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[2005: AUG-SEP] This Thing of Darkest Hate


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“Admiral Jeketh,” Phillips started, his computer recording for a subspace message. “I know you’ll be receiving this message with news that we lost shipment J-225, and I know that you’ll be very upset.” Phillips raised his hand, wincing slightly. “Now, before you demote me, you’d better hear the whole story.”

Phillips paused, as though struggling, “I must accept full responsibility for the loss, and ask that no one else be blamed.” He paused, then started back up. “It wasn’t quite two days ago, when I received a message to meet someone in an alleyway in the slums of the Capital City on Cardassia Prime...”

“Thank you for coming,” the voice came from a trash littered alley behind Commander Tom Phillips, startling him. He turned around to find a middle-aged Cardassian walking towards him. Phillips would never get over talking to Cardassians without having a phaser pointed at them.

“I know you’re busy, running the rebuilding efforts and all,” the Cardassian smiled at Phillips. He wouldn’t ever get over that either, having a Cardassian smile at him without getting a dagger in his back. Phillips was a man of medium build with a strong chin, square face, and rusty blond hair. In late years, it’d begun to gather a bit of gray at the edges, but whether that was the result of his new, stressful job or his 40 odd years, no one knew.

“Sure,” Phillips responded. “I’m always happy to talk to people like yourself, Mr. ah?”

The Cardassian smiled again, but this time, it was the guarded smile that you got whenever you asked a question they didn’t want to answer quite yet. There was a distinct pause in the conversation as Phillips waited for a name, but it became obvious one wasn’t coming after several seconds. The Cardassian filled in the gap smoothly by gesturing for them to walk the rundown street. Crumbling old shells of buildings lined the way. The buildings had been demolished in the Jem Hadar’s attempt at exterminating the Cardassian people. Voles ran back and forth between crumbling walls, probably moving to nests. Phillips couldn’t help but wonder how many snipers joined those voles.

“Well, I guess I’ll just call you Bob then.”

The Cardassian raised an eyebrow at that and showed slight irritation, but he didn’t protest, so Phillips decided to run with it.

“I must admit, Bob, I am a bit confused why the Prime Minister of Cardassia would personally request that I come all the way out here to meet with you,” Phillips said, keeping his eyes alert, watching the Cardassian for any signs of treachery, and ready to react to it. It was an old habit he’d picked up during the First Cardassian War, one that he’d nurtured over the Dominion War, one that he’d been told would only get him in trouble when he started managing the rebuilding efforts here, one that he rather enjoyed maintaining.

‘Bob’ laughed outright, “He didn’t, Commander.”

Phillips turned his head to face the Cardassian more fully. “Actually, he did. I received a communiqué with the Prime Ministers ID code this morning and...”

“No, you didn’t,” Bob interrupted, he answered Phillips’s unspoken question. “In reality, you received a message from one of my colleagues that appeared to have the Prime Ministers ID code. Oh, come now! Don’t look so offended, Commander. Hacking and code acquiring are two of the first things they teach you around here.”

Phillips turned back to scanning the way ahead, not quite sure how to take that. “I see,” was all he could think of to say. He was actually quite annoyed, this was probably some hoax meant to get attention for some small sect of Cardassians or other. As Manager of the Federation Relief Services to Cardassia, he got a lot of that. Cardassians were a very self serving people, they would try to get funding for their own projects anyway they could.

“Well, Commander, it’s obvious you and I are both uncomfortable being seen in public together, so I’ll get right down to why you’re here.”

Phillips’s attitude was quickly turning sour, “Yes, please do.”

“You are in a lot of danger, Commander.”

Phillips almost turned around and walked away right then. He’d known that from the moment the Dominion started coming through the wormhole. He rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation, “If that’s all you’ve got to tell me, I think I’d better get you in touch with the Federation Security Forces...”

“Allow me to rephrase that,” Bob interrupted again. “You’re in more danger than you realize,” Bob continued to walk and smile pleasantly. Phillips added item 106 to the list things he hated about Cardassians: they were often a contradiction.

