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Tyralak

Federation's End

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Federation's End.

 

 

 

A FANFIC by Michael January

 

 

 

 

 

Eleven planets circled the yellow star. Three of the planets

 

were inhabited so densely that there was no trace of ocean or mountain

 

upon them. The primary mechanism by which life and economics in this

 

system was maintained was trade, and by the continuous mining and

 

stripping of planets in this and surrounding star systems. There were

 

more than enough of such planets nearby. In this part of the galaxy,

 

the distance between stars was a mere two or three light-years, and

 

the nearest heavily populated galactic standard planet was nearly

 

sixty light years away. That left quite a few thousand planets in the

 

sphere of influence of the local system.

 

Dozens of gigantic freighters and bulk transports were plying

 

the routes between the planet and it's neighbours, and hundreds of

 

tiny yachts, freighters and medium transports flitted in between them.

 

Because of this traffic, any visitors to the system were forced to

 

jump into the outer edges of the system, to then be guided in by droid

 

controllers on the capital world of the system. Patrolling this mess

 

was a number of TIE's and a few gunboats, which had been dropped off

 

by one of the ISD's assigned to patrol this region of the sector. The

 

sector consisted of less than one hundred and fifty such star systems,

 

which made it a relatively under-populated sector by galactic

 

standards. Nevertheless, Imperial standards called for a full squadron

 

of twelve ISD's to patrol these one hundred and fifty systems, with a

 

thirteenth ISD used as a command ship. That still left several star

 

systems per ISD, but not as many as they would have to patrol in most

 

other sectors.

 

Another ship suddenly flickered into the traffic nightmare,

 

close to the edge of the system. It was not a big ship, smaller than

 

many of the transports already in the system, and dwarfed by the huge

 

bulk transports, which themselves were dwarfed by the several thousand

 

kilometre structure of the Ubiqutorate refinery which dominated the

 

profile of the fifth planet of the star system, even from this great

 

range. There were only two immediately distinguishable features about

 

the relatively small new arrival. It was wedge-shaped, and it's

 

engines were huge, totally out of proportion to it's size, compared to

 

other ships in the sector. The Imperial Star Destroyer belched out a

 

dozen fresh TIE fighters, and gathered in the TIE's which had been on

 

patrol. Then it flickered out of the system again.

 

Anyone who had dared do a sensor-focus on the wedge-shape

 

would have noticed several other features which distinguished the

 

military vessel from it's civilian counterparts. Immense shielding, a

 

double-hull more than a dozen meters thick, a state of the art solar

 

ionisation reactor burning matter so dense it's atomic structure had

 

collapsed, and dozens of weapons blisters of various types scattered

 

all over it's hull.

 

 

 

The ISD Annihilator streaked through hyperspace, hopping from

 

one star system to another, dropping off it's TIE patrols, and

 

gathering in reports from the dozen or so star-systems in this

 

sub-sector. There had been no pirate activity for months now, and the

 

patrols were becoming routine. Every few hours at random intervals,

 

the Annihilator would drop out of hyperspace in deep-space, and just

 

lie there. During this time, it's sensors would sweep out for a

 

hundred light years in all directions, gathering data and probing the

 

surrounding star systems. The computers would analyse every bit of

 

data collected, compare it to the last sweep of the area, and analyse

 

the changes. The information derived would be compiled into a report,

 

and transmitted to the central archives, where it would be further

 

analysed. Some of this information would eventually find it's way into

 

the navigational databases crucial for safe hyperspace travel.

 

This time, though, Captain Storve's attention was caught by

 

something out of the normal pattern. The lieutenant in charge of the

 

long-range com-scan technicians was having an ardent discussion with

 

one of his techs. The lieutenant glanced towards the command deck, and

 

seeing the captain's eyes on him, nodded and said something to the

 

tech. The tech touched a control, and Storve's tactical display was

 

updated with whatever the technician had spotted. Storve glanced over

 

the display, as the lieutenant marched up to him. A grid reference

 

about sixty light years away was marked. Storve zoomed his display in

 

on the reference. Yes, that was strange, very strange.

 

"Lieutenant?" he said to the officer, who had been patiently

 

waiting to be noticed.

 

"Sir. We have three sub-space anomalies, all diverging from

 

the same point in space. All the anomalies are travelling at

 

significantly faster than light, and appear to be each heading towards

 

a specific star. All three targeted star systems are of the G spectral

 

class, and have galactic standard planets, though none of them are

 

inhabited yet."

 

Sixty light years was too far to be able to get more than

 

that. A starship was not detectable beyond seven or eight light years,

 

and only very high-powered sub-space communications would be

 

detectable beyond fifty light years, and all such communications

 

equipment would be in the control of the Military.

 

"Those anomalies will still take several hours to reach those

 

stars. We will finish our scan and transmit a report as usual." The

 

lieutenant acknowledged, and continued about his duties.

 

"Communications." Storve ordered, having opened the

 

appropriate channel on his command padd, "put me through to Commodore

 

Heyward. Scrambled Holonet, priority four."

 

A few minutes later, the console beeped. Storve activated his

 

vid-display.

 

"Storve. You have a problem?"

 

"A small one sir. I request that we be relieved, so that we

 

may investigate three sub-space anomalies we have detected in

 

sub-sector fourteen."

 

"Very well. I will despatch the Adjudicator. They will arrive

 

at Woostri in forty minutes."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

The commodore cut the communications, and the vid-screen

 

deactivated itself.

 

Storve pressed another internal comm button, "Commander

 

Sarkan, cancel further launches, prepare all fighter groups for

 

recall."

 

As soon as the navigational sensor-sweep was done, the

 

Annihilator flickered into hyper-space. They stopped briefly to

 

collect their TIEs in their nearby patrol systems, then headed for

 

Woostri. Storve just paused long enough in the Woostri system to

 

transfer all trade and traffic data to the Adjudicator, then popped

 

back into hyperspace. They dropped into real-space ten light years

 

short of the last recorded position of one of the anomalies they had

 

detected earlier.

 

Storve waited patiently as the sensors swept through the

 

surrounding systems, passive mode only, building up a picture of the

 

surrounding space. Passive mode had a range of only thirty light

 

years, with starship detection range down to half a light year.

 

"Sub-space anomaly re-acquired, range eight light years. It is

 

a resonance pattern in the lower K-band of sub-space, consistent with

 

the sub-space image of a starship, but magnified immensely."

 

"Is it in range for an active sensor focus."

 

"Yes sir."

 

"Do it, four second focus only."

 

A long pause followed. Storve noticed a look of surprise and

 

consternation on the young lieutenant's face.

 

"Lieutenant?"

 

"Sir! It appears as if there is a small starship, about the

 

size of a corvette, at the same location as the sub-space anomaly. It

 

is little more than a ghost image in real-space, but intensely

 

magnified in sub-space, and ..."

 

"Continue." Storve grated.

 

'Yes, sir. The starship seems to have disconnected some small

 

part of it's surrounding space from the fabric of the universe, and is

 

propagating this island of space at several hundred times the speed of

 

light. The ship is stationary in the centre of this island, and it's

 

movements is perfectly synchronised with that of the sub-space

 

resonance field. Such a stardrive is consistent with ..."

 

"I know what it is consistent with, Lieutenant."

 

"Helm, take us to an intercept point 10 AU ahead of this

 

starship." Storve ordered, "ECM, prepare to broadcast a reversed

 

spectral image of the starship, maximum power, in the K-band of

 

sub-space, and jam any communications that ship sends out."

 

Minutes later, the Annihilator flickered into position ahead

 

of the approaching vessel. Immediately the ECM crew initiated the

 

broadcast, an exact inverted image of the starship in sub-space,

 

effectively creating a sub-space destructive interference with the

 

starship's presence. The results were just as Storve had hoped for.

 

The alien starship came to a near dead stop as it's mass was kicked

 

out of sub-space by the interference pattern. The Star Destroyer

 

powered towards the trapped alien ship.

 

"Com-scan, micro-focus on that ship, I want to know what type

 

of life-forms operate it, I want to know what they breathe, what they

 

eat, what colour underpants they're wearing, and I want to know if

 

anybody on that ship so much as sneezes. General, prepare a boarding

 

party to secure that ship."

 

"The enemy ship is attempting to establish a sub-space

 

communication protocol."

 

"Ignore it. Commander Sarkan, launch one flight of TIE's to

 

fly cover on that ship till we can lock our tractor beams on it."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

The ISD swept up to the corvette, closing rapidly, and was now

 

less than half a million kilometres away.

 

"Sir, the enemy is attempting to escape."

 

On his display, Storve saw the enemy ship had powered up an

 

ion-type drive, but with a very strange signature. It appeared to

 

operate on a pulse basis, rather than a smooth analogue thrust system.

 

It was also a rather small drive by comparison to it's size, giving it

 

a very poor power to mass ratio, especially given the fact that the

 

enemy ships mass was no longer shunted into sub-space.

 

"Intercept course, prepare to fire ion cannons."

 

The alien corvette was accelerating at a prodigious rate, but

 

the ISD had been closing at a high velocity, and the corvette could

 

not hope to out accelerate the huge ship now. It had left it's escape

 

attempt too late. The ISD swept across it's rear, firing a volley of

 

ionised particles into the corvette's rear quarter. A bubble-shield

 

momentarily lit up as it fought to dissipate the randomly charged

 

particle beams, but the variation of charges and frequencies was

 

designed to overcome the limitations of force fields, and many charged

 

bolts slipped through the shield to splatter against the corvette's

 

hull. The hits didn't appear to cause any visible damage though, not

 

even a stray discharge.

 

They must have caused some effect though, because the corvette

 

disengaged it's nuclear fusion drive mechanism, and coasted along

 

without power. The Star Destroyer pulled alongside, it's bulk totally

 

dwarfing the tiny ship. A tractor beam locked onto the alien's hull,

 

and drew the ship down to the docking bay. A second tractor beam

 

locked on, and the alien ship was maneuvred into the cavernous docking

 

bay, and deposited on a set of universal hull clamps, which locked

 

into position.

 

One of the tractor beams remained locked on to the alien

 

vessel, in case it attempted an escape, and a number of stasis field

 

projectors were aimed at it's hull. A double squad of stormtroopers

 

advanced on the vessel, the sensor-data from the micro-focus already

 

downloaded into their battle computers. There was not a square

 

millimeter of space on the alien ships which had not been scanned.

 

They apparently had no sensor damping or static damping equipment. A

 

droid advanced, and began cutting through the hull with an industrial

 

focussed plasma torch. There was not a material or alloy in the galaxy

 

which could stand up to the intense heat of the laser energised plasma

 

in it's narrowly focussed containment field, not even neutronium based

 

alloys.

 

The force blade sliced a large section of the hull away, and

 

the droid moved back to allow the hull-plate to fall to the deck, and

 

launched a smoke canister into the opening. The canister bounced back,

 

as it encountered a force field, beyond which two humans could be seen

 

aiming some sort of hand weapon at the opening. The droid, unsurprised

 

by the force-field, attached a number of flat disks to the hull either

 

side of the opening, while a group of storm-troopers aimed their

 

rifles at the humans beyond. The disks activated on the droids signal,

 

creating a stasis matrix designed to short-circuit the force field

 

generators. There were a few satisfying discharges at a number of

 

points on the hull, as the force-field generators were blown, and the

 

stormtroopers opened fire immediately.

 

One of the troopers was knocked backwards by a yellow beam

 

fired by the humans, before they were both smashed backwards by

 

several blaster bolts, their bodies ripped open and blood spraying

 

onto the wall behind them. The injured trooper stared at his chest in

 

shock, his entire breast-plate had vanished, destroyed by some sort of

 

chain-reaction. For some reason, the chain reaction had been confined

 

to the breastplate, and had not jumped the gap to his undertunic, or

 

across the joints to the rest of the armour. He was immediately

 

relieved by another trooper. The squad advanced into the ship.

