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Tyralak

The Empire scouts out the Federation

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By: xris@iafrica.com (Michael January)

 

[FANFIC] The Empire scouts out the Federation LONG

 

 

 

PROCLAIMER: The Star Trek galaxy is the property of Paramount, while

 

The Star Wars galaxy is the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. (They have

 

enough bucks to buy galaxies? Sheesh!) I am merely borrowing the

 

Characters and tech to use in this Fanfic, this is in no way intended

 

as a challenge of the afore-mentioned parties copyright (only of their

 

creativity) and I receive no financial gain from this Fanfic (more is

 

the pity - send me 10 buck if you like the story anyway).

 

 

 

WARNING: VIOLENCE, BLOOD, GUTS, GORE, ENTRAILS, BRAINS, SPARKS,

 

MECHANICAL ARMS AND LUBRICATING FLUID.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

 

 

The Imperial fleet was orbiting a small nondescript little

 

planet on the outer edge of a star system close to the core of the

 

galaxy. They were not of this galaxy, but had only recently arrived

 

after a 15 month journey through Hyperspace. They had been sent to

 

scout for possible rebel manufacturing facilities in neighbouring

 

galaxies, but their mission had been fruitless thus far. Eight sensor-

 

stealthed Lancer frigates had been scouting this galaxy for three

 

months, while the main fleet had overseen the construction of a

 

floating manufacturing platform in the lower levels of a gaseous giant

 

planet in the local star system. The four huge freighters, which had

 

carried the dis-assembled facility were now languishing in orbit

 

awaiting further orders, their function fulfilled. The multi-purpose

 

mining and manufacturing facility had been in operation for six weeks

 

now, and the fleet was fully stocked, with a growing supply of raw

 

materials being collected in orbit around the gas giant. The Star

 

Destroyers were just waiting for the return of the last of the

 

Lancers.

 

 

 

Captain Janus glanced through the reports again. No trace of

 

rebel activity had been found, which didn't surprise him, not that the

 

rebels would have been advertising their presence, but a manufacturing

 

facility fifteen months away from any communications channels didn't

 

make sense, not even for the rebels. Janus also didn't believe that

 

the rebels needed to use another galaxy as a base of operations. Force

 

knows how many governments were quite prepared to pay lip service to

 

the Empire and slip a few credits to the rebels behind the Emperor's

 

back. What did intrigue him were traces of star-faring civilizations

 

in this galaxy.

 

 

 

The scout reports showed that there were various star-faring

 

civilizations, although none controlled any significant portion of

 

this galaxy. Also, these civilizations were all concentrated in small

 

pockets, indicating that didn't have trans-galactic or inter-galactic

 

capable drive systems, except possibly for 1 civilization. Janus was

 

loathe to submit an incomplete report to the Emperor, and knew he had

 

better get more information on this civilization.

 

 

 

The particular civilization he was interested in had been

 

detected by three separate scouts in totally different parts of the

 

galaxy. There was one report detailing a colonized sphere about 150

 

light years across close to the rim of the galaxy, and a second report

 

about intermittent activity in a distant quadrant, with signals

 

matching the signature of this civilization. A third scout had

 

detected drive and communications traces of a single vessel in yet

 

another quadrant of the galaxy, which matched the same signature.

 

 

 

Janus considered his options. Direct observation was dangerous

 

with the limited knowledge he had of this civilization. The

 

intermittent activity in the second quadrant indicated signs of an

 

interstellar war being waged, a bit dangerous to get close to that

 

punch-up without more data. The third option however, a single vessel,

 

possibly of the same civilization. Now that looked intriguing.

 

 

 

A message flashed across his status screen. The last of the

 

Frigates had arrived. Three supply shuttles were quickly dispatched to

 

restock the Frigate while Janus dispatched his orders. One of the two

 

VSD's would stay behind to guard the manufacturing depot - their only

 

supply point in this galaxy - despite there not being a star-faring

 

civilization within 2000 light years.

 

 

 

Two of the six dreadnaughts in his fleet would also stay

 

behind. His own Imperial Star Destroyer, the second Victory Star

 

Destroyer, four dreadnaughts and all the Lancers would stick together.

 

They would observe the single vessel for a few days to gather

 

information, then proceed to the second quadrant where the

 

intermittent battles were taking place to observe this civilizations

 

battle tactics. That would be sufficient for their report. It was

 

unlikely that they would enter the space controlled by this

 

civilization, that would be way too risky.

 

 

 

A signal came in denoting that the fleet was ready to jump.

 

Janus acknowledged the signal, and the fleet jumped. A five-day

 

journey brought them to within 30 light years of the last reported

 

position of the alien vessel, and ahead of its flight path.

 

 

 

Janus didn't bother ordering a sensor scan. His staff knew

 

what they were doing.

 

 

 

"Mobile spatial distortion detected. On tactical display

 

now!" A tech reported.

 

 

 

Janus stepped forward, and glanced at the hologram. The scale

 

was set to a 10ly cube. The ship was 4 light years ahead of its

 

expected position, but within the envelope of error expected.

 

 

 

"Jump to this position!" Janus ordered, indicating a point in

 

the sphere.

 

Seconds later: "Fleet acknowledges."

 

 

 

"Go!"

 

 

 

The second jump brought them to a point 6 light years ahead of

 

the mobile spatial distortion. It was outside sensor range, and at

 

least half a day's journey for the vessel causing the distortion.

 

 

 

"Designate enemy vessel Alpha-1. Orders for Lancer Frigates

 

/Sword/ and /Dagger/; /Sword/ to use sensor-stealth mode and to place

 

itself in a stationery position on the enemy's forward starboard

 

quarter. /Dagger/ will not use sensor-stealthing and it will assume

 

position in the forward port quarter of the enemy. Execute!" Nobody

 

questioned the designation of the alien vessel as an enemy. It was not

 

an Imperial vessel, so therefore it was the enemy. That was the way of

 

things.

 

 

 

The two Lancers flickered into hyperspace, and seconds later

 

reported that they were in position. Now Janus settled back to wait.

 

Which frigate would the vessel detect first, and at what range, and

 

how would it react? These would all be answered shortly. The

 

interrogation had begun.

 

 

 

"/Dagger/ reporting! Spatial distortion field detected at

 

312Au. Alpha-1 disengaged spatial distortion field at a range of

 

235Au. We have him on our sensors at a range of 235Au, Alpha-1

 

maintaining position. No detectable communications signals." [Author's

 

Note :The Empire uses au to measure planetary orbits, with 1au the

 

ideal distance for galactic standard planets to be from a galactic

 

standard yellow star.]

 

 

 

"/Sword/ reporting! Spatial distortion field detected at range

 

of 371Au. The field disappeared from our sensors at a range of 290Au.

 

Alpha-1 outside current sensor range."

 

 

 

Janus: "/Sword/, relay all communications between the

 

/Annihilator/ and /Dagger/. At no time must /Dagger/ communicate

 

directly with any vessel in the main fleet!"

 

 

 

"Acknowledged!"

 

 

 

"To /Dagger/, relay all sensor data via /Sword/."

 

 

 

"Acknowledged."

 

 

 

Janus nodded in satisfaction. Even if the alien vessel

 

detected the communications from /Dagger/, it would probably trace it

 

in the direction of /Sword/, not his fleet.

 

 

 

"/Dagger/ reporting! Alpha-1 closing at 5Au per second! ETA 47

 

seconds!"

 

 

 

"Hold position." Janus ordered. He noticed the tension amongst

 

his bridge crew. This did not concern him, except as far as their

 

duties were concerned, and a certain amount of tension was good.

 

 

 

"/Dagger/ reporting! Alpha-1 disengaged distortion field at

 

range of 5Au! Now approaching at 0.25c. ETA 1 hour and 43 minutes."

 

 

 

"Prepare a jump to /Sword/'s position, but do NOT execute.

 

Hold position." Janus ordered.

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About an hour went by. Janus had no doubt that the alien

 

vessel was examining /Dagger/ as closely as /Dagger/ itself was

 

examining it. Janus settled back in his command chair, and closing his

 

eyes, listened to the incoming reports as called out by his bridge

 

crew.

 

Alpha-1 stopped its approach at a range of half an au, only

 

about 450 million kilometers from the Lancer frigate. Janus had little

 

doubt that the Lancer crew were feeling the tension more than anyone

 

else, but hardly a trace of this could be deduced from their reports.

 

He felt a slight touch of pride in the professionalism of his men, no

 

doubt that it originated in the strict Imperial discipline imposed.

 

 

 

The aliens were trying to establish communication. So they

 

were either cautious or peaceful. A communications droid onboard the

 

Lancer soon interpreted the strange signal encryption being used, no

 

doubt finding the previous recordings from the other scouts useful.

 

 

 

Janus ordered the frigate to ignore the communication

 

attempts. Alpha-1 closed the gap to the /Dagger/ to a mere 10 000

 

kilometers. Janus ordered them to hold position despite the protests

 

of the frigates commanding officer, not that he had dared protest

 

loudly, but even a mild protest was still a protest. Janus considered

 

bringing him up on charges of insubordination, but decided to let it

 

go.

 

 

 

"They have identified themselves as the Federation Starship

 

/Voyager/, and are asking if the /Dagger/ needs assistance!" exclaimed

 

a bemused tech on listening to the translation of Alpha-1's broadcast.

 

 

 

"They're opening fire!" shouted another tech.

 

 

 

"NO!" shouted another. "They've discharged a plasma cloud, and

 

are projecting a hologram on it." He explained.

 

 

 

"Holograms?" An officer asked.

 

 

 

Janus barely restrained his mirth at the aliens tactics, his

 

officer turned red as he realized that the aliens were projecting

 

basic images onto the plasma cloud in an ongoing attempt to establish

 

communication with the frigate.

 

 

 

"They're obviously peaceful." stated the officer, "overtures

 

of help, and such persistence in trying to talk to us!"

 

 

 

"/Dagger/ reporting!" with a marked sense of urgency this

 

time, "they are attempting to lock some sort of targeting device onto

 

us, but our shields seem to be frustrating them!"

 

 

 

"Lower shields!" Janus ordered.

 

 

 

"What?"

 

 

 

"NOW!"

 

 

 

"Bu..."

 

 

 

"NOW!" Janus barked again. Tense seconds passed by.

 

 

 

"Sensors indicate alien has target lock INSIDE our bridge,

 

repeat INSIDE our bridge. Routing bridge-cam into communication

 

channel."

 

 

 

The tactical display in front of Janus dissolved and a scene

 

appeared. It was the bridge of the Lancer, as seen through the

 

frigates internal holo-cams. Three glowing spheres of energy briefly

 

appeared, then coalesced into humanoid shape. Seconds later the energy

 

dissipated, leaving three humans standing there. 'Matter

 

transporters', Janus thought, 'and able to transport animated flesh,

 

not just atomic structures. Impressive.'

 

 

 

The old Republic researchers had given up on ever being able

 

to transport a live human or animal, although they were quite capable

 

of transmitting inanimate matter. 'Well', Janus amended, 'they had

 

transported live humans and animals, but the results had never been

 

pretty!' It was reassuring to know that shields could block the matter

 

transmissions. What a weapon if he could take this back to the Empire!

 

 

 

The human female stepped forward. Apparently she was the

 

commander of the group. Before she could say anything, Janus ordered

 

"/Dagger/, raise shields, take them prisoner, jump immediately to

 

/Sword/'s position."

 

 

 

To the credit of the /Dagger/'s commander, he followed these

 

orders with alacrity. This was much closer in line with his training,

 

and he understood implicitly. The Jump took only a fraction of a

 

second, the distance to the /Sword/ being only a few hundred Au.

 

 

 

"/Sword/ reporting. /Dagger/ has arrived with the prisoners.

 

The /Voyager/ is conducting a sensor scan of the area."

 

 

 

"Prepare a jump to the following co-ordinates," Janus ordered,

 

indicating a position to the navigational officer for transmission to

 

the /Sword/, "but hold position for now!"

 

 

 

"Yes sir!" came the answer very quickly. The /Dagger/ episode

 

had raised his crews faith in him markedly, Janus noted. He didn't

 

care much for faith, as long as they followed orders.

 

 

 

"/Sword/ reporting. /Voyager/ must have detected us. Our

 

sensors indicate they are doing a sensor focus on our co-ordinates.

 

They are still holding position. Wait. /Voyager/ has engaged their

 

spatial distortion drive. The spatial distortion effect is twice as

 

powerful as before, and they are traveling 8 times faster than their

 

previous track. ETA in 3 hours and 4 minutes."

 

 

 

Janus considered this. If this was their maximum speed, it was

 

a mere 0.8 light years per hour, compared to hyperdrives potential of

 

127ly per hour. At this speed they would take about 10 years to reach

 

the so-called Federation's sphere of influence. At their previous

 

speed, it would have taken them 80 years. Janus doubted that they were

 

that patient or that long-lived that 80 years was inconsequential to

 

them. Therefore they must be traveling slowly due to fuel

 

consideration or because their ship couldn't sustain the higher speed

 

for long. He noted that as a possible bargaining chip.

 

 

 

"/Sword/," Janus transmitted, "are you still sensor-

 

stealthed?"

 

 

 

"Yes sir!"

 

 

 

"Very well, hold your position, and order /Dagger/ back to the

 

main fleet!"

 

 

 

"Yes sir!"

 

 

 

Seconds later, "/Sword/ reporting! /Dagger/ has jumped, ETA

 

your position in fifteen seconds. The enemy vessel has disengaged

 

their distortion field drive. They appear not to be aware of this

 

vessel as yet."

 

 

 

"Very well. Maintain surveillance of the /Voyager/ at maximum

 

sensor range. Do not give away your presence."

 

 

 

"Yes sir!"

 

 

 

If Janus noticed any relief in the last acknowledgement he

 

gave no indication.

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To his first officer, Janus ordered, "Have /Dagger/

 

send the prisoners here as soon as they arrive. Bring the woman to me,

 

and place the others in the brig."

 

 

 

"Yes sir!"

 

 

 

It wasn't long before a squad of four stormtroopers escorted

 

the woman and a communications droid onto the bridge of the

 

/Annihilator/. The droid approached Janus.

 

 

 

"Admiral Janus! The compliments of lieutenant Needa, This is

 

the Captain Janeway of the /Voyager/." The droid held out an appendage

 

with three little devices on it. "The prisoners were wearing these

 

earpieces, which they referred to as Universal Translators, lieutenant

 

Needa thought you might be interested in examining them. They appear

 

not to be a weapon of any sort, and apparently operate by analyzing

 

voice patterns in conjunction with brainwaves and physical movements,

 

which can then be projected directly to the communication centers of

 

another persons brain. They were also carrying hand weapons which were

 

confiscated."

 

 

 

Janus took two of the devices, "Shut up." He said to the

 

droid, which it did. Janus didn't care much for verbose machines. He

 

turned the devices over in his hand. He inspected the woman closer.

 

She had a blaster burn on her side. It looked like she had been hit by

 

a stun weapon. Mere minutes had passed since the /Dagger/ incident, so

 

she must have been revived by a medical droid for this meeting. There

 

was a defiant expression on her face, and she showed no other signs of

 

wear. 'Good officer material', Janus noted.

 

 

 

He handed one of the devices to the woman, and watched her

 

place it behind her left ear. He placed the second unit behind his

 

right ear. The woman started speaking almost immediately, and to Janus

 

surprise, even though she was talking absolute gibberish, he

 

understood what she was saying immediately, as if she was speaking

 

clear galactic.

 

 

 

"Explain your actions! What right have you to take me and my

 

crew prisoner?" She demanded.

 

 

 

"You were not invited onboard our vessel, you transported over

 

without permission, trespassing, we call it." Janus calmly explained.

 

 

 

"Bantha dung!" Janus heard, although he doubted that's what

 

she said, "your vessel lowered it's shields the moment our

 

transporters locked onto it."

 

 

 

"Transporters? Lock? I don't know what you mean. They merely

 

lowered their shields as a sign of peace. My lieutenant reports to me

 

that you just appeared on his bridge, carrying weapons. His men did

 

the only thing they could under the circumstance. A misunderstanding,

 

I'm sure." Janus smiled.

 

 

 

"Let me introduce myself. My name is Janus, and I am the

 

Admiral of this fleet, as well as the commander of this vessel."

 

 

 

"Captain Janeway, of the Federation Starship /Voyager/." She

 

said icily.

 

 

 

"So I understood." Janus smiled.

 

 

 

"So you received our communications, and understood what we

 

said?"

 

 

 

"Yes, but unfortunately couldn't duplicate your strange

 

signal, and therefore didn't know how to reply." Janus responded

 

smoothly.

 

 

 

"My officers?" she enquired.

 

 

 

"Receiving medical attention, I'm afraid to say. My men were a

 

bit overzealous." Janus apologized.

 

 

 

"Now, down to business," Janus said, sitting in his command

 

chair, "Why have you entered Imperial space, what is your business

 

here?"

 

 

 

"Imperial space?" Janeway frowned. "I am afraid that I am at a

 

disadvantage. We did not realize that this part of the galaxy had been

 

settled by anyone. We are merely passing through."

 

 

 

"Unlikely, because at the speed your vessel was traveling, you

 

would have taken many years to cross the Galactic Empire. So passing

 

through does not explain your actions. You are here to spy on our

 

worlds?"

 

 

 

"Spy? How could we spy on what we didn't know existed?"

 

 

 

"So you say? Where are you coming from? What is this

 

Federation you speak of?" Janus asked.

 

 

 

"I refuse to answer any further questions under these

 

conditions. Am I being kept prisoner or am I free to return to my

 

vessel?" Janeway glared at Janus.

 

 

 

"It is not as easy as that, the Emperor would not look kindly

 

on me if I did not deal with this situation decisively. He does not

 

brook invasion by anybody, and he is not a, how shall I put it? A

 

forgiving man? You have exactly two options. Surrender your vessel and

 

be tried under our laws, or retreat beyond our borders. Your vessel is

 

62 light years inside our outermost border, we have determined that

 

your vessel can cover that in 3 days."

 

 

 

"In 3 days!" Janeway exclaimed, "That would require maximum

 

warp. Three days at maximum warp will exhaust our limited fuel supply.

 

We did not invade your space, we are not spying on you. Our intentions

 

are peaceful. We were hoping to trade for minerals and fuel, and

 

continue our journey. I insist you return to me to my vessel NOW."

 

 

 

Janus appeared to consider this. He indicated to one of his

 

bridge officers who handed him a Padd which he pretended to study. He

 

typed something, considered the results and turned back to Janeway. "I

 

can offer you a third option. Surrender your vessel to one of my

 

technical crews to make the necessary modifications, and we will tow

 

you to a point outside our borders. My orders are not specific about

 

which border, so it is within my power to transport you to our borders

 

on the far side of the Empire, about 30,000 light years in the

 

direction you were traveling. Our records indicate that the Federation

 

you speak of may be consistent with a civilization we have detected

 

62,000 light years away along the projected course of your vessel. If

 

it is your desire, and my orders aren't changed, I could arrange for

 

you and your vessel to be transported directly there. Do you accept my

 

proposal?"

 

 

 

Janeway's eyes widened noticeably. She opened her mouth to say

 

something, hesitated, then "I ... that is ... we, my officers and I,

 

will have to discuss that. Return us to our ship so that we may

 

consider your proposal."

 

 

 

"Very well. I don't have too much time though, so I will need

 

an answer quickly. Also, be warned that should you try and penetrate

 

further into our Empire, we will be forced to destroy your vessel."

 

Janus removed his earpiece, and held out his hand for hers. Janeway

 

hesitated, then removed the earpiece and handed it to him.

 

 

 

"See that she and the other two are returned to the /Dagger/.

 

We will return them to their vessel, unharmed. Do not return any of

 

the equipment you confiscated, have a team of technicians study

 

them." THE /VOYAGER/ BRIDGE

 

 

 

"Sir, I have noticed something."

 

 

 

Chakotay turned to the signals officer. "Yes?"

 

 

 

"I have been replaying the recording of the abduction incident

 

at varying speeds and analyzing the sensor data under various

 

conditions. I have detected what appears to be intermittent high speed

 

data communications between the alien battleship and a point along the

 

vector in which it appeared to translocate. Also, when the recording

 

is played at slow speed, it becomes evident that the translocation of

 

the battleship was not instantaneous as we first believed. There

 

appeared to be some sort of disturbance in the space-time continuum as

 

the ship disappeared, which is analogous to a ship entering sub-space,

 

but without the catastrophic effects as observed at the Bajor space-

 

station DS9 a few years ago."

 

 

 

"Are you saying the ship entered sub-space, then re-emerged

 

nearly half a light year away in a fraction of a second."

 

 

 

"Something like that. Although I don't believe they entered

 

sub-space. They seemed to go in the ... opposite? ... direction.

 

Super-space? Or Hyper-space?"

 

 

 

"That can't be possible. Locations in sub-space do have a

 

tenuous relationship to locations in real-space, but hyper-space has

 

no measurable relationship to real-space. That we know of anyway. If

 

that is the case, then this alien battleship has some sort of trans-

 

dimensional drive capability that is very, very fast indeed." Chakotay

 

thought for a second. "What is also interesting is that he was

 

communicating with somebody in that area. Do another sensor scan of

 

that area."

 

 

 

"Yes sir. And sir, one more thing, those field-enhanced ion

 

drive engines were observed to power up significantly just before he

 

disappeared, but this only resulted in an illusion of real-space

 

acceleration. The power from the engines was apparently diverted

 

elsewhere, possibly into their trans-dimensional drives."

 

 

 

Chakotay looked around the bridge. Everyone was tense. They

 

had gone over the recordings many times, and this was the first

 

breakthrough they had made. He didn't have the fuel to search for

 

Janeway and the others, but surely he couldn't just desert them

 

either. If only they could figure out where those ships jumped to.

 

 

 

"Sir!" The same technician called out. Chakotay was instantly

 

behind him, looking over his shoulder. "I have detected drive

 

emissions from an ion-type drive in the area he translocated to. There

 

is still another ship in that area, but it has a much lower sensor

 

profile than the ship we encountered earlier. Perhaps if we moved

 

closer, we could have a better look."

 

 

 

"No. That would alert them. Presumably they can detect us at

 

this range as well. That ship is also at least an hour away at maximum

 

warp, and if they can track us at warp, they will have adequate

 

advance warning of our coming."

 

 

 

"Sir, there is something happening, another anomaly. There it

 

is. The ship that took the Captain, it's returned."

 

 

 

Before Chakotay could give any orders, the ensign called out

 

again, "It's disappeared. Wait, space-time anomaly on our port bow,

 

range 15,000km. Alien vessel has appeared at the anomaly. Space-time

 

anomaly dissipated."

 

 

 

Chakotay raised his eyebrows. That ship had covered a distance

 

in seconds that would have taken /Voyager/ 3 hours.

 

 

 

"Incoming transmission. Alien vessel hailing us."

 

 

 

"On-screen."

 

 

 

The main view screen changed to show Janeway, in the company

 

of a middle-aged man in a militaristic uniform, with a droid. The man

 

said something in an undertone to the droid.

 

 

 

"We have lowered our shields," the droid said, "Lieutenant

 

Needa apologizes for his earlier mistake," he continued, indicating

 

the uniformed man next to him, "but we were surprised by the sudden

 

appearance of your crewmembers on our bridge. You may return them to

 

your vessel, or we could send them over on a shuttle."

 

 

 

"That won't be necessary. Transporter room, lock onto the away

 

team, beam them straight to the bridge."

 

 

 

"Energizing ... now." Came the response. Seconds later, the

 

away team appeared on the bridge.

 

 

 

"Captain Janeway," the droid said, "Admiral Janus will expect

 

an answer in one hour. We will return at that time." With that the

 

main screen went blank, and was replaced by a starfield centered on

 

the alien vessel. Then the vessel disappeared. Janeway blinked. She

 

hadn't seen hyperdrive from this perspective.

 

 

 

"Ensign?" Chakotay ordered.

 

 

 

"Sir! The same sequence of events was observed. The vessel

 

powered up its engines, but diverted the power to its hyper-space

 

drive, then it disappeared into a momentary space-time anomaly. After

 

that we lost track of the vessel for 1.2 seconds, until it appeared in

 

a momentary space-time anomaly at the new location."

 

 

 

"We weren't able to track him between the two points?" Janeway

 

asked.

 

 

 

"No, sir."

 

 

 

"Meeting! Everybody! Now!" Janeway ordered.

 

 

 

Within 10 minutes everyone had gathered in the boardroom.

 

Janeway had made a quick change, getting rid of the burnt uniform.

 

 

 

"What happened?" Chakotay asked as soon as everyone had taken

 

their places.

 

 

 

"Later. We don't have much time. I was taken before an

 

Admiral. Janus he called himself. He claims this entire quadrant as

 

'Imperial' space, and demands we get out or be destroyed."

 

 

 

"We don't run from anybody!" Chakotay bristled. "That ship may

 

be a warship, and we suspect there's a second one out there, but we

 

can take them."

 

 

 

"If only that were all. The ship I was captured on was no

 

doubt a warship, I estimate with a crew of between 1000 and 1500

 

personnel, no civilians in sight. But I was also transferred to

 

another ship about 20 seconds away by hyperdrive. It was HUGE. A city

 

in space, at least 3 times the size of a Galaxy-class starship, and

 

many times more massive. The crew would number in the 10s of

 

thousands. It appeared to be the flagship of a fleet, with at least

 

one other similar sized vessel, four smaller ships, maybe slightly

 

smaller than a Galaxy-class, and then six more like the one that

 

dropped me off."

 

 

 

"20 seconds away by hyperdrive ..." Chakotay mused.

 

 

 

"About one and a half light years." One of the navigators

 

answered.

 

 

 

"That's half a day at warp 3, maybe two hours at maximum

 

warp."

 

 

 

"We've got no idea of their weapons capability, but that's

 

quite a fleet, anyway."

 

 

 

"There's more." Janeway said, "If we surrender the /Voyager/,

 

they will drop us off on the other side of their empire, about 30,000

 

light years they claimed, maybe even closer to home."

 

 

 

"So that's why you called the meeting." Chakotay.

 

 

 

"Yes."

 

 

 

"We could be home in months!" someone said.

 

 

 

"If we surrender /Voyager/," Janeway reminded, "and if they

 

don't dump us on a nearby planet and take the ship, or just execute

 

us."

 

 

 

"They would do that?" somebody asked.

 

 

 

"I got the impression that they weren't exactly a charity

 

organization," Janeway continued, "and we don't even know if they're

 

telling us the truth about their Empire. How come nobody we've

 

encountered up to now knows about them? Something isn't right here."

 

 

 

"Maybe nobody explored this far."

 

 

 

"And maybe those that did never returned."

 

 

 

"Home in months."

 

 

 

"Surrender is NOT an option!" Janeway called the meeting to

 

order. "Suggestions, anyone?"

