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The Hunt

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Captain Jon Antilles had seen a few Dauntless class


battle-cruisers before. This one somehow looked different. He knew the


difference was all in his head, but this ship was the most beautiful


ship he had ever seen. He had requested the shuttle-pilot to make an


elaborate approach so that he could get a full view of his new




The PEACEMAKER was a typical dauntless class ship, a flattened


brick shape nearly two kilometres long, seven hundred metres wide, and


five hundred metres deep. The edges were all rounded though, and she


was thinner at the sides and in front than in the middle, with a


rounded leading edge, and squared off tail end, where a number of


solar-fusion powered ion engines glowed dimly. The shape, thick in the


middle and tapering towards the extremities allowed the hull-mounted


weapons emplacements the maximum field of fire. All turbolasers


forward of the middle could track a target directly ahead, and all


turbolasers behind the middle could track targets behind the ship


unless the target had flown virtually inside the huge ion drive


engines. The tapering design also allowed all weapons whether dorsal


or ventral to track to the sides, giving the ship immense firepower in


all directions.


The Dauntless class was designed to counter the Mark II


version of the Imperial Star Destroyer, and despite only seeing


service towards the end of the war to win back the galaxy, it had made


a significant contribution. Antilles regarded the Dauntless class as a


major feat of engineering, and had no doubt that it was a better ship


than the ISD2 it was meant to oppose. While slightly longer, the


dauntless was less massive than the ISD2. The big difference that


Antilles appreciated was the fact that the Dauntless had it's own


manufacturing and repair facilities integrated into the ship, and it


was almost entirely self-sufficient.


Whereas the ISD2 required occasional dockyard overhauls, and


could only operate for limited periods without resupply (four years as


a maximum), the Dauntless required almost no maintenance. The


battle-cruiser was designed to operate for many years without resupply


or re-fitting of any nature, and would only require shipyard


facilities for the severest of battle damage. The difference in design


was no doubt a testimony of the faith the New Republic had in it's


crews, as opposed to the lack thereof on the side of the empire. The


additional maintenance facilities, manufacturing facilities and


laboratories required for this independence manifested itself in the


fact that the battle-cruiser had a much smaller starfighter and


ground-force contingent than it's imperial counterpart. The Dauntless


only carried two squadrons of starfighters, along with a few missile


gunboats, and the usual shuttles, and four thousand soldiers organised


into eight five hundred man regiments, about half of what an ISD




The Republic soldiers were also equipped with much less


equipment than their imperial counterparts, with hardly any reliance


being placed on heavy armour such as AT-AT's, AT-ST's and


battle-tanks. The Republic forces relied heavily on their superior


starfighters, which were also modified for atmospheric combat, and


also carried two wings of ground-effects fighters, designed


specifically for sub-orbital and atmospheric combat. The New Republic


philosophy regarding starfighters required the small spaceships to


have inter-stellar and atmospheric capability, life-support systems


and shielding. Imperial philosophy could not allow a person as low on


the command scale as a TIE fighter pilot to have the independence of


inter-stellar capability in his starfighter.


Antilles settled back in his seat as the shuttle vectored in


below the battle-cruiser, and lined itself up with the entrance to the


hangars concealed in the dorsal superstructure of the ship. Their was


a slight bump as the cruiser's tractor beams took control of the


shuttle, and guided it into the hangar. Antilles stepped out of the


shuttle, to be received by his full complement of officers, and a


company of troopers at attention. The chameleon fatigues of the


troopers were a uniform shipboard grey, and their blaster-carbines


were chameleoned to a deep black. The Republic military uniform was


much less ostentatious than imperial uniforms, and their soldiers also


did not use the highly computerised battle-suits which were designed


as much for intimidation of the citizenry as for practical battle use.


"Welcome aboard, sir. I am your first officer, Commander




Nerak then introduced some the other officers present. Chief


Engineer Mtlala was in charge of the engine rooms and maintenance and


manufacturing. Chief Gunnery Officer Silen was in charge of all


weapons batteries and gunnery co-ordination. The CAG was a Commander


by the name of Marcus. Also present was General Denel. Denel was a


short wiry man, his face was sharp featured, with a slightly hooked


nose. The one anachronism was that he had very friendly brown eyes.


His diminutive size would have disqualified him from imperial service,


and judging by his eyes, he did not have the psychological profile of


a stormtrooper either. The men exchanged salutes as the new captain


was introduced all round.


"Captain, Sergeant McNally here will show you to your


quarters." Nerak offered as the introductions were completed.


"Thank you. Number one, can you assemble all command staff in


the captain's ward room in fifteen minutes."


"Yes, Sir."


The sergeant stepped forward, "If you'll follow me sir."


Antilles followed the sergeant to the bank of turbo-lifts at


the far end of the hangar, one of the soldiers had retrieved his bags,


and was tagging along behind with the bags on a small repulsor lift.


Antilles knew exactly where the captain's quarters were located, as he


did everything on this ship. One did not become captain of any ship


unless you knew it inside out, and Antilles may have been young for a


captain, but he had spent at least a decade in this navy getting


there, and had served on many ships, of various classes. When the


promotion to captaincy had come through a few weeks ago, he had


expected to be given a small cruiser or frigate, and had been shocked


to discover that he had been assigned to one of the handful of brand


new Dauntless battle-cruisers. When his orders had come through, he


had understood why.


The captain's quarters were located at the centre of the


cruiser, fourteen decks below the main bridge, which was located


dorsally in the waist of the battle-cruiser. Immediately forward of


his quarters was the battle bridge, which could be used as an


alternate bridge, if the main bridge was damaged or inoperable. The


captain's quarters and the battle bridge were surrounded by many


crucial departments, including the maintenance and construction


centres, the more critical holds, and the residences for the ships


crew. This comprised in total of ten decks, each split into numerous


airtight compartments. At battle-stations the compartments would be


sealed off from one another, each airtight bulkhead designed so that


it would be completely self-contained, with a certain amount of


supplies to take care of medical, maintenance and food needs during


extended battles.


The ship comprised of some thirty decks, with the outermost


decks dedicated to weapons systems, training and recreational


facilities, and other non-essential ship services, like laundry, and


so on. Most of what would have been the ten ventral decks were in fact


launch bays, landing bays, hangars, and further maintenance and


repairs faciltities. The entire aft third of the ship was dedicated to


engine power production, the huge solar-fusion reactors, the immense


ion drives, and of course the hyperdrive motivators. Access to all


these compartments were generally via turbo-lift, but many service


shafts and hatchways also riddled the ship, although these were almost


entirely the domain of droids and technicians.


The outer-hull was made of twenty metre thick neutronium


reinforced ultra dense steel. The hull-plates were also embedded with


nodules of neutronium, whose function it was to shatter any objects


penetrating the hull, or to reflect and or dissipate any energies


penetrating the hull. The hundreds of turbolaser and ion cannon


batteries were mounted in this hull, and could only be accessed


through networks of curved shafts which offered no direct line into


the ship itself. The outermost deck on all sides was not used for any


purpose, other than to gain access to these shafts, and was itself


separated from the rest of the ship by the fifteen metre thick


neutronium-steel inner-hull, and broken up into numerous airtight


compartments, so that hull breaches would have to penetrate both


hulls, and would usually only breach one deserted compartment. Each


deck was also separated from the decks above or below by four metre


thick neutronium-steel, and separated into several compartments with


two metre or four metre thick neutronium-steel bulkheads.


Each deck furthermore had it's own gravity generators and


inertial dampers, which was built into the deck steel. The outer and


inner hulls also had gravity generators built into them, and these


projected out beyond the regenerative shields, to defend firstly


against the use of hyperspace weapons, and secondly to prevent the


accidental materialisation of another ship inside the hull during


tight fleet manoeuvres. This arrangements allowed individual decks and


compartments to manage their own gravity strength, and also if


necessary to change the directions for 'up' and 'down'. It was not


uncommon for crewers to have their rooms at a lower gravity than the


rest of the ship, which used one standard galactic gravity. There were


also of course crew members belonging to species which preferred


higher than standard gravities.




Antilles had the soldiers leave his belongings in the centre


of his lounge area, and ordered the droids in the room to unpack. He


left his quarters, and walked down the hallway to the captain's ward


room. His officers had their own ward room, and their were various


mess halls distributed through the ship for the use of the crew. The


captain's ward was usually only used for official dinners when guests


were being entertained, or if there were many guests, then the


officer's ward room was used. Under normal circumstances, either ward


room doubled as a conference centre, with the captain's being the


smaller and more private, and the captain normally dined in his room


or in the officer's ward.


Antilles had served as an officer once on a captured Imperial


Star Destroyer, and was amazed at the difference between the two


vessels. Studying blueprints and designs was one thing, actually being


aboard the ship was another. Where the ISD had been all stark metal


and steel-grey bulkheads, with straight lines and right angled


corners, the PEACEMAKER's passageways were curved, corners had been


softened, the hull-metal was concealed with soft-lighting and pleasing


colours. The hallways were lined with view-screens depicting scenes of


natural beauty. The view-screens also doubled as status displays and


tactical displays in battle, allowed shipboard communication between


compartments, and could reveal locations of boarders in hidden


passageways and accessways as detected by the ship's computers.


The captain's ward was a comfortable room, with a large round


table, lounge chairs and a real bar. The wall's were lined with huge


view-screens. One of the view-screens provided a spectacular view of


dawn marching across the planet below, other's showed various views


beyond the hull. An uninformed observer would have sworn they were in


fact looking out into space, when in fact they were separated from


vacuum by several decks, and hundreds of metres of neutroium-steel


hull plating.


Antilles took the captain's chair, those officers who had


already arrived seated themselves at positions around the central


table. The chief engineer was the last to arrive.


"Ship status, number one?"


"All crewers are aboard and supplies have been stowed. The


ship is fully stocked, and at full readiness."




"All fighters, shuttles and gunboats fully operational. We


have the capability to repair any of them, and even to build new ones


from spare or manufactured parts if necessary. We have a forty percent


surplus of pilots."




"Two regiments, full strength, four ground-effects fighters


each, and more equipment than we need to defend Coruscant if we have


to, even ready-to-assemble planetary shield generators." He smiled.


"Chief?" Antilles had saved the chief for last, as much of


their fate would be in his hands. Antilles had no doubt that he knew


something of their orders or what lie ahead of them already.


"All my departments are in perfect shape. I have checked out


the additional manufacturing equipment, and all is to my




"Additional manufacturing equipment?" The CAG asked.


"I will explain." Antilles answered, before the chief could,


"Our orders are a little different to the usual this time. You have


been told that we are going on an extended patrol through the worlds


closest to imperial space, and that we may also be required to explore


many unutilised systems in those sectors for possible secret imperial




"I take it that we will not be doing that, then?" The first


officer asked, eyebrows raised.


"No, our orders are much more interesting."


Antilles explained the nature of their orders.






It was a subdued bridge that co-ordinated the ship's jump to


the fleet assembly point. The officers were all caught up in their own


thoughts. Antilles had given them an opportunity to back out, and they


would have until the arrival at the assembly point to decide. The


moment the ship jumped, Antilles knew the time had come to relay the


orders to the crew. In hyperspace there was no way for the orders to


leak out, and the assembly point was in a region of space controlled


by the New Republic Navy. A transport would be on hand to remove any


crew or officers that backed out. He sat in the command chair, and


activated the relevant control on the data padd built into the chair.


A chime rang through the ship.


"Hear this. Hear this. This is Captain Antilles speaking. Some


of you may be aware of the modifications which the ship has undergone,


the reduction of the starfighter component from four squadrons to two,


and the conversion of those hangars into additional maintenance and


construction facilities. These changes have been brought about so that


we may be better equipped to complete the task for which we have been


assigned. Because that task is beyond the normal duty requirements of


this crew, it will be done on a purely voluntary basis, and any crew


members who do not wish to volunteer will be transferred off this ship


at our next stop."


Antilles went on to explain the mission profile, and what


ramifications it might have for the crew.




Two days later, the PEACEMAKER arrived at the assembly point.


They were the last ship to arrive. The holographic tactical display in


front of the command chair lit up, and the view-screens arranged


around the bridge changed to reflect the space surrounding the


battle-cruiser. Naturally, any ships being displayed were magnified


hundreds of times, if not thousands, since even a two kilometre long


ship didn't look like much from a distance of fifteen thousand


kilometres or more.


"Holy Bantha!" Nerak exclaimed, "This must be the richest


fleet I have ever seen assembled since Endor."


Arranged around them were no less than four Liberator class


cruisers, each accompanied by two CC-9600 frigates. There was also one


of the few CC-7700 frigates the New Republic had, based on the same


technology used to create the feared Interdictor cruiser, which could


trap entire fleets in it's artificial gravity wells. The Liberators


were reputed to be the most technologically advanced ship in the


galaxy. It was essentially a starfighter carrier and troop transport,


but could outgun any ship in it's size class, and possibly even go toe


to toe with an Imperial Star Destroyer Mark 1. It didn't quite have


the firepower of the ISD1, but it had shields which were at least as


powerful, and it could regenerate those shields faster than any other


ship in the galaxy. Each Liberator could usually carry six squadrons


of fighters, and three regiments of troops, but due to the mission


profile, Antilles knew they had been modified to carry only four


squadrons of fighters each, and two lightly equipped troop regiments.


The CC-9600 frigates were the New Republics' replacement of


the Nebulon-B, and it had a similar design base to the Dauntless


class, except that it was much smaller, and had the class point five


hyperdrive motivators, which made it the fastest ship of it's class,


if not the fastest capital ship class in the galaxy. The Liberators


and Dauntless were equipped with class one hyperdrive motivators. The


CC-9600 frigate could almost rival the Liberators for firepower, but


carried no starfighters or troop regiments. It too had impressive


shielding. The combination of a Liberator plus frigate should be able


to stand up to an ISD1, and the Liberator with two frigates, as this


fleet was configured, would totally overpower an ISD1.


The problem was, Antilles knew, that they were hunting a few


rogue ISD2's and probably whatever support ships they had taken


along.. And any more than two ISD2's would be a match even for the


fleet assembled here.


"Commander Nerak, my compliments to all the captains, and


request them all to attend a meeting in the officer's ward onboard


PEACEMAKER in two hours. Anybody who has not handed in his or her


chits to you with the next hour will be considered to have




"Sir, I know the demands of our mission, but these ships are


the newest ships in the fleet, our resources are spread very thinly


and the demand for ships like this throughout the navy is enormous."


"Yes, the mission is very important, and no doubt there are


important people backing the mission. These are the only ships capable


of surviving the mission demands, and if more could be spared, I am


sure the Navy would have found a way to spare them. I understand the


Bilbringi shipywards have been working on nothing else for nearly ten


months, and probably half those ships have just finished their


shakedown cruises, making this their first mission."


Virtually the entire Republic navy consisted of vessels


modified from their peacetime purposes, such as freighters,


transports, passenger liners, or warships which dated back to the Old


Republic and merely modified with newer computers, weapons, engines


and so on, like bulk cruisers, dreadnoughts and assault frigates. The


warships here were all purpose-built military vessels, incorporating


all the lessons learnt in more than half a century of continuous


warfare since the clone wars.


"Sir, another ship has arrived, it is a military courier, and


it has the correct recognition codes. Requesting landing permission."




'Damn.' Antilles thought, 'don't tell me our orders have been


changed again.'






A few minutes later, a trooper arrived at the entrance to the


bridge. The guards on duty opened the hatch, and allowed the trooper


to escort his charges onto the bridge. Antilles was busy going through


the ship's manifest, and glanced up to see who the late arrivals were.


He paused, unable to hide his surprise, then remembered his manners


and leapt to his feet.


"Welcome aboard, Jedi." He said respectfully.


The simple black tunics worn by the three visitors did not


make them Jedi, neither did the almost unobtrusive glint of the


deactivated light-sabres at their sides. It was the aura of power that


surrounded each of the three, despite their best attempts to project


calm and peace. Jedi were unmistakable, even when in disguise, as the


renowned Master Skywalker had found during the Rebellion.


"Thank you, Captain Antilles." One of the Jedi spoke.


"What can I do for you?" Antilles had his orders, but nobody


in the New Republic, and few even in the empire, questioned a Jedi's


right to be interested in whatever took his fancy. Jedi were a law


unto themselves, and held in high regard by the public. They were


priests, lawmakers, judge and jury to any who cared to make use of


their services. Although Jedi knights held no official position in the


military, the New Republic treated them with the respect and honour


given to members of their order in an age long gone, although they


made no demands for such a position.


"I am the Jedi knight Treb Dacron. These are my students,


Lerato and Jared. We would like to accompany you on your mission." The


Jedi stated simply.


"I take it you know what the mission entails?" Antilles asked.


"Oh yes. Master Skywalker has taken a great interest in the


preparations for this mission, and in fact, it was members of our


order who first discovered the information that led to the drawing up


of this mission."


That didn't surprise Antilles one bit. There were few things


in the galaxy that didn't find their way across Master Skywalker's


desk, and apparently few things that happened in the New Republic that


didn't have his hand in it somewhere.


"Your presence would be most welcome. We have accommodation on


all the ships in the fleet, including this one, is it your wish to be


accommodated here or on any of the other ships?"


"We will stay together, on this ship."


"I am pleased. Quarters will be assigned to you. The captain's


are having a meeting in a few minutes, you are of course welcome to




"Thank you. We shall."


They followed the trooper off the bridge, the trooper already


chatting to the quartermaster via his comm-link about arranging


accommodation for the three.


"I have a bad feeling about this mission all of a sudden."


Nerak commented, "When the Jedi take an interest, you just know the


dung is about to hit the exhaust. I bet you half the crew quits in the


next ten minutes."


Antilles just smiled, as if Nerak had made a joke, but


couldn't help mentally agreeing with him. As it was, only twenty men


quit, and most of them were men who were planning to leave the force


soon anyway to get married or start their families. Whoever had put


together the crews for this mission had done a good job on the psyche


evaluations, and the ships were overstaffed in any case because there


would be no chance for replacements once the mission was underway.




There were no major developments in the captains conference.


The Jedi didn't say a word, and Antilles suspected they were there for


the same reason he was. Ostensibly the meeting was to agree on


strategies and command structures, but in reality was so that Antilles


could see the calibre of the men for himself. As senior captain, he


would be in charge of the fleet, although technically he was not an


admiral. If any of the men were surprised at the Jedi's presence, they


gave no indication. Antilles had no doubt that they would keep the


Jedi's presence quiet for as long as possible, in order to reduce the


amount of men quitting before there was no turning back.


The captains eventually departed, the crewers who had quit the


mission were transferred to a transport which was here especially for


that purpose, and preparations were made for the jump. This was no


ordinary jump. They were going to jump to the next galaxy. A four year


jump. The New Republic had discovered that at least three ISD2s, and


their support ships including an unknown number of ISD1s, had left for


this galaxy more than a year earlier, and furious preparations had


been made to follow. The fleet assembled was fast enough to reach the


next galaxy only months behind the imperials, and while they were all


that could be spared, it would have to do. The reasoning behind the


mission was multi-fold. Firstly to prevent the imperials taking over


the whole galaxy and using it as an untouchable resource base,


secondly to scout the galaxy for any possible threats to galactic


peace, and to destroy it if possible. Thirdly, they were to destroy


any imperial presence in the galaxy, especially if there was a risk


that the imperial technology would fall into alien hands. There was


much in the way of imperial technology that the New Republic would


rather never see again.


Two modified Bulk Transports had left a few months earlier,


and should arrive at the rendezvous point outside the galaxy a few


days before the military vessels did. They carried enough supplies to


establish a planet-side base, as well as mining equipment to replenish


stores that could not be transmutated by the replicators. The


replicators on the ships could replicate much of what they needed in


terms of spare parts, but the parts had to be manufactured out of


something, and did require certain trace minerals as source materials


for the construction.


The problem was, how to overcome the barrier of four years in


hyperspace. It was feared that the crews' efficiency as a combat force


would be seriously impaired after four years of doing nothing except


playing with simulations. The answer was simple. The ships would make


the jumps completely on automatic. The entire crew of each ship would


stand down for the four years, and let the droids run things while the


ships were in hyperspace. But, the crew wouldn't just stand down, they


would be carbon frozen for the entire duration of the journey. To


anyone who was carbon frozen, there would be no apparent loss of time,


and they would be perfectly preserved, until the droids woke them up


again. While it was not unknown for criminals and severely ill


patients to be carbon frozen for short periods of time, it was a new


concept to freeze soldiers who were going on an extended mission.


"So this is what happened to my maintenance bay." The CAG


said. The officers had opened the sealed maintenance bay, the loss of


which had contributed to the loss of two squadrons of starfighters.


The cavernous space had once comprised half of the starfighter


servicing and repair capability of the battle-cruiser. The remaining


starfighter maintenance bay now saw to the needs of all the remaining


ships which operated out of the battle-cruiser.


In front of them, rows and rows of kiosks stretched away,


stacked on top of each other all the way to the ceiling. Their were


more than enough kiosks for the entire crew, and then some. Roaming


through the facility were dozens of medical droids, running


diagnostics checks on the equipment.


"We will be handling all excess crewers from the frigates as


well, as they don't have enough space for their entire crews."


Antilles explained.






Three hours after jumping to hyperspace, all preparations were


finally complete on the battle-cruiser. There was no way of knowing


how the other ships were doing, in hyperspace, you were all alone. The


entire ship's complement had been assembled in the freeze-room, as it


had quickly become known. Antilles felt a bit strange to be standing


around only in his briefs in a room full of twenty thousand or more


virtually naked men and women. Already hundreds of crewers had been


carbon frozen, and no problems reported by the droids. The remaining


crewers were all taking up their positions, and being frozen as soon


as they gave the verbal command.


"Computer, any stragglers?"


"No, Captain, all crew-members accounted for. The rest of the


ship is deserted."


The three Jedi walked past Antilles, making their way to the


kiosks assigned to them. Antilles was surprised to notice their hard,


lean, muscular physiques. The Jedi's physical conditions were at a


peak comparable to the best of his soldiers. Antilles knew that Jedi


were often involved in combat and espionage missions, but still felt


it a bit strange that ostensibly peaceful beings who relied on their


mental faculties had such physiques. He vaguely remembered an old


saying about a healthy body leading to a strong mind, no doubt it had


some truth. The female Jedi especially looked good in her briefs, and


he turned away before he embarrassed himself.


Minutes later, it was only Antilles and his officers left.


They were shivering in the room, cold air swirling around their feet


from the thousands of freezes that had occurred in the last few


minutes. Nerak was the last to be frozen, muttering something under


his breath. Antilles stepped back into his kiosk.


"Ready!" he announced.


Something cold touched him, and he opened his mouth to gasp in



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The ship was deathly quiet, and in total darkness. There was


no sign of movement anywhere on the ship. It's darkened hallways were


in a state of near-perfect vacuum. It had been in this state for close


on to four years now. Above the hangars with it's silent rows of sleek


starfighters, was a storage room, containing rows and rows of silent


figures, even blacker than the darkness surrounding them. Somewhere in


the room, something stirred. It was a droid. All over the ship, droids


started coming to life after years of in-animation. Lights came on,


air was pumped into the deserted corridors and rooms. Maintenance


droids started rushing about, cleaning condensation from the walls,


checking circuitry and power conduits, ensuring that the ship would be


in perfect working order once the crew arrived. The medical droids in


the freezer room were going from one blackened figure to another,


checking readouts on the control panels of the kiosks. It would soon


be time to wake up the crew.




Antilles was still trying to gasp, when suddenly he was


pitched forward onto the deck, his body craving for air. He sucked in


gasp after gasp of air, curling his body into a ball to protect


himself from the cold. He felt like he was being pricked by millions


of pins and needles as blood circulated through tissue for the first


time in years. He tried to look around him, but the bright light hurt


his eyes.


"Your eyes will adjust, Captain." He heard a mechanical voice


above him.


"Cold!" He managed to squeeze the word out.


"The temperature in the room is 30% above ideal human room


temperature. Your body will adjust soon."


Antilles scowled at the droid. He reached up, and the droid


helped him to his feet. He didn't dare open his eyes yet, the light


was too bright, and pain shot through into his brain every time he


tried. He squinted one eye open, and started towards the exit. Around


him, he could here the moans and groans and swearing of his crew as


they were revived. He looked behind him, and saw the female Jedi,


Leanne, following him. She was walking upright, her eyes closed, as if


it was the most normal thing in the world. She even smiled at him as


she passed him, despite her eyes being closed. Antilles silently


cursed her, and made an attempt to straighten himself as well, as he


walked past his suffering crew. He had only one thing on his mind, to


get back to his quarters and climb into a hot bath.




Two hours later, still suffering slightly from the


after-effects of his revival, he made his way to the officers


gymnasium. He had established that the ship was still in hyperspace,


and that they would be returning to normal space in three days. The


ship was in excellent condition, the droids having taken care of all


minor maintenance. The few things which required human intervention or


supervision were being taken care of, or would be taken care of as


soon as the ship returned to normal space.


Antilles found many of his officers working out in the gym, as


well as the three Jedi. He got to work himself, nothing like exercise


to get the body back in shape. An hour or two of callisthenics would


do him the world of good. The gym was very well equipped, with


exercise equipment designed for many different gravitational


environments, and sections of the gym could be adjusted to accommodate


higher or lower gee's, as the user required. The deck plates in the


gym were colour coded for different g-forces, and he was careful to


stick to the light-green of standard galactic. Antilles noticed the


deck-plates where the Jedi were training was the darker green of a


1.5g environment. Some of the fighter pilots were doing gymnastics in


the pale blue of microgravity.


Once he had finished his exercise routine, Antilles headed


towards the bridge. He did not care to use the turbo-lifts unless


necessary, so walked to the nearest drop-shaft, stepped into the


microgravity environment, and boosted himself up to the control deck.


He stepped carefully onto the control deck, and once more in a normal


environment, walked towards the bridge. A slap on the hatchway control


caused the hatch to snap open, the computer having already recognised


him as he approached the door. Nerak was on watch at the moment, and


he snapped to attention.


"Captain on deck!"


"At ease, Mr Nerak."


Antilles sat down in his chair, and invited Nerak to report on


the ship's status.


"Nothing to report sir, thirty people in sick-bay after being


revived, nothing serious, they should all be out in a few more hours.


The stores naturally have hardly been touched, and the ship is still


fully stocked, for all intents and purposes. Chief Mtlala has also


expressed satisfaction that all is well in manufacturing, and he


should be able to manufacture nearly anything we want."


"Very well. I will be in my quarters if you need anything."


He entered his name into the watch cycle and left the bridge.


There were enough officers to take over watches that it was not


necessary for him to do so, but he preferred standing at least one


four hour watch in a day.






The three days passed easily enough. The crew was kept busy by


one battle simulation after another, and the officers worked through


their astrogation techniques. Antilles required everybody to do a


refresher course in hyperspace navigation, even though the computer


was usually trusted in this regard. However, they would trust nothing,


until they had established a baseline for hyperspce navigation in this




Antilles reviewed the technique of navigation used. In their


home galaxy, there were well established baselines, but here they


would have to establish new ones. They had made the jump relative to


co-ordinates in their home galaxy, and hopefully those co-ordinates


would bring them to a rendezvous with the transports which had left a


few months before them. Given the distance being jumped, Antilles


would not be surprised if they struggled to find the transports.


Hyperspace jumps were calculated as follows: the galaxy would


have a pre-defined galactic plane, determined by three carefully


selected stars, as far apart from each other as possible. Co-ordinates


in the galaxy was given as the distance from the theoretically


calculated galactic core in light years, the angle above or below the


galactic plane in radians, and the angle laterally as measured from


the line between the galactic core and a pre-determined star. The


computer would require the starting position, the end position of the


jump, and would plot a mathematical course through hyperspace to avoid


distortions caused by large mass shadows intruding into hyperspace.


These calculations would take into account galactic rotation and


stellar drift. Given a target like an orbit over a particular planet,


the computer would calculate the duration of the jump and predict


where the planet would be at the end of that time taking into account


what was known about the planet's orbit, and the drift of it's parent


star relative to the galactic plane. All positions (of stars, planets,


black holes, and any other major celestial bodies) were mapped into


the computer, and it would keep track of all their relative motions so


that jumps could be calculated to within an accuracy of a few


kilometres over thousands of light years.


In-system jumps were based on a co-ordinate system with the


star as the origin, it's equator as the plane, and the centre of the


galaxy plotted along that plane as the zero axis. The poles of the


star would be the normal to the plane, naturally.


The well travelled regions of their home galaxy had been


mapped to such a degree of accuracy over the last few thousand years


that jumps could be calculated to take a ship clear across the galaxy


(a jump of more than one month) directly into orbit of a known planet.


Antilles took such accuracy for granted, although the Alderaan


incident had given people something to think about. For months after


the destruction of the planet ships had been arriving within orbital


distances of where the planet was predicted to be, and many had been


severely damaged when unexpectedly arriving in an asteroid field.


The problem with gravity wells derived from the fact that when


the ship made the jump to hyperspace, the momentary break in the


continuum allowed the gravity well to intrude into hyperspace,


compounding the difficulty of calculating the jump, unless the


fluctuations of the gravitational field was known down to the most


minute detail. Huge masses, stars, black holes and so forth, caused


slight distortions to hyperspace, and encountering such a small


distortion while the ship was in hyperspace could throw it very


slightly off course, and over a distance of thousands of light years a


minor error in the course could be disastrous. The difficulty posed by


interdictor cruisers was that the field was not uniform, and for a


jump to be calculated, you would have to be aware of every fluctuation


in the field between your ship and the edge of the field, otherwise


you would have no idea where you would jump to. In the heat of a


battle, such minute mapping was not possible, even if the Interdictor


cruiser did not vary it's field strength over time.


The first problem Antilles and his fleet would come across was


that this far from their home galaxy, the co-ordinate system used to


navigate hyperspace would be rendered useless. A difference of one


millionth of a radian would represent thousands of light years. Their


first task would be to establish a galactic plane for the new galaxy,


calculate it's theoretical core for purposes of having an origin on


the grid, and then start defining star positions, drift of those


stars, and then also entering in information about the planet's


orbiting those stars, and define those orbits as accurately as


possible. Since they would only be in the galaxy for a year or two at


the worst even if they were unsuccessful, the charts did not need to


be all that accurate, as stars would not be expected to drift


significantly in that time.


Hyperspace jumps would still incorporate a fair degree of risk


even then, since they could not hope to map every single black hole,


disruptions to the continuum, or significant interstellar bodies. They


would have to plot as many stars as they could, and only bother with


the significant planets.






"Preparing to disengage hyperdrive motivators."




"Three . two . one . now!"


There was an almost imperceptible change in the nature of the


ships background noise, as the motivators disengaged, and the ion


engines came on-line.


The view-screens around the bridge changed to reflect the


space around the fleet. One by one, all the ships joined the fleet,


and in seconds, Antilles could tell that all his ships had made it.


There was no sign of the transports. Filling one viewscreen, was the


spiral galaxy that was their target. It was still eighty thousand


light years away, about a six-week jump.


"Sub-space beacon detected, it's very weak."




"Thirty two light years, beacon code corresponds to




"Raise them on sub-space, minimum power level."