 

A number of explosions could be heard, and the sound of

 

blaster fire, as the squads of troopers advanced through the ship,

 

blowing their way through walls where necessary, assisted by static

 

pulse discharges, thermal detonators and e-web light artillery pieces,

 

which dismantled or overloaded force fields and other blockages as

 

they advanced. Some of the troopers were armed with stun gas, and they

 

laid down a heavy barrage of the gas as they advanced. Minutes later a

 

squad leader returned and reported to Storve.

 

"The ship is secured, no casualties. The enemies hand-weapons

 

were low-powered disruptor type weapons. It is very materials

 

dependent, the chain-reaction it initiates seems to confine itself to

 

the specific materials it was targeted at. The reaction destroys

 

super-polymer armour easily enough, but it takes a second shot to kill

 

the trooper, although even the first shot can cause temporary

 

neurological damage to the trooper. I'll demonstrate."

 

The trooper raised a curious weapon which had little

 

resemblance to a blaster. He aimed at a nearby droid and fired. The

 

droid vanished nearly instantly, but the deck where the droid had been

 

standing wasn't even scorched.

 

"Are there any prisoners?"

 

"Seven prisoners, all officers. The rest of the crew were

 

terminated. Intelligence are interrogating them now."

 

"Very well."

 

Storve waved to one of his officers, who immediately led a

 

tech team onto the alien ship. The tech team knew what Storve wanted,

 

he didn't bother to tell them. Information about the enemy's military

 

forces, their weapons and shielding systems, their command and control

 

systems, and of course the reason for their invasion of Imperial

 

Space.

 

 

 

"Sir, the tech team has finished up. Permission to jettison

 

the captured ship."

 

"Granted."

 

The hangar crew activated the tractor launch system, and

 

dumped what was left of the Excelsior class starship into space. Some

 

turbolaser crews opened fire on the remains, blowing it into tiny

 

pieces.

 

"Open a channel to Commodore Heyward. Holonet, priority two."

 

Storve was surprised when the vid-screen blinked on almost

 

immediately. But it was not Commodore Heyward. He stiffened at the

 

sight of Admiral Pellaeon.

 

"Your report, captain Storve."

 

"Yes, sir. Our analysis of the alien ship is attached to the

 

battle-report being transmitted to you now. The aliens are human,

 

belong to a grouping calling themselves the United Federation of

 

Planets. They are from another galaxy, and entered this galaxy via a

 

wormhole, the location of which we have triangulated. There are

 

another two suspected invaders within six light years of our position,

 

we will be intercepting them in the next few minutes."

 

If Storve had expected surprise on the part of Pellaeon, he

 

was disappointed. The Admiral didn't blink.

 

"Belay that. The Invincible is on it's way to that sub-sector

 

now as well, and will take care of the other invaders. Your job is

 

firstly to locate the wormhole, and then to explore the space beyond.

 

A task force is being assembled under the lead of the Devastator and

 

will follow you shortly. Our goal is to establish a beachhead on the

 

far side. Your mission, Captain Storve, is to ensure that we can

 

expand into that galaxy."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Pellaeon cut the communication. Storve stared at the empty

 

space where the vid had been. The implications were clear. With an

 

entire galaxy to explore and to conquer, the Empire could rise to it's

 

former glory again. Fortunes could be made, and with the required

 

expansion of the fleet, those commanders who played their cards right

 

could rise up the ladder quite fast. The question was, had Pellaeon

 

known about this in advance? And if so, why only investigate it now?

 

"Helm, set a course for the triangulated position of the wormhole."

 

 

 

 

 

The Annihilator flickered into real space, and right into the middle

 

of an enemy fleet. Well, not quite. They had aimed for a point several

 

million kilometers away from the triangulated entry point of the

 

invaders, and their initial scan showed five alien ships congregated

 

at a point much closer to the calculated position of the wormhole.

 

"Five vessels detected. They have activated their distortion

 

drives, Five sub-space resonance fields detected, K-band."

 

"Initiate k-band interference."

 

The five vessels came to a stop. Four of them immediately

 

powered on towards the Annihilator using their fusion drives, while a

 

fifth held back.

 

"The enemy is attempting to establish a communication

 

protocol."

 

"Ignore it. Close to attack range."

 

The four ships split into two pairs, attempting to flank the

 

Star Destroyer. They were still attempting to open a communications

 

channel. The distance separating the ships were now down to nearly one

 

hundred thousand kilometres, and the aliens were getting frantic about

 

their attempt at communications. One of the alien ships took up

 

position directly ahead of the Annihilator, while the others turned

 

and tried to maintain a steady distance between themselves and the

 

immense warship bearing down on them.

 

The largest of the alien ships was barely 600 meters long, a

 

third of the length of the Annihilator, but it was essentially just a

 

thin disk, with almost no bulk to go along with it's length. This was

 

the vessel that now sought to confront them. The others were of the

 

size of the corvette destroyed minutes before.

 

"Hold fire, continue closing." Storve said.

 

The alien ship was now barely forty thousand kilometres away,

 

and holding it's ground. The Star Destroyer bore down on it, reducing

 

the range to ten thousand kilometres in seconds.

 

"Prepare to fire, all forward weapons, light turbolaser to

 

lead ion cannons by 50 microseconds, followed by heavy turbolasers

 

fifty microseconds later. Fire."

 

The Star Destroyer shuddered slightly, almost imperceptibly,

 

as dozens of guns fired nearly simultaneously. Many of the larger of

 

those guns had recoils measured in gigatons, but the hull was designed

 

to withstand such recoils, and the energy of the recoil was further

 

dissipated by the molecular bond enhancing field which permeated the

 

structure of the hull. Such a broadside was sufficient to totally

 

disable a Victory Star Destroyer, and five such broadsides would

 

severely damage even an Imperial Star Destroyer.

 

The relatively tiny alien ship didn't stand a chance. It's

 

shields were strained by more than a hundred light turbolaser hits,

 

paving the way for a volley of ion cannon fire, which overloaded many

 

peripheral circuits on the starship. Storve knew that it's core

 

systems were almost entirely optically based, but many sub-systems

 

were electrically powered. Before the shields could recover, the heavy

 

turbolaser barrage slammed into it's hull, smashing right through it's

 

superstructure, and out the other side. The entire ship was one

 

red-orange flaming mass for half a second, then it detonated in a

 

violent nuclear fury, it's anti-matter containment fields destroyed.

 

"The remaining enemy ships are attacking."

 

The three nearby ships were no longer attempting to maintain

 

their distance, but were sweeping in on attack runs. The fourth ship,

 

which had held back, was running for empty space. The three ships

 

opened fire with their phase disruption weapons, but they just didn't

 

have the power to severely impact the Star destroyer's immense

 

shields.

 

"Missiles!"

 

"Activate point defences."

 

Several glowing blue missiles slammed into the Star Destroyer,

 

as the laser cannons on point defence belatedly opened fire.

 

"Damage report?"

 

"The missiles yield was equivalent to a medium turbolaser

 

blast, about a hundred megatons. Only seven impacted, not even

 

equivalent to a Victory's broadside."

 

The Annihilator's shields was designed to withstand energies

 

in the multi-gigaton range for several seconds at a time. It would

 

take dozens of such torpedoes in a continuous barrage lasting several

 

seconds to make an impact on it's shields.

 

"Turbolasers recharged."

 

"Overrule broadside command, allow for synchronised ripple

 

fire only. Keep thirty percent in reserve."

 

The gunnery officers punched in their commands. The

 

turbolasers recharge rate would automatically be synchronised so that

 

successive turbolaser batteries could fire every one tenth of a second

 

only, with five weapons in each quarter of the ship held in reserve.

 

The fire rate was now in the region of ten to fifteen turbolaser

 

blasts per second from any given quarter of the ship. With the enemy

 

ships spread out and attacking from different directions, that meant

 

each ship was attracting more than ten shots per second, with a

 

firepower averaging several hundred megatons per shot, and the larger

 

turbolaser cannons capable of unleashing several gigatons each in a

 

single shot.

 

One of the enemy ships was hit twice in succession early in

 

the engagement, and spun out of control, it's shields blown away. A

 

volley of turbolaser fire smashed into the stricken ship, and it too

 

detonated in a nuclear fury. The remaining ships sped after their

 

comrade which was now close to the position of the suspected wormhole.

 

 

 

"Full power to engines. Intercept vector."

 

The Star Destroyer leapt forward, cutting across the path of

 

one of the alien ships. The alien vessel fired several glowing blue

 

missiles at it, but the handful of missiles that made it through

 

didn't seriously depreciate the shields. The residual power from the

 

reactor was more than enough to recharge the shields, without drawing

 

on the auxiliary power cells. The alien vessel was engulfed by several

 

lances of green turbolaser fire, and went the way of the two previous

 

ships. Ahead of the Star Destroyer, Storve was struck by an awesome

 

sight.

 

In the midst of deep-space, where nothing had been seconds

 

before, a huge spinning vortex erupted. Half the instruments on the

 

bridge of the Star destroyer went crazy, and the two remaining alien

 

ships slipped into the vortex, which immediately snapped out of

 

existence.

 

"Head for that spot. Transmit co-ordinates and battle-report

 

to command."

 

The Star Destroyer vectored towards the location of the

 

wormhole. Once again, the spinning vortex erupted furiously. The

 

Annihilator aimed itself like a dart at the vortex, and accelerated

 

straight into it.

 

The stars disappeared, and Storve had a momentary impression

 

of immense energies, flaming vistas, blue eternity, and a sense of

 

timelessness. Then the stars reappeared like they always had been

 

there. Except, they were different. There were none of the formations

 

Storve was familiar with. No familiar distant nebulae he could use as

 

a reference for his senses. On his tactical display however, there

 

were several ships closing on his position. That he could deal with.

 

Despite being too young to have fought against the Rebellion, now

 

known as the New Republic, Storve was not an inexperienced commander,

 

he had led his ship into battle on several occasions against various

 

alien species, pirate gangs, and the odd dissenting star system. He

 

calmly began issuing his orders.

 

"Com-scan, full navigational sweep to maximum range. Tactical

 

scan, track all enemy ships. ECM, broadcast sub-space k-band

 

interference, jam all comm frequencies, including EM bands. CAG,

 

launch fighters at will. Weapons are free, synchronised ripple fire,

 

broadsides on my command only."

 

"Tactical: eight alien vessels. Repeat, eight alien vessels."

 

"Designate targets in order of descending size."

 

On the holo-display, several blips were seen to be closing on

 

their position.

 

"TIE's are away. Deflector shields are at full power."

 

 

 

 

 

Second Lieutenant Mithel flung his TIE fighter down and to the

 

left as soon as the tractor beam flung him clear of the Star

 

Destroyer's bulk. The computer projected a path for him to join up

 

with his flight group, and he slotted in neatly on the right of his

 

flight leaders flank. The three TIE's sped through the blackness, the

 

tiny black fighters almost invisible against the blackness of deep

 

space. They were too small for even life-support or shields to have

 

been fitted, their miniscule size, radiation scattering design, and

 

automatic ECM pods their only protection. A blinking indicator showed

 

their designated target. A sleek looking alien ship with a swept back

 

profile, reminiscent of a bird in flight.

 

Mithel was amazed at the clarity of his readouts. There was no

 

trace of signal or comm jamming coming from the alien ships.

 

Conversely, he knew they would have a devil of a time tracking the

 

tiny black TIE fighters through the jamming signals being broadcast by

 

the Star Destroyer. The alien ship was heading directly for the

 

Annihilator, and the TIE's were curving around to attack it from the

 

flanks, staying outside of the direct line of fire of the Annihilator.