 

 

 

"I suppose they weren't keen on the idea of trading, or

 

helping us out with some supplies?" another voice asked hopefully.

 

 

 

"No. I didn't see any civilians. Also, the whole atmosphere

 

was just so ... cold. I would almost have said evil. Everybody was

 

just so arrogant. Superior. Cold. I don't know, it's just difficult to

 

describe. They were so supercilious."

 

 

 

"Evidence of Borg?" another voice asked.

 

 

 

"No, I don't think so. There were almost more robots and

 

androids than humans, but no cyborgs, None that I saw anyway. Except

 

possibly for their soldiers." Chakotay raised an eyebrow, and Janeway

 

continued, "There were these armoured troopers everywhere, clad head

 

to toe in what looked like body-hugging spacesuits. At first I thought

 

they were robots, but they moved too smoothly, and handled themselves

 

like marines, or special forces. There could have been thousands just

 

on the flagship."

 

 

 

"Then our only option is to retreat. Even if we could take

 

them on, we just don't have enough torpedoes to destroy so many ships

 

of that size."

 

 

 

"The problem is, if we retreat, we have to clear their borders

 

within three days, about 62 light years they claim. That means maximum

 

warp, and that would just about exhaust our fuel. If we were given two

 

weeks, we could travel at a more economical speed. But, I have this

 

feeling they won't let us go anyway. One way or another, they are

 

going to push us into a fight. And against so many ships, it's a fight

 

we might not win."

 

 

 

"Can we hide from them?" somebody asked, "There must be

 

thousands of stars between here and their borders?"

 

 

 

"It's not that easy." Chakotay said. "We have been picking up

 

intermittent echoes of a vessel at extreme sensor range. They are

 

obviously tracking us with a vessel which is running silent."

 

 

 

"Then there is only one course of action," Janeway said. "We

 

retreat, but at warp 3, and if they want a fight, we give it to them.

 

Until further notice, this ship is at battle stations." BRIDGE OF

 

THE /ANNIHILATOR/

 

 

 

"/Sword/ reporting! Alien vessel has engaged their space

 

distortion drive. Current vector is back the way they came. The speed

 

of the distortion indicates a speed of about 3 light years a day."

 

 

 

'So,' Janus thought. 'I have my answer.' Voyager was not

 

inviting a fight, but was prepared for one. "Lieutenant, set up a

 

holo-conference with the commanders of the Dreadnaughts /Shark/ and

 

/Manta/, and the Lancer frigates /Sword/ and /Dagger/."

 

 

 

"Yes sir."

 

 

 

Moments later, Janus began his briefing. "Gentlemen, the enemy

 

has accepted our challenge. We know something about their drive

 

technology, and we know that the ship does not appear to be heavily

 

armed. It appears to have some sort of beam weapon projector, and

 

missile launching tubes. We don't know the capabilities of these

 

weapons, so here is what we will do." He outlined the tactics he

 

wanted the ships to follow. DEEP SPACE, SIX DAYS LATER

 

 

 

Nerves onboard /Voyager/ had become frayed. The ship had been

 

at battle stations for six days continuously. Red eyes, headaches and

 

arguments had become common place. They had not managed to lose the

 

elusive tail. Every few hours, they detected their stealthy follower

 

jumping to a new location. They still were not able to track the

 

position of the ship in hyperspace, but had three seconds warning each

 

time before the ship re-appeared at a new location.

 

 

 

The ship always stayed at the outer edge of their sensory

 

range, despite some major course changes. They had tried changing

 

course and speed the moment the Imperial ship jumped to hyperspace, in

 

the hopes they could lose it before it returned to normal space, but

 

the Imperials never jumped for more than 30 seconds at a time, and

 

seemed to be alive to this possibility.

 

 

 

At one point there appeared to be at least two vessels

 

tracking them, but even though they watched for it, they never spotted

 

the second vessel again. Chakotay theorized that perhaps there were

 

other vessels keeping station outside their sensor range, in case of a

 

major change in speed or course. Janeway wasn't sure how much longer

 

she could keep the ship at battle stations, but with only 3 seconds

 

warning of incoming warships, she didn't think she had a choice. When

 

the attack did come, it was almost a surprise. Almost.

 

 

 

"Jump warning! Port bow range 20AU." An ensign screamed. 20 AU

 

was only 3 seconds away at their current warp factor.

 

 

 

"Weapons, stand by!" Janeway called. "Lock a torpedo onto that

 

position. Feed solution, and wait for my command."

 

 

 

She barely finished her sentence, when the /Dagger/ appeared

 

at that location.

 

 

 

"Hold Fire. Don't shoot unless they shoot first."

 

 

 

"Multiple encroachments! Collision warning!"

 

 

 

"Enemy vessel Jumping."

 

 

 

"Mines! Helm, evasive action, now! All available power to

 

shields." Janeway ordered.

 

 

 

Half the bridge crew were thrown to the deck as the violent

 

maneuvering at warp speed overcame the inertial damping. There was a

 

vague shudder as the shields deflected the energy of a nearby

 

explosion. Suddenly the ship was rocked violently for what felt like

 

many seconds. Debris flew around the bridge, but nobody was seriously

 

hurt.

 

 

 

"Shields momentarily dropped to 72%, climbing through 90% now.

 

No damage to the hull. It appears all the mines were pre-programmed to

 

explode as we entered the field. If we hadn't had that three second

 

window, we would have been in the center of that mess."

 

 

 

"How powerful an explosion? Would we have survived?" Janeway

 

asked.

 

 

 

The weapons officer shrugged. "We hit the edge of the

 

minefield, the energy would have been probably three or four times

 

greater had we been any closer, enough to knock down the shields, but

 

not much more than that. We would have sustained significant hull

 

damage, though maybe not a breach."

 

 

 

"Casualties?"

 

 

 

"Reporting in now, sir. Nothing serious yet."

 

 

 

"They're playing cat and mouse with us!" Chakotay exclaimed.

 

"And there's nothing we can do!"

 

 

 

The tactic was repeated three times that day. Each time

 

/Voyager/ barely managed to avoid the minefield. The three-second

 

window was just enough warning. Once the shields dropped to as low as

 

53%, and six crew members suffered broken limbs in the buffeting.

 

Another time, the helmsman disengaged the warp drive, cleared the

 

minefield with phasers at extreme range, then re-engaged the warp

 

drive along a different course. Voyager employed the tactic of random

 

course changes at intervals of 4 minutes to 10 minutes, and also

 

varying the speed occasionally. Then the Imperials changed tactics.

 

 

 

Eight tense hours went by without further attacks. Then: "Two

 

ships incoming! Forward starboard quarter and port flank."

 

 

 

"Helm to manual control!" Janeway ordered, "Prepare for

 

evasive action!"

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The locations were automatically fed to the torpedoes'

 

targeting computers and a firing solution prepared before the Imperial

 

entered real-space. No torpedoes had been fired yet, as the Imperials

 

always jumped away within seconds, and the torpedo would not have had

 

the time to cover the distance to the target.

 

 

 

"Multiple Encroachments. Possible missiles. Not Mines! Four

 

seconds away ... Two ... One ... brace for impact!"

 

 

 

The helmsman was already working furiously. "Missed! They all

 

missed!" he exclaimed.

 

 

 

"Missiles, unguided," Chakotay reported from the weapons

 

console, "or torpedoes if you will. They barely registered on the

 

sensors, but seem to be constructed of protons bonded on the subatomic

 

level. The structure is resistant to scanning, and appears to be able

 

to penetrate most shielding types I know of. One passed within a

 

hundred meters of our hull, and wasn't deflected by our shields. They

 

don't appear to have a warhead, but might have caused significant

 

damage to the hull if they had impacted."

 

 

 

"Can you reprogram our shields?" Janeway asked.

 

 

 

"I will try, but don't have enough information on that torpedo

 

to be sure if it will work."

 

 

 

"I'm sure they will provide you with more information." She

 

remarked sarcastically. She smiled to soften the remark. "Helm, course

 

change, take us to the nearest star with a significant number of

 

orbiting bodies, and take up orbit around the planet closest to the

 

star. Make it so."

 

 

 

"Yes, sir."

 

 

 

"We might not be able engage warp under those conditions,"

 

Chakotay suggested, "are you hypothesizing that this will negate their

 

hyperdrive advantage?"

 

 

 

"We can only hope so. There may not be room to maneuver at

 

warp speeds in such a system, but so far there is no indication that

 

they won't have the same problem." Janeway responded.

 

 

 

"And no indication that they will, but it's worth a try."

 

Chakotay agreed.

 

 

 

"Let's see if they will come out and play," Janeway finished.

 

There was steel in her voice. BRIDGE OF THE /ANNIHILATOR/ - HOLO-

 

CONFERENCE

 

 

 

"Report." Janus ordered his ship commanders.

 

 

 

/Sword/s commander started off the proceedings. "We were able

 

to lay minefields in their path as ordered. However, their so-called

 

warp drive proved to be exceptionally maneuverable. Their sensors

 

obviously can operate efficiently even with the warp field engaged.

 

They seem to have a continuously variable rate of acceleration along

 

any vector they desire. The nature of their star-drive is such that we

 

can't really engage them due to the drastic differences in speed."

 

/Dagger/ responded, "That is not completely accurate. We

 

observed them doing 20g and 30g maneuvers, which effects of which

 

presumably the occupants of the warp field is somehow protected from,

 

unless their gravity generators maintain a stable g-field inside the

 

ship."

 

 

 

"You can't use gravity generators inside a distortion field

 

like that surely," /Sword/ responded, "gravity fields are in a sense

 

space-time distortion fields as well, and the operation of gravity

 

generators might interfere with the operation of the warp field."

 

 

 

/Shark/ entered the discussion, "We don't know that for sure,

 

but it's obvious that they must have some method of overcoming

 

inertia. What intrigues me is that the maintenance of such a

 

continuous distortion field as their warp field must require a huge

 

amount of energy to be applied continually. Also the energy

 

requirements to redirect the warp field at those accelerations must be

 

tremendous. That ship must have an incredibly stable power-plant to

 

handle such energy loads."

 

 

 

"Enough," Janus interrupted, "so it is obvious that engaging

 

them in deep space is not feasible. We can't keep station on them, and

 

they don't seem able to match our hyper-drive. Now, they are waiting

 

for us inside a star system with a complex of gravity wells that will

 

make Jump tactics tricky. Presumably the presence of the gravity wells

 

will place exponentially increasing energy loads on their warp drive

 

as well, and they are hypothesizing that it will have a similar effect

 

on our hyper-drive. It is time for the next part of the experiment.

 

All the Lancers will keep station half a light year outside the system

 

in a containment sphere in case they try to slip out of the system.

 

The Dreadnaughts /Shark/ and /Manta/ will engage the enemy with

 

turbolaser and ion cannons. No fighters are to be used until we better

 

understand their weapons capability, we don't have the production

 

capacity to replace any that may be lost." He paused, "Also, we have

 

no reason to believe they cannot use their warp drive in-system. I

 

want you to implement tactics that may force them to use their warp

 

drive. I want to see if they use warp-drive close to gravity wells,

 

and if we can detect any possible energy overload on their systems if

 

they do. Give them an opportunity to fire their weapons, and allow

 

their weapons to impact on your shields so we can measure their weapon

 

energy output. Questions?"

 

 

 

"No sir." The officers all responded.

 

 

 

"Execute!" /VOYAGER/ BRIDGE - PLANETARY ORBIT

 

 

 

"Our status, Mr Chakotay." Janeway asked.

 

 

 

"We have enough fuel for 16 days travelling at Warp 3 or less,

 

all systems are fully operational except for engineering. They report

 

that the warp-core took quite a pounding during the warp-speed evasive

 

maneuvering, and they cannot guarantee the operation of the

 

containment fields if we exceed Warp 5, until they have made repairs.

 

Time estimated for repairs is eight hours, after which they can give

 

us warp 7, further repairs will take careful calibration which would

 

require the shutting down of the warp core for at least 2 days."

 

Chakotay studied the technical report. "Captain, if we had maneuvered

 

like that at anything over Warp 4, the core wouldn't have lasted 2

 

seconds."

 

 

 

"The safety overrides would have taken care of that . We won't

 

be exceeding warp 2 until we leave this system anyway."

 

 

 

"You intend using warp in a system like this?" Chakotay asked

 

incredulously. "Even at warp 1, the energy load on the system if we

 

pass too close to a planet or moon could damage the core even further,

 

especially under the circumstances."

 

 

 

"Have navigation revise the algorithms for in-system use of

 

warp drive under combat conditions. Tell them to program in a safety

 

margin that won't bring us closer than five light-seconds to any major

 

gravity well. That should still leave us with enough room to maneuver.

 

We might not have any other choice."

 

 

 

Chakotay didn't answer. He knew the odds. Warp combat was

 

exceptionally dangerous. While the chances of taking a hit -

 

especially from a sub-light source - was almost negligible, any

 

imposition on the warp field had a direct effect on the warp core,

 

which had taken a beating already. BRIDGE OF THE /Annihilator/

 

 

 

Janus settled back in his command chair and surveyed the

 

holographic tactical display before him. The star system was displayed

 

in its entirety, with the orbits and positions of all major

 

gravitational bodies clearly indicated. Each body was surrounded by a

 

red halo indicating the limits of hyperdrive safety margins. The

 

planet closest to the star had a representation of /Voyager/ in orbit.

 

The red halo around the star itself extended to at least the second

 

planetary orbit, which meant that as long as /Voyager/ maintained it's

 

current position, no ship could jump directly into effective weapons

 

range. Light blue spheres represented the sensor ranges of the Lancers

 

arranged just outside the system, about 10 seconds away from their

 

prey should it engage it's warp-drive, but close enough that their

 

combined sensory data covered nearly the entire system.

 

 

 

Two small representations of the Dreadnaughts suddenly

 

appeared just outside the mass-shadow of the star itself. They had

 

jumped to a point which kept the star between themselves and

 

/Voyager/. There was no way of knowing whether this prevented them

 

from being detected or not, but /Voyager/ showed no sign of having

 

detected this jump.

 

 

 

The two Dreadnaughts powered up their engines and accelerated

 

almost directly towards the Star. Their indicated trajectory would

 

take them well inside the innermost planetary orbit, but clear of the

 

Star itself..

 

 

 

Their timing was impeccable, as they rounded the opposite side

 

of the star. They cleared it seconds after /Voyager/s orbit took it

 

around the far side of the planet. By this time they were travelling

 

at 40% light-speed. They would be well within weapons range by the

 

time /Voyager/s orbit brought the ship back into line-of-sight.

 

Perfect. The excitement on the bridge was palpable, virtually

 

everybody's attention was riveted on the tactical display.

 

 

 

The two Dreadnaughts were converging on the planet at nearly

 

45% light-speed. They would have line-of-sight within thirty seconds.

 

Scant seconds before the Dreadnaughts cleared the horizon of the

 

planet, /Voyager/ broke orbit, accelerating furiously, using a drive

 

mechanism not previously observed, but obviously not an interstellar

 

capable drive, like their warp-drive. The acceleration was comparable

 

to that of the small freighters with the oversized engines so favored

 

by smugglers, but it was too late. They would have no hope of matching

 

velocities with the two Dreadnaughts which were already up to 47%

 

light-speed.

 

 

 

The Dreadnaughts opened fire at a range of two million

 

kilometers. At these speeds, the near light-speed turbolaser blasts

 

crawled agonizingly slowly across the fast closing gap, with the

 

speeding Dreadnaughts almost appearing to chase down their own

 

turbolaser blasts. Voyager had obviously detected the incoming fire,

 

and started making slight course changes, enough for the streams of

 

superheated plasma to miss by scant kilometers, but essentially

 

maintaining their course directly away from the planet.

 

 

 

Volley after volley of turbolaser fire tracked the elusive

 

ship through its course changes, as the range closed to within 150,000

 

kilometers. With only a half second for evasive maneuvers the

 

turbolaser blasts were tracking closer and closer to the gyrating

 

vessel. There was a flare of energy as a shot finally intercepted the

 

vessel.

 

 

 

"A HIT!" somebody screamed excitedly on the bridge behind

 

Janus. He didn't even flinch, so totally absorbed he was in the

 

display.

 

 

 

Then the apparently unscathed vessel leapt away, leaving the

 

turbolaser blasts languishing behind. They were using the nearly

 

impossible warp drive again, and it had allowed them to jump from near

 

stationary to twice the speed of light in an instant. /Manta/ fired a

 

barrage of turbolaser and ion cannon blasts after the speeding vessel,

 

prompting a muttered "idiots" from Janus. At twice the speed of light,

 

Voyager had rendered their primary weapons useless.

 

 

 

Twice light-speed was much slower than the speeds at which the

 

vessel had been observed at before (about 190 times light-speed), and

 

allowed them ample room to maneuver even in this star system.

 

/Voyager/ executed what had to be a 15g turn, bringing them around in

 

a large curve back towards the two Dreadnaughts languishing at a

 

quarter the speed it was maintaining. The pair laid down a barrage of

 

turbolaser fire along /Voyager/s incoming path. It appeared to be

 

charging straight down on the incoming turbolaser barrage, then veered

 

away about 1 second before flying into the barrage.

 

 

 

"Missile warning!" somebody called.

 

 

 

Voyager had launched a spread of five missiles at the /Manta/,

 

which was executing a 10g turn to avoid the missiles. The missiles

 

followed his track, closing distance rapidly at nearly three times the

 

speed of light. Apparently Voyager had missile weapons, which it could

 

launch even at speeds in excess of light-speed. All the missiles would

 

have struck /Manta/ except for one thing. The apparently stupid

 

commander was still laying down a barrage of turbolaser fire in the

 

direction of the speeding /Voyager/, and by luck or determination the

 

missiles flew straight into the barrage. Three of the missiles were

 

destroyed in spectacular explosions. The remaining two missiles

 

smacked into /Manta/'s port side.

 

 

 

Meanwhile the alien vessel had executed a near impossible 30g

 

dive, and was firing a continuous beam weapon - a beam weapon at

 

superluminary speeds! - at the /Shark/. The dreadnaught itself was

 

trying desperately to match the vector of the /Voyager/, and the beam

 

weapon played like a light-saber all round the space in which /Shark/

 

was desperately trying to turn.

 

 

 

Twice in half a second the beam raked the Dreadnaught,

 

resulting in a spectacular fireworks display as energy was dissipated

 

by the shields, whether from the beam weapon itself or the jet-stream

 

of sub-atomic particles it gouged out of the hull was unclear.

 

 

 

All pretense of experimentation gone, Janus jabbed a control

 

on his armrest and ordered, "Take your vessels closer into the larger

 

planets as fast as you can and stay there, they are avoiding the

 

gravitational wells. Lay down covering fire with turbolasers to

 

destroy incoming missiles. Reduce speed to 30% light-speed and you

 

will have more maneuverability. Use your anti-starfighter grenade

 

blisters to launch grenades into their projected flight-path when they

 

make an attack run. Damage Report."

 

 

 

"/Manta/ reporting! Port shields were reduced to less than 20%

 

by those missiles. They are matter anti-matter devices. Port shield

 

generators are down to 68% efficiency. It will take a while to

 

regenerate them to full strength. Two crewers were killed when one of

 

the generators overloaded and exploded."

 

 

 

"/Shark/ reporting! Our dorsal shields were reduced to 80% by

 

that beam weapon, no damage to shield generators. A lot of the beam

 

energy penetrated the shields, and caused some hull damage, but no

 

breach."

 

 

 

"Watch out, here she comes again!" Somebody warned. The

 

Federation vessel was coming about for another pass, as the two ships

 

streaked for the protection of the gravity well of the third planet, a

 

gas-giant, with six planetary sized moons. It was obvious they

 

wouldn't make it before /Voyager/ had another attack run. The

 

Federation vessel suddenly accelerated to nearly twenty times light

 

speed, launched another spread of torpedoes at /Shark/ this time,

 

decelerated to two times light speed and attempted to play their beam

 

weapon over /Manta/'s hull this time. /Shark/ was ready for the

 

torpedoes, but they were coming in at a shade over twenty times light

 

speed this time.

 

 

 

With barely a half-second warning, /Shark/ executed a 25g

 

climb, which would have severely tested the limits of their gravity

 

generators ability to compensate. Two of the torpedoes exploded short

 

of the hull, with the energy of the explosions washing over the

 

vessel, the other three missed, apparently unable to match the sudden

 

maneouver, and self-destructed well past the Dreadnaught.

 

 

 

/Manta/ had launched a spread of mines in the projected path

 

of /Voyager/, but it's sudden deceleration caused it to catch only the

 

edge of the exploding projectiles. Apparently this was sufficient to

 

cause the operator of the beam weapon to miss by a considerable

 

margin. Then /Voyager/ was past, and speeding away. The Dreadnaughts

 

continued their race to the gas-giants promise of safety.

 

 

 

"/Shark/ reporting! Starboard shields down to 60%. Our

 

turbolasers detonated the missiles before they struck, but the shock

 

wave of the superluminary explosion still hit us." BRIDGE OF

 

/VOYAGER/

 

 

 

"Captain, we have to give the shields more time to recharge

 

before doing another attack run. That last explosion penetrated

 

through to our hull. Sickbay reports at least six crew-members with

 

broken limbs." The minefield explosions had rocked the ship badly,

 

throwing people to the floor, and Janeway herself could have sworn she

 

saw the deck buckle.

 

 

 

"We can't afford to be hit by those plasma discharges though.

 

The one that caught us just before we made it to warp reduced our

 

shields to less than 10%, and they are now only at 34% and still

 

recharging."

 

 

 

"Did we do any damage to those ships?" Janeway queried.

 

 

 

"We phased off a bit of the hull of one of the ships, but our

 

phaser's efficiency is drastically reduced when fired in a containment

 

field, and apparently didn't damage them significantly. The torpedoes

 

also appeared to have minimal effect, merely impacting on their

 

shields."

 

 

 

"Did this impair their shield efficiency at all?"

 

 

 

"Impossible to say, we don't know anything about their

 

shielding technology."

 

 

 

"Okay," she ordered, "we'll take up orbit around the second

 

planet this time, but make it a large orbit. The time it took us to

 

clear the gravity well nearly cost us."

 

 

 

The engineers had screamed blue murder over the strain placed

 

on the warp core. They had been forced to activate warp-drive a little

 

bit close to the gravity well of the star, and the energy requirements

 

to maintain a warp field in a gravity well rose exponentially as you

 

got closer to it's source. BRIDGE OF /ANNIHILATOR/

 

 

 

"/Sword/ reporting! The enemy appears to be reluctant to enter

 

the gravity well of the gas-giant. It has entered a high orbit over

 

the second planet."

 

 

 

"Open a channel to the Dreadnaughts /Hawk/ and /Eagle/."

 

Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The commanders of the two vessels appeared on the holo-display

 

next to a reduced version of the star system.

 

 

 

"As you can see, /Shark/ and /Manta/ have taken up position in

 

the gravity well of the gas-giant. The enemy however is not attempting

 

to attack, but has taken up position here," he indicated the position

 

of /Voyager/ at the second planet, well clear of the effective range

 

of the star's gravity well, and just outside the effective range of

 

the planet's gravity well. "I want you to flush him out."

 

 

 

"Yes sir." BRIDGE OF /VOYAGER/

 

 

 

"Sir," Chakotay called, "shields are now at 75% and climbing,

 

we have reprogrammed the phaser bank's targeting system for the type

 

of maneuvering observed by the enemy, and the remaining torpedoes have

 

been reprogrammed to fly an evasive pattern to the designated target.

 

This should increase the likelihood of penetrating their plasma based

 

point-defense systems."

 

 

 

"Very well, how long before the shields are..."

 

 

 

"Incoming!" shouted an ensign, "anomaly in starboard front

 

quarter, range 10,000 kilometers."

 

 

 

"Prepare for evasive action, stand by warp drive."

 

 

 

A huge cruiser like the two they had been battling appeared

 

where the anomaly had been detected. Virtually right in their escape

 

path from the planetary gravity well.

 

 

 

"Engage."

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The Federation ship flashed forward at twice light-speed just

 

as the cruiser started pumping out mines. Janeway caught sight of a

 

sensor display board lighting up like a Christmas tree as energy

 

readings from the cruiser soared. Voyager flashed past the cruiser at

 

a range of barely 2,000 kilometers, the ship rocking gently from

 

multiple explosions as the mines automatically detonated in their

 

wake. The starfield on the viewscreen wheeled crazily as Voyager took

 

evasive action. A second cruiser had jumped in a million kilometers

 

away, and at twice light-speed they had barely a second to turn away

 

before being caught in another minefield. The new course was curving

 

around behind the planet to put the planet between them and the two

 

cruisers which had just appeared.

 

 

 

As they rounded the planet they came to face to face with the

 

a huge wedge-shaped city, bristling with weapons emplacements. It was

 

brute ugly, no elegance in it's lines, just pure functionality. It

 

must have jumped in on the far side of the planet, and was just

 

outside the gravity well of the planet. The helmsman had barely half a

 

second to make a decision. Squeeze between the floating city and the

 

gravity well, or swing away from the planet around the floating city.

 

He swung away from the planet.

 

 

 

"MINES!" Somebody screamed.

 

 

 

The helmsman chose the only option left to him. He disengaged

 

warp drive, furiously ordered a totally new vector, and engaged warp

 

drive. He barely noticed the rocking of the deck beneath, relying on

 

his seat restraints to keep him in place, as he jammed the throttle

 

control slider to the maximum allowed by the safeties they had decided

 

on earlier. The warp light flashed on, telling him that warp had been

 

engaged, and he felt the more familiar shuddering of the deck mixed in

 

with those from nearby explosions, as the warp core powered up by

 

slamming kilograms of matter into an equal amount of anti-matter in a

 

barely controlled explosion to rival the detonations of multiple

 

photon torpedoes. He lost all awareness of everything around him,

 

concentrating totally on his displays of warp-core status and

 

surrounding encroachments, trying to steer the warp-accelerating ship

 

to safety.

 

 

 

"Shields down," Chakotay was saying, "Hull breach in four

 

places, multiple casualties, sealing all hatchways to minimize

 

decompression effects, Engine room reporting damage now. Warp power is

 

falling rapidly, containment fields are collapsing, emergency shut

 

down of warp drive imminent. Warp drive being shut down. Computer is

 

preparing the core for automatic dumping of anti-matter."

 

 

 

"Override anti-matter dump!" Janeway ordered.

 

 

 

"The core could blow any second." Chakotay remarked, but his

 

fingers were working furiously on his console, as he overrode the

 

computer.

 

 

 

"Impulse?"

 

 

 

"Engaging impulse drive." The helmsman called, as the ship

 

rocked once more. Without warp capability it was nearly impossible to

 

avoid the incoming plasma streams. "Impulse engines not responding."

