterloo pumped quantum torpedoes into the rear of the Breen cruiser scoring multiple hits. The lead Breen warship exploded in a fury of escaping gases and ship parts. The second Breen cruiser veered off and spiraled back toward a different group to join.

Admiral Hiroshi smiled to himself, proud of the way his flagship had participated in the fight. He leaned back fully into his command chair and surveyed the activity on the Thunderchild's bridge. Junior and senior officers were busy at their tasks all excited as he with the successes the fleet had enjoyed this day.

"Commander Shin, what is the fleet's status." Admiral Hiroshi called over to this strategic operations officer.

Shin smiled as she took a second from monitoring the battle's progress. "Admiral I honestly do not know why the Breen ships decided to stand their ground. Of the eighteen that begun the engagement five have been totally destroyed, seven are badly mauled and are virtually combat ineffective and will have to surrender. The other six will be either destroyed or rendered useless within minutes," she replied.

"What is our situation?" questioned Admiral Hiroshi.

"Excellent, we have lost no ships. However three of our Nova-class scouts are without warp capability due to damage to their nacelles. A New Orleans-class light cruiser had its sensors damaged severely and is currently with the aid of one of the Excelsior-class cruisers effecting repairs. The only capital ship that was damaged in the fight was Captain Sontak's USS Swiftsure which sustained structural damage early in the melee when the Breen appeared right in front of his battle group."

"ADMIRAL!" The voice of Lieutenant Commander Sanov at Tactical cut through the bridge like a phaser bolt. "I am getting a sensor relay from the USS Alexandria, she is detecting multiple ships decloaking at four locations surrounding the current main battle area. Between twenty to thirty heavy and medium sized Breen warships at each location all moving in on us at ninety percent light speed."

Captain Higgs blurted out, "Admiral they have us four to one, we need to order a withdrawal!"

"Captain that would strand half a dozen of our ships here." Quickly Admiral Hiroshi shifted gears mentally. He scanned the sensor display on his command chair's computer terminal. His fleet was dispersed; Miranda-class utility cruisers were moving to provide aid to both stricken Starfleet and Breen alike. The Nebulas had stood off but would soon be the targets of the incoming assault; they were the electronic eyes and ears of the fleet. In a large fleet engagement the Nebula-class electronic-warfare ships would be a priority target. Admiral Hiroshi's light and medium cruisers were now focusing on the remaining Breen bait ships.

"Commander Shin order the fleet to regroup on the Thunderchild. Send a message to the USS Alexandria to take its battle group and move off to the next designated rally point. Order the USS Cumberland to likewise recall its other utility cruisers and follow the Alexandria."

"Aye-aye sir," responded Lieutenant Commander Shin.

"Captain Higgs please form your group in front of the USS Swiftsure, we will allow Captain Sontak an opportunity to organize himself before the Breen are upon us. "

"Yes sir." The sparkle in the English woman's eye betrayed her excitement at what was unfolding before them, an epic battle to be sure. "Admiral I wish the Klingons were here to enjoy this with us."

"As do I Laura, as do I," replied a concerned Admiral Hiroshi.

"Torpedo range!" sang out the junior tactical officer to no one in particular.

All eyes were drawn to the main viewing screen that had automatically focuses on the nearest enemy starship to the Thunderchild's front. It was an impressive Breen cruiser with four protruding bow struts shooting forward for its very individualized hull design. From somewhere in the center of its forked bow erupted a volley of blue-white photon torpedoes. Everyone looking at the main screen instinctively knew those torpedoes had been targeted for the Thunderchild.

Admiral Hiroshi heard Captain Higgs' excited voice ordering a counter volley of the Thunderchild's own torpedoes off in the distance, like she was yelling a hundred meters away rather than setting right beside him. First the Breen torpedoes and then the cruisers themselves flashed past the Thunderchild and the other Akiras in the hastily formed battle line. The image reminded Hiroshi of the Samurai battles he had seen holonovels of as a boy. Two great armies clashing head-on in battle, only here the swords were particle beams and the arrows were photon torpedoes. Although there was no actual sensation of movement the images on the main viewing screen of the chaotic melee between the two fleets was unsettling and disorienting. Moving at incredible speeds, sometimes just below light-speed and the debilitating time dilation effect the two fleets engaged in a monumental battle covering over millions of kilometers of space. In effect the battle consisted of mad charges by hastily regrouping battle groups that then would turn and charge back toward the main battle in effect strafing passing enemy ships.

As more and more of the ships were damaged the battle began to fix to a specific location although very large location. The image of the battle imploding is the best description of the events that were occurring before Hiroshi's eyes as he watched the tactical readouts of his armchair computer terminal. Unfortunately the Akira cruisers were the targets of many of the Breen strafing runs.

"Shields are at eighty percent!" called out the operations manager seated between Admiral Hiroshi and the main viewing screen. Calmly Hiroshi looked up at the main screen and let his eyes fix on the roller coaster-like imagery of starships shooting past the bow of the Thunderchild as it worked its way through the melee surrounding it.

"Captain the Swiftsure just lost its starboard nacelle!"

Admiral Hiroshi was not sure whom he had just heard but his attention was drawn to Captain Higgs as she ordered the conn to bring the ship about. Then she stood as she ordered the operations manager to ready the aft tractor beam.

"Shields are at sixty percent Captain!" again a voice from somewhere in the void.

"Captain the we are loosing steerageway, thrusters are not responding!" some one new.

"Captain targeting the lead cruiser, firing!" Hiroshi recognized the Vulcan tactical officers voice that time.

"Shields at thirty percent Captain!"

"Who was that voice?" Hiroshi looked around the bridge it had become almost surreal to him, everything running in slow motion. For the first time Admiral Hiroshi felt the deck shake from an impact somewhere. In the resulting confusion he focused on a young man that was setting at the environmental controls on the portside of the bridge opposite where Lieutenant Commander Shin and her crew were working. The Starfleet technicians working beside the young man were apparently oblivious to his presence. The man was striking in appearance but somehow out of place. Then it donned on Admiral Hiroshi that he was wearing fourteenth or fifteenth century European clothing, feathered flop hat included and not a black Starfleet uniform.

Lieutenant Commander Tomara called from the rear of the bridge, "Captain Higgs the we've been rammed by a Breen light cruiser, I don't think it was intentional, the damage could have been a lot worse."

"Damage?" queried Captain Higgs.

From her station Lieutenant Commander Tomara answered, "Its pretty bad sir, we were hit by a Kaath Pek-class cruiser that was strafing the Swiftsure. Fortunately it was a glancing blow. Wait…" Lieutenant Commander Tomara quickly returned to her sensor display, "Captain I have buckling on the lower primary hull, there is structural fatigue on the starboard side nacelle strut also. Our shields are holding at thirty percent but hull integrity is reduced by forty percent."

"Alright Commander Romanov signal the Cumberland and send our position then order all non-essential personnel to the lifeboats." Captain Higgs ordered as she stood in the center of the bridge.

"Captain!" interjected Lieutenant Commander Sanov. "We have incoming ships."

"Drop the ship 1,000 meters on the Z-axis, and bring us about. We'll fire on them as they pass, priority target with phasers is the lead ship, spit the torpedo fire between the two wing ships."

"Aye-aye sir!" acknowledged Lieutenant Commander Sanov.

Admiral Hiroshi stood and approached the strange young man setting at the environmental controls. He smiled a most charming smile as he waited for the Admiral to come and stand beside him in the chaos of battle.

Three Breen Gor Taan-class heavy cruisers opened fire of the disabled USS Swiftsure and the slowly pulling away USS Thunderchild. Both the Starfleet Akira-class heavy cruisers were in the center of the maelstrom the battle had become. The Breen armada was making short work of the unorganized and totally surprised Federation fleet. The luring into position by the light cruisers had worked and the Federation force had stumbled into the exact position the Breen had wanted, centered between four balanced attack fleets.

The lead Gor Taan cruiser fired disruptor bolts at the port side of the turning Thunderchild missing the wounded starship by only a few meters and flaring the ships weakened shields. The second Breen warship's aim was even worse missing by and even larger measure. But the third Gor Taan cruiser's aim was dead on hitting the Thunderchild amidships. The battered ship's shields held but dropped to a dangerous twenty percent of their normal strength.