 

Even as Mithel looked back, the space from the location of the

 

Annihilator was suddenly streaked with green. The alien ship weaved

 

from side to side, doggedly evading the incoming blasts, but as it

 

closed to within a third of a light-second of the Star Destroyer, the

 

blasts were tracking closer and closer to the ship. The space beyond

 

the ship was also streaked with green turbolaser fire, and the red and

 

orange of the returned enemy fire.

 

"Commence attack run." The flight leader announced.

 

The three TIEs banked towards the alien ship, and streaked

 

down towards it's upper port quarter. Mithel triggered his fire

 

control, and the computer fired several rounds, co-ordinating the fire

 

of the twin laser cannons to fire several pulses in the space of a

 

second. They were rewarded with a spectacular display of shield-glow

 

as the weapons fire intersected the alien's shields. Mithel banked

 

away, following his flight leader.

 

His missile indicator lit up, and Mithel banked to the right,

 

throwing his control stick forward, pouring power into the engine. The

 

TIE surged forward, his inertial compensators screaming as it fought

 

to keep pace with the sudden acceleration. The cockpit was momentarily

 

lit up as something detonated far behind. The missile indicator had

 

gone quiet. The enemy missile had either been targeted at empty space,

 

or the intense jamming from auto-ECM had confused it. The computer was

 

projecting a path for him, to rejoin his flight.

 

He was surprised to discover that the left wingman didn't show

 

up. Maybe the missile had done it's job after all.

 

"Prepare for another run." The flight leader ordered.

 

The two TIE's once again swept towards the alien vessel. It

 

was maintaining it's distance from the Star Destroyer, still flying

 

evasively, as one turbolaser bolt after another streaked past it. One

 

or two light turbolaser bolts hit glancing blows on the alien's

 

shields, which were flickering wildly now, and Mithel could see a few

 

blackened scorch marks along it's hull where turbolaser bolts had done

 

more than glance off it's shields. In the distance something detonated

 

in a brilliant blue-white explosion.

 

He pressed his fire button, and once again the TIE bucked as

 

the computer synchronised laser-cannons poured energy into the alien

 

ship. The first few bolts spattered harmlessly against what was left

 

of it's shields, then another green bolt slammed into the ship,

 

smashing through the shields like it wasn't there, and rocked the

 

alien ship severely, sending several glowing chunks of hull metal

 

careening off into space. The alien's shields gone, the laser-bolts

 

smashed into the hull, blowing panels away, and scoring deep marks

 

across it's left flank. Mithel centred his crosshairs on what looked

 

to be a weapons blister, and fired a full one seconds worth of

 

particle enhanced laser-cannons fire into the emplacement. As he

 

banked away, he was rewarded with a spectacular detonation as the

 

weapons pod broke away from the hull.

 

Another huge green bolt smashed into the alien ship from the

 

direction of the Annihilator, and this time tore right into the

 

superstructure of the ship, opening it's interior to the vacuum of

 

space. The ship rolled end over end, gases boiling out into vacuum,

 

and fires clearly glowing through the huge hole in it's side.

 

"He's finished. Lets get outta here." Mithel shouted.

 

He aimed the TIE at empty space, and slammed his throttle

 

stick forward, once again thrilled by the protesting scream from the

 

inertial compensator. Seconds later, the TIE was rocked by an

 

explosion, the cockpit filled with blue-white light. Glancing behind

 

him, Mithel could see no sign of the alien vessel.

 

"Tighten formation." The flight leader called.

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Mithel concentrated on his flying, and tucked in neatly behind

 

his flight leader. On his sensor panel, he could see they were heading

 

towards a formation of three alien ships which were arrowing towards

 

the battle, or what was left of it. On his long-range scan, Mithel

 

could pick out the Annihilator, it's shields were down to seventy

 

percent, but were being recharged almost as fast as it was being

 

drained. Around it, there were several clouds of debris, and of the

 

eight ships in the initial alien attack force, only these three

 

remained.

 

A warning indicator flashed, and Mithel noticed the power

 

build up on one of the three ships ahead of him a heartbeat before it

 

launched several glowing blue missiles. The computer automatically

 

locked onto the lead missile, which was coming straight for him.

 

Mithel hit the fire button, kept his finger down for a fraction of a

 

second to allow the computer to align the laser-cannon fire with the

 

incoming missile, then threw his controls to the right. The TIE banked

 

away even as the lead missile was struck by one of the laser cannon

 

bolts. The other missiles had been targeted at other TIE's converging

 

on the group. Again his cockpit was filled with radiance from several

 

detonations.

 

Mithel turned back towards the alien ships. A glance at his

 

sensor board showed that one or two TIEs had been destroyed by

 

proximity detonations, but most had made it through. The TIE's swept

 

into the alien formation, firing laser-cannons at will. The space

 

around them was cris-crossed with red and orange lines as the alien

 

ships attempted to destroy their attackers. The TIEs were too close

 

for them to use torpedoes, and the small ships were difficult to track

 

with any accuracy with all the interference being broadcast. The TIE's

 

flitted in between the ships with near impunity, strafing any part of

 

the ships which came into view. The ships were almost continuously

 

surrounded by blue shield-glow as dozens of particle enhanced laser

 

pulses smashed into them.

 

"All TIE's. Clear the area. Clear the area."

 

Mithel didn't hesitate, he swung his TIE around an exposed

 

engine tube, and released the computer's acceleration override, the

 

facility which automatically interpreted his flight commands relative

 

to the acceleration and velocity of the surrounding alien ships. He

 

slammed his thrust control forward, and screamed in exultation along

 

with his inertial compensator as the TIE streaked away from the

 

formation of alien ships. Not a moment too soon either, as the

 

formation was suddenly obscured by a flurry of green streaks.

 

Mithel didn't know what impact the TIE's had had on the enemy

 

shields, if any, but the alien shields were no match for the fury of

 

the turbolaser blasts ripping through their formation. One of the

 

alien ships spun out of control as an engine was sheared off, and

 

another was stopped dead in it's tracks by a direct hit. The third

 

ship pressed on, banking to one side to avoid the incoming turbolaser

 

fire. The two damaged ships though had no chance, and were smashed to

 

pieces by several hits in quick succession.

 

The third ship, which was still relatively unscathed, was now

 

the sole recipient of the Annihilator's fury. It charmed it's way

 

through several dozen green streaks, launching volley after volley of

 

glowing blue missiles at the Annihilator. Then it's luck ran out, and

 

it detonated in a blue white nuclear fury amidst a shower of deadly

 

green streaks.

 

Mithel hit the auto-land button, and the TIE headed home. A

 

glance across the sensor board showed the Annihilator's shields were

 

down to less than thirty percent, but were now once again being

 

recharged to normal levels. Those missiles must pack some punch, he

 

thought, but the enemy hadn't fired nearly enough of them to make a

 

serious impact on the Star Destroyer. Their beam weapons were not bad

 

either, they just didn't have enough of them to make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

"Tactical?" Storve asked.

 

"No signs of enemy infestation within seven light years, sir."

 

"Navigation?"

 

"The hundred light year sweep is nearly complete, sir."

 

"As soon as it's done, download all navigational data and the

 

battle-reports into a probe droid, and send it back through the

 

wormhole."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Storve stood at the view-screen and surveyed the view. A whole

 

new galaxy, and soon the Empire would have it all to itself. As soon

 

as the Invincible arrived through the wormhole, Storve would leave it

 

in charge of the defence of the Imperial beachhead, and he would then

 

explore the fringes of the one hundred light year sphere that

 

navigation had almost completed mapping. In a few hours, that sphere

 

would be extended to a two hundred light year radius, and as more

 

ships arrived, they could set about seriously exploring their new

 

territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Star Destroyer drifted silently through the blackness.

 

Human eyes would not be able to see it in the dim light from the

 

distant stars. The only sign of it's presence as Michel approached was

 

a few faint navigational beacons and the light pouring out of the

 

view-ports, where such were allowed. The tractor beams gripping his

 

TIE pulled the fighter around to the ventral hangars. There was a

 

slight bump as the TIE was forced through the atmospheric containment

 

fields. A gantry arm swung down and grabbed the TIE, and the tractor

 

beam was tasked to the next incoming fighter.

 

The hangar was a hive of activity, as damaged fighters were

 

stripped by dozens of droids, and prepped for their next sortie. The

 

pilots were hustled through the activity by ground controllers, and

 

marched off to debriefing rooms. The hangar was alive with the noise

 

and glare of laser welders, plasma torches, the whir and buzz of

 

hydrospanners and the smell of ozone and plasma coolant. In minutes

 

though, the noise level started decreasing as the last of the fighters

 

was recovered. The fighters that had been fully prepped were loaded

 

onto secondary gantries, and carted off to the launch bays. By the

 

time the Judicator came through the wormhole, the Hangar was silent,

 

the only noise the beeping and whistling of droids going about routine

 

tasks.

 

 

 

"Judicator to Annihilator, where is the enemy?"

 

"The enemy has been destroyed. Transmitting battle data.

 

Sensor sweep to seven light years reports no enemy vessels,

 

navigational sweep to one hundred light years has detected no

 

sub-space activity. Transmitting logs."

 

"Thank you, Annihilator. Please maintain position. We will

 

resume scouting operations."

 

"Acknowledged."

 

Storve was a bit taken aback, Judicator was the senior ship,

 

and as such should have taken responsibility for securing the

 

worm-hole, and sent him off scouting. He could guess why they had gone

 

themselves. They wanted to rack up some points. Well, let them.

 

Over the next two hours, Judicator transmitted several reports

 

back to them, expanding their local starmaps to a three hundred light

 

year radius, and locating three inhabited planets. Nothing

 

significant.

 

"Sir. The worm-hole is opening!"

 

Storve walked over to one of the rearwards facing view-ports.

 

A circular display of colour marked the wormhole position, which he

 

knew to be several million kilometers behind him. Several specks

 

appeared in the centre of the colourful circle. He touched the

 

'enhance' button on the display, and the wedges were super-scaled. Six

 

Imperator-class Star Destroyers, plus two Imperator Mark II's.

 

Commodore Heyward appeared on the holo-board. He had brought half the

 

sector fleet with him.

 

"Annihilator, where is the Judicator."

 

"Scouting the perimeter sir. Transmitting logs."

 

There was a hesitation as the Vice-Admiral scanned the summary

 

attached to the logs.

 

"Annihilator. Go to the world designated F-002. Find out what

 

you can about the enemy shipyards, and command and control centres."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

Storve cut the transmission.

 

"Navigator, set course for F-002. Flank speed."

 

"Aye, Sir. Course plotted."

 

"Execute."

 

Storve was seated in his command seat, and he quickly called

 

up the sensor data on the enemy world. Low population, two major

 

population centres, a few small satellites of unknown type and

 

function. Possibly weather or communication satellites. They would

 

arrive in minutes, the world only being a handful of light-years away.

 

"TAC, on arrival launch one squadron of TIEs to take out the

 

satellites, a second squadron of TIEs to escort the landing barges,

 

and a squadron of bombers to suppress resistance. General Corran,

 

secure both population centres. I want ranking prisoners."

 

The two officers acknowledged.

 

The small, recently established colony world didn't stand a

 

chance. Their first inkling of attack was a sudden loss of planetary

 

communications. They were still trying to establish the cause of the

 

communications breakdown when the centre was rocked by several

 

supersonic shockwaves. People rushing out to see what was going on

 

were met by the sight of several immense ships landing all around the

 

city. Several tiny black shapes darting around over the city covered

 

the ships. A communications tower on the edge of the city was suddenly

 

struck by a lightning bolt, or at least a blue bolt from one of the

 

circling black planes, which caused a series of massive electrical and

 

plasma discharges from the building.

 

In minutes, the entire population was herded into the town

 

square, while dozens of armored figures and androids searched their

 

homes. Everything vaguely technological was collected, and dumped into

 

a huge pile on the edge of the town. A group of droids systematically

 

examined everything, destroying or breaking most of it in the process.

