In 2258 Romulan ship Narada
attacked and destroyed Vulcan. It was a big blow to the Federation: they lost one of their founding members and many valuable people, who could not share their knowledge and ideas any more. The Federation’s expansion slowed down, too, because the Council did not want to risk losing any more lives. They became cautious.
The Romulans, on the other hand, became very bold and aggressive, believing that great future lay ahead of them. Their empire was expanding, taking and subjugating more and more planetary systems. In early 2330s their warships attacked the Cardassian Union, which resulted in a bloody, costly and terrible war. Cardassia, always poor in resources, managed to bravely fight and defend itself for over forty years, but in the end had to capitulate and sign a treaty, which forbade them from exploring and expanding in the general direction of the Romulan Star Empire. Cardassian interests moved to the other side of their empire, away from the Romulans, the Klingons and the Federation.
After the terrible war that had claimed billions of lives, the Cardassians promised themselves to never become to anyone what the Romulans were for them: butchers. One of their golden rules: to annex only uninhabited planets, regardless if the goal was colonisation or resources extraction.
The story takes place several months after the events of “Nec Locus Ubi Vulcan,” Old Earth Calendar year of 2395.
Toward the Ninth Circle
Cardassia Prime, Central Command Headquarters
27th of Naiyut, 511
Glinn Brenok followed Gul Zamarran and Glinn Jarol, hoping his facial expression showed nothing but bored professionalism. He absolutely didn’t want anyone to realise how awed he was to be in this building. This was the heart of the command! This was the place where all decisions were being made! And these were the people who decided who lived or died! Sort of...
The three from the Roumar
entered one of rooms on the second floor and Brenok saw seven people inside. He knew only one; not personally, of course, but from news feeds. Legate Turrel, a veteran who commanded the Sixth Order, was seated behind his desk, while the other six people stood in groups of three, talking in hushed voiced. When Zamarran and his officers entered, the legate rose from behind his desk.
Brenok took his time to take a good look at the other six Cardassians. First, his attention was drawn to a lanky gul, who was almost as tall as Brenok himself. The man’s sharp ridges only added the impression of threat to his full of menace eyes. Just by his side hovered a shorted man of a strong build. He appeared almost plastered to his gul. The third one, the shortest from the group, while still with them seemed to stay a bit aside, as if he didn’t want to be with them and rejected being a part of their group.
The other group consisted of a gul who seemed quite young for this rank. Brenok estimated that the man couldn’t be older than sixty. He was accompanied by two glinns, who seemed to be very close to his age. Actually, one appeared to be older than his gul. Brenok noticed that the young gul stared at Jarol with slightly opened mouth for a moment, until one of his glinns whispered something into his ear. The gul’s head jerked and he short an ashamed glance at his aide, biting his lower lip. Brenok managed to keep a straight face and not let a smile crawl into it, but he knew that Jarol’s beauty opened many mouths in owe.
Gul Zamarran greeted the high ranking guls. A few pairs of eyes lingered on Brenok’s long braid and for a moment the glinn wondered if he hadn’t just caused his dismissal from the Guard. The tall, slender, high-ranking gul pointed to his head, then looked at Legate Turrel and muttered, “Ah?” The legate only shook his head and smiled, while Gul Zamarran sent the other gul a frown with a clear warning, Stay away from my soldiers
. Brenok wasn’t sure if the gul even noticed Zamarran’s look, because the man’s eyes were already plastered to Jarol. However, his eyes didn’t express innocent owe, but greed. The glinn promised himself to keep an eye on that one and to protect his friend.
“Since everyone is here, please be seated,” Legate Turrel said. When the soldiers took their places at the oval table in one end of the room, the legate continued, “First, let me introduce everyone.
“From the Ravinok
.” Turrel pointed to the tall gul. “Gul Dukat, Glinn Damar and Glen Erpan.” The legate turned his attention to Zamarran’s group. “From the Roumar
—Gul Zamarran, Glinns Jarol and Brenok.” Finally, he looked at the last trio. “From the Radalar
—Gul Toral, Glinns Korel and Nevir.” All officers nodded to each other politely, while Turrel went to an inactive screen on the wall and turned it on. “This is a sector beyond Cardassian space.” He gave them the co-ordinates and literally everyone shifted nervously in their chairs.
“Forgive me if this is a stupid question,” the gul named Dukat said, “but isn’t exploring that part of space forbidden by our treaty with the Romulans?” The question sounded polite, but Brenok detected a hint of mockery.
“We are not going to explore it,” Turrel answered.
Dukat leaned back in his chair with a smug facial expression. “Then what are we going there for? Doesn’t the Sixth Order have better things to do?” Again, what Brenok read in his voice was, ‘I
have better things to do.’ The glinn knew by now that he disliked that man.
Turrel gave Dukat such a look that Brenok was sure these two were enemies. “If you let me explain and don’t interrupt, you will know.” The smug expression didn’t disappear from his face, but Dukat said nothing more. “We have intercepted an interesting piece of information,” Turrel continued. “It appears that there is a stable wormhole in that sector. Your task is to enter it and explore the other side. There might be many uninhabited planets rich in resources there.”
Gul Toral narrowed his naturally narrow eyes. “I take it that it has been already tested that the wormhole leads somewhere
and not into oblivion.”
“The intercepted reports claim that several ships had entered it and then returned. Safe and sound.”
“Whose reports?” Zamarran asked.
“Did they claim the sector as their territory?”
One look at Zamarran’s face told Brenok that his gul didn’t like it at all. The glinn just wasn’t sure if it was the matter of sending ships into complete unknown, or using secretly obtained reports from another empire. Perhaps—both.