The crew of the Thunderchild worked quickly dropping the starship 1,000 meters straight down, as the bow of the starship swung around phased particle energy lanced out to hit the underbelly of the passing lead Breen warship. The Breen shield flared with the impact of the phaser attack but held off further damage within the ship. Then the Thunderchild fired a volley of two photon torpedoes at each of the two escorting cruisers trailing the first ship. The first ship was hit by one of the torpedoes, the second ship missed entirely.

"Who are you?" asked an obviously confused Admiral Hiroshi.

"A friend," replied the dark haired young man. "My name is Q."

"Q? How is that possible?" Hiroshi looked around the bridge as if to seek conformation that a member of the Q Continuum was actually setting before him and speaking.

The young man stood up and moved within a breath of Admiral Hiroshi's face and whispered, "I just wanted to see the face of the man that brought the Federation and the rest of the Alpha Quadrant to its knees." Then before Admiral Hiroshi's eyes the man winked out of existence, just seconds before the Thunderchild exploded into billion pieces under the pummeling of Breen torpedo fire.

Stardate: 55079.9 - USS Unification in close orbit to the Vegan Tyranny Artifact

Captain Isaac Paul walked onto the bridge of the USS Unification in a fresh Starfleet jumpsuit following his sixteen-hour trek through the abandoned tunnels of the Vegan Tyranny Artifact. He stunk and was tried beyond belief but his gut instinct had told him to visit the bridge before turning in. He pulled at the tight gray undershirt neck under the red and black jumpsuit before setting down in his command chair. He looked out of place in the old style jumpsuit compared to the rest of his crew in the current heavier gray and black combat fatigue used by Starfleet since the beginning of the Dominion War.

"Andreas what is the situation?" Paul asked his German first officer who had just sat down beside him."

"We've just picked up a general subspace transmission emanating from here in this sector, only a few light years from our current position. It’s a Starfleet signal from the Twenty-seventy Fleet. They are engaged in battle against the Breen." Then Commander Darmstadt turned to look directly at Captain Paul, "But that is not what has me worried, it’s the artifact the thing is coming to life. We are picking up power surges all over the artifact."

Immediately Captain Paul stood and yelled, "Go to Red Alert, raise the shields." Then turning to the duty flight operations officer, "Bring the ship about and head toward Federation space, now!"

"Captain?" Darmstadt stood beside his captain with a puzzled look on his face.

"If Commander Nevik is right Andreas this artifact is part of the Vegan Tyranny, it will be hostile when it wakes up and will on a defensive stance. I do not want the Unification within firing range of this thing in case it just starts shooting blindly."

"Captain we have a situation in Cargo Hold Thirteen!" shouted the duty tactical officer from the rear of the large bridge.

"The Vegan robot." Paul stated immediately upon hearing the shipboard location. "That is where Lieutenant Arrain transported the robot we beamed up from the artifact."

"What is the situation?" shouted Commander Darmstadt.

"The robot has activated, it has killed two engineering technicians and has incapacitated Lieutenant Arrain and another technician." The junior lieutenant then added, "I am sending a security detachment to the hold now sir."

"Belay that lieutenant, send a whole security team now! And place the security department on standby alert status for backup of that team," ordered Darmstadt.

"Wise precaution, you handle securing our new friend, I'll get us out of here." Captain Paul then turned his full attention to the flight control team as Commander Darmstadt ran up to stand beside the duty tactical officer to direct the ship's internal defenses.

"Sir sensors are indicating all those orbiting ships are also activating and powering up their internal reactors." Lieutenant Rossenberg said as he punched in new helm commands to the flight computer on his console.

"How many of those ships are there Lieutenant?" asked Captain Paul as he stood between the conn and operations consoles.

"Of the big ones, almost six hundred. The little ones number in the thousands sir." Returned the young lieutenant.

"Well then Lieutenant I think we ought to get out of here. What do you think? Ahead warp factor nine." Paul ordered with a matter-of-fact tone in his voice.

"Aye-aye sir," replied a slightly more excited Junior Lieutenant Rossenberg.

Commander Darmstadt looked at the readings on the tactical console before him. "Lieutenant you support the Captain with external security. I will handle the intruder."

"Aye-aye sir," responded the lieutenant.

Immediately Darmstadt hit his communicator badge to summon Lieutenant Goran, the Klingon exchange officer who was the senior security officer onboard for this mission. "Lieutenant this is Commander Darmstadt, I need for you to take charge of a security situation at Cargo Hold Thirteen."

"I have just arrived at the scene Commander, I will report as soon as I have control of the battle area," shouted Goran. Commander Darmstadt and the duty tactical officer exchanged worried looks.

Lieutenant Goran stood with his legs shoulder width apart in a traditional combat stance, it was inappropriate for what faced him. Filling the doublewide passageway stood a white ceramic armored behemoth. The robot was not overly tall, but its girth and stance communicated it was a tank, clear and simple. Lying on the floor of the passageway was two of the ship's security department officers. Neither of the men was moving, nor was there any blood. Suddenly the robot unleashed a thin thread-like ruby red laser beam from a lens on its dome-like head that cut through the bulkhead to Goran's right and swept right through the security officer standing beside him like a knife through butter, decapitating the man instantly. Only Goran's instincts saved him as the Klingon immediately dived into a forward summersault drawing his hand disruptor in one sweeping action. Goran brought the disruptor to the ready position and fired with only meters between him and the robot.

The bolt of bright orange energy jumped from the muzzle of the disruptor pistol and impacted the robot center mass. Nothing, the robot took the hit dead on and absorbed it. Instantly Goran jumped straight backward landing on the flat of his back as a laser beam shot over him missing by centimeters then swept to the side. Goran heard another of the Starfleet officer's scream in pain as the laser swept across his ankles cutting off his feet. The man fell withering beside him clutching the cauterized stumps at the end of his legs. The deck shook violently as the heavily armored robot stepped forward again and again. Goran rolled to his left side fitting his two meter frame into the lower corner of the hallway as much as possible as the robot thundered past him breaking into a slow run. His face and hands still holding the disruptor pushed into the corner where the floor and wall meet, he waited for the beast like robot to move past him, crushing the bodies of the Starfleet officers as it ran. While the robot moved past Goran upped the setting on the disruptor from light disrupt to medium disrupt. Then Goran snapped himself from the prone position to a kneeling position, aimed and fired once again center mass of the robot's back at point blank range. From the impact point a reddish-orange glow quickly spread outward and radiated through the entire robot. Then the entire frame of the robot suddenly glowed white hot, then it simply disappeared.

The smell of burnt meat and ionized atmosphere filled the passageway. Goran looked at the dead and wounded Starfleeters laying on the deck around him. He held back the impulse to spit on them. "How do you ever defeat the Jem'Hadar?" he said scornfully then walked down the passageway to the nearest turbolift.

"Darmstadt, this is Lieutenant Goran," he waited for the ship's executive officer to respond. "Commander the alien threat has been eliminated. You will need to notify Lieutenant Commander Murphy there is a mess here and that there are some minor damages to the passageway."

"Casualties?" queried Darmstadt's voice over the combadge.

"Light," was all that Goran said as he entered the turbolift.

 

Chapter Nineteen

Stardate: 55079.9 - Planet Ada

There are a lot of similarities between a Klingon holding cell and a classic medieval dungeon; both are dark, dirty, with no indoor plumbing. The chains on the walls were a nice touch to boot. Valdemaar (Val to his friends, only his mother called him Valdemaar) Salvis was nursing a large gash on his head as he considered his surroundings. His eyes almost came into focus as he got a sharp pain in his calf. "Did someone just kick me?" he wondered to himself.

"Mej quS!" someone shouted at him.

"Leave me alone, I'm too tired for this," Replied Val.

"Mej quS!"

brushing the matted hair out of his face, he looked up and saw who was shouting at him. An older, robust Klingon, probably still drunk, wanted the chair Val was sprawled out in.

"Ha! I see you have already found a fight last night, do you want another?" The Klingon was regarding the gash on his forehead. "Tangled a little too long with one of our women, did you?"

Val grinned as he stared at the Klingon. "Yes, your wife said after a few more sessions my brow-ridge will look just like yours."

The cell burst in laughter as the fellow inmates enjoyed the joke. The older Klingon bellowed loudly and thrust his foot up to kick Val in the face. Salvis caught the horned boot by the heel and kicked out with his leg to the Klingon's standing knee. With the crunch sounding like wet celery, the leg gave as he howled in pain and fell on his rear. Salvis got up as the other Klingons came to their feet. This doesn't look good, he thought.