 

One or two self-appointed spokespersons for the colonists were

 

immediately marched off into one of the buildings. Seconds later,

 

screams were heard to emanate from the buildings.

 

Colony co-ordinator Jasper Brown was a tough man,

 

psychologically as well as physically. You had to be to survive on the

 

frontiers, where anything could happen and usually did. This was the

 

third colony to have employed him as co-ordinator during their

 

establishment phase. He had seen a lot and experienced a lot. He had

 

never experienced, or expected to experience, anything like what was

 

happening now.

 

One of the armoured figures had dragged in Councillor Johnson,

 

the colony leader, and casually flung her against a wall. Two other

 

armoured troopers stepped forward and pinned her arms to the walls. A

 

trooper stepped forward, carrying a power-hammer, and casually nailed

 

the councillor's hands and arms to the concrete wall, ignoring her

 

screams. Blood sprayed from severed arteries, staining the soldiers

 

armour. He ignored it. Another soldier stepped forward, and smashed

 

his armoured fist into the screaming councillor's face. Blood

 

spattered across her tear stained face and a tooth dribbled down her

 

chin in a wash of blood from her broken gums.

 

The soldier pulled out a knife-like implement, grabbed one of

 

the councillor's ears, pulled it viciously and casually sliced it off

 

at the base. He stuffed the severed ear into a pocket on his utility

 

belt. A wet stain appeared between the woman's legs, and spread down

 

her trousers. A pool of yellow liquid formed at her feet, marred by

 

red specks as blood from her destroyed face dripped into it. Brown

 

could hear the muffled sounds of laughter through their ugly helmets.

 

A brown uniformed human officer stepped into the room,

 

followed by a humanoid android. He wrinkled his face in disgust at the

 

sight in front of him. Ignoring the whimpering councillor with the

 

pee-stained pants, he walked over to Brown. He spoke rapidly to the

 

android in an unfamiliar language. The android turned to Brown.

 

"I am MP-29, military protocol droid for the Galactic Empire."

 

It said in a smoothly modulated synthetic voice that still managed to

 

sound somehow supercilious. "Captain Borsk would like to know the

 

locations of all nearby Federation starbases, the number and size of

 

military vessels in attendance, their fleet dispositions and the

 

nature and strength of their armies."

 

As a civilian, Brown knew little of such matters, and he began to

 

shake his head. Something smashed into the back of his skull, sending

 

him reeling to the ground. A boot smashed into his ribs and he felt

 

something give. A gesture from the brown-uniformed officer prevented

 

further punishment.

 

"Captain Borsk is waiting." The android said menacingly, as

 

the troopers dragged him to his feet.

 

"I don't know much about military matters. I am a civilian."

 

He said.

 

Something ticked in the corner of the officer's mouth. His eyes

 

narrowed, and he gestured mildly towards Councillor Johnson behind

 

him. A trooper stepped forward, and viciously kicked her in the groin.

 

She moaned in pain, her head drooping, and blood running from her

 

mouth. The only thing preventing her falling to the ground was the

 

nails driven through her forearms. The soldier who had cut her ear off

 

stepped forward with the vibro-blade and grabbed a handful of hair. He

 

jerked her head back, and ran the blade casually along her forehead,

 

made a smooth cut down her cheek past where her ear used to be, and

 

drew the knife lightly along her jawline. He tugged lightly with his

 

finger at her cheek, and half her face flapped forward, exposing the

 

muscle underneath.

 

"Shall we ask again?" The android asked.

 

Brown started talking, telling them everything he knew. The

 

soldiers didn't bother taking notes, the android could play it back

 

later on. When he was done talking, the android and the officer

 

conferred, the android obviously relaying some of what he had said.

 

The officer appeared satisfied. He smiled at Brown.

 

"Thank you for your co-operation." The android said smugly.

 

The officer turned smartly on his heel and walked out of the

 

room, followed by the armoured soldiers. One of them stopped at the

 

door, and casually levelled his rifle-like weapon at the battered and

 

bloodied form of the councillor, and shot her in the head. Her head

 

disappeared in an explosion of charred meat and bone, and so did half

 

the wall behind her. The wall collapsed, releasing the woman's body as

 

the nails broke free. The trooper turned and walked away, leaving the

 

colonist to contend with the smell of faeces, urine, burnt flesh and

 

permacrete dust. Unable to stop himself, the colonist retched in the

 

corner, still heaving long after his stomach had been emptied. In the

 

background, he heard the sound of their ships taking off.

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It had been three hours since Storve had come through the

 

wormhole, and little more than seven since they had first tracked the

 

sub-space anomalies. The news of the discovery of the worm-hole had

 

not yet reached Starfleet headquarters. Starbase 133 though was aware

 

of the discovery, but had lost contact with the ships sent to

 

investigate. There was no reason to suspect anything had happened yet.

 

The loss of contact had probably occurred when the ships had gone

 

through the worm-hole. It was now waiting to hear from either the

 

ships or from Starfleet headquarters. The signals sent to SFHQ should

 

arrive there in the next few minutes, which meant another seven hour

 

delay until the orders came back.

 

"Holy Cochrane!"

 

"What was that?" the base commander said sharply. He did not

 

appreciate blasphemy.

 

"A ship sir, sector four, a big one. Came out of nowhere, with

 

no warning. Activating view-screen."

 

The base commander's eyes narrowed. He double-checked the

 

scale indicator at the bottom of the view-screen. Not trusting himself

 

to make an accurate estimate, he asked the sensor operator.

 

"Dimensions?"

 

"One point six kilometres long, eight hundred meters across

 

the beam."

 

"Open a channel, attempt to establish communications."

 

"No response sir." The communications officer was saying.

 

"Detecting a power surge. Possible torpedo launches. Belay

 

that, tracking 12 fighters, one pilot in each. Holy Cochrane!"

 

The base-commander turned to reprimand his sensor operator.

 

The second profanity was just too much. He was distracted by the

 

view-screen. It was suddenly washed out in static.

 

"We're being jammed, right across the spectrum, sub-space as

 

well."

 

"Raise shields, activate video cameras. Battle-stations."

 

The view-screen cleared as the video-scanners came on-line.

 

There was nothing to see at first, then the cameras zoomed in on the

 

enemy battleship. An indicator showed that the image was more than two

 

seconds old. Something black flitted across the view-screen. The image

 

changed perspective, and attempted to track some of the incoming

 

fighters. They were difficult to see, being black, and microwave and

 

radio frequencies were shot to hell by the jamming. And of course,

 

video merely provided the after-image of where the target had been.

 

A video lock tone sounded from the tactical station, but was

 

immediately broken by a flash of light on the station's shields as

 

something slammed into it.

 

"I think they're shooting missiles at us." The sensor operator

 

called.

 

A barrage of missiles rained against the shields, rocking the

 

station in a series of rapid explosions as the shields fought to

 

dissipate the multiple detonations. There were too many missiles

 

impacting in too small an area for the shields to cope, and several

 

made it through before the shield could regenerate. They detonated

 

against the hull of the station, stripping all equipment mounted on

 

the hull in that area. Focussing collimators for shields, video

 

scanners, phaser emitters, sub-space antennae and communications

 

dishes, all destroyed or knocked out.

 

"Hull breach, deck nineteen. Shields down to fifty percent. I

 

have lost all tracks on the enemy fighters. Last track had them coming

 

around for another missile run."

 

"We're blind! And those damn fighters are ten thousand

 

kilometres away. They're too small to see and too fast to track by

 

video."

 

A series of small explosions ripped around the bridge, blowing

 

console after console. The bridge was suddenly plunged into ink-black

 

darkness, then the emergency lights came on.

 

"What happened?"

 

"We were hit by a series of ionic pulses. Strong ones. All

 

power routing circuitry is blown, shield generators are off-line, and

 

everything electrical or magnetic has short-circuited. Only the

 

optical core is still operational, but we're cut off from it."

 

Something clanged against the hull.

 

"That was no explosion, they're going to board us. Order the

 

armoury opened, distribute phasers to the crew, have security button

 

down the base."

 

"Sorry sir, we have lost all communication with the other

 

decks, they're on their own."

 

Several security personnel came running into the bridge, and

 

quickly set up a barricade across the blast doors, sealing the bridge

 

off from the rest of the ship.

 

"Sir," one of them reported, "my men are moving through the

 

base, manually locking it down. We are distributing phasers to the

 

crew and to civilian volunteers."

 

 

 

 

 

Private Nerak hung onto the restraints as the assault shuttle

 

clanged against the hull of the small space station. They could hear

 

the hiss of the hatch-cutter as it cut a hole through the enemy's

 

hull. A crash of something heavy told them that the hatch-cutting had

 

been successful. The forward doors immediately slammed open, and he

 

dived out of the shuttle, rolling clear of the door as a volley of

 

blaster fire from behind him ripped down the passage. He came to a

 

stop on one knee. No targets in sight. He charged down the hallway,

 

waving another soldier to the right as they hit a junction. He turned

 

to the left, firing his blaster before he even reached the junction.

 

Hitting the junction, he threw himself to the deck, rolling and

 

firing, as behind him the other trooper mirrored his actions, facing

 

the other way.

 

A group of humans in colourful uniforms came running around a

 

curve in the passage ahead of him, and he fired several rounds at

 

them. He was gratified to see two of them slammed backwards, blood

 

spattering on the walls nearby. Somebody grabbed his legs and hauled

 

him backwards as a thermal detonator sailed over his head. He barely

 

made it to cover before a wall of heat flashed down the passage-way.

 

He felt the heat even through the environmental protection afforded by

 

his armour. Around the area of detonation the walls ran down in rivers

 

of molten metal, and glowed red in patches. Charred and smoking

 

remains were all that was left of the colourfully clothed soldiers.

 

"We caught 'em in their pajamas. Move it, don't let them

 

regroup."

 

The group reached a sealed blast door, and called up an E-web

 

crew. They mounted the mobile artillery piece in the middle of the

 

passage, and opened fire on the sealed blast door. In seconds it was

 

scorched in several places, and starting to glow red. Some of the

 

shots started punching through into the room beyond. Suddenly half the

 

door disappeared as somebody on the far side opened fire with a

 

disruptor weapon. A trooper dived through the opening, firing as he

 

went. A disruptor shot connected with his armour, de-atomising deep

 

tracks into the almost indestructible material. The trooper writhed in

 

shock as his nerve impulses was disrupted by the side-effect of the

 

hit.

 

Nerak steeled himself and dived through the opening himself. A

 

colourful uniform was still firing at the writhing trooper on the

 

floor, but seeing Nerak shifted their aim. The first shot went wide,

 

de-atomising a section of wall behind him. He shot the uniform,

 

sending her flying backwards, a hole punched clean through her chest.

 

Nerak rolled into cover behind a nearby console as more shots came his

 

way. More troopers crowded through the hole, driving the defenders

 

back.

 

"Squad seven bravo five. You are directly beneath the command

 

centre of the station. Use demolition charges to breach the ceiling,

 

and take the command centre. Set your weapons to stun, we don't want

 

to damage it too badly.."

 

"Acknowledged." Nerak responded, not bothering to wait for his

 

squad leader.

 

Another trooper rushed forward, also having heard the orders.

 

Without bothering to wait for instructions he climbed onto some

 

equipment, and attached some charges to the ceiling, shaping them for

 

an upwards detonation. Everybody ducked out of the room or behind

 

anything with a vaguely solid appearance. Nerak readied two flash-bang

 

grenades and a stun-gas grenade. A thump followed by a crash signalled

 

the successful blowing of the ceiling. He stood up, and lobbed all

 

three grenades into the hole. Opposite him, a second trooper did

 

likewise. Not waiting for the detonations, he scrambled up the pile of

 

equipment and debris. As the grenades detonated above him, he launched

 

himself up and into the hole in the ceiling.

