Phoenix Twelve floated easily in orbit high above Neptune, representing the pinnacle of human scientific achievement. It had been more than two hundred years since the discovery of warp flight and humanity had utilised the new ability to expand the borders of their territory. Human space now stretched from the depths of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, to colonies on the moon, Mars and Titan, to space stations orbiting Saturn, Jupiter and Venus. And now here, where the eight men and women of Phoenix Twelve formed the outermost boundary of human expansion. Well, almost. Twenty years ago one of their predecessors , Phoenix Ten, had left the solar system on a great voyage of exploration after the authorities on Earth had given in to the increasing public demand to search for other life in the galaxy. But after only a few months of contact they had endured years of silence. Until a distant signal had been received yesterday.
"San Francisco control to Phoenix Twelve. We're picking up the signal strong now, you getting it up there?"
"Confirmed control. We’re just in position now. Signal’s coming from beyond Pluto heading right for us. ETA... ninety seconds. Man, it's coming in fast!"
"Yeah, we estimate it's traveling at least five times the speed of light. No way the 'Nix Ten should be able to hit that speed. It must be something else."
"So, you reckon this is what we've been waiting for? Somebody out there has finally noticed us?"
"I guess you're gonna find out, Phoenix. First contact, eh? I envy you guys."
"Thanks control. Let's hope it's something more than just a really fast comet."
"Make sure you guys take plenty of pictures. You're gonna be famous by the time you get back here."
"You mean we're not already? Well, here we go, control. Contact in 5... 4... 3... 2..."
"'Nix? Phoenix Twelve, come in? Are you there, Phoenix Twelve? This is San Fran control. Come in 'Nix..."
A smile flickered across Legate Gelrik's grey, reptilian features as he listened to the broadcasts. On the viewscreen the little warp ship was trying desperately to back away, the sudden appearance of two dozen sleek Cardassian warships obviously unsettling them. That and the fact that the Cardassians were now blocking the increasingly urgent communications from the M-class planet orbiting the little yellow sun in the distance. A faint beep on the console in front of him indicated that the human vessel was trying to contact them. The Legate would give them an answer.
"Weapons, fire the starboard disrupters. Signal the fleet to move on to the inner planets."
A tiny spark of pitiful light flashed in the infinite black, marking the end of the Phoenix. Gelrik looked at the information scrolling across the sensor screens as the Cardassian ships moved on. The third planet in the system was teeming with life and resources although their technology was inferior in every way. Gelrik snorted, what a waste! If Cardassia had been blessed which such bounties they would be ruling the galaxy by now, not trawling it for the s[...]s left over by other species. Cardassians were destined for greatness, it was not their fault that their planet could not support their needs. Forced to seek out raw materials elsewhere, the Cardassian people had been compelled to turn away from science and art to conquest and occupation in order to survive.
But fortune had smiled on Gelrik when he’d caught the Ferengi, Joro, with that Earth ship he'd bought. It had been a piece of blasted, wasted junk but the databases had been intact and the information about their home planet made for interesting reading. After some deliberation, Central Command had decided it would make an excellent addition to their empire and Gelrik had been able to call in a few favours to ensure he was in control of the mission.
The Cardassian fleet spread itself out through the system, the copper coloured cruisers settling into orbit around all the inhabited planets. Legate Gelrik ran a hand through his thick, black hair as he looked out the viewport at the blue and green planet beneath him. He ordered communications opened and cleared his throat, addressing the inhabitants below in a deep voice.
"Greetings. I am Legate Gelrik and I welcome your planet to the Cardassian Union. You will identify your leaders to me so we can arrange matters in a way that will be mutually beneficial."
Cutting off the commline, Gelrik nodded to his bridge crew.
"I'll be in my quarters. Let me know when they're ready to talk."
It was always the same with this sort of planet, Gelrik mused as he walked through the metal corridors. There would be the usual shock and awe, followed by the denial and the mistaken belief that they had rights of their own. Then, finally, would come the inevitable acceptance that actually they were helpless and worthless and had better just get on with it. Sometimes it took a few hours, sometimes it took a few days. Occasionally Gelrik had to offer incentives to hurry things along but he rather hoped he wouldn't have to destroy anything this time. It was always a pain to have to rebuild the infrastructure again.