"There are six-- no, seven of them, and I'm still out of it myself. I need a little help here," Val muttered to no one in particular.

"Qam qIm!" came a shout from outside the cell doors. A guard was opening the door as the other inmates reflexively snapped to attention. "You are Salvis?" asked the guard.

"No, I'm the other human in this cell. Salvis is this lump of Targ crap right here." Salvis kicked the wounded Klingon in the side. He got a satisfying whelp for his effort.

"Oh I ap-- ap-- apologize." the Klingon grinned as he tried an expression that was alien to Klingon culture. "I will let Commander Strong know that Salvis is too inebriated and injured to be of any use to her."

"Strong? She's here? Wait, wait! That's me, I'm coming." Salvis stepped lithely over the old man clutching his leg hissing curses through his teeth. "Is she still hot? I remember she had the nicest set of--"

"She is indeed comely," interrupted the Klingon, "for a human female." The guard grinned broader as he held the door open.

Salvis looked back at the other inmates with a cavalier's sneer, as the gate slammed shut. He pointed one finger at them through the bars. "You guys were lucky he came along." The pointed finger turned into a thumb's up and a wink as he walked out of the port prison.

Stardate: 55079.9 - Planet Septimus III, Cardassian Union's spinward frontier

Field Primus T'Cal stood waiting to meet the Cardassian commander of what was left of the embattled Ninth Order. The Romulan warlord stood in wardroom of his flagship, the ancient Winged Defender Shadow Walker. The Shadow Walker was an old and battle proven Defender-class cruiser that had prowled space when the Federation's Constitution-class heavy cruiser had been Starfleet's main ship of the line. With the arrival of the 287th Star Command from the Romulan Empire T'Cal finally had the forces he needed to carry out his plans for this region of space. But first he would prove once and for all the power of the Romulan Fleet against the Breen invaders.

The loud snap of many hard heels striking the polished obsidian tiles of the deck brought T'Cal's attention to the matter at hand. He looked quickly at the other senior Romulan officers waiting with him. They all reflected his confidence and experience under fire. Under the escort of a detachment of Tal Shiva marines walked Gul Takar. The Cardassian looked worn and deflated. His reptilian hide looked yellowish even under the dimmed lights of the Romulan cruiser. T'Cal raised his hand in salute and waited for the report of the Cardassian.

Raising his hand with the palm open and turned toward the Romulan Field Primus, the Cardassian followed the example of his apparent better. "Field Primus T'Cal Whix, I am Gul Takar, commander of the Ninth Order of the Cardassian Central Command."

"Welcome Gul Takar, on behalf of Romulan Star Empire and our esteemed ally Legate Jak'Karr of Cardassia I bid you welcome to Imperial warship Shadow Walker." The reference to Legate Jak'Karr so quickly obviously startled the Cardassian as well as the members of his small entourage. Quickly T'Cal pressed his new advantage, "You will forward any logistics support requirements you need to my support operations commander immediately. I expect you to integrate your strategic operations staff with mine so that our scout forces can immediately begin searching nearby space for evidence of Breen surveillance."

"Field Primus this is Cardassian space!" for a moment normal ash color returned to Gul Takar's face.

T'Cal smiled as he stepped closer to the Cardassian gul and then whispered, "Commander this is now Romulan space by virtue of force of arms. If you wish to debate this with me I will burn your fleet to cinders with the cleansing fire of Romulan plasma weapons in an instant. I have Imperial warbirds orbiting this planet and searching neighboring space for signs of the Breen. Your pathetic and beaten squadron offer those ships no challenge what so ever; now stand down."

The anger on Gul Takar's face was unmistakable. As he clenched and unclenched his fists his gaze moved around the room and fixed on the shapes of the Romulan Tal Shiva marines standing in the near shadows. He realized this was neither the place nor the time to confront the Field Primus. He took a deep breath and returned T'Cal's gaze before responding, "As you wish Field Primus, I will order my command staff to comply with your request…"

"Command," corrected T'Cal Whix.

"Your command," corrected Gul Takar slowly.

T'Cal smiled broadly as he led Gul Takar out of ear shot of their two staffs by his elbow, "This is for the good of your Union. I am no threat to you or your fleet. Legate Jak'Karr is a good friend and ally of the Romulan people."

"You assume that Jak'Karr represents the Cardassian people Field Primus," Takar whispered back mockingly.

In an instant T'Cal Whix drew his personal dagger from the belt beneath the ceremonial sash worn by senior ranking Romulan officers. With near lightning speed he brought the dagger from his left hip up and across midsection of the traitorous Cardassian gul, gutting him. In horror Gul Takar gripped his bowels and went to his knees, his blood and intestines oozing through his clutching fingers. Slowly he fell to his side then the tension of his surprised muscles eased marking his moment of death. Standing over him T'Cal Whix leaned over and wiped his fouled blade on the uniform of the dead leader.

Slowly T'Cal Whix straightened with an expression on his face that reflected as much surprise at what had just occurred as the members of both command staffs that now looked at him in awe and fear. "Gul Takar spoke treason against the Cardassian Union and its leader Legate Jak'Karr." Then with an almost sad expression he continued, "The Ninth Order is no longer under the command of Gul Takar." Then he stepped forward toward the still shocked Cardassian staff officers. "I expect one of you will assume command of the Ninth Order, I want a briefing on your intentions within the hour."

After the Cardassian officers had been herded out of the wardroom he returned to his seat at the head of the conference table. Once he was seated he waved for his senior intelligence officer to approach him. Ale'k Rav'nn had served the Field Primus for many years and some believed only he knew the true inner workings of the T'Cal Whix's mind.

"My lord?" Rav'nn spoke from within the hooded robe that always concealed his face when others than the Field Primus' staff was around.

"I want to know the true status of the Ninth Order. What resources do they have at their command."

"Yes my lord," Rav'nn hissed his answer.

"Also ensure the best officer assumes command of the Ninth. Eliminate anyone that would challenge Legate Jak'Karr or my authority," continued T'Cal.

"Of course my lord." With a flourish and a spin of his robe Rav'nn dramatically withdrew from the presence of T'Cal to carry out his bidding.

As if the presence of Ale'k Rav'nn had held them at bay, the remainder of T'Cal's military staff closed to seat themselves at the conference table. Slowly the men and women of the Romulan Star Command took their places. Immediately to T'Cal's right sat the ancient Admiral Tal, a long time ally and associate from their first days of service to the Empire. At his left hand sat the commander of the Shadow Walker, the female patrician from a noble family, Illyana De'Vanus. At the far end of the table opposite T'Cal sat the commander of the 287th Star Command, Fleet Commander Telaron. Junior officers of the 287th filled in the many seats between the two ends of the table.

With a nod from T'Cal, Telaron signaled his fleet intelligence officer to begin the briefing.

The experienced centurion stood and began his briefing slightly bowing first to the Field Primus, then turning and bowing in a similar fashion to the Fleet Commander. "My lords, our fleet has successfully completed the redeployment from Romulan space to the Cardassian border and has linked with the Senatorial Fleet commanded by the Field Primus. We are in the process of establishing our Nestar-class repair dock here at Septimus III; the Invictus station will be operational in a few days due to the assistance of the Cardassian civilian population. Our three Aviary-class monitoring stations are being deployed along the forming battlefront stretching from the Kelvas sector near Talarian space to the Rolor Nebula and the edge of Tzenkethi Coalition."

Fleet Commander Telaron interrupted with a raised hand, "Centurion when will the monitoring stations be operational?"

"Within three to four weeks Fleet Commander, we are using our support wing to complete the construction. They will be using materials provided by the Cardassians here and at other strategically located systems near the construction sites." Fleet Commander Telaron nodded his acknowledgement and waved for the centurion to continue.

"The Star Command is divided into three Avara or what Starfleet refers to in their organization as tactical wings. A veteran centurion commands each wing. As implied by the rank of the wing commanders, each wing has approximately one hundred warships assigned to it. Currently we have one wing stationed here at Septimus providing support to our Invictus station assembly activity and the survivors of the Cardassian Central Command's Ninth Order. The other two wings are deployed spinward of Septimus under cloak waiting further instructions for deployment."

"How many Tal Shiva soldiers do we have under our command?" queried T'Cal Whix. The Field Primus realized that without the famous Imperial Marines of the Romulan Navy that no system could be truly controlled.

