Six soldiers—two Cardassian, two terhăn-çăs, one Vulcan, and one Bajoran—of them spilled out of the crowded turbolift and onto the bridge of the Dominion-enhanced Gălor-class ship. Even with all of the enhancements, the bridge had stayed almost completely the same; instinct tried to direct Gul Macet to the command platform, but instead he headed for the tactical station, gesturing for Spirodopoulos to join him. And though he’d never flown a vessel the size of this one, Zopreg aimed straight for the helm. The Dominion ships showed no reaction to the boarding, for as soon as he’d found a place to sit, Iymender had hijacked the station’s communications array—which was one of the few areas still open to his influence—and sent out a signal comprising of a series of forged messages between Gul Verest and his forces insinuating that whatever boarding force had come aboard the three vessels had been subdued. Though the Dominion could neither send nor receive out-system messages thanks to the Thirteenth Order’s jamming field, certain in-system transmissions could still be read—and hopefully that had been one of them. Considering that so far, the Jem’Hadar had yet to fire on the Gălor and two La’aghour, Macet rather suspected that it had. During the turbolift ride, the gul had reviewed each of the Federation soldiers’ qualifications and assigned them accordingly. Of the group, Ensign Folani had by far the best grasp on written Cardăsda; therefore he assigned her to the other side of the sensor table where the chief investigative officer usually stood. Wilkes and Subek he set to work monitoring the operations and engineering stations; these might not be their familiar functions, but they could at least read out any status messages for Macet, Zopreg, and Raxesh to interpret. “Release full power to all systems,” Macet heard Raxesh order her people over the open comm line. “You’re certain the power grid can withstand it when we raise shields?” Macet cut in. The key question was, just how cooperative would the Dominion-enhanced systems be with the traditional frame and power plant of a Gălor-class vessel? “It should,” Raxesh replied, “but we have yet to test our systems in transit—let alone in battle.” Macet nodded, unseen. This was the answer he had expected according to the timetables Iymender and his fellow rebel sympathizers had supplied, but the lack of prevarication spoke favorably of Raxesh. “Then prepare for launch,” he ordered as he raised the Gălor’s shields. Sotto voce to Spirodopoulos he explained, “These are the firing controls. Moving your finger along outer edge of this circle moves you along the horizontal and vertical axes; these two buttons are controlled with the left hand, and move you along the depth axis. This button in the center—” He gestured with his index finger to the middle of the circular slider. “This fires whatever weapon is selected.” From there he traced out along three thin white lines that radiated out from the circle’s center to a point past its circumference, both labeled in Cardăsda. “These two,” he said, gesturing to the two clustered closer together at the thirty- and sixty-degree positions, “are the central disruptor cannon, and the phaser arrays. This one,” he finished, indicating another at the one hundred and twenty-degree position, “controls the torpedoes. I will monitor our systems and the condition of the other vessels and direct you accordingly. “Ready engines for full impulse on my mark,” Macet ordered Zopreg. “Iymender!” he called. It was a long shot, but it had to be tried nonetheless. “Can you lower the station’s shields?” Several tense seconds elapsed. “Negative, Gul,” came the young riyăk’s voice, increasingly tremulous, from one of the aft stations where Chedrigan and Nedav had set him down. Now that he was still, the pain of his injuries had undoubtedly intensified in his mind—and they had no doctor or medic on this ship to treat him. Possibly the Vulcan, T’Ruveh, faced the same situation if she had made it aboard one of the Hide’eki. “It must be Riyăk Kopal—the station’s other programmer. She’s got me almost completely locked out of their systems now!” “So be it,” Macet darkly murmured. His next technique was one that according to Speros, and confirmed by Folani, the Bajoran Resistance had frequently applied against Cardassian ships. Now it was time to use this same skill against Cardassia’s oppressors. “Commander! Target the station’s shield perimeter with disruptors—continuous fire until they fall!” “Gul!” announced Dalin Rota. “The Gălor and La’aghour have powered their engines! And the Gălor has just locked weapons on the station’s shields! They’re firing!” Berat could readily see all of this unfold on the tactical display on the main viewer—but the man was following proper protocol to ensure common understanding in a crisis. “Bring us into position! Notify the Hide’eki of my orders: disengage from their current targets—they have to hold the Jem’Hadar off while we break the other ships free!” They were tiny in comparison to the Jem’Hadar cruisers, yes, and their weapons still the same as the other Cardassian vessels had—but thanks to their enhanced shields and spaceframes, they could withstand the full brunt of the assault longer than the four larger ships could. But the four founding Gă’ălour of the Thirteenth Order were all battle-damaged. “Gul!” cut in Cronath, “The Trager and the Romac—” “Must hold for now,” Berat declared in a firm voice: he might, in times of calm and even crises of a less urgent nature, solicit opinions, ask questions, bring a bit of levity onto the bridge…but this was the time for obedience. Cronath responded according to both training and instinct, went silent, and busied himself complying with his gul’s orders. Berat needed not add anything else. He knew just as well as Cronath that those two ships had suffered more damage than the Sherouk and Ghiletz—and that despite what repairs the Dominion-controlled forces had deigned to provide, they were still the more vulnerable of the four. And this deeply concerned him…but they needed focus: the synchronicity among crew as guided by the deepest Cardassian hierarchical instincts. “Target locked,” Rota called. “Disruptor trained on a point just adjacent to the Gălor’s firing area—angle set to pass just beyond its shield perimeter.” If the Sherouk were to fire on exactly the same spot as the new vessel, the convergence of beams could have fed back to both vessels, severely damaging if not destroying them. Berat eyed the tactical display: they were now in position to exploit a critical flaw in Cardassian shield design—one with even more immediate effects than the Bajorans had ever suspected. Granted, they were thinking in the right direction. Or maybe they even knew, Berat amended, disliking the arrogance their allies would likely have ascribed to his initial thought, as coming from a Cardassian gul--no matter how unlike him that was. But how often would they have been in a position to use it? Under the stress of being assaulted from two different directions, one from within its perimeter and one from without, the shield, unable to alter its shape to respond to one attack or the other, would overload. And where they currently sat, neither ship’s beam would strike the opposite ship. “Begin fire!” Berat ordered. And as the gold-hued disruptor beam speared forth from the nose of the Sherouk and drilled furiously into the base’s shields, everyone on the bridge held their silence, counting the seconds. Winced—Berat especially—as one of the Hide’eki vanished from the display, fallen victim to Jem’Hadar polaron cannons while defending them. The shockwave impact rocked the Sherouk, albeit not enough to disrupt its assault. But without warning, the base rocked with a concussive force far greater than whatever stray energy from the Hidekiy’s demise might have reached its shields. Small explosions dotted its skeletal frame as one shield generator after another overloaded. The entire process, from start to finish, had taken about twelve seconds. The Gălor and two La’aghour darted eagerly forward, immediately lunging for the Jem’Hadar. And in that glorious moment, three new starships were born.