 

 

 

"We're losing way!" Chakotay stated unnecessarily. The ship

 

was uncharacteristically quiet. After a while you became so accustomed

 

to the constant feel of a live ship, the vibration of the deck, the

 

hum of the power plants, that you didn't notice anymore, until it was

 

no longer there. But the ship was too silent. There were no

 

explosions. The Imperials had apparently ceased fire.

 

 

 

"Open a channel to the Imperial flagship." Janeway ordered

 

resignedly.

 

 

 

"Communications is down." Came the reply, the viewscreen was

 

also ominously blank.

 

 

 

"Keep trying, all channels." When there was no response

 

Janeway turned to the communications station. The ensign was standing

 

helplessly in front of the smoking console, where optical circuitry

 

flickered intermittently through a mess of cables and fibers dangling

 

from the console.

 

 

 

"Mr. Chakotay?"

 

 

 

"The computer was knocked off-line by the last hit, some kind

 

of charged particle weapon, it will be back on line in a few seconds."

 

 

 

Janeway waited. There was no sound on the bridge, except for

 

an occasional sob.

 

 

 

"Computer on line!" Chakotay called.

 

 

 

"Sensors?" Janeway enquired.

 

 

 

"Yes sir, on-screen now." The viewscreen flickered, then

 

showed a blank starfield. Then changed to a tactical display, showing

 

the huge star cruiser moving away from /Voyager/ at an angle, and one

 

of the smaller cruisers coming around the planet.

 

 

 

"Ships incoming!" sensors reported.

 

 

 

Seconds later the tactical display showed one ship after

 

another jumping into view. The large ship which had surprised them and

 

ended the battle was joined by a slightly smaller version of itself,

 

then a total of four of the cruisers which they had battled at warp

 

speed. There were also six small ships of the type that had originally

 

abducted Janeway.

 

 

 

"Sensors, can you open a communications channel to the enemy

 

flagship?"

 

 

 

"Yes sir. Hailing them now. They are responding, on-screen

 

now."

 

 

 

The viewscreen changed to show a sharp-featured man in

 

military uniform sitting on what must have been a huge bridge. No

 

emotion showed on his face.

 

 

 

"Captain Janeway," he said, the view-screen translating,

 

"Please surrender your vessel, a boarding party is on the way over."

 

 

 

Sensors nodded, indicating a secondary display showing two

 

small shuttle-type craft being launched from the smaller of the two

 

wedge shaped vessels, and heading in their direction.

 

 

 

"Very well." Janeway said, "you leave me no option," and she

 

cut the communication.

 

 

 

"Mr. Chakotay, we cannot allow the ship to be taken, if they

 

learn how to implement warp technology ." she left the rest unsaid. He

 

nodded, his expression grim. BRIDGE OF THE /Annihilator/

 

 

 

Janus watched as the two assault shuttles approached the

 

crippled starship. It had given them a lot more trouble than he had

 

anticipated. The warp-drive of the vehicle had proved a most

 

troublesome technology. In the end, one could almost say the vessel's

 

defeat had been a stroke of luck. But you made your own luck. One way

 

or another, they would have won in the end. He was sure. Now if they

 

could determine how the warp-drive worked then he could develop a

 

better strategy to use against such vessels.

 

 

 

"Sir, energy levels on the enemy vessel are climbing

 

sharply!" A technician called.

 

 

 

"Move us away, prepare a short jump out of the system, warn

 

the fleet, recall the shuttles." He ordered calmly.

 

 

 

"Explosion detected at the enemy vessel's location. A big one,

 

shockwave ETA in 6 seconds."

 

 

 

"Engage hyper-drive." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The fleet assembled on the outskirts of the solar system. The

 

Lancers had determined that the destruction of the vessel had been

 

total. The two shuttles had been destroyed in the explosion, but the

 

rest of the fleet had escaped to hyperspace. "Tactical display,

 

galaxy overview." Janus ordered. "Highlight systems with known

 

Federation activity."

 

 

 

In one corner of the galaxy, a scattering of stars were dimly

 

indicated, showing intermittent reports of Federation vehicles. It was

 

24 days away via hyper-drive. He pointed to a star on the display, and

 

nodded to his navigation officer. Seconds later, the fleet jumped.

 

GAMMA QUADRANT

 

 

 

The two stars were separated by barely two light-months. They

 

danced around each other in a manner like two Jedi. Their prize, a

 

single jewel too misshapen to still be labelled a planet. It alone of

 

all the other planets of this system had survived the cataclysm that

 

occurred when the second star had drifted too close to the domain of

 

it's master. Strewn for half a light year in all directions were the

 

remains of those planets, leaving a hollow sphere around the two stars

 

where nothing survived, except the lone orbiter. The magnetic fields

 

of the binary system masked all attempts at a sensor scan, which would

 

have been further disrupted by the flux of energy constantly playing

 

between the two dueling stars.

 

 

 

The lone orbiting planet inscribed a distorted ellipse on the

 

tactical display of the /Annihilator/. The fleet hung in space, spread

 

out like a string of pearls over a million kilometers. Another Pearl

 

joined the string, a returning Lancer, It uploaded all sensory

 

information gathered by the patrolling frigates to the /Annihilator/,

 

and settled down like an obedient dog waiting for it's masters orders.

 

 

 

The tactical display changed to a cubic representation of the

 

surrounding stars, 15 light years on a side. Eight stars in the cube

 

were highlighted, a further twenty stars were indicated as having

 

planets or moons which fell within the galactic standard range for

 

humanoid sentient beings to be supported with minimal modification,

 

the rest of the stars had been blanked out. The eight selected systems

 

had planets where signals had been detected indicating un-natural

 

energy sources, or intermittent communications. There had been no sign

 

of interstellar activity for the four days in which the sector had

 

been under observation.

 

 

 

This was not surprising to Janus. The borders of the dominant

 

star-faring race of this quadrant were forty light years away,

 

although undoubtedly their patrols would swing by this far, especially

 

now as this sector was being invaded by Federation forces using the

 

hyperspatial tunnel which linked their borders to this quadrant. A

 

Lancer had briefly surveyed the tunnels entrance, but couldn't risk

 

staying there for too long, for fear of detection by Federation

 

vessels which might exit the tunnel at infrequent and random

 

intervals.

 

 

 

Such tunnels had existed in the legends of the ancient ones

 

who had first taught the Jedi in the ways of the Force, but those

 

ancient ones had long since passed on as far as Janus knew. Although

 

much research was being conducted in how to create such tunnels, all

 

attempts had failed abysmally. The ancient ones had taken their

 

secrets with them to their graves. If any species in this galaxy had

 

such technology, it would be a prize to take home, indeed. A prize

 

that could see him attain the rank of Grand Admiral.

 

 

 

The energy sources they had detected were all quite small, so

 

there were no major settlements here. It was unclear what type of

 

settlement the energies supported. The only way they could determine

 

that was to survey the systems more closely, and the risks of

 

detection would be greater. Their only option were probe probes.

 

Imperial probe droids had seen much service over the years since the

 

rebellion had started, and many upgrades. The one thing the Empire had

 

down to a fine art was the ability to smuggle these probes into

 

systems undetected.

 

 

 

There were few uses for cloaking devices, because of the

 

inherent disadvantages of not being able to see your enemy, and

 

whatever you did, your enemy would find a way to track you, the

 

easiest of course being to scan for drive emissions. The current

 

philosophy was to cloak the droid, disguise it with an asteroid, then

 

allow it to make a pre-programmed hyperspace jump to within 1

 

planetary orbit of the target planet, and let gravity take care of the

 

rest. If the enemy sensors detected anything at all, it would merely

 

be a small meteorite impact, the hyperspace motivator and the cloaking

 

device were allowed to burn up during atmospheric entry, leaving the

 

droid to get on with it's business in absolute secrecy. A carefully

 

chosen asteroid would burn up entirely in the atmosphere, and there

 

wouldn't even be a meteorite impact to alert any watchful eyes. The

 

droid itself didn't need a lot of power and was virtually undetectable

 

by anything except a direct sensor focus.

 

 

 

Janus assigned two Lancers the task of patrolling outside the

 

system, with a third used to relay communications through the binary

 

stars' magnetosphere. The remaining five were dispatched to deploy the

 

probes.

 

 

 

Computer analysis of the little known nearby star-faring race

 

had determined that they were possibly a militaristic culture. Despite

 

the size of their sphere of influence, there appeared to be very

 

little inter-stellar traffic, and what traffic and communications had

 

been detected were all relayed through a single star system. This

 

profile matched that of a militaristic civilization with probably

 

draconian control from the capital world. There was little doubt that

 

they would perceive any nearby inter-stellar capable civilization a

 

threat. Considering this, Janus knew he would not have to wait too

 

long to observe their reaction to the threat of intrusion into their

 

sphere of influence. FEDERaTION RESEARCH FACILITY - GAMMA QUADRANT

 

 

 

"Doctor Bashir," O'Brien stated in exasperation, "You can't

 

start new experiments today. We are expecting a Jem'Hadar patrol in

 

this sector any day now. We have to leave in the next hour, or the

 

commander will have to send the /Defiant/ out to look for us, and he

 

will *NOT* be pleased."

 

 

 

"It's not a new experiment, and I can't stop it now, Chief. If

 

the results are what I expect, it will mean a major medical

 

breakthrough. This planet has the most remarkable flora."

 

 

 

"Very well, but I can only give you four days. No More!"

 

O'Brien said, raising his finger to emphasize his point, a

 

characteristic that was beginning to irritate the good doctor.

 

 

 

O'Brien left the laboratory and made his way through to the

 

operations room. A number of technicians were monitoring various

 

displays scattered through the room. O'Brien walked over to one of the

 

security officers in the room.

 

 

 

"Johnson, how many days since the last Jem'Hadar patrol?"

 

 

 

"Twelve days, Chief. Another one should be coming through any

 

day now."

 

 

 

O'Brien nodded. "Very well. We will be staying until the good

 

doctor finishes his research. We will need to shut down all non-

 

essential systems and power down the reactor, from now on we will use

 

emission-shielded batteries only, and they won't be able to supply

 

enough power for the whole base."

 

 

 

"What about hooking up the warp core from the shuttle to the

 

base?" Johnson asked.

 

 

 

"You know better than that, the energy emissions from the warp

 

core will be detected by anything that comes into orbit. And besides,

 

all non-essential scientific staff are leaving on the shuttle, within

 

the hour. I will stay with the good doctor, as will the security

 

detail, and any staff essential to the doctor's experiments."

 

 

 

For the next hour, the base was a hive of activity, as all

 

non-essential equipment was dis-assembled and packed aboard the

 

shuttle. O'Brien was the busiest of all. He was not the kind of man

 

who could stand to see a piece of equipment being abused, or to let

 

another man do a job he could do better. The last system to be powered

 

down was the long-range surveillance equipment. This would stay, in

 

case of emergencies.

 

 

 

"Any activity yet, lieutenant?" O'Brien asked the security

 

officer stationed at the display.

 

 

 

"Nothing, sir. A small meteorite impacted about three hundred

 

kilometers away early this morning, but since then, nothing."

 

 

 

"Active scanning?"

 

 

 

"We heard nothing that might be worth a scan? Using them would

 

be a sure give-away."

 

 

 

"Very well, shut it down."

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By nightfall the base appeared to be deserted. The shuttle had

 

long since departed. The surface facilities were dark, all entrances

 

sealed. The entire facility was constructed of materials inherent to

 

the planet's surface, so even a metals scan would turn up nothing.

 

Below ground, the doctor was still working feverishly in his

 

laboratory, assisted by his staff. O'Brien sat down to a cold meal.

 

 

 

The replicators had also been shut down hours ago, deemed to

 

place too much of a load on the batteries. A few of the security

 

officers were also still working, monitoring the low-power sensors.

 

These were mostly short-range motion detectors, a network of

 

electromagnetic imaging cameras which monitored the area surrounding

 

the base surface, and a sub-space receiver. At the low-power setting,

 

the receiver would detect any warp-drive or impulse-drive at orbital

 

distances, unless it was cloaked.

 

 

 

O'Brien deemed these measures to be sufficient. Either the

 

Jem'Hadar would have to have prior knowledge of this facility, or do a

 

full sensor scan of this planet from orbital distances. And even that

 

might not turn up anything, unless they focused it specifically on the

 

location of the base. Bashir had indicated that he would need four

 

days, and the shuttle would return after that time to collect Bashir,

 

O'Brien, the four medical assistants, and the twenty man security

 

detachment under lieutenant Johnson.

 

 

 

Six kilometers away, hidden in a rocky outcrop in the

 

mountains overlooking the base, the probe extended an appendage with

 

an Imperial espionage quality macro-binoculars attached to the end.

 

The macro-binoculars was the only part peeping over the top of the

 

surrounding rocks. The probe had been recording the activity in the

 

base for three hours now, in all frequencies which the macro-

 

binoculars was capable of. The probe retracted the binoculars and made

 

it's way back through the mountains. Fifteen minutes later it

 

broadcast it's report in an Imperial code. The entire transmission

 

took less than a tenth of a second.

 

 

 

"Chief!" Johnson called out, "the sub-space receiver picked up

 

something."

 

 

 

"Show me." O'Brien was fully attentive.

 

 

 

The lieutenant showed him the display. There had been a very

 

weak flicker of something which had lasted only a fraction of a

 

second. It was too weak to be indicative of a warp drive, and the

 

frequency was all wrong for it to be a communications signal.

 

 

 

"Run it through the computer."

 

 

 

"Already tried, the signal is too weak. I can turn the

 

sensitivity of the receiver up, but that will require more power." He

 

looked questioningly at O'Brien.

 

 

 

"Lets not be too hasty. If it happens again, we will adjust

 

the receiver."

 

 

 

O'Brien was not happy. He doubted the signal was Jem'Hadar,

 

but all known sub-space events and noise was automatically filtered by

 

the computers, so whatever caused the signal could not have a natural

 

origin. The receiver was also too weak to have accidentally picked up

 

signals from any neighboring star systems.

 

 

 

Two hours later, they picked up another signal, much shorter

 

and weaker this time, but same frequency. O'Brien ordered the

 

receiver's sensitivity tuned up, and broke out a second battery. By

 

the early hours of the morning they had determined that the signal was

 

definitely a communications signal, and that it was originating on

 

this planet, within 40 kilometers of the base. They would have to send

 

out a detail to investigate. O'Brien swore. Even if this thing wasn't

 

Jem'Hadar, it risked giving them all away.

 

 

 

O'Brien only managed three hours sleep before daylight. He

 

left Johnson in charge of the base, and set out on foot with a

 

detachment of four security personnel. They carried weak short-range

 

radios in favor of the sub-space communicators they normally used.

 

Traversing the mountains was no problem, jet-boots allowed them to

 

ascend or descend at controlled speeds, although they only used these

 

for the more difficult parts of the journey, due to the limited amount

 

of fuel they could carry. They reached the area where the signal had

 

originated in less than 4 hours, but found nothing. Whatever had made

 

the transmission was mobile, and left no footprints.

 

 

 

They returned to base empty-handed, to discover that whatever

 

was out there had shifted it's transmission frequency nearly off the

 

scale. If they hadn't been looking for it, they probably wouldn't have

 

spotted the signal. Whatever was out there, had seen them coming, and

 

now knew that it had been detected.

 

 

 

"Chief!"

 

 

 

O'Brien swore. It felt like he had just fallen asleep.

 

 

 

"Energy emissions detected on the edge of the star system.

 

They are compliant with Jem'Hadar warp-drives."

 

 

 

"Shut everything down! Now! Set all phasers to Jem'Hadar stun

 

levels. Prepare to repel boarders." And pray like hell we don't have

 

to, he added silently.

 

 

 

Bashir came out of the laboratory, still looking as fresh as

 

yesterday. "Chief, the computers shut down in the middle of a

 

simulation, what is going on?"

 

 

 

"Jem'Hadar." O'Brien tossed over his shoulder, his attention

 

remaining on the scopes in front of him. The readings on the scope

 

showed the Jem'Hadar ship was a small one, scout class. That would

 

give it a probable crew of fifty, from the little they knew about the

 

Jem'Hadar.

 

 

 

"Warp drive disengaged." The security officer reported. "They

 

are now on impulse."

 

 

 

For three tense hours, O'Brien watched as the scout ship

 

slowly made it's way through the system, most likely scanning for

 

Federation activity. Then it was their turn. The Jem'Hadar ship was on

 

a course that would bring it to within 3 planetary diameters of this

 

planet. O'Brien watched the track of the ship carefully, looking for

 

any sign that it intended taking up an orbit around the planet. The

 

sub-space receiver beeped. Seconds later the Jem'Hadar ship changed

 

course. That bastard thing out there had given them away.

 

 

 

If a droid could display emotion, the probe droid's demeanor

 

would indicate worry. For some reason the few energy emissions it

 

could detect from the base had dropped significantly. The droid had

 

reported this on the new frequency it had chosen when the first

 

frequency had been compromised. Now it had been watching the base for

 

three hours, and nothing appeared to be happening. It was convinced

 

that the occupants were laying a trap, but there was not enough data

 

to decide upon a course of action. It was time to report anyway. The

 

droid made it's report.

 

 

 

Two minutes later, the droid had opportunity to display a

 

second emotion, surprise. It's sensors determined three target-locks

 

nearby. Before it can could scan for possible targets that was being

 

locked on, the target-locks disappeared, and three life-sign readings

 

that hadn't been there before appeared. They were of an unknown

 

humanoid species. The droid was alarmed, and began transmitting

 

everything continuously. The three humanoids approached the droid, and

 

it opened fire. One of the humanoids staggered and was knocked down,

 

but still registered life-signs. All three humanoids disappeared. The

 

droid frantically began scanning all available frequencies, activating

 

it's active scanners as well, while continuing to fire at the last

 

reported position of the humanoids. It took two tenths of a second to

 

find one passive and three active frequencies on which the humanoids

 

were still visible. One of them was pointing a device at the droid.

 

The droid calculated their reflexes to be thirty percent above human

 

standard. It registered damage on it's outer casing, and activated the

 

self-destruct.

 

 

 

O'Brien watched as the Jem'Hadar ship entered a station-

 

keeping orbit nearly directly above them. The console registered

 

readings consistent with an active scan of the area. The scan was

 

focused on an area in the mountains nearby. They might yet escape

 

detection. Suddenly everything shook, loose equipment rattled,

 

something clattered to the floor.

 

 

 

"There was an explosion in the mountains," somebody said

 

unnecessarily. The sensors reported a new scan. The Jem'Hadar were

 

obviously also trying to determine what happened.

 

 

 

As the scan widened, O'Brien knew they wouldn't escape

 

detection. "Assume defensive positions. Stun anything that moves."

 

O'Brien shouted, taking up a firing position with a view to the plain

 

ahead of them.

 

 

 

Some of Johnson's men were facing inwards, in case the

 

Jem'Hadar tried to beam directly into the base. They would have a two

 

second window before the Jem'Hadar could activate their genetic

 

cloaking. A flash of energy marked the position of one soldier beaming

 

in. Johnson stunned him before he could take a step. The body of the

 

stunned soldier was beamed out.

 

 

 

"Alright," O'Brien called out, "they know we're here and they

 

know we're going to fight. They will beam into the mountains nearby

 

and attack on foot. We will hold out as long as we can. Power up the

 

reactor and try and raise some help. Activate all sensors, and scan

 

for incoming soldiers. They will be cloaked, so we probably won't see

 

them, but the cameras and motion detectors will tell us roughly where

 

they are."

 

 

 

"Surely they can just drop a bomb on us or something?" Bashir

 

asked.

 

 

 

"Then we'd be dead already." O'Brien stated flatly.

 

 

 

"Forty Five life-sign readings detected," Johnson called, with

 

range and bearings, then, "life-signs disappeared. They've cloaked

 

alright. I'll get them on the motion detectors as they come closer

 

though. EMI [Electromagnetic Imaging] scanning all frequencies from

 

ultra-violet through microwave as well."

 

 

 

O'Brien and the other officers watched intently from their

 

observation points. They could see nothing, but knew the enemy was

 

coming. IN ORBIT

 

 

 

The Jem'Hadar ship was nearly deserted. Only a few crewers

 

remained, watching the essential sensors. There was no sign of warp

 

activity within half a light year, and no impulse emissions within 30

 

light-seconds. They were not expecting an attack. The entire troop had

 

beamed down after the first three had been killed in the explosion of

 

the machine they had been sent to investigate. There orders were to

 

capture the Federation base intact, and to question the occupants as

 

to the nature of the machine. None doubted that the machine had some

 

relationship to the Federation base.

 

 

 

When the impulse emission sensors lit up, the crewer

 

monitoring that station was not too perturbed. Ships were known to

 

hide from detection, and this one was a full ninety light-seconds

 

away. The only disconcerting factor was that it was in open space,

 

with no hiding places within millions of kilometers. The ship could

 

not possibly have remained undetected in open space. It was as if the

 

ship had just appeared out of nowhere, or deactivated a cloaking

 

device, but at this range the ship was obviously out of weapons range.

 

 

 

The crewer turned to his commanding officer to report this

 

occurrence, when more symbols appeared on his console. He opened his

 

mouth to shout a warning, but was thrown to the deck as the ship

 

rocked violently. A huge wedge shaped vessel had appeared, from

 

nowhere, less than fifteen thousand kilometers away, at least the size

 

of a battle-cruiser, if not bigger.

 

 

 

Everybody was shouting at once, in battle language. He called

 

out range and bearing, the commanding officer was ordering them to

 

come about, the weapons officer launched a spread of torpedoes. The

 

ship rocked, even more violently this time, the shields had been

 

reduced to less than half strength already, and the engagement had

 

barely started. The weapons officer was frantically trying to lock

 

their beam weapons on the enemy, the torpedoes having been mostly

 

detonated by the enemy's incoming fire, but the computer was reporting

 

some kind of interference, and the sensors had been jammed with

 

overwhelming energies. A third broadside slammed into the vessel,

 

finally smashing down the shields altogether, and breaching the hull

 

in several places. A red symbol flashed on the engineering console,

 

indicating imminent collapse of the containment fields in the engine

 

room. The fields collapsed.

 

 

 

"Damage report." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

"Three missiles impacted on starboard shields, shield

 

generators still operating at peak efficiency. No casualties."

 

 

 

Janus had ordered the surprise attack with overwhelming force

 

on the alien vessel, hoping to disable it before they escaped to warp.

 

The tactic had worked too well. The droids destruction had been

 

inevitable from the moment they had detected the signature of the warp

 

drive entering the system.

 

 

 

A Lancer had jumped closer to the planet to determine the

 

position of the alien vessel. The /Annihilator/ had then automatically

 

jumped to the co-ordinates provided by the Lancer's computer. The

 

range had been short enough for the laser cannons to join in the

 

successive broadsides of turbolaser and ion cannons.

 

 

 

From the timing of the explosion, it was the ion cannons which

 

had resulted in the vessel's destruction. Janus made a note to avoid

 

using them in the next engagement. They had twice failed now to

 

capture a warp-drive vessel.

 

 

 

On the ground, O'Brien and the fourteen remaining security men

 

had retreated to the underground facility. The surface buildings had

 

been reduced to a smoking ruin. They had set up a barricade in the

 

tunnel which gave access to the facility. All external EMI scanners

 

and motion detectors had been destroyed. As far as he knew, they

 

hadn't inflicted any casualties on their attackers. Things were

 

uncharacteristically quiet though. Without their surface mounted

 

receivers and sensors they were blind.

 

 

 

"Anything on subspace." He called out.

 

 

 

"Uh," the answer came back, "there appears to be some kind of

 

jamming of all sub-space frequencies, we have enough power to burn

 

through the jamming, but the signal won't survive out of the solar

 

system."

 

 

 

They had not been able to raise anybody on sub-space. That

 

hadn't surprise him, but sub-space jamming did. It was not a known

 

Jem'Hadar tactic, as it would interfere with their own sub-space

 

transporters.

 

 

 

"Jamming ceased. Incoming transmission."

 

 

 

O'Brien rushed over to the operations room, "on-screen," he

 

said. If O'Brien had been hoping or expecting a friendly face, he was

 

surprised. The face on the screen was severe, middle-aged, scarred.

 

O'Brien recognized a career military commander when he saw one. "Chief

 

Engineer O'Brien, United Federation of Planets." He introduced

 

himself.

 

 

 

"Admiral Janus, Imperial Navy." the man introduced himself,

 

"we detected your distress signals, but deemed it unwise to reply

 

until the enemy had been destroyed. Our sensors indicate forty-five

 

humanoid life-forms on the planets surface at your location, a further

 

sixteen below ground, are you still under attack? Do you require

 

further assistance?"

 

 

 

O'Brien hesitated. "Yes. Are you able to provide us with

 

assistance?" he finally asked, wondering what it would cost them. This

 

Janus didn't look the type to be offering assistance out of the

 

kindness of his heart.

 

 

 

"Of course. You are the group underground?" O'Brien nodded in

 

response to Janus' question.

 

 

 

"Then," Janus continued, "hold your position, my troopers will

 

clear the surface." /ANNIHILATOR/ LAUNCHING BAY

 

 

 

Lieutenant Stam Islaw marched across the hangar towards the

 

dropship his unit had been assigned. The dropship was capable of

 

transporting 500 stormtroopers plus all their supporting equipment. An

 

Imperial Star Destroyer was capable of carrying six such units, the

 

equivalent of three 1000 men regiments. A fourth regiment on the ISD

 

was responsible for ship security, and were not attached to any

 

dropships. Each dropships' total complement included two AT-ATs and

 

four AT-STs. Alternate equipment could include air-speeders for

 

atmospheric combat, tanks, groundspeeders, or other specialized

 

equipment. The equipment chosen usually depended on planetary

 

conditions of the predisposition of the regimental commander.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Islaw paid no attention to the droids scampering

 

out of his way, and had no problem negotiating the morass of pipes,

 

tubes, and astromech droids doing last minute adjustments. A seasoned

 

veteran, he had gone through this many times. He had a cybernetic left

 

leg and right eye, and if it hadn't been for the exceptional medical

 

care provided to stormtroopers, would also have been able to display

 

many scars and burns on the rest of his body. The empire looked after

 

its soldiers. Many believed that the Star Destroyers were the bricks

 

which built the empire, but this was misleading. The ultimate

 

statement of Imperial authority lay in it's legions of stormtroopers.

 

And they knew it. At the end of the day systems paid allegiance to the

 

Empire for fear of having a regiment of stormtroopers delivered to

 

their home planet, not because of the ship the stormtroopers arrived

 

on.

 

 

 

He marched up the ramp of the dropship, one of many soldiers,

 

and made his way to the section assigned to his unit. Islaw had four

 

corporals in his command, and each commanded a ten man squad. Ten such

 

units made up a total of 450 men, the difference being their

 

commanding staff and the crews of the AT-ATs and AT-STs. His four

 

corporals were waiting for him.

 

 

 

"You have been briefed?" he asked, "You saw the probe's last

 

transmissions?"