The communications officer turned back to his console. He


adjusted the power levels to the minimum required for communication


over thirty five light years, just to be safe, and hailed the


transports. A few seconds of chatter between the computers resulted in


the knowledge that the transports thought they were at the exact same


co-ordinates as the military vessels. This far from the home galaxy,


the difference in position between the two groups of ships was


imperceptible, down to many decimal places. Thirty two light years off


error over a distance of several tens of million light years was quite


impressive, Antilles thought, but highlighted their problems






"There is so little activity out here, we can scan for light


years in all directions. Not a trace of dust even."


"Navigation. Instruct computers to use an alternate


co-ordinate system, fleet at origin, transports and target galaxy as


galactic plane, transports at zero radians, and program a thirty light


year jump on those co-ordinates."


"Yes sir."


The atrogation officers worked furiously for a few seconds,


then indicated their readiness. Even if there was a mass shadow out


here somewhere, the course deviation over thirty light years would be


insignificant. Three jumps and a few minutes later they were within a


few thousand kilometres of the transports.


"Navigation. Calculate another sequence of jumps for the whole


fleet. Take us to within thirty thousand light years of the galaxy, no


more than five thousand light years per jump."




Over the next several days the fleet crept closer to the


galaxy, stopping for a few hours at a time to allow the computers to


track changes in the map of the galaxy they were already starting to


build up. The fleet also used this time to shake down their


starfighters, sending them on several patrols to ensure that


everything was still in good working order. Once they were within


thirty thousand light years, navigation defined a new co-ordinate


system based on the destination galaxy. Antilles was aware that the


co-ordinate system was subject to change if they discovered that one


of the co-ordinate stars had blown up in the last thirty thousand


years, and also as measurements of galactic drift became more


accurate. However, they already had a good idea of the dynamics of the


galaxy, having studied fifty thousand years of changes in the galaxy


as they approached it from eighty thousand light years away. It was


simple computing to predict the next thirty thousand years of galactic


drift. However, from now on, they would reduce their approach rate to


jumps of two thousand light years, then one thousand or less, as


stellar density gradually increased.


The next task was to find a base from which to operate, in a


star system that was unlikely to be visited by any star faring


species. This was difficult. Not all star-faring species required


humanoid norm systems, but avoiding humanoid norm systems was the only


place they had to start. Antilles selected a number of prospective


stars close to the galactic core, since these worlds would have a


richer abundance of good mining ores. They were all chosen for their


variance from humanoid standard requirments.


Three weeks later, after some investigation, Antilles settles


on a star with spectral properties well off galactic standard, and no


planets with surface temperatures close to humanoid comfort levels.


The planet he selected had an average surface temperature varying from


two hundred degrees centigrade to minus fifty degrees depending on


it's orbital position and orientation. It had no atmosphere.


Starfighter patrols through likely star systems nearby had turned up


nothing for a hundred light years in any direction. As far as they


knew, the galaxy was deserted. The x-wing and a-wing patrols expanded


their search to stars of varying spectral types, but for the next few


weeks as the fleet settled in and expanded the base detected nothing


of note.


The frigates were patrolling further and further out, adding


detail to the galactic map being constructed in the computers. They


could not hope to search every star system, but gradually built up a


detailed map stretching out for three hundred light years in all


directions, with only sketchy information for the rest of the galaxy.


The base itself was constructed several kilometres below the


planet surface, with turbo-lifts to the surface, and an area was


cleared to allow shuttles and small craft easy landings. The area


chosen was rich in minerals, and mining droids were distributed to


many points around the base, collecting valuable ores for use in


manufacturing and replication. A huge hydroponics station was also


constructed and plants transplanted from the ships stores to grow the


nutrients required to supplement the navy diet. Much of the


manufacturing equipment was relocated to the base, and the


manufacturing facilities expanded to include more than what could be


constructed aboard ship.




"Any suggestions for how to go about this?" Antilles asked his


assembled captains.


"It would obviously take decades to explore the galaxy to any


reasonable amount of depth," one captain answered, "and even then, if


they're hiding, it would be impossible to find them."


"The only thing we can do," Antilles said, "is to establish


contact with any sentient beings we find in this galaxy. If they're


friendly, they might inform us if they are ever contacted by the




"What if they're not friendly?"


"We will have to take our chances. We don't want to antagonise


anybody, and if we are attacked, we will retreat. We just have to hope


that they are not capable of tracking us in hyperspace, or following


us here."


"It's impossible to track a ship in hyperspace." Somebody


said. "It is purely a mathematical realm."


"Yes, and if it was possible at all, then Palpatine would have


found a way." Somebody else laughed. Of course, Palpatine had found a


way. The Imperials favourite tactic was to attach tracking devices on


ships, which were of course only as good as the sensor net at your


disposal for tracking the device, provided the ship's external


maintenance droids or periodic surveillance sweeps didn't detect them.


"Be that as it may," Antilles brought the meeting back to


order, "we will exercise extreme caution, and no ship will directly


return to base, whatever the circumstances, unless they are sure they


have not been followed. Now, are there any strong objections to


establishing contact with beings in this galaxy?"


No answer, not even from the Jedi.


"Now, we will despatch task forces consisting of one liberator


plus two frigates to each quadrant. The PEACEMAKER will remain here,


and all information gathered is to be returned here only by direct


ship-to-ship directional beams, so no sub-space broadcasts. All data


will be co-ordinated through PEACEMAKER, and all ships will have their


clocks and maps synchronised with our computers, so that we are all on


the same galactic baselines and co-ordinate systems. Understood?"


There was a chorus of acknowledgements.










"Stardate 2379.2, Captain's log. We have been diverted from


our primary mission by Starfleet HQ to investigate a distress call


which originated in the Bengu sector. There have been no


communications from the system since, and all attempts to establish


communication with the colony there has failed. The system is sixteen


light years away, and at our present course and speed we will arrive


there within two days."


Picard put down his padd. This was all he needed. There had


been peace in this sector for years. The Bengu system was less than


fifty light years from the Federation - Romulan border, but the


Romulans had not been heard from in years, which was not unusual. He


left his quarters and made his way to the bridge. When he got there,


Riker and Troi were huddled over the communications console replaying


the recording forwarded to them by Starfleet. He joined them.


"A huge alien vessel has entered orbit. We did not track them


coming in, and the ship bears no resemblance to any those of any


previously encountered species. We suspect we have a First Contact


situation. I am transmitting a recording of our sensor data for the


last hour with this message, and will update our logs periodically, as


the situation develops."


The colonist who had made the recording was surprised at the


sudden appearance of the ship, but did not appear particularly


concerned, and was following standard procedure so far.


"Now comes the interesting bit." Riker said, for Picard's




A large greying human appeared on the view-screen, the picture


noticeably poorer than usual, no doubt due to the deterioration of the


recording in it's many travels to get to the Enterprise, if not due to


the fact that civilian communications equipment was not quite up to


Starfleet standards.


"I am captain Marko Golan of the Imperial Star Destroyer


RUTHLESS, and I am claiming this world in the name of the Galactic


Empire. I will be despatching a number of shuttles to the surface, and


you will hand over command to my soldiers, and honour any requests


they may make of you. Please prepare a manifest of the minerals and


foods you have in your stores, so that we may facilitate the loading


of our shuttles. Failure to comply will result in immediate




"This colony is a member of the United Federation of Planets,


and are under the protection ."


The room in which the colonist was standing rocked, nearly


throwing him to the ground. In the background screams could be heard.


"As I said," Golan smiled thinly, "failure to comply will


result in your immediate destruction. I will not warn you again."


On the view-screen, the human Captain turned slightly as


somebody spoke to him. When he turned back to the view-screen, the


thin smile had widened noticeably.


"I have been informed that you are attempting to establish


communications with somebody on a sub-space frequency. Well, you have


been warned."


The image immediately became much more grainy, then faded away


almost completely, there was a momentary attempt to override the


jamming, then the image cut off altogether.


"That was all." Riker said, "except for the recording of their


sensor data which they also managed to transmit before contact was




"What does it show." Picard asked.


On the view-screen, a grainy picture of a spaceship appeared.


"This is the best we have been able to do with their recordings. The


recordings registered nothing out of the norm, until a few seconds


before communication was established, when this ship appeared


literally out of nowhere, in a stationary orbit directly above the


colony headquarters. The ship's shields were raised immediately it


appeared, preventing a decent scan, but energy readings were enormous,


and distributed throughout the ship. There is a 62% probability they


indicate independently powered weapons systems. Life-sign readings


were off the scale, which could mean anything, either the ship had


tens of thousands of crew members or the energies detected were


disguising the life-signs."


"How big is it?" Picard asked.


"About one point six kilometres long, several hundred metres


wide and tall at the beam. It's got several huge impulse engines,


which means that it couldn't be using a cloaking device as the


emissions would have been detected even by the civilian tracking


systems. It's means of arrival indicate an alternate drive mechanism,


that is very fast and either undetectable or naturally cloaked."


"Do we have anything on the explosion?"


"Yes, see here, there was a spike on the energy readings close


to the nose of the destroyer, as it called itself. The location of the


spike is consistent with one of the smaller weapons mountings. A


fraction of a second later the colony headquarters was rocked by an


explosion. The indications from the last of their log before the


signal was jammed indicate that the explosion took place four hundred


metres from the headquarters building, which would have put it in the


middle of the city. The devastation must have been tremendous. Bengu


has got a fairly decent sized population.


"The time lag from the spike to the explosion indicates a


particle based weapons system, with a delivery speed between 0.8c and


0.99c. Any beam weapons we are familiar with would not have resulted


in an explosion per se."


"Not missiles or torpedoes?" Picard asked.


"It's possible, but unlikely, a missile or torpedo at that


speed would have detonated in the atmosphere. The analysis of the


explosion indicates a release of kinetic energy due to a small


quantity of mass colliding with the planet surface at high velocities.


Sensor data from Bengu also shows a heat wave following the explosion


that is much higher than could be attributed to the explosion alone,


so the particles were probably highly energised as well."


"One of the smaller weapons emplacements you say?" Picard


asked. "How many were you able to distinguish?"


"About three major weapons emplacements on the side facing us,


as well as close to two hundred smaller ones, of varying strengths."


"Just on the side facing the sensors? That is impressive."


"There is more." Riker said, "Look here, below the ship, the


shape of the superstructure indicates some sort of huge hangar area,


and you can see a number of smaller shapes detaching itself from the


main ship, although the sensor data is poor. Logic implies that they


employ the tactic of a carrier vessel with numerous smaller fighter


craft, much like the aircraft carriers employed by twentieth and


twenty first century navies."


Picard considered what this meant militarily. Smaller craft


were discounted in most known military cultures because of the


tremendous logistics problems they implied. Transporters relieved the


burden of ship to planet transport, so shuttles were only required for


transportation at ranges too long for a transporter. A shuttle or


runabout had a limited warp range, and at the warp speeds such a small


ship could hope to attain the crew would be subjected to days and


weeks of confinement in a small space when on interstellar missions.


Also, such small ships had limited computing power, which reduced


their warp combat ability, not to mention that the smaller torpedoes


they were armed with were not equipped with warp sustainer fields, and


neither could they generate the containment field required to use


phasers in a warp field or at faster than light speeds.


The small impulse engines shuttles were equipped with were


also not believed to be capable of the type of manoeuvrability


required to avoid high-powered phaser beams, although they would be


difficult to target with conventional torpedoes. For a military


culture to rely on small one man craft implied that they believed


their craft's manoeuvrability to be sufficient defence, or their


weapons powerful enough to justify the strategy, and they could afford


the logistics of developing inter-stellar capable ships capable of


providing logistical support to the smaller ships. Federation shuttles


were capable of defending themselves against similar ships, but had no


hope of surviving a conflict against any capital ship employed by any


of the major species the Federation regularly encountered.


"I will be in my quarters. Call me when we are approaching


Bengu." Picard left the bridge to consider his options.






Bengu was a dead planet. The major city settled by the


colonists had been flattened, and few buildings were left standing.


Bodies were strewn all over the place, the city was a mass of craters.


There were large imprints all over the place, as if some large


creature had marched through the city, destroying everything in it's


path. By the depth of the imprint and it's design, it implied some


sort of mobile armoured vehicle, designed to negotiate rough terrain


at speed. The cities warehouses were empty. Whoever this Marko Golan


was, he had needed supplies and taken them. Picard had no need to


search through Federation records. If there were any unknown species


out there so close to human norm as to be virtually indistinguishable


from humans, the federation definitely did not know about it. Also, if


there were any knowledge in federation records pertaining to such a


ship or such designs he would eat his starfleet badge.


Of course, they could guess and theorise about the ship. The


design was obviously military, the drive mechanism employed some means


of displacement without negotiating real space or sub-space, as


sub-space receivers would surely have detected the ship.


"Transporter room, prepare for mass burials." He ordered.


Security teams were going around tagging the bodies.


"Ready." From the transporter room.




All around the away team, bodies winked out of existence, as


the transporter beams locked onto the tags, and dissipated the atoms


into space. It was the only option available to the away team, there


were thousands of bodies. A grim-faced security officer approached




"I have retrieved the backup of the colonists' logs, it was


hidden in the wreckage of the council building."


Picard nodded. He tapped his communicator's activator.


"Beam us up. We are done here." He stated.






On the enterprise, they could analyse the colonists logs. The


battle had been one sided. A brief orbital bombardment had destroyed


any defensive installations the colonists had, not that they had many


to begin with. The city had then been strafed by low-flying craft of


an unfamiliar design, before heavily armoured troops had assaulted the


city. The troops were supported by two-legged armoured vehicles, no


doubt the vehicles which had left the tracks all over the city. Few


civilians had access to weapons like phasers, and those who did had


only weak hand-held devices. The troops had killed everyone regardless


of whether they resisted or not, including women and children.


"What do we do now?" Riker asked.


"Compile everything we have and send it on to Starfleet,


priority one. We will commence a search of all surrounding star


systems. Advise starfleet to increase security at all colonies


throughout this sector until we have tracked down these humans." He


almost added 'and destroyed them', but that was not the way Starfleet


operated. Picard thought maybe this time an exception would be made.

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There were only two men in the meeting. Section 31 tended not


to have too many committee meetings. The two men had known each other


for years, and their power extended deep into all matters regarding


Federation security. They were Admirals Sutton and Woodward.


"You got my breifing on Bengu?" Sutton asked.


"Yes Alex. It looks like we have got somebody new on our


hands. Who is the man on the spot?"




"Shit. That man always crops up in the worst places at the


worst times. Will he play along this time?"


"I'm sure he will." Sutton said. He was Section 31's man in


charge of matters pertaining to starfleet. Woodward was in charge of


discovering new technologies, whether alien or human, that could be a


threat to starfleet's dominance in the federation, or could possibly


be used by starfleet to maintain dominance in the federation. Sutton


continued, "Picard's report betrayed a high level of anger, and


curiosity about the alien ship's design. He also found it intriguing


that the ship was apparently crewed by humans, although their language


structure is totally alien. The translators apparently had no problem


translating the language though."


"Then he is keen to track down these men?"


"Yes. If they are men. They aren't any of ours, are they, you


have no new toys that you are testing Edward?"


"Alex! If I did, I wouldn't use them in this way, maybe on the


Cardassians or the Dominion, or the Romulans, but certainly not on


federation citizens."


"Just checking. Now, Picard is keen to hunt these pirates


down, and I say we let him loose, but I am sure that you wouldn't mind


getting your hands on that ship, just to see how it ticks. The trick


is to convince Picard to capture either that ship or some of it's




"Alex, this time I think we can be honest with our captain


Picard. This could after all be a grave threat to the federation,


especially so close to the Romulan border."


"Yes, I will allow Picard to continue his hunt. The problem


is, what do we do about other colonies in the area. Our fleets are


spread thin as it is, we don't dare turn our backs on the cardassians


or the Ferengi, and those fleets are close enough to Bajor to counter


any moves by the Dominion. The problem is the Romulans. We don't dare


withdraw any ships from the Romulan border, and if we use the Klingons


to defend the colonies then we risk any captured technology falling


into Klingon hands. Can we risk putting Klingon ships on our border


with the Romulans?"


"Is the technology on those ships worth risking it?" Admiral


Woodward wanted to know.


"They got there ship into orbit directly over that colony


without being detected, albeit by civilian sensors." Sutton reminded




"Yes, that alone is very intriguing. That type of surprise


element we don't dare lose to the Klingons, even if they are our


allies for now. I would agree to Klingons defending the Romulan


border. While it may cause a diplomatic nightmare, the two hate each


other more than either of them hate us. I will convince the President


of that. You may withdraw as many ships as you need from the border to


assist Picard, but don't leave the border completely undefended. If


Picard proves to be a problem, can you handle him?"


"Don't worry about Picard, I will leave him in charge for now,


at least he is efficient even if he lives too closely to the Prime


Directive. If necessary, I will have someone pull rank on him."


The two shook hands.






"Captain? It's Will."




The door opened, and Riker walked in.


"Orders, from Starfleet." Riker handed him a padd.


Picard read through the orders, he raised his eyebrows once or




"Drink, Will?"


"Yes, Romulan ale."


"At least Starfleet isn't taking this lying down. They have


ten Klingon Bird of Preys heading towards the Romulan border, and have


pulled eight starships off patrol duty on the Neutral Zone. We are to


set up a search pattern of all stars working outwards from Bengu. If


possible we are to capture the raiders alive, or their ship intact."


Picard said, reading through the orders again.


"Section 31?"


"Yes, I can smell their hand in these orders. Can't say I


blame them, the raiders used tactics and weaponry totally outside of


our experience, and that ship was unlike any other we have


encountered. While I can understand the effort going into hunting them


down, this bit about capturing them alive was surely unnecessary.


Either they think we are cowboys going to shoot up the enemy, or


somebody would really like a look at that ship."


"Not to mention,' Riker added, "that it would have been more


prudent to allow the Klingons to help us in the search than to put


them on the Romulan border, unless somebody doesn't want the Klingons


to get their hands on that ship."


"Yes, the Klingons have been our allies for more than seventy


years, and while things haven't always been smooth, they are now full


members of the federation."


"All of which doesn't help us in finding that ship." Riker




"Somehow I don't think we will find that ship quite so easily


by searching through star systems here. With only nine ships, and


thousands of star systems to search, it will be a useless exercise."


"What else can we do?" Riker asked.


"Indeed, number one, what else?" Picard said in frustration.


They had reviewed possible drive mechanisms, how the ship got


into orbit without being noticed, cloaking mechanisms, ran the sensor


data through their computers hundreds of times using different


scenarios. They had come up with nothing. Either the civilian


recordings were not good enough, or the drive mechanism used was


beyond the ability of the sensors to detect. It was obvious that it


had been a supply raid, but most of the supplies could have been


obtained through trade or negotiation. The destruction of the colony


had been wanton.








Antilles could feel the frustration building up in him. He had


four task forces slowly and painfully working their way outwards


through the galaxy, exploring all remotely humanoid standard stars,


ignoring stars with unlikely spectral classes. With three capital


ships, 48 hyperspace capable starfighters and an assortment of


gunboats and assault shuttles per task force they could explore


hundreds of stars per hour. Even an x-wing's sensors were good enough


to detect signs of technology at interplanetary distances, while a


Liberator's sensors could detect signs of technology as far as two or


three light years away depending on conditions. The frigates were used


to ferry the information back and forth, so that sub-space silence


could be maintained. They were unlikely to find the imperials this


way, but the idea was to find sentient star faring beings, and


establish contact, as well as to build up a hyperspace map with a


reasonable degree of accuracy.


They had been doing this for two months now, and had achieved


very little. The further they explored, the more ground they had to


cover, and after expanding through a thousand light years, the sheer


volume of space to explore was bogging the exploration down, and they


had discovered very little so far. Three species had been located with


interstellar capabilities, which had perked up interest levels in the


mission for short periods of time. Two of the species had turned them


away with open hostility, although no shots had been fired. The third


species was probably the most technologically advanced they had


discovered, but hadn't even bothered to communicate, and had attacked


the frigate used in the contact negotiations without provocation.


Fortunately the frigate had escaped without damage from the


cube-shaped vessel by jumping to a pre-calculated rendezvous point.


The cube had apparently been unable to follow, or had not bothered.


Since then, nothing. The first two species apparently only had


limited inter-stellar capability, and controlled small spheres of the


galaxy, no more than four or five worlds. About the cube ship little


was known, and it had been the only one of it's type encountered.


There was no sign of a trans-galactic capable species so far, which


hinted that technology levels in this galaxy may not be that high.


Antilles took nothing for granted though. The stardrive of all the


ships they had encountered made use of space-time distortion effects,


which twisted real space and motivated the ship in that fashion. The


power requirements had to be enormous, and undoubtedly would have to


be maintained for the full duration of the journey.


A hyperspace jump also required enormous power levels, but


once the ship had made the jump, the energy required by the motivators


was minimal, although the motivators could only retain stability at


certain speeds. These stable 'frequencies' were referred to as class


point five, class one and class two. There was a theory which Antilles


only barely understood which gave the speed through hyperspace as a


relationship between the mass of the ship, the wave co-efficient of


the hyperdrive motivator, and the energy levels required. There were


only three known stable speeds which could be achieved, and hyperdrive


motivators were calibrated according to the size of the vessel in


which they were fitted and the energy capabilities of that ship.


Antilles, as a history student, had also come across the


theory that technology levels in the galaxy was unbalanced, due to the


ease with which new worlds and new resources could be reached. The


only driving factor for technological progress in the galaxy was


conflict, and so while weapons of destruction and related technologies


were commonplace, other technologies stagnated. In the 25000 years of


known galactic history, much had been discovered in lieu of


technology, but mostly due to the slow and inevitable accumulation of


research, rather than any major driving force to overcome logistical


problems. The theory had specifically blamed this on the early


discovery of hyperspace drives and technologies like anti-gravity


fields and repulsor lifts, which had made interstellar expansion too




"Sir, a frigate has returned."


"Initiate communications."


All sensory data from the frigate was uploaded to the


PEACEMAKER, and added to their growing store of data on this galaxy.


Once the maps were updated, they were downloaded to the incoming


frigate along with all mapping data accumulated by the other task


forces. There was now a new blip on the galactic map, a fourth species


had been discovered. Apparently an x-wing attached to this group had


discovered signs of metal alloys on a planet. The alloys could not


possibly be naturally occurring, and the x-wing had jumped out of the


system hopefully before it had been detected itself.


"Order base command to take over map co-ordination


responsibilities. The frigate will remain here for defensive purposes.


Prepare a jump to those co-ordinates."


The co-ordinates were nearly a thousand light years away, and


would involve a ten hour jump. The accuracy of the mapping within this


region allowed them the confidence to make it in one jump. The


battle-cruiser re-appeared in normal space about a light year out of


the system, and launched two wings of x-wing fighters. They also used


the opportunity to scan the system, establishing exact positions of


all objects in the system, and confirmed the accuracy of the original


x-wing scan. The fleet then jump to within five diameters of the


target planet, close enough to scan the planet in detail, far enough


hopefully to not be perceived as an immediate threat.


"Commence planetary scan."


On the tactical display, a holographic image of the planet


started forming, the information supplemented by the x-wings scanners


as they curved around the far side of the planet. At this range the


sensors could penetrate to a depth of several kilometres. On the


hologram, the image was semi-transparent, and even geological


formations could be distinguished, with major mineral deposits


highlighted. On the surface of the hologram, cities and other


settlements were highlighted, along with cultivated regions. Life-sign


readings indicated a population of several million beings with a


humanoid type base-line, but with significant deviations from human




"We are detecting sub-space transmissions, decoding."


One of the view-screens changed to show a human looking male.


The computer translated.


"This system is a member of the Romulan Star Empire, identify


yourself and your business here."


On closer inspection, Antilles could see the man had starkly


angled eyebrows, and pointed ears. There was just a vague greenish


tinge to an otherwise healthy looking human complexion. Dark curly


hair looked otherwise human.


"I am Captain Antilles, commander of this ship, a scout vessel


of the New Republic. We are looking for a group of outcasts from our


society, and will not remain long."


"There are none of your people here, and if there are any


within the jurisdiction of our Empire, then they are dead or


imprisoned. If you have no other business here, leave now or be


destroyed. You are in direct violation of the peace treaty between our


peoples. You have already stretched our patience by allowing Klingon


vessels to patrol our borders."


On the display to one side, Antilles noticed four ships taking


off from a spaceport.


"We will continue our search elsewhere. However, we would like


to make arrangements for you to contact us should these outcasts ever


contact you or cause any disturbance in your society."


"Any humans attempting to invade our society will be




The Romulan terminated the transmision.


"Romulan vessels opening fire on x-wings."


"Jump to rendezvous point. Execute."


The fleet jumped, and a minute later, re-appeared about a


light year outside the system. Long-range sensors showed the Romulan


vessels sweeping outwards from the planet in a wide arc, possibly


searching for them.


"Romulan vessels have changed course, they have detected us,


and are moving to intercept. ETA ninety minutes."


"Recover x-wings." Antilles ordered.


"Friendly lot," Nerak commented, "their weapons were


especially powerful, but the x-wings evaded their fire easily enough."


"Every species we've encountered so far in this galaxy has


been hostile. What did we discover about their weapons systems?"


Antilles asked.


"Their ships were quite large for planetary based vessels, on


the order of three hundred metres to seven hundred metres long, but


with only a few weapons mounts. We detected about ten missile launch


tubes, three banks of some type of beam weapon projector, and one


turret that looked suspiciously like a plasma discharge weapon, not


altogether unlike our turbolasers. Also, they used some type of


cloaking technology, but we easily tracked them on their drive


emissions. They also uncloaked several seconds before firing their




"And now, are they cloaked?" Antilles looked at the display,


showing the four vessels arrowing towards them.


"Yes, but we can still detect them based on the distortion


effects of their stardrive, although their are apparently no drive


emissions associated with it."


"Do you think they can handle the Imperials should they run


into one another?"


Nerak shrugged, "They seem pretty confident. Who knows. The


weapons on those vessels don't appear to have the type of firepower to


destroy a vessel the size of an ISD, but with judicious use of that


stardrive they could make a difficult target."


It was Antilles turn to shrug, "Before we invented hyperdrive,


we had similar drive mechanisms, no doubt the histories will have


references to weapons which can counter it. Force knows, the Empire


had no problem subduing anyone they cared to, regardless of their


drive mechanisms."


"All x-wings recovered sir." the CAG reported.


Antilles glanced at the display, where the Romulan vessels had


covered about a quarter of the way towards the Republic vessels.












The Romulan ambassador was not a happy woman.


"Mr President, as if it isn't enough that you have Klingon


warships supplementing your forces on the border, this latest flagrant


disregard for our peace treaties has tested our patience severely."


"My dear, I am afraid I don't know what you're talking about."


"Lies. One of your new warships used a cloaking mechanism to


attempt to penetrate our Far Colonies, but fled when they were


discovered by our patrols. They tried to make some excuse about


searching for outcasts from the federation. This will not be tolerated


Mr President. Further violations of the treaties will have disastrous


consequences, for you."


The Romulan female turned and marched out of the President's




"Sutton." The president turned to Admiral Alex Sutton, "Give


me some good news."


"Sir, there have been no traces found of the alien vessel


which destroyed the Bengu colony three weeks ago. Perhaps it is time


to call off the search. That will allow us to normalise the situation


at the Neutral Zone."


"Public opinion will not stand for that. Calling off the


search will be an admission of starfleet incompetence. Public opinion


is a fickle thing, and many senators are questioning the powers of


Starfleet. If you don't produce results, it could be disastrous for


the future of starfleet."


"Perhaps Picard needs to be replaced.." Sutton suggested.


"No! Picard is respected. If nothing is turned up in the next


week, then the search will have to be called off. We don't need a war


with the Romulans right now, and we will have to pull the Klingons off


the border soon if we want to avoid one. Now, what do you make of this


business about the Romulan Far Colonies."


"We have never managed to circumnavigate the Romulan Empire,


and don't know how far their Empire extends. Our explorations have


shown that the Romulans control at least as many sectors of the galaxy


as do the Federation. Where our colonising drives have been halted by


treaties with other species in most directions except Rimwards, it is


known that the Romulans have no such treaties limiting colonisation of


the galaxy."


Sutton indicated a chart of the galaxy on one wall.


"This is the region we control," he indicated with his hands,


"Here are the Romulans, and below them, the Klingons, with the


Romulan-Klingon border along here. Our colonisation drives have


obviously been halted in that direction. The Klingons are expanding


away from us in this direction, and are apparently unopposed, although


it is resulting in a lengthening of the Klingon-Romulan border. Each


is trying to out-expand the other, which has heightened tensions


between the two considerably. On the other side of federation space,


we are hemmed in by the Cardassians and the Ferengi and various


smaller groupings. The only paths of expansion left to us are


Rimwards, and through a narrow gap here in the direction of the Core,


which will result in an extension of the Neutral Zone. Even the


Bajoran wormhole has led to a dead end, unless we are prepared to go


to war with the Dominion.


"It is known to us that the Romulans are expanding in this


direction to cut us off from the core, although at the moment their


primary aim is to out-expand the Klingons, and probably cut them off


from the core as well. One day, one way or another, if we hope to


expand much more, we will have to take on the Romulans." Sutton




"The Far Colonies?" The president insisted.


"We suspect lies over here," Sutton indicated a region about


fourteen thousand light years from federation space, and much closer


to the galactic core.


"We are sure the Romulan Empire extends that far?" The


president enquired.


"Not sure, but an educated guess. The Romulans have been


expanding virtually unopposed for more than a hundred years now, while


we have been dabbling in politics and other niceties."


"You are skating close to the edge, Alex." The President


smiled, "I know your sentiments, but we are not war mongering


butchers. Perhaps one day it will come back to haunt us, but it is a


big galaxy, and there is no reason why people can't live in peace. You


were saying, the Romulans expanding virtually unopposed?"


"Yes, Mr President. However, we do have some suspicion of


opposition to Romulan expansion. In the last few years Romulan ships


have been seen to be employing rapidly regenerating shields, frequency


modifiers on the shields and phase variance devices on their beam


weapons. These we suspect are as a direct result of encounters with


the Borg."


"Ah. Why have I not heard this before."


"It is only conjecture, Mr President. However, given the


location of all verified Borg sightings, including the first encounter


by the Enterprise over here a few years ago," Sutton indicated a point


not all that far from the Romulan Far Colonies, "it is possible that


the major Borg influenced regions lie in the quadrant of the galaxy on


the far side of the Romulan Empire." Sutton smiled, as if it was the


greatest joke that their most implacable enemies were the Federation's


best defence against the Borg.


"Now why would they believe it was one of our ships?"


"Remember the Bengu visuals. The alien captain appeared to be


human." Sutton reminded him.


"So there is another group of humans out there, apparently.


She also referred to 'outcasts from the federation'."


"If she had her facts correct. Possibly these humans are


descendants of some lost or unrecorded colony ships. Lord knows there


were many that left Earth shortly after the Eugenics wars a few


hundred years ago, and not all have been accounted for, but somehow I


doubt it. Their language constructs were totally unrelated to ours,


and the translators had a difficult time verifying the translation as




"Okay. We cannot keep searching for ever, but here's what we


will do. In one week, if nothing turns up, call off the search. We


will request the Klingons to provide defensive patrols of all colonies


in those regions, but our ships will remain close to the Neutral Zone.


