The headquarters of what Legate Urlak had christened the Crimson Order had begun as a Cardassian military ordinance depot. Constructed beneath the towering Avendra mountain range and taking full advantage of the region’s fistrium-laced geology, it had been designed to be both undetectable and impenetrable. With the coming of the Dominion and their wondrous engineering aptitude, the Vorta had expanded the facility and turned it into an advanced weapons research outpost.
Dominion engineers had installed an experimental interphase generator, which shifted the entire facility point-zero-four millicochranes into the subspace realm. A series of complicated interphasic ‘airlocks’ had been created in order to transition persons from the base to the outside world safely. Without them, the abrupt transition from one dimension to another would have been instantly lethal. Submerged as it was in the nearer layers of subspace, the base was now completely hidden and utterly impervious to attack.
The cavernous chamber that held the facility’s meeting hall roared with the dissonant clamor of angry voices. The whole of the Lakesh insurgency’s leadership had gathered to discuss not only the aftermath of Gul Panor’s failed attack, but the larger issue of the movement’s future outside the confines of the Crolsa system.
Legate Urlak presided over the ill-tempered crowd with a sense of barely contained fury. He harbored no illusions as to the true agenda here; his enemies wished to debate his continued leadership of the movement. Panor’s defeat had done much to undermine Urlak’s position, and those who desired to challenge his authority were now capitalizing on his lack of active military experience.
Although Urlak had attended the Union’s most prestigious military college in his youth, he had been recruited away from a more mundane career by the Obsidian Order. He had become a spymaster, with vast knowledge of intelligence procedures and planning, but little experience with more standardized military operations. His current rank had been awarded him when the Dominion had selected Urlak to co-administrate the Lakesh research facility. As such, many of the hard-core militants accepted his leadership only grudgingly.
Gul Javin En’Roel, potentially next in line to command the movement’s military wing, had the floor. Decades Urlak’s junior, En’Roel had been a promising young warship commander at the outset of the Dominion War. In the intervening two years he had become something of a legend among the rank and file in the armed forces, a man who led from the front, unafraid to confront any threat himself that he would send his men against.
En’Roel’s personal charisma was something Urlak couldn’t match, as he had made a career of blending into the background and presenting himself as more average than the median. The legate could be sufficiently menacing when necessary, but he possessed little in the way of the kind of appeal that would inspire men to throw themselves into battle with his name on their lips.
“We have followed the dictates of Legate Urlak since the inception of this rebellion.” En’Roel turned dramatically to engage his audience as he mixed oratory and movement in a stylish synthesis that the assembled insurgents found captivating. “And while I agree that the legate cannot be held totally accountable for Gul Panor’s disastrous failure, Urlak was the one who selected the officers responsible for planning and executing the attack!”
En’Roel scanned the faces of his fellow soldiers, his expression beseeching them to hear his words. “He has chosen to keep us confined here, limiting the scope of our operations and denying our brethren the fruits of the wondrous technology left to us by the hated Dominion.” The gul reached out his arm to point an accusatory finger at Urlak in a gesture so theatrical it made the legate’s stomach turn. “Instead, he uses the quantities of bio-memetic gel and ketracil-white we took from the Founders by force, and uses them to bargain with the likes of Ferengi and Lissepians. He squanders what should be the birthright of a new, more powerful union! Our union!”
Arms outstretched, En’Roel turned a complete circle and looked every bit the ringmaster of a Ravalian Carnival. He called out to the audience in barely tempered desperation. “I ask you to walk with me! My path will lead us to victory! His path has been proven one of half-measures and compromise, ultimately leading to defeat and supplication before the Federation and their Klingon dogs! Are we to become brothers to the Bajorans? Cousins to the Vulcans? Are we simply one among many as the Federation would have us believe, or are we as a people destined for something greater?” Murmurs of assent rippled through the crowd.
The hint of anguish in his voice lessened, and En’Roel’s features hardened. “Others have already tried to unite the scattered bands of resistance fighters. The True Way movement was once our greatest hope, yet now it clings to life by a thread. Gul Keshet’s cell of brave soldiers will be sacrificed on the altar of greed and deception unless we take up the banner of their cause! No other groups possess our resources, our courage, or our determination to see the enemy driven from our homeland finally and forever!”
A respectable wave of applause met the conclusion of En’Roel’s presentation, and Urlak took some relief that the crowd had not roared in approval. Gul En’Roel yielded the central podium to Urlak, and the legate took his time in mounting the steps to take his place at the rostrum.