 

 

 

"Yes sir," answered Jax, "we know we are up against wraiths,

 

forty five if fleet ops are to be believed."

 

 

 

"Yes. Five units will be sent down to the surface, no armoured

 

support, no aerial support, and we have orders to capture at least 1

 

wraith alive."

 

 

 

"If the fleet boys want one alive, let them get him

 

themselves. I suppose the colonel has organized himself a comfy ride?"

 

 

 

"Four units will participate in the engagement, the fifth will

 

provide cover for the single AT-AT, which will be Colonel Bedwin's

 

command center." Islaw confirmed, with a smile. Jax was permitted some

 

cockiness. He had been a seasoned veteran when Islaw was a green

 

cadet. Jax also knew exactly how far he could take the system.

 

 

 

"Suit up, and check your men. I want no reds on this drop."

 

Islaw waved the droids over. In seconds, his personal suit had been

 

fitted by the droids. Status check confirmed all systems green. He

 

hadn't expected anything less, the armoured suits were kept in peak

 

condition by the units' droids, and they would have been double-

 

checked in the last few days, as the Admiral had been planning a

 

surface engagement. Any red-line components would have been swapped

 

out by the droids. The droids scuttled out of the ship.

 

 

 

Islaw had five green humanoid icons in the top left corner of

 

his display. The top one represented his own medical condition, the

 

four remaining symbols represented his corporals. They had similar

 

displays denoting their squad members. The armoured suit was a second

 

skin to Islaw, he had long ago become accustomed to the negligible

 

weight of the suit. The difference in vision was immediate obvious.

 

Previously dark corners of the dropship, were now starkly visible. Not

 

only did the suit provide augmented vision under dim-light conditions,

 

he could also see the heat signatures of everything and everyone in

 

the section. Even the heat from power conduits concealed in the ships

 

hull was visible in the augmented display of his helmet.

 

 

 

He detached a blaster rifle from the weapons rack. The weapon

 

was designed to be used with gauntlets, and it activated immediately

 

the gauntlets made contact with the grip. On his display was now also

 

a charge indicator, range and bearing indicators, and crosshairs

 

indicating the aiming point of the rifle. A wink of his good eye

 

activated the tactical overlay, showing a diagrammatic representation

 

of the target area, with the starting point of his unit shown, as well

 

as likely routes for his four squads to follow through the terrain. He

 

blinked his cybernetic eye, and a small vid-screen appeared in the

 

corner, with Colonel Bedwin in the command seat of the single AT-AT.

 

"Unit 1 reporting. Sir."

 

 

 

"Ready for launch in 4 minutes."

 

 

 

Islaw joined his men, and secured himself in the restraints

 

provided. Dropping was not always a comfortable ride. At least nobody

 

would be shooting at them on the way down on this ride. The drop was

 

an easy one, by the standards at which such things were measured. With

 

no enemy fire to evade, the pilot took them straight in. The units

 

were dropped one at a time, five kilometers from the smoking

 

Federation base, one at each end of a rectangle around the base. The

 

fifth unit would be dropped two kilometers further away, on a ridge

 

overlooking the plain where the base nestled. This was close enough

 

for the AT-AT to provide covering fire if necessary, and far enough

 

away that the colonel would feel safe, Islaw was sure.

 

 

 

Islaw's unit, being number one, was dropped first. His

 

corporals immediately deployed their squads, ordering them to spread

 

out over a two kilometer front. Islaw remained behind the front-line,

 

his job ro co-ordinate the squad level movements. Surveillance from

 

the ISD had all forty five wraiths close to the Federation base, some

 

of them concealed behind rocks surrounding the base. Further

 

surveillance was provided by the four probe droids which were

 

monitoring the action, and providing real-time data to the suits

 

battle computers. The suit's computer filtered the data as necessary,

 

using it to augment the heads-up display.

 

 

 

Attached to his unit, were two medical droids, with augmented

 

armour and a large supply of bacta available to each. There was also a

 

probe droid, which would assist with surveillance and assess his units

 

performance or lack of it. The information would be used in future

 

battle simulations of the ISD's training facilities.

 

 

 

Islaw blinked his left eye twice rapidly, activating a small

 

display in the bottom center of his viewscreen. It showed a 10x

 

magnification of the area his blaster rifle was pointing at. The

 

stormtroopers advanced, their speed synchronized with the three units

 

approaching from the other directions.

 

 

 

Two wraiths attempted to charge across an open space about a

 

kilometer ahead of Islaw's troops. They were smashed down by a turbo-

 

laser blast from the AT-AT, the ground in that area reduced to a

 

smoking ruin by the twin blasts. Islaw's suit immediately cut down on

 

the infra-red from the blast area, adjusting the apparent temperature

 

so as not to distort his view.

 

 

 

"The enemies have activated their cloaking fields." A

 

lieutenant advised from one of the other units. Islaws' suit

 

automatically allowed communications it deemed necessary to him,

 

filtering out communications which weren't. It was a system, which had

 

been refined over decades of conflict since the inception of the

 

Empire.

 

 

 

A blotch of red moved from one rock to another about eight

 

hundred meters ahead of Islaw, the only visible sign of the wraith. A

 

turbolaser blast smashed into the area, but most likely couldn't

 

target the wraith properly. A message flashed at the bottom of his

 

viewscreen, confirming his deduction. The AT-AT had switched to manual

 

targeting.

 

 

 

"Don't rely on your suit's targeting crosshairs," Islaw warned

 

his men, "if you think it's a wraith, shoot!"

 

 

 

"Bloody right!" Jax replied.

 

 

 

The range to target quickly decreased to less than two hundred

 

meters. The suit computers were having trouble accurately pinning down

 

the positions of the wraiths, unless they gave away their positions by

 

moving. Two of Islaws men were surprised in an ambush, three wraiths

 

opening fire on them from less than one hundred meters away. The

 

wraiths were cut down by the remaining eight squad members before they

 

change position.

 

 

 

"One dead, one injured." The corporal of that squad reported.

 

 

 

A medical droid rushed forward the moment that position had

 

been secured, anxious to assist the injured soldier, a bacta tab

 

ready. Islaw also made his way to that position. He passed the two

 

downed Stormtroopers without a glance, anxious for a look at the

 

uncloaked wraiths. There were only two bodies when he got there. The

 

third wraith had disappeared, despite having taken multiple blaster

 

shots. One of the bodies stirred at his feet. Islaw calmly fired his

 

rifle into the wraiths head at point-blank range.

 

 

 

"There's one gone to ground around here somewhere." He

 

informed his corporal. Two men were immediately assigned to quarter

 

the area. This squad had been reduced to six men advancing now. Islaw

 

ordered one man sent over from each of the neighboring squads. "If you

 

come across any wraith bodies, make sure they're dead before moving

 

on." He ordered. "These bastards are tough."

 

 

 

He blew the head off the second body before moving on, just in

 

case. The suits' augmented hearing filtered out a lot of unnecessary

 

sound, but allowed the muffled sounds of almost continuous blaster

 

fire now. There was also a faint buzz-whine from the enemies' hand-

 

weapons.

 

The two stormtroopers detached to find the missing wraith

 

reported they had tracked down and destroyed the wounded wraith, but

 

one of them had taken a hit in the arm, which was bleeding

 

excessively. The second medical droid rushed over to assist him. From

 

the sounds of it, the wraiths were giving as good as they got, despite

 

not having battle-suits or a detectable means of communication.

 

 

 

Islaw moved on, staying close to his front-line units, but

 

never getting ahead of them. Jax reported one of his men dead, two

 

more injured. The wraiths were putting up quite a fight. Islaw noticed

 

that his men weren't taking any chances, any wounded or dying wraiths

 

were dispatched with a close-range shot to the head. On his display

 

counter, Islaw observed that thirty nine wraiths had been accounted

 

for, with the loss of eighteen dead troopers, and twenty three

 

wounded. His own unit had come off relatively lightly, with only three

 

dead, and five wounded. The last six wraiths had assumed a defensive

 

position inside what was left of the Federation base.

 

 

 

"Islaw, provide forward spotting, the AT-AT will clear the

 

fortifications." Bedwins order came through.

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Islaw aimed his blaster at the projected positions of the

 

wraiths inside the base. He designated five points by lightly

 

triggering his blaster rifle with the safety on. A second later five

 

turbolaser blasts smashed into the points he had designated. His

 

display barely cleared in time from the blasts to see Jax lead his

 

squad into the fortified position. By the time he got there, he found

 

one dead stormtrooper, and a number of wraith bodies. Two of them

 

apparently still alive but wounded, with blaster rifles leveled at

 

their heads.

 

 

 

"Keep them alive." He ordered. His suit indicated all wraiths

 

accounted for. He swore at the sight of the dead trooper. Four dead in

 

his unit. Ten percent casualty rate was not a good reflection on his

 

command ability. He advanced to the back of the building, where stairs

 

descended to a lower chamber. The walls and stairs showed indications

 

of a lot of blaster activity, whole sections having been blasted away.

 

Before he hit the last stair he hesitated. His suit had been

 

programmed with the language filters of the Federation humans.

 

 

 

"My name is Stam Islaw, lieutenant, Imperial stormtrooper

 

regiment BC1902 assigned to fleet, special operations. Hold your fire.

 

I am coming down."

 

 

 

"Slowly." Came the reply.

 

 

 

Islaw advanced, stopping on the last step. FEDERATION BASE,

 

UNDERGROUND

 

 

 

O'Brien and his men had been listening to the sounds of combat

 

for nearly forty five minutes. They had kept a careful watch on the

 

entrance to the underground facility, but the Jem'Hadar had not

 

attacked since Johnson had been killed shortly after he had spoken to

 

the Imperial Admiral, Janus. They must have been fully occupied with

 

the surface battle.

 

 

 

The battle ended with a sudden roar of nearby explosions, and

 

a multiple blast wave of heat that threatened to singe O'Briens

 

eyebrows swept through th corridor. In his momentary deafness, he

 

almost missed the sounds of small arms fire in the base above.

 

 

 

The silence which followed was broken by a tinny, artificial

 

voice requesting permission to come down the stairs. O'Brien watched

 

as a pair of dirty brown legs descended the stairs. As the figure

 

stopped, O'Brien could see what looked like a white carapace, stained

 

brown by the dirt from the surface. The almost insectoid figure

 

detached it's head, and advanced cautiously down the passageway

 

towards the barricade where O'Brien and the last survivors of the

 

security detail had made a stand.

 

 

 

To his relief, O'Brien made out a human face in it's mid

 

twenties. The man held a helmet under his armoured arm, an ugly

 

looking rifle-type weapon dangled in his right hand. O'Brien noticed a

 

splash of green on one leg. Jem'Hadar blood?

 

 

 

"The enemy has been destroyed." The man said, or at least that

 

was what O'Brien heard on his translator.

 

 

 

"I suppose I owe you my thanks." He offered cautiously. At

 

this range he could see the man's eyes, they were colder than O'Brien

 

had seen in a long time. Such a man would never have made it through

 

the psychological filters of Starfleet academy. The man blinked, as if

 

he had not understood. A vague hint of a smile played around his lips.

 

He indicated the helmet, and replaced it over his head.

 

 

 

"Thank You." O'Brien repeated.

 

 

 

The soldier nodded, and waved towards the surface. O'Brien

 

pushed past the debris of the barricade and followed the soldier

 

towards the surface. The security guards and Bashir trailed.

 

 

 

"Chief," Bashir called, "tell him I am a doctor. If any of his

 

men need assistance."

 

 

 

The soldier turned, "My men have been taken care of."

 

 

 

At the top of the stairs, O'Brien looked around in dismay. The

 

buildings which had constituted the surface of the base had been

 

reduced to blackened ruins, none more than a meter in height. A large

 

number of white-armoured troopers were milling about. One of them

 

approached Islaw. He indicated the Jem'Hadar on the floor, and was

 

obviously communicating with Islaw via a private channel. Islaw

 

stiffened, and turned to face the soldier. The soldier snapped almost

 

to attention, then stalked away.

 

 

 

O'Brien noticed a robot attending to one of the Jem'Hadar, and

 

working furiously. They must have tried to capture one or two alive.

 

O'Brien could have told them better.

 

 

 

"We have not managed to capture any of them alive either." He

 

stated, addressing Islaw.

 

 

 

The soldier glanced at him, "This mission will be considered a

 

failure by my commanders, their orders were to capture one of the

 

wraiths alive."

 

 

 

Bashir advanced, intending to have a look at the downed

 

Jem'Hadar as well. A soldier half-turned, with his rifle at the ready,

 

but relaxed at a signal from Islaw. He waved his tri-corder over the

 

Jem'Hadar body.

 

 

 

"Your robot has done everything that can be done for this man,

 

I could have done no more. He has injected himself with an overdose of

 

Ketrecel White, the drug they are addicted to. It is their standard

 

method of evading capture."

 

 

 

"The medical droid claims that the wraiths are in fact clones.

 

Perhaps my commander will be satisfied with some tissue samples. We

 

can grow one when we get back home."

 

 

 

O'Brien noticed that he used the word clones with a distinct

 

distaste. He could sympathize with that feeling. Replicating a

 

machine, or even a human organ was one thing, replicating an entire

 

man was something else. The translator had almost balked at the word,

 

the nuance used by the soldier had almost implied soul-stealer.

 

 

 

As they advanced outside, O'Brien noticed that some of the

 

white-armoured soldiers were lining up bodies. There were at least

 

twice as many Jem'Hadar bodies as armoured bodies. Most of the

 

Jem'Hadar bodies had taken multiple hits, with signs of heat-

 

cauterisation and almost all of them had severe damage to their heads.

 

The soldiers had ruthlessly killed even wounded Jem'Hadar. O'Brien

 

didn't blame them too much, the Jem'Hadar didn't go down easily, and

 

they were pretty ruthless fighters themselves.

 

 

 

A huge shuttle craft had landed nearby, and a number of

 

stretchers on null-grav fields were being loaded onto the shuttle. The

 

Imperial soldiers had taken a fair number of wounded as well, but all

 

things considered had come off pretty lightly against the Jem'Hadar. A

 

stormtrooper walked by with a bloodied arm, towards the shuttle-

 

transport.

 

 

 

"His arm," Bashir exclaimed, "it's not bleeding!"

 

 

 

"Of course not," Islaw replied, "the medical droids would have

 

taken care of it with a bacta tab, he will receive further treatment

 

when we are back on board the destroyer. The Emperor looks after his

 

stormtroopers. Come, the Admiral will be keen to speak to you. My men

 

will retrieve your equipment, I have word that the wraiths may have

 

another ship on it's way here. Even if the one we destroyed didn't get

 

out word, the wraiths might get suspicious when it doesn't report in."

 

 

 

O'Brien detailed two of the security men and one of Bashir's

 

medical staff to help with the retrieving of the equipment. Islaw

 

didn't object. O'Brien was impressed by the transport. It had one huge

 

cavernous hold, with multiple levels lined with restraining seats. The

 

rear half was not split into levels, and contained a huge machine,

 

reminiscent of the ancient dinosaurs, with place for at least one more

 

beside it. It's head ended in two large and two small protrusions

 

which were obviously not there for decoration. O'Brien assumed it was

 

some kind of all terrain armoured vehicle. Whatever this Empire was

 

these soldiers belonged to, it was obvious that they had a very

 

impressive and well-equipped military.

 

 

 

Several minutes later, with only a mild lurch, the ship came

 

to rest, and the ramp they had entered descended. Islaw escorted

 

O'Brien to the ramp. They were in a huge hangar, with five more

 

transports like the one he was aboard. Behind them, the stars beckoned

 

through a huge opening. A force field obviously prevented the

 

atmosphere from blowing out into space. Beyond the entrance to the

 

hangar, O'Brien could see the hull of the vessel they were on

 

stretching away. Going by his orientation, the hangar was at the

 

'bottom' of the spaceship, partially concealed within the

 

superstructure. A number of obvious gun-turrets on the hull obviously

 

covered all approaches to this hangar entrance, not that many ships

 

could make the awkward maneuver to get a shot at the hangar unless

 

they were very small and highly maneuverable.

 

 

 

O'Brien and his companions were escorted to what was obviously

 

a turbo-lift. Islaw must have given the lift an order via his private

 

comm-channel in his helmet, for the lift accelerated away. O'Brien had

 

the vague impression the lift went through a few turns or rotations at

 

incredible speeds, the effects possibly reduced by a local inertial

 

dampening field. Seconds later the lift stopped. O'Brien stepped out

 

onto a huge bridge.

 

 

 

There were at least a hundred military type personnel

 

attending to different tasks, monitoring consoles, furiously typing at

 

away keyboards with symbols which were arcane to him. Near the back of

 

this organized chaos, on a raised platform, sat a severe-looking man.

 

Janus. In front of him was a huge holographic display. O'Brien

 

recognized the star system they were in. Janus spoke to a droid, who

 

translated for him.

 

 

 

"Chief Engineer O'Brien." Janus stated, "Welcome aboard the

 

Imperial Star Destroyer, /Annihilator/."

 

 

 

"Glad to be aboard." O'Brien stated, "You have made a great

 

sacrifice on our behalf. A number of your soldiers died to rescue us.

 

I am not sure that we can repay you for the lives lost."

 

 

 

"Life given in the service of others is not life lost." Janus

 

stated. "You and your men have been through a lot. You will be

 

assigned quarters and we will talk later. For now, we will leave this

 

system as soon as the last of your equipment is loaded. The enemy may

 

send another ship to enquire after the one we destroyed."

 

 

 

"I see you have sub-space communications equipment. Maybe you

 

will be prepared to send a message to our headquarters?"

 

 

 

"Certainly, but we were unaware of a Federation headquarters

 

in this quadrant. I fear that your headquarters at the other end of

 

the hyperspace tunnel may not be able to receive our signal. We will

 

discuss it later." He waved a hand in dismissal.

 

 

 

O'Brien left in tow of the escorting stormtroopers.

 

 

 

The Federation personnel gathered for their meal in a recce

 

room close to the quarters they had been assigned. They would

 

apparently be 'jumping' to the location of the wormhole within the

 

next hour. O'Brien had convinced Janus to return the Federation

 

personnel to DS9. His only concern was that Janus had accepted his

 

invitation all too easily. Somehow he felt like the proverbial fly who

 

had invited the spider into his parlor. The Imperials were gathering

 

their fleet in a nice hidey hole they had found for themselves in a

 

binary star system, and no doubt discussing their strategies. A large

 

freighter had arrived in the system shortly after O'Briens discussion

 

with Janus, and it was apparent that Janus had been expecting the

 

freighter. O'Briens last glimpse of the freighter as he had left the

 

bridge was of it being swamped by at least 20 shuttles, from ships

 

throughout the fleet.

 

 

 

By O'Briens count the fleet included a battleship similar to

 

the one they were on, if maybe a bit smaller, four cruiser type ships

 

with a distinct overbite design, and six smaller frigates, which

 

seemed to be responsible for all surveillance and scouting. According

 

to Islaw, the ship they were on was an Imperial Star Destroyer, and it

 

was accompanied by a Victory Star Destroyer, Dreadnaughts, and

 

Lancers. Islaw had mentioned that they also had several hundred one-

 

man star-fighters, but these had been used rarely on their patrols due

 

to their short range and high fuel requirements.

 

 

 

O'Brien wondered what Sisko would make of this 'invasion

 

fleet' approaching his space station. The thought led him to wonder

 

what the prophets might make of the fleet. He dismissed the thought,

 

these were friends, they had saved his and Bashir's lives. They had

 

been extended every courtesy apparently, despite this being a military

 

vessel through and through.

 

 

 

O'Brien had had to nudge Bashir along several times as the

 

young man stopped to stare at everything that came their way. He was

 

fascinated by the quantity and diversity of androids, especially the

 

medical droids, but O'Brien noticed that they hadn't been allowed to

 

wander too far. There were armoured soldiers guarding all major

 

hatchways, and the turbolifts didn't respond to their voices, with or

 

without translators, although many of the droids obviously understood

 

their language perfectly.

 

 

 

One droid had been assigned to them, and it was beginning to

 

annoy O'Brien with its continual prattle. Bashir was fascinated with

 

the machine, and he was involved in an animated discussion with it.

 

O'Brien had seen many worlds in his time, most notably on the

 

/Enterprise/, and few things surprised him anymore.

 

 

 

"May I join you?" the voice startled him. It was Islaw.

 

 

 

"Certainly, I almost didn't recognize you without your suit of

 

armour, lieutenant Islaw."

 

 

 

"My battle-suit. It is only required when I am on duty."

 

 

 

"Please, sit." O'Brien motioned towards an empty seat. "What

 

can I do for you?"

 

 

 

"Well, I thought you may appreciate some company of the non-

 

mechanical kind." Islaw indicated the droid. A vague smile played

 

around his lips.

 

 

 

O'Brien had no doubts the young man had been sent to spy on

 

him. He also didn't miss the brand new universal translator stuck

 

discreetly behind Islaw's ear. The design didn't look like

 

Starfleet's, and it was apparently brand new, but O'Brien knew a

 

translator when he saw one.

 

 

 

"New?" he asked, indicating Islaw's ear.

 

 

 

"The translator? Yes, as a matter of fact. Our old translators

 

weren't programmed for your language, these have just arrived."

 

 

 

O'Brien remembered the freighter. Either their manufacturing

 

base very close by, or that freighter was very fast, or they had had

 

prior knowledge of the Federation. He decided to fish a little.

 

 

 

"That was fast, how did you get them manufactured so quickly."

 

 

 

Islaw shrugged, "we've been listening in to your

 

communications for quite a while. I suppose it's pointless keeping

 

that a secret any longer." The vague smile again.

 

 

 

"The sub-space transmitter that gave away our position?"

 

 

 

"I am afraid so. We have been distributing probe droids in

 

this system since your invasion began."

 

 

 

"Invasion!" O'Brien recoiled. "We have invaded nothing. This

 

quadrant was unoccupied."

 

 

 

"These sectors maybe," Islaw corrected, "but you have

 

positioned yourself in a strategic spot, surrounded by those who are

 

not necessarily friendly."

 

 

 

"Yourselves included?" O'Brien asked, but he was thinking,

 

'Typical, a whole galaxy and we get dumped here.'

 

 

 

"No, our borders are far away. Very far away." Islaw almost

 

smiled openly this time.

 

 

 

"You have come across the Borg?" O'Brien asked.

 

 

 

Islaw hadn't, which gave O'Brien ample opportunity to wade

 

into a discussion on the race of cyborgs who's apparent sole intention

 

was to consume the entire galaxy. The Federation had managed to

 

withstand the advances the Borg were making into their home quadrant,

 

but each successive wave of Borg had been more difficult to defeat.

 

 

 

It was projected that with the next decade or two Borg space

 

would approach the borders of the Romulan Empire, and that would be a

 

battle royale, O'Brien mused. Under those conditions, the Federation

 

and the Romulans would probably set aside their differences, the

 

Federation would be happy to keep the Romulans as a buffer between

 

themselves and the Borg. Better the enemy you can deal with than the

 

enemy you can't.

 

 

 

Islaw listened to all this. He now knew and understood much of

 

the sensory data retrieved from that quadrant. The analysis had been

 

incomplete, as the Lancers assigned to that quadrant had never been

 

able to gather any intelligence for long without attracting undue

 

attention. The race that occupied that quadrant had superb sensors,

 

and now he also understood how they appeared to have an almost

 

instantaneous communications system with very little sub-space

 

communications. The only sub-space communications in that quadrant had

 

apparently been between computer systems, in a form of encryption they

 

had not been able to decipher. A collective mind could be a major

 

tactical and strategic weapon. Everything that O'Brien had told him

 

ran counter to his beliefs. The Borg were a subversion to the Force.

 

A five minutes jump warning eventually interrupted their

 

discussion. Islaw quickly escorted them to their quarters.

 

 

 

"Stay in your quarters until I come for you. The jump will

 

barely be noticeable. This is standard procedure, you never quite know

 

what you're jumping into, and the ship is usually on standby whenever

 

we make a jump. In this sector, because we are not familiar with what

 

to expect, the ship is always at general quarters, and we never jump

 

directly into a system, but usually to within half a light year, and

 

then approach cautiously. Chief, I'm sure the admiral will want you on

 

the bridge. The hyperspace tunnel is only a six minute jump away, so

 

if you will come with me?"

 

 

 

O'brien followed Islaw. 'Six minutes!' he thought, 'why, they

 

would be able to cross the galaxy in a matter of several weeks, and

 

the entire Federation space in an hour or two.' That led him to wonder

 

what Islaw meant by their borders being far away. Far away for warp

 

vessels? Far enough way that they hadn't encountered the Borg? It was

 

known that Borg occasionally launched a few cubes with a transwarp

 

device into remote corners of the galaxy. It was one-way trip, but

 

that wouldn't bother the Borg. O'Brien wondered how many small pockets

 

of Borg were out there. Not many, since the transwarp had apparently

 

only recently been used by the Borg, and not always with success. He

 

also wondered just how many Borg cubes had been destroyed by the

 

launcher they were thought to have.

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O'brien reached the bridge just as the ship made the jump. One

 

instant the viewscreen was filled with the almost familiar by now

 

formations of the gamma quadrant, then it was suddenly replaced by an

 

almost formless static.

 

 

 

"Except for the ability to detect ." Islaw started, but

 

stopped at a glare from Janus. 'Detect what?' O'Brien wondered, 'and

 

was he going to say the ship was blind.' Interesting thought O'Brien,

 

so there are disadvantages to their drive mechanism.

 

 

 

"You say you don't know who constructed the hyperspace

 

tunnel?" Janus asked, obviously to distract him from whatever he was

 

about to ask. O'Brien wasn't too put out by their reticence, after all

 

he wasn't about to explain everything regarding warp drives and

 

antimatter technologies to them either.

 

 

 

"It was there when we first explored the system, the

 

inhabitants of the system had developed their religion around it, and

 

worship the beings who live inside the tunnel. 'Prophets' they are

 

called. Apparently time has little or no meaning to them."

 

 

 

"How do you know this hyperspace tunnel is not a naturally

 

occurring phenomenon?"

 

 

 

"Well, mathematically such a phenomenon is possible, although

 

no wormholes have been found. This particular wormhole seems to have a

 

construct that is not natural, but mathematically precise in some

 

fashion that escapes our scientists. It does not conform to many of

 

the properties wormholes are theorized to exhibit. Yet it exists and

 

is fairly stable."

 

 

 

"Preparing to disengage hyperdrive motivator." A technician

 

called.

 

 

 

"Three, two, one, now!" Another called. The static in the

 

view-screen instantly cleared. The constellations had barely shifted.

 

Eighteen light-years was not far on the galactic scale.

 

 

 

"Range to hyperspace tunnel entrance, two hundred million

 

kilometers. No encroachments to.. maximum sensor range."

 

 

 

O'Brien noticed the hesitation. The technician had been about

 

to give away their maximum sensory range when he thought better of it.