“Thank you for your time, Bob. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work. I’ll have Security contact you about any information about specific threats you can provide...” Phillips turned around and started to walk away.

“I know about Shipment J-225,” he said it calmly, still smiling, still walking.

Item 107 was just found: Cardassians saved the punch line until you were leaving.

Phillips turned around slowly, looking at Bob in earnest for the first time since this meeting had begun. He took a few quick steps to catch up to the Cardassian. “You do realize that by telling me that, coupled with the fact that you hacked into the Prime Minister’s computers gives me the right to kill you on the spot?” A slight exaggeration.

“That would be rather foolish,” Bob stopped and turned to face Phillips while a vole ran along the base of a building not far away. “Position three, take out the vole to my left,” he didn’t even raise his voice.

Within seconds, the vole went from scurrying along to writhing in agony. Apparently at least three snipers shared nests with voles.

“They’re using projectile weapons, getting an energy signature will be impossible,” Bob kept smiling.

“Now I see why you said I was in a lot of danger,” Phillips said, unamused.

The smile on the Cardassian’s face vanished, “Not from us, I assure you.”

Phillips slowly started walking again, “From others, than? I might like names.”

Bob chuckled, “You don’t need names, as in plural, you need name, singular.” Phillips just waited, not wanting to act too eager. This had gone from mild aggravation and annoyance to a security breach, one that he needed to follow up on. J-225 was a supposedly highly classified weapons shipment coming for the Security forces here. Rumor had gotten around that things might get more violent in the near future, and Phillips didn’t want his people unprepared. “The Obsidian Order,” were Bob’s next words.

Phillips frowned, “The fall of the Obsidian Order is public knowledge, and it’s been disbanded ever since.”

Bob exhaled harshly, it might almost be interpreted as a laughed.

“The Obsidian Order disbanded! HA!” he walked for a few more steps before speaking. “Well, I suppose that’d be easy to believe if you didn’t really understand the inner workings of the Order.” He paused for a moment, as though considering the best way to explain things to the idiot human. After a moment, he gestured to the voles running around the ruins. “Think of the Order like these voles,” Phillips muttered something about Cardassians, rodents, and their similarity while Bob gestured back towards the vole that had now stilled in death. “They don’t come to aid their own unless it suits their purposes.” Bob suddenly drew a disruptor from his coat pocket, Phillips instantly tensed, expecting a shot in the heart, but the disruptor was turned towards a nest of voles further up the street. Bob fired at a rock wall above it, crumbling it down onto the nest of a half dozen vermin.

The disruptor was replaced in its hidden pocket, but Phillips’s attention was on the voles. Suddenly, at least another dozen of the creatures appeared, snatching food from under bricks, ignoring the wounded.

Bob was excited; he spoke quickly, “See? The resources are recovered, and all connections with the nest are severed. A few voles are dead, yes, but no real damage is done to the whole.”

“What’s your point?” Phillips asked, but he had a good idea what it was.

“Think of the Order like these. You may kill a few of them, maybe even a lot of them. But the whole survives, and cannot be fully found, or killed. Did the Order disband? Officially, of course it did. But how can you shut something down when you don’t know the entirety of its existence?”

“Why are you telling me this?” Phillips was getting confused, it was good to know, true, but worth the trip? Certainly not. It had been a long trip.

“I told you I know about Shipment J-225, did I not?” Bob asked, it was obviously a rhetorical question, Phillips nodded. “I’m not the only one.”

Item number 108: Cardassians rarely just came out and said what they meant.

“If you’re suggesting that the Obsidian Order is going to try and steal our weapons shipment, you’re sorely mistaken. Any attempt to take that shipment would be met with extreme force,” Phillips said confidently. He’d organized the security for the shipment himself.