The Enterprise's duty roster will be cleared of everything, except the


search for these unknown humans. Picard is to be given a free hand to


turn up whatever he can."


"Are you sure that is wise Mr President?"


"Are you questioning my orders, Admiral Sutton?"


"No, sir. I will see that it is carried out." Sutton relented.


"Make it so!" the President waved him out.




Sutton made his way back to his office. He had two visitors


waiting for him. Woodward, who was responsible for federation


security, and Garth Elim, the public liaison. Sutton explained the


situation to them.


"I can use the situation to demand greater powers for


Starfleet," Elim suggested. "We can twist the reporting to indicate


that there is little starfleet can do given the fact our hands are


tied by so many compromises and treaties. We could probably sway


public opinion towards greater powers for starfleet."


"Yes," Sutton agreed. "That will help. If we can organise some


positive results that are timed nicely after an increase in public


support then starfleet could benefit immensely."


"If necessary I can manufacture some results," Woodward










In the conference room aboard the Enterprise, all senior


officers had been gathered. The order cancelling the search had just


come through, leaving the Enterprise to conduct the search on their


own. They had been given wide-ranging powers in that regard, and all


other responsibilities had been removed.


"We have searched two hundred and twenty nine stars in an eighteen


light year radius from Bengu, and we are getting nowhere," Picard


started, "with only the enterprise left, we have no hope of catching


those raiders."


"Giving up is not an option," Riker stated flatly.


"I don't intend to," Picard affirmed. "We need to try


a different strategy."


"What do you suggest?" Riker asked.


"We know that those raiders were not federation members, and


that ship was of a totally alien design. We have no records of any


explorer vessel encountering humans who were not of Earth stock, and


exploration vessels have penetrated several thousand light years into


the galaxy, beyond federation space. Unless some previously


undiscovered and unmentioned race has intruded into those regions of


the galaxy recently, that ship has to have come from thousands of


light years away. To make such a journey they must be several years


away from home if they are using any stardrive technology we are aware




The likely scenario is that they raided Bengu to replenish


their diminished supplies, and are either now returning whence they


came, or setting up a base somewhere from which to operate in this


area. If they are returning to their home, our search is fruitless, as


we may never find them. If however, they are setting up a base


somewhere, we have a hope of finding them, if we can deduce where that


base might be."


"That is a big assumption," Riker said, "with a lot of 'ifs'.


Can we be sure they aren't renegades working for the Romulans or


somebody. That attack was suspiciously close to Romulan space."


"I doubt it. That ship's design was like nothing that we have


seen before. It could just be coincidence that Bengu was hit. There is


no proof, not even a suspicion, of Romulan involvement. In fact, it


appears they may have come across our friends themselves, although it


is unknown whether any of their planets were actually attacked.


Apparently, the invaders 'ran away' on being attacked by four




"If you can believe anything a Romulan says."


"So, going by my scenario, what should our strategy be?"


Picard put the question to the assembled group.


"Their base cannot be anywhere too close to federation space,


the risk of detection by a passing ship is too great. If I were them,


I would be located somewhere out here." One officer suggested,


indicating the vast tract of stars leading towards the core. "They


cannot have come from the Rim, otherwise they would have had to cross


the entire federation to get here. Bengu is the richest planet within


fifty light years from the Neutral Zone, and it is only three hundred


light years from the edge of federation space."


"Yes," Riker agreed. "They could have slipped in through this


gap here, and followed this route to Bengu. But they must have good


cloaking technology, because anyone who lights up a warp core close to


the Neutral Zone will be detected by one of our listening posts, and


there are dozens of posts spread throughout this sector."


"No," Picard shook his head, "Their stardrive may not be warp


based, which leaves gaps they could have slipped through, but not big


ones, and there is no way they could know where all those listening


posts are. That information is classified, even to us."


"Even so, their base has to be somewhere out there." Riker




"What if their ship is their base? It is certainly big


enough." Somebody suggested.


"No, assuming they are years from home, even a ship of that


size cannot be a permanent base for so long." Picard answered.


"To locate Bengu," one of the security officers suggested,


"they must have done a lot of scouting. Perhaps there are unexplained


sightings that we could follow up. Maybe the listening posts did pick


up their trail, but didn't recognise it for what it was. We could get


recordings of sensor data from colonies and outposts in let's say a


fifty light year radius, and run them through our computers. Maybe we


can pick up something in retrospect that would have been discounted at


the time."


"Excellent idea, lieutenant. Commander, see to it."


"Yes sir."


Over the next few days, as records were being reviewed, small


discounted anomalies were surfacing. A number of the better defended


systems had spotted impulse type signatures for short periods of time


at extreme ranges for detecting such drives, which later disappeared


and were discounted. The enemy had obviously scouted these systems


from long range, and whatever stardrive mechanism they were using was


undetectable by the well-worn methods for detecting warp drives.








Antilles was somewhat encouraged by the information gleaned


from the Romulans. Their conversation had hinted at other humans, and


treaties with other humans. That could only be a reference to


imperials. As a result, Antilles had ordered a second task force into


the area. The two task forces were working their way around Romulan


space, scanning systems at long range, and careful not to actually


enter any star systems where Romulan activity was detected. He did not


know if the Romulans were able to detect their X-wings or A-wings, as


they never approached closer than half a light year to any star


system, and kept their ion-drives at low power, with most systems


shutdown. He hoped the risk of being caught in deep-space with all


systems shutdown was low enough to be justified. Any fighter actually


spotted would have to do a quick jump to safety if approached.


Once they had mapped Romulan space, they would then work their


way outwards looking for signs of the humans the Romulans had



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Jacob Lightfoot bit off a chunk of ration bar. He was three


hours into a four patrol, and besides hunger, he was also beginning to


feel the odd cramp. He shifted slightly in his seat, and stretched as


much as the restraints would allow him. His R2 unit chirped, and a


message flowed across his translator unit. They would be dropping out


of hyperspace in ten seconds. Another system to scan. Jacob had been


through this many times in the last three months. He ran his eyes over


his displays. If anything was worthy of attention, his R2 unit would


have popped it onto his HUD, but he liked to check anyway.


The three-second indicator lit up, and shortened


progressively. As it hit zero, the ship dropped out of hyperspace.


Jacob wasted no time in pulling back the power lever. In a by-gone age


the lever had actually caused the hyperspace drop, these days it was


the pilot's confirmation to the ship to shunt power away from the


hyperdrive motivator, into the other ships' systems. His sensor board


came to life, and Jacob could see one star dead ahead that was much


brighter than it's neighbours. The R2 unit was already plotting their


next jump, as the sensors 'listened' to the system ahead of them. The


system was deserted, no signs of technology, although there were at


least two habitable planets in the system.


"R2, don't jump yet, I'm going to take a closer look. Jump as


close as we can to the outermost planet, one planetary diameter if




The starfield shifted slightly, the short jump registering


only as a momentary lurch of the ship. R2-B3 hadn't even bothered to


shift additional power to the hyperdrive motivator, and no


manipulation of the power lever was necessary. The star ahead was


significantly brighter. There was still no signs of technology. Jacob


allowed the orbit around the planet to swing him into view of the rest


of the system. No indicators on his sensor board. He opened his mouth


to order the jump to the next system, when his board lit up.


There was a ship in orbit around the second planet. It was a


big one, about the size of a frigate, with significant energy


readings. Jacob glanced over his display. His own ion engines were


still shut down, and life-support was running at low power, just


enough to keep the air clean and the cabin temperature in a reasonable


range. The inertial dampers and gravity generators were shut down


along with the engines. He was as quiet as he could be, and in a ship


as small as an X-wing, hopefully undetectable at this range.


As he watched, the ships energy readings lowered


significantly, and it moved closer to the planet, just skimming above


it's atmosphere. Jacob watched closely, trying to determine what the


ship was up to. Seconds later he got his answer. The R2 unit chirped,


on his sensor board he saw there was an incoming starship, it's


distortion field having been detected by the passive sensors. The


first one was hiding, apparently undetectable unless it engaged it's


stardrive. This was going to be interesting.


"R2, you recording this?"


The R2 unit snorted derisively. Of course it was recording.


Jacob couldn't help smiling. The R2 units were renowned for their


obstreperous nature, which was most likely why they were not issued


with speech generators.


The first alien vessel was almost invisible now, if he had not


spotted it earlier, he would have most likely not even known it was


there. The second vessel disengaged it's warp drive only a few


planetary diameters short of the planet. It engaged an ion drive, and


manoeuvred itself into a stationary orbit. From his vantage point,


Jacob could see the first vessel doing a powered orbit, skimming the


atmosphere. In seconds it would be in line of sight of the second


vessel, which seemed oblivious to it's presence.


Suddenly his sensor board went crazy, energy readings going


off the scale before the R2 unit could adjust it's sensitivity. The


first ship had fired it's beam weapons, scoring direct hits on the


second vessel, a number of torpedoes were streaking towards the


stricken ship. The missiles smashed into the ship, rocking it visibly


to his sensors even at this distance. The stricken vessel finally


opened fire on it's attacker, which was now curving up away from the


planet and still accelerating at about five gees. Not bad for such a


big ship with so small an ion drive, Jacob thought. Another burst of


the beam weapons sliced into the damaged ship, blowing away large


sections of it's hull. A second volley of torpedoes blew the ship


apart. The attacker decelerated, it's course bringing it close to the


wreckage, making sure that the ship was destroyed, no doubt. The


attacking ship engaged it's stardrive, and streaked out of the system,


clearing the system in a matter of seconds.


Jacob estimated its speed as close to 9000 times the speed of


light, or about one light year per hour. Not bad, but hardly


trans-galactic. He was able to track the space-time distortion for


about twenty minutes, out to a third of a light-year. He checked his


timer. He was more than an hour overdue, and the Freedom Fighter would


not wait much longer for him.


"R2, take us home."


The droid beeped, and the starfield twisted into meaningless


static as they sped back to their mother ship. Besides being late, he


had not finished his reconnaissance patrol. He didn't think the


captain would mind too much. In fact, she would be pretty pleased, he


was sure.


As soon as the X-wing arrived at the rendezvous point, he


ordered the R2 unit to transmit everything it had recorded to the


Freedom Fighter via laser beam communications. Laser was directional,


and the low powered laser would not be detected for more than a few


hundred thousand kilometres. Sub-space was off-limits this close to


possible enemy space. He had barely transmitted the recording of his


patrol when he got priority one clearance to land. He was ushered


straight to the CAG's office. The Cag didn't say a word, just ushered


him into the nearby turbolift and straight up to the captain's ward


room. The captain and her senior staff were already gathered there,


and were playing his recordings on the holo display.


"Lieutenant Lightfoot. That was very good thinking. The data


you accumulated might prove to be invaluable. The Freedom's Friend has


already left to take this information back to the Peacemaker. Captain


Antilles would have wanted to see it immediately. Now tell us in your


own words your impressions of what happened here."




Antilles, Nerak and Marcus gathered in the conference room.


The Jedi, who had virtually lived in the gymnasiums and simulators for


the last few months, had somehow got wind of the meeting, and made a


rare appearance.


"What do you make of this?" Antilles asked.


"We have been mapping the limits of Romulan influence, and I


think we have found it." Commander Marcus, the Peacemaker's CAG,


answered. "The destroyed ship matches the Romulan signatures we have


observed up to now. The attacking ship was of a not too dissimilar


design, but obviously not Romulan. It was expecting the Romulan ship,


and did a sarlacc on them. The weapons capabilities seem fairly evenly


matched, but the Romulans were caught by surpise. The X-wing


recordings did pick up a sub-space call from the Romulan vessel, no


doubt a distress call, and the alien vessel didn't hang around to find


out. Neither did the X-wing, thank goodness. If any reinforcements had


come along, they would have been loaded for ragnor, and even a


womp-rat might not have found a hidey hole in that system."


"I agree." Nerak said. "It seems that the Romulans are at war


with somebody in this sector. Maybe the humans they were referring to.


Could that alien vessel have been a human ship? Do you think there are


humans in this galaxy?"


"I am not so sure," Antilles answered, "they mentioned having


treaties with humans, which indicates a possible cessation of


hostilities. This doesn't look like a cessation of hostilities, so I


would doubt if that ship was a human vessel. Maybe they are at war


with someone else."


"Then why have a battle over an empty planet," The Jedi knight


spoke up for the first time, "According to the sensor data, that


planet had no significant mineral deposits that could be discerned,


and it was uninhabited. I suspect the battle may have been more due to


territorial rights than part of an actual war."


"It was a pretty vicious battle." Nerak commented.


"Yes, but no strategic victory was gained by either side that


can be easily ascertained. What was the alien vessel defending? Why


lay a trap for the Romulan vessel in a deserted system? It can only be


a fight over territorial rights. The alien ship was trying to prevent


the Romulans from establishing a presence in this sector."






The president of the United Federation of Planets was not


having a good month. It was the second time he had to face an enraged


Romulan ambassador.


"We demand you sever your ties with the Klingons." She stated.


"What basis do you have for your demands," the president said,


"the Klingons are members of this federation."


"Is it this federation's policy to murder women and children,


to arbitrarily destroy defenceless colonists?"


The president's eyebrows raised considerably, the Bengu


incident still fresh in his mind.


"You have lost a colony?" He asked.


"The Klingons mercilessly destroyed one of our starships. It


was loaded with colonists. Do you support them in this?"


"I don't know all the facts, so I will reserve judgement.


Maybe you can tell me where this incident occurred, and how you know


the Klingons were behind it."


"The distress call we received positively identified the


attacking warship as Klingon. The recovered wreckage had battle damage


consistent with Klingon weaponry. My government has not informed me of


the location of the incident yet, but has demanded that you sever all


ties with the Klingons."


"I am afraid I will need more information. We will have to


know the location of this battle. Then we will have to send an


inspection team out to ascertain the facts of the matter. Also, I


didn't realise Romulan starships were defenceless. It was destroyed by


one Klingon vessel you say?"


"I can see you are not prepared to heed our warnings. Your


allience with the Klingons will cost you severely one day."


The Romulan ambassador stormed out of the room. The president


was getting used to seeing the back of her, and was beginning to enjoy


this particular perspective of the Romulan woman. He tapped his


communicator. "Get me the Klingon ambassador."




"You say you don't know where this occurred?" The Klingon


ambassador rumbled.


"You don't know the name of the ship? Not even the class of


ship? A serial number perhaps?"


The president shook his head to indicate a negative response


to all the questions.


"Then I am afraid I cannot help you. Perhaps the Romulan ship


suffered some other malady and they wish to blame it on the Klingons,


as usual" The ambassador continued, "The Romulans blame us for all


their misfortunes."


"Mr Ambassador, possibly one of your captains acted a bit


hastily ..." The president started.


"Are you questioning Klingon discipline?" The ambassador




"No, but ..."


"I can assure you, Klingon captains are very carefully


screened. We will not do anything that violates our agreements with


the federation."


"Thank you Mr Ambassador. I will pass that sentiment onto the


Romulan ambassador."


The huge Klingon nodded. The president was glad to see the


back of him too. The president called in his next visitor. "Admiral




Sutton was not at all surprised by the morning's events, and


even looked vaguely pleased about it.


"This just bears out my last briefing to you Mr President. No


doubt, the Klingons and Romulans had a bit of disagreement over a


strategically placed M class planet somewhere out here." He indicated


the far side of known Romulan and Klingon space on the galactic map.


"The Klingons are being blocked from expanding core-wards by the


Romulans, but must have taken a strategic planet, or at least


prevented the Romulans from taking it. It is known that they have been


fighting a cold war for the last few decades, and I am sure this is


not the first ship either has lost, nor is it likely to be the last.


The Klingons are depending on their mutual defence treaties with us to


prevent the Romulans engaging in an all-out war on them, and of course


they also need our economic support to finance the cost of their


expansion drives.


"We need the Klingons to prevent the Romulans going to war


with us of course, that is the whole point of our alliance." Sutton




"No." The president answered, raising his voice for the first


time that day. "Our alliance with the Klingons is based on mutual


understanding and the common goal of a striving for peace in this


galaxy. The federation cannot afford to go to war with Klingons, since


they will not stop until we have destroyed them utterly, and our


entire basis of existence precludes us from engaging in such genocide.


Anything else is a mockery of what the Federation believes in, and


what Starfleet stands for."


"You can save that drivel for the public, Mr President, and


for die-hards like Picard who believe it. The truth is that Starfleet


exists because as long as we have the biggest axe, no-one will mess


with us. If you were to get off you high horse occasionally then maybe


we can build up Starfleet to the point where we don't need the


Klingons or anyone else."


"Admiral Sutton. Another word, and you will be retired to New


Zealand for reasons of ill-health."


The two men stared at each for a long moment. The Admiral


eventually looked away.


"Sir. I apologise. Maybe we both should study the underlying


reasons for the drawing up of the Prime Directives."


"See that you do that. I know I shall." The president waved


him out.








The two Liberators and their supporting frigates lay in deep


space, three light years from the nearest star-system. Steady beams of


invisible laser light joined the fleet into one network as all their


databases were continuously updated with information being brought in


by X-wings and A-wings returning from patrols. A flash of


pseudo-motion heralded the arrival of the Peacemaker. Another


invisible beam joined the Peacemaker into the network, and the ships


exchanged the latest copies of their respective databases.


On the bridge tactical display, the galactic map updated to


display the recently discovered colonies of the species that were


engaged in the war with the Romulans. Antilles indicated a world which


had a significantly higher than usual population, most likely a


capital for this sector. Three A-wings had done a long range passive


sensor scan of the system, mapping it as closely as possible without


doing an active sensor focus, and two were remaining on station


outside the system.


"My compliments to the captains of these task forces, they may


continue their reconnaissance missions for now."


Nerak nodded, and a tech tapped instructions into the computer


terminal besides him. Seconds later the Peacemaker jumped again. An


hour later, they had covered the more than one hundred light years to


the alien system, stopping long enough just outside the system to


launch another wing of A-wings, and to receive the latest data from


the nearby monitoring A-wing.


The Peacemaker and it's company of four A-wings then jumped to


within fifteen light-seconds of the alien capital, the A-wings


overshooting by fifteen light-seconds, so that they could monitor the


far side of the planet as well. Sub-space silence was not required for


this mission, and the A-wings established a coded sub-space data-link


with the Peacemaker the instant they returned to normal space.


Antilles had no wish to be surprised.


"Alien vessel, identify yourself. Immediately."


The inhabitants had spotted the ships immediately on arrival,


and wasted no time in establishing contact, or the computer was not


mincing words in it's translation. Antilles noticed that they had at


least nine warships in orbit similar to the one observed attacking the


Romulan vessel. There were a further six on the fringes of the system


according to the A-wings from the Freedom Fighter.


"I am Captain Antilles, commander of the New Republic Starship




"What is your business here?" The humanoid figure on the


screen bore no resemblance to the Romulan viewed earlier, and the


life-sign readings obtained from the planet below were even further


from human base-line. The humanoid had dark skin, a large ridged


forehead, and heavy eyebrows and a thickened brow ridge shielded his




"I am conducting a search for a group of outcasts from our


society, who I believe may be hiding in this sector of the galaxy."


"There are no humans in this sector of the galaxy."


Somebody from off-screen captured the attention of the


humanoid figure, and he cut the audio for a few seconds while


conversing with the person off-screen.


Jedi Dacron stepped forward, and Antilles likewise cut the


audio on his transmission. "They have encountered the imperials, or at


least have encountered humans with some relationship to us."


Antilles nodded. The alien was turning back towards the view


screen. He activated the audio control again.


"You will surrender your vessel pending charges of piracy to


which you may be an accessory. Comply or be destroyed."


This was getting interesting. Piracy was just the kind of


thing Antilles was looking for.


"I will not surrender my vessel. However, I am prepared to


answer to any questions you may level against us. We have committed no


crimes in this sector, and are in fact hunting for criminals who have


committed such acts against us."


The alien appeared to consider for a second.


"You may beam down to the co-ordinates we will supply you. If


you or your ship attempt any form of aggression, you will be




"I am afraid I would rather not leave my ship. I would however


welcome any delegation you wish to send here." Antilles replied.


"What guarantees do you offer for the safety of the




Antilles smiled. This was going better than he had expected.


"I will accede to an exchange of hostages. I will send a group of my


men over on a shuttle, and your delegation can return on the same


shuttle. Be aware that we are quite capable of matching any form of


aggression on your part. I am as concerned for the safety of my men,


as you are for yours."


"And naturally you won't want to lower your shields to allow


transporter use." The alien grimaced. Antilles supposed it was meant


as a smile. It wasn't pretty. "I give you my word your men will be


treated as honourably as you treat ours, and a Klingon does not give


his word lightly. Send your shuttle to these co-ordinates."


A list of figures followed, which the computer interpreted as


a longitude - latitude reference relative to the poles of the planet


below. Antilles confirmed the co-ordinates and the understanding of


the reference system used. Now all he had to do was find a few


volunteers to get onboard the shuttle. Strangely, but almost


unsurprisingly, it was one of the Jedi who volunteered. Nerak also


volunteered, but Antilles turned him down in favour of the wiry


General Denel and a few of his soldiers. They would go unarmed, but


with battle-helmets, which were programmed to record everything that


happened in the vicinity of the wearer, and transmit it back to the


Peacemaker via an encoded sub-space frequency.


He had no idea what the Klingon had meant by transporters, but


if it was what he suspected, he wouldn't have agreed to the request


anyway. Besides lowering his shields, he had no intention of risking


the loss of his soul through having his body de-atomised.


Antilles watched the shuttle approach the Klingon planet. Nerak


confirmed that they were getting solid life-sign readings from all the


occupants. The language nuances and undertones in the Klingon speech


were not unlike that of Wookie and Noghri cultures. Both species were


warrior-types and highly aggressive. Such species required stringent


honour-codes to be upheld, no doubt an inherent survival mechanism to


prevent the species from killing themselves off. Antilles hoped the


same applied to the Klingons. If they were anything like the Wookies


or Noghri back home, then the Romulans were having a tough time in


this war, for such societies were not to be taken lightly.


"The shuttle is returning. There are five Klingons on-board."


Nerak informed him.


"Organise a welcoming committee in landing bay two."


Nerak raised his eyebrows.


"A friendly one." Antilles stated. "Nothing too ostentatious,


the kind of thing you'd do for a visiting ship's captain."


Nerak started giving orders into his comm-link.


"You have the conn, Commander Nerak. I will go meet our




"Yes, sir."


Antilles stepped into a nearby turbo-lift, and made his way to


the landing bay. A Wookie colonel was assembling a company of forty


soldiers into two rows. The soldiers were wearing their ceremonial


dress uniforms. Antilles nodded his satisfaction. New Republic


ceremonial dress was plain by most standards, for the uniform was


still fully functional. The chameleon fibre could change colour at


will, and worked to mask the infra-red and ultra-violet signature of


the wearer. The technology had proved most useful in engagements with


stormtroopers over the years, as the suits helped the wearer blend in


with the environment and confused the targeting systems of imperial




The hangar was a flurry of activity, as the droids completed


the more urgent maintenance on the starfighters stored in the bay, and


retreated to their storage rooms, leaving a quieter and neater landing


bay as they departed. Beyond the atmospheric force field, the shuttle


came into view against the backdrop of the battle-cruisers lower hull.


It seemed to ripple slightly as the tractor beams nullified the ship's


defensive shields in that region by matching the shield frequency, and


guided the shuttle into the bay. Antilles heard the familiar crackle


as the ship passed through the force fields that contained the


atmosphere, a slight breeze of displaced air could also be felt.


The shuttle came to rest, and the hatch dropped down, forming


a ramp for the occupants to descend. A huge Klingon marched down the


ramp. He was at least half a head taller than Antilles. The rest of


the Klingon delegation appeared to be closer to human normal in size.


All of them wore an impressive array of weapons, including broadswords


slung across their backs. So much for sending an unarmed group. Still,


considering that none of them appeared to be wearing any energy


weapons maybe they considered themselves to be unarmed.


"An impressive ship you have here, Captain." The leading


Klingon announced. Antilles heard the translation via a comm-link worn


in his ear. The ship's computer did the translation. "I am Admiral




"Pleased to meet you Admiral. Please follow me." Antilles led


the way across the landing bay. He noticed the Klingons were all


wearing an earpiece, probably a translator device of some sort.


The Klingons made no bones about looking over everything in


the hangar, including the lines of soldiers and the starfighters


behind them. Zorn almost missed his step at the sight of the Wookie at


the head of the column. The colonel was easily nine feet tall. They


were not gawking, Antilles noticed, merely assessing the


battle-readiness of his ship. He hoped they were not disappointed. He


ordered the turbo-lift to take them to the captain's ward room, where


a medical droid unobtrusively scanned the Klingons as they entered the


room. No doubt drawing on its knowledge of tens of thousands of


humanoid species back home, it instructed the kitchen droids on the


dietary requirements of the aliens.


"Refreshments." Antilles indicated, "I hope it is to your




He sat down in his chair, and indicated to the Klingons to


take seats as well. Millenia of experience in such matters indicated


that negotiations always proceeded better on a full stomach, provided


you were not the main course. A group of waiter droids approached the


conference table, and started laying out dishes replicated from their


nutrient tanks in the few seconds since the medical droid had informed


them of the Klingon dietary requirements.


"Smells good." The Klingon commander indicated. He unashamedly


waved some sort of scanning device over the food, nodded at the


results, and took a bite of something blue. The taste obviously


appealed to him, and he washed it down with a sip from a glass filled


with green liquid, which smelt of alcohol. The other Klingons also


started eating. Antilles also enjoyed a small meal while the Klingons


proceeded to clear the table. Zorn burped loudly, signalling the end


of the meal. A chorus of burps from the other Klingons followed.


Antilles inclined his head at their politeness. He had grown up


surrounded by people from a myriad of cultures, and very few things


surprised him.


"I can sense you are a civilised man, Captain Antilles." Zorn


began. "However, we have serious business to discuss. We have allies,


humans like yourself apparently, who have recently had one of their


colonies utterly destroyed by a ship not too dissimilar from your own.


The drive signatures, hull metals, and that way you have of just


'appearing out of nowhere' indicate a similar technological base. I


suspect these murderers of women and children are related to you." He


looked expectantly at Antilles, waiting for a response.


This was the breakthrough Antilles was looking for. He


wondered how many people had died to achieve this result. The Klingon


had said one ship though. But one ship could lead them to the others.


Antilles answered carefully, this Zorn was a sharp character, for all


his brusqueness.


"My people have been fighting a war for decades against those


whom I think you are referring to. We recently won the war, and it


came to our attention that a number of our enemies have escaped to


this region of the galaxy, where they hope to establish a base of


operations from which to resume their fight. They are completely


ruthless, and it is well within their capabilities to destroy the


colony as you described. My mission here is to find them and destroy


them. I wish no hostilities to any natives of this region of the


galaxy, but cannot return until my mission has been completed. If you


will inform us as to the location of the destroyed colony, we will


resume our hunt."


"It is not that easy. The colony was located in a sensitive


area, and the destruction has caused a rising of tensions between us,


the United Federation of Planets, and the Romulans. Were you to


attempt to enter that region of space, you might trigger a three way


inter-stellar war. That is something we would like to avoid."


"I can understand that, but why would our presence trigger a


war." Antilles asked.


"In the first place, many humans in the federation suspect


Romulan or Klingon involvement in the atrocity. The Romulans probably


think the whole situation has been contrived to provide the federation


for an excuse to escalate tensions in the area, so that they have to


divert valuable warships to the area to counter federation activity.


We Klingons of course are taking full advantage of the situation by


accelerating our colonising efforts, and expanding our influence into


areas the Romulans would like to keep away from us." He laughed, as if


the entire situation was a big joke, for his benefit.


"If we can assist our human neighbours in finding the


murderers, it will strengthen our ties with them significantly, and


put the Romulans at a serious disadvantage. The importance of that far


outweighs the meagre advantage we have at the moment while the


Romulans rush to protect their borders against the federation.


Besides, to placate the federation we have had to divert eight much


needed warships so far to defend their colonies."


"I have no wish to become involved in local politics."


Antilles stated.


"Ah, but don't you see. You don't have to become involved. We


will make arrangements for you to meet the right people, and then you


do what you came to do."


"The right people?"


"Yes. The right people. You will have to be very careful in


Federation space. Your fellow humans are a conniving lot, and many of


them would like to get their hands on your ship to investigate this


cloaking stardrive you use. Also, it will take a lot of convincing to


allow them to trust you."


"You trust us, apparently."


"We have perspective out here," The Klingon grimaced. A smile.


"The humans are very upset about the loss of their colony. The sight


of dead woman and children does that to one. No doubt we would feel


the same if it were one of our colonies." His looked as if he was far


away for a moment. Probably he had seen such devastation in Klingon


colonies. "It is a very emotional time for them."


"And why wouldn't you want to get a look at our stardrive?"


The Klingon roared. Antilles realised after a second he was


laughing. "If we captured your ship, and started using your


stardrives, more than just suspicion would come our way. We would be


forced to share the technology, and we might be hard pressed to


explain how we came by it. Either way, it won't help find your


enemies, and any advantage we gain will be negated by the business of


war if the Romulans and Federation turn on us, as they will have to.


"Our only fear is that the technology might fall into


federation hands. They need us as allies almost as much as we need


them. They do hold the balance of power at the moment, and with such


technology they would not need us any longer. Even if we were to ally


ourselves with our mortal enemies the Romulans, we would be hard


pressed to defeat them, and then would have to face the Romulans after


that. That is why we must see that you meet the right people, so that


war can be averted."


"The people you refer to, they are humans?"


"Yes, of course, but humans who do not believe in aggression


as an answer to everything. Honourable humans, even if I say so


myself. There are few enough even in their Starfleet."


Antilles considered. He did not want to become involved in


local politics, and his orders were also to see that no technology


fell into potentially dangerous hands. He would have to play along


with the Klingons for now. He also would not like to be the cause for


a major war in this galaxy. The decades long conflict between Alliance


and Empire had already resulted in loss of lives even this far from


their home galaxy, and he hoped to avert further tragedy.


"I will co-operate with you." He offered his hand to Admiral


Zorn. The Klingon looked at the hand for a second.


"Some things never change." The Admiral pumped his hand


vigorously, and roared all the time.

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Picard rushed to the bridge. The call had been particularly


urgent. The turbo-lift doors had barely snapped open when Riker


started talking.


"Distress call. Colony one three seven, seventy light years


out of Bajor. The MO matches Bengu."


"How soon can we get there?"


"Four days at Warp 8.5."


"Make it so!"


There was a distinct change in the timbre of the background


noise as power was diverted into the warp core. Riker had expected the


order, and the ship had been ready to go the instant he gave the


order. They were accelerating through Warp 4 in less than a second,


and a minute later were doing Warp 7. There was a distinct humming


noise as the power requirements of the warp climbed exponentially. The


ship broke through warp 8 another minute later. Warp 8.5 could be


maintained for four days without seriously compromising warp core


integrity, and higher warp factors could only be maintained for


shorter periods of time. The ships maximum velocity of warp 9.9 could


only be maintained for a few hours at a time, to a theoretical maximum


of twelve hours.


