Long section here...should be a couple weeks before the next. And then, the Thirteenth Order will be on the edge of its first great test.
2375—The Dominion War—Seven days after the attack on Rondac III
Cardassian Rasgălor of Lessek
Macet eyed the terhăn
commander as the senior officers of both contingents filed into the building Glinn Va’Kust had used as his office for the past six months. Quite unlike working with Picard
, Macet reflected. Then the Starfleet officer reached for the neck of his undershirt and tugged it yet again. Except for
…although Spirodopoulos has an excuse
. A crooked smirk flitted across the gul’s face—a mannerism he was told he shared with his cousin, but he couldn’t seem to excise it from his repertoire.
captain, though he had allowed Macet the courtesy of observing aboard his vessel, had firmly controlled the situation the entire time. Picard had taken an unacceptable risk trying to talk
his berserker colleague into submission. Macet could have ordered his fellow Order-mates to shoot to damage, not to destroy—but Picard had never trusted him enough for that. The slow cogs of Picard’s diplomacy ground up too many Cardassians in the end, and however much he had come to respect Picard for refusing to start a war when Central Command itself was foolishly trying to provoke one, that still stung.
This time they were in his
territory and it was Macet and his fellows leading the process. Though he recognized the necessity of understanding and accommodating these foreigners’ ways as much as the situation allowed, he found that extra measure of control let him sleep more easily these past few nights than he had those tense few days aboard the Enterprise
. Not that this still didn’t have a significant chance of going severely awry—but this time he was in a position to do all he could to prevent that.
Still…for all the seeds of rebellion the four guls had sown, Macet credited the growing cohesion of this hybrid force he now thought of as the Thirteenth Order to Makis Spirodopoulos’s ability to lay aside war-bred prejudice for the sake of a cause upon which the survival of both their peoples depended. And it very nearly never happened
, Macet acknowledged. The naked fury in the younger man’s ridgeless-wide eyes when he first learned the rebels’ plans had almost matched the polaron cannons of a Jem’Hadar capital ship in wrathful intensity. Not that he could blame Spirodopoulos…Macet had to admit he would have felt the same, and that was why it had stung more than he ever let on.
But for a man of his relative rank, Spirodopoulos had admirably overcome that initial reaction. And now the men and women under his impromptu command were doing likewise—some more successfully than others, but all aware of the direction in which they had to move. It spoke well of his nascent command presence that Master Chief Librescu, a veteran of the Federation-Cardassian wars, had donned the armor and come to the table today ready and willing to contribute to the tactical plan.
Joining the four guls were Glinns Va’Kust and Yejain, as well as Riyăk
Iymender from the Lessek shipyard. Accompanying Commander Spirodopoulos and Chief Librescu were Lieutenants T’Ruveh, Haeruuh, and Yupanki—and Ensign Folani. I hope you know what you’re doing with this
, Macet thought as he glanced at the tall, muscular Bajoran woman. Inviting his staunchest opponent to the main strategy session was a bold move, but one that could backfire in a heartbeat if she ignored her commanding officer’s admonition to check her temper.
Gul Speros’ resentful glare in her direction really wasn’t helping. The gul of the Ghiletz
had lost his son and daughter-in-law-to-be in one of the first Bajoran Resistance attacks—a devastating blow that had done much to shape the caustic man Macet had always known. Speros had swallowed enough of his pride already to accept Macet’s and Berat’s plan to draw from Starfleet ranks, but this
…it had to try his last shred of patience.
Spirodopoulos glanced over at the eldest gul, meeting his eyes with a steady gaze—his face devoid of hostility, relaxed, even…but the message was clear enough: You aren’t hiding it very well
. And at just the right time, the terhăn
looked away. Even some of Speros’ fellow guls found it difficult to assert themselves before him, and for this non-Cardassian who just two days ago had been a prisoner to do so spoke quite well of him. A promising young glinn
, Macet thought, strangely proud.