“No, Commander, I’m suggesting that they already have,” the Cardassian said it calmly. Items 106 and 108 made themselves obvious yet once again. Bob suddenly reached up and put a hand to his ear, presumably to listen to a transmission better. “I’m afraid my time is running short, Commander. I have other matters to attend to.”

“The way I see it, you have two options: you can ignore what I’ve said completely, or you can act on it, and probably save Cardassian lives.”

Great incentive, Phillips thought.

Bob turned and began walking away, then suddenly whirled about. “Oh, and one more thing. Obviously you’ll need more than just the anonymous testimony of one Cardassian, so I’ll give you my name. Reten Golar. I’m sure you’ll find my biography without trouble, Cardassians are excellent record keepers.”

With that, he whirled about and disappeared into the jumble of buildings.

Phillips tapped his comm.-badge, “Phillips to Piloco, one to beam up.”

“That’s quite the story,” Captain Cuttor responded when Phillips had finished telling of his encounter with the Cardassian Reten Golar.

“That’s not all, sir,” Phillips handed over a padd containing Golar’s bio.

The padd bleeped as Cuttor skimmed its contents.

“Former Gul of the Galor-class Desket, decorated in three different major conflicts over the years, and was a member of Legate Damar’s resistance force towards the end of the Dominion war?” Cuttor paused, not entirely sure what it all meant.

“It goes on to describe several acts of courage when the Jem Hadar were wiping out Cardassian civilians, his loyalty to his family, etc.” Phillips reviewed the rest of the padd.

Cuttor looked at Phillips blankly. It took Phillips a moment to realize that the Captain was waiting for his ‘expert’ opinion on Cardassians.

“Sir, this may not seem like much to us, but to a Cardassian, these are some real credentials. The Desket stood its ground against five Klingon battle cruisers headed to destroy a Cardassian colony along the border before the Dominion war, and the resistance force is one of their most praised groups, liberators of Cardassia.”

“In other words, he’s got credibility,” Cuttor assumed, tossing the padd onto his desk.

“Exactly. And he said the shipment had already been stolen,” Phillips let his voice trail off.

“But we’ve checked with three different listening posts, the freighter is still on the correct course, headed towards Cardassia Prime, and the scans indicate it’s carrying the weapons shipment,” Cuttor looked at Phillips. “They haven’t stolen it.”

Phillips shrugged and raised both hands, indicating that he wasn’t sure, “Granted, it all seems fine, but the fact that he even had the shipment ID number is troubling.”

Cuttor sighed and looked over a different padd, “J-225 is scheduled to be here within two hours, Command wanted it here quick incase things got sticky. SFI is talking about a possibility of terrorism and riots. We can confront it; order them to beam the cargo over here.”

“If they refuse, it’s obvious that something’s up, if they comply, we get the weapons and send them on their way,” Phillips completed the idea.

“Exactly,” there was a slight pause. “Tom, I don’t need to tell you what it’ll look like happened if this turns out to be a big hoax.”

Phillips stood and slowly walked over to a window, and stared down at the blistering surface of Cardassia Prime, after a long pause, “It’ll look like I’m getting paranoid, I’ll get blackballed, and shipped to some desk job on the other side of the Federation.” He said it slowly.

Cuttor stood too, “Face it, Tom, you’ve been fighting the Cardassians for years, you’ve got a lot of hate to break down. Maybe it is time you moved on.”

Phillips turned halfway, “No, I’m the man for this job, and you all know it. I’ve worked against, and with, Cardassians for the better part of my career. No one knows them like I do.”

Cuttor stared into his eyes intently, as though trying to read him. He finally nodded, “Ok. We’ll check up on that freighter.”

“If you don’t mind, Captain, I’d like to be aboard when you do.”

Cuttor smirked, “Never can stand to be away from the action, can you?”

Phillips grinned back, “The action never can stand to be away from me.”

Cuttor chuckled, “We’ll notify you when the freighter is detected.”

“Thanks,” Phillips turned and left the ready room. He didn’t want to believe a word that Golar had said, but it didn’t look like he had much of a choice.