In the meanwhile Riker had called up the data package they had


received from Starfleet. He brought Picard up to date on the


situation. The eight Klingon Birds of Prey assigned to colony defence


were scattered through the colonies closest to Bengu. Colony 137 was


halfway across Federation space, and not all that far from the


Cardassian space. First the Romulans, now the Cardassians. Things were


going to get very interesting.


"Can we expect any assistance from DS9?" Picard asked.


"The Defiant has already been despatched, under the command of


Lt Commander Worf. Starfleet has also informed us that the Klingons


are sending another eight starships to assist in our search. The


Gallant and the Stalwart have also been despatched."


"Relay a message to the Klingons, have four of the warbirds go


directly to colony one-three-seven, assign the rest to the defence of


the surrounding colonies. I suppose the Defiant will be the first to


arrive at one three seven, what are the ETA's of the other ships."


"The Defiant should beat us by twenty hours, the Gallant will


arrive within a few hours of our arrival, the Stalwart a day later,


and the Klingons shortly after that. Starfleet has also withdrawn four


ships from the Ferengi and Cardassian sectors to nearby colonies, and


Earth Defence has been reduced from ten ships to seven ships. The


three extra ships have been despatched to the Bengu area in case of


further attacks in that area. Starfleet has cancelled all leave, every


ship which does not require essential maintenance is being put into


service, and preparations are being made to mobilise the reserves.


Starfleet has also recommended all ships to make arrangements for the


disembarkation of civilians."


"What do we know about one three seven?" Picard asked.


"Population about two million, all human. No significant


mineral deposits, but a fertile farming planet. It is the major


supplier of food and replicator nutrient base in that sector. Ninety


five percent of the population is contained within an area three


hundred kilometres around the capital in a fertile river valley."


Picard didn't ask about planetary defences. Federation worlds


were peaceful civilian installations, and colonies as large as 137


might have a lightly armed police force, but certainly no military


capable of withstanding an invasion force. Also, given that the colony


was more than seventy light years from the any front-line, it would be


nearly impossible for an invading fleet to have slipped through all


that space undetected. The only defence colonies such as 137 had was


the knowledge that there were always starships within three or four


days journey. An attack on worlds such as Bengu and 137 should have


been impossible, as incoming warp drives would have been detected by


the network of 'listening posts' spread through federation space.


Civilian installations closer to the frontlines, especially


the Cardassian and Romulan borders would have orbital weapons


platforms, which would be a deterrent to all but the most determined


fleet attacks, and they would also have starships within a few hours


travel at worst. Many even served as a regional base of operations,


and might even have an armed space station as support. Planet based


weapons were discounted in favour of orbital platforms because of the


limiting factors imposed by having to fire out of an atmospheric




"Call me as soon as we hear from the Defiant." Picard said.


There was nothing more for him to do on the bridge. The


Defiant would reach 137 in three days, and there was nothing they


could do until then. Picard thought about Bengu and it's tens of


thousands of dead. 137 had a population of two million people. He shut


out the thought of all those people as he made his way to his


quarters. Starfleet was preparing for war, and right they should. That


ass Admiral Sutton was probably wringing his hands in joy at the


prospect, he thought, with disgust. He could just imagine all the old


war horses being brought out and dusted off.








"Bridge to Picard. Captain to the bridge."


Picard glanced at the clock, the Defiant could not have made


it to 137 yet. He swung his feet off the bed.


"On my way."


He beat Riker to the bridge, the first officer also obviously


having had his sleep interrupted.


"What is it?" he asked.


The communications officer answered. "Priority one flash,


coded to all ship commanders." She stepped aside so that he could make


use of the console. Riker and the other officers stood back at a


discreet distance. Picard bent over the console. Once the computer had


positively identified him, it decoded the signal. He sat down.




"Two more colonies have broken off communications after brief


distress calls, both way over towards the Rim side of federation


space. Task forces have been despatched to both colonies to


investigate. Starfleet is now on a war footing. Earth Defence has been


increased to twenty starships, and all non-essential missions have


been cancelled. Vessels on research, transport, supply, and diplomatic


assignments have all been recalled, unless the mission was an


emergency. All starships are to exercise wartime procedures with


immediate effect.


"Number one, see that the civilians start packing. All


non-military families will be dropped off at the first available


opportunity. Have the ship's computer override replicator programming.


Only military rations are to be served from now on. See that all ship


functions are trimmed to ensure that the ship can reach maximum


independence from resupply and restocking efforts. Prepare to have


non-essential cargoes transmutated into their base elements with


immediate effect, and have a team of technicians start manufacturing


additional photon torpedoes."


"Yes, sir." Riker answered, grimfaced. The industrial


replicators used for ship maintenance would be busy for days, firstly


breaking down the cargoes to their base elements or minerals, then


using that stock to manufacture the parts needed to assemble


additional photon torpedoes. Wartime regulations required a minimum


stock level of five hundred torpedoes, and with the current cargoes


transmutated, the Enterprise could probably build up a supply of close


to a thousand torpedoes depending on the volume of the necessary


minerals and elements they could extract out of the broken down




"All communications equipment from now on will be used only


for military purposes, and all ship to ship messages will be coded.


Hand-phasers are to be fully charged, and any dereliction of duties


will be severely punished. This ship is at now at war." Picard




"How long before Defiant reaches 137?" He asked.


"Two hours, fourteen minutes. Sir." Data answered.


Picard took his seat. He had no intention of going back to


sleep now. He unfolded his padd and called up the files relating to


wartime procedures. He knew too well the content of these folders, and


had hoped never to have to implement them again. But he had seen for


himself the devastation and wanton destruction at Bengu. There was


obviously a new player in this quadrant, and they wanted to play


hardball, as his one-time friend Cisko would have said. Well, Picard


could play hardball as well.


"Sir. Defiant would have reached 137 by now," Data interrupted


him. "We are well within direct sub-space range for ship to ship


communications, and are now eighteen hours away from 137."


"Thank you Mr Data. See if you can raise the Defiant."


Seconds later the grim face of Worf appeared on the


view-screen. The Klingon looked more grim than usual as well.


"Captain Picard." He started, "I am honoured to have the


opportunity to speak with you again. I wish the circumstances could


have been better. We have only just arrived. I will transmit all scans


directly to you as we take them." He nodded to somebody off picture.


"Receiving scanner data." Communications confirmed.


On the screen, the planet that had been home to colony 137


appeared. The planet looked quite normal at first. Then Picard noticed


the readings on the side of the screen.


"Commander Worf," he asked, "is that correct, the area in


which the colony is located. It is being covered by a shield extending


for five hundred kilometres in all directions, and the shield is above


the atmosphere?"


"Yes. It appears that whoever has taken the colony has


installed shielding equipment that has generated a shield which


projects above the atmosphere, and covers the entire region which has


been colonised. The shield is exceptionally strong and dense enough


even to prevent us from scanning through to the planetary surface. The


shield is interfering even with passive electromagnetic radiation,


these are the best pictures our telescopes have been able to obtain."


On the view-screen, a grainy video played, showing the fertile


network of river valleys in which the colony was based. Clusters of


buildings could clearly be seen, the villages through which the


farming community was distributed. A number of symbols were


superimposed on the video. Picard recognised symbols denoting weapons


emplacements on all the highest points overlooking the valley and


surrounding areas. All ground approaches to the valleys were also


covered by weapons placements.


"The weapons emplacements were recognised due to the higher


energy readings from those areas, as well as the fact that they are


all protected by ground-based shields. The major shield is ample


defence against orbital bombardment, and shielded weapons points


heavily defend all ground approaches. It is logical to assume that the


ground-based weapons are capable of anti-air fire as well. The only


way to take back the colony will be through a ground assault, and the


casualties will be severe. Whoever this enemy is, they know what they


are doing, and have been very busy for the last three days.


"I am compiling all this information into a report, and will shortly


transmit the report to Starfleet command. Do you have any further




"None. We are due to arrive within the next eighteen hours. The


Stalwart and the Gallant are close behind. Do you have any other




"The station DS9 is capable of defending itself for now. We will


remain here and observe what we can. Our observations will be


forwarded to you as we get them."


"Thank you, commander."


Picard and the recently returned Riker pored over the incoming


sensory information. Data joined them at Picard's request. Between the


three of them they were able to construct a detailed map of the


colony, the defensive points the unknown enemy had established, and


were attempting to find a weak point in the extensive defences. Data


suggested that the Defiant attempt to enter the atmosphere at a


distant point, then fly in under the shield. Alternately, they could


fire at the shield to attempt to determine the strength of the shield.


Picard relayed these suggestions to Worf, but requested him to wait


until the Enterprise was on the scene to provide assistance if




By the time the Enterprise arrived in the system, news had


come through of yet more small undefended colonies having lost


contact. The enemy was apparently conducting attacks on colonies that


were small, concentrated in one place on the planet, and with no


starship support in close attendance. It was obvious that they had


good scouting information, were able to travel to any point in


federation space without being detected, and were giving themselves an


opportunity to establish planetary defences. The fact that they knew


where there were concentrations of federation starships was not


unusual, as anyone with reasonable tracking equipment could identify


the distortion fields of warp ships at ranges of one light year or


more, and their enemy had obviously been observing them for more than


a few weeks. The Bengu incident was now six weeks old.


In total, the enemy had taken control of seven colonies, in


widely disparate parts of federation space. With Starfleet committed


to defending their borders against at least three significant enemy


forces, including the Romulans, they couldn't spare enough ships to


defend every single colony in the federation. At least two of the


colonies were major suppliers of nutrients, and one was an especially


rich mining community. The colonies were not crucial to starfleet


needs, but over a period of time their loss would be noticed.






Picard was the senior captain on the scene, notwithstanding


the powers he had been given to search for the alien invaders, and all


decision were deferred to him. Whoever the aliens on the surface were,


they had not responded to any of the varied means of communication


attempted. Now, everyone watched anxiously as a computer controlled


shuttle descended into the atmosphere well away from the shielded


area. The shuttle dropped a few sub-space transmitters along it's


flight path, so that a communications path could be maintained even


were it to go under the shield. As the shuttle approached the edge of


the shield, its sensors could determine that the shield did indeed


curve down into the atmosphere, but that it's density was not very


high in this region. The shuttle approached the weaker shield wall


very slowly. It shuddered as it collided with the shield, then just as


it appeared to be able to squeeze through, it was violently rocked as


it collided with a stronger point in the shield. The shuttle literally


bounced backwards off the shield.


"A smaller vessel might penetrate that shield, and a man on


foot definitely will." Data announced.


"Recall the shuttle, send a two man runabout." Picard ordered.


The runabout followed the same path the shuttle had used, and


slowly approached the shield wall. The shield points rocked the


runabout a bit, then it squeezed through into unshielded space.


Apparently the shield was not a continuous barrier, like federation


shields, but a projected barrier. The signal from the runabout was


still strong. Picard ordered it in further. The runabout cautiously


approached the vicinity of the colony, flying around it in ever


smaller circles, although the colony was still below it's horizon. The


runabout eventually came within line of sight of the hills surrounding


the colony. Picard and his crew were intently watching the pictures


being transmitted by the runabout, when the picture shuddered and


turned to static.


"They shot it down." Data said unnecessarily.


"Did you get it on the sensors?" Picard asked.


"On screen."


The static cleared from the forward view-screen, to be


replaced by an aerial shot of the shuttle. A number of blue flashes


streaked across the screen, from two separate hills close to the


colony. The shuttle was rocked visibly, and before it could take


evasive action, detonated in a violent explosion. The falling wreckage


attracted a few more shots as it fell to the ground.


"Weapon type? Power output?"


"Pulsed lasers, more powerful than any lasers we have seen


before, enhanced by energised particles."


"But those laser rocked the shuttle, and there was a


perceptible time lag as they traversed the screen, that's not how a


laser behaves?"


"The lasers were invisible," Data added, "What we saw was the


effect of the energised particle weapon. The runabouts shields report


being hit by a powerful beam of monochromatic light which caused


significant shield degradation, and a few hundredths of a second


later, the energised particles impacted. The runabout did not have an


opportunity to take evasive action. The weapons were also observed to


have a very high rate of fire, about three pulses per second for each


weapon. The runabout was hit by ten pulses out of twelve fired at it,


at a range of eighteen kilometres, with an accuracy of eighty three


point three percent."


"Send in another runabout, this time with a cloaking


mechanism, and have it fly in an evasive pattern." Picard ordered.


The cloaked runabout penetrated to eleven kilometres before


being detected, and was shot down at a range of nine point five


kilometres, despite employing evasive manoeuvres which would have


crushed any crew members despite the limited inertial dampening a


runabout could provide. The runabout was hit with fifty one percent


accuracy. The means of detection was unknown, but Data was not


surprised. In atmospheric conditions a cloaked vessel could be


detected by it's drive emissions, the motion of air around it, even


it's mass shadow assuming the aliens had sensitive enough mass


detectors. The runabout had not engaged it's active sensors, which


would have given it away anyway.






"Sir, the four Klingon Birds of Prey have arrived."


The Gallant and Stalwart had arrived in the meanwhile, and had


observed the tests being conducted. The next test was to determine the


planetary shield's strength through a combined firing of torpedoes and




"My compliments to their captains'," Picard replied, "request


them to co-ordinate their weapons firing with ours to see if we can


knock this shield down."


"Sir, they have agreed to the test, and have also transmitted


a coded message, for your personal attention. The computer cannot


decode the message, apparently only you will be able to, with the


assistance of Captain Zorn."


Picard raised his eyebrows. "On-screen."


Zorn insisted on giving the release codes only once Picard had


assured him that the message was safely on his personal padd, and that


nobody except himself would be able to read it. Once the message was


decoded, Picard glanced up at Zorn. The Klingon's face was impassive.


Picard re-read the message, slowly.


"Mr Data, directional beam communications with Captain Zorn's


ship. Make sure nobody can intercept the beam, manoeuvre if you have




Data acknowledged. If he was surprised or interested, he gave


no indication. Zorn's face flickered on the view-screen as the


sub-space link was severed, and the directional beam engaged. Picard


glanced questioningly at Data.


"Only captain Zorn's ship can intercept the beam. Nobody else


can listen in."


"Clear the bridge. Riker, Data and Troi, you stay."


A few of the crew looked questioningly at him, but left the


bridge. On the view-screen, Captain Zorn nodded his approval.


"You know the contents of this message?" Picard asked.


"I believe so." Zorn confirmed.


"How many in the federation could know?"


"Only yourself, we hope."


"You hope?"


The Klingon grimaced, "Federation Intelligence has many ears,


but we are reasonably sure they have no knowledge of this."


Picard returned the smile, "I will meet your uncle at the


co-ordinates specified."


He signalled to Data, and the conversation was ended. Picard


handed the padd to Riker, who read it aloud for the benefit of Troi.


Data had glanced at the padd in the process, and no doubt read the


message. The Klingons thought they had a lead on the alien humans, and


had apparently established contact with some of them. Admiral Zorn


wished for Picard to meet them as well.


"Counsellor? What did you make of Zorn?"


"He was sincere. I felt no hint of subversion in him. If this


is a trap, then he at least is an innocent participant."


"I agree with your assessment. Recall the bridge crew. We will


finish our assessment of the alien defences."




If the captain's of the Stalwart or the Gallant had realised


what had happened on the Enterprise in the last few minutes, they gave


no sign. Picard arranged for the ships to hold their fire at first. He


fired a single low power phaser blast directly at the planetary


shield. When he observed no appreciable effect, he gradually increased


power, until the phaser was at maximum power. He had no intention of


firing a full barrage at the planet without first proving the


capability of the shield to withstand such punishment. There were two


million colonists below, if they were still alive, and he did not want


to accidentally kill anyone. He tried the same with photon torpedoes.


All to no effect.


Eventually, the entire fleet of four federation starships and


four Klingon starships unleashed their combined firepower on the


shield below. When the barrage ceased, Picard glanced questioningly at




"I have located the shield generator. It is the huge structure


here," he indicated a building on the map of the colony, "and it is


fed by a bank of reactors here," he indicated a row of nearby


buildings. "The shield depreciated measurably under the sustained


fire, but regenerated immediately once the firing stopped. The rate of


degeneration indicated that the shield would be reduced to zero in


eight days and twelve hours. It is more likely though that the


reactors or shield generator would fail before this time has elapsed,


but it would be difficult to predict exactly when. If the shield were


to collapse unexpectedly, the colony might suffer immense damage


before we could cease firing.


"We would exhaust or torpedo supplies, and run our phaser


banks dry well before significant degradation occurred however. It may


also be possible to fire at an unprotected part of the planet,


preferably a major fault line. The resultant seismic shock waves could


possibly destroy either the reactors or the shield generator, but


would also cause immense damage to the rest of the colony."


"Compile all data and transmit it to starfleet command.


Initiate a captain's conference on screen."


Very shortly, all seven captain's of the other vessels were on


screen, the four Klingon's, Worf, and the captains of the starships


Stalwart and the Gallant.


"Most likely this planet was chosen as a source of nutrients


for the aliens. That implies that they must return here sometime.


Stalwart and Gallant, along with two of the Klingon vessels will


remain here and blockade the planet. The Enterprise and the remaining


two Klingon vessels will conduct a scouting mission through the


neighbouring systems. Commander Worf, I take it you will return to




"No. The Defiant has been cleared to assist in the tracking


down of the invaders. We are at your disposal."


"Very well, you will accompany us on the scouting mission. Any


questions, anyone?"


There were none. The Enterprise engaged it's warp drive, and


streaked out of the system. The Defiant and two Klingon vessels


followed. Behind them, the four remaining ships took up station. The


Stalwart remained in position directly above the colony, while the


Gallant took up station on the far side of the planet. One of the


Klingon vessels landed on a moon of a remote planet in the system, and


the second took up station well outside the system, in interstellar


space, where it lay silently, listening to the stars.

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Four hours later, in a nearby star system, the Enterprise


disengaged it's warp engines. The Klingon vessels and the Defiant took


up station nearby. Once again, Picard ordered a captain's conference,


low-powered directional beam only.


"Captain Zorn. We will continue on to the rendezvous point


shortly. I wish your two ships to remain in close formation to the


Enterprise, so that we may disguise the Defiant, which will shortly


activate a cloaking mechanism.


"Commander Worf, I would like you to remain cloaked from now


on. You are not to do anything which may betray your presence, no


matter what you observe, unless the Enterprise comes under a direct


sustained attack which we cannot deal with ourselves, is that clear?"


"It is clear. But I do not understand."


"You will understand soon enough. Captain Zorn, are you in


agreement with this tactic? It will not compromise our position?"


"I am in agreement with the tactic. This mission is a risk to


myself as well, as I am only acting on instructions received from a


third party. I have not had direct contact with my uncle. You may not


know this, although I suppose it will be revealed soon, but my uncle


has been in command of Klingon expansion on the far side of the


Klingon territories, in direct opposition to Romulan expansion in that


area. The sub-space message my uncle sent to me was passed through


channels my uncle believes to be secure from eavesdropping by


Federation Intelligence, across a distance of some nine thousand light




"Nine thousand light years?" Picard was incredulous, "I had no


idea Klingon influence extended so far."


"And neither do the rest of the Federation. This expansion has


been necessary to avoid being surrounded by the Romulans."


"I understand much of the politics of the last seventy years


now," Picard stated, "The Klingon empire could not afford a war with


the federation AND continue expanding to counter the Romulans."


"Exactly, but it has gone further than that now, the fates of


the Klingon and Human empires are tied. In the last seventy years,


many Klingon have grown to respect humans, as have many humans come to


respect Klingon. Trade and mutual defence agreements have expanded to


the point where there is even much intermarrying between Klingon and


Human, and a war between us would see many influential families on


both sides being torn apart.


"The continued support of the federation, whether actively or


subliminally, is essential to our survival in the face of Romulan


expansion, not to mention the Borg and many other enemies whom we may


yet encounter, such as these strange humans who now seek to destroy




"I see your point. I now also understand the actions of your


uncle. Let us proceed to the rendezvous point. Worf, you may activate


the cloaking shield." Picard finished.


The Defiant wrinkled into nothingness. The Enterprise warped


out of the system, the two Klingon ships completing a triangle in


formation with the Enterprise. At the heart of the triangle, the


Defiant sped along, invisible to any observers.


It was known that there were 'listening posts' scattered throughout


federation space, which tracked all warp drives, constantly on the


look out for invaders. These listening posts could track a warp drive


at a range of several light years. While their exact positions were a


carefully guarded secret, they could not hope to cover the entire


sphere of federation space. No enemy of the federation was able to


sneak through the gaps if they did not know where the gaps were. The


sensitivity of these devices were not known, although undoubtedly they


listened to sub-space transmissions as well, and could possibly track


impulse emissions as well, or scan for hull metals. The rendezvous


point the Enterprise was heading for was outside federation space, and


hopefully beyond the range of these tracking devices.


Four days later, the Enterprise led the formation into a star


system that had probably only ever warranted minor inspection. Any


planets this system had at one time sported had either been swallowed


up by the huge star, or captured and added to the collection of moons


orbiting the one huge gas-giant. A quick scan of the system by the


Enterprise yielded nothing. A second longer scan of the system


revealed strange metallic readings from one of the moons. Data


conducted an active sensor focus on the moon, and identified the


metals as Klingon hull metal. Seconds later, the Klingon warship


separated itself from the moon, and vectored towards the formation of


three ships that had entered the system.


A quick exchange between Zorn and the new ship resulted in a


sub-space coded message being transmitted on a frequency that couldn't


hope to transverse more than five or six light years. A few minutes


later, the Enterprise detected four Klingon ships coming in at high


warp speeds. The Klingons were obviously not taking any chances on


this meeting. Picard was beginning to wonder just how many warships


the Klingons had and had managed to keep secret from the federation.


He was glad that he had the Defiant for support. Zorn had apparently


made no attempt to reveal the presence of the Defiant.


An hour later the Klingon ships had arrived, after conducting a sweep


around the system. They obviously wanted no witnesses to what would


happen next. What happened next took Picard's breath away. Less than


fifty thousand kilometres away a huge ship flashed into existence.


There had been no warning of it's arrival. Six more huge ships flashed


into existence, at points designed to surround the Enterprise on all


sides in space. Two of the six ships were at least fourteen hundred


metres long, not as big as the first one, which was an almighty two


thousand metres long. The four remaining ships were closer to the size


of the Enterprise itself, at about six hundred metres long. All of


them fairly bristled with weaponry, ranging from about 150 weapons


emplacements on the small ships to in excess of four hundred huge


weapons on the largest vessel, and several hundred smaller weapons




Weaving in and out of these huge ships were several tiny one-man


craft, barely registering on the Enterprises systems when they cut


their impulse engines. Further out, they could detect drive emissions


of close to a hundred tiny one-man craft. Once these craft cut their


engines as well, they were all but undetectable. If the Enterprise had


not been looking for them with a sensor sweep, they would have


remained undetectable, small as they were.








Antilles had been frustrated at the delays. The Klingons used


an arcane communications system which took two full days to transmit a


message over only a few thousand light years. The Peacemaker could


almost have jumped there and back in the same time. The only thing


which had kept his patience in check was the understanding of the


sensitive political situation in the area. They had then had to wait


an extra twelve days for the Klingon warships to get in touch with


their federation contacts and bring their federation contact to a


meeting place in deep space.


Antilles had used this time to send the two Liberator cruisers


Freedom Fighter and Deliverance ahead. Between them, they had close to


a hundred star fighters (four squadrons each), and they had spent ten


days patrolling the area. The fast starfighters could survey dozens of


stars each in one four hour patrol, and in the ten days the Liberators


had managed to map out a sphere of space that extended well into


Federation, Cardassian and Romulan territories, several hundred light


years away. There was still no trace of the imperials though, despite


Admiral Zorn's news of the attacks on federation colony worlds.


When the Federation ship had finally arrived with it's two


escorts, the Klingons had first made sure the area was 'clean', then


given them the go-ahead to jump into the system. Antilles was taking


no chances, and ordered the two Liberators and their frigate escorts


to prevent any escape attempt by the Federation ship. On the


holographic display, the results of the sensor focus on the Federation


ship revealed an elegant vessel. It's design hardly appeared to be


that of a warship, with it's over-exposed engines, and only a handful


of weapons emplacements. Otherwise it appeared similar to the Klingon


vessels, with their warp drives, phased beam weapons, and torpedo


launch tubes.


The Federation vessel did have a nice modular design though.


He imagined the disc section could be detached, as could the engine


modules. This would allow quick engine replacements, as new ones could


just be tagged on in place of the old ones, or a new disc section


added to the central column, which he had been informed was the


command module. Maybe the design philosophy was not that bad after


all. Antilles couldn't imagine how an engine replacement would be done


on one of his ships. The entire hull would have to be carved away.


Admiral Zorn stood at his left, and the other Klingons who


made up Zorn's staff stood behind his command chair. He felt slightly


uncomfortable with all these aliens of dubious friendliness around


him. He glanced at Jedi Dacron on his right, who nodded reassuringly.


The Jedi had agreed with his assessment of the honour system of the


Klingons. He tried to think of them as a bunch of wookies, and that


made him feel somewhat better.


"Open a channel to the Federation vessel. Make sure it's two


dimensional, the same coding as the Klingons use."


"View-screen three." The signals officer answered.


The first human face that Antilles had seen in months besides


that of his men appeared. He didn't count the four years in carbon


freeze. The man was bald, and obviously getting on in years, a bit old


for a captain, Antilles thought. There were few captains that old in


the New Republic navy, men and women of that age usually went into


business for themselves if they hadn't made admiral of a small fleet




"Greetings, I am captain Antilles of the New Republic Ship


Peacemaker." He introduced himself.


"Picard." The old man stated. He waited for Antilles to




"My mission to this region of the galaxy is to find a group of


renegades, and destroy them if possible. Admiral Zorn here has


suggested the men whom I seek may be the same ones who attacked your


Federation. I am greatly aggrieved at the loss of life Admiral Zorn


has reported. Even were these men not the ones I seek, I would be


happy to assist you in your hunt for them."


Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the Jedi nod




"Perhaps you could tell me about these renegades you seek?"


Picard pushed.


Antilles could see that this Picard was not keen to give out


information, and after all he was the one who was looking for help in


finding the imperials. Picard was probably eager to get back to the


defence of his people. If Antilles were not so certain that they


sought the same enemy he would have been loathe to continue the




"The renegades I seek are the remnants of an empire crushed in


a decades long war fought by my people. Our fear is that they intend


using this region as a launch pad for the continuation of their


tyranny, and perhaps even as a future launch-pad for attacks against


us. We suspect they have the knowledge, if not perhaps the resources,


to build weapons of immense destruction, weapons my people would not


rather see used ever again. I will transmit pictures of their ship


types to you, with a description of the weapons capability."


He glanced at the signals officer, who indicated his




"This first picture is that of an Imperial Star Destroyer Mark


1, it has six large turbolaser batteries, sixty medium sized


turbolaser batteries, and a similar number of medium powered ion


cannons, as well as one hundred and fifty point-defence laser cannons.


It carries six squadrons of tie fighters, several missile gunboats and


assault shuttles, and over nine thousand heavily armed ground assault


troops with mobile artillery, armoured and shielded all-terrain


vehicles and various equipment to subdue planetary populations and to


establish planet-side bases. The renegades have between five and eight


of these star destroyers according to our information."


On the screen, the bald federation officer had paled visibly.


Antilles continued.


"This ship looks nearly identical, but is in fact very


slightly larger. It is an Imperial Star Destroyer Mark 2, which has at


least double the firepower of the mark 1, and also carries six


squadrons of tie fighters, and the same number of troops. We believe


the renegades have two, possibly three of this class of ship."


The federation starship captain had sat back in his chair. He


waved for Antilles to continue.


"On the screen now is a ship called a dreadnought. It used to


be the flagship of the Old Republic navy, but is now several decades


old. It carries no troops or fighters, and serves merely as a support


vessel to the Star Destroyers, they have about twenty five medium


strength turbolaser batteries and moderately powered shields. The


renegades would have between five and eight of these as well."


"Can you tell me what strategies they would have employed,"


Picard asked, "in terms of establishing a base of operations firstly,


and then how would they go about subduing a planetary population or


defending any planets they have taken? Also, how fast are these ships,


and what is their operating range?"


Good questions all, Antilles had to admit. Maybe this old man


was not too bad an ally to have.


"We suspect they would have arrived in this sector of the


galaxy between four and six months ago. Their first goal would have


been to scout for a deserted region of the galaxy in which to


establish their mining and manufacturing centre. They would have been


short of supplies after their trip here, so it is not unlikely that


they would have raided for the necessary supplies.


"Their strategy for planetary take-over would be orbital bombardment,


followed by ground assault with heavy armour and troops. They would


most likely execute anyone who showed any signs of resistance.


Planetary defence would consist of installing a network of planetary


shields to prevent orbital bombardment, the installation of the


necessary fusion reactors to power the shields, and the placement of


hardened defence points on all high ground areas surrounding their


garrisons. A garrison of a few hundred stormtroopers could hold a city


or two against orbital invasion, unless you were prepared to take


heavy losses in recovering the planet.


"Each star destroyer can operate independently for two to four years


depending on operational requirements. Hyperdrive speeds vary from


sixty light years per hour to two hundred and fifty light years per


hour depending on the ship class. Most ships average one hundred and


twenty seven light years per hour."


Admiral Zorn swore loudly besides Antilles. The federation captain


glanced to one side. Immediately Jedi Dacron tensed, concentrating




'They have a telepath on board.' Antilles heard in his head. He


glanced sharply at the Jedi, who was standing still, his eyes closed.


'I have blocked her attempts to read your mind.'


"Captain Picard, please ask your telepath to stop trying to read my


mind. While I understand your position, I am not prepared to accede to


such an invasion, especially uninvited." Antilles warned.


Picard waved to somebody off-screen. Alongside Antilles the Jedi




"At such speeds," Picard asked, as if nothing had happened, "you


could have crossed the entire galaxy in less than two months. Why did


you take so long to get here? If these renegades got here in less than


a few months, why would they be low on supplies if they can operate


for years at a time?"


Antilles sighed. This had been inevitable. "The journey here took a


little more than four years. We come from another galaxy."


There was a long hesitation.


"These renegades you described, the ships and weapons you


describe, match our invaders perfectly. I am certain that we are


fighting the same people." Picard stated. "Commander Worf, you may


reveal yourself."


In the centre of the triangular formation formed by the


Enterprise and it's two Klingon escorts, another Federation starship


appeared. It was much smaller than the Enterprise, but had several


more weapons emplacements. Antilles smiled thinly. Nestled between the


other ships it would have been difficult to detect, cloaked or not,


unless its commander had done something stupid, like light up an ion




"Perhaps you will be prepared to join us for a meal, and to


discuss strategies?" Antilles asked. "I will send a shuttle over, and


Admiral Zorn will vouch for your safety."


The huge Klingon nodded his agreement.