The group arrived at a long, trapezoidal conference table, and Spirodopoulos looked uncertainly at the arrangement, clearly wondering where to sit. Before Macet could specify, the terhăn
glanced across the room and caught the eye of Tayben Berat. As Spirodopoulos moved closer to the center chair on the shorter length of the table, Tayben cast a glance at that seat and nodded. Macet approvingly noted the lieutenant commander’s correct response—after their one-on-one discussion, Spirodopoulos and the genial Berat seemed to have clicked, and the Starfleet officer was already learning to read the cues of expression that Tayben often used in place of hand gestures.
Taking his lead from Tayben, the Starfleet officer sat across from the seat Macet intended to take. At Spirodopoulos’ right and left were Folani and Librescu respectively, likely the two greatest skeptics with whom he had to contend. On the Cardassian side, Macet took the center seat and motioned for Berat and Yejain to take the seats nearest to Folani—mainly to keep Gul Speros from sitting there. At Macet’s other side sat his first officer, just arrived from the Trager
. “I have one more introduction to make before we begin. This is Glinn Daro,” he said, supplying his fellow Hăzăk native’s rank for the Starfleet soldiers who were unable to read the gold inscription on his cuirass, “my first officer. He will be participating in the ground action since he came up through the Mechanized Infantry.”
,” the beige-skinned Daro quietly greeted with a respectful bow of the head as he discreetly assessed the Starfleet contingent. Then he reached across the table with his right hand. Spirodopoulos hesitated for the first second as if he’d never seen the gesture before. Of course—he’s never seen a Cardassian do that
. Doubtless ‘Inquisitor Daro’ had taken the time to research terhăn
customs. Spirodopoulos accepted Daro’s careful handshake as the Trager
’s first officer smiled and said, “I look forward to getting to know you.”
“Likewise,” Spirodopoulos replied with a guarded tone: clearly the man still harbored some reservations, even if he battled against them.
“Let us begin,” Macet ordered. Once the room fell silent, he stood and took a few steps back from the table. “Most of you are already well familiar with the general scenario, but for the sake of our new comrades I’ll review. Our objective is to seize two targets: the planetside and orbital shipyards of Lessek. In the course of this mission, we hope to secure a newly-built, Dominion-upgraded Gălor
-class ship that if recent intelligence reports are correct, should be ready for immediate deployment. There are also two Laghur
-class fast-attack cruisers with similar upgrades available and an estimated 30 Hidekiy
-class shuttles between the planetside base and drydock.
“Rather than attempt an orbital assault, we intend to seize both bases starting from the ground, and in that process, the Gălor
, before the Dominion has time to recognize all four of our ships are involved. The longer they believe a small group of malcontents from the base is responsible for the attacks, the longer they’ll hold off on calling for out-of-system reinforcements. Eventually we’ll have to engage them in space, but the longer we delay that, the better. Primary responsibility for the orbital battle goes to Berat and Yejain, who will be returning to the Sherouk
immediately following this meeting; all four ships will report to him during the orbital phase. The rest of us will prepare for the ground assault.”
“Macet?” Gul Rebek softly interjected, her tone solemn. Macet nodded for her to continue. “I know what the plan was last time we discussed it, but I need Va’Kust shipside. I’m concerned about Glinn Meray…we need someone to command the Romac
who wasn’t at Septimus.”
Macet closed his eyes for a moment. This wasn’t good—he’d been planning on Va’Kust, who had personally surveyed the territory between the base and shipyard, leading the march of the Thirteenth Order. But if the Septimus Massacre had caused Tayben so much anguish, how much worse it must have been for those aboard the ship nearly destroyed from within by the Jem’Hadar at the same time the Klingons were trying their damnedest to blow it to pieces!
The Bajoran ensign leaned over and whispered something to Spirodopoulos that Macet couldn’t hear. Her superior shook his head.
Gul Speros glared. “Care to share that with the rest of us?”
Folani, much like her commanding officer had earlier, met Speros’ eyes with an impassive face. “I was asking Commander Spirodopoulos if he’s heard anything about what happened at Septimus. He doesn’t know.”