Fleet Commander Telaron interrupted his centurion. "The Command Primus for the Spinward Commands assigned us a full legion, nearly 100,000 soldiers Field Primus. That gives us roughly five divisions to work with."

The smile quickly spread across the lips T'Cal Whix, "At last, the politicians on Romulus have come to their senses. With five divisions we can control five systems, possibly more. By the Praetor's Hand I will bring this conflict to a quick and final ending."

A middle aged centurion stood suddenly and interrupted the discussion between the two senior commanders. "My lords, the surveillance cruiser we assigned to monitoring the Federation war fleet that was patrolling the Breen border, it reports there was a battle near the Ferengi Alliance."

Fleet Commander Telaron interjected quickly, "Field Primus, we encountered a Federation fleet passing the Rolor Nebula. There were approximately forty cruisers if my memory serves me."

"Ah…I believe that would be their 27th Starfleet. There is a human commanding that fleet I believe, from the Chinese province," offered T'Cal.

"Admiral Andre Hiroshi Field Primus, I believe his data file stated he was a native of their Asian-Pacific district of Japan," added Fleet Commander Telaron.

"What is the news of the 27th Starfleet centurion?" T'Cal redirected their conversation back to the waiting communications officer.

"My lord, it has been defeated near 16 Cygni, in the Alrakis sector. Our surveillance ship indicates that the warships were destroyed initially, then the support cruisers were hunted down and slaughtered following the main action."

"All forty ships centurion?"

"There were forty-eight ships sir, and yes all were destroyed. Apparently there were prisoners taken, transported off before the ships were scuttled by the captors."

Fleet Commander Telaron interrupted with a tactical question, "How many Breen ships were destroyed?"

"Sir it appears that there were less than a dozen Breen battle cruisers lost."

"How accurate is that information?" queried the Field Primus.

"Sir we have two scout cruisers in the area, the information on the Starfleet vessels is primarily from surveillance of their communications. The estimate on the Breen losses is also based on the Starfleet communications traffic. As you know the Breen also employ cloaking devices on their starships," returned the centurion.

"Hmm, so the scout cruisers have not verified the Breen losses. We know that the Federation fleet had forty-eight cruisers from our own observations sir when we passed them near the Rolor Nebula," offered Fleet Commander Telaron. "Complete end of subspace communications by a force that large can only mean one thing when Starfleet is involved, they were all destroyed."

Field Primus T'Cal Whix stood and moved to one of the walls. The conference room walls were in actuality large full-wall computer screens. "Project a two-dimensional map of the sectors separating the Cardassian Union and the Breen Confederacy on this wall," he commanded. T'Cal Whix stood concentrating on the map that appeared. In the center of the map was the multicolored Rolor Nebula. Tzenkethi Coalition space was less than ten light years trailing the nebula to the right. The Cardassian Union's space sprawled along the lower border of the map. Intruding from the upper left corner of the wall map was the icy white line indicating the Breen Confederacy border. From the upper right corner the Ferengi Alliance's green line intruded into the area. T'Cal knew that beyond the Ferengi and the Tzenkethi were the Federation and his Romulan Empire. He concentrated on the map for what seemed like an eternity to the other officers who sat quietly.

Without looking back at the seated officers of his staff he spoke in a low controlled voice, "Fleet Commander, send one full wing to the Rolor Nebula." T'Cal paused as he spread his right hand out with its palm toward the map hovering over the image of the nebula. "Have them wait there for a Breen fleet that is moving to a new attack position."

"Field Primus would if be more prudent to move all three fleets toward the Portas sector, that position keeps our fleet between our base here at Septimus and the main Breen border," countered Fleet Commander Telaron.

A fatigued T'Cal turned slowly and moved back to his chair at the head of the conference table. "That is exactly what the Breen will expect us to do, to fight like our Cardassian friends. No the human admiral had the right strategy, he just had the wrong tools. Starfleet's only tactical advantage is numbers, eliminate their numerical advantage and the battle is won. We on the other hand have never relied on numbers to win our battles, our soldiers and ships are too precious and valuable to throw away in combat casually as the humans and Klingons do. No our Breen counterparts will expect us to build a deep space wall using our ships and stations, then he will try to slip a battle fleet between the plasma storms of the Badlands and the Tzenkethi Frontier. He knows we will not want to skirt the Tzenkethi border too closely. Once that fleet has slipped past us it will raid the soft underbelly of the Cardassian core worlds."

"As you wish my lord, I will order one of the fleets to the Rolor Nebula at once," promised Fleet Commander Telaron.

Stardate: 55079.9 - The Surface of Cardassia Prime - City of Mon Connas

The torrent of rain pelted the window of the suite Legate Jak'Karr had adopted as his planet-side office. Jak'Karr stood and moved to the window to look at the warped images caused by the water running down the plate glass. Outside the images of a resort town that was being transformed into a planetary capital seemed like shadows in the twilight of the thunderstorm.

"Sir I have that intelligence you wanted."

Jak'Karr turned to greet his senior intelligence officer as he walked into the room. "Good Krav, I was wondering if the storm had swept you away."

"More likely a Fourth Order assassin than a rain storm," countered Krav N'Gor.

"Yes I agree, more likely an assassin than an act of nature. A sign of the times, that we fear each other than whims of nature." A sudden flash of lightning and its accompanying crack of thunder added a moment of drama for the two men as Krav N'Gor shook the water from his clothing.

The younger man smiled and then gestured toward the plate glass. "We've forgotten what a real storms were like before the Dominion Betrayal."

Jak'Karr agreed as he moved to set himself at the sofa near the large center table, "It's been over a year since the Dominion destroyed our largest cities and the climate control facilities that serviced them and yet we are still not used to the savageness of the new storms."

A still soaked Krav N'Gor dripped as he seated himself opposite his commander in a plastic chair, "Enros Dorad says it’s the old gods returned to punish us for our sacrilegious acts and betrayal of our world."

"Humph…" snorted Jak'Karr, "what else would our new Parektar Varhet say but that the gods have returned?"

"Don't be so quick to scoff sir, the Bajoran Prophets turned out to be real and came to their aid during our attempt to bring reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant during the war." Krav N'Gor stood and walked to the replicator to order hot tea.

"Yes, naturally an alien species' gods would be the real ones at our moment of triumph, not our own." His remark brought a sideways glance from the younger man.

With his tea in hand Krav N'Gor sat himself in his plastic chair and pulled the table top computer screen closer, then inserted the data chip into the interface slot. The seal of the Central Command appeared on the screen. "Computer display information on the Tzenkethi Coalition."

"Affirmative," answered the computer, an icon that appeared to be the claw marks of a beast appeared representing the Tzenkethi national insignia. A deep Cardassian male voice began the narration. "Since the earliest days of Cardassian deep space exploration the Union has been aware of the Tzenkethi culture coreward of the local plasma storm region commonly known as the Badlands. Approximately fifteen light years from Cardassia Prime, the Tzenkethi Coalition covers nearly a full sector of space. The Average Tzenkethi stands nearly three meters tall, weighs nearly three times that of a fully-grown Cardassian adult male. The Tzenkethi are covered with thick fur as a result of the extremely cold conditions on their homeworld. The Tzenkethi have an iron based metabolism similar to the Bajorans, Federations humans, the Klingons, and ours. The humans classify the Tzenkethi as felinoid, meaning that they showing the characteristics of a predatory stalker from their homeworld. The Tzenkethi reproduce at a tremendous rate probably due to their relatively short life spans.

The Coalition is a conglomeration over 200 warlike clans or tribes. Each clan has a patriarchal warlord that rules the community with an iron claw. The Tzenkethi females however are the real power behind the claw so to speak. While the males dedicate themselves to the study of war, the females run the various businesses and trades. Primarily due to an ultra-conservative cultural bias against innovation or individuality and partly due to the feudal style of government technology for the Tzenkethi is not as developed as that of the neighboring spacefaring cultures. The Obsidian Order reported just before the Dominion War that the Tzenkethi had just began showing indications of warp three technologies."

"Computer stop." Jak'Karr stood and stretched his tired back muscles. "I have reviewed this information many times in the past, is there nothing new Krav, nothing that would given an indication of how the Tzenkethi leadership is forming their policies under the current political situation surrounding them?" Jak'Karr rubbed his chin scales as he began to pace the room.

"It was always the considered opinion of the Central Command that the Tzenkethi environmental requirements kept them from being interested in expanding their borders. They prefer colder environments, while we prefer warmer ones. That coupled with the distances and the fact that we could out-race them in any conflict held them at bay," offered Krav N'Gor.