"These people's religion forbids them from using


transporters." He said to Picard, and roared loudly. He slapped the


Jedi on the back, a blow that would have felled an ordinary man, or at


least caused him to stagger. The Jedi didn't budge.








Picard, Riker, Troi, Worf and Data were in a shuttle heading


towards the alien battleship. The size of the battleship was becoming


more apparent as they got closer, and they could make out more detail.


From a distance the hull had looked smooth to the naked eye. Now, as


they approached, they could see it was pockmarked with weapons


blisters, and turrets. Between the blisters, tiny shapes could be seen


scurrying around. Picard squinted his eyes, but before he could make


out what they were, Data informed him.


"Robots. They have dozens of robots continuously combing the


hulls, doing minor repairs, or just simple hull inspections. Most


likely those robots would be extremely useful in battles, repairing


minor hull damage as it occurs."


Picard looked around the shuttle again. The shuttle-pilot was


a huge creature, halfway between a bear and an ape, its long arms


snaking over the controls with skill and grace. He had no doubt those


arms were as powerful as they were graceful. Except for the odd long


hair shed by the pilot, the cockpit area was spartan and utilitarian,


like federation shuttles, but the rest of the interior of the shuttle


was tastefully decorated in light colours, and the seats were soft and


comfortable. It gave the impression of being more a millionaire's


private yacht than a military vessel.


The shuttle slipped into a landing bay, and came to rest with


a distant thud. A hatch hissed open quietly, forming a ramp down to


the deck. Picard led the group out of the shuttle, into a huge room.


The ceiling was easily thirty metres or more away, the room stretching


away for more than a hundred metres before them. The distant walls


were lined with sleek looking one-man craft reminiscent of the old


atmospheric fighters of the twenty first century. The group of humans


looked small and insignificant in the warehouse sized landing bay.


Picard noticed several robotic figures scurrying between the fighters.


A huge gantry arm swung over one fighter, and raised the fighter into


the air with some sort of force field, it placed the fighter onto a


lift, which raised the fighter to a different level, probably another


maintenance area or a launch bay.


A tall young man, barely into his thirties apparently, stepped


forward and held out his hand. Picard took it. The young man led the


federation officers past the shuttle they had exited. A double row of


soldiers stood at attention, as if on parade. The young captain led


Picard's group past them with barely an acknowledgement of the


soldiers. Picard was not one for ceremony either, but glanced over the


soldiers anyway. They were wearing a simple grey and black uniform,


with a utility belt to which various devices were attached. They wore


helmets which looked a bit thicker than necessary, but otherwise


normal. The soldiers all held an ugly black rifle type weapon, and


wore a small sidearm on their hip as well.


Once out of the bustle of the huge landing bay, Picard noticed


once again the luxury surrounding them. Carpeted hallways,


view-screens lining the walls, soft lighting, various decorations


displayed along the passageways. Unfamiliar aliens and robots of all


shapes and descriptions were going about their business in the


hallway. Antilles led them though this without a glance. Picard


noticed that the crew was mostly human, but several crew-members were


of species he had never seen before.


Antilles led them into a large turbo-lift. There was hardly


any sensation of movement, and seconds later they doors snapped open.


They stepped out into what appeared to be a large conference room. In


one corner a heavily jowled alien was playing what looked like


holographic chess with a Klingon. Seated around the large conference


table were a number of humans, Klingons, and yet more unidentified


alien species. The table was covered with a variety of multi-coloured


dishes, which seemed to be dispensed by more of the ubiquitous robots.


Here was a society of almost unlimited wealth and opulence


apparently, walking the line between decadence and militaristic


efficiency. He recalled what Antilles had said about decades of war,


that they were from another galaxy, and also the total integration of


human and alien around him. These people obviously had a history much


longer than the federation, had expanded through and settled their


entire galaxy, had had lots of time to develop their religion and


culture, and had fought wars that raged across an entire galaxy for




Around him could be heard the sounds of several distinct alien


languages, underlain by soft ambient music with no particular cultural


overtones, but rather a general combination of several distinctly


different sounds. Antilles showed them to chairs around the conference




"You know Admiral Zorn, I take it. This is the Jedi Knight


Treb Dacron, my first officer, Commander Nerak, General Denel, and our


chief of special forces, Colonel Khabarakh, Captain Sulman of the


cruiser Freedom Fighter, and Captain Seleb Seyud of the cruiser


Deliverance. Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Picard of the Federation


Starship Enterprise."


"Delighted." Picard said, nodding to the assembly of aliens


and human. He looked anything but delighted.


"My first officer, Commander Wil Riker, Counsellor Deanna


Troi, my navigator, Mr Data, and Commander Worf of the Defiant."


"Please, be seated." Antilles said. "I am afraid to say that


my impatience has got the better of my manners, and I am inclined to


begin discussing how we may be of assistance to each other sooner


rather than later. The droids will see to your refreshment needs, but


if you don't mind, I would like to begin our discussion right away."


"I quite agree," Picard said.






Later, the table had been cleared, the view-screens around the


conference room were fully occupied with tactical displays, and the


conference table itself was the dais for a large holographic display


of federation space. Every minute or two, some part of the hologram


would flicker, as returning fighters added to the data store,


resulting in an update of the displays. Picard had also eventually


agreed to provide a data link to the Enterprise's computers, to


complete the picture of what was happening in federation space. Nine


of the close to two hundred federation worlds were highlighted in


green to denote imperial attacks. Blue blips indicated the presence of


observed federation starships, and red blips indicated the disposition


of Republic forces.


The red blips flashed with disconcerting speed from one system


to another, as the Republic fighters jumped around gathering


information. The hundred or more tiny ships were capable of travelling


from one system to another in a matter of minutes, hardly ever


disappearing for more than two minutes before popping up in another


system. Without warp drives, and given that they were using minimal


impulse power, and that the fighters were so tiny, Picard knew that


only the more sensitive military sensor nets would detect them, and


even then they could jump away before any real response could be




"Our priority," Picard was saying, "is to rescue our


colonists, and prevent further attacks on federation worlds."


Antilles responded. "Given the slow rate at which the


imperials are taking systems, and the nature of the systems they are


taking, we can make the following deductions. They are taking control


of worlds which they hope to use as a resource base, and choosing them


on their capability to defend the worlds. They are looking for small


concentrated populations, which are easy to control. The fact that


they are taking roughly one system a week implies that their


manufacturing base is only able to build one shield generator with


it's accompanying reactors per week.


"They are obviously not prepared to take planets which will


require the deployment of multiple shield generators, nor do they want


a direct confrontation with your fleet at this stage. That is most


likely because they are still short on supplies, and would not be able


to repair any ships that suffered serious damage. Their most serious


handicap is the lack of an orbital shipyard.


"Your navy's best strategy would be to blockade any world the


imperials have taken, forcing them to break the blockade if they want


the supplies. The next step is to find their manufacturing centre, and


destroy it, which will prevent them from manufacturing further shield


generators. They don't have enough resources to defend a planet


without shield generators, and won't take a planet they can't afford


to hold."


"Why do they need our worlds in the first place?" Riker asked.


"Ready made resources, readily available labour in the form of


your colonists, not to mention a future source of recruits in your


colonists, as well as whatever manufacturing facilities your colonists


had available." Antilles answered.


"Why our colonies? Why not Klingon or Romulan colonies? Or the




Antilles glanced around the table somewhat sheepishly.


"The imperials are particularly xenophobic. They are very


pro-human, and would not lower themselves to deal with non-humans


unless they need them for slave labour. When the imperials took brief


control of the galaxy, humans were granted automatic citizenship, and


non-humans were reduced to little more than slave labour at the best."


"Do they think our colonists will enlist with them?" Riker


asked incredulously.


"Maybe. More likely they will rely on psychological


manipulation. I don't know about your society, but where I come from


there are many humans who would conform pretty easily to that type of


conditioning. Xenophobia, cruelty, ruthlessness and militaristic power


are things which appeal to people who suffer from fear, hatred, anger,


frustration and many more of the baser human instincts. It is also


easy to use non-human species as a focus for these fears."


"Yes, it is a problem even in our society," Picard said, "and


certainly there are people who would exploit such power given the


opportunity. That is also why you cannot enter federation space. There


are those who would merely see you as another threat, or at best,


something to be exploited. The best thing you can do for us Captain


Antilles is to find and destroy the Imperials' manufacturing




"I am quite prepared to risk an attack by your compatriots if


it means destroying the imperials. Not to mention, that I am under


specific orders to see that imperial technology does not fall into


foreign hands." Antilles stated.


"I understand the importance of your orders, but if you were


to fire on any federation vessel, I would be forced to defend that


vessel." Picard declared.


"Let us hope that it does not come to that. However, it will


be next to impossible to find the imperial manufacturing facility. The


sheer volume of space out there that needs to be searched is against


us. What I would like to do is have the opportunity to place a


tracking device on one of their ships. The most likely way I can do


that is to engage them in battle, over one of your colonies."


"I think I can arrange that." Picard said. "It will be risky,


for myself and the Klingons, since it may be construed that we were


conspiring with the enemy. But I think it can be done."

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Four days later, the Enterprise and the Defiant led four


Klingon Birds of Prey into the system that was home to colony 137. The


Gallant and the Stalwart were still on blockade duty, supported by two


Klingon ships. Picard explained that they had followed up some clues


to attempt to locate the alien's operational base, but the clues had


proved to be a wild goose chase. Gallant reported no attempts to break


the blockade, but brought Picard up to date on other incidents.


Twice in other blockaded systems, the alien vessels had


arrived unexpectedly, but had fled the systems without attempting to


break the blockades. No damage to ships of either side had been


reported. They were known to have scouted several systems, but seemed


reluctant to engage the federation ships defending those systems.


Public outcries were reaching critical mass, and starfleet was under


enormous pressure to attempt to retake the captured colonies. There


were rumours of commando teams being trained for this task.


The strain on starfleet's resources was also tremendous, many


systems were suffering due to starfleet being unable to supply them


with food, medical supplies, industrial equipment, farming equipment


and many other necessities. The disadvantage of not having a fully


independent merchant marine was beginning to tell, with the few


independent operators unable to cope with the increased demands for


their services.


Picard released the Stalwart from it's blockade duty, but


Gallant insisted on staying. With the Defiant and six Klingon warships


in attendance, the blockade force was over-strength compared to other


systems. Picard was forced to release three of the Klingon ships to


other duties. The Defiant took up position on the far side of the


planet, and cloaked itself. The three Klingon ships took up position


in distributed parts of the system, hiding behind or on planets. The


Enterprise and the Stalwart remained on station above the shielded


imperial stronghold, and settled down to wait.


Two days later they received reports of yet another system


having been taken over by the imperials. This time two of the wedge


shaped ships had suddenly appeared in the system, surprising the


defending federation starship Courageous. The Courageous had taken


several broadsides in three seconds before getting off a shot. It had


ceased transmitting without any indication of what the result of it's


shot had been. The colony below had not had a chance to transmit


anything, their weak transmitters unable to break through the heavy


jamming. The Reliant was despatched to the system, but would only


arrive in another day and a half. As a result of the surprise tactics


being used, the federation warships were on permanent battle-stations,


and were required to keep their shields up and fully charged all the




There were many nervous fingers on controls, and no doubt


several false alarms. Not knowing where or when the imperial ships


would appear was working on everyone's nerves. The Enterprise was


doing better than most ships, with Data on continuous duty, and


unlikely to be distracted by a shadow or unexpected meteor.


The first attempt to break a blockade occurred in one of the


Rim mining colonies. There were three ships on duty, including one


Klingon Bird of Prey. A large wedge shaped ship had appeared and


opened fire on all three ships, taking the Klingon and one Federation


ship on it's starboard side, and the second federation ship on it's


port side. The ships had exchanged fire for nearly thirty seconds,


then the wedge shape had abruptly disappeared, just as it's starboard


shield appeared to be failing. The federation ship on the port beam of


the star destroyer had taken light damage, the two ships on the


starboard beam having come off much lighter, their shields still


holding. The damaged federation ship had suffered a hull breaches, and


was forced to limp to a nearby starbase at warp 4, a journey of some


two weeks. Somewhere along the way it would break off contact, and


never be heard from again. In a review of the battle recordings, it


appeared that a number of shuttle type ships had materialised on the


far side of the planet, and slipped under the planetary shield during


the battle.


The Klingon and Federation ships split up, with the federation


ship taking up station at the far side of the planet. It was a


mistake. Barely an hour later, two huge alien battleships had


materialised, bracketing the lone Klingon Bird of Prey. They blew the


Klingon ship to dust, and fled to hyperspace, along with the


ostensibly fully loaded shuttles, before the federation ship could


enter the fray. The orders were passed around to keep the warp cores


on standby, and to make full use of warp speed in any battle


situations, regardless of the dangers or loss of weapon effectiveness.


Picard seethed. He hated being in the position of having to


respond to the enemy. With their hyperspace drive capabilities, the


imperials could dictate when and where they fought, and there was


little he could do about it. Another day crept by.


The imperials made their next blockade run on a captured


farming colony defended by four federation starships. Two of the ships


were in blockade position at each pole of the planet, with the other


two hiding in the system. Two wedge-shaped alien battleships bracketed


the federation ship over the colony, pinning it under their combined


broadsides. It was hit by nearly two hundred turbolaser blasts before


escaping to warp without it's shields, severe internal damage to its


optical systems from the concussions, but no hull breaches. A shipyard


repair was not necessary at this time, but it would be a day or two


before the optical circuitry could be replaced. The three remaining


federation ships came streaking in at more than warp 4 in the confines


of the solar system, and all launched a brace of photon torpedoes at


one of the destroyers. The torpedoes slipped through the cordon of


turbolaser fire, and dropped out of warp scant kilometres from the


destroyer, manoeuvring crazily to intercept the destroyer, which was


turning away at close to fifteen gees. The nine torpedoes slammed into


the destroyer's shields before the point defence laser-cannons could


track them. The destroyer's shields was designed to withstand several


broadsides of more than a hundred turbolasers, not to mention ion


cannons and starfighter laser cannons and fusion tipped proton


torpedoes, but the photon torpedoes detonated virtually


simultaneously, overloading half of the starboard shield generators,


and knocking the shield down. Huge chunks of neutronium reinforced


metallic alloys were ripped out of the hull, to a depth of several


metres in some places, but didn't penetrate the hull. The hull glowed


red where the torpedoes had struck, radiating energy.


The three ships curved away from the two destroyers, easily able to


dodge the imperial weapons as long as they stayed at warp. A number of


shuttles could be seen descending to the planet below. The federation


ships curved around tightly in an attempt to cut off the shuttles.


They fired a second brace of torpedoes, which streaked after the


shuttles. The torpedoes suddenly slammed into a wall of energy. The


shuttles were already below the planetary shield. The three starships


flashed through the gap between the shields, which was being peppered


by several torpedoes fired from the two destroyers. One of the three


starships was rocked severely by a fusion warhead detonating in it's


path, but managed to keep going. The remaining proton torpedoes


harmlessly detonated their fusion warheads against the shield below.


The two destroyers vanished before the federation ships could make


another run at them.


The starship which had been rocked by the fusion explosion had


suffered minor damage to some of it's optical circuits, and one


inertial damping field generator had blown. It would be fully


operational within two hours. In hyperspace, the star destroyer's


captain seethed. Half of his starboard turbolasers were down, and


while most of them would be operational within a few days and the


shield generators replaced, the hull damage would require dockyard


facilities, which were not available at this time.


Picard was elated at this development. A blockade run on a


farming world implied they needed food, which meant 137 might be next.


He sent a sub-space transmission to the federation warships defending


the other farming colony requesting them to target and destroy the


shuttles if the imperials made an attempt to collect them.


An hour later, Picard was anxiously waiting to see what the


imperials would do about collecting their shuttles. The two undamaged


federation ships were patrolling the area around the planet at Warp 2,


while the two lightly damaged ships were conducting hasty repairs on


the outskirts of the system. The tactic used by the imperials caused


Picard to kick himself. He of all federation captains should have been


aware of the enemy's scouting ability. Four star destroyers suddenly


appeared, two of them besides each of the two damaged federation


vessels, and opened fire on them at point blank range. Outnumbered two


to one, and caught by surprise, they didn't stand a chance. The


patrolling vessels did the only thing they could. They split up and


raced towards the defence of their compatriots. Behind them, the


imperial shuttles climbed out of the atmosphere and disappeared into


hyperspace. The four imperial destroyers followed without engaging the


incoming federation vessels. The two federation ships they had


attacked were little more than orbital debris. No doubt they had a


gunboat or starfighter loitering with all systems shut down, watching


the system, and it had spotted the two federation ships making




Another flash circulated through starfleet. Damaged ships and


single ships were to be considered as at high risk, as the imperials


were now known to have ruthlessly targeted at least three damaged


ships, and were using the tactic of isolating and outgunning the


federation ships.


Picard swore in frustration, why couldn't the imperials had


chosen this system. He briefly contemplated trying to lay a trap by


pretending to be damaged, then discarded the idea. Federation blockade


tactics now had changed to counter the imperial's observed strategies.


Picard kept the Enterprise and the Gallant patrolling at low warp


speeds, the Defiant lay quietly on the far side of the planet, hidden


by their cloaking device. The warp-speed patrols were heavy on fuel,


but was tactically necessary. The three remaining Klingon warships


were all shutdown and distributed throughout the system, but ready to


engage warp at a moment's notice. A sensor sweep of the system could


only detect two of the Klingon vessels, and then only because they


knew exactly where to look. The Defiant was totally invisible, and


Picard avoided doing a sensor focus of the area the Defiant was


lurking in, he didn't want to give the game away.


Picard had also ordered regular and systematic sensor sweeps


around the edge of the star system out to a radius of half a light


year, in case the imperials tried to scout the system. Antilles had


told him the imperial starfighters did not have hyperdrive capability,


and the smallest vessels that did were of the gunboat or shuttle


variety, which he was confident of detecting even at those ranges,


with a concerted sensor search. Still, a sphere of half a light year's


radius was a lot of vacuum to cover.


Four star destroyers blinked into existence less than one


hundred thousand kilometres away. Data had the ship accelerating at


warp 4 before Picard could shout a warning. The Gallant was not quite


as lucky. Their human helmsman reacted a few hundredths of a second


slower than Data, and the ship flew headlong into a barrage of


turbolaser fire laid across it's patrol path. A number of fusion


explosions also indicated the destroyers had fired several proton


torpedoes as they arrived. The Stalwart accelerated clear of the


devastation still more or less intact though. Riker reported its


shields were down to less than ten percent, but already being


recharged. It was not known what other damage it had incurred, if any.


"Commander Worf reports two enemy shuttles destroyed, one


damaged, on the far side of the planet. Five shuttles made it under


the planetary shield." Some good news, Picard thought.


He brought the Enterprise around in a hyperbolic curve at Warp


5, only Data's presence at the helm giving him the confidence to


manoeuvre like this in battle-conditions within the confines of a star


system. The Enterprise launched five torpedoes at the nearest


destroyer, and banked away from the incoming turbolaser fire, Data


managing to avoid the blasts easily. Four of the torpedoes impacted on


the destroyer, which rolled as the torpedoes hit, spreading the load


across it's dorsal and port shields. The three Klingon ships were


streaking in to the battle now as well.


As the Enterprise pulled clear, the Gallant came in along a


different vector, and fired another four torpedoes towards one of the


destroyers. Two of the torpedoes hit, the other two streaked past


within a few hundred metres of the huge ship, which was manoeuvring at


close to twelve gees. The Defiant appeared briefly, and fired five


torpedoes at nearly point blank range to another destroyer. They never


reached their target. The four destroyers had all disappeared. A


number of fusion explosions marked their parting shot in the direction


of the Defiant. Seconds later the Defiant appeared, it's shield down


to eighty percent, but otherwise unscathed.


The entire engagement had lasted less than twenty seconds.


"Five shuttles made it to the surface. Prepare to blockade


those shuttles. No matter what, I don't want them getting off that


planet." Picard ordered.


Five ships took up patrolling orbits around the planet, the


three Klingons miffed at not having had a chance to get a shot in. The


Gallant reported minor damage, a few bruises and broken limbs, but


nothing serious. The Defiant engaged its cloaking device again, and


took up position directly above the shield, to watch for the shuttles.


Picard transmitted a report to starfleet, and used the report to


disguise a second signal on another frequency. The tactics the


imperials were using would give them very little time to do what he


had in mind.


On the Defiant, Worf prepped a signal. He watched the colony


area carefully. On the telescopic electromagnetic sensors he could see


the five shuttles being loaded by a number of small figures. A single


keystroke would send the signal. As soon as the loading stopped he


prepared to give the signal. The shuttles lifted from the ground,


using some unknown drive mechanism, probably anti-gravity. Worf


pressed the key.


On the Enterprise, a warning light flashed on Picard's padd.


"Get ready, here they come." He said.


The words were barely out of his mouth when the imperials made


their move. The planetary shields dropped, and a number of


ground-based laser-cannons opened fire on the area where the Defiant


lurked directly above the shields. At first Worf thought they were


firing at him, but the fire was spread out, they were just clearing a


path for the shuttles, and feared that the cloaked vessel was in that




"Deactivate cloaking field," Worf ordered, "Target the


shuttles, fire at will."


He barely finished the order when the Defiant was rocked


severely, throwing everyone around, some of the bridge crew ending up


on the deck. The ground fire was tracking towards the Defiant, but


surely could not generate that much of a punch?


"Engage warp." Worf calmly ordered.


The Defiant streaked away, leaving two destroyers in high


orbit firing at empty space. The remaining blockade ships were warping


around the planet, and launched a number of torpedoes at the


destroyers. The first of the torpedoes barely detonated when the


destroyers leapt away. The remaining torpedoes arced towards the small


vessel still in high orbit, three of them detonating against it's


shields before it too disappeared into hyperspace. Picard hoped it


hadn't sustained too much damage. The remaining torpedoes were forced


to self-destruct.


"Commander Worf, report."


"All the shuttles escaped, we managed to damage two, but they


got away. Our shields were knocked down, and we took a few hits on the


hull. A number of crew were slightly injured, but otherwise the ship


is undamaged."






A few minutes later, the frigate Freedom's Friend arrived at the star


system where the republic fleet lay waiting. It's ventral shields had


been knocked down, and it had suffered some minor hull damage, but the


droids were already working on the hull, and soon there would be no


trace of any battle damage.


"Our mission was successful, we tagged one of the destroyers." The


frigate reported.


Antilles slapped his palms together. Finally. He settled back to wait


for the tracking device to make it's report. The tracking device was a


simple mechanism. It was too small to do much in the way of real


tracking, and essentially it was just a powerful sub-space transmitter


that broadcast a pulse at random intervals on a random frequency while


in normal space. The duration of the pulse was mere microseconds, and


any counter-intelligence sweeps would only detect it while it was


actually transmitting, if the sweep happened to be listening to the


random frequency at the time of transmission.


Antilles computers ran a matching program with the same random seed,


so that it could predict exactly when the device would pulse, and at


what frequency. By simple triangulation they could pinpoint the


location of the tracking device. Antilles had no wish to blow what may


be his only chance to track down the imperial manufacturing plant, and


he observed the results of the tracking device for three days, trying


to get a pattern for the destroyer's movements. In the meanwhile, a


third Liberator cruiser, its escorts, and the CC-7700 frigate joined


the Republic fleet. The fourth Liberator and its two frigates remained


at the Republic base close to the centre of the galaxy as a defence




The tagged destroyer participated in two more raids on federation


worlds, during which one more destroyer was damaged according to the


Klingon reports and three more shuttles destroyed. Two federation


vessels were lost to surprise attacks by superior forces, and three


Klingon vessels were severely damaged, but were escorted to safe areas


by other Klingon vessels. Antilles knew these attacks were hurting the


imperials more than the Federation. The Imperials had a limited number


of ships, but even with two of the six or seven ISD1's damaged, they


were still a formidable force. He had not yet seen them use the


Dreadnoughts he suspected they had, nor the ISD2's he knew they had.


Possibly the dreadnoughts were too slow for these types of


engagements, but he was sure they would come into play one way or




Antilles could see that the imperials were using the attacks to


analyse federation warp strafing tactics. He was sure they were


planning something, but he had no idea what, and no way to warn Picard


anyway. Antilles was pretty sure that he had identified the flight


pattern of the tagged destroyer, and had identified two systems to


which the destroyer regularly returned. Both were within one thousand


light years of federation space, and he suspected they were staging


points for the raids, not the actual base itself. Admiral Zorn agreed


with him, but was eager to get Antilles to scout the systems. Antilles


refused to tip his hand. They needed to wait a bit longer.






On the third day, the big attack came. The tagged destroyer had laid


up for several hours in one of the staging areas, then disappeared. It


reappeared on Antilles status display at the same time that


battle-reports started coming in from the relays organised by the


Klingons. Four star destroyers, and close to a dozen missile gunboats


jumped into a system completely unexpectedly, the system chosen being


one that didn't conform to the profile of the previously attacked


systems. It had a significantly larger population at several million


humans, and was defended by five starships, two of them Klingons.


The imperials launched their first volley of torpedoes before


the defenders could respond. One of the Klingon ships was destroyed


nearly immediately, hit by several proton torpedoes, and finished off


by a turbolaser broadside when it's warp drive was disengaged. The


remaining four ships conducted several warp strafing runs on the


destroyers, attempting to concentrate on the destroyers one at a time,


easily evading the incoming turbolaser and proton torpedo barrages.


Antilles listened to the attack via the Klingon relays.


"Come around to vector one four point two, warp three, target


the ship designated wedge 1."


"Warp in on my mark . now!"


"Watch out for starfighters at green three."


"Break off, break off."


"How many hits?"


"Three hits on their port shields, they are down to forty




"More fighters at red five, attack along vector one six point


nine . now!"


"Fire four!"


"Hit, hit, five hits that time, but they rolled and took it on


their dorsal shields, now down to twenty percent, their port shields


now fifty percent and climbing."


"The other wedges are screening wedge 1 from us, come around


to vector four three point two six, watch for missile gunboats at blue




The destroyers manoeuvred to repeatedly present a different


face to the attacking ships, spreading the load across their seven


independent shields. The warp-strafing vessels found it difficult to


target one destroyer and knock it's shields down as the four


destroyers assumed formations that protected their weaker shields and


presented the stronger shields. Several squadrons of TIEs and the


gunboats were also shielding the destroyers, attempting to set up


ambushes by coasting along with their engines shut down. This forced


the federation ships to select their attacking vectors carefully,


giving the imperials ample time between attack runs to change


formation or recharge their shields.


"Target starfighters at two ten by nine fifteen, torpedo


spread. Launch at warp two then bank right. Set torpedoes for


proximity detonation, max yield."


"Fire .. fire .. fire."




"Two fighters destroyed, they are spread over too much area,


and are highly manoeuvrable. Some of them evaded at ten or twelve


gees, and they are doing point three cee."


"Okay, save torpedoes for the wedges, set phasers to high


dispersion and target starfighters, next run at warp three, target


wedge 2 along vector seven fifteen by three twenty five."


The small ships proved difficult to target with phasers,


especially at warp speeds, but the federation ships didn't dare


disengage warp for too long for fear of being ambushed by a ship


coming in via hyperspace. The small one-man fighters were easily


destroyed by the phasers, when they got caught by a lucky shot, but


there were just too many of them spread through too much space.


Eventually a missile barrage fired at point-blank range from a


group of lurking missile gunboats surprised one of the federation


ships. One of its warp nacelles was blown clean off, and the ship


detonated seconds later. The three remaining defenders continued the


attack on the destroyers, but several attack runs later had done


little or no damage, despite reducing one wedge's shields to lower


than ten percent. But the wedge jumped out of the system, and was


replaced by a fresh ship with fully charged shields. Multiple proton


torpedo hits destroyed another federation ship when it wandered into a


squadron of tiny starfighters with their engines shut down. Seconds


later, the second Klingon vessel was outguessed, when it made one too


many turns to starboard after a strafing run, and collected two full


broadsides and a few proton torpedoes from two additional destroyers


which had jumped into the system for just such an opportunity.


The last federation vessel beat a hasty retreat. There were


now six star destroyers in the system, and more than nine squadrons of


TIE fighters and two dozen missile-gunboats. None of the destroyers


appeared to be significantly damaged, they had learnt exactly how to


counter the photon torpedoes by presenting fresh shields from


different angles all the time, and recharging their shields between


attack runs while the TIEs screened them, preventing the federation


ships from attacking faster than their shields could recharge.


Thirteen starfighters and two gunboats had been destroyed. It appeared


that the imperials had won their first major engagement, but Antilles


knew their losses were almost irreplaceable. More TIEs might be


manufactured, but the pilots couldn't be replaced.


The destroyers callously blasted two of the four cities below


them, the turbolaser barrage being followed by the detonation of


several fusion warheads over the cities. The two cities remaining were


strafed by the TIE's, then taken over by stormtrooper regiments.


Another colony world had fallen to the imperials, with four starships


being destroyed in the process, as well as more than a million dead




"I demand you attack these staging areas now." Admiral Zorn


raged, "or allow me to transmit the co-ordinates to my ships!"


"Most of their ships are above the federation colony."


Antilles reasoned, "We may surprise one or two at their staging area,


or even destroy some supplies, but then they will know we are here,


and we will still not have located their manufacturing base. Besides,


you don't have any ships within fifteen hundred light years of their


staging areas, it will take you weeks to get there, and your stardrive


will be detected several minutes before you arrive."


"But you must do something, you can't just sit here and let


more people be slaughtered."


"Captain Antilles," Jedi Dacron interrupted, "You are


tactically correct, but the Admiral is right. We must act. We can't


allow more of this slaughter." Antilles noticed the Jedi was


significantly paler.


"Jedi Dacron? Are you alright?"


"Yes, I am alright, it is just the . brutality . of the


imperials. The loss of life was tremendous."


Antilles paced his bridge, concentration evident on his face.


"Nerak. Order the Emancipator and its two frigates to remain here, all


other ships to come with us. Calculate hyper-jump to within two light


years of the federation colony, three A-wings to jump to within point


three of a light year, and relay scouting data back to the fleet.


Generals Denel, Aburakh and Corlacca to prepare for ground assault."


Nerak barked out orders, and a minute later the fleet was in


hyperspace. Once he was satisfied that things were proceeding


satisfactorily, he turned back to Antilles.


"Sir? We are going to attack the imperials above a federation


world? They will just run away!"


"The Federation will take four days to get another starship to


that colony, we can get there in an hour. If the imperials retreat,


they leave half their troops behind on that planet, and it will be a


day or two before they can get their planetary shields installed.


Either way we force them to fight."


"If they stay, we will be seriously outgunned. While the


Peacemaker can possibly take on two star destroyers, the Liberator


cruisers and their frigates will be hard pressed against the remaining




"Yes, but they have just fought an extended engagement. Our


X-wings and A-wings are fresh, they are busy at this moment recovering


and refuelling their TIEs and their gunboats. It is unlikely they will


stay and fight, they cannot risk the damage, however if they do, they


will be at a serious disadvantage without fighter cover."


Nerak didn't look convinced. Zorn had been following the


conversation closely.