Half a day had passed. Legate Gelrik waited as the transporter beam deposited a handful of startled-looking aliens into the Audience Room. The creatures couldn't decide whether to be more shocked by the fact that they were surrounded by armed Cardassian soldiers or by the fact that they'd just been plucked from the safety of their planet and transported through space in a couple of seconds. Gelrik always liked this part. He straightened his military uniform and stepped forward before their confusion had had a chance to settle.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Cardassian Union. May I interest you in some Kanar? No? Ah, well, to business then; you will aid us in extracting the resources from the planets in this system for the good of the Union."
"You can't do this! This is our planet!"
A human had stepped forward from his colleagues and stood alone, his finger levelled at the grey-skinned, heavy boned Cardassian Legate. Gelrik considered him for a moment - he was smartly dressed in a grey two-piece garment of some kind, his long dark hair tied back from his pale skin. Although the Cardassian appreciated his style there were some things that just would not be tolerated.
"Oh dear," sighed Gelrik. "There's always one. I can assure you not only that we can do this, we already have. My troops started to beam down as soon as you all arrived here. We already control every military installation and most of the major population centres. Your planet has been occupied. Come now, have you never had wars during your history? I'm sure you understand the principles I'm talking about. But this doesn't need to be an aggressive occupation - on the contrary, we can make it work for all of us."
"You can make it work by getting the hell out of here and taking your... your spoonheads with you!"
Gelrik shrugged his broad shoulders. "We fully expect there to be a certain rebellious element. After all, every race has some short-sighted individuals who can't grasp the bigger picture. However, for the benefit of us all, we are prepared to deal very... harshly with such people."
Gelrik fixed the human with his dark eyes as he let the words sink in. The human hesitated, glancing at the armed soldiers around them and at the other leaders behind him. His former companions avoided his gaze, offering no support. Slowly, he lowered his hand and stepped back into line. The Legate gave a snake-like smile.
"I'm glad we understand each other. Now, where were we?"
"You said mutually beneficial." A female voice spoke up from the back of the group. "What's in it for us?"
"Ah, at last. A voice of reason. The aid we can give is limitless, dear lady. The Cardassian Union has technology far beyond anything you've created. You all speak different languages, yes? Well, how else could we be having this conversation without our universal translators? How else could we have beamed you from the surface of your planet onto this ship without our transporters?"
"And you'd share these with us?"
"Indeed. In particular, our mining and smelting equipment is especially advanced. Not only would we be willing to share it, we would also train your population in its use and offer constant supervision. Of course, the refined metals would be taken offworld to be used elsewhere in the Union but your people would be fulfilling a vital role, one you could be proud of."
The woman pushed through the crowd, her dark skin contrasting with the brightly coloured clothing she wore. Gelrik was mildly surprised by the variety these humans showed, how they clung to their perceived diversity. He wondered, idly, how long it would last.
"You'd enslave us all? We'd be no better than forced labour, we can't agree to this!"
"Not at all, not at all. Slavery is such an outdated concept. Certainly we would have to garrison troops here, to make sure the peace is maintained, but you're culture, history and any religions would remain your own. Unless they interfered directly with Cardassian aims, of course." Gelrik spread his arms wide in an expansive gesture. "Imagine the changes we would bring! No more borders, no segregation, you're people would be united as one, every person an equal. You choices here today could abolish hunger, war and disease. Think about it."
"No more borders? No more nations, more like. You would erase our very identity. You speak of uniting us, I am sure we would all be equal working in your factories."
"Wait." Another of the humans, this one a blond haired woman with piercing blue eyes, interjected. "Listen to him, listen to what we could achieve. If we were to end poverty and hunger right here, imagine how history would view us! We have been given a fantastic opportunity, how would history view us if we wasted it?"
The Cardassian allowed himself another smile. "We would not expect all of your people to work. We would need leaders to liase, people who would be willing to govern their worlds in our name, perhaps even travel into space and sample some of the many delights the galaxy has to offer." Gelrik replicated himself a glass of Kanar from the side wall. "Suffice to say, such far-sighted individuals would stand to gain a great deal from such an arrangement."
The humans, trapped between the ranks of Cardassian guards, glanced at each other. There was a silence that seemed to go on for a long time but in reality couldn't have been more than a minute or two. And then the mutterings of dissent started to become mutterings of an altogether different kind as the fate of a race was decided by a handful of individuals. Gelrik sipped his drink and savoured the taste.
"You know," he said. "I think Cardassians and Humans will have a very productive relationship."