"Yes, while preferring colder environments, they are still a species with an iron based metabolism making them incompatible with the cobalt based Breen metabolisms." Jak'Karr's pace picked up as he lectured Krav N'Gor. "Even though the Tzenkethi prefer cooler worlds, they still require ecospheres that can support a protein producing agriculture." Jak'Karr collapsed onto the sofa in exhaustion. "Alright, I want you to organize an intelligence collection mission to collect technical intelligence from along the Tzenkethi border. I need more data before making a decision concerning our relations with them, before I try to recruit them to our side."

"Yes sir," acknowledged Krav N'Gor. "I have the report on the Military Orders if you want if now instead of waiting until the morning?"

"Give me a brief rundown on our combat power."

"Yes sir, as you know each of the Orders traditionally maintained four fleets, the first and second fleets being their strongest. The third fleet providing tactical support and the fourth fleet acting as the logistics support element. We have already established that the First, Third, and Fifth Orders' fleets were all lost in the war. Our Second Order has one operational squadron in commission here at Cardassia Prime. Through our new allies at Starfleet we have learned that the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Orders have approximately seventy-five cruisers that are still operational but under the custody of the Federation. The Fourth Order is believed to have approximately thirty starships. The Ninth Order has approximately twenty cruisers still operational as well as control of the Omekla shipyards. But we haven't heard from the Ninth Order since the Breen invasion."

Quickly Jak'Karr interjected, "Do you think they have mutinied?"

"Unknown sir, although we have received no transmissions from the Ninth it does not necessarily mean they are in rebellion."

All right out of the nearly 1,000 cruisers that were at our disposal before the war, we have what, maybe sixty currently in service with another seventy-five in Starfleet custody? That gives us basically the operational capabilities of a single Military Order."

"Yes sir, your assessment is correct."

"Then we have to rethink our priorities…." Both men were about to say something when they were interrupted by Jak'Karr being hailed from his flagship.

"Legate Jak'Karr here," he listened for the response from the orbiting battleship Makarov.

"Legate this is Gul Hanaka, we have just received word from Deep Space Nine, the 27th Starfleet under the command of Admiral Hiroshi has been destroyed."

"How and where?" queried Jak'Karr.

"The report was sketchy but they were ambushed in the Alrakis sector near 16 Cygni. Admiral Ross has ordered the 12th Starfleet to reform into tactical wings at Federation Starbases 310 and 621," she continued.

"310 and 621, those bases are over twenty light years apart and nearly twenty light years behind us," Jak'Karr thought aloud as he processed the new information.

"Sir they are setting up on their old border before the war, deep in Federation territory," added Krav N'Gor.

"All right, Gul Hanaka start organizing a system defense strategy for what we have in system. I will be up as soon as I meet with the Cardassian Council," ordered Jak'Karr.

"Yes Legate Jak'Karr," answered the usually hostile ship commander underscoring the seriousness of this new twist in an already complicated beyond belief situation.

Then turning to Krav N'Gor he began to give directions, "Contact Gul Sakkatha, tell him to assess what combat power is available now and get that sent to the front to relieve the 9th and allow them to withdraw and refit. Then contact Elim Garak, have him use his Starfleet contacts to assess the conditions on Cardassia Prime and what areas are in most need of repair. Compile a list of needed resources and match that against available resources and see how it can be directed to where it is needed. Good opportunity to knock Soth down a peg or two and gain some favor points for me." Jak'Karr returned to his pacing as he dictated to both Krav N'Gor and the computer for record. "Turn the Saervur and Verok Meer over to the person designated with the reconstruction of Cardassia Prime to aid in hauling supplies and resources."

Slowly his pacing took him to the replicator where he also ordered hot tea before continuing, 'Start talks with the other persons of power. The ones I'm most interested in developing a relationship with is in order of preference, Garak, Shamar, Bernak and Padile. Garak: is highly respected for his skills and a formidable Obsidian Order agent. He may have knowledge of hidden assets within the Union that may aid us in our war against the Breen and possibly, Soth's bid for power. Try to play to his sense of patriotism and duty to Cardassia. Show him our interests are one and the same."

"Yes sir," Krav N'Gor focused on taking his own personal notes on his personal computer interface clipboard.

Jak'Karr continued, "Shamar, he is one of the Old Guard Orders. Try to pull him over to my side by pointing out what rule under Soth would be like. Test the waters by mentioning a possible triumvirate of the Old Guard Orders being in charge of the military aspects of the Union with positions and votes on the Detapa Council. Show him what I bring to the table in the way of Romulan allies. Bernak, his 5th Order is an unknown quantity. Try to get an idea from Bernak of what his Order's strength is and where they are. See if he has any pull within his Order and try to rally them to make themselves known and available for operations against Breen invaders."

Jak'Karr sat down on the sofa before continuing, "Padile: It's always good to have God on your side. Convince him that there is a new path open to the Cardassian people, one that isn't focused solely on war and conquest but of peace and acceptance. Show him that I have the genuine interests of the people at heart and want to make things better as a whole, not just for the purpose of personal Vesala and glory. Deploy the Arkava, Bastakar and Jenova to Omekla III to ascertain what kind of shape the shipyards are in and if they can make contact with any members of the 3rd Order.

Contact Starfleet; ask about possible captured Cardassian assets being returned to defend the Union from invasion. Point out the critical need for these assets. Discuss further options for a possible formal alliance beyond the Treaty of Bajor. Contact T'Cal Whix. Bring him up to speed on the current situation within the Union, the political climate, opponents like Soth, etc. Perhaps a visit from Raven would show our dear Legate to respect us. Get his assessment of the situation on the Breen Front. I want Gul Xandrik to travel at maximum warp to Omekla III. Make contact with friendly forces there and request a meeting with the senior officer present. Give him my compliments and ask if a meeting between his superior and myself can be arranged at a time and place of his choosing. The nature of the meeting is to discuss the defense of the Union and the future for our people."

Leaning forward Jak'Karr deactivated the desk top computer and spoke in a lowered voice, "Use your intelligence assets to begin collecting data on Legate Soth, personal routines, movements, etc., information that may prove useful later if he needs to be removed."

Stardate: 55080.1 - High Orbit over the Klingon World of Ada

Slowly the Imperial assault cruiser Loothar slid into position, behind it trailed a motley assemblage of old Klingon warships from eras gone by. The Loothar was the flagship for the escorts of the convoy. Many of the ancient starships were towed by others in not very much better condition. All told there were over twenty-seven cruisers and scouts in the mix. The flotilla included eighteen battle cruisers, nine 200-year-old Raptor-class scouts.

"This is Captain Gnarra, daughter of General Kar'rath, commanding the Imperial Assault Cruiser Loothar, who is in charge down there?" growled the huge woman Klingon setting in the command chair of the Vor'cha-class starship.

"This is Commander Kortov, I command here, "came the reply over the ship's announcer.

"Good," smiled Captain Gnarra, "I'll be down to meet you in a moment." Gnarra cracked her knuckles as she stood and left the bridge.

On the surface Commander Kortov looked dumbfounded at the empty command chair on his computer-viewing screen. Then he looked up at his two lieutenants that were standing in front of his desk, they both shrugged their shoulders in unison. "Who is this Gnarra and who is General Kar'rath?" bellowed Kortov.

One of the lieutenants spoke up, "General Kar'rath is a female commander that led our forces initially deployed in this region of space before the Dominion War. She while in command of the Assault Cruiser Loothar ambushed a large Dominion fleet approaching this area of the Cardassian border. Her ambush enabled the regional Klingon forces to withdraw and regroup. It was a glorious victory early in the war. But the Loothar and the few surviving warships were mangled so badly that they were retired to Klingon space for refit and repair. Kar'rath returned after the war for a short period before Brigadier Wotan assumed command but withdrew to the Homeworld in the face of a clear Romulan political victory when the Warlord T'Cal Whix convinced the provisional government to side with him over the Federation."

"Of course, I knew that. Who is this Captain Gnarra then, she claims to be the daughter of Kar'rath?" asked Kortov shrugging off the lieutenants obvious expertise in regional affairs.

"A renegade," answered the other lieutenant. "She is a Federation supporter, a mercenary that has worked for the Federation and Starfleet more than for her own people. She is obviously a plant by Martok to ensure Brigadier Wotan's loyalty to the new regime."

"She is one of Martok's people?" whispered Kortov. "Why have I not heard of her before then?"