"You are prepared to risk damage to your fleet?" He asked.


"Surely you are at the same disadvantage regarding the lack of a




"Yes, but our ships are better able to conduct repairs without


the aid of a shipyard. Our warships were designed to be independent


and self-reliant, theirs were not. Also, any damage we do to them they


will find immensely difficult to recover from, whereas it might be


enough to serve the purpose of most of our mission goals, even were we


to be destroyed."




The huge battle-cruiser, the two cruisers and four frigates


dropped out of hyperspace two light years short of the federation


colony. Immediately the ships launched all their starfighter


squadrons, seven squadrons of X-wings, two squadrons of A-wings, and


one squadron of B-wings altogether. By the time the last squadrons


were being launched, sensor data from the scouting A-wings was


arriving. Noghri pilots piloted all the three A-wings chosen by


Captain Sulman, the Mon Calamari who commanded the Freedom Fighter,


the Noghri being particularly adept at stealth and scouting.


Antilles, Zorn and Nerak surveyed the holographic display of


the federation system. All six destroyers were on station in the


system, and still in orbit of the colony world. No doubt there were


patrolling ships, but these were undetectable at the moment, probably


running silent. At two light years out, Antilles doubted they could


pick up the ion emissions as the fleet manoeuvred for the next jump at


low ion power levels. More likely they were looking for warp drive


signatures. Antilles gave his orders, identifying jump targets for all


the ships, careful not to target the star destroyer with the tracking


device on its hull.


Minutes later, the Republic fleet jumped. The two light-years


were covered in fractionally less than sixty seconds. The Freedom


Fighter and Deliverance and their four frigates were all targeted on


one star destroyer. The combined task force jumped into a position


ventral to the star destroyer, allowing them all to concentrate their


dorsal broadsides on the hangar area of the destroyer. The two


Liberator cruisers fired two broadsides in four seconds, the frigates


managing three in the same time period, before the destroyer started


returning ragged fire, not all its weapons being crewed yet. The


destroyer rolled, attempting to bring its dorsal guns to bear, and


protect it's fast failing ventral shields. A full squadron of B-wings


were ready for this, and pounced. They ripped away the last of the


ventral shields with a volley of ion cannon fire, and launched several


proton torpedoes at the exposed hull. The fusion tipped torpedoes


ripped away huge chucks of the super-dense hull, not even the


neutronium reinforcements able to withstand the fury of a several


megaton shaped-charge fusion explosion.


Huge sections of the destroyer's outer hull was totally blown


away, several torpedoes penetrating to the inner hull and beyond,


totally obliterating the hangars, launch bays and maintenance bays,


even exposing several decks above that to vacuum, despite the several


metres of hull separating each deck. The neutronium nodules embedded


in the hull were designed to dissipate shock waves, but were


overwhelmed by the ferocity of the multiple hits. Circuits and


conduits all over the huge ship were ripped from their reinforced


mountings, the inertial dampening system overloaded and blew all its


power generators, and systems throughout the destroyer went down.


Internal explosions rocked the city-sized vessel, all its


shields failing as power was lost. The attacking Liberator cruisers


poured more turbolaser fire into the nearly incandescent mass of


steel, huge chunks of it blowing apart. The city-sized imperial star


destroyer had been turned into a flaming wreck in no more than nine or


ten seconds, it's entire crew of more than thirty thousand killed.


Meanwhile, the Peacemaker had launched a similar attack on


another destroyer, three squadrons of X-wings in support, peppering


the huge ship with proton torpedoes as the battle-cruiser sought to


smash down the destroyers shields, firing broadside of upwards of one


hundred turbolaser cannons, and an equal number of ion canons. The


remaining squadrons of X-wings and A-wings were sweeping through the


system, searching for gunboats, shuttles, or stray TIEs.




Jacob Lightfoot calmly pulled his control stick to one side.


The six gee manoeuvre was enough to upset the aim of the laser-cannon


gunner in the missile gunboat. He reversed the manoeuvre, tracking


back towards his prey. The targeting box on his display computer


flashed briefly, and he triggered his fire button. The X-wing bucked


slightly as it fired a synchronised burst from it's four


laser-cannons. He rolled the X-wing in another high gee manoeuvre, an


orange explosion several kilometres ahead of him informing of the


results of his attack. His main display cleared, and his R2 unit


flashed a wire diagram of the missile gunboat, the damaged areas


highlighted in red. The main display reverted back to targeting mode,


and he prepared a to make a second pass. It wasn't necessary, the


gunboat vanished into hyperspace.


The entire engagement had lasted no more than twenty seconds,


and two destroyers were incandescent wrecks. The remaining four


destroyers were powering away from the planet, making no attempt to


launch their fighters. The Republic starfighters screamed after them,


the Freedom Fighter in support, but the imperials weren't interested.


The four star destroyers would have been only slightly outmatched by


the Republic force of three capital ships and four frigates, but made


no attempt to take them on, vanishing into hyperspace within seconds


of each other.


On the Peacemaker, a display, the one that tracked the tagged


destroyer, died down. It would come back to life the moment the


destroyer returned to normal space. In the fringes of the system, the


X-wings were mopping up the few imperial ships deployed as watchdogs,


although some of the gunboats escaped to hyperspace as well.


Altogether, the Republic fleet had lost one B-wing, and four X-Wings,


with no damage to any other ships. The imperials had not had an


opportunity to knock down their shields.


"Scan the surface for imperial activity, reconfigure weapons


for orbital bombardment, send in two x-wing squadrons for aerial


reconnaissance, prepare to launch landing barges. Freedom Fighter and


Deliverance to prepare for possible counter-attack by imperial star


destroyers. Even squadrons land and refuel, odd squadrons to defensive


postures. Navigation to prepare an escape jump and distribute


co-ordinates to all ships in battle code four, directional beam only."


Around Antilles, the bridge was a hive of activity as gunnery


officers relayed orders, the CAG supervised his squadrons, and Nerak


relayed orders to the supporting cruisers and frigates. On the


Peacemaker, the huge turbolasers and smaller laser-cannons were being


hastily reconfigured for penetrating and targeting through an


atmosphere, the energy levels adjusted and plasma ejection chambers


re-calibrated. Antilles did not want to destroy cities, he merely


wanted to provide tactical support to his ground forces.


"Four AT-AT's detected, one of them in what looks like a large


residential area, the others are in open areas."


"Target the three exposed AT-ATs, turbolaser batteries, full


tactical power, fire."


"All three targets destroyed."


"CAG, X-wings to strafe the fourth one, inform them of


civilian presence, have them target the leg-joints. It is only


necessary to disable it, they are not to attempt to destroy it. If its


power core goes, the devastation will be immense.


"General," Antilles spoke into the comm-link with the landing


barges, "landing force status."


"Barge one, two minutes to planetfall, barge two, three


minutes out. Two wings of ground effect speeders in attendance."


Antilles asked no more questions. The general had subtly


informed him earlier that ground forces did not like to be


micro-managed by their naval counterparts. Instead, he had two of the


view-screens re-tasked to display the progress of the ground forces.




Ben Covell's unit was one of the first to hit the ground. He


sprinted down the ramp and made straight for a nearby wall, throwing


himself to the ground in the cover of the wall. A glance around him


showed that his fellow soldiers chameleon battle-suits had adjusted to


the pale colours of the buildings around them. His own had adjusted as


well. He snapped down his anti-glare visor, as violet and red beams


danced around the barge as it cleared the area ahead before lifting


off to drop another unit elsewhere.


In his earpiece, he heard the lieutenant ordering them


forward. On his visors HUD he saw a number of white beetle-like


figures highlighted as they charged around a corner. He fired several


bursts in their direction, and crouch-ran to a better firing position.


His battle-suit also served to disguise his infra-red and ultra-violet


signatures, partially masking him from the imperial's targeting


computers. A blaster bolt slammed into the wall ahead of him,


showering him with chips of plaster. None penetrated his suit,


although he knew the bruises would be there for him to display later.


He fired several more shots towards them. He was gratified to see one


or two drop, although he couldn't be sure whether it was from his own


fire, or that of his fellow troopers.


The stormtroopers retreated back down the street they had


come, and he charged towards the corner, accompanied by several


troopers of his unit. They were barely visible in their camouflage


outfits. Before they got to the corner, a speeder roared overhead,


peppering the street ahead with blaster fire. Covell threw himself to


the ground, rolling and firing as he rounded the corner. The street


was pockmarked from the speeders strafing, several stormtroopers lying


unmoving on the ground. The Republic forces advanced, with close air


support from the overhead speeders ensuring that the imperials didn't


hold them back.


Covell's unit reached another intersection and stopped, while


the soldiers quickly snapped fresh charges into their blaster rifles.


Covell glanced around the corner. The damaged AT-AT was directly


ahead. He threw himself backwards as a powerful blast smashed into the


corner where he had been standing. The lieutenant waved two men


forward. They each carried a shoulder mounted force-gun. It fired a


rocket-propelled projectile with a shaped-charge explosive warhead.


The two men readied their weapons, and nodded. Four soldiers sprinted


across the intersection, firing as they ran. Several high powered


blaster-bolts tracked them, ripping up concrete from the street where


it impacted. Three of the soldiers made it to the far side. The


force-gun wielders used the momentary distraction to step into the


street and fire two rockets at the AT-AT each. Covell grabbed one of


them and pulled him back into cover, the other was smashed backwards


by a blaster bolt from the AT-AT as the blaster fire tracked back


towards them.


Covell glanced around the corner, the AT-AT was a flaming mess. He


charged on towards it, firing just in case there were stormtroopers


taking cover behind it. There were none.


"Hold fire, hold fire." The lieutenant was screaming. The city


had fallen to the republic forces.


Covell glanced around. Smoke was rising from several


buildings. In the distance he saw a wing of X-wings tearing towards


the dark-blue sky, while another landing barge was coming in below


them. Medical droids were already racing around the scene, attending


to wounded soldiers, and a number of injured or unarmed stormtroopers


were being rounded up by security droids.


A civilian cautiously approached Covell's unit. "Federation


Commandos?" He asked.


The language was meaningless babble to Covell. He had no


translator unit, and waved the civilian towards a nearby droid. It


felt like he hadn't taken a breath in ages.




"What is the colony status?" Antilles asked of Nerak. The


first officer's comm-link was buzzing with in-coming reports, and the


view-screens were filled with ground troopers making their reports to


their controllers.


"The two cities bombarded by the imperials are unapproachable


due to atmospheric turbulence and high temperatures. Radiation levels


indicate that there won't be any survivors. A number of medical and


construction droids are being reconfigured for the environment and


will be despatched soon. We have control of the remaining cities. Two


thousand stormtrooper dead have been found so far, and eight hundred


stormtroopers have been taken prisoner. Our own losses are two hundred


and fifteen dead, six hundred seriously wounded. They are being


ferried to our medical bays, and have fifteen medical droids in




"We are in the process of setting up field hospitals in the


surviving cities, and have deployed twenty medical droids to the


surface. They are being assisted by civilian medics from the local


population. We have also recovered two partially assembled planetary


shield generators and their nuclear fusion power cores."


"Any warp trails coming in?" Antilles asked. He knew he would


have been informed of any, but asked the question anyway.


"The civilians have been in contact with their starfleet on a


low-powered sub-space transmitter, and apparently there are ships


heading this way now. The closest one is the ship that escaped the


destroyers during the imperial's first attack. It should be visible on


our scanners any minute."


"Have any of our resources have been in direct contact with


starfleet?" Antilles asked.


"Not yet, but we can set up a relay via their civilian


equipment, or contact them via the Klingon frequencies we are familiar




"The civilians have accepted our aid easily enough," Nerak


added, "but their fleet people seem a bit more cautious."


"We won't initiate contact yet. Have the soldiers round up all


Imperial and Republic equipment. Load everything and everybody onto


the barges and get them back on board. I want to be ready to jump out


before that starship gets here. Whatever cannot be salvaged is to be


destroyed beyond recognition. Have the Deliverance and Freedom Fighter


scan the imperial wreckage in orbit for any equipment that can be


salvaged. I don't want so much as a single chip to fall into


federation hands. They are to tractor all loose equipment into their


holds, and destroy everything that has to remain behind, even if they


dump it into that star out there."


The frigates proceeded to tow the star destroyers' wreckage


towards the nearby star, and tracked it all the way in. All small


loose bits and pieces were painstakingly tractored together and hauled


aboard the cruisers. Despite Antilles orders, the republic crews were


still hard at work when the federation ship entered the system forty


minutes later. Antilles allowed the initial sub-space contact, but


insisted the rest of the conversation take place on directional beam


communications only.


"I speak on behalf of all starfleet when I thank you for your


assistance in the recovery of this colony, captain Antilles," the


federation commander was saying, "but I must insist that you stay. My


superiors will want to establish the full record of what has


transpired here, and what your status will be in Federation space."


"I am afraid I have compromised my mission enough already. The


imperials we hunt now know of our existence, and will be cautious of


our interference."


The federation commander professed to understand, but


obviously would have liked to enforce his wishes. Minutes later, the


republic fleet was ready to leave the system. Antilles ordered a last


sweep of the system and the surrounding interstellar void in case the


imperials were spying on the happenings here before jumping out. He


didn't expect the imperials back, they were probably licking their


wounds and considering a new strategy. He had no doubt that the


resulting imperial strategy would include a major punitive strike on a


carefully selected federation world, and wondered if he had done the


federation any favours.

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"Captain, everyone is in place."


"Thank you, Mr Riker. You may commence the attack."


On the surface, Wil Riker was in charge of a team of fifty


humans and Klingons, all that could be spared from the ships above,


which were on a 24-hour battle alert. They were distributed in a large


perimeter around the Imperial defended area, about twenty kilometres


away. This was the maximum safe range of the new weapon Picard had


come up with. Geordi had managed to manufacture a mortar tube from an


obsolete 22nd century design, and a number of modified photon torpedo


warheads. The Enterprise's sensory equipment had managed to calculate


the exact distances and trajectories for the ground crews, and this


information had been transmitted to the ground crews.


They had been able to march through the lightly shielded


side-wall of the shield without any ill-effect whatsoever. Picard had


also detached several runabouts, which the security team had used to


explore the outer perimeter of the Imperial controlled area. They were


careful to stay below the horizon from the Imperial laser-cannons.


It appeared that the Imperials did not have any flight capable


equipment, nor did they patrol the colony that far out. Twice a


runabout, which had wandered within twenty kilometres of a defended


area, had been shot at. Picard determined that the Imperials were


satisfied with their surveillance equipment, and thus made no further


effort to patrol the area. They had thus been able to safely deploy


the fifty-man assault team at ranges of twenty kilometres or more.


"Fire!" Riker ordered.


The ten men nearby all triggered their launch tubes. The


warheads were lobbed in a high trajectory at the Imperial held hills


near the colony. Two warheads were targeted at each hill. The warheads


were set to low yield, so that they would not entirely flatten the


hills, which were uncomfortably close to the farming villages which


made up the colony. Riker had them fire three volleys, so that a total


of six torpedo warheads were lobbed at each Imperial strongpoint, the


Enterprise tracked the warheads trajectory, and transmitted new launch


angles between each volley to correct for any deviation. The runabouts


also launched several of the small torpedoes they carried, despite


being below the horizon to the Imperials, since the Enterprise was


providing targeting information.


The strongpoints were shielded, but three of the five points


targeted were destroyed outright anyway. The remaining two survived


due to high winds around the peaks they were located on deflecting the


warheads. Riker had all ten of the launch tubes target these peaks,


and two more volleys saw these strongpoints destroyed as well. Riker


jumped aboard a nearby runabout, and two Klingons squeezed in behind


him. Another three ensigns had boarded a second runabout. Altogether


eight runabouts had been gleaned from the blockading fleet, and they


all sped towards their assigned targets. There was no defensive fire.


The shield generator was smack in the middle of the colony,


and because of the surrounding hills only a high trajectory at long


range would have knocked it down. The risk to the colonists should the


lobbed warheads or torpedoes deviate even by a fraction was enormous,


and Picard had not been prepared to risk targeting it from such long


range. Riker brought the runabout to a hover over a hill overlooking


the main settlement area, the shield generator was less than eight


kilometres away. He launched two torpedoes at the building housing the


shield generator, but the building itself was shielded, and the


shields held.


A number of violet bolts impacted explosively on the hillside


nearby. The Imperials were still capable of fighting back. Riker


wrenched the runabout around, and ducked behind the hill momentarily,


then sped in towards the settlement skimming the surface. A volley of


laser-cannon fire blew apart a rocky outcropping as he flashed past


it. He flashed past a group of buildings on the city limits, and fired


the runabout phasers at the building in which the laser-cannon was


placed. The building was disguised for a second as the phasers reacted


with some sort of shield in an impressive display of pyrotechnics,


momentarily penetrated the shield, and causing large chunks of the


building's outer wall to disappear.


Riker ducked down a passage between two large buildings, and


exited the passage closer to the shield generator, firing two more


torpedoes at it. Nearby, a runabout burst into an orange ball of


flame, and another smashed into the ground amid a volley of violet


fire. The remaining runabouts also launched their torpedoes at the


shield generator housing.




"The shield is down!" On the Enterprise.


"Fire on designated targets." Picard ordered.


The Enterprise's phasers had been set to a much lower than


usual power setting. They should still have enough power to burn


through the atmosphere, but Picard didn't want to risk civilian


casualties from collateral damage. The other ships were patrolling


against the possibility of another blockade run.


On the ground, the distributed settlements of the colony were


highlighted by a dozens of flickering beams lancing down from orbit.


The phasers flashed from one target to another, where the scanners had


picked out strong points in the Imperial defensive networks. These


strong-points were mostly shielded, and Picard had no option but to


fire on them. The scanners also picked up two large mobile armoured


vehicles, but a concentrate burst of phaser fire from orbit smashed


them to the ground. More phaser fire from the orbiting ships put paid


to smaller fast moving armoured vehicles.


Riker landed the runabout, and jumped out with a Klingon


soldier in close attendance. They were armed with phaser-rifles, and


immediately charged towards the damaged shield generator. Nearby, four


more ensigns were beamed down from the Enterprise, all similarly


armed. The ensigns ran towards Riker's position, but were struck down


by a volley of blaster bolts before they reached cover. A succession


of red beams lanced down from the Enterprise in the area where the


blaster bolts had come from. The beams were accompanied by a series of


thuderous explosions as the atmosphere imploded into the vacuum carved


out by the phasers. Two of the ensigns got up and raced to join Riker


where he was taking cover. One of them clutched an arm, another had a


slight limp. All over the settlement, other groups of security


officers were being beamed down.


Riker's small group advanced, occasionally coming under fire,


but were well supported by spotting information provided from the


Enterprise. They eventually made it to the shield generator, a thirty


metre tall structure with a huge parabolic dish mounted on top. The


structure was pockmarked with several blackened holes, and the dish


itself was hanging at a skewed angle. Calls were coming in from other


assaulting groups as well.


"Barracks secured. Scan for booby-traps, we lost two men to


hidden explosives."


"Power generators in sight."


"Communications centre in sight, enemy barricaded inside."


"Five prisoners taken, objective in sight."


The federation had recovered colony 137.


The Imperial force on 137 had totalled five hundred men, and


less than one hundred were captured alive, most of them wounded. The


four hundred dead Imperials had mostly been manning the bunkers in the


hills defending the colony, or had been crewing the destroyed armoured


vehicles and other shielded points. Picard had had no option except to


fire on them. The Federation dead numbered only forty seven, and six


destroyed runabouts. Many more were severely injured or burnt, but


would recover soon.


Picard noted with regret that several dozen civilians had also


been killed in the crossfire, many of them in the vicinity of the


shield generator. The energy that had been needed to knock down the


building's own shield had been such that the damage had spread for


several hundred metres outwards through the settlement.


The captured Imperials were being beamed up to the Enterprise.


Religious considerations were the last of Picard's concerns at the


moment. He had been unable to use the transporters effectively during


the battle, since it was difficult to tell stormtroopers apart from


civilians, and he was reluctant to beam his own people directly into a


position where they would be under fire. The transporters had also


been tasked to beam his forces down, rather than suspected enemies up.


He was reluctant also to beam the enemy soldiers up in battle either,


as he would have been beaming fully armed personnel onboard the


Enterprise, and he couldn't risk any difficulties in subduing them in


the sensitive transporter room while he still had men on the ground.


A number of technical teams were ordered to the surface, to


see what they could discover about the alien technology. They were to


be disappointed. The stormtroopers had taken pains to sabotage their


equipment, melting ciruitry, deleting software, and overloading power


packs. The few shield generator's circuits that had survived the


photon torpedo attacks had been destroyed by a number of thermal


explosives distributed throughout the building, as had the


communications equipment. There was not much left of the various


armoured vehicles, which had been targeted by phaser fire from orbit.


A number of the Imperials had been wearing armoured battle-suits, but


these had been sabotaged as well. Either the troopers had jury-rigged


their equipment for self-destruction, or the Imperial equipment had


been deliberately designed to prevent capture. Even the suits removed


from wounded or dead soldiers had been discovered to have


self-destructed critical circuits or deleted the programmable chips.




Throughout the federation, plans were under way to retake the


eight colonies still under Imperial control. On five of the colonies,


direct assaults were attempted with modified runabouts supporting


large teams of commandos. Two of the assaults were successful, and


three were repelled. All of them suffered heavy losses.


Five Imperial held planets remained, the Imperials were very


well entrenched, and had obviously been informed via their own


communications network as to Federation tactics. They had stepped up


their patrols, and also established numerous additional shielded


strong-points on high ground. While it was obvious that not all of


these defensive positions could be manned, it was difficult to tell


which were. In another assault the Imperials had made use of several


dummy gunnery posts, and had allowed the federation forces to advance


into a trap. Unable to achieve the primary objective of disabling the


planetary shields, they were unable to use transporters to escape, and


several hundred Federation commandos were decimated.


The defending Imperials had also been prepared for torpedo and


mortar attacks from below the horizon, and many laser-cannons were


computer controlled to track and destroy incoming ballistic warheads


and torpedoes.


The first of these five colonies was only taken back after a


two day assault by nearly five thousand rarely used ground troops. The


assault had resulted in over twelve hundred federation dead before the


shield generator had eventually been destroyed. Many more would have


died if not for the excellent medical support available to starfleet


personnel. It transpired that a mere two hundred and fifty Imperial


troopers had defended the world. They had made extensive use of booby


traps, dummy installations, and cloaked bunkers that had only been


detected when they opened fire on nearby federation troops.


Despite their losses, morale in the Federation camp was


climbing. For the first time they were on the offensive, and were


gaining ground on the Imperials. The invasion seemed to have been


halted in it's tracks, and even pushed back a bit. Most resources were


still dedicated to defense of Federation worlds, and only a few ships


could be spared for other duties. Picard had been recalled to Earth,


and had left the Gallant and one of the Klingon ships patrolling the


one-three-seven system. The Defiant and two Klingon ships were free to


resume their search for the origin of the Invaders. Picard had ordered


them to rendezvous with Antilles New Republic fleet. The Enterprise


was speeding to earth, where Picard was to discuss what he had learnt


with other senior officers in the hope of devising a strategy to


retake the remaining four colonies, and to find and destroy the


Imperial fleet.

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R2-B3 surveyed his domain. The x-wing which was his


responsibility had been stripped down and reassembled. All checksums


were within tolerable levels, and the x-wings computer concurred. The


small ship was in excellent condition. R2 flashed a request on the


internal radio frequency, and was informed that the x-wing would


remain on standby level 3 for another 1.924 hours. Level 1 would have


meant that the ship's pilot had to be strapped in ready to launch and


the ship be secured on a launch rail. Level 2 would require the pilot


to be at least within the hangar, and the ship on a launch rail. At


level 3, the ship could be launched within 45 seconds, provided the


pilot made it to the ship in that time.


R2 flashed a second request, and was informed that his pilot


was in recreation room 23C. The droid ran another checksum on the


x-wing, compared the results to that of the x-wing's on-board


computer. Satisfied with the status of its primary responsibility, it


set off to establish the status of it's second responsibility. It


waited patiently at the turbolift doors for its turn. Droids were low


on the priority list of the turbolift, unless they had specific orders


or reason to be using one. It took the astromech droid 38.5 seconds to


make it's way to the lounge. The lounge had thirty three occupants.


R2-B5 did a quick scan of the room, and 0.19 seconds later located


life-sign readings which corresponded to that of Jacob Lightfoot with


a 98.4% correlation. A vid-scan of the human thus located confirmed


the human as being Jacob Lightfoot.


A request made of a nearby waiter droid revealed that


Lightfoot had consumed three glasses of a mild alcoholic substance,


and had finished the last one fourteen minutes ago. R2-B5 instructed


the droid to serve Lightfoot only non-alcoholic liquids should he


request another, and to lace it with a detoxifier to nullify the


effects of the alcohol. R2-B5 made his way towards the pilot.


Lightfoot spotted him and asked if their status had changed in any


way. R2 beeped negatively.


"Our next patrol still in two hours?" Lightfoot asked. R2


beeped positively.


"The ship been serviced?"


R2 snorted derisively. Of course the ship had been serviced.


Humans always had to ask the obvious. What did Lightfoot think he had


been doing all this time.


"Have you been serviced?" Lightfoot teased.


R2 didn't dignify that one with an answer.


The dome-headed droid settled down and waited patiently while


the pilots continued their game. He remained hooked into the ship's


computer net, monitoring ready levels, and conversing with other


droids. They compared maintenance schedules on their respective ships


and complained about their pilots. R2 droids were particularly


fastiduous, and many were inwardly convinced that they would make


better pilots than their 'wet' counterparts, although outwardly they


proclaimed the skill of their own pilot, and thus justified having to


play second fiddle to a mere 'wet'. Another favourite conversation


topic amongst droids were tactical habits and manoeuvres employed by


the pilots, and measures taken by the droids to improve on this or


counter it when necessary. R2 was always looking for new


battle-tactics to employ in the simulations he ran with his pilot.


Each time any pilot came up with a new manouevre it was a hot


conversation topic amongst the R2 droids, who soon disseminated this


information through to the other pilots via simulations and mock




R2 noticed with interest that the Dauntless's main computer's


excitement level had raised significantly. He soon deduced that this


was due to a particular display which had been dormant for several


hours now and had suddenly lit up again. It was a homing beacon's


tracking signal. There was a flurry of activity amongst other


computers related to various bridge operations. R2 didn't have


clearance to monitor or decipher their communications, but was aware


of the sudden increase in traffic on all the circuits linking them.


Another signal interrupted his observations. A recall signal had been


sent out to all fighters. His own x-wing had been dropped from level 3


to level 4, and requests for updated status reports were being


transmitted to all ships in the maintenance bays. He submitted his


own, indicating the readiness of his x-wing. Satisfied that all had


been taken care of, he turned his attention to the pilots. The flurry


of computer activity had gone unnoticed, which was not surprising


since all this had happened in only a few hundredths of a second.


He beeped a notification to Lightfoot. All around him, other


drods were communicating with their pilots. R2 watched as Lightfoot


glanced at his padd for a translation. Lightfoot nodded to him, and


they made their way towards the lounge exit, along with several other


pilots. There was to be a briefing immediately. Around them, the air


was buzzing with the hope that the Imperial base had finally been








Antilles didn't bother attending the pilot briefings. That was


the CAG's job. He allowed the Klingon delegation to transmit a coded


message, which would ultimately be delivered to the Federation captain


Picard, in whom they all seemed to have such a lot of faith.


"Sir, three warp tracks incoming, ETA three hours. We have


established preliminary contact. It is the Defiant and two Klingon




"We don't have three hours, tell them to stop, we will pick


them up on the way."


"Yes, Sir."


Minutes later the entire fleet jumped. They dropped out of


hyperspace less than a minute later, and allowed the three small


Federation ships to dock in the main hangar bay. The ships were not


much larger than shuttles, so it was not a tight squeeze at all.


Antilles invited the captains to the bridge. They were led by Worf,


the Klingon who served in starfleet as the commander of the gunboat


sized Defiant.


"You have located the Imperial base of operations?" Worf asked


without preamble.


"Yes," Antilles nodded towards the strategic holographic


display, "Our homing beacon was finally tracked to this system here."


He indicated a nondescript star system several thousand light years


outside of Federation explored space. The system was well away from


other systems frequented by the tagged Star Destroyer.


"The likelihood of any ship making an extended stay in such an


out of the way system indicates high probability that this is the


enemy base we have been looking for."


"You are launching your attack now?" A Klingon officer asked.


"Yes? I take it you wish to observe."


"We will do more than observe." Worf stated simply.


Antilles shrugged. He did not have much faith in the ability


of the alien gunboats to survive a full-scale fleet battle, but it was


not his place to nursemaid anyone. And they were involved one way or




"Very well, but you will be under my command. I cannot afford


to allow you to jeopardise my fleet."


Worf bristled at the unintended slight, but held his peace, he


was technically a guest anyway.


"I will co-operate. You will not regret our assistance."


The discussion moved on to more pertinent topics. Antilles and


his officers discussed what they were likely to find at the Imperial


base, and worked out possible permutations and dispersals for their


forces. The Klingons listened closely, but did not know enough of


Imperial methodology to contribute much to the discussion, except with


regards to the capabilities of their own various ships and weapons and


possible uses they could have in the coming battle.


The Jump would last a calculated eighteen hours. The overall


plan was standard New Republic doctrine. The Jump was taking them to a


point in deep-space several light-years short of the targeted system,


which would first be scouted by sensor-stealthed A-wings. Very little


sleep would be had by anyone in this time, and most pilots were making


full use of the simulators despite orders to sleep and rest as much as


possible. To R2-B3's disgust Jacob Lightfoot was personally assisting


in yet another maintenance strip-down of their X-wing. He watched


carefully, lest the clumsy human make a stupid mistake. It was a


common problem, R2 knew, the 'wets' always thought they could do a


better job, and it was the bane of astromech droids that they had to


put up with the fiddlings of their pilots.








The Solar System was a hive of activity. This in itself was not


unusual. It was easily the most densely populated star system under


direct human control, being the home of the human race. There were the


colonies on the moons of Jupiter, the mining operations in the


asteroid belts. The shipyards of Mars - where the Enterprise herself


had been born - and dozens of laboratories, space stations, outposts,


smallholdings and communications stations scattered over nearly every


single rock of reasonable size in the entire system. Not to mention


Earth itself and the Lunar cities. Several dozen ships of all makes


and sizes were going about their various business activities. Buzzing


throughout all this were a number of frigate sized ships which


starfleet used to police and regulate interplanetary traffic.


In the midst of all this activity, and aloof from it, were a


full twenty capital starships, including several galaxy class


starships. It was rare indeed to see so many of the majestic


federation starships assembled in one place, and Picard's only


memories of such times were all bad. So many ships in one place


traditionally had meant trouble. In Picard's time, that trouble had


come in the form of Borg, in the form of Cardassians, and the


conflicts with the Dominion. Looking at his viewscreen, which had


enlarged computer enhanced representations of all these ships


distributed throughout the system only filled him with a sense of




He dismissed the negative thoughts, and concentrated on his


upcoming meeting with the Federation President and the starfleet


admirals. They wanted to hear first-hand his account of his meetings


with Antilles, and what he knew about the invading Imperial forces.




