Stardate 76570.7; July 28, 2399
Edited by Peter Bossley
Written by Chris Adamek
Admiral Kathryn Janeway
High Overseer Xi’Yor
Lakat City Ruins, Cardassia
Stardate 76564.2 • July 26, 2399
The heat was oppressive.
While preparing for his journey, Talyere had spent many hours studying the Cardassians and their homeworld. There were extensive articles on the Bajoran Occupation and the Dominion War, dozens of dissertations outlining the Cardassian political structure, and somewhere amidst all of that information, Talyere was certain he had read something about the heat. Unfortunately, that small bit of climatology did not do justice to the sticky, scorching air…
The burning sun loomed in the hazy reddish skies, roasting the barren surface with temperatures in excess of fifty degrees. As he treaded the sweltering, parched terrain, Talyere could feel the sweat oozing from his pores. “Who among us knew that Cardassia and kel’thuzad were the same place?”
Both Xelos and Zeratul smiled at the sentiment, but given the extreme heat, they chose not to waste their energy on a response. However, curiosity prompted a more vocal response from Talyere’s human companions, specifically Megan Reinbold.
“Kel’thuzad?” she inquired, easily falling into step alongside the Overseer.
“I believe the Earth equivalent would be… hell,” Talyere replied, though his voice sounded as tired as he felt. Curiously, Commander Reinbold seemed relatively unaffected by the heat. “I wasn’t aware humans were so well adapted to this climate…”
“I spent about six years studying Species 8472 at Starfleet’s xenobiology lab in Brisbane,” Reinbold happily explained. “It can get pretty toasty down there in the summer.”
The only reason Talyere was familiar with the Australian city was its unfortunate proximity to Sydney. Both cities took damage during the Elorg attack last year, and while Brisbane made a complete recovery, Sydney was completely obliterated. To this very day, the city was essentially a massive pile of rubble. It undoubtedly looked very similar to Lakat…
The giant city that once served as Cardassia’s capital loomed on the distant horizon—except it was no longer a city. Lakat had become a monument to the lives lost during the closing hours of the Dominion War. Hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of decayed bodies were forever buried beneath the mountains of scorched and twisted metal up ahead…
But amidst all the death and destruction, Talyere knew that his presence on Cardassia represented a seed of hope—not only for the Cardassians, but for the entire quadrant. Unfortunately, he did not know if his presence alone could inspire that seed to sprout…
If successful, if the Overseer Aladar was freed from the Cardassians, Talyere knew that he had a unique opportunity to unite the Breen against Ra’thenn and Xi’Yor. The scourge known as war might still fall upon the galaxy, but if the Elorg were forced to fight battles both domestic and abroad, the fall of Kalidar was almost certainly assured…
“We are approaching the rendezvous coordinates,” Captain Harrison announced a few moments later. Unlike Commander Reinbold, he appeared to be sweltering in the oppressive heat. His face was beat red, and sweat was almost literally dripping from his tunic. Thankfully, their time spent on the surface appeared to be nearing its conclusion.
Deep beneath the blazing surface existed an intricate series of interconnecting tunnels. Their original purpose was long ago forgotten, but many scholars were convinced the Cardassians used the tunnels in their war against the ancient Hebitians. Whatever the case, those tunnels now served as a clandestine prison—and all sources indicated that the Breen Overseer Aladar was held therein.
Unfortunately, the schematics of the prison were imprecise at best. When he examined the hand-drawn diagram prior to the mission, Talyere almost had to cringe. It was obvious the drawings were not to scale, and very likely they were not at all accurate. Additionally, parts of the Lakat had collapsed into the cavern, making large portions of the prison impassable. Unfortunately, the schematics neglected to state which parts of the city had collapsed…
The Cardassians had provided a set of rendezvous coordinates, and according to Central Command, a legate by the name of Brunel would meet them in the caverns at that point. Unfortunately, as his eyes surveyed the barren terrain, Talyere could find no obvious entrance to the caverns.
“Perhaps it is buried?” suggested Xelos.
“Most likely,” said Harrison, carefully studying the available tricorder data.
Zeratul expelled a weary sigh. “It would have been simpler to transport directly to the coordinates,” he said, kicking up some of the reddish dirt with his booted foot.
And Reinbold’s quizzical gaze immediately fell upon the Overseer. “Did you see the transporter system on our ship?”
“It was crude,” conceded Zeratul, “but sufficient.”
Reinbold shook her head. “It was a death trap!”