“What’s the detailed plan?” Toral asked.
Turrel sat back in his chair at the head of the table. “We leave details to you, because a lot would depend on the actual conditions in that sector.”
“Who is the ranking gul?” Dukat asked.
“You are,” Turrel answered and it was more than obvious that he didn’t like it. Brenok assumed that Dukat had the most experience from all three guls, so the legate had no choice but to appoint him the commander of the mini-battalion. The legate pointed to the padds that lay on the table in front of each officer. “These padds contain all information we have on the sector, the planet in that sector and the detailed co-ordinates of the wormhole. You may overview them now and see if there are any questions you want to ask. However, if some information is missing, it means we do not have it. The reports should contain everything we have. Nothing is kept from you.”
Jarol looked at Turrel, raising her hand slightly to draw his attention. “If I may...” He nodded, so she asked, “Do these reports contain any information on what’s on the other side?”
The legate shook his head “No. Our guess is that the reports on the other side are classified, so not easily...accessible.”
In other words
, Brenok thought, not something you can obtain by simple eavesdropping
. The glinn accessed the information on the padd and started to skim through it. The data was limited, but he knew that answers to his questions would have to wait until they arrived to that system and fill the gaps themselves. In spite of a lot of unknown and possible danger, he felt excited about the mission. It wasn’t going to be just another survey, this was going to be an adventure! A scary one, too.
“That planet.” Toral looked up at the legate. “The report here says it’s inhabited. Doesn’t the system belong to those people?”
“They never claimed it officially.”
“Are they a warp-capable race?” Zamarran asked.
Turrel took a moment before answering. “We don’t know for sure. The Federation established some contact with them and that would mean that the race is warp-capable, but there is no data about their ships or strength of their fleet. It seems like they have none.”
“When do we leave?” Dukat asked.
“In eight days.”
“Why eight days?” Toral raised an eye ridge.
Turrel smiled slightly. “We estimated when the Federation traffic would be the smallest and adapted our plans accordingly.”
Zamarran put his padd on the table. “Do you foresee problems? Would the Federation oppose our travel through this wormhole?”
“I do not know. But it’s better to be cautious. So far, they haven’t declared it Federation territory, but we cannot tell for certain what their plans are. The Federation is unpredictable.”
Zamarran only grunted in reply, drawing attention of the two other guls to him. He ignored them.
Turrel rose. “If there are no other questions, you are dismissed. You can contact me any time if you have something to add or something to ask. We want this mission to succeed.”
Everyone got up and headed for the door, but Turrel called, “Gul Zamarran, if you could stay for a moment.”
Everyone else left the room and all nine officers headed for a transporter chamber to beam back to their ships.
The gul looked at the legate who pointed to a chair inviting Zamarran to sit down. “Gul Zamarran, I know your service record and I trust your judgement,” Turrel began. “Unfortunately, I had no choice and had to give the command of this mission to Dukat.”
Zamarran wasn’t sure why the legate felt he needed to explain himself. “I understand, sir. This is a matter of the protocol and not personal preferences.” Had he gone too far, assuming that Turrel wanted Zamarran to lead the mission?
The legate sighed. “Zamarran, keep an eye on him. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust his judgement. I don’t trust that he keeps the good of Cardassian soldiers and the mission as his top priority. His lust for power is dangerous and someone must control it.”
“Then why send him on such an important mission?”
Turrel smiled bitterly. “It’s not the matter where he is, but where he isn’t
“You’re trying to get rid of him!” Zamarran wondered if Central Command hadn’t decided to sacrifice three crews to remove Dukat from Cardassia Prime by sending them all to a doomed mission. Would their deaths be worth his? But would Turrel be asking him to keep an eye on Dukat if this were a suicide mission; would he bother?
The legate did not deny or confirm. He simply said, “I expect to receive reports from you, just as if you were in command.”
“The reports don’t need his approval...if you understand what I mean.” Zamarran did. Normally, any reports sent by lower ranking officers to much higher ranking ones had to be approved by the lower ranking soldiers’ direct superiors, in this case by Gul Dukat. But Turrel wanted Zamarran’s reports as they were, without Dukat’s ‘censorship.’ If Zamarran hadn’t understood how much the legate distrusted Dukat, he had the best proof now. It could also suggest that the mission wasn’t just an elaborate, costly way to have Dukat dead. “Dismissed.” The gul motioned toward the door, when Turrel called him again. “And Zamarran...keep your aide away from him. She caught his eye.”
“She’s happily married.”
“Yeah, they all were.”
For some reason, Zamarran felt frustrated about the whole situation.
Upon his return to the ship, Zamarran asked both his aides to join him in his office.
“Thoughts,” he said when everyone was seated.
Brenok smirked. “I suppose ‘terrifying’ is not what you’d like to hear, sir.”
“I hoped for something more...elaborate,” the gul said, rolling his eyes.
“Do we know anything about those other guls?” Jarol asked. She was not in a joking mood.
“I’m sure the personnel database could provide you with a lot of information.”
“How about something that I can’t find in the database?”
Zamarran smiled. “Toral is one of the youngest guls in the Sixth Order. Tough and wise—that’s what they say about him. Dukat is ambitious and a womaniser. Both characteristics are incompatible, so he is not as high as he could be if he didn’t step of a few married toes.” Brenok grunted and Jarol looked at him. “Yes, even Legate Turrel noticed that,” Zamarran said.
“Noticed what?” The ranking glinn wasn’t sure what he meant.
“He was staring at you,” Brenok explained.
She shrugged dismissively. She looked at the gul. “Is there something you need us to do, sir?”
“Study the data. If you find something—anything—that you don’t like or that you have doubts about, let me know.”