Next section of this chapter...I'm splitting the battle into smaller sections to post because it's got a LOT of moving parts and it's proving difficult to write. I hope you'll bear with me; it's better than nothing, I guess.
2375—The Dominion War—Two minutes to ground battle
Cardassian Rasgălor of Lessek
The air was alive here.
Its resonance spread along her skin, yet she knew its point of origin as her ears might pinpoint the hum of a tuning fork. The impression certainly belonged to a person—that much was obvious, but there was something feverish about it, a strange quickness to its oscillations: a heart that beat faster to drive a metabolism that produced, shed, and replenished more heat than seemed natural.
Its source, Ensign Wilkes, stood at arm’s length from Rebek. It was all the Cardassian woman could do to keep from stealing a glance at Wilkes’ holster to make sure that disruptor pistol was still where it belonged.
The sixth Cardassian sense in its unaided form was a general proximity alarm at best, but with the help of the hunter array, she received the refined, directional input her pre-Hebitian hunter-fisher ancestors must have had. Accordingly, the hunter array’s amplification tickled at some of the most primitive instincts: take heed, predators roam here
. And by it Rebek sensed the base’s shield perimeter a quarter of a terhăn
kilometer ahead as ripples might spread from a bobbing buoy in a lake.
The base sat recessed in a low valley where the flat ground had allowed it to be built quickly and with minimal resources. Defense against this sort of straight-on ground assault had been the last thing on its creators’ minds, however, or they surely would have opted for the high ground. Lessek lay well within Union territory, for starters—and secondly, in the age of shields, transporters, and precision space strikes, the usual procedure for an attack on such a small facility would have been to attack from air or space: hammer away the facility’s shields, beam troops directly in, and seize the facility from the inside. Ground troops had their role, of course—but in places where transporters could operate, typically as support rather than the main thrust of an assault.
meters ahead, the hunter array traced a green line on the ground before her eyes: the sensor perimeter. She turned to the Starfleet ensign. “This is it. Are you ready?”
Wilkes nodded apprehensively. Though she tried to hide it, the ridgelessness of her eyes literally shed light on how they widened with the anticipation and fear.
“Then go—we haven’t much time.”
The young Starfleet officer glanced sideways at Rebek, a second hesitation born in her eyes. She drew breath to speak, and when the words emerged—in accented but passable Cardăsda, Rebek understood why. “Gorhoç edek, Gul.
” It was the formal reply of subordinate to gul: I obey
Wilkes knelt into a defensive-ready crouch much like a Cardassian fighter beginning the Stratagems—knees bent, one foot slightly forward, hands out, fingers splayed as if to ward off an oncoming attacker.
Then she sprinted forward, kicking up a cloud of grey dust behind her.
2375—The Dominion War—Two minutes to ground battle
Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk
A dull burn crawled up Gul Berat’s spine, into his shoulders, and down through his wrists. This was to be expected; such was the price he paid for intensity of emotion, both past and present. Though his lower mind lobbied for a painkiller and his body protested that he ought to at least step into his office and work through the stretching series his physical therapists had assigned four years ago, he refused. He had promised his crew when he accepted the ship sigil from Gul Zarvat that through him they would receive the full support of the Cardassian Union. True, he had been able-bodied then, but that changed neither his oath nor his will to execute it. And right now, he was needed here on the bridge, in the command seat.
The turbolift clicked into place behind him, and Glinn Yejain stepped onto the bridge. Berat did not rise to accept his first officer’s report. A transfer from another crew might have interpreted this gesture the usual way—the assertion of superiority—but from Berat it was simply the one concession he made to his nerves to preserve stamina for later. Yejain and the others knew this pre-battle stillness quite well, and accepted it because they knew what it would give way to. “All sections report ready,” Yejain announced as soon as he stood at the foot of the command seat platform with a quick, shallow bow.
“Good work, Yejain,” Berat replied with a smile, inclining his head to represent the reciprocating bow. None of the four ships in the Thirteenth Order formation had openly declared battle alert lest the Dominion detect their systems girding for war. Still, on each ship the first officer—or acting first officer, in most cases—had personally toured the decks of their Gă’ălour
from nose to backfin to muster the crew to full readiness. “Be ready to bring weapons and shields online the instant we hear from the surface.”
Berat felt a knot in his stomach. That spot in the center of his back sent a particularly insistent jolt throughout his body. His right shoulder twitched despite a now-instinctive meditative exercise intended to seize the errant energy discharge and divert it where its effects would show less. Yejain’s sharp eyes clearly saw, but he gave no sign; he was well used to this by now. “I obey, Gul.”
Berat counted himself grateful: considering the circumstances, this was actually shaping up to be a relatively good
day. And an excellent thing indeed, considering I’m the only gul spaceside—not to mention of the glinns, only Va’Kust is younger than I am
. The glinns commanding the other ships—Va’Kust, Topak, and Hatel of the Ghiletz
, all awaited his signal. And in the case of catastrophe, command of anything that might remain of the Thirteenth Order would fall to him.
He closed his eyes.
Pieces of the
Prenkar rained down like meteorites on the surface of Septimus III and volley after volley of quantum torpedoes on the planet’s surface blew a choking cloud of radioactive dust into the atmosphere to join the rising ashes from innumerable brush fires, compounding astronomically every time they struck a weapons cache or a base reactor.
Many good men—so many of them answering the call to service for the second time in their lives, when they should have been looking forward to their summit years or resting from prior injuries—had already perished in the Klingon ground assault. And the rest…the Klingons were determined now to obliterate them all rather than leave the now-defenseless survivors to contemplate the depths of their failure as Cardassians might have done. Any who lived through the final orbital assault—unlikely as that seemed—would succumb to radiation poisoning in short order: there would be no evacuation. The planet itself descended into a frigid hell far worse than nuclear winter, worthless for millennia to come.
Prenkar—gone. The Eleventh Order—gone. The life of Septimus III itself—gone.
Romac survived because he, Gul Tayben Berat, had chosen them. The
Prenkar had been too far gone, already breaking apart. And the only way to save the
Romac had been to abandon the
Prenkar and the Eleventh Order to their fates. Cardassia needed the
Romac. It needed Gul Rebek.
But Cardassia had needed Gul Igrun and Legate Met’Orn, and their people as well.
Berat released a shuddering breath.
That can’t happen again. It just
can’t, he fervently willed.
The chronometer chimed and the bridge crew fell silent. There was no other signal; there would not be until—unless—the ground team succeeded.
“The battle on the ground should be joined,” Berat announced. “Now we wait.”