 

He felt somebody pushing his feet up as he scrabbled into the

 

room. He rolled clear of the hole, firing stun bolts wildly, in case

 

anybody was still moving. It wasn't necessary. Nobody on the bridge

 

was armoured, or wearing gas-masks, and they were all down.

 

"Bridge secured." He reported, as more troopers scrambled up

 

through the hole in the floor. Seconds later, he heard radio reports

 

of other squads reporting in.

 

"Engineering secured."

 

"Hangars secured."

 

"Secondary bridge secured."

 

The squad which had won control of the hangars had droids with

 

them, and the droids got to work straight away, attempting to repair

 

the control circuits for the hangar doors. The ship was not designed

 

for self-repair of circuits fused by ionic weapons, and it took the

 

droids some time to work around the problem. During this time, Nerak

 

and the other squads had to fend off several attacks from the station

 

crew attempting to wrest back control.

 

"Hangar doors opening."

 

Seconds later, a large shuttle came in and landed in the

 

hangar, disgorging forty troopers. Another forty followed seconds

 

later, and the two shuttles returned to the Star Destroyer for a

 

second load. Within minutes, the entire station was secured.

 

"That wasn't too bad." Nerak commented.

 

"Sith! I wish all boarding actions were so easy." Another

 

trooper responded. "No automated defences, no battle droids, no

 

grenades or thermal detonators. And those colourful uniforms! Talk

 

about wearing a nerf-eye!"

 

"Next time, we can just flood the damn ship with stun-gas.

 

They weren't even wearing gas-masks. Haw Haw."

 

Only seven troopers had been killed, and eighteen were

 

receiving treatment for neurological damage from disruptor weapons.

 

The remaining troopers were still coming down from their adrenaline

 

rush, and lots of jokes and nervous laughter was exchanged as the

 

adrenaline wore off.

 

 

 

 

 

"The computer systems?" Storve asked.

 

"Still operational, but many peripheral systems are damaged.

 

Their circuits are hard to repair, and it will take time to get the

 

base operational. We have tasked some of the prisoners to assist,

 

using threats of violence against their comrades. They have a high

 

level of consideration for their compatriots, and it appears to be a

 

successful tactic."

 

"Starmaps?"

 

"Apparently they do have extensive starmaps. Once we have got

 

into the computer system, we will transfer them. There is one more

 

thing, captain."

 

"Yes?"

 

"Their communications systems are rather slow, and during

 

interrogation we discovered that they had no foreknowledge of us from

 

the ships we destroyed at the wormhole. It is therefore quite

 

conceivable that their government doesn't even know they're being

 

invaded."

 

"Thank You, Lieutenant."

 

Storve turned to the holo-board alongside his command chair,

 

and punched in the code for Commodore Heyward. Heyward gave exactly

 

the orders Storve had suspected he would.

 

"Maintain sub-space silence, any ships detected are to be

 

intercepted and destroyed before they can issue any warnings. All

 

worlds detected are to be reduced to level two civilisations. We won't

 

bother to invade them, we'll just cut them off from this so-called

 

Federation. The word is bound to get out sooner or later, but no point

 

in making it easy for them."

 

"Understood, Sir."

 

"You have done well, Storve. I will be keeping an eye on you.

 

Keep this up and you will be well rewarded."

 

"Thank you. Sir."

 

The admiral cut the transmission. The only thing Storve needed

 

now was to get into the damn computer of this so-called starbase.

 

"Lieutenant."

 

"Yes, sir?"

 

"How long do the tech teams still need?"

 

"Their current estimate is two hours sir, for minimum repairs

 

to be conducted."

 

"Two hours! We only hit it with a few ion cannons!"

 

"Yes, sir. Apparently their computer systems are not

 

self-repairing. Fused systems do not automatically re-route, but have

 

to be manually replaced, and the technology is alien."

 

Storve settled back to wait. No doubt Judicator and the other

 

ships were having a field day searching out more colony worlds, and

 

bombing them back into the dark ages, while he was sitting here

 

twiddling his thumbs. To give himself something to do, he started

 

revising the battle logs of the last seven hours.

 

 

 

 

 

Storve's reading of the battle plans were punctuated by

 

computer filtered reports from the other Star Destroyers. Besides the

 

Annihilator and Judicator, there were six other Star Destroyers

 

operating in this galaxy. Two of them were patrolling the area of the

 

wormhole. The Annihilator, Judicator and the four other Destroyers had

 

between them launched one hundred and twenty probe droids. So far,

 

eighteen small colony worlds had been discovered within a few hundred

 

light-years of the wormhole. The five Star Destroyers had bombarded

 

eleven of the worlds into a pre-space-flight state. The next five

 

would be hit within the next few minutes.

 

Before being hit, each world was first isolated, any nearby

 

sub-space booster-stations would be destroyed, the world's

 

communications jammed, satellites destroyed, launch and landing

 

facilities destroyed, and every sign of space-related industry bombed

 

from orbit until nothing remained. The purpose of this was firstly to

 

prevent the worlds from cobbling together anything remotely capable of

 

interstellar communication, at least for a few weeks or months, and

 

secondly to remove the support base of any enemy starships in the

 

area.

 

One of the lights on Storve's wrap-around panel lit up. Power

 

had been restored to the nearby starbase. He was already reaching for

 

the controls of the holo-board when it lit up.

 

"Sir."

 

"You have power lieutenant."

 

"Yes, sir. The computer core of the starbase has extensive

 

records. We are transferring it as we speak."

 

"Starmaps?"

 

"Not very extensive sir, merely a few thousand light years

 

worth. Apparently they have not explored much of this galaxy."

 

"Strip the base of anything that might be interesting to

 

investigate. As soon as all data has been transferred, bring your

 

teams back. Bring any captured senior officers as well."

 

"Yes, sir. The transfer should be complete in ten minutes.

 

Translation into Basic has already begun."

 

Storve cut the transmission.

 

 

 

 

 

The Star Destroyer moved away from the starbase. A few hundred

 

starfleet personnel and several civilians still remained on the base.

 

They were no concern of Storve's. He had the prisoners he needed.

 

"Open fire."

 

One broadside was all that was needed. The starbase was two or

 

three times larger than the Destroyer, but it had never been designed

 

to cope with the level of fury unleashed upon it, especially without

 

shields. Several holes were punched right through the structure,

 

causing numerous secondary explosions. A few turbolasers had been set

 

to detonate upon impact, and these blew gaping holes in the bulbous

 

structure, setting it spinning slowly. Rocked by multiple internal

 

explosions, weakened by dozens of holes punched through it's

 

structure, the alien space-station slowly broke apart, still burning

 

furiously. A series of large explosions marked the puncturing of it's

 

anti-matter storage facilities, then it was consumed in a nuclear

 

fury.

 

The Star Destroyer had not even bothered to wait for this

 

final dying gasp, it had long since jumped to hyperspace. Storve was

 

eager to get back to business. By the time he had bombed the planet

 

nearest to him, the computer should have finished translating the

 

first of the starcharts and incorporated it into the navigational

 

computers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-TWELVE HOURS - SAN FRANCISCO

 

 

 

Senator John Ryan was furious. He hated the supercilious starfleet

 

types and their condescending mannerisms. He had dozens of matters to

 

resolve, a tedious business at the best of times given the unavoidable

 

delays in inter-stellar communications, but in the last few hours

 

things had gone from tedious to ponderous to nothing.

 

"Admiral," He spoke into the vid-screen, "I have been waiting

 

for seven hours for word from my constituents. A delay of two or three

 

hours is normal, but seven hours? I have not even received an

 

acknowledgement of receipt!"

 

"Senator, I am sure that word will come through soon. Perhaps

 

the message has had to be re-routed because of sub-space interference.

 

These things do happen."

 

"I am afraid that is just not good enough, Admiral. The

 

Federation diverts a substantial amount of resources to starfleet for

 

maintenance of your precious starships. If we had a monetary economy,

 

you would have bankrupted us by now. I want you to send a ship to

 

ensure that communications are properly restored."

 

"Senator, starships can not be re-tasked for minor

 

communications glitches. We have few enough of them as it is, and the

 

Romulans have been ..."

 

"Admiral! I will not be held to ransom by your petty plays for

 

more resources and more starships. You will sort out this problem.

 

Now!"

 

The senator cut the transmission with a slap of his hand. He

 

sometimes wished for an older age, when communications could be more

 

forcefully cut. Suppressing his frustration, he attempted to calm

 

himself so he could get back to the business of government.

 

 

 

 

 

A few kilometers away, in Starfleet headquarters, the Admiral

 

shrugged. Senator Ryan was a difficult person at the best of times. He

 

wasn't going to let anything slip to Ryan, but starfleet operations

 

had noticed the deteriorating communications from the rimward colonies

 

with growing alarm. Orders had been sent to the California, the

 

closest starship to the affected region, several hours ago. They

 

should have received the orders by now, but would take days to get

 

there.

 

The cause of his worry was multi-fold. They had received a

 

transmission three hours ago from Starbase 133 about a possible

 

wormhole being investigated, but nothing since then. Starbase 133 was

 

the only Starfleet facility in that region, and had a full squadron of

 

starships attached to it. Nothing heavy or spectacular, but enough to

 

give anybody pause. It was strange that not even the ships had

 

reported in. The California was a Galaxy-class starship, not the best,

 

but better than anything that Starbase 133 had at it's disposal.

 

Considering this, he decided to send another ship.

 

"Ensign, what else do we have close to that sector?"

 

"Sir, starbase 132 has two Akira's in her squadron. They are

 

not the closest, but they are the most powerful ships for several

 

dozen light years in any direction. They can get there in four days."

 

"That's a day after the California. Well, better safe than

 

sorry. Get them moving, then."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

Admiral Boyd called up a Quadrant level map. The sector which

 

had gone 'dark' was right on the edge of Federation space, on the

 

rimward side of the galaxy. There was nothing significant out that

 

way. Most of his best ships were on the coreward side of Federation

 

space, within easy warp distance of the usual hot-spots. The Romulans,

 

Klingons, Cardassia, and the Bajoran Wormhole. The rest of the fleet

 

was scattered all around the edge of Federation space, with the lowest

 

concentration of ships on the quiet rimward side, and mostly they were

 

old ships. Maybe he should move a few more ships around that way, he

 

decided.

 

He started issuing a string of orders, increasing squadron

 

strengths in Rimward starbases, and re-deploying his newer ships to

 

strengthen squadrons he had depleted. The end result would be that a

 

lot of older ships would be moved Rimwards, resulting in an increase

 

in numbers more than anything else, while the newer ships were spread

 

thinly along traditional frontiers, their individual strength making

 

up for lack of numbers. It would take days for the new fleet

 

dispositions to take effect, but it would increase his flexibility

 

should the communication problem in the Rimward sector turn out to be

 

something serious.

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-TWELVE HOURS - BRIDGE OF THE ANNIHILATOR

 

 

 

"Have those records been analysed yet."

 

"Nearly done sir. A lot of it was useless. Personal logs, art,

 

entertainment, cultural information, and garbage like that. We deleted

 

most of it, and recorded the rest for the anthropologists and

 

xenobiologists."

 

"I am not interested in anthropology. The scientists can

 

discover what they like from the ruins afterwards. Fleet dispositions,

 

starmaps, inhabited worlds, industrial centres, shipyards. These are

 

what concern me."

 

"Yes, sir. We have identified eighty-two more worlds. Probe

 

droids have been despatched to map hyperspace routes, and to assess

 

threat-levels. We have also discovered six starbases within two

 

hundred light-years. It appears that each starbase has a detachment of

 

ships assigned to it, ranging from ten vessels to fifteen vessels.

 

They are classified as older ships, with one or two newer warships in

 

each squadron. All the ships are rather small though, averaging about

 

three hundred meters."