 

Judging by the anxious look he had thrown Janus' way, such a

 

discrepancy would have cost him severely.

 

 

 

Janus watched the 'wormhole' approaching with a reverence he

 

hoped nobody noticed. That the Federation officer would use such a

 

disgusting term for a construct of the ancient ones was a sacrilege.

 

He wondered if the 'prophets' were the last of the ancient ones, those

 

who had first taught his ancestors about the undetectable energy field

 

which bound the universe together, that which they called the Force.

 

He would find out soon enough, if the 'prophets' made an appearance.

 

 

 

He casually inspected the bridge. His bridge crew was

 

recording everything, and all information was being transmitted

 

directly to the freighter, which would not enter the tunnel, but

 

record from it's remote vantage point. Once they entered the tunnel,

 

the freighter would jump back to their supply depot, carrying the

 

vital information with it. The moment the ships exited the tunnel at

 

the far end, they would transmit everything directly to the ships at

 

the supply depot. His engineers had told Janus that without boosters,

 

the signal had an 80% chance of reaching the ships close to the core.

 

 

 

The rescue and return of the research team under O'Brien had

 

given him a good excuse for entering Federation space, and even

 

possibly to get some of his men aboard a Federation space station.

 

O'Brien had indicated the space station was the first line of defence

 

for any invasion through the hyperspace tunnel, so it might be their

 

best chance to get a good look at what a Federation battle-station was

 

all about.

 

 

 

They were now approaching the entrance with the aid of their

 

ion drives, impulse engines, O'Brien had called them. Apparently the

 

Federation used similar engines for sub-light travel, although their

 

engines required modification to traverse the tunnel. He had indicated

 

that the ion drives were capable of traversing the tunnel unmodified,

 

provided they didn't exceed 10% of what Janus had quoted as their

 

maximum impulse (about three quarters the actual figure, but O'Brien

 

needn't know that). Federation ships, according to O'Brien, relied

 

only on their impulse drives for orbital and docking maneuvers, and

 

limited interplanetary travel, and on warp drive for most other

 

purposes. He had not mentioned battle tactics.

 

 

 

The ship entered the tunnel. Behind them, there the tunnel

 

seemed to seal off immediately. O'brien had indicated this was normal.

 

The entire bridge crew, O'Brien included, had their attention riveted

 

on the display outside the view-screen. There was a bleep on his

 

command chair's control padd.

 

 

 

"Admiral, Sir?" It was the engine room.

 

 

 

"Report using the correct procedures. What is it?"

 

 

 

"Sir! There are people down here. They are standing around the

 

hyperdrive motivator, they seem to be inspecting it."

 

 

 

"Are they interfering with the operation of the ship?"

 

 

 

"No sir? They're just standing here. They seemed to just...

 

appear."

 

 

 

"The prophets." O'Brien stated, his curiosity obvious. Janus

 

was reluctant to leave the bridge, and there was no way he would allow

 

O'Brien a look at their engines. O'Brien seemed to be considering this

 

as well. Their eyes met, each trying to penetrate the other's

 

thoughts.

 

 

 

"Admiral!" It was Islaw. He had assumed a battle-ready

 

posture. A woman had appeared on the bridge. She moved without

 

appearing to walk, directly towards Janus. Islaw made as If to block

 

her approach, but then for no reason relaxed and wandered away. Janus

 

watched the woman's approach. If it wasn't for the complete emptiness

 

of emotion in her face he could have sworn the was his dead wife. She

 

stopped just short of him. Her eyes black orbs, her face a plastic

 

mask. For a long time she stared into his mind, then raised an arm as

 

if to touch him. She disappeared. Janus slumped back into his seat, a

 

suddenly re-animated Islaw rushing over to his Admiral.

 

 

 

Janus waved him away. He couldn't place it, but something felt

 

different to Janus. He looked around. Many anxious faces were staring

 

at him. He doubted that they had real concern for his welfare. He had

 

been a good commander, and he tended to keep his men alive, unlike

 

other admirals he knew, but he was not the kind of commander who

 

inspired anything but respect in his men. Janus glared at them, and

 

they jumped back to work, or found something to do.

 

 

 

"You knew her, didn't you?" O'Brien asked.

 

 

 

"My dead wife." Janus answered, surprising himself.

 

 

 

The brilliance outside the view-screen abruptly gave way to

 

the impenetrable blackness of space. They had traversed the wormhole.

 

 

 

"Sensors! Fleet status! All ships report in!" Janus ordered.

 

Islaw gestured to O'Brien, who stepped away from the Admiral, and

 

joined Islaw behind the command seat. One by one, the fleet ships

 

reported in. All had made it through. No discernible damage was

 

detected on any of the ships, all systems checked out. The holographic

 

display quickly took a shape O'Brien was familiar with, the planets

 

and moons of the Bajor system, with the inevitable host of starships

 

of all descriptions. Bajor had not been a quiet system since the

 

discovery of the wormhole. The holographic display was almost

 

dominated by blips representing spaceships.

 

 

 

The holographic display showed the chaos and order in the

 

system to beautiful effect, colour coding ships according to size and

 

power readings, with vectors indicating direction and velocity.

 

O'Brien could almost imagine the frantic activity on-board those

 

ships, not to mention the space station, at the sudden arrival of this

 

fleet of ships. Seeing this, O'Brien wondered that Starfleet didn't

 

invest in holographic displays. It would be a fantastic advantage in

 

the melee of a space-battle. That thought reminded him that these men

 

were no stranger to war. Judging by Islaw's stories, their society had

 

known peace for thousands of years, but had been torn apart in the

 

last fifty years by one war after another, and was only now beginning

 

to experiencing an uneasy peace under it's self-appointed Emperor.

 

FEDERATION SPACE STATION - DEEP SPACE NINE

 

 

 

"Bridge to Sisko!"

 

 

 

"What now?" Sisko asked. It had been one of those weeks. Sisko

 

was spending some rare time with Jake. He didn't appreciate that Jake

 

spent such a lot of time with the Ferengi boys, and wished again that

 

things were different.

 

 

 

"We need you here now. It's important." Dax said.

 

 

 

"On my way."

 

 

 

Sisko didn't doubt that when Dax said something was important,

 

then it was. Thank goodness, it wasn't Kira on the bridge, then he

 

would not have had a seconds peace. Everything was an emergency to

 

Kira, and whenever Sisko left her in charge, she would find one. He

 

had huge doubts about the fact that one day the station would be in

 

her command. Sometimes she showed signs of brilliance, but invariably

 

found a way to stuff it up again. He put all thoughts of that out of

 

his mind when he entered the bridge.

 

 

 

"Alright. What have we got?"

 

 

 

"On-screen." Dax said. "A fleet of unknown ships has just

 

arrived in the Bajor system. They came via the wormhole." She added

 

ominously. Nothing but trouble ever came through the wormhole. Sisko

 

turned towards the screen. Whatever Dax had said was an

 

understatement.

 

 

 

The fleet that was visible on the screen consisted of at least

 

twelve vessels, the smallest only slightly smaller than a galaxy class

 

starship, and their were six of them. The largest ship in the fleet

 

was easily three times the size of a galaxy cruiser. It was only about

 

three times the length, but whereas a starship's lines were elegant,

 

and flattened into a disc shape except for the command module and warp

 

nacelles, this ship was a brutish massive wedge. There was no

 

mistaking that it was a ship designed for one purpose only.

 

There were no signs of warp nacelles though, and it's impulse

 

engines were huge. The energy readings he could see from Dax's display

 

were enormous. The ship fairly bristled with weapons emplacements, and

 

prelimary scans showed that the weapons were independently powered.

 

Judging from the look of the ship, Sisko had no doubt that those

 

weapons emplacements could operate independently, to disable a ship

 

like that you would have to destroy it in it's entirety.

 

 

 

"Open a channel." He calmly told Dax.

 

 

 

Dax didn't respond, but seconds later the view-screen changed.

 

A severe looking man in a crisp military styled uniform was seated in

 

a chair overlooking what had to be huge bridge.

 

 

 

"Sisko, commander deep space nine." He introduced himself,

 

"Please identify yourselves and state your purpose here."

 

 

 

The man did not reply, but made a small movement with his arm.

 

Chief Engineer O'Brien stepped into view. The engineers face was

 

impassive, but Sisko could see a glint in his eye. The engineer no

 

doubt knew exactly the response the fleet would have inspired at DS9.

 

 

 

"Chief O'Brien!" Sisko stated, with a hint of a question in

 

his eyes.

 

 

 

"Commander. This is admiral Janus, he is the commander of the

 

fleet. The doctor and a number of security ensigns are also on-board.

 

We were rescued by the admiral during a Jem'Hadar attack on the

 

research outpost. We owe our lives to him."

 

 

 

"Commander Sisko." The admiral said, "With your permission, I

 

would like to send a shuttle over with your men?"

 

 

 

"Will any of your men, or yourself perhaps, also be coming

 

over on the shuttle?" Sisko enquired.

 

 

 

"Some of my men will be accompanying Engineer O'Brien."

 

 

 

"Chief?"

 

 

 

"The shuttle won't have a problem docking in the trojan bay,

 

and I don't think the greek clamps will be needed, at this time."

 

 

 

"Very well. Permission granted. Your shuttle may follow the

 

beacons to the trojan docking bay, admiral. Your men will be required

 

to observe the rules of this station, and the bearing of arms will not

 

be permitted if they wish to make use of the facilities aboard this

 

station. Perhaps you will join me for dinner later? The station may

 

not have the best facilities in the Federation, but what we have we

 

will place at your disposal."

 

 

 

"I accept your invitation." The admiral nodded.

 

 

 

"Done." Sisko cut the channel.

 

 

 

"What was that all about?" Dax enquired. "Trojans, greeks?"

 

 

 

"O'Brien was implying that we must exercise caution with these

 

people, although he doesn't think they will try anything yet."

 

 

 

"How did you get all that?" Dax asked.

 

 

 

"You should read up a bit more on your earth history, old

 

man." Sisko replied. "Have Odo meet the shuttle with a full security

 

detail. Nothing too obvious, but we don't want any surprises."

 

 

 

Islaw and his squad were assigned to accompany O'Brien and his

 

men to the enemy space station. This was no surprise to Islaw, as he

 

had been instructed to cultivate the engineer's friendship. The task

 

had proven easier than he imagined. The engineer was a likeable man.

 

The stormtrooper was not the kind of man who usually made friends

 

easily, but this particular tour of duty had been one of the easiest

 

of his career, and he often found himself doing things that he might

 

have considered beneath his dignity back home.

 

 

 

Something had changed in the eighteen months and more since

 

they had left home, like a weight gradually lifting off his shoulders.

 

He had seen the same thing in many other men in the fleet. The last

 

change had been in the hyperspace tunnel. Something had happened in

 

there, and whatever it was had swept through the fleet like a

 

sandstorm through a Tatooine village. The Federation were still

 

classed as an enemy though, but whatever the change, Islaw couldn't

 

quite put his finger on it.

 

 

 

The hangar in which the shuttle landed was no different to any

 

of hundreds he had seen in his short career. The only difference was

 

the strangeness of doing this without the security of his battle-suit,

 

and the strange lack of droids. The hangar was equipped well enough

 

with docking equipment like tractor beams, holding clamps, robotic

 

arms, there were the pipes and tubing associated with high pressure

 

hydraulic equipment, but no droids. Islaw wasn't sure what to expect

 

when he stepped onto the ramp and walked out into the hangar. He knew

 

O'Brien had passed some coded message to his commander, and no doubt

 

that was why he and his men had been sent, they were expendable, and

 

it was their job.

 

 

 

They were met by a gruff security officer, who somehow didn't

 

look quite complete. So the Federation military included non-humans he

 

thought. He had no prejudice against non-humans, although it was quite

 

obvious that somebody high up in the Imperial command structure did.

 

The officer was backed up by a number of men, and Islaw and his men

 

had to submit to having some sort of device waved around them.

 

 

 

"Medical scan, for quarantine reasons, and of course to ensure

 

that you are complying with the no weapons policy." The gruff security

 

chief said, squeezing his voice out in one even breath, with no hint

 

of emotion. "Once through that door you will be on the concourse. Obey

 

the laws, don't get into trouble, and you won't see me again." Islaw

 

noticed that the security chief had no hesitation in scanning O'Brien

 

and his men either. He had no doubt that the law was applied very even

 

handedly by this man.

 

 

 

Islaw stepped through the security doors, and onto a huge

 

concourse. He immediately felt like he was home. Visible on the

 

concourse was a variety of aliens and humanoids almost approaching

 

that usually encountered in the busiest spaceports back home. None of

 

the aliens were of species' recognizable to him, except of course for

 

the humans of the Federation. One of his primary goals was in fact to

 

discover what he could about human history. Janus found it most

 

coincidental that humans were to be found in this galaxy. One theory

 

advanced was that they might be descendants of refugees who had fled

 

the home galaxy during the reign of Xim the despot, more than 10,000

 

years ago.

 

 

 

Amongst their group were a few espionage droids. Islaw had

 

told O'Brien they were protocol droids, and his men never went

 

anywhere without them. The young doctor in O'Brien's group had

 

developed an almost emotional attachment to one of them already, which

 

the espionage droid no doubt exploited to the maximum. The group

 

attracted little attention. The inhabitants of the huge space station

 

apparently had enough business of their own to attend to.

 

 

 

Islaw indicated that his men should spread out in the

 

concourse. He followed O'Brien to be introduced to the station's

 

commander.

 

 

 

"Commander Sisko, Lieutenant Islaw. The lieutenant was the one

 

who led the attack on the Jem'Hadar."

 

 

 

Islaw recognized the rank of Commander, and saluted, but using

 

the salute reserved for officers of dubious rank. "I merely commanded

 

one of four company's in the attack." He corrected O'Brien. He was not

 

sure if the Federation officer had fully understood the significance

 

of the salute.

 

 

 

"You have my thanks." Sisko held out his hand, "I understand a

 

number of your men died in the attack." Islaw wasn't sure what to do

 

with the outstretched hand, and after a short hesitation, mirrored the

 

gesture. Sisko gripped his hand and shook it.

 

 

 

"The casualty rates were higher than expected. The wraiths

 

fought well, my men would not have been shamed to be defeated by such

 

worthy opponents." Islaw said guardedly.

 

 

 

A huge humanoid with a ridged scalp and dark skin joined the

 

group. "The answer of a warrior." He intoned in a deep voice. "Indeed,

 

the Jem'Hadar are a worthy opponent. How did the battle go? Commander

 

Worf," he introduced himself, "sector security."

 

 

 

If Sisko or O'Brien were taken aback by the apparent lack of

 

concern shown for dead comrades by Islaw they hid it well. The Klingon

 

and the stormtrooper engaged in an animated discussion of the action,

 

the Klingon wanting to know all the details, deployment of units and

 

tactics used by the respective sides.

 

 

 

Sisko quietly withdrew, pulling O'Brien with him. There was

 

much he wanted to know, and he and O'Brien were going to have a long

 

chat.

 

 

 

Janus reviewed the information the espionage droids had

 

submitted in their report. The amount of information they had come up

 

with in three days was staggering. Not that this was any reflection on

 

the ability of the droids, it was just that the information was so

 

freely available. Bashir had proved to be a mountain of information,

 

as had an alien by the name of Elim Garak. In the end, one of the

 

droids had stumbled onto a place called a library. According to the

 

droid, the librarian had even assisted it by setting up a direct data

 

link so that it could download any data it required. The data included

 

an extensive history of the Earth humans, their expansion into space,

 

the development of warp and sub-space technologies, overviews of their

 

encounters with the Romulans, Klingons, Vulcans, Ferengi, Cardassians

 

and many more.

 

 

 

Naturally the information didn't include classified

 

information, like locations of military bases, military manufacturing

 

facilities, military dispositions, number and type of starships and

 

schematics of warp engines. It did include lists of colonies, their

 

estimated populations, products produced or mined at these facilities,

 

and enough information for Janus' intelligence agents to deduce their

 

locations.

 

 

 

Janus also discovered that the Earth Humans early history was

 

largely a mystery even to themselves. The history included two-

 

dimensional photographs of ancient structures called Pyramids, Maian

 

temples and Stonehenge, which were surrounded by mystery and legend,

 

and remaining unexplained even to their modern scientists. Janus

 

couldn't believe it. The answer to everything, the mysteries of the

 

Force and how the Universe was bound together, all lay there within

 

their grasp, and they couldn't see it. The ancient monuments were

 

quite familiar to him. Their designs were reminiscent of the Force

 

focusing temples of the Sith Lords, Jedi artifacts and much knowledge

 

which had been lost or destroyed millennia ago, even before the rise

 

of the Old Republic.

 

 

 

It was obvious to him now that these humans were descended

 

from refugees who had fled the galaxy between 10,000 and 15,000 years

 

ago. For some reason, they had sunk to barbarism, and eventually

 

recovered to regain their destiny amongst the stars. Now, they were on

 

the brink of destruction yet again. Janus was torn between his duty to

 

the empire and his instinct to nurture and protect the human species.

 

He could see that they faced many grave external challenges in this

 

galaxy, but if they were to overcome those challenges, they could

 

conceivably be a threat to the galactic empire. Janus also spotted

 

evidence that they faced huge internal challenges as well, just as he

 

did now.

 

 

 

Janus had called a meeting of all his captains, but it was a

 

meeting that they could not afford to have onboard any Imperial ship,

 

nor could they afford to have it on DS9 for fear of eavesdropping. For

 

this reason, they had arranged to meet on the planet's surface. Even

 

now, the captains were arriving in their shuttles. Janus ordered the

 

shuttles back to the fleet, with instructions to return in two hours.

 

He could not afford to have even a shuttle near the meeting they were

 

about to have. The Bajoran woman who stood with him was surrounded by

 

a serenity he had witnessed only once before, when he had seen a Jedi

 

on his home planet. He instinctively trusted her. Even though the Jedi

 

had long since been disbanded, the respect for them was ingrained.

 

 

 

"You are certain that the temple cannot be bugged, Okapa?" He

 

asked her.

 

 

 

"Come, see for yourself."

 

 

 

Janus followed the woman into the temple, his captains

 

following him. One of his captains gasped in amazement at some of the

 

symbols seen on the walls. Janus inclined his head respectfully

 

towards a Jedi force focusing crystal mounted in a delicate sculpture.

 

He noticed similar sculptures at strategic places throughout the

 

temple. He did not know if the priestess with them understood the

 

capabilities of such crystals, but the Emperor would have gladly

 

turned over the entire galaxy to get his hands on such power.

 

 

 

"Yes, this will suffice." He told her.

 

 

 

She looked at him strangely, she understood much of what the

 

crystals were capable of, but these men obviously knew something or

 

believed something that was just beyond her grasp. She nodded, and

 

left the Imperial officers to their own devices. She was not a

 

military person, but found it strange that they would consider

 

something so important that they would gather their entire command

 

staff in one place, even though their fleet was well within what they

 

obviously believed to be enemy territory.

 

 

 

"Okapa." It was a familiar voice, one she had been expecting.

 

 

 

"Yes, Major Kira. What can I do for you?" The Okapa had the

 

feeling that she already knew the answer, but pretended innocence

 

anyway.

 

 

 

"What are those men doing in the temple?"

 

 

 

"They have been touched by the prophets, and wish to pay

 

respects." The Okapa answered and made as if to walk on.

 

 

 

"Bullsh ... I mean, that is not quite true Okapa. We know

 

nothing of these men, and they have an entire fleet up there, the

 

capabilities of which we have no idea."

 

 

 

"Surely you don't think they will attack while all their

 

commanding officers are down here?"

 

 

 

"I don't know about that, but they could be planning something

 

in there." She said. Her hands were itching to get at her tricorder,

 

but it would be sacrilege to attempt a scan of the temple.

 

 

 

"Go ahead." The Okapa invited, "but maybe you would be better

 

off assisting the Emissary?" The Okapa pointed up.

 

 

 

Kira frowned; she had an overwhelming desire to stamp her

 

foot, but slapped her comm-badge instead and asked to be beamed up to

 

the station.

 

 

 

Inside the temple, Janus was opening the meeting. He was in

 

somewhat unfamiliar territory here, not giving commands, but chairing

 

a meeting instead. The fact that the subject he was about to broach

 

was dangerous didn't help things either.

 

 

 

"What I am about to invite discussion on," he started, "will

 

be enough to invite summary execution back home. It is also something

 

that we daren't speak of aboard any Imperial vessel."

 

 

 

"Aye," the captain of the VSD /Dominator/ agreed, "who knows

 

what hidden programming the Emperor has aboard his vessels. Or how

 

many loyal spies."

 

 

 

Janus nodded. "I have identified the change that has come over

 

the crew, ourselves included, in the eighteen months since we left the

 

galaxy. The change that was eventually brought to fruition in the

 

hyperspace tunnel by the ancient ones. Although we have only now

 

realized it, we have been on a leash of the Emperor's making, a leash

 

that has been stretched to breaking point, and now finally broken." HE

 

looked around the faces of the assembled men. "I can now also see that

 

despite the good Palpatine has done, his defeat of the clone masters,

 

his dissolving of the corrupt government of the Old Republic and his

 

necessary disbanding of the Jedi council, which had been subverted

 

first by the clone masters then by the corrupt republic, he has

 

outlived his time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the

 

rebels are probably correct. The Emperor needs to be stopped, and a

 

new government appointed."

 

 

 

"If even a hint of what you just said makes it back to one of

 

those ships," the captain of the /Dominator/ said, "they will probably

 

self-destruct. I don't doubt for a second that Palpatine's hand in the

 

design of those ships went deeper than anyone knows."

 

 

 

"I doubt that the ship can self-destruct," Janus said, "More

 

likely the Emperor has agents aboard our vessels who could disable the

 

entire ship by punching in a predetermined code."

 

 

 

"I think it's a risk we will have to live with. Perhaps the

 

Emperor's agents have also broken free of his mental shackles."

 

 

 

"From now on we must be extra-careful," Janus warned, "and

 

sometime between now and our return home we must flush these agents

 

out. This might be the only time we have an opportunity to discuss the

 

future of our mission, the loyalties of our crew, and what we do when

 

we get home."

 

 

 

"I suspect that most of my crew will defect to the rebels at

 

the first opportunity," one captain said, "but will remain loyal until

 

then. You have kept us alive until now Admiral, and you have my faith

 

and that of my men. Many of us have served with you for years, and we

 

will trust your judgment in this matter."

 

 

 

There was a chorus of agreement. Janus nodded as if he had

 

expected no less. "Very well, the Federation must never know we

 

destroyed /Voyager/, we will continue our mission to the best of our

 

abilities. We have discovered much in this galaxy, but we have failed

 

to capture a warp-drive vessel, and our observations of the hyperspace

 

tunnel will be useful. The Federation may yet prove to be a formidable

 

foe in the future, but they will not survive for long if they do not

 

take the required steps to destroy their enemies. They walk a

 

dangerous line between respect for all life and allowing their enemies

 

to plot their destruction."

 

 

 

"They are human, and their ancestors are our ancestors.

 

Shouldn't we help them?"

 

 

 

Janus appeared to consider, then "No! They have dug their own

 

grave, if they are defeated here, then humans will live on elsewhere.

 

No doubt there are other pockets of humans surviving in the universe.

 

There is only one thing left for us to do in this galaxy, and that is

 

to test the capabilities of the species known as Borg."

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"Can they be defeated?"

 

 

 

"Everybody can be defeated. Their technology may be superior

 

to that of the Federation, and it appears that they use Force enhanced

 

drive and repair mechanisms, but nothing and nobody is impregnable."

 

 

 

"If they use Force enhanced mechanisms, how can we defeat

 

them. The Force is the ultimate power in the Universe. Nobody has ever

 

defeated a Jedi unless it was another Jedi."

 

 

 

"The Borg are not Jedi, their collective mind may give them

 

great willpower through the Force, but it appears that individual

 

drones are not capable of Force enhanced powers. Also, the powers

 

described are limited, repairing of vessels, re-animation of damaged

 

drones, and this greatly dependant on the number of minds they can

 

bring to bear, but apparently not telepathy and mind-control. Their

 

extensive reliance on cybernetic limb replacements also would cause

 

tremendous weakness in their ability to control the Force, as these

 

things are not part of the Force."

 

 

 

"That still hasn't given us a strategy to combat them."

 

 

 

"We will discuss this further on board our ships, perhaps

 

further thought will suggest a solution." Janus finished.

 

 

 

"Are our guests behaving themselves?" Sisko asked of his

 

security chief, Odo.

 

 

 

"There have been a few incidents, nothing major."

 

 

 

Sisko raised his eyebrows.

 

 

 

"The alien humans seem to have acquired a liking for Quark's

 

establishment. They do not drink heavily, but they are dangerous, for

 

humans."

 

 

 

"I don't understand." Sisko said. "Please, continue." "Three

 

of them got in a fight with three Cardassians from a passing

 

freighter. The Imperial soldiers won the fight easily."

 

 

 

Cardassians were notoriously dirty fighters, and they were

 

slightly above human baseline strength and resilience. Three ordinary

 

humans would have been badly beaten, possibly killed. Even human

 

starfleet security officers would have had a hard time in a hand to

 

hand fight with cardassians, before subduing them. Humans were not the

 

biggest, fastest or strongest species by a long shot in the galaxy.

 

 

 

"These humans fought just as dirty as the cardassians," Odo

 

said, measuring Sisko's reaction, "they would probably have killed

 

them if the fight had not been broken up. I suspect that they are used

 

to fighting to the death, and violence is not as alien to them as some

 

humans I could mention. I doubt that humans with their psychological

 

profiles would ever be allowed to leave school, let alone join

 

Starfleet."

 

 

 

"Your point." Sisko asked coolly.

 

 

 

The shape-changer's eyes narrowed, an almost calculating look.

 

"Earth humans are largely pacifist. I understand that your education

 

suppresses the ... how shall I put it ... animal in you ... the baser

 

instincts. Starfleet personnel might have subdued the cardassians, but

 

would have taken pains not to inflict extensive injuries, and would

 

certainly not have gone for the kill. Up to now I thought that was

 

just how humans are, and even admired that trait. Now I realize I was

 

mistaken. Humans are not naturally that way, your education MAKES you

 

that way."

 

 

 

"You imply we are brainwashed into becoming good citizens, not

 

to take lives, not to break the law, to respect life, no matter the

 

nature of that life. These are all positive things."

 

 

 

"Positive for a government who wants a submissive citizenry.

 

Not positive for a species fighting for their survival."

 

 

 

"No, Odo, you are mistaken," Sisko said, "Brainwashing is a

 

strong word, but the truth is so much deeper than that. We believe

 

these are the things that will ENSURE our survival. We believe that

 

you grow not through brute strength, but through adaptability, through

 

submission, through striving to preserve life."