“Freighter Gomez is approaching at warp 4, Captain,” the Ops officer called from his post on the bridge.

“Set a course to intercept, half impulse. Open a hailing frequency,” Captain Cuttor ordered.

Phillips was standing to the Captain’s left, observing closely. This would be the moment of truth, and would probably determine whether or not he saw anything but paper work for the next 50 years.

“They are responding,” the Tactical officer stated after a moment.

The command was given for the transmission to be sent to the viewing screen. A human civilian appeared, “Captain Cuttor, I admit, it’s good to see your ship, especially in these parts.” The man smiled pleasantly. Cuttor gestured for the mute, then looked at Phillips.

“Seems legit,” Phillips said quietly.

“Don’t get too down, nothing’s happened...yet,” Cuttor gestured for the channel to be opened. “Captain, we’ve just got word that the space port you were scheduled to dock at is rather crowded at the moment. You won’t be able to dock for some time, now, we know you’re on a tight schedule, so we’re able to take your cargo and beam it down whenever the space port is free.”

The human Captain showed slight hesitation, Phillips’s eyes narrowed, “Sounds good, Piloco, send over your transport coordinates and we’ll beam our cargo on over.” The man was already tapping a control console. Cuttor nodded at his Tactical officer to send the coordinates. “Transporting...now.” The Freighter captain stated.

The Tactical officer nodded that the cargo had been received. Phillips could see his career disintegrating before his eyes.

Suddenly, the Freighter’s bridge went dark and alarms started going off.

“Captain? What’s wrong?” Cuttor asked, concerned.

“I don’t know, Piloco, but I’ve got a problem, warp core is going critical too fast to contain,” the Captain responded.

“We can beam you over...” Cuttor’s voice trailed off when the freighter Captain vanished in a transporter beam. “Report!”

“The freighter has just been destroyed by a warp core breach. I can’t pinpoint their destination, but I’ve definitely got multiple escape transporter beams down to the planet...and another one that leads...elsewhere,” the Tactical officer read from his scan readout.

“Define, ‘elsewhere,’” Phillips asked.

“I don’t know, sir, but we do have the Cargo,” his voice trailed off for a moment. “Sir, cargo bay reports that it received...farming supplies!”

Both Phillips and the Captain turned to each other, “Farming supplies?”

“Yes, sir, that’s all they beamed over,” the Tactical officer was just as perplexed as the other two officers.

“That was the freighter carrying J-225,” Phillips said, he was sure of that.

“So where are the weapons?” Cuttor asked.

Phillips shook his head for a moment, and then it dawned on him, “The second transporter beam.”

“They were beamed somewhere? But where?” Cuttor asked, starting to get worried.

Phillips just shook his head.

“Looks like we just got stung by the Obsidian Order,” Phillips said bleakly. “And now they’ve got weapons.”

“And obviously the ability to steal things from under our very noses,” Cuttor finished.

Phillips nodded slowly, his expression very sour.

His expression as he recorded the message wasn’t any better.

“We tracked down the transporters that carried the freighter crew to the surface. They disappeared well before we beamed down.”

Phillips shrugged.

“We’re guessing they were Obsidian Order agents of some kind, possibly long term, maybe the real Captain was replaced in transit, we don’t know.”

“We managed to track down the weapons transporter beam too. It was routed through eleven relays, interlocked with pattern enhancers. It kept them from degrading. Those led us behind the third moon; we found a small cargo shuttle, but no weapons, probably beamed away again.”

Phillips shrugged, and reached off-screen to grab a glass of water, and a padd.

“So, Admiral, I am sending this message to give my apologies, and my future condolences to any families who loose someone because we gave up that weapons shipment...and to tender my resignation.”

“Cuttor was right,” Phillips sighed deeply and pulled off his comm.-badge, “It’s time for me to move on. I’m requesting transport on the first ship back to the Terran system.”

“Computer, transmit message,” Phillips sat back. Golar could find someone else to talk to.

Edited by Solan
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