 

Storve considered his option. His orders were to prioritise

 

industrial and military targets, and not necessarily to engage the

 

enemy. However, if he did not engage the enemy, those starships would

 

quickly get word out that they were being invaded.

 

"Patch me through to Commodore Heyward." He finally ordered.

 

The Commodore had of course been going through his own copies

 

of the records transmitted to him by the Annihilator, and had already

 

despatched ships to bombard certain planets identified as having

 

significant industrial capacity.

 

"Sir. I suggest a hard strike against these starbases will

 

leave the entire sector open."

 

"Denied. Those starbases are defended by a dozen capital ships

 

each. I only have eight Star Destroyers at my disposal. I don't need

 

one of them to be damaged. Once the Empire can spare more ships, we'll

 

hit the starbases."

 

"Their ships are not very powerful sir. I have engaged and

 

destroyed several of them already."

 

"According to my analysis of the captured enemy's records,

 

those ships were old, and close to being de-comissioned anyway.

 

According to your battle-logs, you engaged them in smaller groups, not

 

all at the same time. The wormhole, and the suddenness of your attack

 

separated them from each other. Hitting a starbase means you go up

 

against the whole lot all at once, and some of those ships are newer

 

models. Now, you may have met with success so far, but don't get too

 

eager. You have your orders."

 

The commodore cut the communications.

 

Storve fumed. Well, orders were orders, he may not agree with

 

them, but nobody got shot for following orders, even if they were

 

wrong. He glanced down his list of targets. Seeing nothing of note, he

 

ordered an attack on the nearest planet.

 

The Star Destroyer jumped directly into high-orbit on the

 

planet, opening fire on all satellites in line of sight even as it

 

launched it's fighters and bombers. A pre-set ECM package was

 

broadcast, blanketing the entire star system in noise and static,

 

blotting out a surprised squawk from the planet below. A turbolaser

 

cannon was automatically tracked onto the source of the surprised

 

squawk, and a full power blast fired. A flash from the surface, and a

 

rippling shockwave expanding through the atmosphere was the only

 

visible sign of millions of deaths as an entire city died. A few

 

seconds later, having scanned the entire hemisphere, a few low-powered

 

shots were fired at selected targets, while the fighters and bombers

 

curved around the planet to deal with the far side.

 

Minutes later, the fighters were being retrieved, and the Star

 

Destroyer prepared to jump to it's next target. Feeling a bit better

 

now, Storve sat back in his command seat for a second, then got up. He

 

had been on the bridge for fifteen hours, nearly two full watches, and

 

it had been an eventful day since the discovery of the wormhole this

 

morning. There was still an hour before the next watch change, but he

 

saw no need to stay on the bridge. His officers could handle the

 

bombings.

 

"Continue down the list of targets. I will be in my cabin.

 

Call me if anything happens."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-TWENTY HOURS - SAN FRANCISCO

 

 

 

"Admiral Boyd."

 

"Yes?" What now, he thought. It was still two days before the

 

California would get to the vicinity of Starbase 133. Surely there

 

couldn't be another problem.

 

"We have received a report from the California."

 

"But it's still two days out from 133."

 

"Sir, you'd better come and look."

 

Boyd cut the communication, and swung out of bed. Minutes

 

later, feeling only slightly refreshed, he walked into the command

 

centre. His staff was ready for him, and a quadrant level map was

 

displayed on the main view-screen. Boyd's eyes narrowed. The one

 

darkened sector which had been experiencing communications problems

 

had grown. A large blotch of darkness marred the map of Federation

 

space, with a thick greyed out zone surrounding it. The icon

 

representing the California was now inside the grey area.

 

"The black area is where we know we have lost communications.

 

The grey area represents systems from which no recent communications

 

have been received. We have not yet confirmed loss of communication

 

with those sectors. The communications black-out is spreading, and

 

spreading fast."

 

Even as he watched the display, another system was marked as

 

grey, and two more confirmed black. A wave of darkness was engulfing

 

the Federation. Even as the thought came to him, a chill ran down his

 

spine, a feeling that started deep in the still-reptilean base of his

 

brain.

 

"Darkness comes." He said softly, then shrugged the

 

superstitious thought aside. Superstition was for the ignorant.

 

"You said you had a report from the California?"

 

"Yes, sir." The view-screen changed, showing a planet, with

 

the voice of the California's captain providing narrative.

 

"We were on course for Starbase 133, and in passing within

 

communications range of this world, requested a routine colony status

 

update. Receiving no response, and apprised of the loss of

 

communications in the area around Starbase 133, decided to

 

investigate. This is what we found."

 

The image on the view-screen zoomed in, then changed to an

 

aerial view of a smoke covered city. A crater in the centre of the

 

city marked some sort of blast zone, with large parts of the ground

 

still glowing red. Spread outwards from the blast zone was a large

 

blackened area with no signs of life. As the view-point shifted, the

 

remains of buildings could be seen, with fires still raging. The

 

destruction was spread over an area some twenty kilometers across,

 

encompassing several hundred square kilometers.

 

"Tell me that was an asteroid strike."

 

The view-screen cleared. A nearby officer cleared his throat.

 

"All the cities and towns on the planet were hit, both hemispheres,

 

and every single satellite destroyed, as well as all nearby sub-space

 

boosters, hence the communications black-out. The last transmission

 

from the California was an indication that they were staying on

 

torender assistance to the survivors."

 

Boyd's face hardened. He unbuttoned his jacket, and his

 

surprised staff were treated to the unusual site of the Admiral

 

rolling up his sleeves like a common worker about to get down to a

 

grim task.

 

"Recall the California. Have them report to Starbase 132.

 

Divert the Akira's to Starbase 132 as well. I hereby order a Starfleet

 

Grade One override of Federation diplomatic functions, and order the

 

revoking of clauses ninety three through one hundred and seven of the

 

Klingon peace accords. That should make the Klingons happy. Order

 

every ship on the Klingon frontier to report to Starbases 101 through

 

148. Then strip every single ship we can from the neutral zone and the

 

Cardassian frontier, and spread them across the Klingon frontier. I

 

also want the Earth Defense Fleet increased in strength from twenty

 

starships to forty.

 

"Send orders to all starbases in the quadrant to commence

 

manufacture of self-replicating mines, and to seed the orbital space

 

of all nearby planets with them. Incorporate cloaking devices into the

 

mines and to hell with the Romulans. Under Protocol Seven of the

 

Federation Constitution I also authorise starfleet personnel to

 

commandeer all resource production and to divert any and all resources

 

available for starfleet usage. Now get the President on a secure

 

channel."

 

The quadrant-level map had reappeared on the main view-screen.

 

Another star system was greyed out. Boyd knew they might as well mark

 

it as blacked out. The investigation of the wormhole by Starbase 133

 

must have unleashed some terrible force that was now invading

 

Federation space, and by God, they were trying to do it on his watch!

 

Not while he could help it.

 

The rate of invasion was phenomenal. The blacked out area was

 

expanding faster than a warp ship could keep up with. If the rate of

 

expansion was maintained, they would reach the heart of Federation

 

space in days. That didn't give them much time to prepare. His only

 

hope was that as the enemy forces penetrated deeper into Federation

 

space, the number of inhabited systems and starbases would overwhelm

 

them and slow down their rate of advance. He knew billions of people

 

must already have died, and billions more still would, but there was

 

nothing he could do for now.

 

"Have all my command staff transferred to the Sovereign. I am

 

moving my command centre to Starbase 74."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

Starbase 74 was more than halfway towards the blacked out

 

area. Moving his command to it would drastically reduce the lag-time

 

in inter-stellar communications. The only problem was, it was four

 

days away even at high warp.

 

"Do we even know what the enemy looks like?"

 

There was no answer. Except for the blacked out area on the

 

starmap, and the visuals of a devastated planet, no further evidence

 

of an invasion had reached them yet.

 

 

 

 

 

D-MINUS SIXTEEN HOURS (FOUR HOURS EARLIER)

 

The Galaxy-class Starship California had just finished

 

transmitting their report to Starfleet Headquarters. The planet below

 

was a particularly beautiful planet. Or had been. Now it's mottled

 

green and brown surface was scarred by raging fires and the glow of

 

newly awakened volcanoes. It's wispy pink and white atmosphere was

 

scarred by long dirty tracks of grey and black smoke. It was hard to

 

believe that their were still people alive down there. The

 

California's transporters were unable to get a solid lock on any of

 

the life-forms detected due to the high levels of dust, the heat waves

 

and the turbulence. As a result, a number of shuttles were despatched,

 

loaded with medical supplies and medics. A handful of security

 

personnel accompanied the medical teams, hoping to get some

 

information out of the survivors.

 

The Starship tracked it's shuttles as far as it could as they

 

descended into the maelstrom below. Soon however, no trace remained of

 

the shuttles. Only the starship itself was visible. The starship

 

captain was not worried though, he had faith in his pilots. They would

 

have turned back if the conditions were not passable. There was no

 

sign of the enemy, so the starship was on a high alert status, though

 

not at battle-stations. As such, there was a fatal hesitation in their

 

response when the Star Destroyer Judicator jumped into the system.

 

The Judicator had tracked the starship's sub-space signature

 

on it's way to the system, and had been laying in sensor-stealthed

 

mode behind one of the outer planets. As soon as the starship's orbit

 

had been established, it had initiated it's attack. It flickered into

 

position behind the unsuspecting starship, and fired several volleys

 

of turbolaser fire into the rear of the starship before it responded.

 

The California was the most powerful starship encountered so far, and

 

it did not go down easily. It powered away on Impulse (after

 

ascertaining that warp was denied), firing photon torpedoes out of

 

it's rearwards facing tubes.

 

The Star Destroyer however still had the superior position,

 

being behind it and in a higher orbit, albeit inverted. The starship

 

shuddered as one of it's warp nacelles broke away under the barrage,

 

it's shields battered aside. It side-slipped the next few volleys of

 

fire, firing a second brace of photon torpedoes, and raking the Star

 

Destroyer with it's phasers. Six of the photons were shot down, one

 

detonated short of the Star Destroyer, and another against it's

 

shields. The phaser beams rapidly reduced the shields, but before it

 

could penetrate the shields the California died.

 

The Star Destroyer remained in orbit for another thirty

 

seconds, scanning the wreckage, it's weapons occasionally flickering

 

green as it made sure that nothing significant survived. Satisfied, it

 

pointed it's nose at the stars, and with a flicker pseudomotion, it

 

was gone.

 

The wreckage of the California was left alone in orbit, a few

 

pieces falling into the upper atmosphere ignited as they were

 

destroyed by re-entry. Amongst the wreckage, an innocuous piece of the

 

wreckage began to transmit a short and very low-powered pulse at

 

random intervals. It was still transmitting two hours later when one

 

of the shuttles returned from the surface. The 'black box' was

 

suddenly de-atomised, only to re-materialise inside the shuttle. The

 

shuttle broke orbit, and dived into the atmosphere below at high

 

velocity. Minutes later it reappeared, but made no attempt to achieve

 

any form of orbit. It hesitated, as if gathering strength, then

 

launched itself at the stars. It did not have a transmitter capable of

 

reaching any nearby starbase without assitance from a nearby booster,

 

but it could get to within range of a starbase under it's own power.

 

It had to.

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D-PLUS-TWENTY SIX HOURS

 

The Sovereign crawled across the space between the stars. Or

 

so it seemed to Boyd. They were travelling several thousand times the

 

speed of light, but given the immensity of the distance between the

 

stars, it would still take them days to travel to his new

 

headquarters.

 

"Sir?"

 

"Yes, commander."

 

"I thought it best to tell you. We have not received an

 

acknowledgement of the recall order from California. Either they do

 

not wish to return to a starbase, or they are unable to respond."

 

"Thank you, commander."