 

 

 

"Perhaps that is so. And yet, these are the very things that

 

may destroy you. The Borg is not life to be preserved. The saddest

 

thing is that I fear your ... education system ... has done it's job

 

too well, that humans have come to believe in conformity and passivism

 

for its own sake, and not as a conscious choice by the individual. For

 

the last two hundred and fifty years your society has been declining.

 

You have improved on existing ideas, developed neater and cleaner

 

solutions to the same problems, improved your warp drives and your

 

phasers and your torpedoes, but you have not come up with one original

 

idea. There are no more radicals in human society. If Zephrim Cochrane

 

were to step into your office today, you would have him sent for re-

 

education, or commit him to a lunatic asylum."

 

 

 

Sisko was quiet for a long while. "Are you saying we have

 

given up freedom of choice?"

 

 

 

"Yes, in a way," Odo answered thoughtfully, "your Christian

 

religion argues that God created man with a freedom to choose between

 

right and wrong. Your education systems and your Starfleet have taken

 

that decision away from your people. They are CHANNELED into the right

 

decisions, not given an opportunity to choose. Come with me."

 

 

 

Odo led Sisko to a position overlooking the promenade. "Look

 

down there," he said. "On that promenade you can see every facet of

 

the so-called human psyche. People arguing, laughing, crying,

 

fighting, smiling, stealing. People engaging in illicit dealing, in

 

gambling, in prostitution, people littering, people eyeing each other

 

with greed, avarice, lust, hatred, love, joy. Not one of them are

 

Earth-human. The humans are all plastic, look at them, with their

 

empty smiles. No passion, no drive, no aggression, no envy. No

 

radicals. The only true humans I see out there are those Imperial

 

soldiers." He indicated a group of obvious Imperials drinking and

 

laughing just outside the entrance to Quark's saloon.

 

 

 

Whereas the earth-humans stood out like sore thumbs in the

 

crowd, these humans were noticeable due to the fact that they were

 

indistinguishable from any of the other alien species on the

 

promenade.

 

 

 

"People fear them, but they also respect them. People fear

 

them not because they are obviously vicious soldiers, but because of

 

what they represent in terms of the human species potential as an

 

unforgiving and vicious enemy. Those same aliens who respectfully give

 

the Imperials breathing space on the promenade, sneer and laugh behind

 

starfleets' collective backs, and plot your destruction."

 

 

 

Odo turned back to Sisko, "Your people are becoming plastic,

 

commander. One day soon, they will have lost their soul completely.

 

And that will be the end of your species."

 

 

 

It was a thoughtful Sisko that returned to his office.

 

 

 

The Imperial fleet was finally departing from the Bajor

 

system. Their shuttles were ferrying the last of their men back to

 

their ships. They still steadfastly refused to make use of the

 

transporters, whether because of religious fears or the fact that they

 

had not reduced their shields once was unknown. Their security had

 

been too tight for Odo to smuggle himself on board one of the ships,

 

their ubiquitous droids were able to sense life-forms in whatever form

 

it took, and had caused Odo much embarrassment. Sisko for one was glad

 

to see them go.

 

 

 

They had left the station none the worse for wear, and there

 

had been no serious conflict this time, but he had no doubt that the

 

Imperials had come on a fishing expedition. He had a feeling that he

 

might one day face them again, and it was a chilling thought. Despite

 

this, it was also somehow comforting to know that there were humans

 

elsewhere in the galaxy, or wherever these men had come from.

 

 

 

Janus looked out the viewscreen at the huge space station.

 

They had learnt a lot from the Federation, and not all of it positive.

 

The Emperor was said to be able to look into men's hearts, and kill

 

them with a thought. He knew that he would never survive a meeting

 

with the Emperor. Their mission had taken on a greater significance,

 

though. More than just scouting for hidden rebel bases, it was their

 

duty to discover what they could from this galaxy, and to take that

 

information back home.

 

 

 

One or another, his galaxy would have to sort out it's

 

problems soon, whether under the new Republic the rebels were fighting

 

to establish, or the Empire his fellow admirals were striving for. The

 

challenges from this galaxy would not wait for ever, and they would

 

have to be ready to face it, or it would be the end of the human race.

 

 

 

Now, they would reassemble the fleet in the galactic core, and

 

devise a strategy to face the Borg. That information might prove to be

 

the most valuable of all that they would take home.

 

 

 

"Fleet report all secure for jump, sir."

 

 

 

So all the men had returned no deserters. Janus had never

 

doubted it, his men were made of stern stuff, and they would return to

 

their homes to fight for a new future.

 

 

 

Janus acknowledged the signal, and with a flash of pseudo-

 

motion, the fleet vanished into hyperspace.

 

 

 

Sisko's mouth dropped. Next to him O'Brien said, "I told you,

 

but I've only ever experienced it from the inside."

 

 

 

"Sensors?" Sisko asked.

 

 

 

"There was a momentary space-time distortion, less than half a

 

second,then they were just ... gone." Dax reported.

 

 

 

The Imperial fleet was a hive of activity. Since the

 

reconnaissance fleet had returned to the supply depot, the

 

manufacturing facility had been worked day and night without stop. In

 

the weeks of Hyperspace travel back from Federation space Janus had

 

studied everything known about the Borg. Some of the most valuable

 

information had been derived from the recordings of Islaw's

 

discussions with O'Brien. The Starfleet engineer had spoken volumes

 

about the capabilities of the Borg, and how they the Federation had

 

been just barely survived their raids.

 

 

 

The Federation had now survived more than one raid by the

 

Borg, and each had been that much more difficult to repel. Each attack

 

had cost them dearly in ships, lives and resources. Everyone feared

 

that the next attack would be the last. The most feared ability of the

 

Borg was their adaptability. Their technology was advanced enough over

 

that of Federation vessels that they could quickly analyze an attack

 

and develop counter strategies or counter weapons. Janus didn't

 

believe though that the Borg knew everything. Their had to be a limit

 

to their technology, and a limit to their ability to adapt. Only the

 

Force was infinite. Some men worshipped a God, whom they claimed to be

 

infinite and perfect. 'Well, Janus thought, 'the Borg may be

 

technologically advanced, but they are not God, and they are not the

 

Force, therefore they can be beaten.'

 

 

 

Janus had even stooped to discuss tactics with the young

 

stormtrooper, Islaw, to see if his first hand memory of his

 

discussions with O'Brien might yield anything the recordings had not

 

revealed. They had come up with many ideas and possibilities, and

 

Janus had also made a few of his own deductions. As a result of this,

 

they had drawn up a list of tactics and battle-plans for their planned

 

encounter with the Borg. The first of these had involved the

 

manufacture of huge amounts of very basic weapons, slight

 

modifications to the battle-suits of the stormtroopers, and the

 

manufacturing of a very old weapon, which had long since been

 

forgotten by everyone in the galaxy, except for students of military

 

history like Janus.

 

 

 

One of his ship captains had expressed incredulity at the

 

idea, but all of them conceded it just might work. Seven ships would

 

go on the raid, the Imperial Star Destroyer, both Victory Star

 

Destroyers, and four of the Lancers. The security of the supply depot

 

would be left in the hands of the Dreadnaughts and the remaining

 

Lancers.

 

 

 

One of the changes Janus had ordered was a major reshuffling

 

of all personnel in the fleet. All troopers and much of the crews were

 

stripped from the ships that would remain behind. Janus expected high

 

loss of life, and he couldn't afford for anyone irreplaceable to be

 

lost this far from home. The ISD's complement of stormtroopers had

 

been raised from 5000 troops to in excess of 9000. As many of them as

 

possible were to be fitted with the modified battle-suits. The crew

 

were bolstered with crewers who had duplicated skills, so that anyone

 

who was killed could be easily replaced. The main computers' programs

 

that dealt with repelling of boarders were reviewed, and modified

 

where necessary.

 

 

 

The manufacturing center had been producing probe droids for

 

the last few days, and even the AT-AT's and AT-ST's were removed from

 

the star destroyers, along with the dropships which were used to

 

deliver them planetside, to make space for the additional crew and the

 

huge amounts of probe droids ordered. These droids had a slight

 

modification though. Most of their internal components were removed,

 

and the self-destruct charge was replaced with solar-fusion bombs.

 

Solar-fusion reactors were a popular power source in the galaxy, and

 

the ion drives on star ships were still powered by multiple solar-

 

fusion reactors. However, solar-fusion bombs had long since given way

 

to turbo-lasers, laser-cannons, ion-cannons and their ilk, as these

 

weapons were capable of much greater destruction. But turbolasers were

 

useless for what Janus had in mind.

 

 

 

Finally, Janus was satisfied that they could do no more, and

 

the fleet set out. Four Lancers were sent to scout Borg space for

 

information about stellar density and variation, and likely locations

 

of Borg worlds. They were to jump into systems for no more than a few

 

seconds before jumping out, and they were not allowed to approach to

 

within 10 minutes warp travel of any suspected Borg worlds. If they

 

detected even a hint of a warp-drive vessel approaching them they were

 

to jump away from that system.

 

 

 

The ISD and the two VSD's were going to test their new

 

variation of an old weapon on the Jem'Hadar in Dominion space about a

 

two week jump away. The fleet would re-assemble in the core in a

 

month's time, during which the manufacturing center was to complete as

 

many more of the newly ordered weapons as possible.

 

 

 

The battle fleet approached Dominion space with caution. A

 

test of their weapons ability against a typical warp-drive vessel did

 

not require a major fleet engagement, and they had no wish to risk any

 

losses before their encounter with the Borg. Their second jump brought

 

them to within 1 light year of a Dominion world identified during the

 

initial scouting of this area by the Lancers.

 

 

 

They had no fear of discovery, as Jem'Hadar (and Federation)

 

sensors were designed to detect warp-drives only this far out, and it

 

was not possible to detect a low power ion-drive emission more than a

 

few light-months away even with the most sensitive equipment. At this

 

range they could listen in to sub-space communications and get a more

 

detailed analyses of the structure of the solar system in terms of

 

planets.

 

 

 

"Sensors detect two galactic standard planets for humanoid

 

development and three gas-giants. Sub-space communications indicate

 

high probability of habitation." A tech reported needlessly. Janus

 

could see that for himself on his holo-display. At this range they

 

couldn't detect whether there were ships in orbit, unless those ships

 

were discharging their weapons.

 

 

 

"Jump to the outermost gas giant. Keep it between us and the

 

inhabited planets." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

Thirty seconds later, they arrived.

 

 

 

"Sub-space communications emanating from both planets. No

 

variance in communication intensity. It is unlikely we have been

 

detected yet. The gas-giant prohibits us from detecting any charged

 

particle emissions from impulse or ion drives. It is also not possible

 

to detect orbital ships through the planet without doing a full sensor

 

focus with active sub-space transmitters."

 

 

 

"We'll wait." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

About an hour later, they were still waiting. The three ships

 

lay quietly, all non-essential systems shut down, a hyperspace jump

 

ready programmed, in a stationary orbit on the far side of the gas-

 

giant.

 

 

 

"Space-time distortion detected. It's mobile." The technician

 

called out range and bearings as he fed the information into the

 

tactical display. The warp vessel was traveling on a path towards one

 

of the planets.

 

 

 

"Wait until he disengages his warp drive, then do a full

 

sensor focus. Keep the jump calcs up to date."

 

 

 

"Warp disengaged. Full sensor focus now. Readings indicate a

 

cruiser sized ship, multiple weapons emplacements. She is definitely a

 

warship." One of the sensor systems operators called out.

 

 

 

"Outbound sub-space communications have increased

 

significantly." Another called.

 

 

 

"/Conqueror/, execute, Now!" Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The VSD /Conqueror/ jumped to within 10,000 kilometers of the

 

position of the enemy vessel. The jump covered a distance of seven

 

light-hours in one tenth of a second. The VSD class of ships had

 

regular turbolasers only, not ion cannons, and the VSD fired two

 

'rippled broadside' of about 25 turbolaser blasts at point blank range

 

before the enemy ship responded, with their phased beam weapons. The

 

light shields of the VSD took one full blast of the phased beam

 

weapon, as it's third broadside smashed through the enemy shields,

 

searing it's hull. A fourth broadside smashed through the enemy ships

 

hull, causing a major detonation before it could fire another weapon.

 

 

 

A 'rippled broadside' called for all batteries to fire in a

 

timed sequence lasting two seconds, so that by the time the last

 

battery fired, the first had recycled, and could restart the cycle.

 

This would allow for a near continuous barrage of fire against the

 

enemy's shields with no opportunity to recharge.

 

 

 

Things had gone as planned so far. Now they would wait to see

 

how the Dominion would respond. The first attack had been a surprise,

 

but the planet side colony would transmit a call for help, along with

 

a description of the tactics used by the Imperial ship. They would

 

have no idea where it had come from, how it had arrived, or that it

 

was not alone. For all Janus knew, they would suspect a cloaking

 

device had been used.

 

 

 

No transmissions were passed between the ships, the VSD

 

/Conqueror/ knew it's orders. Had there been other ships in orbit, it

 

would have jumped away immediately after destroying the vessel. Since

 

it had not come under immediate attack, it initiated full sensor

 

jamming, and waited for thirty seconds, before initiating

 

indiscriminate orbital bombardment.

 

 

 

Sub-space communications from the planet became more frantic,

 

then sub-space jamming was also initiated. The damage inflicted by a

 

turbolaser blast on a planet's surface was tremendous. Large areas of

 

the surface would instantly have it's temperature raised by thousands

 

of degrees centigrade, the actual point of impact of the blast would

 

be subjected to energies that would result in instant deatomization. A

 

single turbolaser blast delivered energies an order of magnitude above

 

that of the fusion-bombs of a long gone age.

 

 

 

The most significant effect though was in the atmosphere of

 

the planet. The sudden explosive temperature increase would send

 

shockwaves reverberating through ground and air for thousands of

 

kilometers, the atmosphere itself igniting briefly along the path of

 

the blast. In minutes, hundred of turbolaser blasts had impacted on

 

the planet's surface, devastating several cities and outposts. The

 

dust-clouds already raised into the atmosphere would initiate the

 

equivalent of a nuclear winter, most likely devastating the planets

 

ecological structure if it had any. The atmosphere itself might

 

already be rendered un-breathable for hundreds of years due to dust

 

molecules and metallic oxides.

 

 

 

A Jem'Hadar vessel which must have been on the surface on the

 

far side of the planet came powering around the horizon in a low

 

orbit, it's impulse engines on full power. The VSD had barely spotted

 

the attacker, before it launched a brace of seven torpedoes. At this

 

range the Star Destroyer had no time to attempt to evade or target the

 

torpedoes. All seven torpedoes impacted on the starboard shields,

 

which had already been weakened by the earlier hit of the beam weapon.

 

 

 

The VSD's turbolaser batteries fought to re-align themselves

 

to the fast-moving Jem'Hadar ship. Just as the turbolaser batteries

 

began bracketing the ship, it launched another seven torpedoes at

 

point-blank range, and escaped to warp. The VSD took the torpedoes

 

head on, while the Jem'Hadar vessel veered away at several times the

 

speed of light, streaking clear of the planet's gravitational field.

 

The VSD was still under way, and this was apparently the moment it was

 

waiting for.

 

 

 

Anyone capable of watching this duel would have seen a long

 

ribbon streak of light extending several million kilometers away from

 

the planet. A wedge shaped spacecraft left trailing at it's tail end,

 

with several fires visible at it's front end, precious atmosphere

 

boiling away into the vacuum. Yet, the wedge shape was still intact.

 

At the head of the ribbon of movement, a large orange ball appeared,

 

and another, and yet another, as several solar-fusion bombs detonated,

 

none further than 1 kilometer from the head of the streaking-ribbon,

 

several much closer than one hundred meters. The ribbon-streak

 

disappeared, and a once sleek warship crept clear of the devastation

 

left by the orange balls of fire, it's warp nacelles scorched and

 

blackened, leaving twin trails of bright blue sparking flame, it's

 

hull now also marred by the sight of boiling gases. Another orange

 

ball of flame appeared, and this time one would have sworn it's center

 

was the location of the sleek warship. When the flame cleared, only

 

wreckage remained.

 

 

 

"VSD /Conqueror/ reporting. Enemy destroyed. The experiment

 

was successful."

 

 

 

A livid Janus slammed his fist into the armrest. "Jump to the

 

/Conqueror/'s position; /Vanquisher/ to proceed with orbital

 

bombardment, watch for more incoming warships."

 

 

 

The two Star Destroyers jumped to the /Conqueror/'s position.

 

The /Vanquisher/ immediately resumed the orbital bombardment of the

 

planet, while Janus ordered his helmsman to take him on a course

 

around the /Conqueror/ so that he could survey the damage.

 

 

 

"/Conqueror/. Why did you not jump away when surprised? There

 

was no need to engage the enemy under these conditions."

 

 

 

"Admiral. We didn't have the time, their attack caught us by

 

surprise. Their weapons were also much more powerful than we

 

expected."

 

 

 

Under any other circumstances, Janus would have had the man

 

executed on the spot. But that brutal Janus was no longer around.

 

 

 

"Comprehensive damage report." He ordered resignedly. The

 

captain was visibly relieved. No doubt, he had expected worse from

 

Janus. He was still alive, but didn't doubt that Janus would find

 

another way to punish him.

 

 

 

Janus listened to the incoming report of the damage to the

 

Victory-class destroyer, while looking at the magnified view of the

 

ship as filmed by his external cameras. All starboard shield

 

generators had overloaded under the first salvo, and the external hull

 

had been breached in three places. The torpedoes had smashed through

 

four meters of neutronium re-enforced hull, and stripped off all

 

external sensors on the starboard hull of the destroyer. The second

 

salvo of torpedoes had smashed down the forward shields, one of the

 

torpedoes had impacted on the exposed starboard hull, and two had

 

impacted on the dorsal hull. The ship reported 40% weapons capability

 

on the starboard hull, and 0% sensor capability. The dorsal hull had

 

one breach and one deep gouge, and had been reduced to 70% weapons

 

capability, and 65% sensor capability. The rest of the ship was still

 

close to 100% efficiency. The forward shield generators were down to

 

60% efficiency, and there no working shield generators on the

 

starboard side.

 

 

 

The ship's interior bulkheads and hatchways had sealed off the

 

damaged compartments, the damage having penetrated through to the

 

second ring of decks in many places on the starboard side. Fortunately

 

the hangar areas beneath the ship had escaped damage, and this was

 

where the bulk of the stormtrooper complement had been bunked in. Even

 

so, more than eight hundred lives had been lost on the star destroyer,

 

which constituted virtually the entire starboard weapons crews. From

 

outside, it looked like a space slug had been gnawing at the starboard

 

hull. Janus could picture the destruction inside those starboard

 

decks.

 

 

 

Even though the VSD was still spaceworthy, due to it's battle-

 

hardened design, it would not survive another battle.

 

 

 

"Distortion field detected," a technician called.

 

 

 

"ETA?" Janus enquired.

 

 

 

"Twenty three minutes, Admiral."

 

 

 

That was quick, Janus thought. He would have expected five or

 

six warships to be within a day's warp, but that ship must have been

 

less than two light-years away.

 

 

 

"/Vanquisher/?"

 

 

 

"There are no more detectable settlements on the surface of

 

this planet. Average atmospheric temperature has been raised to two

 

hundred and twenty degrees by bombardment."

 

 

 

"We have done enough, let the clones try and figure out what

 

happened here. Prepare a jump back to the supply depot."

 

 

 

Seconds later, the three ships vanished, leaving a burning

 

planet behind them, and the wreckage of two Jem'Hadar warships. Their

 

experiment had been successful, but at a cost.

 

 

 

When the three Destroyers arrived at the supply depot, the

 

Lancers had already returned. The information they had was just what

 

Janus was looking for. Close to the edge of Borg space was a cluster

 

of about a thousand stars where the stellar density reduced the

 

average distance between stars to about one and half light years. The

 

Borg were expanding ever more slowly, their empire was more than ten

 

thousand light years across now, and they were consuming world after

 

world as they expanded. The sheer quantity of worlds to consume was

 

slowing their expansion down, as they descended upon planet after

 

planet, converting them entirely into production houses for yet more

 

drones, mining them for the minerals their expansion drive required,

 

devouring the resources of system after system, paying scant regard to

 

prior habitability of worlds, interested only in mineral and energy

 

resources.

 

 

 

In the cluster which interested Janus, there were at least two

 

hundred worlds identified through their sub-space transmissions. The

 

transmissions were all almost certainly generated by computer systems

 

communicating with computers on remote planets. Borg drones had no

 

need for such communication devices themselves. Littered throughout

 

these worlds were also sensor equipment. These were not the passive

 

kind used by most ships. The sensors were actively and almost

 

mindlessly broadcasting their positions into space, but also totally

 

negating the chance of any ships slipping stealthily through their

 

sphere of influence.

 

 

 

Janus ordered the /Conqueror/ to stand down and repair

 

whatever damage they could without shipyard facilities. The

 

/Annihilator/ and the /Vanquisher/ would proceed alone on the next

 

mission, taking four Lancers as scouts. They jumped to a point about

 

one hundred light years outside the cluster, where the new security

 

measures were implemented.

 

 

 

The Star Destroyer's defenses against boarders were designed

 

around incursions via the hull or hangars, but with an enemy that made

 

liberal use of matter transporters, boarders could appear anywhere. As

 

a result, the stormtroopers were distributed through-out the ship, in

 

teams of three or four. All major passageways and hallways were

 

assigned two-man portable laser-cannon crews, who set up overlapping

 

fields of fire. The newly promoted lieutenant Jax was given a double

 

company of ninety men with which to defend the engine room. Captain

 

Islaw also had a hundred men on the bridge, and a further four hundred

 

in all the approaches to the bridge, and guarding the vital systems

 

associated with continuous bridge operation.

 

 

 

Having deployed his men, Islaw stepped up to Janus to report

 

his readiness. The only visible changes to his battle-suit were

 

thicker fore-arm guards and shin-guards. He carried his blaster rifle

 

still, but strapped over his shoulders was a double bandolier of

 

thermal detonators with spare power cartridges for the rifle, on his

 

side was a huge jagged-edged dagger with a durasteel blade and a grip

 

designed to be held in gauntleted hands. On his back was a weapon that

 

had never been associated with a stormtrooper before, a solid steel

 

double-headed battle-axe.

 

 

 

Janus and all of the bridge crew were themselves clad in

 

armour, and many had blasters and knives strapped to their sides.

 

Islaw experimentally made a fist with his left hand, and a nine inch

 

blade extended from the fore-arm guard. There were similar blades in

 

the shin guards which extended when the knee was raised, and of course

 

one in the right fore-arm guard.

 

 

 

Janus nodded approval. His theory was that the Borg would

 

adapt to any ranged weapon, especially high-powered weapons, very

 

quickly. However, the fact that humanoids and androids with sufficient

 

strength could tackle them directly, and that the Borg themselves had

 

to interact with their environment, implied that low order weapons

 

requiring physical contact would be the key factor. He suspected that

 

if they used kinetic energy shields or deflector shields, these would

 

have an inverse squared relationship to the kinetic energy of the

 

weapon being used, so low order weapons at relatively low speeds would

 

penetrate the shields, but high energy weapons, or particles traveling

 

at relatively high velocities would be repelled.

 

 

 

This was assuming the Borg would be able to transport through

 

their shields, their jamming, and several meters of neutronium hulls

 

and bulkheads.

 

 

 

The probe droids were his second gamble. Janus had noticed

 

that races which had not developed hyperspace drives, despite having

 

an obvious defense to it, had no concept of hyperspace weaponry. The

 

solar-fusion explosions which had destroyed the Jem'Hadar vessel had

 

in fact been self-destructing probe droids, which had been programmed

 

to jump directly to the location of the warping enemy vessel, in a

 

dispersal pattern designed to negate any margin of error in the

 

predicted position of the target.

 

 

 

Many probes had jumped to positions which would have given the

 

enemy vessel less than one hundredth of a second to react, even if

 

they detected the cloaked droid in time, and detonated nearly on top

 

of the vessel. The combined effect of the multitude of exploding

 

solar-fusion bombs in very close proximity to the space-time

 

distortion field would be enough to destroy it's warp engines, if not

 

the ship entirely. Of course, the ultimate goal, which was more likely

 

to occur with a vessel NOT at warp, was for the vessels own gravity

 

generators to yank the probe out of hyperspace inside the vessel, as

 

the hyperspace probe passed through it's hull into the area of effect

 

of the gravity shields. No starship would be able to withstand a

 

several hundred megaton explosion inside it's hull.

 

 

 

The reason this tactic had long ago been abandoned in their

 

home galaxy was simple. Everybody knew about hyperspace, and the

 

dangers of hyperspace weapons. So all ships used gravity generators

 

which could sustain a sufficient gravity field well beyond their own

 

defensive shields, and so yank hyperspace weapons into real-space in a

 

place where the effects would not be as disastrous. Any starship's

 

shields could withstand a solar-fusion detonation OUTSIDE it's

 

shields. And of course, in hyperspace you were safe from even such

 

weapons.

 

 

 

Janus had heard that the Emperor was even designing ships

 

which could project gravity fields far enough away from themselves

 

that they could be used to trap entire fleets in real space. It was

 

the first offensive use of gravity fields of which he was aware. Such

 

a weapon would be devastating indeed.

 

 

 

Janus glanced around him for the last time, at the troopers

 

with their space-engineered medieval weapons, at the armour clad

 

technicians.

 

 

 

"Remember, if any crew are injected or assimilated, shoot them

 

first. Prepare for jump."

 

 

 

The Imperial fleet had by now perfected their approach into

 

unfamiliar systems. The fleet would jump to within one light year or

 

even closer to the system, only seconds away via hyperspace. Two

 

Lancers would immediately do a jump into the system, staying clear of

 

planets and other potential hazards. At this range they would even

 

detect ships lying nearly dead, with minimum engine emissions. The

 

Lancers would transmit their sensor data back to the destroyers, and

 

immediately jump to a predetermined assembly point one hundred to two

 

hundred light years away. The star destroyers would then jump directly

 

to attack points indicated by Janus. The entire procedure from the

 

first arrival outside the system to the destroyers opening fire on

 

their targets would take anywhere from thirty seconds to ninety

 

seconds.

 

 

 

Passive scanning would stand a 62% chance of detecting the low

 

energy emissions from the Lancers at that range, but the Borg's active

 

scanners would detect them immediately. The Lancers would only be in-

 

system for five or ten seconds, and were under strict orders not to

 

engage any targets. If the sensor scan was unsuccessful the mission

 

was aborted, and all ships would jump to the safe point. With these

 

tactics, the enemy would have about a minute's warning of an attack,

 

but no idea where exactly it would come, and what the nature of the

 

attack would be.