Zeratul sighed. He had spent many long hours perusing the computer database, and while the transporter was hardly up to Starfleet or Elorg standards, it would have performed its designated task. “You are entitled to your opinion,” he said, “even if it is incorrect.”
Reinbold flashed him a faint smile. “Thanks.”
“You are welcome.”
Nearby, Harrison and Xelos were crouched over a seemingly inconspicuous slab of rock, both of them examining it with their respective tricorders.
“It is dolomite,” said Talyere without the need of a tricorder.
Moderately impressed, Harrison glanced up from the grayish stone. “I did not know you were familiar with geology.”
That might have been an overstatement. “When I was an underling, I briefly served as a geologist aboard the science ship Abrakkar.”
“You had geologists in subspace?” Xelos frowned. “What for?”
“I have often wondered the same thing,” said Talyere. Though the Abrakkar would occasionally stumble upon and asteroid that somehow managed to slip into subspace, there was, admittedly, very need little for a geologist in the void. “No matter… I was not a highly regarded geologist.”
“Well,” said Harrison, brushing aside some of the reddish sand that covered the slab of dolomite, “this fine specimen appears to have occluded our entry to the caverns.”
Reinbold took a moment to examine the rock formation for herself. “If the five of us work together, we can probably move it…”
Harrison shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, “that is a considerable piece of dolomite.”
“We could always beam it away,” Talyere lightly suggested.
Much as he anticipated, Reinbold quickly dismissed the notion. “I’m afraid somebody will have a slab of dolomite imbedded in his skull when it rematerializes.”
Certainly not a pleasant thought, but Talyere suspected the chances of such a disaster were nominal. Even so, his suggestion fell by the wayside—because seconds later, a pulse of blazing violet light suddenly sliced through the humid air, blasting into the dolomite with explosive force.
When the smoke finally cleared a few moments later, the impediment was gone, and Zeratul stood nearby, nonchalantly placing his disruptor back into its holster. “The problem has been solved.”
Harrison peered into the smoldering hole in the ground. “Obviously.” He carefully brushed aside the hot sand, and after a moment, his efforts revealed a rusted piece of metal.
“That’s it,” said Reinbold. She quickly knelt down beside Harrison to help with the excavation, and within a few minutes, the entire hatch was revealed.
Xelos immediately wrapped his ashen fingers around the rusted handles and, with all his might, pulled open the hatch.
Cardassia’s underside wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as the surface. The rocky caverns were dank and humid, but not unbearably warm. There were faint, flickering lights embedded into the cavern’s roof, support beams set into the craggy walls, and a dusty metallic lattice on the floor. It looked more like a mining facility than a prison—but either way, Talyere was relieved to be free of the oppressive heat.
With Harrison at his side, he carefully stepped into the unknown. “Any life signs?”
Harrison glanced at his tricorder. “Two,” he said. “There is a pair of Cardassians thirty meters ahead.”
“That must be Legate Brunel,” exclaimed Xelos.
“It is likely,” agreed Harrison. He turned his gaze back to Overseer Zeratul. “Please refrain from using your weapon if things do not initially go well…”
Zeratul smirked. “I will consider it.”
And on that note, the quintet headed for the rendezvous. From that point forward, the cavern was reasonably nondescript. Talyere noted nothing out of the ordinary, though there were a few impressive stalactites jutting down from the ceiling. Still, he had no desire to come back and catalog them for the Elorg Archives… With any luck, Talyere’s first visit to Cardassia would be his last.
As the group forged ahead into the cavern’s murky depths, the pair of Cardassians soon appeared in the rocky passageway. As far as Cardassians went, they seemed fairly average, though the taller of the two had very pronounced ridges around his eyes… nothing out of the ordinary, but it was a distinguishing feature.
“I am Legate Brunel of the Cardassian Fourth Order,” said the tall Cardassian, flashing a diplomatic smile, “and this is my associate, Gul Menag.”
Captain Harrison matched Brunel’s polite smile, and cautiously approached, extending his hand in friendship. “I am Captain Matthew Ha—”
“I know who you are,” said Brunel, utterly oblivious to Harrison’s diplomatic overtures. “And we have the Breen.”
“May we see him?” asked Harrison.
“Menag…” Brunel glanced back at his associate. “Get the prisoner.”
Brunel was easily a lot more terse than Talyere had anticipated, but he made up for the deficiency with his unprecedented cooperation. For a moment, Talyere actually thought the mission would reach its conclusion without a single incident… But then Menag brought forth Overseer Aladar from the darkness, and all Talyere’s dreams were torn asunder.
Overseer Aladar was dead…