 

Boyd kneaded his forehead. The California was a Galaxy-class

 

starship. It was about the third most powerful class of starship

 

available to Starfleet. It was only outgunned by the Akiras, of which

 

there no more than a couple of hundred spread very thinly throughout a

 

ten thousand light-year sphere, and the Sovereign-class, of which

 

there were less than ten in service currently, and also spread very

 

thinly.

 

 

 

Shuttle zero seven, previously of the GCS California, was

 

approaching extreme sub-space range of starbase 132. It began

 

transmitting the contents of the California's 'black box', a recording

 

of the starship's last moments. The transmission lasted for five

 

seconds, then repeated. The pilots of the shuttle had no doubt that

 

they were making a lot of signal noise. They also knew that the

 

starbase was well inside the 'black zone', and was possibly under

 

observation by the invaders, if not already destroyed.

 

After ten minutes, the pilots were sure that the message would

 

reach it's destination, and stopped transmitting. They immediately

 

changed course, heading for the more distant starbase 91, several days

 

away. They had no intention of putting all their eggs in one basket.

 

 

 

Probe alpha-one-seven was positioned between the shuttle and

 

the starbase, and so picked up the alien transmission seconds before

 

it arrived at the starbase. There was nothing it could do though,

 

except log that fact that a coded transmission had been received by

 

the starbase. Half a minute later, an identical transmission was made

 

from the starbase, at a much higher power setting. The transmission

 

was obviously being relayed to another point. The probe decided that

 

the message must be important. It abandoned all attempts at secrecy,

 

and contacted it's 'parent', the Annihilator.

 

 

 

Storve ran his eyes down the probe's report. A coded

 

transmission had been received by the Starbase from the direction of

 

one of the planets supposedly silenced by the Judicator. The

 

transmission had been relayed towards another starbase several dozen

 

light-years away. No doubt there were booster stations in-between

 

connecting them. Uncertain as to what to do, he contacted Heyward.

 

"I will despatch the Judicator to silence the planet properly

 

this time," Heyward answered, "there is nothing you can do about the

 

message. We don't have the ships to attack a fully defended starbase

 

at this time."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-TWENTY-EIGHT-HOURS

 

 

 

The Judicator arrived in orbit over the same planet for the

 

third time in a handful of hours. The captain was red-faced. He had

 

been chewed out by Heyward, in public. He had in turn chewed out his

 

sensor technicians and operators. The Star Destroyer unleashed it's

 

fury on the planet below, commencing an all-weapons bombardment that

 

would drain it's energy reserves to nearly zero in the matter of an

 

hour or two. By the end of that time, nothing remained of the

 

pink-white atmosphere of the planet. All that was left was a ball of

 

molten rock, the yellow-orange glow broken in several places by the

 

angry red of massive volcanic eruptions, as the planet's mantle fought

 

to recreate the crust that had been destroyed.

 

It's energy spent, the Star Destroyer remained in orbit for

 

several hours. It's reactor was running at full power, slowly

 

recharging the auxiliary power cells of the weapons, the shields, the

 

hyperdrive, life-support and the emergency banks. All these cells had

 

been drained as power was diverted into the weapons systems to sustain

 

the bombardment. It had used up more than a year's supply of it's fuel

 

in the operation. The hull of the immense warship was a hive of

 

activity as droids worked to repair and replace over-heated turbolaser

 

barrels. Four of them had been heated so badly that the barrels had

 

fused, and the nearby deck plates had run molten.

 

The Judicator's crew had vented their humiliation on the

 

planet below, but now would have to sit idle for half a day before

 

being ready to continue operations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-THIRTY FOUR HOURS

 

 

 

The Sovereign had left Earth behind several hours ago, and was

 

drawing ever closer to Starbase 74. It had been pushing beyond warp

 

nine for more than twelve hours now, and the engineers were wide-eyed,

 

frantically working to keep the wildly fluctuating warp-core going.

 

Captain Lowe had finally had enough.

 

"To hell with Boyd." He muttered, and ordered a reduction to

 

warp eight.

 

In the conference room which Boyd had commandeered he felt the

 

change in the ship signifying the lowering of the war factor. He

 

shrugged. He knew they could not have maintained maximum warp for much

 

longer. The command staff continued with their jobs. Seventy two of

 

the re-assigned ships had reached their destinations so far, but at

 

least eight hundred ships were still on the way from the far reaches

 

of the Federation. Boyd and his staff were commandeering every

 

freighter they could, and re-tasking them to transport much needed

 

anti-matter supplies to the front-lines, or assisting with the

 

operation of laying mines to protect strategic worlds.

 

 

 

Word of the invasion was spreading amongst the civilian

 

populations as fast as sub-space would allow, but not nearly as fast

 

as the rumour-mill preceding it. Dozens of worlds were in open revolt,

 

screaming for starship coverage. In the areas immediately outside the

 

'black zone', panic-stricken colonists were evacuating the cities as

 

fast as they could. Those who had access to starships had long since

 

left for nearby starbases or better defended worlds. Many starbases

 

had been swamped by the influx of civilian vessels. They just didn't

 

have the docking facilities to handle so many vessels.

 

 

 

Starships arriving over Federation worlds were welcomed with

 

open arms by the relieved populations, then cursed as they sped on

 

their way to the next planet, having seeded the orbit with

 

self-replicating mines. Many sent a silent thanks after the starships,

 

relieved to at least have the protection of the mines. The more

 

cynical prayed that the mines wouldn't fall on their own heads. A

 

number of civilian ships which had left the evacuation too late were

 

now trapped below the minefields. A few tried to get out anyway, not

 

having faith in the devices to protect them from the faceless

 

onslaught approaching. The minefields eagerly sucked them in, making

 

maximum use of the raw materials provided to manufacture additional

 

mines.

 

 

 

The old pontiac-class freighter arrived at starbase 128 with

 

some relief. It was overloaded with civilians, more than it's

 

life-support systems had been designed to cope with. The crew were

 

dismayed to be ordered to be on their way. The starbase was already

 

packed to the gills with refugees, and all it's bays were occupied by

 

military vessels. A request for nutrient base and anti-matter fuel was

 

denied. All starship related supplies had been diverted for military

 

use. The pilot swore at the military controller, and made as if to

 

head for the nearby planet. The controller warned him off. The

 

planet's orbital space had been heavily mined.

 

After some extended begging, the pontiac crew gave up. They

 

assumed a holding position in close proximity to the starbase. The

 

starbase commander looked out with some dismay. The space around his

 

starbase was beginning to look like an old trailer park, surrounded by

 

dozens of barely space-worthy ships. It appeared that everything with

 

a warp-core had decided to camp out in his backyard. If the starbase

 

came under attack, things could get very ugly.

 

"To hell with orders. Refuel those ships and send them on

 

their way. I want my lanes kept clear."

 

 

 

 

 

Other starbases took a more realistic view. The military would

 

need those fuel supplies in the coming weeks, especially seeing that

 

the only fresh supplies would have to be ferried in from dozens of

 

light-years away across hostile space. The larger ships were sometimes

 

refuelled, and as many refugees as possible transferred to them, then

 

they were sent on their way. For those that couldn't be accommodated,

 

minefields around friendly planets were deactivated and the ships

 

ordered to land. On several occasions starfleet personnel were forced

 

to stun or otherwise subdue civilians who felt they would be safer

 

onboard a starbase or military ship than a planet.

 

Rumours about the nature of the enemy were getting uglier by

 

the minute, few believed that they faced a mortal enemy. The few

 

descriptions of the wave of darkness spreading across the Federation

 

that were relayed to civilians only fuelled the rumours even more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-THIRTY-EIGHT HOURS

 

"Admiral Boyd."

 

"Yes."

 

"A transmission from starbase 132. It is a black box

 

recording, from the California."

 

Boyd gritted his teeth. That meant the California was

 

confirmed dead.

 

"Analysis?"

 

The officer ran through a quick analysis of the California's

 

last moments. The command staff watched as an immense wedge-shaped

 

space-ship seemed to appear out of nowhere, right on the California's

 

six. The California's crew frantically attempted to engage warp, to no

 

avail, as the starship rocked from multiple hits. Several systems were

 

knocked off-line as the helms-man attempted to turn the ship so more

 

weapons could be brought to bear. The tactical officer was thrown to

 

the floor as half the bridge was swept away by an internal explosion.

 

She lunged back to her station and resumed firing, half her uniform

 

burnt away and her right arm, right breast and half her face burnt to

 

a crisp. Her last action was to fire a full volley of photon

 

torpedoes. The recording ended, with a note by a shuttle pilot that a

 

scan of the debris had revealed nothing of non-Federation manufacture.

 

The California had died bravely, but had not bloodied the attacker at

 

all.

 

"Commendations for the shuttle crew for getting this data to

 

us. A medal to the California's tactical officer, and to her

 

helms-man. Any thoughts on the attackers? Cloaking device? Weapon

 

types?"

 

"The way they snuck up on the California, had to be a cloaking

 

device. The ship registered clearly on the California's sensors, but

 

there was no sign of an approach, except for a half second of

 

deceleration just before it opened fire. The primary weapons used were

 

bolts of plasma, superheated, and fired at relativistic velocities.

 

Only good for short ranges of course, since they would be unguided.

 

Secondary weapons were bolts of charged particles, which caused hell

 

with the California's shielding and electromagnetic devices."

 

"Weapon power levels?"

 

"No solid readings, Sir. The hits the California took ranged

 

from photon torpedo level to way over quantum torpedo level. Probably

 

different weapon sizes. The primary weapon seemed to be several

 

kilograms - possibly more than a hundred kilograms - of a relatively

 

dense plasma, superheated to tens of thousand degrees Kelvin. Even

 

near misses registered as hits on the shields."

 

"To fire that amount of mass at relativistic velocities would

 

require immense energy," Boyd speculated. "The Romulans experimented

 

with weapons like that, but had to design a whole new ship type to

 

accommodate the recoil, and the weapons required regular calibration.

 

They were only good for a few shots. We know the Romulans still have

 

the technology, but have never been able to afford a whole new fleet

 

make-over. At least now we know what we're up against, and it's

 

technological, so we can stop it. Prepare a limited report for public

 

release, just enough to quell any rumours of superbeings or giant

 

black-holes."

 

 

 

 

 

Storve was idly tapping his hand to his knee as he watched the

 

holo-display. Another boring bombardment. Their seventh for the day.

 

On the holo-display a significant portion of a hemisphere was

 

scrolling past, as the ISD powered it's way around the planet in a low

 

orbit. Green lines stabbed into the holographic ground as turbolasers

 

lashed at industrial facilities. One after another icons representing

 

high technology industries winked out.

 

"Operation completed, sir."

 

"Very well, take us to the next target."

 

The next target was significantly deeper inside Federation

 

space, and not too far from a starbase. The starbases themselves were

 

being avoided for now, while the neighbouring systems were subdued.

 

Once that phase of the operation was done, the real action would begin

 

when the fleet moved against the starbases.

 

"ETA to next target?"

 

"Fourteen minutes, sir."

 

"Very well."

 

Storve was getting bored with this whole operation. They were

 

approaching the end of the second day in this galaxy, and after the

 

initial excitement, it was just one boring bombardment after another.

 

In the back of his mind, a niggling worry had started. He knew the

 

enemy was now aware of the invasion, and would start taking defensive

 

measures. It was understandable that their stardrive was slow, hence

 

the delay in a response, but things wouldn't stay like this. The enemy

 

was bound to start responding to the invasion soon.

 

"Approaching destination. Disengaging hyperdrive."

 

Another G-type star appeared in the distance ahead of the Star

 

Destroyer. To one side, barely visible, was a sliver of light in a

 

crescent shape. Their target.

 

"Scan for enemy ships." Storve didn't really expect anything,

 

they had sent a probe through this system only an hour ago and it

 

hadn't detected anything.

 

"System is clean."

 

"Life-signs and industrial overlay for the target."

 

"Reading. Activated."