"Oh but you have sir, she worked with the Marquis for many years, supplying them with arms and munitions. She has connections with Starfleet Intelligence although they would never admit it since most of her career they were hunting her with Starfleet Security. She rose to power when Martok became the leader of our forces against the Dominion. Her ability to gain the trust of the humans served her well during the war."

"Why would she be back here then?" Kortov wondered aloud.

"Why don't you ask me yourself?" the broad shouldered Klingon female stepped unannounced into the office. Quickly she led with a right armed roundhouse punch to the face of the first lieutenant standing before Kortov's desk instantly dropping him to his knees. Then she back elbowed the nose of the second lieutenant as he stood in shock watching the blood flow from his companion's face driving him back against the wall. Then Captain Gnarra picked the first lieutenant up by the shoulder armor of his uniform to knee him again in the face further damaging his already broken nose. Then she spun with a flourish and laugh that should have raised the dead, and stepped toward the other downed junior Klingon officer. She helped the young man to his feet then head butted him dropping him once more to the floor. She turned and looked at her handiwork. Laughing once again she looked at the surprised Commander Kortov and said, "I am here to do business, set down and lets talk."

 

Chapter Twenty

Stardate: 55080.1 - Bajor

Brigadier Wotan scratched the rough hairs of his chin as he looked out the picture window of the Bajoran minister's estate. Sprawling in the distance along the curve of the valley lay the premiere city of Bajor, Jalandra. His negotiations with the Bajoran ministers had been going on for eight hours. He was tired of the diplomatic games these Bajorans seemed to think were so necessary. It had become clear that the Bajorans had no stomach for drawing attention to themselves in the wake of the Dominion War. They were not even prepared to push for their full membership in the Federation despite the official ending of hostilities nearly a year ago. How would his plan of ascendance come to fruition using spineless whelps like these? Where had the Bajorans that had fought the Cardassian occupation gone? Where were the freedom fighters that had won the freedom of their world?

"My lord," his thoughts were interrupted by the intrusion of one of his lieutenants, "Sir a Bajoran would like to see you in private."

"What Bajoran?" Wotan turned from the picturesque view to stand in the center of the ornate room.

"Sir he identifies himself as a kindred spirit only," responded the lieutenant. "But he wears the rank insignia of a Bajoran general officer."

"A Bajoran general officer…this should be amusing. Bring him to me," smiled Wotan.

"Yes sir." The lieutenant stepped back through the door and was gone only for a few minutes then returned with a middle-aged Bajoran male. He ushered the Bajoran officer into the room then retreated back into the hallway allowing the pneumatic door to close.

Wotan made a grand show of looking the Bajoran's uniform over before speaking, "You are a general officer in the Bajoran militia, why have you asked my lieutenant to speak with me? Have you the permission of your First Minister to see me or is this something you are doing on your own initiative?"

"There are many among our government that do not believe that the Federation has our peoples' best interests at heart with their policies toward Cardassia. The Federation has not occupied Cardassia Prime and has not dismantled their Military Orders. They have assumed a "hands-off" approach and basically left the Cardassians to fend for themselves. They do not realize the implications of such an irresponsible policy and the results that will occur by dealing with the likes of the Cardassians in such a way," began the Bajoran officer.

"I assume the people you represent feel that the Cardassians should be kept under control through a tougher policy, what policy?" returned Wotan.

"Occupation." Came the quick and simple answer in response to Wotan's question.

Wotan smiled like a hungry wolf at the smaller Bajoran male as he began to circle him, rubbing his chin in thought. "You advocate the use of military muscle to keep the Cardassians in line in the belief that if left alone they will rise to one day threaten the Bajoran people as they have in the past."

"Yes."

"Why do you bring this to me? What am I that you feel sharing this belief with me will further your goals?" questioned Wotan as he came full circle to once again stand before the Bajoran.

"You are a Klingon. And if my intelligence is correct, you are now the senior ranking Klingon officer in this region of space." The Bajoran general stepped over to a small table holding liquid refreshments in ornate decanters and hand made glass bottles. He purposely searched the liquors until he found the one he wanted. He then poured two small glasses of the mysterious drink and carried them to present one to Wotan. "Here Brigadier Wotan, enjoy this with me." Then after passing one of the small glasses to Wotan he quickly turned his up and gulped its contents down in one quick swallow. His eyes immediately became bloodshot and his face flushed.

Slowly Wotan smiled again, and then bravely he too downed the liquid in one gulp. The warmth quickly flowed from his center to all parts of his body, he instantly felt light as a feather and braver than Kahless ever had thought of being. Wotan savored the feeling and the bitterness of the taste as he closely examined the small glass with a new respect for its former contents, turning it in his battle worn and scarred fingers. "You mean to teach me to not be deceived about the strength of things from Bajor."

"I am General Brock Talmaar, I serve the First Minister as a military attaché. I also represent a growing number of military officers in the militia that are concerned about our world's loss of sovereignty by membership in the Federation. Do not misunderstand, I support the Federation's expansion into this region of space. I believe the Federation is good for the Bajoran people as an ally, but membership is a completely different matter. Even the Emissary from the Prophets did not support our move to membership before his departure to be with the Prophets."

"Yes I have heard much of the wisdom of this Captain Sisko from Earth," offered Wotan in feigned support of what General Brock had said. "You said you represent a growing number of militia officers, how big a number of supporters do you have? Are you this group's leader?"

General Brock smiled guardedly at the burly Klingon, "Sufficient to influence the opinions of many of the ministers in our government chambers." Then Brock turned and walked to the door, "Sufficient enough that if there were a call to occupy Cardassia Prime that Bajor would be able and willing to provide troops for such a worthy humanitarian endeavor."

"Humanitarian," Wotan laughed aloud at the Bajoran's choice of words, "humanitarian indeed." Very well I will remember your generous offer and will consider what role both your people and mine should have in the Cardassian recovery in this new age we now find ourselves in."

Wotan watched as General Brock of Bajor left the room and the door automatically closed behind him. This definitely provided him a new angle on the changing situation here along the Cardassian Frontier. Bajor was the gateway world to the Gamma Quadrant. Besides representing Klingon interests in post Dominion War Cardassian space, he also was in a position to establish his own house as the preeminent power once serious expansion into the Gamma Quadrant began. This preeminence would ultimately lead to his future house becoming a permanently seated member of the High Council. If Martok could come from humble begins as the son of a houseless warrior and rise to lead the Empire, then so could he…so could he."

Stardate: 55080.1 - Deep Space Nine

Colonel Kira Nerys sat in her office pondering over the intelligence reports that her new executive officer, Commander Elias Vaughn had brought to her last night before ending the evening watch. She had been up all night going over them to try and make sense of the confusing data. A few hours ago Deep Space Nine has received word about the loss of Admiral Hiroshi and the entire 27th Fleet in the Alrakis Sector near the Ferengi Alliance. The report had come from some of Admiral Hiroshi's support cruisers escaping the battle site. The communications logs indicated that those ships were also eventually lost as they were hunted down and destroyed by the Breen.

She looked at the chronometer in the lower right corner of her desk computer screen, it read: 55080.0235. "Zero two-hundred in the morning," Kira whispered to herself. She needed to leave the analysis alone and get on to bed. With the loss of the 27th Fleet tomorrow would be a long day of planning.

Kira deactivated the padd with the Starfleet report on the fate of the 27th Fleet and picked up the padd she had been using before Commander Vaughn interrupted her. It was a report on Klingon deployments in the region since General Martok's withdrawal to the Empire's territory. The reports were compiled by Starfleet but lacked their usual clarity. In fact the entire regional strategic situation lacked clarity, the Romulans had a major fleet deployed deep in Cardassian space in the Septimus system. Indications were that the Romulans had somehow slipped nearly one hundred warships past both the 27th Fleet and the attacking Breen forces through the Rolor Nebula gap between the Breen Confederacy and the Tzenkethi Coalition's territories. There was no word of the Tzenkethi's own forces' deployment, but there had to be something going on there because returning Cardassia warships had reported that many of their ships that entered Tzenkethi space failed to return. It would appear the feline Tzenkethi naval technology had improved during the Dominion War despite their neutral status.