“Your Klingon allies
slaughtered five hundred thousand Cardassian reservists down to the last man on the planet’s surface and left a burning husk of a planet behind,” Speros growled, “that’s what. These two commanders barely escaped with their ships intact, mainly because this one—” he gestured sharply at Berat, “—is crazy enough to tractor a damaged vessel when his own is barely hanging together, and engage his warp drive in a planetary gravity well not a second later. You should be grateful we’re still working with
you, if those are the sorts of atrocities you allow your allies
Spirodopoulos froze. Acrid and ill-timed as Speros’ outburst had been, he had them: there was no retort the Starfleet officers could toss back at him without undermining the alliance they all needed. Tayben drew breath to speak, but Macet fixed his eyes with a warning shake of the head—the young gul might mean well, but Speros was one of those who believed Macet was wasting his time on a disabled man who shouldn’t have continued serving the Guard, let alone retained command. Tayben couldn’t help but recognize Speros’ snipes and sneers, but without Macet’s intervention, he wouldn’t have let his neurological troubles or the older man’s contempt interfere with his taking a stand that would likely cause more problems than it would solve.
Macet was now in the uncomfortable position of having to rein in his mentor again—until a soft voice, foreboding now, spoke up from his other side. “With utmost respect to rank and seniority, Gul…I don’t advise continuing that debate.”
Silence fell. It wasn’t so much the mildly-phrased words that commanded the immediate attention of every Cardassian present as it was Thouves Daro himself, and that to which he had once borne witness.
Though the Starfleet contingent seemed unaware of these undertones, clear respect shone in the eyes of Spirodopoulos and Librescu—and in a pleasant surprise, Folani’s.
Speros, though seething, dropped the subject. As much contempt as he might hold for Berat, and as much as he distrusted the Federation, there was no mistaking his attitude towards Daro: pure respect. That the Chief Archon had portrayed Daro as the patriot he was had done nothing to stop the majority of the guls from resenting what his testimony did to Vuraal, star of the Federation front. Though Daro had been right
, and accordingly continued his service with the legates’ blessing, there were still a number of Gul Vuraal’s colleagues who believed Daro should have gone to his death instead of his commanding officer.
This would have condemned Daro to a pariah’s existence in the Cardassian Guard, his presence wanted by almost no one—that is, until Macet took the former infantryman under his wing. Speros, unlike most of his fellows, recognized Daro’s supposed insubordination for what it really was and had been one of the only guls to publicly back Macet’s decision to bring Daro with him onto the Trager
and soon promote him to first officer. Speros didn’t give a thirtieth of a lek
how others viewed him—any more than any Cardassian needed to stay alive, anyway—and that
above all was the greatest thing Macet had taken from his time aboard the Ghiletz
“Let’s move forward,” Macet announced. “Rebek—you were saying?”
“I need Va’Kust to command the Romac
…Meray’s in rough shape right now—and truth be told, I think Va’Kust has the best-charged power cells of the three of us.”
“Are you saying you intend to be present on the surface? What about your back?”
Speros raised an eye ridge at his former first officer, rather pointedly evoking one of the first lessons about command he’d taught Macet a long time ago: Never try to be gul of someone else’s ship—it’s about as effective as poking a
rhirzum nest and just as likely to earn you a jet of acid up your waste pipe
. Not that Rebek was likely to take offense, but there was
the principle of the thing.
The diminutive gul who had joined the rebellion on Berat’s recommendation met Macet’s eyes and nodded. “Remember, I started my service in the Sniper Corps. I’ve kept current all this time, and especially with the hunter array, I know I can make myself useful.” Hunter array?
Macet silently remarked. Now there
was a term he hadn’t heard in years. Tell me she doesn’t mean what I
think she does.
Rebek’s plum-colored lips stretched into her trademark smile as she added, “My back is a little stiff, but otherwise just fine; Dr. Pethec kept it from scarring too badly. It’ll be all right…I’m certified perfectly fit for duty.”
“That would certainly be useful,” Macet commented, turning the idea over in his mind. Though over half the Starfleet officers were ground-combat experienced, considering the circumstances from which many of them had been pulled, only a fifth or so of the Cardassian personnel had similar credentials, let alone specialized skills like hers. “Va’Kust…who would you choose as guide in your place?”