"So, Captain Picard, you say that all this trouble is


supposedly being caused by a single task force of this Galactic




"Yes, according to captain Antilles, they are after resources


mainly, since there journey here from their home galaxy would have


drained their ships supplies."


"Do you believe that they are from another galaxy?"


"I have witnessed the size and speed of their ships firsthand.


There is no doubt that they can traverse the galaxy in days or weeks.


Also, the sheer size of their vessels indicate an immense resource


base, in both materials and people. Despite our explorations having


been limited to this one quadrant, it is impossible for us to have


co-existed in the same galaxy with such an Empire and not noticed it


before. Or them us."


"This Antilles. He is on our side?"


Picard hesitated. "He is on our side in so far as hunting down


and destroying the Imperials are concerned. Beyond that, he didn't


seem to care much either way, although it is obvious that he does not


consider us an enemy. I have no doubt that were it in his interest to


attack us, he would."


"Do you have any further suggestions as to strategies to


employ against the Imperials, given what we now know of them?"


"I am afraid not. The best we can do for now is to squeeze


them with regards resources. Without our colonies, they will have to


develop their own colonies, mining and manufacturing facilities, and


it appears they don't have either the time or the resources to do it


on their own."




The meeting continued for longer than Picard would have liked. When a


recess was eventually called, he was relieved. Riker was waiting for


him at the door. Picard took the padd Riker offered and glanced at the


message. Antilles had located the Imperial base, and had launched his


attack. The message was two hours old, which meant the Republic fleet


was well on it's way in hyperspace. The message indicated that the


actual attack would take place in another sixteen hours.


Picard waved one of the admirals over and passed on the news.


A wave of hope and relief swept through the gathering as the news was


passed around. Perhaps the end was truly in sight. The meeting which


had broken on an inconclusive note now dispersed with a greater level


of determination. Knowing that the Imperial support structures were


now under risk of being destroyed lent hope to the plans for the


retaking of the last four Imperial held worlds.






The room was in darkness, the only light coming from a dimmed status


display on a nearby desk. The sleeper turned restlessly, then sat up,


as if a noise had been heard. The head tilted slightly to one side as


if listening. An arm reached for the communications panel at the head


of the bed.


"Picard to bridge. Status?"


The officer currently on watch responded almost immediately.


"The ship is secured Sir. Mr Riker is on the way to bridge."


"Why? Is there something wrong."


A slight hesitation.


"I wasn't sure whether to wake you yet, Sir. Mr Riker had left


orders that you were not to be disturbed unnecessarily. But there are


unconfirmed reports coming through of an Imperial attack on Proxima




"I'm on my way up." Picard closed the channel.


Like many captains before him in many navies in many


universes, Picard had an uncanny sense of kinship with the vessel and


the men in his command. He would not have been able to say what had


woken him up, or what change in the ship's sound or atmosphere had


alerted him, but something had spoken to him, alerted him that there


was something happening, drawn him to his bridge. Picard quickly


donned a nearby overall, kept handy for just such moments. All thought


of sleep forgotten, he was out the door before he was properly




Riker and the night-duty officer were bent over the


communications consoles. Data was at the helm. Even though he did not


require sleep, the sentient android had also somehow found his way to


the bridge. Picard joined his first officer at the comm-console.


"There are two separate reports coming in about attacks at


Alpha Centauri." Riker informed him.


"I thought you said Proxima Centauri." Picard accused the


second officer.


"Yes, three reports came in from Proxima, two starships were


destroyed by several destroyers in a surprise attack. Reports from


Proxima city confirmed three destroyers and at least two dozen


fighter-type craft in the system before the communications relays were


silenced. These have just come in."


Both systems were only a handful of light years away, heavily


populated and heavily defended. That they were attacked nearly


simultaneously suggested that the Imperials were seriously on the




"Centauri have requested reinforcements," Riker continued,


"But Sol is the nearest system and the fastest ships here will take at


least an hour to get there."


"Have any been dispatched."


"Three light cruisers. Starfleet HQ is reluctant to reduce the


Earth defense."


Picard nodded. It was a token gesture, but they couldn't


afford to ignore the pleas for help, neither could they realistically


weaken Sol defense. The Sol system was too heavily populated even for


twenty GCS's to adequately cover. One of the comm-console operators


bent sharply forward, listening intently, catching Picard's attention.


"Sirius defense has reported that they are engaging the enemy.


Two destroyers plus fighters."


"That's eight light years away. They are attacking three


systems simultaneously! All of them close by." Riker exclaimed


incredulously. "How many ships do they have?"


"We know two have been destroyed. That leaves at least four


destroyers, possibly as many as seven or eight." Picard answered.


"Antilles also indicated that they may have lesser ships, frigates,


cruisers, dreadnoughts and so on, but we haven't seen any yet." He did


not mention Antilles fears that there were possibly two or three


larger destroyers at large as well. Imperial II Star Destroyers he had


called them.


"They must have committed all their forces to these attacks."


Riker speculated.


"The reports mention a total of five destroyers so far." The


signals officer noted.


"Starfleet response?" Picard asked.


"The Excelsior and Atlantis have been ordered to Sirius along


with a task force of four light cruisers." Another signals officer


informed Picard.


Two of the galaxy class starships plus several smaller ships.


Picard wasn't surpirsed. Sirius had extensive shipyards plus mining


and manufacturing facilities to support them. After Earth and Mars, it


was also an important ship-building system.


"Number one, bring the ship to battle-stations." Picard




Riker raised his eyebrows, but gave the orders.


"You think we're next?" He asked Picard when he returned.


"Yes, all the attacks are close by, we are the only base able


to provide reinforcements. They are drawing off ships from here."


"Even if they have nine destroyers, there are still eighteen


galaxy class ships plus support here. And they have already committed


most if not all their resources in these attacks." Riker commented.


"I doubt they'll do more than destroy communications relays -


after requests for reinforcements have been sent - and maybe a bit of


bombardment. Remember how fast those destroyers are. Most likely it is


the same ships jumping from one system to another and focussing their


forces against the local defenders. Once they've done enough damage,


they jump to the next system. I will stake my reputation that we are


on their list."


"Even so. You think they will take on Earth Defense?" Riker




"Yes. Once they have drawn off a few more ships, I expect they


will bring their full force to bear on us here." Picard turned to the


signals officer. "Can you get Admiral Petrov on the comm. Tell him not


to send any more reinforcements to other systems, and to prepare for


an imminent Imperial attack."


The signals officer bent to his task, but several minutes


later indicated his frustration to Picard. He hadn't been able to get


past the Admiral's aides, but the message back had been that Starfleet


had no choice but to respond to the attacks. They were satisfied that


Earth was adequately defended. The only consoling factor was that a


stand-by alert had been sent to all ships in-system. The aide had


indicated that other captains in the system had drawn the same


conclusions as Picard, and brought their ships to battle-stations. It


was better than nothing, Picard supposed.


Two more nearby star systems were subjected to raids. All of


them were of the older colonies, heavily populated, and settled during


the first expansion drives into space in the early days of


interstellar travel. These worlds were the core worlds of the


Federation, Earth's staunchest allies, and Starfleet couldn't ignore


their pleas. Three more galaxy class ships and smaller cruisers were


dispatched to attacked systems, and other ships to systems likely to


be attacked if the pattern persisted. Earth defense was now down to


thirteen starships, still supported by fifteen smaller ships, and


three of the new defiant class frigates.


The thirteen ships spread out through the system. Four of them


took up station in Earth orbit, two more in Lunar orbit. Three ships


took up defensive positions near the Mars shipyards. Another GCS


patrolled the outer Solar System, where literally dozens of stations


were located on moons or in orbit around the gas giants or on Pluto.


The Enterprise and the remaining two starships patrolled the mid


ranges of the Sol System, covering the colonies on Jupiters moons, as


well as the asteroid mining belts. The dozen or more cruisers and


frigates were spread thinly through the system, covering many of the


more sensitive installations. Picard still felt that they were too


exposed. There were hundreds of stations through the system, from the


mining facilities on Mercury to the large populations on the Jovian


moons that were virtually undefended.


Still reports were coming in from nearby systems. Proxima city


had come back on line. They reported all orbital installations


destroyed, two cities on the surface had been obliterated, and there


was no sign of the four ships which had been defending the colonies.


The death toll on the surface was estimated in the tens of millions.


The Imperials had made no attempt to land, but had destroyed all


space-port facilities as well. There was nothing more Earth Defense


could do. Their forces were spread too thinly, but at least they could


prevent the Imperials from holding any more strategic positions.


Picard knew that it would take them decades to recover from the losses


suffered in these attacks. In a war of attrition, their only hope of


defeating the Imperials lay in Antilles destroying their manufacturing


and supply bases, which were way out of Federation reach.


Picard glanced at a readout on his command chair's display. It


had been nearly fifteen minutes since the last attack on any system.


For the Imperials it was now or never. The task forces dispatched from


Earth was well on their way to their destinations, but in a few hours


would start returning. Against all his hopes, his fears were realised


when he saw the signals officer snap to attention.

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"There are two destroyers bombarding the mining bases on


mercury." The bases were long-deserted, the crews taken to safety, but


the destruction would be felt.


"The Solar observatory has been destroyed."


"The Mercury orbital depot has been destroyed."


"The out-system sub-space relays have been destroyed."


Reports were coming in from all over the Solar system of


deserted bases, stations, laboratories, orbital way-stations, relays


and mines being destroyed. Picard remained silent. His jaw clenched.


"Why aren't we doing something?" A sensor operator demanded.


"And leave which station undefended? That's exactly what


they're trying to make us do." Riker barked. "Maintain discipline. We


will hold our position. There are people down below depending on us!"


On the view-screen the system status display showed one of the


GCS's defending Mars streak away at warp-speed. It flashed past the


position of a destroyer which was systematically destroying the


satellites orbiting Venus. It didn't bother with phasers - fired from


warp they were too weak - but launched a full brace of eight torpedoes


at the destroyer. The Imperial ship must have been waiting for just


such an attack, and was already accelerated at nearly 1400 gees


(14km/s/s) perpendicular to the line of attack. The torpedoes warped


past only two kilometres behind it, unable to match the manoeuvre


with only a sustainer field motivating them. The torpedoes dropped out


of warp, executed a sharp turn, and accelerated at close to 3000g


(30km/s/s) after the destroyer which was already several hundred


thousand kilometres away. They had no hope of a positive intercept,


the Destroyers guns would have enough time to track and destroy them.


At the Mars shipyards, the two remaining GCS's had both come


under attack, each exchanging fire with a destroyer, while a third


destroyer dropped neatly out of hyperspace beyond the shipyards, and


fired several devastating broadsides into the huge frameworks. The


energy readings from this ship was nearly sixty percent higher than


any destroyer observed so far. The Imperials had brought their heavy


artillery along. The GCS which had broken station was streaking back


to it's cover position, but the destroyers broke off their attack


before it arrived, leaving a severely damaged shipyard behind.


"Sir!" An ensign called. Picard touched his command controls,


echoing the ensigns display on his chair's padd.


There was a large concentration of ships at a point two


light-years out, in deep-space. The Imperials staging point, several


minutes away at maximum warp, there was no point in attacking it. It


was difficult to estimate the number of ships, but the fluctuations in


the readings clearly showed that ships were continually jumping to and


from this point, responding to the movement of Federation ships


in-system. The Imperials were calmly deploying their ships through


hyperspace to any weak point observed in the Federation defences, and


retreating when attacked, making no attempt to directly engage the


federation forces. Slowly but surely, the damage to outlying parts of


the System was accumulating.


"Hold station." Picard ordered quietly. The battle hadn't come


their way yet.


Three Imperial ships, smaller than the star destroyers,


dreadnoughts according to Antilles descriptions, jumped to the far


side of the Moon. They fired several broadsides at the deserted


landscape below them. On his display Picard also noticed several


fusion detonations on the surface.


"What are they up to?" Riker asked.


The ships in earth orbit were firing at the dreadnoughts, but


at a range of two light seconds or more, the dreadnoughts were easily


able to evade phaser fire, and to track and destroy incoming


torpedoes. The two starships defending the Lunar base were unable to


bring their weapons to bear, with the mass of the Moon between them


and the Imperials.


The answer to Rikers question came several seconds later.


"Lunar city reporting damage from seismic shock-waves. They


won't survive if the quakes continue much longer."


One of the starships in Lunar orbit went to low warp,


streaking around the moon, and firing torpedoes at the three attacking


ships. The ships exchanged fire for several seconds at a point-blank


range of only a few thousand kilometres. Even at low-warp the GCS was


unable to avoid the incoming fire at this range, and took the full


force of several ionised weapons on its shields. The dreadnoughts


themselves were close to losing their shields, despite continual


rolling and crossing in front of each other to draw fire. After a few


more seconds they flickered out of existence. Meanwhile, the remaining


GCS over Lunar City had been attacked by no less than three Star


Destroyers. A fourth destroyer, of the mark II variety, ignored the


battle, and calmly fired several heavy broadsides onto the undefended


city below. The GCS ignored its three attackers, and fired all its


weapons at the ISD2. Under fire from three ships itself, it was forced


to warp away before significantly reducing the Imperial's shields.


Both GCS's assigned to Lunar defense came warping back in a


strafing run, but the four destroyers in Lunar orbit ignored them, all


four firing on the huge space dock in Lunar orbit. The two federation


ships came around for a second run, but the four destroyers jumped


away, one of them leaving several chunks of hull metal behind, but


showing no other significant sign of damage. The Lunar space-dock was


an incandescent wreck.


The Imperials kept up their attacks. They would draw the


defenders towards one point, then attack whichever point had been left


undefended. The power of their weaponry was such that only one or two


broadsides did tremendous damage to the mostly unshielded Federation


facilities. Their ships never stayed in one place long enough to take


significant fire. Picard knew that the Federation would have to change


their tactics.


"Make to Starfleet, 'Request permission to leave station.'" He




"Permission Denied. Maintain Jovian Defense." Came the


response. With Data at the Helm the Enterprise was the ship rated best


able to defend the colonies in the Jovian planetary system.


"Our sub-space receivers have been disrupted by enemy


jamming." Picard told the surprised technician. "Request Missouri to


take over our position. Request Nippon and Vaslav to follow our


example. Mr Data, you are cleared for warp manoeuvring. We will


commence full torpedo strafing of any and all Imperial incursions.


Have all torpedo launch tubes slaved to helm control. Phasers are


free, Mr Riker."


The orders were met by a chorus of 'Yes sirs'. Picard was no


longer prepared to sit back and take the beating, and neither was his


crew. The Enterprise shot clear across the system in fifteen seconds


to where the Imperials were launching an attack on Pluto in it's


orbital position on the far side of Sol, he cut the warp velocity to


warp 3, bringing the ship onto a near collision course with a


Destroyer. All forward tubes fired on the vector, launching eight


torpedoes before Data was forced to break the vector or collide with a


full broadside of incoming turbolaser fire. The Enterprise shot away


at warp 5, made a hairpin turn at warp 2, came in on another vector at


Warp 4 bearing down on the same Destroyer and launched another brace


of torpedoes. The Destroyer was accelerating at all of 1800g


(18km/s/s), an incredible feat of acceleration given that unlike


federation ships it's mass was not shunted away into sub-space, but it


was standing still by comparison to the warping Enterprise.


Under most conditions, warp fly-bys against 'relatively'


stationary targets were an exercise in frustration and wastefulness.


The technique required the torpedo's sustainer field to discharge just


short and ahead of the target, so that the torpedo could accelerate


under impulse power and make the intercept. If the torpedo collided


with the target at warp velocities it would result in the collapsing


of the warp sustainer field against the enemy shields and the futile


destruction of the torpedo. A torpedo which dropped out of warp too


soon would still be too far from the target, and could be shot down or


avoided, while a torpedo that overshot the target before dropping out


of warp would be too far beyond the target to hope to accelerate back


and intercept the target.


To overcome this it was necessary to slow down to less than


warp 1, otherwise the sheer velocity of warp would work against the


torpedo. Conventional tactics required the warping vessel to


momentarily drop out of warp close to the enemy, before launching the


torpedoes, then warp away before taking too many hits yourself. With


Data at the helm the Enterprise had the luxury of not having to drop


out of warp altogether.


The Imperials were forced to cut short their attack, since


they had no opportunity to fire back, and could not afford to take too


many hits for fear of suffering damage or shield loss. Twice more


Picard repeated this tactic, strafing the Imperials wherever they


launched an attack. With Data at the Helm, they could accelerate and


cut clear across to any point in the Solar System in less than 20


seconds. One or two other galaxy class starships started employing


similar tactics, though with human pilots at the helm they kept their


maximum speed to warp 5, and tended to drop out of warp when engaging


the enemy to allow for greater torpedo accuracy.


[sidenote to Trekkies: Warp 7 ~ 767c ~ three minutes across


the solar system; Warp 9.99 ~ 7912c ~ 20 seconds across the solar


system; Enterprise max speed is only about 3500c (warp 9.9?) so I am


being generous]


Soon the battle deteriorated into half a dozen starships


tearing from one side of the Solar System to another at high warp


vectors, attacking Imperial ships wherever they appeared. Ultimately,


the exercise was futile. The Imperials could attack any point at will,


get off a few broadsides causing varying amounts of damage, then Jump


away from the harrying Federation ships. The damage toll was still


climbing, but at a very slow rate, and neither side was getting


anywhere. The Imperials started dropping mines wherever they Jumped


to, but the federation ships cleared the minefields with phasers fired


at wide angle dispersion rates. Picard knew that in a sustained battle


two things would begin to tell on the Federation ships. They would


start running out of torpedoes, and the warp cores would start losing


integrity from being continually powered up and down from warp 1 to


warp 7 every few seconds (there was no time to get as high as warp 9


before having to decelerate). But the Imperials didn't know that, and


he could only hope that the nature of the battle was wearing on their


ships as well.


Then it was all over. The Imperials disappeared altogether.


Several minutes went by without an attack. Long range sensor scans


found no trace of energy sources or high-density alloys (hull metals)


anywhere close to the Solar System. Around them, the Solar System was


a shambles. Lunar city, which had been home to several million people,


was a smoking lava filled ruin. The incandescent ruin which had been


Lunar Orbital Dock had crashed into the Mare Imbrium. The Mars


shipyards were for all intents and purposes destroyed. Hundreds of


mining installations and other small facilities all over the system


were devastated. Hundreds of years of Human development had been


shattered in little more than an hour. It would take five years to a


decade to rebuild.


Picard couldn't even begin to comprehend the number of people


killed. While Earth itself had not come under attack, two billion


people were scattered through the rest of the Solar system. Of these,


he had no doubt that there would be close to a hundred million dead,


if not more. A number of smaller ships, frigates, cruisers, and so on,


were damaged and a handful had been destroyed. The defensive fleet as


a whole though was largely unscathed. No doubt questions would be


asked regarding Starfleet's ability to hold off the Imperials. He knew


that he himself had flagrantly disregarded orders, but his tactics had


been proven right in the final analysis. Not that it was any


consolation to the dead.


Picard didn't even want to think about what they would find in


the Old Colonies. These systems were the hard core of the Federation


of Planets, and they had all come under severe attack leading up to


the assault on Earth. Despite having successfully defended their home,


there were many grim faces on the Enterprise.








Antilles surveyed his bridge. He was feeling a bit overcrowded. The


Klingons were clustered around a holographic display he had designated


for their observations. A droid manned the display, and made


adjustments according to their orders. Behind his chair were the Jedi.


Two federation ensigns designated by Worf were also on the bridge,


ostensibly to act as liaison between the Republic and federation


forces but no doubt to spy on Republic and Imperial tactics. Antilles


was sure that the hand-held devices they consulted continually were


recording mechanisms of some kind. The inertial dampening fields had


been retuned slightly to interfere with their recorders, and the last


'service' of many of the bridge consoles and computers had included


the distribution of sensor-dampening fields.


He had quietly integrated two or three espionage droids into


the bridge crew to spy on them as well, and a number of stormtroopers


had been posted near more sensitive displays and consoles ostensibly


to 'repel boarders' if required.


He shoved all these things out of his mind. The fleet would


arrive at the last nav point in a few more seconds. He heard the CAG


order the A-wing pilots to stand by for launch. A reading on his


personal display started a countdown. Antilles tried to relax and


convince himself that all possibilities had been accounted for. A


change in the subliminal vibration of the deck told him that the Jump


was over. All around the deck, displays came to life, holo-displays


started building up images of the surrounding star systems. The CAG's


personal status display indicated several launches as the scouts were


dispatched. On Antilles own ship status display, he saw the halo


indicating shields light up as the deflector and ray shields were


powered up. In seconds, the ship was battle-ready.


"No encroachments." A look-out called from his scanner




"Confirmed." A second look-out called.


Several 'Ayes' sounded as various crewers completed their


multiple rendundant checks.


On his own display, Antilles noted that a freshly launched


squadron of x-wings had formed up in flanking positions. Several more


sensor-stealthed A-wings disappeared into hyperspace, the fast


starfighters being the preferred scouts in these situations.


The strategic display was fast filling in details of nearby


star-systems as the scanners rotated through them, then augmenting the


information as A-wings arrived in those systems. Soon the expanding


cloud of A-wings would reach the system designated Imperial Prime.


"Hull alloys detected in Imperial Prime."


On Antilles display a map of Imperial Prime took shape.


Several planets were marked with the bright green of high-tech alloys


which were a give-away of unnatural substances. Nerak glanced at him,


but he waved for the scouting to continue. Several more nearby systems


were scouted before Antilles gave his first order.


"Fleet Jump to nav point Beta-five."


Seconds later the fleet jumped to the point thus referenced.


The Jump brought them to a point in deep-space within three


light-years of Imperial Prime. The CAG was bringing more A-wings into


the outskirts of the system, creating an array of sensors around the


system which greatly augmented the scanning and detection abilities of


the fleet.


"Several mining operations underway in the system," a look-out


reported, "major orbital activity in Prime IV, which is a galactic


standard planet. There is also extensive activity on the surface and


immediately below the surface of Prime IV. Energy readings are


consistent with manufacturing and mineral refinement facilities.


Orbital readings indicate a grade 1 shipyard, and something else." The


look-out hesitated, drawing a glance from Antilles. "It's a Golan II


orbital platform."


"That's impossible." Nerak exclaimed. "Check your readings."


"This station concurs." Another look-out called.


Nerak opened his mouth as if to say something, but was cut off


by Antilles.


"No fleet activity?"


"No, Sir. There is no sign of any ships other than a few




"Tell Restrainer to stand by. Launch all fighters, keep the


federation ships onboard till we get there. It may be a trap, but


we're going in. Fleet Jump, Norulak dispersal pattern, with variation,


stay away from the Golan II until we've sterilised the rest of the




Throughout the small fleet, ships made the quick calculation


to their designated targets, then Jumped as one. The Peacemaker itself


jumped to the outer edge of the system, arriving just in time to watch


the battle begin. The three Liberator cruisers and six frigates


dispersed throughout the system, destroying everything in sight. No


ships approached the massive Golan II platform yet. In the meanwhile,


Peacemaker tractor launched the Defiant and the two Klingon ships,


which joined in the sterilisation process. On Prime IV the Imperials


had raised the planetary shields. They must have had at least five


shield projectors spread across their area of operations, as nearly a


third of a hemisphere was covered by the shields. Several squadrons of


Ties joined the Golan II station in orbit.


"We have detected a transmission in Imperial battle code. It


was routed through an out-system booster relay."


"They're calling in their fleet. As far as we know their fleet


isn't anywhere within fifty light years, which gives us at least a


half hour."


"Dispatch a fighter to destroy the relay. Order all ships to


rendesvous here as soon as their designated targets are destroyed."


Minutes later, the only Imperial facilities left were those on


Prime IV. Antilles was reluctant to take the fleet into range of the


Golan II station. Even though they outgunned the huge station, they


would not be able to take it down without sustaining significant


damage. Maybe there was a use for the Federation ships after all, he




"Order the Defiant and the two Klingon warbirds to engage the


Golan platform at warp velocities." He told the CAG, "make sure they


all target the same point on the platform's defensive grid.


Co-ordinate the attack with a follow-up run on the same point with a


squadron of B-wings. The X-wings and A-wings can run cover to keep the


Ties off their backs. We will execute a jump-attack on the same flank


on their second run."


The CAG acknowledged the order and started co-ordinating his


forces. He had a full squadron of B-Wings execute an attack run on the


station, forcing the TIEs to make a run on the B-wings. The moment the


TIE's were committed, the CAG sent his X-wings and A-wings into their


flanks. The TIE's were forced to break formation and take on the


X-Wings and A-Wings in a dogfight. Just before the B-Wings came within


firing range of the Golan, the Defiant and the warbirds flashed past


at warp, launching several torpedoes into the platform's flank. The


photon torpedoes served to severely deplete the platform's shields,


with the B-wing's run almost knocking them out. The Golan fired


several futile broadsides at the Federation ships, which warped out of


range, and the B-Wings escaped with minimal losses.


The B-Wings came around in a repeat of the maneuvre, with


several X-wings in support now that most of the TIEs had been cleared


away. The A-Wings flew cover for the attack run, and the Defiant and


the two Klingons once again pre-empted the fighters run with a volley


of torpedoes. This time the hard pressed platform's shields flickered


wildly under the bombardment. The Peacemaker flashed into the space


vacated by the fighters, and fired a full broadside into the nearly


unshielded platforms flank. The Golan brought it's guns back around to


bear on the battle-cruiser, allowing the fighters to escape one more


time. The huge space station exchanged planet-battering energies with


the battle-cruiser, but with already weakened shields one section


after another fell into darkness as the damage took it's toll.


The huge battle-cruiser fired a full volley of fusion warhead


tipped missiles into the now undefended flank, and accelerated away as


the huge station was ripped apart by the internal detonations. The


battle-cruiser left the remains of the station in it's ionised wake as


it moved in closer to the planet below. The three carriers and their


frigates Jumped into position to provide fire support during the


bombardment. The ships first concentrated their fire on the makeshift


orbital shipyard, then turned their guns on the planet below.


Prime IV was defended by huge planetary shields over large


areas of one hemisphere, but there was no planetary population to


consider, no resources that Antilles needed to capture on this planet,


no facilities he needed or wanted. His only goal was to destroy


everything on the planet.


On the Defiant Worf watched dispassionately as the four huge


Republic ships and the Frigates concentrated their fire on an


undefended area of the planet. In seconds they had blasted a hole


through several kilometres of crust into the mantle of the planet.


Seismic shockwaves that were visible from orbit expanded outwards from


the targeted site, which was surrounded by a slowly expanding ring of


magma. The atmosphere in the targeted area boiled into space, pushed


outwards by magma bursts which rose several kilometres above the


surface. Still the ships kept up their bombardment, pumping energy


into the mantle of the planet. Hundreds of quakes were picked up on


the sensors of the orbiting ships, working up to a crescendo of


violence which resulted in the entire continent below splitting apart


in hundred mile long volcanic eruptions.


From orbit it looked like a red-orange cancer was spreading


over the surface of the planet, with huge cracks radiating in all


directions. A number of planetary shield generators were knocked out


by the seismic shock-waves, allowing the bombarding ships to shift


their fire ever closer to the main Imperial positions. One by one the


last of the shield generators were knocked out. The chances that


anything still lived on the surface were remote, but the Republic


warships kept up their bombardment until it seemed the entire planet


was one molten mess. The atmosphere had long since exploded into








The Restrainer was maintaining an artificial gravity well


outside the Imperial Prime system, on the likely vector of any


incoming ships from the direction of Federation space. The gravity


well extended for several million kilometres, simulating an artificial


star system. The Republic fleet surrounded the gravity well in a three


dimansional pincer formation, ready to pounce on any Imperial ships


thus trapped. Antilles organised a private holo-conference in his


ward room with his captains. The Federation and Klingon personnel were


not invited.


"Where do you think all their ships were?"


"How did they get a Golan II station out here?"


"How did they manage to assemble nearly an entire shipyard




These were the questions being debated in the meeting. It


seemed that republic intelligence had seriously underestimated the


size of the Imperial task force, or the amount of resources they had


had at their disposal. It was quite possible that the Golan could have


been brought over on a Leviathan transport. The five mile long


freighters were quite capable of transporting such huge stations. But


then where was the Leviathan? Had the Imperials disassembled it for


materials? What else had the Leviathan brought along? Antilles


speculated that the Imperials could possibly have a second base, but


doubted it. Such a huge task force would surely have caused more of a


resource drain than Republic spies had picked up. He had a bad


feeling, and he could see the Jedi were troubled too.


The Mon Calamari, Captain Sulman also believed that the


Imperials could have a second base, but the Sullustan captain Seleb


Seyud was doubtful. The argument continued for several hours. They


were reluctant to commit to searching for another Imperial base, since


it might turn out to be a wild goose chase. Hanging over their heads


was the thought that home was more than four years away, and although


they had subjectively only experienced a few months in this galaxy,


they had missed out more than five years of whatever was transpiring


at home.


The consensus seemed to be that having destroyed two ISD's,


and an extensive resupply centre, they may have done enough to cripple


Imperial efforts in this galaxy. A full day had passed since the


destruction of the Imperial base, and many were beginning to doubt


that any Imperial ships would return. Possibly they knew that the base


was destroyed, and suspected that they would be returning to a trap.


Antilles believed different.


"No, the fact that there were no capital ships on defense here


implies that they must be participating in a big raid in Federation


territory. That's more than eighteen hours away, so we will give them


another half a day. If no ships return we will resume our hunt for


another three months." There was a collective groan from around the


room. This far from Federation space there was no way to find out what


was happening. Antilles just hoped that the Federation could handle


it. He was not prepared to play nurse-maid for them. If they couldn't


handle a full-scale Imperial raid, tough.

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"Captain to the bridge! Captain to the bridge!"


Antilles walked out onto the bridge, he had been taking a nap


in the small captain's room attached to the bridge.


"Status." He asked, as he sat in his command seat.


On the holo-display in front of him he saw an Imperial


dreadnought caught in the Restrainer's gravity well. Even as he


watched, it was joined by two carrack cruisers and another




"Open fire, move into containment position. CAG?"


"We had six squadrons in position, the rest were on stand-by


and are launching now."




"The enemy was surprised by the gravity-well, they are


obviously not at battle-stations, no significant return fire from them




On the holo display, one of the dreadnoughts was being hard


pressed by two Liberator carrier-cruisers, and the Peacemaker itself


was targeting the second dreadnought. The fighters were concentrating


fire on the smaller ships for now. The Peacemaker's firepower was too


much for the old dreadnought, which had first seen service more than


forty years ago. It's shields caved in on the third dorsal broadside


(most of the Dauntless battle-cruisers guns came to bear at this


position), but as the fourth broadside ripped into it's hull a Victory


Star Destroyer flashed in nearby.


"Come around to vector three-twenty by seven-forty, engage the




The first dreadnought was careening out of control, and one of


the Liberators turned it's guns on the ship damaged by the Peacemaker.


The other two Liberators were also coming around to take on the VSD.