Starfleet of course was terribly stretched thin following the end of the fighting and the signing of the Treaty of Bajor. Since the end of the fighting Starfleet had tried very hard to refill its ranks, during the fighting its starships had fallen from over 8,000 capital class starships to approximately 2,700 ships. Near the end of the war many obsolete ships had been brought back from retirement to serve in front line positions. An entire generation of multipurpose ships that had been intended for deep space exploration and colonization had been sacrificed in the initial fighting of the war. Starfleet still had not disbanded its current strength of forty-four fleets. Each of the fleets fielded between fifty to sixty ships versus prewar numbers of between one and two hundred capital and support ships. Where a Galaxy, Nebula, or New Orleans-class ship once filled a berth in the fleet organization an older Ambassador, Constellation, Excelsior, or Norway-class cruiser now stood. From the reports, Colonel Kira realized that newer more effective classes of starships were rolling out of the Starfleet construction sites, such as the Akira and Steamrunner-classes. But progress was painfully slow as new crews were trained and ships hurriedly completed.

The 27th Fleet under the command of Admiral Hiroshi had been assigned the responsibility of patrolling the spinward edge of the Cardassian Union; it had forty-eight capital class starships assigned to it including eight new Akiras and six Steamrunners. Even with these new state of the art cruisers the 27th had been defeated in battle by the Breen. Admiral Ross had indicated that he had ordered the reformation of the 12th Fleet near Betazed, but Starfleet would be hesitant to leave Betazed undefended after what had occurred during the Dominion occupation there. Kira knew that Starfleet had withdrawn many fleets to re-deploy on the Klingon and Romulan borders following the political upheaval that had fallen out after the end of the war. Ross had resisted permanently stationing a fleet at Bajor because of the political implications. That decision he had openly admitted would wait until Bajor's membership in the Federation had been finalized. Secretly Kira knew that Starfleet had pulled back their ships in anticipation of third Borg invasion following communications with one of their ships operating deep in the Delta Quadrant.

Kira leaned back in her chair and rotated it so she could stretch her legs out in front of her along her office's carpet. Then she quickly tipped her uniform boots off so she could stretch her toes. She was tired, dead tired. In her stocking feet she stood up and walked to the couch along the far wall. She opted to set cross-legged on the carpeted floor at the last second rather than setting on the couch. Slowly she stretched her arms above her head hyper-extending her back to relieve the muscle pain from too many hours setting at the computer screen.

Slowly she brought her mind back to the moment and the current crisis. She missed Sisko and Martok; they were so different and so similar at the same time. A human and a Klingon, they had become her dearest allies in the most trying of times. Most of all though she missed Odo, she missed him very much. Finally she brought her mind back to Brigadier Wotan. Now with Admiral Selkirk on her way to Cardassia Prime and Captain Paul finally underway with his ship the Unification on his mission of exploration, Wotan was all that was left of the major key figures now involved in her life. "Wotan, son or Marok," she mumbled to herself as she keyed her padd to bring up his record from the Starfleet database.

The text on the data padd read: "Wotan: Brigadier in the House of Marok. Direct heir of General Marok, the house patriarch. Served with distinction during the Cardassian-Klingon War and the Dominion War. Currently commands the Imperial Klingon Defense Forces' 10th Expeditionary Fleet headquartered in the Ada system." Kira raised her eyebrow as she keyed in "Klingon Order of Battle." On the small screen more text appeared. She knew this information but the late hour and the fatigue that was over taking her clouded her mind. "At its full strength the Klingon Empire fielded approximately 6,500 warships and tens of thousands of warriors for both space and ground combat operations. House fleets were organized under the command of the Imperial Klingon Defense Force into brigades of two to three hundred starships, regiments of up to one hundred starships, battalions of twenty-seven starships, fighting wings (nine starships), wings (six starships), or squadrons of three starships."

Quietly Kira wondered where Brigadier Wotan was keeping his "one hundred starships." She thumbed controls of the padd to show recent sensor information. Recently intercepted communications between the Klingon ships had picked up by Deep Space Nine. Kira and her staff had been assuming that the Klingons were preparing to move off in support of the 27th Fleet but the communications traffic appeared to be remaining in and around the Federation-Cardassian border. She knew that the attack cruiser IKS Okkam was still in orbit over Bajor. It had been there since right before the rogue Jem'Hadar cruiser attack that had halted plans to reenter the Gamma Quadrant in force and cost her first executive officer, Commander Trist Jast, her life. Kira wondered what Wotan could be up to that kept him at Bajor so long. Starfleet was mismanaging the peace after the war. Its efforts in the Bajoran and Cardassian sector had been minimal. Kira understood the need to pull its battered and bleeding forces back into its own space to lick their wounds, but to almost totally abandon a region that was so hard fought for seemed almost insane.

Stardate: 55080.2 - USS Unification leaving the Vegan Tyranny region

Captain Isaac Paul rubbed the bridge of his nose trying to force the fatigue from his body. Slowly he looked up from his command chair and surveyed the Galaxy-class starship's command bridge. His eyes rested on the back of his Andorian flight manager, Lieutenant Suelin Cato. The Andorian had done a wonderful job reacting to the suddenly appearing Vegan ships as they popped into space blocking Unification's escape. Beside Cato manning the operations station sat Lieutenant Jola Batir, a Bajoran female.

Suddenly the proximity alarm wailed its shrieking warning. Captain Paul's attention was immediately pulled to the small screen on the armrest of his chair. The Vegans used an unusual type of faster than light propulsion system that allowed them to by-pass space and reappear suddenly in a new location. Captain Paul quickly scanned his screen looking for the data that would indicate where the Vegans were appearing. "Change course to 010 mark 120!" he shouted at Lieutenant Cato.

"Captain they are firing!" warned Lieutenant Kentaro Romero from the tactical station behind Captain Paul.

The Unification's captain watched the data as it scrolled across his screen. The Vegans had just deployed about two-dozen starships ahead of the Unification in a widely spread formation blocking their route back into Federation space. They had just appeared suddenly and were simultaneously firing a high-energy subspace pulse in unison. The pulses created a subspace super energy wave covering hundreds of light years in only a few seconds. The course ordered by Captain Paul had the Unification moving away from the energy wave along a perpendicular vector at maximum warp. The Vegans themselves appeared immune to the effects of the energy pulse as the waves washed over each of their ships.

Lieutenant Commander Nevik's monotone voice was surreal under the present conditions, "Captain I've completed my analysis of the Vegan Tyranny propulsion system."

"What are they using Mister Nevik?" Captain Paul responded despite quickly deteriorating tactical situation.

"Dimensional shifting sir."

"What?" retorted the Captain.

"Captain my readings indicate that the Vegan ships are not jumping through subspace but rather completely leaving this dimension and moving into another, then returning to our dimension at and new location."

"I remember reading about that," interjected Commander Darmstadt, the Unification's German first officer, "but multi-dimensional travel is supposed to be hazardous to life."

Casting a sideways smile Captain Paul added, "Apparently not to Vegan life."

"Impact in thirty seconds!" called Lieutenant Suelin Cato from the flight operations console.

"We're at warp speed! How is that energy way catching us at our present speed?" Captain Paul stood and turned to look up at the tactical operations officer standing behind the captain's chair. The massive Galaxy-class starship shuddered as the first Vegan energy wave hit the starship's aft end. The lights dimmed as the emergency lighting kicked in. Alarms and warnings screamed for their operators' attention. Everyone on the bridge paused as a momentary gravimetric hiccup occurred when the energy wave washed over the great starship, subsystems all over the ship fluctuated from the impact. Frightened looks were exchanged as people froze in their tracks from the sensation of falling was being experienced by everyone at the same instant.

"Damage report?" shouted Commander Darmstadt.

"Shields are down Captain," shouted back Lieutenant Romero from the tactical station. The young Italian-American officer grabbed the console as the ship suddenly lost forward momentum causing the bow of the ship began to dip forward. The ship was suddenly tumbling as a second Vegan energy wave washed over the rear of the Unification pushing the nacelles up and over the saucer section.

"Captain we have lost steerageway and have come out of warp speed," interjected Lieutenant Suelin Cato.

"Lieutenant Jola are we near a planetary system?" demanded Captain Paul.

"Sir we are within a few months of a planetary system," returned Lieutenant Jola.

"Commander Darmstadt separate the saucer from the star-drive section. Once we are underway detonate the star-drive."

"Captain we are tumbling, we may not be able to get everyone off within five minutes," returned Commander Darmstadt.

Captain Paul stood his ground holding the back of the flight operator's chair. "Damn it Commander those Vegan ships will be here momentarily. Eject the star drive and detonate it now!"