“Iymender and Ador were with me three out of the five times I went; they should be able to manage.” He turned towards the young computer specialist. “Are you up to that, Riyăk
The wiry programmer jolted himself out of a contemplative trance. After a fraction of a second to process the question, he nodded intently. “Yes, Glinn.”
“Very well,” Macet decided. “Time to get down to details. And Commander Spirodopoulos—I look forward to your perspectives; the same goes for the rest of your crew,” he added, looking at Ensign Folani with a subtle nod of invitation. “If you have something to say that might help us, don’t hold back. Now I shall allow Berat to lay out the general situation.” The others had better get used to the idea of his commanding the space battle
, Macet thought. Mistrustful of youth as his people were, the most junior gul needed this moment.
Berat stood and glanced over at his first officer. All it took was that subtle flick of the eyes for Yejain to follow suit and unroll a series of old-fashioned paper maps on the table. From left to right were a topographical map of the terrain between the training base and the planetside shipyard, a close-up schematic of the complex’s defenses, a map of its hallways and shuttlebays, and a spatial map of the orbital complex, which at its very center cradled a Gălor
-class cruiser waiting to be ‘born.’ “There,” said Gul Berat, reaching out and aiming a finger at the drydocked starship with all the intensity of a man aiming a weapon. “That’s our primary objective. If at all possible, I’d like to see us undock that ship, and the two fast-attack ships, almost before the Jem’Hadar realize they’re literally surrounded by the Thirteenth Order.”
He withdrew his hand. “But before we can do that, we need to concern ourselves with taking the ground base with as few casualties as possible. Iymender—what exactly have you arranged to happen, and how is it triggered?”
Iymender aimed a cunning grin across the table at Spirodopoulos. “Actually, you
are the trigger—or at least, your people are. I figured it was a fairly safe bet that there would be terhăn-çăs
among your group, so I set the sequence to start when your biosigns came within the sensor perimeter.”
“I’ll take point,” Spirodopoulos immediately volunteered—no, declared
“That’s admirable, but I don’t think it’s the best idea,” Daro tactfully criticized. “Remember, over half the ground forces answer to you and in a situation like this, the last thing we need is for the Federation troops to lose their commanding officer before the battle is even joined.” Spirodopoulos winced as he recognized his error, not an unexpected mistake for a first-time unit commander. Things might stabilize the longer the Thirteenth Order fought as a combined unit, but particularly in this critical first battle, the lieutenant commander would be the critical interface between Federation and Cardassian forces: the whole thing might well blow apart at the seams if he fell.
The Starfleet soldier gracefully accepted correction. “All right…I guess we’ll settle that detail later.”
“So if we’re actually passing through the sensor perimeter,” Chief Librescu asked, “what keeps us from tripping an alarm or getting someone’s attention?”
“At no time will an accurate reading will ever be visible from the inside, of course,” Iymender answered. “The first thing that’ll happen when the runner is detected is that all sensor displays will loop back to the past half hour’s footage, except with a current timestamp. All proximity alarms will be disabled along with the live feed. Comm systems will fail at the same time as the sensor loopback; I have quite a number of sub-viruses set up to make sure communications stay
down, and running them all down is going to keep the technical staff very busy indeed—busy enough that it should keep them from noticing the main program.
“From there, the next stage is shield failure. We’ll have to move fast at that point to get everyone within the perimeter, because that’s when people inside are really going to start noticing something’s wrong.”
Ensign Folani cleared her throat. “Excuse me—but don’t you think someone will notice the loopback before that, and get suspicious? You’d better have a man on the inside or one impressively subtle transition graphic, or you might as well broadcast on all frequencies that someone’s trying to break in.”
“It’s a combination of both,” Iymender replied with equanimity to the Bajoran’s critique. “Gor
Sorabec is on our side, but just in case someone else is in the room with her, or she’s not the one on duty, I’ve written a special subroutine whose job it is to mesh final live frame with the first in the loop, and all in less than a fraction of a second. We’ll just have to hope it’s enough to pass muster…it’s not like there was any way to do a dry run on this thing in place, without getting caught.”
“In other words,” Berat gravely stated, “one way or the other, it’s going to come down to a fight. And here’s how we’re preparing for that