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Janus repeated this tactic several times by two of the

 

Lancers, in a region about four thousand light-years from the cluster

 

he had selected earlier. Each time, they waited to see what the Borg

 

response would be, then left to target another system without engaging

 

the enemy. At first, the Borg showed no interest whatsoever. Then,

 

apparently intrigued by the cloaking mechanism or by the speed and

 

nature of the drive mechanism employed, the Borg started reacting.

 

Whenever a Lancer jumped into a system, immediately a Borg cube would

 

head towards the system. The Lancers always jumped away without

 

engaging the enemy. Now, as Borg curiosity increased, they gathered

 

more and more cubes in the area being scouted.

 

 

 

The Borg were now trying to predict which systems would be

 

scouted next, and cubes were converging on these systems in ever

 

greater numbers. The fastest cubes tracked were doing in excess of ten

 

thousand times the speed of light, faster than any warp vessel

 

previously observed. The Lancers were not allowing the cubes to get

 

too close to them, so no direct scans were available yet of a cube's

 

sensory profile.

 

 

 

"Decoy team to next diversion point." Janus ordered, via

 

hyperlink.

 

 

 

Four thousand light-years away the Lancers ceased their

 

scouting, and initiated a three thousand light-year jump. The jump

 

would take them about 24 hours. The destroyer's remained on alert,

 

they were barely two hundred light years from Borg space, although

 

presumably the Borg were otherwise occupied. The stormtroopers changed

 

shifts, four hours on guard against unexpected boarders, and eight

 

hours rest.

 

 

 

The second diversion began. The Borg showed interest

 

immediately, with cubes converging on all systems in that area. Twice

 

the Lancers were nearly caught when entering systems where multiple

 

Borg cubes were already on Patrol. Janus prayed that the Borg would

 

only concentrate on the areas where the scouting was taking place,

 

draining cubes from remote sectors of Borg space to increase their

 

patrol densities in the areas being scouted.

 

 

 

The diversions were continued for another two days, all at

 

points many thousands of light years away from the two Star

 

Destroyers. Each time, the scouting would begin with near impunity,

 

then as time went by, more cubes would descend on the area, increasing

 

the risk of the Lancers jumping into a trap they could not extract

 

themselves from.

 

 

 

"Initiate diversionary phase two." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The Lancers now jumped back to the sector they had originally

 

scouted. Janus wanted to see what measures had been taken in those

 

sectors, and if the cubes were still on patrol there now that several

 

days had passed. The first system the Lancers jumped into must have

 

had in excess of 30 cubes patrolling it, with more coming in at high

 

warp factors. The Lancers jumped out immediately, having given the

 

Borg only seconds to react. The second system, about 20 light years

 

away, was the same. Janus ordered the two Lancers to stand down and

 

return to base.

 

 

 

They had discovered enough, the Borg were now expecting

 

something to happen in those sectors, or were hoping to trap the

 

elusive scouts. Hopefully, they had drained enough cubes from other

 

sectors to increase the chances of Janus' raid succeeding.

 

 

 

"All hands, alert status one." Janus ordered he hesitated

 

slightly, then uttered the words rarely used the in their galaxy these

 

days, "May the Force be with you." The fleet jumped.

 

 

 

The fleet exited hyperspace on the fringes of their targeted

 

system, the two remaining Lancers ahead and slightly inside the

 

system. A quick scan, and the destroyers made a short jump directly to

 

within four planetary diameters of the Borg world in that system.

 

Without preamble, the destroyers initiated full sensor jamming and

 

full sub-space jamming, and opened fire on the world below.

 

 

 

The two Destroyers were both using 'ripple broadsides', and

 

they synchronized their fire so that they targeted the same point on

 

the planet below. On any undefended planet, the devastation would have

 

been enormous, with the crust at the impact point being completely

 

blown away, and shockwaves and earthquakes reverberating around the

 

planet.

 

Several minutes of sustained fire of this nature would destroy

 

the entire planet, with only the recently completed Death Star capable

 

of destroying a planet in significantly less time, in a single blast

 

if Janus last intelligence brief two years ago had been correct.

 

 

 

However, the Borg were not defenseless. The atmosphere around

 

the target point exploded away from the energies released, and the

 

first few buildings exploded with devastating effect, but as the

 

target area shifted from one point to another on the planet, it took

 

more blasts to destroy the targeted buildings. The damage to the

 

planet inflicted during the initial barrage was the telling factor

 

though, and the earthquakes and resultant holes in the planetary

 

defenses were taking their toll on the Borg buildings.

 

 

 

The two Star Destroyers vectored along diverging paths around

 

the planet, blowing away the last traces of Borg infestation, and

 

continuing their bombardment for several minutes afterwards, until

 

more than half the atmosphere had boiled away into space, and vast

 

tracts of the planet's surface had been turned to molten slag.

 

 

 

"Sensors?"

 

 

 

"No incoming ships detected yet, Admiral."

 

 

 

"We'll wait." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

Several minutes went by, before the alert came. "Single warp

 

field detected, range, 0.7 light years, ETA, 16 minutes."

 

 

 

"/Vanquisher/, take up station on the far side of the star.

 

We'll call you in via sub-space."

 

 

 

The VSD vanished into hyperspace, and reappeared almost

 

instantaneously on Janus tactical display on the far side of the star.

 

 

 

"Initiate sub-space jamming the moment they enter the system,

 

recalculate the jump to the assembly point and prepare to execute on

 

my order."

 

 

 

On Janus display, the cube looked like an arrow streaking

 

directly towards them. Janus kept his finger close to the jump

 

indicator on his armrest, ready to give the signal should anything

 

unexpected happen. When the warp ship was only two seconds away, the

 

warp drive disengaged, but the cube kept on coming straight at them at

 

sub-light speeds, with no indication of any drive mechanism.

 

 

 

"They're attempting to burn through our sensor jamming." A

 

tech called.

 

 

 

"Enemy vessel closing range."

 

 

 

"Open fire, all batteries," Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The Borg cube made no attempt at evasion, heading straight for

 

the Destroyer. The turbolaser blasts smashed into it's shields, and

 

still the cube came straight towards them.

 

 

 

"Enemy burning through sensor-jamming." Somebody called out.

 

 

 

"Their shields are failing." Somebody else called.

 

 

 

On the tactical display, Janus saw the representation of the

 

cube rupture in several places. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a

 

flash of red energy on the bridge.

 

 

 

"Keep firing until it is destroyed." He ordered.

 

 

 

He glanced to the left, where a large humanoid shape had

 

appeared, with many obvious cybernetic replacements. The drone stepped

 

towards a control panel and bent over to inspect it, the drone didn't

 

even look his way, as Islaw put his blaster rifle's muzzle virtually

 

right against it's head and opened fire. Bits of flesh splattered

 

away, and the drone staggered. It's one good eye was totally blown

 

away, and behind it was what looked like a durasteel plate protecting

 

it's brain. Islaw fired several more times directly into the fleshy

 

parts of it's skull and abdomen.

 

 

 

"Cube destroyed. Two more detected coming in, ETA eight

 

minutes."

 

 

 

The drone finally toppled over, the damage taking it's toll.

 

Many cybernetic components lay exposed and sparking, the flesh

 

surrounding them burnt away, bits of skin boiling on the deck beside

 

it. A construction droid stationed on the deck for this purpose rushed

 

over and went to work on the drone with industrial strength cutting

 

lasers and vibro-blades.

 

 

 

"Report."

 

 

 

"Eight drones boarded the ship. One on the bridge, seven in

 

engineering. All have been destroyed. The drones were susceptible to

 

blaster fire at point-blank range, and made no attempt to defend

 

themselves."

 

 

 

"ETA on the other two cubes?"

 

 

 

"Five minutes, sir."

 

 

 

"Recalc the jump to the assembly point every two minutes, keep

 

the results ready in the computers. Tractor launch eight probes, and

 

get ready to initiate hyperspace attack ,on my command only. Designate

 

cubes C1 and C2."

 

 

 

The crew watched the displays intently. To his left Janus was

 

aware of the construction droid loading the chunks of the drone onto a

 

repulsor sled.

 

 

 

"Keep some of those limbs for analyses, have the rest

 

tractored into space and destroyed by the laser cannons."

 

 

 

The droid beeped an acknowledgement, and handed the sled over

 

to a maintenance droid for disposal as the bridge crew readied for

 

their next battle.

 

 

 

 

 

The turbolaser batteries opened fire. This time the fire was

 

split between the two cubes.

 

 

 

"Their shields are holding under the turbolaser fire. Cubes

 

are closing range, imminent sensor jam override."

 

 

 

"Ripple broadsides, C1, /Vanquisher/ to engage C2, concentrate

 

fire."

 

 

 

All turbolaser batteries switched their fire to one cube, the

 

/Vanquisher/ jumped in and opened fire on the second cube from it's

 

'flank'.

 

 

 

To Janus' surprise, the tactic worked, the cubes' shield

 

energy apparently having been focused forward, and several turbolaser

 

blasts smashed through the hull of the cube. The cube changed course

 

slightly, heading now towards the /Vanquisher/. It's damaged hull was

 

actually slowly closing where the turbolasers had penetrated, and it's

 

shields had now been refocused along the vector of the VSD's attack.

 

The damage must have taken it's toll however, and the shields soon

 

buckled, allowing the turbolaser blasts to smash into the cube,

 

atomizing huge chunks of the hull material, and no doubt destroying

 

several drones inside.

 

 

 

The cube designated C2 was still holding against the ISD's

 

fire, but Janus could see that an entire section of the cube behind

 

the shields was glowing red, an indicator that some energy was seeping

 

through. Before much could be made of this though, the cube rotated,

 

presenting a different face to the ISD, and still coming closer.

 

 

 

"They've burnt through our jamming. They're trying to lock a

 

tractor beam on the ship."

 

 

 

"Full forward thrust, vector 30 degrees ventral relative to

 

cube."

 

 

 

The ISD's engines and weapons batteries were on separate power

 

circuits, so this did not affect the energies being unleashed by the

 

turbolaser batteries, now being supplemented by the ion cannons and

 

even a few of the larger laser cannons. The wedge-shaped destroyer was

 

heading for a potion 'below' the cube, with all guns on the upper deck

 

able to bear. Janus was surprised to see several of the point-defense

 

laser cannons scoring hits on the cube's hull. The turbolasers fired

 

superheated plasma in a pulse which imparted tremendous kinetic energy

 

as well, and this was delivered in high-powered laser beams, though

 

the lasers themselves were the least significant component of the

 

weapon, merely a delivery mechanism. Apparently the combination of

 

weapons were having a draining effect on the shield.

 

 

 

Janus was aware of pyrotechnics and movement on the bridge

 

around him, but that was Islaw's problem. He concentrated on the

 

tactical display.

 

 

 

"We have broken tractor lock, but they are now using the same

 

weapon to rake our shields, and shield energy is dropping sharply."

 

 

 

"Rotate the ship through 180 degrees, warn all ventral

 

gunners, we will take the energy loss on the ventral shields."

 

 

 

The Destroyers shields were on several separate circuits, and

 

a loss of energy to one side's shields could be off-set by presenting

 

a different face to the enemy. By this time, the /Vanquisher/ was

 

joining in on the attack, firing at the cube along a separate angle.

 

 

 

The cube attempted to remodulate it's shields to accommodate

 

the laser-cannons as well as the plasma and ion-cannons, to slow down

 

the rate at which it was taking damage from the laser cannons. Whether

 

as a result of this, or the sheer energy being unleashed on the cube

 

from two separate angles, one or two ion-cannon blasts smashed through

 

the shields. The kinetic energy of the ion-cannons at this range was

 

sufficient to structurally damage the hull, but whatever other effect

 

it had was unknown.

 

 

 

"Ventral shields down to 15%. Shield generators beginning to

 

overload."

 

 

 

"Rotate ship through 90 degrees. Bring us around 15 points to

 

starboard." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The load on the shields was now taken by the starboard

 

shields, and the cube was now on their right hand side. At this angle,

 

fewer weapons could bear, since the entire port side of the ship was

 

out of line of sight of the cube.

 

 

 

The entire engagement so far had lasted a total of forty two

 

seconds. The damage to the cube was finally beginning to overcome it's

 

ability to repair itself, many sections of it's hull were glowing red,

 

and there were two hull breaches that Janus could see, although both

 

were visibly closing.

 

 

 

"They have shut off their tractor weapon."

 

 

 

For a second their shields still held, then even as Janus was

 

ordering the ship onto a new vector to bring more turrets into the

 

fight the shields of the cube buckled, and the cube was shattered by

 

hundreds of near simultaneous turbolaser blasts from the two

 

destroyers. The cube's shields had absorbed 40% more punishment than

 

an ISD's shields could, but once the shields were down, it's ability

 

to absorb punishment was hardly comparable.

 

 

 

"Five contacts incoming, ETA six minutes to the first one,

 

nine minutes to the last."

 

 

 

"Take us out of here." Janus ordered. The ship jumped.

 

 

 

The newly promoted lieutenant Jax was not comfortable with his

 

new promotion. A soldier of his renowned capability could have

 

advanced up the ranks years ago, but as you moved up the ranks, you

 

got more exposure to the kind of people Jax preferred avoiding. He had

 

made a mental note to find a way to be busted down to corporal again.

 

Jax was an uncommonly good soldier, and his comrades knew it. Even

 

that cold bastard Islaw trusted his judgment. Ever since it had been

 

known that they were going up against the Borg Jax had been working

 

nights. He had graduated from the stormtrooper military academy in the

 

days when swords had still been used as ceremonial weapons. No light-

 

sabers for ordinary soldiers, but enough hand to hand combat and

 

training in primitive weapons to accommodate virtually any situation.

 

 

 

Jax had been one of the sought after veterans, as for months

 

they had been teaching techniques and control of the new weapons to

 

the younger soldiers, who knew a lot about dirty fighting with knives

 

and all sorts of weapons, but had never been properly trained with

 

them as Jax had. So he had thrown himself into his new role with

 

gusto, as the proficiency of his men was what would keep him alive. He

 

had organized the set-up of a number of mounted repeating-fire laser-

 

cannons with overlapping fields of fire in the extensive engine rooms

 

and engineering bays of the ship. All sensitive equipment had been

 

paneled over with an additional thirty centimeters of durasteel for

 

protection.

 

 

 

Nobody had ever envisaged having a firefight in engineering,

 

and his men had been lectured about the careless use of their weapons.

 

He had ensured that all troops had their thermal detonators set to low

 

yield, so that they would release enough energy to incinerate one man

 

and all his equipment, but not blow up the entire engineering section.

 

The thermal detonators were only to be used as a last resort.

 

 

 

In the first attack, seven drones had beamed into his section.

 

One had had his head blown off by a nearby trooper. The others had

 

immediately activated a personal body shield which prevented the

 

blaster bolts from hitting their bodies directly, but didn't stop them

 

from being staggered by the impact. A blaster rifle at close range was

 

a devastating weapon, but couldn't penetrate the shields. The six

 

drones had had to be destroyed by more direct means.

 

Jax had killed one with an axe. Where the blaster bolts

 

impacted on it's shields, the axe had gone clean through on the first

 

swing and embedded itself in the drone's abdomen. The axe was no

 

ordinary axe either. It had a reinforced steel shaft, with a grip

 

designed for a gauntleted hand at the bottom, and a double-headed

 

durasteel head. The cutting edges of the blades were sharpened down to

 

the atomic level, and the edge reinforced with a few proton's

 

thickness worth of neutronium. The stormtroopers were big men all, and

 

chosen as much for their strength as anything else. Yet, it took a

 

double-handed effort by Jax to wield the weapon. A second swing to

 

the neck had toppled the droid, whereupon a construction droid went to

 

work dismembering it.

 

 

 

The other five drones had all been dropped by axe blows to

 

various parts of their exposed anatomy. It helped that the drones

 

seemed totally oblivious to their attackers, and concentrated solely

 

on trying to get at the engines and computer displays spread around

 

the room. One drone had taken several blows to its back and head, with

 

long strips of scalp hanging loose, yet it kept going. The trooper had

 

dropped his axe, casually stepped up behind the drone and slapped a

 

thermal detonator against it's back. Everybody in the vicinity had

 

dived for cover, and the drone had been blown half way across the

 

room. What was left was mostly red-hot cybernetic exoskeleton, with

 

bits and pieces of charred flesh sticking to it.

 

 

 

The construction droids had barely had enough time to clear

 

the large room, when Jax's suit warned him of multiple target locks in

 

the room. Nine drones had appeared this time. Five of them went for

 

the engine room controls, four turned to engage the stormtroopers. The

 

four drones took multiple hits from the defensively mounted laser-

 

cannons, three of them being knocked to the floor by the impact, but

 

apparently unharmed otherwise.

 

 

 

A horde of stormtroopers had descended on them with knives,

 

axes, sharpened lances, vibroblades and industrial cutters. The fourth

 

had stabbed a fist-mounted needle into one trooper, who was jerking

 

spasmodically on the end of the needle. Jax shot the troopers head

 

off, and before the drone could disengage the trooper from it's

 

needle, he stepped up and shot the drone at point-blank range in it's

 

one good eye. At that range, he had apparently bypassed the shields,

 

and the drone's skull split apart. It's brain was blown half-way

 

across the room, still encased in it's protective metal cage.

 

 

 

Jax quickly gave orders, and a number of troopers charged

 

forward to place thermal detonators on the backs of the remaining five

 

drones. The three who had been knocked to the floor had been hacked to

 

pieces, cybernetic limbs still twitching. Besides the stormtrooper Jax

 

had killed, there two others lying on the floor, both nearly blown in

 

half by their comrades after being injected in the melee.

 

 

 

Seconds later, the ship jumped to hyperspace.

 

 

 

The fleet lay quietly at the assembly point, as the Imperials

 

considered their next move. They did not have much time, as no doubt

 

thousands of cubes were heading towards the cluster where the attack

 

had taken place. Janus was taking reports from techs assigned to

 

analyze various aspects of their engagement.

 

 

 

"Eighty four dead stormtroopers, over two hundred drones

 

destroyed. All shield generators have been repaired, shields recharged

 

and at maximum strength. No hull damage to either ship. Apparently the

 

Borg have no offensive weapons, except for tractoring the ship and

 

dismembering it with their industrial lasers. Their tactics are not

 

designed around attack, but merely defending themselves while they

 

assimilate you. One danger recognized was the possibility that we

 

might not be able to escape to hyperspace if the ship is under full

 

tractor lock. This will only occur if the tractor beams power exceeds

 

that of a significantly sized planet's mass. No proton torpedoes were

 

used, and no hyperspace launched fusion bombs, so those tactics remain

 

open to use. The ship is ready for the next assignment."

 

 

 

Janus glanced around the bridge. Several stations had to be

 

repaired after being hit by stray fire, or melted due to thermal

 

detonations. The maintenance droids were busily wiping up bits and

 

pieces that Janus refused to identify, and their were stormtroopers

 

everywhere, many of them with battle-suits stained with blood and

 

gore.

 

 

 

"The medical droids report that the Borg make use of an

 

extensive array of neural implants to suppress undesired brain

 

activity and assist in plugging the drone into the collective mind.

 

The implants communicate in a language akin to computer transmissions

 

at sub-space frequencies. We have re-tuned some of our jamming

 

equipment to jam these frequencies. The jamming range is very short,

 

and it is unlikely to affect incoming cubes. The hoped for result is

 

that any drones who are beamed aboard will be cut off from the

 

collective. We have also determined that their cybernetic limb

 

technology is not so vastly different from some of the technology

 

employed in modern droids like assassins and security guards. As a

 

result we have modified a number of restraining bolts, and removed

 

their safeties. These should disable or at least interfere with their

 

cybernetic components."

 

 

 

Another tech reported. "The stormtroopers have received

 

updates on the autopsies done on the drones, and we have identified

 

one or two weaknesses common to a number of the drones." He finished.

 

 

 

Restraining bolts worked by generating a small stasis field

 

which shut down electrical and optical circuits in a range of about

 

30cm. This effectively shut down any electrical and optical circuits

 

and disabled the droid. Attempts to overpower the stasis field could

 

result in severe damage to the affected circuits, which droids were

 

programmed to interpreted as 'pain'. The safeties were designed to

 

keep circuit damage to a minimum so that expensive droids weren't

 

destroyed in the process. The safeties could also be used to allow

 

activity in some circuits, and not others, at the risk of 'pain' to

 

the droid. Without safeties, any attempt to overpower the stasis field

 

would result in severe damage.

 

 

 

The last tech delivered his report. "The adaptability of the

 

Borg so far has been impressive, but within reason. They were able to

 

counter much of our tactics without visible modification to their

 

ships or drones. This is bound to change, as new ships are refitted or

 

drones modified. Their planetary defenses will also be improved

 

significantly. They also modified their drone tactics significantly

 

once they realized their vulnerability to physical attack. Most likely

 

their personal defenses will be upgraded, whether by aggressive

 

tactics like assigning drones to engage the troopers directly, or

 

better personal shielding is unclear. Their main motive is

 

assimilation, not conquest, so it is likely they will just upgrade

 

their personal shielding."

 

 

 

Janus had picked a system with a particularly unstable star as

 

their next target. "Reports noted. Jump." He ordered.

 

 

 

"Sir, if I may ask a question?" Janus nodded to the officer,

 

"Why another raid on the Borg?"

 

 

 

"Three reasons, we want to find out the limit of Borg

 

defensive technologies, we want to find the limits of their

 

adaptability, and we want to experiment with weapon designs and

 

tactics should we ever go up against a similar enemy. There is one

 

more reason, but it is not an official one. Any damage we do, the loss

 

of a planet here or there, will be insignificant to the Borg, but it

 

may cause them to exercise greater caution, or at least put a greater

 

strain on their resource base in terms of defensive measures. It may

 

even be that we are able to determine an inherent weakness. I have yet

 

to decide on whether to inform the Federation humans of any

 

discoveries we make."

 

 

 

"Why would we bother to inform them?" The officer blinked.

 

 

 

"They are human, and I do feel some species loyalty to them,

 

even if it may be that one day they could be our enemy."

 

 

 

"What if they ever discover that we destroyed one of their

 

starships?"

 

 

 

"I don't see how they could, the /Voyager/ was totally

 

destroyed, in a deserted region of space, and we're the only one's who

 

know about it. Also, what is strange is that the Voyager was reported

 

missing in action many years ago according to the library files our

 

droids downloaded. Perhaps they had no idea it was in that region of

 

the galaxy."

 

 

 

"Approaching jump co-ordinates - preparing to disengage

 

hyperdrive."

 

 

 

The crew was already at battle-stations, even though they were

 

not jumping directly into the system. The Lancers immediately jumped

 

out again, with no further prompting required. The Destroyers sensors

 

could detect three cubes already heading to this system, their ETA and

 

incoming vectors displayed on the edge of the representation of the

 

solar system on the holographic display. Less than a second later the

 

tactical display started flickering as data came pouring in from the

 

Lancers via sub-space. There were two Borg planets in the system, and

 

1 cube, which was already approaching the Lancers. The Lancers jumped

 

out.

 

 

 

"Designate cubes C1 through C4, by ETA. Pincer jump C1.

 

Execute."

 

 

 

Both Destroyers jumped directly towards the projected position

 

of the cube, using co-ordinates that would hopefully bring them to

 

within half a million km of the cube. The jump barely registered, it

 

was just a flicker of motion. The cube was within a hundred thousand

 

kilometers of it's projected position, which did not surprise anyone.

 

Barely two seconds had gone by since the Lancers jumped. The

 

destroyers immediately opened fire, pinning the cube between them. The

 

cube didn't even hesitate, it just changed course directly towards the

 

Imperial Star Destroyer, the larger and more powerful of the two

 

destroyers.

 

 

 

The Destroyers were jamming all frequencies, sensors and

 

communications, including sub-space. This was standard procedure, even

 

though they had no idea whether it had any effect on the Borg. The

 

cube totally ignored the incoming turbolaser and ion cannons,

 

approaching to within range of even the laser-cannons.

 

 

 

"Dorsal shields experiencing power loss, they are using

 

continuous beam laser weapons as well, this time."

 

 

 

Janus ordered course changes, rolling the big Destroyer like a

 

starfighter to give his non-facing shields time to recharge. The

 

laser's energy approached that of a turbolaser cannon, and each time

 

the laser raked the fast accelerating and rolling ship it caused a

 

significant drop to the shields it intersected. The cube was using a

 

second laser on the VSD, but it's tractor beams were totally focused

 

on trying to get a lock on the ISD, which was more than 50% longer

 

than the cube, and hardly less massive. Janus was also having his tie

 

fighters and scimitar bombers tractor launched, and they were

 

assembling at a point 3 million kilometers from the center of the

 

battle. The cube was showing no signs of damage yet, absorbing

 

everything that both ships were pouring at it.

 

 

 

The first sign that it's energy limit had been reached was

 

when it ceased using the tractor beams. The tractor beams had made

 

little impression against the huge ion engines of the slightly larger

 

ship, but had made a significant impact on it's shields. The ISD's

 

shields were averaging at around 30%, with the ventral shield still at

 

92%, as Janus had kept this side of the destroyer orientated away from

 

the cube while he launched his fighters. The firing cycle of the

 

lasers indicated that the cube had eight lasers, one mounted at each

 

corner of the cube, but apparently it never fired more than 2 lasers

 

simultaneously, and never for longer than a two second burn, before

 

switching to another laser mount.

 

 

 

The ETA for C2 was now at five minutes, and the other cubes

 

were shortly behind it. C1 was making no attempt at evasive

 

maneuvering, just staying close to the ISD. Janus was trying to hold

 

off the cube at a range of 300,000km and the cube was attempting to

 

stay within a range that allowed it to burn through sensor jamming and

 

beam drones aboard. So far, the stormtroopers were holding the drones

 

at bay. The very high-powered short range sub-space jamming was

 

apparently sufficient to disconnect the transported drones from their

 

neural-net link to the collective mind, and was no doubt helping the

 

troopers, as the drones fought without any co-ordination or co-

 

operation at all.

 

 

 

The drones also had a tendency to ignore attackers, and

 

concentrate solely on whatever assimilation task they had been

 

assigned to. The thunderclaps of thermal detonations punctuated events

 

on the bridge, as soldiers attached the devices to the backs of

 

drones, and blew them apart. The sound of neutronium strengthened

 

blades solidly connecting with flesh and bone, and the occasional

 

reinforced steel exoskeleton was a continuous drumbeat.

 

 

 

The ETA for the cube designated C2 was now down to four

 

minutes, and still the three huge starships exchanged energies,

 

attempting to batter down the shields of their opponents. A squadron

 

of tie-bombers made a 0.6c pass to within 6,000km of the 1km sized

 

cube, launching a spread of laser-cannon fire and proton torpedoes at

 

point blank range. The laser-cannon fire made no impact on the cube's

 

impressive shields, but the proton torpedoes caught them by surprise.

 

Designed to slip through most shields, the proton torpedoes connected

 

solidly with the cube, traveling at more than 0.9c. More than twenty

 

missiles smashed straight through the cube, exiting the via the face

 

at the opposite end, several detonated, but at the relative velocities

 

they were traveling, most of the solar-fusion detonations occurred

 

well beyond the cube.