"Aye-aye sir," Commander was leaning heavily on the tactical console to keep from being swept to the floor like the science personnel manning the consoles at the back of the bridge. He shoved off and used his momentum and that of the tumbling ship to fall toward the engineering console at the far side of the rear of the bridge. He landed hard against the console bruising his hip.

"Initiating separation protocols," shouted the first officer. Throughout the starship the computer began announcing the beginning of the separation process and warning all personnel to make their way to the saucer. Almost in a panic the people were literally climbing along the passageways trying to make it to the turbolifts and Jefferies Tubes within the five-minute time limit.

Captain Paul felt the eyes of the bridge crew on him as he listed to Commander Darmstadt announcing the status of the ship, and more importantly the progress of their crewmates scrambling to escape the engine room and other spaces in the lower decks to the saucer. Fortunately most of the crew and passengers were already in the saucer, but the majority of the engineering staff were below in the star-drive section. Captain Paul launched himself back toward his command chair landing with an uncomplimentary thud.

"Captain I am regaining navigational control," shouted Lieutenant Cato.

"Do we have warp power?" asked Captain Paul

The Andorian pilot quickly scanned her control board, "Yes sir the warp drive is still on line, the Vegan energy wave must be a dampening field of some kind," returned the Andorian female officer.

"Captain we are two minutes into the separation protocol!" Darmstadt shouted from the rear of the bridge.

Captain Paul quickly surveyed the faces of the officers focusing on him waiting for him to give them hope and direction. "Andreas hold the protocol at one minute, but continue the evacuation. Cato Punch it, take us to maximum warp straight into the nearest solar system. On the way in find me a gas giant to hide in." Then turning in his seat he queried Lieutenant Romero, "How far away is the nearest Vegan ship?"

Instantly the Unification jumped to Warp 9.6 accelerating toward the solar system that Captain Paul hoped to use as a sanctuary from their pursuers.

"Captain I have scanned twelve Vegan ships that appear to be in pursuit or at least were involved in launching the energy waves against us. But they are not using warp drive technology so it is hard determine if they are all in direct pursuit or not," offered Lieutenant Romero from the tactical station. "Captain the energy capabilities of those ship have to be tremendous to launch energy waves into subspace at warp speeds!"

From the rear of the bridge Commander Darmstadt announced, "Holding at one-minute sir. Lieutenant Commander Murphy indicated he almost has his staff out of the star-drive section." Then in a almost hysterical voice Darmstadt yelled, "Harm over Mister Cato! Captain grab on to something!"

Captain Paul quickly turned his attention to the main viewing screen to see the source of Darmstadt's terror. Suddenly on the screen ahead of the Unification six of the Vegan hunter ships had appeared from no where, simply materializing before them in the wink of an eye. The Captain watched as the image on the screen slid in response to Lieutenant Cato rolling the ship's bow to the starboard to avoid closing with the Vegans. "Range?" he called out to Romero as the image changed.

"Three million kilometers off our ventral portside sir!" called back Romero.

"Scan them!" Paul yelled, "I want detailed tactical intelligence Lieutenant."

"Aye sir."

"Damn this is harder than fighting a cloaked ship, we can't outrun them." Captain Paul's statement was to no one in particular.

"Cato swing us back around and bear down on the Vegans." At the speed the Unification was travelling at covering a few million kilometers took only a breath. "Romero fire phasers and torpedoes as we pass." Then back to Cato, "Lieutenant drop out of warp as soon as we hit phaser firing range." Both junior officers acknowledge their captain's commands.

Romero was the first to report something, "Captain they do not have shields up!"

"Excellent, fire before they are able to pop out," returned Captain Paul. At three hundred thousand kilometers the Unification dropped out of warp speed to sublight and initiated a multi-fire maneuver firing its arsenal of weapons at the aggressing Vegans. As the Unification passed through the Vegan battle line it fired at the two furthest ships at each end of the six-ship line with photon torpedoes. The Unification passed through the widely stretched battle line while the two outermost Vegan ships' hulls exploded from torpedo hits. Immediately Lieutenant Romero fired phasers at the two closest Vegan ships with twin reddish-orange beams coming off the main emitters and slicing along the sides of the two enemy ships as they pasted to the port and starboard.

"WARP SPEED NOW!" ordered Captain Paul. Instantly Lieutenant Cato accelerated the Unification forward breaking the light barrier and disappearing from view in a heart beat. "Lieutenant Romero what is the Vegan ships' status?"

"Scanning sir," replied Lieutenant Romero. "Sir of the first two ships engaged, the portside outboard ship lost its active sensors, the starboard side ship lost its impulse engines. Of the two phasered ships, the portside one also lost its impulse engines, the starboard side inboard ship is completely dead in space, apparently it lost all power."

"Captain!" interrupted Lieutenant Commander Nevik, the Chief Science Officer of the Unification, "there are no lifeforms on the aggressor ships. Sir they appear to be automated."

"Robots?" questioned Captain Paul.

"Captain six Vegan ships are materializing to our front, range is fifty-six trillion kilometers," called Romero from his tactical console.

Commander Darmstadt offered from beside the young Tactical Officer, "They must be the second division of the squadron pursuing us."

"I agree, Cato swing wide and bring us out of warp parallel to their line of battle I want to strafe their line." Turning to face Commander Darmstadt and Lieutenant Romero at the tactical station, "Gentlemen I want you to target and fire at each of the ships in line as we pass."

"Aye-aye sir!" the two bridge officers chimed in together.

"Alright Lieutenant Cato lets do it," ordered Captain Paul as he sat back in his command chair. "Drop to sublight and accelerate to ninety-five percent light speed."

The USS Unification sprinted from its warp transition point as it flared with released energy from the ship's drop for Warp 9.6. Accelerating from a quarter of the speed of light at full impulse to nearly the speed of light the Unification quickly closed on the long line of Vegan robot ships now turning their bows toward her. Almost within seconds the Unification closed the hundreds of thousands of kilometers to engage the first ship in line. Working together Commander Darmstadt and Lieutenant Romero affect the multi-fire maneuver strafing the Vegans as they passed. A lance of reddish-orange phased particle energy ripped across the midships of the first Vegan robot ship tearing the sensors and communication arrays from the exposed superstructure. As the Unification flashed past the phaser attack shifted to the next ship in the line glancing along the main hull of the linear designed cruiser. Just as quickly as it had begun the attack shifted to the third ship in the line. The phaser attack impaled the robot cruiser slicing right through hull without noticeable effect. The fourth attack was more effective destroying the robot's primary source of power and shutting down completely.

"Come to course three-five-zero mark zero-one-five," ordered Captain Paul in reaction to the fifth and sixth robot ships raising their bows to intercept the Unification.

Phaser fire continued coming from the lower saucer section of the Unification as the Galaxy-class cruiser climbed away from the enemy battle line, her shields flaring from the impact of the lower yield energy weapons fire now erupting from the remaining five Vegans. The Unification's phaser beam cut a centerline along the beam of the fifth robot cruiser without inflicting critical damage. The hail of energy beam fire coming from the five Vegan robot ships failed to pierce the Unification's shields.

"Captain they are firing low yield plasma weapons," Lieutenant Romero called from the tactical station. "The shields are holding but can not if we prolong exposure to their sustained fire."

"Acknowledged Mister Romero, Lieutenant Cato increase our range quickly," ordered Captain Paul.

Suddenly the sixth Vegan ship ignited their energy dampening pulse, a wave of blue-while energy flashed from the center of the robot sweeping past the Unification like a flashbulb of a twentieth century camera. Instantly all power on the Unification was gone. The great starship continued coasting into the black void completely dark and out of control. As the Unification tumbled away from the Vegan battle line at nearly the speed of light a multitude of small insect-like craft were released in mass. The small robots began repairing the squadron's battle damage.

 

- To be continued -

 

Credits & Disclaimer

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "In Harm's Way"

Based on the Award Winning Star Trek Deep Space Nine Roleplaying Game published by Last Unicorn Games, 1999. Additional material taken from Star Trek Roleplaying Game by Decipher Inc. published 2002. Star Trek (c) and Deep Space Nine (r) are trademark items of Paramount Pictures and used here only in the context of non-commercial private use online role-playing.

Some of the Deep Space Nine characters included in this narrative were borrowed from the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Pocket Books' novel Avatar, by S.D. Perry. These characters are used here to provide continuity of setting, and are used without permission.

 

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