Astride a shattered Dominion halftrack, Durek watched as the dispirited columns of weaponless (and mostly wounded) Cassian soldiers limped towards the security fence enclosing the starport, their expressions dazed and uncomprehending. Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those unacquainted with it.
Scaling the hillside for a better view, he paused at the place where months ago, at the start of the war, a Dominion projectile had almost blown a hole through his abdomen. He hadn’t noticed the blast or wound at the time, so great had been his fury. He had merely staggered upright, torn away the tank’s access hatch, and proceeded to wreak havoc. It had been a savage, visceral joy. But even that hadn’t held a candle to the ecstasy he felt at this moment. The invaders were leaving. They had won. Gnox was free. Why then did Durek feel such a hollow pit in his stomach? He knew the answer.
Silently, he watched the damaged Cassian ships rise skyward in wobbly ascents. Beneath his grim pleasure at the sight, dread at tomorrow’s onerous task gnawed at him. He felt the somber gaze of his second-in-command Krull boring into him from further upslope. Krull had lobbied hard but in vain for armed escorts to see the Dominion survivors out of the system, in the event they plotted reprisals. But Durek had denied this request. He knew a beaten foe. He saw the defeat etched in their demoralized faces and formerly resplendent armor. They might return someday, but not for a long while. Hopefully long enough for him to persuade the Council to change their minds.
Towards evening, the contrails of the final ships began winking out as the sky turned umber and the stars appeared, exceptionally bright after weeks of pale obscurity from the unrelenting curtains of smoke.
“We should have killed them all,” Krull muttered sourly, rousing Durek from his gloomy reverie.
“The dead do not remember,” Durek rumbled. “Only the defeated.”
Krull shook his head. “And when millions of them return?”
Durek shrugged. “We’re lookin’ pretty good on ammo.”