 

 

 

The cube crumbled nearly instantly after that, as the

 

combination of the internal damage and outside forces of the

 

turbolaser barrage finally combined to overcome the energies defending

 

the cube.

 

 

 

"All ships, full barrage, P1." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The fleet raced towards the first of the two planets, already

 

firing all their weapons at maximum range. They had less than two

 

minutes before the next cube arrived.

 

 

 

Only sixty drones had been beamed aboard the ISD, whether due

 

to their continuous high-speed maneuvering, their sensor jamming or

 

short range interference with the neural net transmitters they would

 

never know. Unit commanders were ordering new troop dispositions, and

 

reinforcements rushed through the ship to supplement units that had

 

taken losses.

 

 

 

"Report." Janus ordered, as the barrage of the planet

 

continued, the destroyers being careful to stay outside the calculated

 

range of the Borg transporters under sub-space jamming.

 

 

 

"C2 ETA in 1 minute, ship fully functional, all shields

 

recharging, shield generators reduced to average of 85% efficiency,

 

shield strength now climbing through average of 62%. Sub-space jamming

 

of neural net transmitters was effective, computers have been

 

programmed to watch for frequency changes in neural net transmissions.

 

Restraining bolts had only limited effect on drones, further

 

modifications already under way to vary stasis field strength. Drones

 

impervious to nearby thermal detonations and small-arms fire due to

 

body shields, but directly applied detonators and bladed weapons still

 

effective. Maintenance droids report that various deck plating and

 

construction droids were somewhat damaged by what at first appeared to

 

be acidic fluids, but later identified as nanoprobes. The droids

 

destroyed the nanoprobes by heating the affected areas with

 

construction and welding lasers. The deck plates may need to be

 

replaced at some point, and the more severely damage droids are

 

already down at maintenance. C2 ETA now twenty five seconds."

 

 

 

"Deploy the modified probes, execute hyperspace torpedo attack

 

as planned."

 

 

 

The planet below was proving to be a difficult target. The

 

atmosphere was boiling into space at the target point, but the entire

 

planet's surface was covered with Borg buildings, and this time every

 

single building they had targeted so far had proved to be shielded,

 

although the shields did not extend into the atmosphere itself. The

 

gunners were shifting from target to target without effect, and had

 

not found a break in the shields yet.

 

 

 

"Ten second sensor focuses on P1. Find a break in those

 

shields or anything else we can use."

 

 

 

The ten seconds crept by without a sound. There was no trace

 

of any chink in the Borg armour on that planet. The bridge crews

 

refocused their instruments on the incoming cube, C2, now only seconds

 

away.

 

 

 

"Warp drive disengaged." A technician called.

 

 

 

"Execute attack plan, use zero point five percent error

 

margin."

 

 

 

The position of the cube was relayed to the first eight

 

probes, with a small variation in the co-ordinates to accommodate any

 

possible error. The eight probes jumped simultaneously as programmed.

 

Three of the probes had been targeted to jump directly to the cube's

 

position, with five targeted to bracket the cube to within a few

 

hundred meters.

 

 

 

The last five were not necessary. The three probes jumped

 

directly to the cube, one apparently detonated right against the hull,

 

the other two inside the cube's hull. Two five hundred megaton

 

explosions inside the cube must have been devastating. Huge chunks of

 

the cube were thrown in all directions, and quickly targeted by the

 

smaller hull mounted laser-cannons, the turbolasers maintained their

 

planetary barrage without interruption.

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"C3?" Janus asked.

 

 

 

"Forty seconds."

 

 

 

"Continue barrage, ready next group of probes."

 

 

 

"Sir, there are multiple points on the planet with

 

significantly higher energy readings." A technician called.

 

 

 

"Power Plants?" Janus asked.

 

 

 

"It's possible, but unconfirmed." The technician replied.

 

 

 

"Concentrate turbolaser on one point, both ships, continuous

 

ripple broadcasts. Order scimitar bombers to make orbital attack runs

 

with proton torpedoes at the suspected power plants at these points.

 

We will wait for atmospheric turbulence on the far hemisphere to

 

subside. Launch all five Assault gunboats, loaded with delayed descent

 

fusion bombs, they can attack the power plants on the far

 

hemisphere." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

"C3 ten seconds away."

 

 

 

"Same attack plan."

 

 

 

The moment the cube disengaged, it's warp drive, the probes

 

jumped. Sensors barely had time to get a reading on the cube, before

 

the probes detonated. The Borg had modified their shields so that

 

their shields were now extending to hundreds of meters beyond their

 

hull. A tactic that would work against cloaked torpedoes, but not

 

hyperspace torpedoes. The actual result was more devastating to the

 

cube, as the full energies of all eight probes were unleashed inside

 

their shields. Not a bad try, Janus thought, we'll see what they come

 

up with next.

 

 

 

"C4, thirty seconds. C5 forty seconds."

 

 

 

A glance at his tactical display showed the fourth cube only a

 

fraction of a light-year away, the fifth cube, at extreme sensor

 

range, was coming in much faster than anything they had seen thus far.

 

 

 

"Keep me posted on that cube." The Borg were apparently

 

calling in their heavy artillery. "How is the planetary attack

 

coming?"

 

 

 

"Their shields have been proven impervious to proton torpedo

 

attacks as well now. The bombers have been making runs on the planet

 

at point six cee, and launching the torpedoes from high-orbital

 

distances, to no effect."

 

 

 

"The assault gunboats?"

 

 

 

"Just launched the last one, they will be making their first

 

pass in two minutes."

 

 

 

It was taking too long. They were going to have the fourth

 

cube in-system in seconds, with something unknown a mere ten seconds

 

later. Janus prayed that they hadn't figured out the means of delivery

 

of the nuclear explosions yet. The fourth cube disengaged it's warp

 

drive.

 

 

 

The probes were launched before the officer could even give

 

the command, the computers passing the targeting data to the probes,

 

which jumped the instant the warp-drive was disengaged. The Borg only

 

attacked one way, thank the Force, their entire strategy demanded

 

assimilation, not destruction.

 

 

 

The Borg attempt to defend against the torpedoes nearly worked

 

this time. They had tightened their shields against the hull, and

 

vectored the cube away from the target area immediately on disengaging

 

warp. If it wasn't for the programmed margin of error the tactic might

 

have worked. As it was, the cube had barely moved when the torpedoes

 

detonated, only one inside the hull, but it was enough to disable the

 

cube. A second spread of probes destroyed the cube before it could

 

repair itself, assuming a significant number of drones had survived

 

the internal nuclear explosion. The Imperials were taking no chances .

 

"Divert scimitars to vector three five, seven nine. Divert

 

gunboats to one nine three, minus five." Janus ordered. "Turbolasers

 

to cease planetary bombardment, continue firing along vector of

 

incoming vessel."

 

 

 

Mere seconds later, the super-fast cube had covered a distance

 

of one light year, nearly fifty times faster than any previously

 

observed cube. The reason became apparent as it disengaged warp. The

 

cube was four times the size of anything previously seen, at two

 

kilometers per side. The spread of hyperspace probes detonated at the

 

target position, totally engulfing the huge cube. It emerged

 

unscathed. The probes had detonated outside it's shields. The Borg had

 

learnt to extend their gravity fields beyond the hull of the vessel.

 

The turbolaser barrage tracked the huge vessel, as Janus started

 

calling out orders. Their shields were nearly up to one hundred

 

percent now, but Janus doubted they would survive long against this

 

behemoth of a cube ahead.

 

 

 

The two Destroyers were accelerating at tens of gees, on

 

diverging vectors passing the cube, keeping their dorsal hulls towards

 

the cube, to allow the most number of weapons to bear. Janus had

 

ordered everything launched, even the missile gunboats and assault

 

shuttles.

 

 

 

"Destroyers maintain full barrage, all other ships execute

 

attack plan Gamma."

 

 

 

The two Destroyers rolled as they kept moving, the huge cube

 

firing a number of lasers simultaneously at both ships. The rolling

 

movement spread the load on the shields, but it was obvious that the

 

shields wouldn't last very long under this level of attack. Their

 

return fire wasn't even scratching the shields of the huge cube. For

 

some reason no drones were being beamed over. A small mercy.

 

"Gamma position in nine seconds." Came a report from the

 

tactical fighter commander.

 

 

 

"Prepare sixteen probes." Janus ordered his first

 

officer."Gamma three ... two ... one ... Now."

 

 

 

The Gamma attack required all ships to fire simultaneously,

 

all coming on pre-determined vectors. The two destroyers had suspended

 

their 'ripple broadcasts' for a few seconds, to allow all batteries to

 

be synchronized. Five squadrons of Ties, 1 squadron of Tie-Bombers,

 

and a squadron of assault gunboats and assault shuttles from the

 

/Annihilator/, and three squadrons of ties, 1 squadron of bombers and

 

a handful of gunboats and assault shuttles from the /Vanquisher/ all

 

fired full proton missile spreads, followed by anything else that

 

could bear, just as the two destroyers both fired full dorsal

 

broadsides at the huge cube.

 

 

 

A spread of sixteen probes armed with 500-megaton solar fusion

 

warheads were also launched at the cube via hyperspace. The cube was

 

totally obscured in a sphere of destruction that would have

 

obliterated even one of the new Mark II Imperial Star Destroyers, and

 

probably severely damaged one of the rumored Super Star Destroyers.

 

 

 

The cube emerged from the sphere of destruction, it's shields

 

intact, and no visible damage.

 

 

 

The Imperial ships were now all diverging on separate vectors,

 

the huge cube still staying on station behind the Imperial Star

 

Destroyer. Their shields were now down to less than 20%, and the Borg

 

Lasers would be through to their hull in seconds.

 

 

 

"Sixteen seconds to another Gamma level attack." The tactical

 

commander called out, in between sending new orders to his squadrons.

 

 

 

"Execute." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The ISD rocked as the Laser connected again. Janus ordered the

 

ship rolled to present one of the remaining shielded sides to the

 

cube.

 

 

 

"Forward ventral turbolaser batteries lost power, no

 

casualties. Power conduits are being rerouted. Full power will be

 

restored in eight seconds."

 

 

 

The ISD rocked again. "Hull breaches in the vicinity of launch

 

bay 2. The droids are taking care of it."

 

 

 

"Gamma, four seconds ... three ... two ... one ... now."

 

 

 

The ship rocked twice more as the Borg Laser tore into it's

 

exposed hull. The Destroyer was tearing around the solar system like a

 

starfighter, now doing nearly fifty percent light-speed, and coming

 

around in a huge curve, the Borg cube trailing along steadily behind

 

it, without wavering, the VSD matching vectors with the Borg cube, and

 

also taking damage from it's Lasers. The gigantic cube disappeared in

 

another sphere of destruction as the gamma attack was executed. Janus

 

prayed to the Force. If this didn't work, they would not have time for

 

another gamma attack.

 

 

 

The cube emerged from the sphere of destruction of sixteen

 

solar-fusion bombs plus all the fire-power of hundreds of fusion-

 

warheaded proton torpedoes, not to mention a full double broadside of

 

turbolaser and ion-cannon fire.

 

 

 

Janus clenched his fist in frustration, and reached for the

 

jump override, to order the fleet to safety. They wouldn't have time

 

to recover the fighters, and any ships without hyperdrive would have

 

to stay behind. His finger stopped just short of the jump controls.

 

 

 

The Borg cube was apparently breaking up. He could now see

 

that the gigantic cube had in fact been four cubes working in unison,

 

the combined mental power of more than 120,000 drones powering the

 

ship. But two of the cubes were damaged, and could no longer hold

 

their position. The remaining two were breaking away to continue the

 

assimilation of the huge star destroyer. Even as Janus watched, the

 

two damaged cubes were seeming to recover slightly, although for the

 

moment the drones on those ships were concentrating on damage repair.

 

 

 

"Target both damaged cubes, eight probes each, launch." He

 

ordered.

 

 

 

A second later the two damaged cubes were destroyed, rocked by

 

multiple internal nuclear fusion explosions.

 

 

 

"Designate remaining cubes C1 and C2, gamma attack, C1."

 

 

 

"Twelve seconds to gamma."

 

 

 

The Destroyer rocked as another Laser raked the ship. With no

 

shields, it had only the hull for protection, but the Borg Laser

 

apparently still retained enough power to cut through several metres

 

of neutronium reinforced durasteel, despite the ship rolling and

 

bucking under the vector changes Janus was ordering.

 

 

 

"Deck 3, compartments 1 and 6 breached. Bulkheads sealed off.

 

Droids dispatched."

 

 

 

The Laser may be sufficient to penetrate the outer hull, but

 

it wasn't cutting through to the inner decks, Not Yet. As long as they

 

could maintain their maneuverability, they would be able to prevent

 

continuous laser burns, which would no doubt cut right through the

 

ship.

 

 

 

"C2 is concentrating fire on /Vanquisher/, they are taking

 

damage. /Vanquisher/ reports firepower down to 82%."

 

 

 

"C1, Gamma ... three ... two ... one ... now." The tactical

 

commander called.

 

 

 

The full firepower of the two destroyers plus all their

 

fighters smashed into the single cube attacking the Imperial Star

 

Destroyer. The cube emerged from the sphere of destruction with orange

 

flames over most of it's surface indicating hull breaches. One by one

 

they winked out though, as the cube repaired itself.

 

 

 

"Hotel Tango, eight probes, now." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

Eight of the Hyperspace Torpedoes jumped into the cube,

 

blowing it apart.

 

 

 

"Hotel Tango, C2, eight probes, repeat every three seconds

 

until gamma C2." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

The undamaged C2 survived three Hotel Tango launches, as the

 

two destroyers closed with it. As the ISD approached it the cube

 

switched it's attack to the larger of the two vessels, apparently with

 

no sign of giving up on it's assimilation goals. The VSD was now

 

visibly damaged, many deep lines crossing it's hull where the lasers

 

had raked it. It was also quite apparent that a number of it's weapons

 

emplacements had been silenced.

 

 

 

"Gamma C2 ... three ... two ... one ... now."

 

 

 

Miraculously, the cube survived the gamma attack. Where the

 

others had been severely damaged or destroyed, this one had learnt

 

it's lessons and made appropriate adjustments to accommodate the

 

energies that would be unleashed upon it.

 

 

 

"Sir, the cube is slowing down."

 

 

 

Janus checked the figures on his tactical display. Despite the

 

apparent lack of damage, and the shields holding off their fire. The

 

cube had definitely slowed down.

 

 

 

"Laser burns showing reduced frequency."

 

 

 

Whatever power source the cube was using, had either been

 

exhausted or damaged, or the mental strain on the Borg to maintain the

 

cube's integrity was taking it's toll. They had driven the cube at

 

tremendous warp speeds to get here, and been subjected to energies

 

that would have blown most of a galactic standard planet away.

 

 

 

The Destroyer rocked again, as a laser tore through the hull

 

yet again. The firing was less frequent, but it still posed a risk to

 

the destroyer. The /Vanquisher/ had stopped firing altogether, as it

 

fell behind the running battle. It was still launching probes though,

 

getting it's targeting information from the /Annihilator/.

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The cube was still surviving one Hotel Tango after another,

 

and would probably survive as long as it could maintain it's

 

gravitational fields to beyond it's shields. Janus was no longer

 

bothering with error margins, targeting all probes at the center of

 

the cube, and allowing them to dive into the gravitational field. The

 

cube would have to extend it's gravitational fields for hundreds of

 

meters beyond it's hull to ensure that no probes got through, unless

 

it significantly increased it's field strength. But the combination of

 

the gravity fields, the nuclear fusion explosions (roughly eight every

 

three seconds) as well as the turbolaser and ion-cannon barrage being

 

maintained by the destroyer, and the waves of proton torpedoes were

 

all combining to wear down the mental faculties of the drones powering

 

the vessel. Undoubtedly they were exercising their mental will on

 

their power generators and shield generators, not to mention the

 

control and power in focusing their lasers. The two destroyers shields

 

had long since drained away, and their tractor beams could not hold

 

the huge ships with their powerful engines.

 

 

 

"Gamma ... three ... two ... one ... now."

 

 

 

The cube stopped dead, multiple hull breaches in evidence.

 

Then it was hit by another Hotel Tango. It was obvious that it's

 

gravitational fields had also given in, for the Hotel Tango detonated

 

dead center in the cube.

 

 

 

"Status." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

"No inbounds detected yet, /Vanquisher/ has taken up station

 

within 350,000km of the planet P1, and has resumed orbital

 

bombardment."

 

 

 

"Very good," at least the mission wasn't a total failure yet.

 

"proceed with primary mission."

 

 

 

"Atmospheric turbulence is within the capacity of the gunboats

 

and assault shuttles, bombing of all major power sources commencing."

 

 

 

On the planet's surface, the atmospheric turbulence and

 

shockwaves reverberating through the atmosphere continued, had forced

 

the Borg planetside to maintain their shields. On the holographic

 

tactical display the power plants were represented as bright points on

 

the planet's surface. Most had been assigned an attacking squadron.

 

Janus plan was to force them to make maximum use of all power

 

generators on the planet for as long as possible, forcing their plants

 

to operate at peak power levels. The Imperials couldn't hope to smash

 

through shielding on such a scale, and the Borg had proven that a

 

single cube could take anything dished out by two Star Destroyers for

 

quite a while, so the planet would survive. Or would it?

 

 

 

By Janus calculations, the Borg shields would hold, and their

 

power output would be sufficient, but the planet itself would not be

 

able to take such a pounding. The shockwaves may not be of consequence

 

to the Borg shields, but they were taking their toll on the geology of

 

the planet.

 

 

 

"Fault line seven oh two, northern hemisphere, showing signs

 

of instability."

 

 

 

"Concentrate attacks in that area." Janus ordered.

 

 

 

"Quake detected, shockwaves triggering secondary quakes in

 

nearby fault lines."

 

 

 

"Recover fighters. Target other fault lines in northern

 

hemisphere."

 

 

 

"Quakes spreading throughout northern hemisphere. Shields down

 

in seven regions now."

 

 

 

Where the orbital bombardment had failed, the induced

 

planetary quakes were taking it's toll on the Borg structures.

 

 

 

"Power plant designated N23 showing fluctuating readings,

 

imminent containment failure likely."

 

 

 

"Send jump co-ordinates to all shuttles and gunboats."

 

 

 

"All fighters recovered. Jump co-ordinates distributed to all

 

gunboats and shuttles."

 

 

 

350,000km away, on the planet below, there was a bright light,

 

bright enough to eclipse any flashes from explosions as a direct

 

result from the orbital bombardment. On the bridge of the Star

 

Destroyer, several sensor panels exploded as circuits overloaded.

 

 

 

"Sub-space shockwave, severe sensor instrumentation damage."

 

Another flash was visible on the surface of the planet, and

 

was accompanied by a second round of exploding panels on the

 

Destroyer's bridge.

 

 

 

"Jump."

 

 

 

The two Destroyers, and the gunboats and shuttles it had not

 

had time to recover, all jumped to the pre-arranged point.

 

 

 

The Jump lasted two hours, during which the scope of the

 

damage to the star destroyer became clear. It's weapons efficiency was

 

down to 78%, and only a quarter of the shield generators were

 

functional. Over time, they would generate decent shielding, but would

 

not be able to withstand much of a barrage until the ship could visit

 

a shipyard. Hundreds of dead were reported, amongst the stormtroopers

 

as well as naval crew. Due to the overpopulation of the ship, ship

 

functionality was not impaired significantly.

 

 

 

When the ships finally exited hyperspace, they were met by the

 

two Lancers, which had arrived only thirty minutes earlier. It was

 

hard to believe that the entire mission in that system had only lasted

 

thirty minutes. All sub-space channels were nearly unusable due to

 

tremendous amounts of static. They were nearly three hundred light-

 

years from the point of attack, and it was out of instrument range, so

 

they had no way of knowing what was happening there, but the sheer

 

amount of subspace activity indicated that whatever it was, was huge.

 

The sub-space receivers were picking up wave after wave of static, all

 

emanating from the target cluster.

 

 

 

"The only natural explanation available for these disturbance

 

would be if half that cluster had gone supernova." A scientific

 

adviser commented, "The star of that system was unstable, and it is

 

quite possible that the sub-space shockwaves which damaged the

 

instruments on the destroyers also triggered something in the star

 

itself, possibly a supernova. Such a supernova in a star system of

 

such stellar density would cause havoc throughout the cluster."

 

 

 

"How can we tell for sure?" Janus asked.

 

 

 

"We can send a ship back, closer to the cluster, and it can

 

report on what happened."

 

 

 

That was dangerous, the ship wouldn't know what it was jumping

 

into, and the only two vessels who's sensors had survived the initial

 

shockwaves were the two Lancers, which had still been in hyperspace at

 

the time.

 

 

 

Janus ordered the /Vanquisher/ back to base, and ordered one

 

of the Lancers to jump one hundred light years closer to the cluster,

 

then twenty light years at a time, until it had determined what had

 

happened. The blind /Vanquisher/ wasted no time in jumping away. The

 

/Annihilator/ and the Lancer waited for word. Sub space communications

 

were out of the question with the static levels being broadcast, and

 

they would have to await it's return. Four hours later it returned.

 

 

 

"At least fifty stars in the cluster have gone supernova, the

 

level of sub-space noise was incredible as we got closer." They

 

reported.

 

 

 

"Most of those explosions must have occurred just after we

 

jumped," one of the scientific advisers said, "we would have missed

 

all the sub-space shockwaves as all the ships were in hyperspace, but

 

when that star went, it must have broadcast one helluva sub-space

 

shockwave, which triggered yet more supernovas in the stars

 

surrounding it. We can be glad we were in hyperspace. The sub-space

 

effects must have been horrific, and rebounded throughout this galaxy.

 

The physical shockwaves will of course take decades to spread through

 

the surrounding stars. Those explosions will be visible on many worlds

 

in this galaxy for the next few thousand years, as the light travels

 

through this galaxy."

 

 

 

"We will return to the supply depot. Our mission here is over.

 

/Sword/, execute mission Delta Sierra Nine."

 

 

 

On deep Space Nine, nearly six weeks had gone by since the

 

strange fleet which had rescued O'Brien had departed. The strange

 

fleet of the unknown humans would have been long forgotten if not for

 

the ranting of Gul Dukat about the shoddy security on the station that

 

allowed three of his people to be severely injured by members of the

 

Federation's secret service. He was still not convinced that these

 

humans had nothing to do with the Federation. There were no unknown

 

human colonies out there that anyone knew of. That particular part was

 

still a mystery to Sisko.

 

 

 

To make matters worse, the station had been rocked by a series

 

of sub-space shockwaves two weeks ago that had blown every single sub-

 

space receiver installed on the station, and severely hampered their

 

ability to detect incoming vessels. Poor O'Brien had worked day and

 

night to get everything repaired. The shock-waves had been felt

 

throughout the Federation, and had affected everyone in the sector.

 

No-one had determined the reason for these shockwaves yet, but it was

 

theorized that something major had occurred somewhere in the galaxy,

 

albeit many thousands of light years away, of the order of 10 to 50

 

supernovas, nearly simultaneously. If that was the case, O'Brien

 

doubted that there was a sub-space transmitter/receiver in the galaxy

 

that had not been affected.

 

 

 

"Holy cow ..." Dax exclaimed. "It's one of those Imperial

 

ships, scout class if I'm not mistaken, it just appeared out of

 

nowhere, less than two million km away. They're hailing us. On-

 

screen."

 

 

 

A young military officer appeared on the screen.

 

 

 

"Sisko, Commander, Deep Space Nine. What can I do for you?"

 

 

 

"I have an information package for you, from Admiral Janus,

 

please prepare to download files."

 

 

 

Sisko turned to Dax, who nodded.

 

 

 

"Proceed." He said.

 

 

 

The young officer hit a button on the console in front of him.

 

 

 

"Receiving data." Dax confirmed. Seconds later, "Done. That

 

was one huge file, I think I've got it all."

 

 

 

The officer nodded and cut the transmission without another

 

word.

 

 

 

"They've gone." Dax announced.

 

 

 

"Any traces?" Sisko asked.

 

 

 

"Nope, momentary spatial anomaly, then they just vanished. No

 

indication of where or how."

 

 

 

"The file?"

 

 

 

"It seems to be ..." Dax voice trailed off, then stopped.

 

 

 

"You have got to read this!" she said to Sisko.

 

 

 

BORG SPACE

 

 

 

Pain. Fury. A lust for Revenge. The collective surprised

 

itself with these feelings. It was not used to feelings. The loss of a

 

planet had intrigued it more than hurt the collective. The loss of the

 

cubes in the subsequent battles had been insignificant, but the

 

inability to establish how the alien ships worked was frustrating. It

 

had not come upon such technologies before. What it had initially

 

thought to be a cloaking mechanism had turned out to be a drive

 

mechanism. A drive mechanism that could even be applied to weapons,

 

but which it had eventually discovered to be susceptible to

 

gravitational fields, but too late to prevent the pain.

 

 

 

When the second planet had been destroyed by the destruction

 

of it's power facilities, the shockwaves had killed nearly all the

 

units on the planet, then instigated an explosion of the star in that

 

system. The resultant series of shockwaves had swept through the

 

collective in seconds. It had known fear, as within seconds entire

 

worlds and sectors of units had been disconnected from the collective

 

mind.

 

 

 

It's power was reduced to the point where it feared imminent

 

destruction. But it had managed to order it's surviving units to shut

 

down their neural enhancers for several seconds, allowing the sub-

 

space shockwaves to dissipate. When they reconnected, the connections

 

had been tenuous because of all the sub-space noise, but the

 

collective mind had survived. Only a quarter of it's units had come

 

back on-line initially. Over the next few days, as the damage in it's

 

worlds was repaired, and the sub-space noise subsided, more and more

 

units had come back on-line. It had initially feared those worlds

 

destroyed, the units dead, but they had been merely disconnected.

 

Of course many worlds had not come back on-line, and many more

 

had been cut off from the parent mind, but reconnected and formed

 

their own collective minds in those pockets of the galaxy. The

 

collective as a whole had survived, despite all the damage, but it's

 

units were now grouped into several factions, each with their own

 

mind, and not all of them were inclined to rejoin the parent mind. The

 

parent considered. It had become arrogant in it's presumption of

 

superiority, but there was a force out there that had attacked it and

 

won.

 

 

 

The Borg did not mind defeat, for even in defeat one could

 

learn, and grow. For now, it would consolidate, then resume it's

 

growth. It would remember this attack, and proceed with caution. One

 

day it would find the enemy, and assimilate these technologies, then

 

it would utterly destroy this enemy.

 

[THE END.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

---------------

 

Michael January

 

---------------

 

 

 

Hand me my lightsabre ... It's the one that says "Bad Mother Fucker"

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