This would not be any easy or pleasant task. He used an intentionally somber tone and sought to differentiate his performance from that of his melodramatic challenger. “Although I take exception with the quality of Gul En’Roal’s performance, he does make some salient points which I will attempt to address.”
As he looked out across the auditorium, he yearned to feel some deeper sense of connection to the people he had led, and hoped to continue leading. Instead, he felt nothing. For all his words, these men and women were little more than ciphers to him. The idea of a strong and united Cardassia was the only thing that warmed his heart, much as he might wish otherwise. If En’Roel experienced some manner of genuine camaraderie with these men, then he was to be envied as well as despised.
“Do not forget that it was I who led our successful rebellion against Dominion control of this facility. It was my planning that allowed us to overwhelm our supposed allies with minimal casualties and collateral damage.”
The legate held himself fully erect and tried to eek out every millimeter of height. “I acknowledge that these actions alone are not sufficient to warrant my continued leadership. Instead, you must take into consideration who has the more realistic vision. Gul En’Roel speaks of great victories against the enemy and the unquenchable fire of the martyr’s spirit. These are poetic notions that bear little resemblance to the realities we face.”
“I will not fill your heads with such foolishness. I offer difficult, dangerous work that may see the end of many of us. Mine is the more demanding road of hard won, incremental gains. We will fight when it is to our advantage, striking our enemies when and where they are weakest. When we are not engaging the enemy on our terms, we will hide. This is not glamorous or noble, but it is how insurgencies are fought.”
Urlak paused to assess his audience, most of whom seemed to be paying close attention to his words. “We will not seek great victories against our enemies, for we haven’t the resources to engage them in bold frontal attacks. Instead, we shall prey on their vulnerable underbelly, bleeding them when they can least afford it until they have grown so exhausted of wasting lives and treasure on us that they will declare victory and leave.
“And although we will be both valiant and vicious when engaging our foes, I cannot and will not promise you victory in every battle. As soldiers in this cause, you deserve to be told the truth, and those of you with military training will doubtless know the old axiom that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” Urlak noted the nods and murmurs of assent in the crowd.
“The gul is correct when he accuses me of ‘conspiring’ with the likes of the Ferengi and Lissepians. I have used them as intermediaries in the spread of our resources to our countrymen. I have purchased ships and weapons that will be distributed not just on Lakesh, but throughout the worlds of Cardassia! Schematics and samples of the devices we have captured from the Dominion will accompany these arms, so that others may join our cause. These actions were taken in great secrecy, as the very future of our race may depend on their success.
“Let me say in closing that I understand your frustrations. We are a great people facing the darkest of times. The old guard betrayed us to the Dominion, and as a result we now face slavery, perhaps even genocide, at the hands of the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. So long as you and others like you refuse to bow before our enemies, Cardassia will remain forever strong. I ask only that you help me lead us to the day when we may stand and gaze upon the flag of the Union and know that every meter of our soil has been freed from oppression and occupation!”
The legate finished and his body trembled with the effort. A moments silence reigned before the crowd seemed to rise to their feet in unison. Some clapping and a few cheers met his conclusion, but nothing like the thunderous ovation he’d hoped for. The assembled leadership moved en mass towards the privacy cubicles where they would cast their votes.
So it will be decided,
he observed gravely.
A sensor contact alert beeped at the Operations console. Ensign Browder called back to Lar’ragos, who was seated in the command chair. “Lieutenant, a Klingon warship has just decloaked twenty kilometers from the hulk of the rebel Galor
Lar’ragos sat forward. “Identify.”
Browder tapped at his console. “Vor’cha
-class… receiving transponder ident code now.” The ensign glanced back at Lar'ragos. “It’s the Kang
, sir. General K’Vada’s flagship.”
Lar’ragos grimaced, and then announced with a decided lack of enthusiasm, “Yay. The cavalry’s here.”
“Now reading transporter activity, sir. It looks like the Klingons are sending boarding parties over to what’s left of the Galor.”
The lieutenant frowned as he reflected that Gibraltar
should have done the same thing hours earlier. Donald needs to start thinking with his head instead of his heart,
he assessed. “Hail the Kang
and welcome them to the scenic Crolsa system, where no good deed goes unpunished.”
Lar’ragos said, “Bridge to Captain Sandhurst.”
“Captain, we’ve got company.”