They were forced to come around again as an ISD flickered in right in


the middle of the battle, barely three thousand kilometers away. The


two Liberators split into a left-hook right-hook manoeuvre, so they


could fire full broadsides at the ISD, while staying out of the ISD's


devastating dorsal cone of fire. Individually they were no match for


an ISD, but they had superb shielding, and working together they


should be able to take it down. Antilles turned his attention back to


the VSD. It was banking sharply, attempting to draw them into the


ISD's dorsal cone of fire. Antilles ordered the Peacemaker to break


off the attack, and joined in on the punch-up with the ISD. The VSD


would have to wait.


A second ISD flashed in, and a third, accompanied by two more


dreadnoughts and several Lancers.


"Stay on this target." Antilles ordered his fleet, the ISD's


shields were nearly down.


"I've got him," the CAG called, as three of the ISD's shields


caved in nearly simultaneously.


The Imperials had formed an attack group with the two fresh


ISD's at the centre, flanked by the VSD on one side and the Lancers on


the other. They were beginning to launch TIEs at a prodigious rate.


"Designate ISD Averam, fighters to disable Averam, then clear


out the TIEs, capital ships concentrate fire on ISD designated




The Republic fleet closed in on the Imperials from all sides,


the six Frigates joining in. Behind the Peacemaker, the ISD Averam was


rocked by several proton torpedoes fired at point-blank range by the


Republic fighters.


The CAG brought his B-Wings in on an attack vector on the


second ISD, designated Bortras. Two squadrons of TIEs screamed in to


defend the ISD, and the B-Wings broke away, allowing a squadron of


A-Wings to come storming past in a slash attack as the TIEs followed


the B-Wings. With the ISD thus exposed, the X-wings went in, firing


volley after volley of proton torpedoes at point-blank range. The


distracted ISD tried to turn to avoid the incoming X-Wings, and failed


to avoid a full broadside from the Peacemaker. The Imperial captain


quickly re-assessed his priorities, and ignoring the X-wings, resumed


formation. The TIEs were returning, to clear the X-Wings from the ISD,


and the X-Wings allowed themselves to be chased away, as the B-Wings


made a run on the other ISD.


Antilles felt the deck vibrate as the massive shield


generators absorbed the punishing turbolaser blasts of the two ISD's.


The three Federation ships were concentrating their fire on the


smaller Imperial frigates, keeping them out of the battle. They were


using the manoeuvrability to good advantage, and were taking a heavy


toll on the small capital ships.


"Shield generators at 85% efficiency. Shields recharging


through 95%"


Another broadside rocked the huge ship. But the Peacemaker was


giving as much as it got and more. Antilles knew that he had one of


the ISD's down to twenty percent shield coverage, and the other at


forty percent. The battle between the starfighters had shifted towards


the edge of the huge gravity well. A few more minutes and the ISD's


would be at his mercy.


Another two wedge shapes flashed into the gravity well. Two


more ISD's Antilles thought, then corrected himself, one of them was


an ISD2. That changed things considerably.


"Our shields are down." The Freedom Fighter reported. "We are


taking damage."


"Withdraw along vector seven-thirteen by nine-forty five.


Deliverance and Emancipator cover their retreat."


"ISD designated Chandrila has shields down. ISD designated


Bortras is withdrawing."


"Concentrate fire on ISD Chandrila, fighters to target




A hard vibration thrummed through the Dauntless class


battle-cruiser as the ISD2 opened fire.


"Shield generators at 70%, Shields momentarily down to 80%,


and recharging slowly."


On the display, several orange explosions rocked the


Chandrila, and the Bortras was nearly obscured by a cloud of


starfighters, most of them TIEs. Drastically outnumbered, the Republic


starfighters were forced to withdraw.


"Come around to Vector twelve-fifteen by two-forty. All ships


target the ISD2, designate target Daltar, designate the next ISD


Endor." Another ISD flashed in, the fifth ISD to join the battle so


far. One ISD had been reduced to junk, two more were severely damaged


and racing for the edge of the gravity well under the cover of several


squadrons of TIEs, but now there two fresh ISD1s and an ISD2.


"Designate last ISD Filve." Antilles called.


The Peacemaker was firing on the ISD2, Daltar, and was soon


joined by the Deliverance and Emancipator. Several hard vibrations


coursed through the ship as a volley of heavy turbolaser fire hit the




"Vector eleven-forty seven by ten-twenty. Shield report."


Antilles ordered.


"Generators at forty percent, shields at sixty two percent.


Daltar's shields at 84%, generator status unavailable."




"I am beginning to lose fighters, we are now outnumbered two


to one, and the Imperials are still launching more."


On the tactical display, Antilles noticed the two ISD's


designated Endor and Filve angling towards the Restrainer. That left


target Daltar alone with the VSD and various frigates. The three


Republic capital ships were all firing on the Daltar, even the lightly


armed CC-9600 Frigates were firing at the ISD2. The race was on as to


who would lose shields first. The Peacemaker's generators were nearly


all blown, but the Daltar was significantly outgunned by the New


Republic capital ships.


Antilles noticed that the Federation ships had destroyed


several frigates, and were heading towards the ISD's to cover the




"Defiant, we need you here. Target the Daltar."


The three Federation ships swung away, and streaked towards


the huge wedge shape which was the ISD2 designated Daltar. They fired


several torpedoes then banked away. The Daltar ignored them, taking


the torpedoes in the flank.


"Restrainer reports that she is taking hits from the ISDs."


"Keep firing on Daltar. Restrainer to hold position for now.


CAG, order the fighters to withdraw."


Apparently the Imperial starfighters were just as eager to


leave the battle, and several were picked up by the two damaged ISD1s


hovering at the edge of the gravity well as the Republic fighters


broke away.


The defiant and the two Klingons dropped out of warp. The ISD2


ignored the three small frigate sized ships, concentrating fire on the


Peacemaker. Antilles knew it was a mistake, the Federation ships


packed considerable punch when they weren't at warp, although their


shields were not very powerful.


"Shield failure imminent." Nerak called.


Antilles didn't bother asking 'ours or theirs'. "Reverse


vector, keep firing."


The next volley from the ISD2 designated Daltar missed as the


Peacemaker changed vector. A second volley was much closer as the


enemy gunners tracked the ship on its new vector. The deck rocked


under his feet, and a thunderous clang sounded throughout the ship as


it took a direct hit on the hull. Several more clangs sounded, and


there was a scream of escaping air from somewhere before the breach


was contained. In the noise, Antilles missed the elated shouts as the


Daltar's shields failed as well, but he saw the orange fireballs on


the computer enhanced holographic display. The ISD2 took several


turbolaser hits as well as a number of photon torpedo hits.


"Restrainer request permission to Jump out. They report


imminent shield failure."




On the holo display, the grey haze defining the artificial


gravity well snapped out of existence. The Daltar and the Restrainer


vanished into hyperspace nearly simultaneously. The Imperial ship must


have been waiting for an opportunity to escape. Antilles was amazed


the ISD2 was still able to manage the jump considering the damage it


had taken in the last few seconds of the battle. The remaining two


ISDs might have made a match of it against the damaged Dauntless


battle-cruiser, which was supported by only two Liberators both of


which had taken severe beatings on their shields. But a volley of


photon torpedoes from the Defiant convinced them it wasn't worth it.


They followed the other ships into hyperspace, recovering the last of


the Imperial star-fighters while keeping up a steady stream of


turbolaser fire in the general direction of the Federation ships,


keeping them at warp and reducing the effectiveness of their fire.


Suddenly the only ships left were the Republic ships.


"Recover the Defiant and the Klingons. Calculate Jump to the


rendezvous point. Damage report."


"All shield generators blown. Hull breached in two places,


decks 1a and 1b are open to vacuum. Hull damaged but not breached in


several places. Turbolaser batteries D1 through D6 are out of




"Repair status."


"Four hours to fifty percent shield generator replacements.


Turbolaser batteries D1 through D4 should be repaired within two


hours. D5 and D6 will need extensive overhauls, several days worth at


best. The hull breaches will require external maintenance, and the


ship will have to stand-to for three or four days."


"Very well, we will leave that for now. The Liberators?"


"Last reports from Freedom Fighter indicated four hull


breaches, 79% weapons capability, and various non-critical damage to


other systems. The Emancipator and Deliverance have lost a few shield


generators, and have some hull-scarring, but are otherwise undamaged."


"All fighters recovered," called the CAG.


"Jump to rendezvous point."






Two days later the republic fleet arrived back in federation space.


Most of the ships still carried scars on their hulls as testimony to


the battles they had fought. For the first time they learnt of the


raids on the Federation core worlds, and were able to compare notes.


Only one ISD2 had participated in the Earth raid as far as Federation


records showed, and Antilles knew that it was now seriously damaged.


One ISD had been destroyed, and two were now badly damaged, although


two ISD's and the VSD had escaped undamaged.


Two dreadnoughts had also been destroyed, and another two had


been observed making a getaway while the Republic fleet had


concentrated on the Star Destroyers. The Imperials had also suffered


heavy losses amongst their standard TIEs, although the TIE defenders


of course had mostly escaped. Several frigates had been destroyed or


badly damaged by the Federation ships in the battle.


"As far as we know, there are two undamaged ISD's and one


undamaged VSD out there, along with two undamaged dreadnoughts, and a


handful of frigates and light cruisers. The ISD2 is not a


consideration, they don't have the shipyard facilities to fix it."


"Then you feel our mission has been accomplished?"


"Yes. The Imperials don't have the resource base to be a


threat to anybody in this galaxy now. It is likely that they will now


return to our galaxy. Even if they don't, it will be impossible to


find them, so a search will be futile."


There were nods of agreement all round.


"What about the Imperial regiments holding out on the


Federation worlds?" Nerak asked.


"They are under near continuous attack or harassment by the


Federation forces. They will not be able to hold out much longer."


"Perhaps once the news of their fleet's near destruction


reaches them they will reconsider."


"We cannot allow the planetary shield generators to fall into


enemy hands either."


"Why not? If it will prevent further damage to their worlds by


the Imperials."


"Our orders are specifically to avoid Imperial technology of


any kind from falling into enemy hands."


"If the Imperials surrender to the Federation, or if some of


their ships are captured, it would result in the Federation acquiring


full knowledge of our star-drive technology and possibly




"Yes, but the Imperials are unlikely to surrender. It is more


likely that their ships may be destroyed or severely damaged. But I


doubt they will risk damage to their ships without the facilities for




The argument raged on, between those keen to declare their


mission over, and those reluctant to return without having


accomplished total destruction of the enemy. In the end, Antilles


deferred the decision. The ships would return to their secret base


near the galactic core, where all battle-damage would be fully


repaired. By the time that was accomplished, they would re-assess the


status of the Imperial task force's bid to invade or destroy the


Federation, and come to a final decision. The Deliverance, which had


sustained the least damage, along with four Frigates, was tasked with


observing the fate of the remaining Imperial controlled colonies.


Should the colonies fall, the Deliverance was to ensure the


destruction of the shield generators, at all costs.

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The sheer emptiness between the stars is a difficult thing for humans


and many other mortals to grasp. The Universe is essentially just


empty space. If an entire star system could be reduced to the size of


a mote of dust, then the nearest star system would still be several


meters away. Imagine an average sized room, in the middle of this room


is a single dust-mote. There are no other dust-motes in the room. That


is how insignificant a star system is compared to the space around it.


The psychology of most mortals were such that they only considered


these dust-motes to be important, and therefore they ignore the vast


stretches of emptiness between the stars.


Brendan Leith had been fully aware of this when searching for


an ideal location for his primary base. His super-corporation was well


versed in the business of having hidden bases, even entire shipyards.


His father had built the corporation by winning several exclusive


contracts with Palpatine, including the shipping contract which had


supplied the resources for both Death Stars. The corporation had not


always taken payment in credits, but had often taken payment in the


form of Star Destroyers, planetary mining rights, ship-building deals


and various co-operative ventures in the Empire. They had been


Palpatine's logical choice of contractor to build his own secret




On the passing of his father the corporation's assets had been


divided between Leith and his three brothers. Leith had swapped his


assets for these ships, and set off to carve his own empire.


Drawing on his company's vast experience, Leith had chosen for


his primary base a rogue planet. It was a scarred and burnt husk


several times larger than a galactic standard planet which had been


stripped of it's atmosphere and much of its surface layers of rock


when it's parent star had gone supernova millenia ago. Now it drifted


through the vast emptiness between the stars. A few minor adjustments


in it's course through interstellar space had ensured that the planet


would remain on a course through a relatively empty region of space,


with no stars within several light years in any direction.


It's size meant it had a higher than standard gravity, but all


surface installations had been fitted with gravity dampening devices.


The lack of an atmosphere was irrelevant to the hordes of gigantic


robo-miners unleashed on it's blackened surface. In orbit around the


huge rogue planet were three Golan Arms Mark II weapons platforms, a


fully functional shipyard, a matter transmutation facility, three


Leviathan freighters - one of which was nothing but a fully


self-contained manufacturing facility, and several former Imperial


battleships, now the property of Leith's corporation. Several million


kilometers away was a network of sensor dampening pods, which


effectively reduced the sub-space signature of the base to nothing.


The shipyard currently looked like a huge spiders web with an


Imperator Mark II Star destroyer trapped in it's strands. The ISD2 was


undergoing major repairs. Nearby, two badly damaged ISD1s waited for


the shipyards' pleasure. The shipyard itself was surrounded by what at


this distance appeared to be breadcrumbs, but which Leith knew to be


huge chunks of hull-metals and other alloys which the shipyard droids


used as raw materials in the manufacturing process. Floating nearby


was the unfinished hull of yet another Star Destroyer. It's crew was


still undergoing training on the planetside facilities - where Leith


had tens of thousands of people living in hastily built facilities.


There had been no shortage of volunteers from amongst the populations


of the planets owned by the Leith Corporation. A share of the spoils


which would result from the conquest of a new galaxy had been a huge


motivating factor.


Brendan Leith himself was observing the activity at the


shipyard from the bridge of his flagship, the Executor-class Super


Star Destroyer Assassin. Leith was not an altogether unhappy man. He


had known the New republic would send a task force to hunt him down.


He had not known how large or small this task force would be, and


therefore had decided not to risk direct confrontation with it. The


loss of his secondary base, three star destroyers and several frigates


was unfortunate, but it did not worry him too much. The Star Destroyer


captain that had allowed the tracking device to be placed on his ship


had been executed, and the tracking device destroyed. The remaining


ships had spent considerable time scouring their hulls to ensure that


none of them had been thus tagged.


He still had seven Mark I Star Destroyers left, three


Victory-class Star destroyers, two Mark II Star Destroyers, an


Interdictor Destroyer, as well as his own flagship and various


dreadnoughts, frigates and cruisers. The puny Federation had served as


an ideal honey-trap for the Republic task force. Now that he knew what


he was up against, he could implement his master plan. First, he


wanted to set a trap for the Republic forces and destroy them. Then he


would have to neutralize the Federation's allies, the Klingons. They


had committed much of their forces to the defense of the Federation,


and their own worlds were largely undefended. Then he could resume the


task of creating his Empire from the ashes of the Federation.


His ground forces on the Federation worlds were hard pressed


but safe for the moment. He needed those Federation worlds, they were


his only source of food for now, and he had a huge population to feed.


They were already on short rations, but the repairs to his ships would


take another two days, then it would be time to relieve the forces on


those worlds and replenish the diminishing food supplies.






One hundred and fifty five light years from Sol was a star designated


LTT646, with a G8 spectrum, and a luminosity of 0.47. It's second


planet was an M-class planet with a gravitational force just slightly


less than that of Earth, and an average equatorial temperature of 22


degrees on the celsius scale. All in all it was an ideal planet for


terraforming, and in the last three hundred years large tracts of the


planet had been dedicated to farming. Once it had been a major


supplier of nutrient base to the over-populated 'core worlds', but


over the last few years it's importance had declined as other worlds


much closer to Sol had started competing in the nutrient base


industry. After all, at warp 7, which was uncomfortably fast for


non-military ships, it was still more than two months away from the


Federation 'core worlds.'


The two Federation starships orbiting this world had taken


nearly a month to reach this planet after it's distress call. The


planet was still in the hands of the heavily entrenched Imperial


invaders who had repelled three attempts to retake the planet. A force


of three Galaxy starships were on their way to the planet, carrying


several thousand freshly-trained troops with which they hoped to


finally retake the planet. The starships were due to arrive in another


ten days.


Captain Brandei of the ISD2 Bellicose was in charge of this


mission, and had several ships under his command. He observed the


patrolling pattern of the two starships on his tactical display. The


signals were provided by a gunboat lying two light years short of the


system. A nod from Brandei initiated the attack. One of the ISDs in


his force, the ISD Aggressor, jumped into the system, but to a point


several light-hours from the patrolling Federation ships. The


federation ships took several seconds to react. Then one of them


streaked towards the Bellicose, which appeared to just be sitting


there waiting for the attack. The Federation ship was accelerating at


an incredible rate, already going at several hundred times the speed


of light, but still half a system away from the Aggressor, when it met


with disaster.


The disaster was in the form of several Solar Fusion


detonations directly in it's path. The Aggressor had attached


hyperdrive motivators to a number of mines. The hyperdrive motivator's


cut-out was linked directly into the mine's detonator, which would


guarantee detonation as soon as the hyperdrive cut-out was employed.


The mines were then launched directly into the path of the incoming


vessel. The solar fusion explosions themselves might not have been


enough to destroy the alien starship, but the stress on the warp


bubble had breached the power-core of the vessel, causing an even more


spectacular explosion than the fusion warheads had.


The second starship was destroyed using the same method


without a single shot being fired. At a range measured only in


light-hours the mines could be deployed with less than a thousandth of


a second warning to the target vessel. The weapon would be nearly


useless against a ship not using a warp drive, since it's shields


would comfortably deal with such explosions, but a warp bubble could




The Aggressor moved in towards the planet, and launched


several shuttles. The ground-forces lowered the planetary shield, and


the business of restocking the ISD's holds with food began in earnest.


In deep-space just outside the system, a New Republic frigate was also


keeping watch. It transmitted a coded signal on a tight beam and


waited for a response.


The Aggressor's shuttles made several trips to the surface.


They were stocking up as much nutrient base as they could, and were


also replacing the exhausted ground troops with fresh troops. An


additional shield generator was also off-loaded, and the area of


control expanded to encompass more territory than before. The planet


had been defended by only five hundred troops, this was now increased


to a thousand. A few surprises for the Federation were also installed


on the surface, including planetary based ion-cannons and LNR


Turbolaser cannons. Both were more than capable of targeting orbiting


ships up to a range of several light-seconds, and the LNR planet-based


turbolaser cannon had enough fire-power to destroy a ship the size of


an Imperator class Star Destroyer. It's power requirements were


immense, and additional power plants were off-loaded to cater


especially for it's needs. All this time the crew on the Aggressor


remained at battle-stations, fully expecting an attack from the


Republic forces, in fact, banking on it.


Several hours went by, but no attack came. It's duties


fulfilled, the Aggressor jumped out of the system, leaving the planet


behind it even better defended than it had been up to now. Brandei


ordered the Aggressor to return to base with the supplies, and the


Bellicose led the small task force on to the next world.


The next world had four Federation ships defending it. Brandei


ordered two ISDs, the Privateer and the Acquisitor, to sterilise the


system. The Privateer played the role of bait, jumping to the


outskirts of the system to draw the Federation ships towards it. Once


again, they caught the federation ships with the same tactic, and


destroyed one ship without firing a single shot. The remaining three


immediately disengaged their warp drives, but remained on station in


defensive positions.


The Privateer made a micro-jump to within a few million km of


the three Federation ships and moved to engage them. The three ships


accelerated to diverging attack positions attaining speeds of several


hundred kilometers per second in short order. As the ships came to


within speeds of less than one light-second of each other they started


trading energies.


"Medium turbolaser batteries are weapons free, heavy


turbolasers hold fire till my mark. Laser cannons to track and destroy


any torpedoes. Do not launch any fighters just yet."


A red beam lanced out from one of the ships, but failed to


penetrate the shields. Neither did it make any significant impact on


the shield strength. Several bolts of green energised plasma were


tracking both targets, the ISD was making for a point between two of


the ships, splitting it's fire between the two. Several bolts smashed


into the side of one of the ships, and it canted badly to one side.


"Bring us round, full dorsal broadside on target A."


The six heavy turbolaser batteries fired as one at the damaged


ship, which was rocked by several internal explosions, before


detonating in an impressive display.


The two remaining ships fired several torpedoes, which blew


two of the starboard shield generators, but caused no other damage.


One of them was trailing a stream of fiery plasma from an exposed


engine. A second heavy broadside blew the ship apart. The third ship


streaked away using the strange distortion drive mechanism, and the


Privateer hyper-launched several thermonuclear warheads into it's


path. The vessel was dodging unpredictably, though, and whether


through design or chance managed to evade several thermonuclear




The Acquisitor was observing from the outskirts of the system,


and it too hyper-launched several warheads into the general escape


path of the Federation vessel. The warheads were group launched in a


pattern taking into account a small margin of error, so that when they


detonated, they caused a volume of destruction through several million


cubic kilometers directly ahead of the vessel. The vessel passed by


the edge of one group of detonations, appeared to pass unscathed


through a second set of detonations, then it's power core violently


detonated as it smashed into the third group of thermonuclear




The system was clear of Federation vessels. The two star


destroyers proceeded to take up orbits over the planet, and launched


several shuttles to start loading up food supplies from their base


planetside. The two destroyers took up positions such that they were


alongside each other, but inverted so that each covered the other's


exposed ventral areas, and reversed so that each covered the other's


relatively undefended rear. Again, they remained on battle-stations


for the entire loading operation, ready for any incursion by the New


Republic task force. Several light-years away, Brandei and the other


ships lay quiet, ready to spring the trap. They were not to be




In the system, the two Destroyers were suddenly flanked by


three of the Republic Navy's much vaunted Liberator cruisers, with


several starfighters in close attendance. The 'surprise' was not total


though, the gunner's on the ISD's were primed for just such an attack,


and immediately opened fire, causing one of the Liberators to take


several hits just before they got their deflector shields up. The


Liberators were joined seconds later by a number of Frigates. The two


ISD's held their ground, it would be several minutes before either of


them would start losing shielding, despite the ferocity of the energy




Five squadrons of TIE's came screaming in from planetside,


where they had been hiding below the planetary shield, drawing the


Republic starfighters away from the main battle. Nearby, a Republic


variant of the Imperial Interdictor cruiser jumped into the system,


and started powering up it's generators.


The Republic forces were still withholding their heavy weapon,


the dauntless cruiser, but Brandei decide to play one of his hands as


well. He signalled his remaining two ISD's into the fray, with orders


to avoid the Republic's Interdictor variant, and to concentrate on the


Liberators. They Jumped, but from two light years out, it would take


them nearly sixty seconds to arrive.


In the close quarters of planetary orbit, neither side was


prepared to give way, and the ships basically stood there like boxers


trading blows. There was no time or space for fancy maneuvres, until


the two fresh ISD's tipped the scales in the Imperial's favour. The


already damaged Liberator was now trapped by it's own Interdictor


cruiser, and it raced for the edge of the simulated gravity field, the


Privateer and the Aggressor in pursuit, while the two fresh ISD's


moved to cut off the remaining two Liberators. Brandei knew that the


Dauntless would have to join the battle now, or recall it's ships. The


time had come for him to join the fray. He ordered his own ship to


Jump into the battle, as well as the Oppressor. Hopefully they could


trap the entire Republic force.


Several seconds ticked by as the Bellicose crawled across the


two light years to the battle. Anything could happen in the


intervening sixty seconds, and Brandei hoped he had timed his jump


correctly. He had targeted the RN Restrainor as it's Jump point, but


was expecting to be pulled out of hyperspace as his ship hit the


simulated gravity well. A slight shudder, and the display in front of


him was suddenly filled with the spectacle of the immense energies of




"Weapons free. Target their interdictor, full broadsides."


The deck under his feet thrummed, as several hundred meters


away the inertial dampers battled with several gigatons of recoil as


the highly energised blaster gas was expelled at near light-speed in


volley after volley of green incandescence. The ISD2's heavy weaponry


was such that only two broadsides and four seconds later the republic


ship's shields were smashed down. The simulated gravity well snapped


out of existence as the Republic ship shut down it's generators in


anticipation of escaping to hyperspace, but a third broadside rocked


the ship, knocking it violently off course. Most of the bolts


comprising the fourth broadside missed as a result, but the fifth and


sixth broadside slammed home, and the republic ship careened out of


control, almost completely obscured by flaming atmospheric gases


boiling out of countless breaches in it's hull.


Brandei in the meanwhile glanced over his status display. The


damaged Liberator had been reduced to a flaming wreck by the Privateer


and the Aggressor, while the other two ISD's had trapped the remaining


two Liberators between the planet below and the beckoning blackness of


deep-space. One of the Liberators was on a collision course with an


ISD, and Brandei was mesmerised as the two ships closed the distance


between them at a devastating speed, exchanging fire all the time. On


his display, a grey haze was taking shape as his own Interdictor was


powering up it's shields. At the last moment, the Liberator changed


course, and flickered into hyperspace. The second Liberator was also


racing for deep-space, pouring fire at the ISD in pursuit, but it had


been too close to the planet, and Brandei could see that the


interdiction field would win the race. He nodded in approval.


Just then, the Dauntless cruiser flashed into the system, it


too must have jumped in from several light-years away, and was now


caught not in it's own ships restraining field, but that of the




"Target the new ship. Recall Privateer and Aggressor. Order


them to target the Republic battle-cruiser. Inform the Oppressor that


if this ship gets away I will have the entire crew docked ten percent


of their victory spoils."


On the tactical display in front of him, he now had two ISD's


pounding on the trapped Liberator, which was now well clear of the


planet below, but still racing for the edge of the simulated gravity


well. There were now nine squadrons of TIE's against only five


squadrons of Republic fighters, with more TIEs being launched at every


opportunity. Between the four ISD's and the Bellicose, they had thirty


squadrons of fighters in total, and were still launching more at every




The two ISD's had the enemy cruiser directly ahead of them,


while it could only bring a fraction of it's guns to bear on it's


current vector, as it angled for the edge of the interdiction field.


The Oppressor was moving as fast as it could after the enemy cruiser,


trying to keep it within the coverage area of the simulated gravity


well, but with most of it's energy going into maintaining the field,


it couldn't hope to keep up with the huge cruiser. The Bellicose


itself was well away from this race, although it too was chasing the


enemy battle-cruiser. Behind this race, Brandei noticed


dispassionately as the second Liberator exploded in a spectacular


fireworks display. It had lost the race for the edge of the gravity




Ahead of the Bellicose, the Dauntless battle-cruiser was


within seconds of escaping the interdiction zone. Brandei swore in


frustration, it had taken several hits from the two pursuing ISD's,


but it still had more than 50% shield coverage. Several hundred


thousand kilometers directly ahead of the battle-cruiser, a new ship


flickered into the system, well outside the interdiction zone. It was


eight kilometers long, jet-black, and the comparatively tiny enemy


battle-cruiser was in it's direct dorsal cone of fire.


On his tactical display, Brandei clearly saw the blue oval


representing the enemy's shields buckle and disappear as it took a


direct hit from several hundred heavy turbolaser blasts. The ship


itself was nearly stopped in it's tracks by the force of the attack,


although their inertial damping would undoubtedly protect the crew


from the several thousand gee forces of the impact. A second broadside


blew huge chunks of the ship into space, exposing several decks to


vacuum. The Assassin held it's fire, as enemy ship drifted powerless


under it's guns. The pursuing ISD's held their fire too, drawing close


to the drifting and flaming vessel, scanning it for signs that it


still maintained some integrity.


That battle out of his hands, Brandei glanced at his


holo-status display. The enemy starfighters had been reduced to


effectively less than one squadron, though undoubtedly some of them


had escaped the interdiction field. Their was no sign of the enemy


Frigates, and of course the one damaged Liberator had escaped. He had


no idea what the total strength of the remaining Republic forces were,


but smiled cruelly, knowing that this battle would have been a telling


blow to them.






On the bridge of the Peacemaker, Antilles didn't bother calling for a


damage report. Just about every single critical system was out of


commission, all the bridge displays were dark, and only the emergency


lights seemed to be operating. He knew without a doubt that most of


the decks were opened to vacuum, with only a few decks having


maintained integrity.


"Prepare for boarders, destroy all ship-records, erase the


computers memory banks."


He had no way of knowing whether the communications channels


still worked, or if his orders were getting through to anyone. There


was loud bang, followed by a screeching noise. He identified it


immediately, the Imperials were running their assault transports


directly into the hull-breaches, and entering the ship through these


openings rather than the more obvious hangars.


He waited patiently for the fighting to reach the bridge. He


had no illusions as to the ability of his forces to repel the


imperials. Many of them would have been killed outright in the damage


sustained by the initial bombardment. Who would have thought the


imperials had an entire Super Star Destroyer stashed away. Nearby, he


heard the unmistakable sound of the containment-field of a light-sabre


being ignited.


"There are Imperials on-board, but they are behind the main


fighting front-line." The Jedi said behind him. "They are using droids


as front-line troops for the assault."


The bridge crew took up defensive positions, and waited for


the fighting to reach their position. Their was no thought of


surrender, it was unlikely the Imperials would take prisoners. The


hatchway leading onto the bridge glowed red for a second, then burst


inwards. Antilles opened fire on the open hatchway, but was dismayed


by the sight of several canisters being launched into the room by the


droids beyond the hatchway. He charged the hatchway, firing as he ran,


but the nerve gas overcame him before he got halfway there.






Sector governor Brandei glanced over his ship's manifest. They were


fully stocked, and he knew that the warehouses on the planet below


were also filled to the brim. In the last four weeks there had been no


sign of Republic interference as the campaign of taking over the


Federation was resumed in earnest.


They had systematically destroyed every shipyard, maintenance


facility, spaceport, and resupply center to be found throughout


Federation, cardassian, ferengi, Romulan and Klingon space, and while


many of those nation's ships were still roaming around, their planets


were now fair game for any raid, and several dozen planets now had


permanent Imperial occupation forces.


Many planets had eagerly pledged their allegiance to Emperor


Leith. A few planets had proven difficult, but after one or two had


been reduced to stone-age civilisations, the others had quickly


acceded. Without adequate planetary defences, they were at the mercy


of the Imperial forces, and with thousands of worlds to choose from,


resistance on any one planet could be stamped out harshly. Very


harshly, as the Bajorans had discovered. What was left of these


nation's navies would either surrender their ships, or they would just


run out of food, fuel, and other resources over time. Two Klingon


worlds had been reduced to slag for re-supplying these outlawed


starships, and that lesson had also sunken in nicely. A new Empire had


been born.


Already, new education systems were being introduced on all


these worlds, and Brendan Leith was being hailed as the hero who had


brought peace to the multiplicity of factions in the strife torn


Federation. There was already no shortage of new recruits for the


ships being built at the Leith shipyards. In a few generations, nobody


would remember a time before the Empire.


























Michael January






Hand me my lightsabre ... It's the one that says "Bad Mother Fucker"

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