 

The holo-display lit up, showing a false-colour image of the

 

planet, the colours representing life-sign densities and concentration

 

of industries. The planet was more heavily populated than average,

 

with a significant industrial base.

 

"Planetary defences?"

 

"All high-energy readings detected are consistent with

 

fusion-based power-plants. Satellites are unarmed. No surface

 

defensive installations detected."

 

"Very well, move in to repulsor range. Gun crews stand by for

 

level two bombardment. Weapons are free. Weapons are free."

 

The Star Destroyer moved in closer to the planet, one or two

 

guns firing ranging shots at the larger targets. From this range, only

 

the medium and heavy turbolasers would get significant atmospheric

 

penetration. Lighter weapons would detonate in the atmosphere,

 

reducing the efficiency of the bombing operation. The superheated

 

plasma radiated a lot of it's heat into space, and from a range of

 

several light-seconds would lose a lot of it's energy. Though it would

 

still impact heavily on the atmosphere, the blast wave might not be

 

sufficient to damage hardened ground targets.

 

"Drive emissions detected! Multiple cloaked targets! All

 

bearings!"

 

"Mines. The orbit is mined."

 

"Point defences, track drive emissions, fire at will. Helm,

 

come around twenty degrees. Full power to engines. Navigation, plot a

 

jump to the edge of the system."

 

The Star Destroyer had a lot of forward momentum, and the

 

enemy mines were launching themselves on intercept bearings, their

 

drive emissions the only clue to their existence. It was too late to

 

back out, but Storve hoped by changing direction and accelerating, he

 

would spoil the intercept courses of the mines, or force them to

 

reveal their positions by firing their thrusters. Twenty degrees would

 

be sufficient to veer away from the planet, without having to fight

 

their own momentum.

 

A flash behind and to one side told him of a mine that had

 

activated it's proximity fuse.

 

"Full ECM, don't make it easy for them to track us."

 

Several guns were firing, setting up flak-bursts in the paths

 

of suspected mines as calculated from observed drive-emissions. Storve

 

stood at the transparisteel view-port, and watched anxiously as his

 

gunners tried to knock down the invisible mines. The view-ports

 

automatic filters cut in to block out a bright flash just ahead of the

 

Star Destroyer. For several seconds a series of bright flashes lit up

 

the bridge, the automatic filters unable to block them out altogether.

 

The deck rumbled slightly. Either a very near miss or a direct hit.

 

"Shields?"

 

"Holding, sir. Forward dorsal shield is at forty percent.

 

Minor damage to forward targeting systems. Some of the hull-mounted

 

sensors are dysfunctional."

 

"Navigation?"

 

"Seconds. Nearly done."

 

"Jump at will."

 

The stars vanished for a brief instant, then re-appeared.

 

Storve glanced at his tactical display. They had jumped to the edge of

 

the system.

 

"Damage report."

 

"Nothing serious. One blown shield generator, several external

 

sensors destroyed, forward targeting computers damaged, several dorsal

 

batteries report possible damage to gun barrels. Left to the droids,

 

we can sort it out in eight hours. With a friendly dockyard, three

 

hours."

 

"Weapons efficiency?"

 

"Seventy two percent on the forward-dorsal batteries. All

 

other batteries are at one hundred percent."

 

Storve considered another run on the planet below, but decided

 

against it. He could bombard them from long-range, or with missiles,

 

but it would take very long. Alternately he could use missiles and

 

TIEs to test the minefield, probably destroy it, but that would also

 

take long, and there was no guarantee that he would get all the mines.

 

"Send a general warning to the fleet. The enemy has seeded

 

their orbital space with mines. They have level three cloaking

 

devices, and are detectable by drive emissions from their manoeuvring

 

thrusters. All ships are to be on the lookout for ships out-fitted

 

with similar cloaking devices. We will return to the wormhole, and

 

conduct repairs there unless ordered otherwise."

 

Storve considered their options. All Star Destroyers were

 

equipped with static damping and sensor stealth capability, which

 

reduced the ships sensor profile and prevented casual scanning, but

 

certainly didn't render the ship invisible. Fighters and scout ships

 

were generally equipped with slightly better sensor damping devices,

 

rendering them virtually undetectable except at tactical ranges, and

 

even then a decent ECM package prevented positive tracking of

 

fighters. The TIE's were better at this than rebel fighters, being

 

smaller than Republic fighters and being manufactured from Radiation

 

Absorbant Materials. Their lack of life-support and shielding helped

 

immensely.

 

Level three cloaks were familiar to the Empire, but frowned

 

upon for a number of reasons. The cloaking device worked on a dual

 

principal. Absorption of all radiation emitted by the ship, and a

 

modification of the electrostatic nature of the ship so that it was

 

effectively transparent. The absorption of all radiation emitted by

 

the ship resulted in a number of disadvantages. The most notable being

 

that the ship was forced to run on minimal power, even shutting down

 

non-essential systems like shields, weapons, lighting, etc. Not doing

 

so would put a major strain on the cloaking shield, or at best, result

 

in the overheating of the ship since all energy generated by the ship

 

would be constrained to the ship. Usually, ships could only be cloaked

 

for short periods of time, the bigger the ship the shorter the period

 

for which the cloak could be maintained.

 

As far as the transparency to energy was concerned, light and

 

sub-space energy could easily be made to pass through inter-molecular

 

spaces and even intra-molecular spaces, a small fraction of

 

electromagnetic and sub-space energy would collide with the actual

 

neutrons, protons and electrons of the structure. This was how the

 

ship perceived it's surroundings, and how it's passive sensors

 

operated. The result was a slight energy shadow, which was not a

 

problem, since no energy would be reflected back to the ship

 

attempting to detect it.

 

However, careful observation of the stellar background would

 

reveal a very slight dimming of stars as the cloaked vessel passed

 

over it, almost a twinkling effect, which would allow for a bearing

 

and angular velocity to be calculated, but not a range. Sub-space

 

detection would require a minimum of two ships, one to broadcast

 

sub-space energy, another on the far side of the cloaked vessel to

 

search for shadows. Again, no positive range estimates could be made.

 

However, three ships working together could roughly triangulate a

 

cloaked ship's position, while four ships could allow tracking

 

sufficient for targeting purposes. All detection methods would only

 

work if the cloaked ship was 'inside' the hunters' formation.

 

As far as Storve was concerned the enemy had revealed their

 

hand too soon. In their rush to defend their worlds, they had revealed

 

their knowledge of cloaking technology. Had it been him, he would have

 

allowed the enemy to bombard a few more planets, and reserved the

 

cloaking technology for an ambush further down the line. He made a

 

mental note of the enemy's tendency to compassion. That was a weakness

 

that could be exploited.

 

The Star Destroyer came out of hyperspace at the wormhole,

 

which was now a hive of activity. The two Star Destroyers which had

 

been guarding the entrance to the wormhole were now accompanied by

 

dozens of other ships. Four immense freighters were servicing a mobile

 

dockyard where the Tyrant was being repaired. It had a number of ugly

 

looking hull-breaches, and had no doubt jumped directly into a

 

minefield. Nearby, the Invincible was waiting for attention as well,

 

though it's damage was much less severe. Further out, three old

 

Victories and a group of even older dreadnaughts were on patrol.

 

"By the time that dockyard is available, our droids would have

 

finished the repairs already." Storve's first officer commented.

 

"There are a few supply ships over there. We'll take on

 

supplies while the droids are busy. See to it."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Storve punched in the code for Commodore Heyward.

 

"I received your last transmission, Storve. We have re-tasked

 

a number of probes to return to worlds scouted earlier, and it appears

 

that the enemy has in fact mined a number of worlds. This will slow

 

down our rate of advance significantly. We are still short of ships,

 

but Admiral Pellaeon has promised more ships will arrive in due

 

course. In the meanwhile, he has sent these."

 

The commodore waved dismissively at the ancient Victories and

 

Dreadnaughts.

 

"They will have to do as far as planetary bombardment and

 

minesweeping goes, and they might be of limited use in ship to ship

 

combat. I am also transmitting a report to you of the Judicator's

 

encounter with a Federation Glaxy-class ship. It is one of their more

 

powerful designs, though not the most powerful. This encounter should

 

be a good indicator of what to expect from the rest of their fleet,

 

but bear in mind that the Judicator surprised the ship. Future battles

 

may not always go so easily.

 

"I am assigning you three Victory-class ships. As soon as you

 

have completed your repairs take them and finish the bombing raids on

 

the worlds indicated, then rendezvous with the Judicator's group

 

before hitting Starbase 132."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Storve cut the transmission. They remained at rest for several

 

hours, while waves of shuttles darted backwards and forwards ferrying

 

supplies to the huge ship, and the droids went about their work

 

repairing the external damage inflicted by the mines. The Furious

 

limped into the system a few hours later, half it's bridge blown away,

 

and it's hull breached in several places. The damage was too severe

 

for the mobile dockyard to deal with, and it was sent back through the

 

wormhole. Storve doubted that it would be repaired in time to see this

 

campaign through.

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-FORTY-TWO HOURS

 

The Sovereign was still several hours short of Starbase 74,

 

but the distance had been shortened sufficiently so that Boyd only had

 

to contend with a four hour time-lag from the front-line, instead of

 

seven.

 

"Incoming transmission, Admiral. It's from Giedi Prime, and it

 

looks like a satellite recording."

 

"On-screen."

 

Many sensor satellites had been seeded amongst the hastily

 

deployed minefields, and this was one of them. The mere fact that they

 

were receiving a recording was indication of some degree of success.

 

Boyd and his staff watched the display eagerly.

 

A dagger shaped warship, one point six kilometers long

 

suddenly appeared in the distance. So it was a stardrive, not a

 

cloaking mechanism. The huge ship accelerated towards the planet, it's

 

larger weapons already firing. A secondary sensor registered severe

 

damage to some industrial centres on the planet, but the population

 

had long since moved away from the industrial sectors. As the ship

 

approached upper orbital range, a number of cloaked mines launched

 

themselves on intercepting vectors. The ship at first seemed not to

 

respond at all, allowing the mines to get very close. But as more

 

mines fired their thrusters and moved in, the ship started firing it's

 

point defences.

 

The second wave of mines were decimated as dozens of rapid

 

firing quad-cannons opened up on them, but the ship had not properly

 

tracked the first wave of mines, and the ship was momentarily obscured

 

by several anti-matter detonations. The ship slowed down, and tried to

 

turn away, it's shields reduced to nearly nothing, and several of it's

 

point-defence cannons silenced. A few more explosions rocked the

 

immense ship, ripping holes in it's structure, then it vanished.

 

"Destroyed?"

 

"No. It engaged it's stardrive, but it took a beating from the

 

mines."

 

"Another transmission sir, from Gamilon Two."

 

"On-screen."

 

A nearly identical scenario played itself out, except that

 

this time the alien warship responded almost immediately by

 

accelerating and changing course, throwing a number of intercepts off.

 

Several mines detonated behind it, others were shot down by

 

point-defences before getting into range. The picture was momentarily

 

lost in a wave of static, and a number of mines detonated in the hope

 

of being close enough to the suddenly obscured target. The static

 

momentarily cleared as the sensors fought to overcome the jamming, and

 

one or two mines exploded against the alien ship's shields. Then the

 

ship vanished. The sensors picked it up half a second later on the

 

edge of the star system, then it vanished again.

 

"Well, you can't win 'em all. At least we saved the planet."

 

In the next few minutes, two more reports came through.

 

Another ship badly damaged, worse than the first one, and a fourth

 

ship only lightly damaged. It was the last reports they would receive

 

for several hours, and no more worlds would be bombarded for several

 

hours as well.

 

"I can't believe the number of hits that brute took and still

 

got away." One staffer commented.

 

"Multiple independent shields. They had separate shields for

 

dorsal, ventral, port and starboard, as well as a shield across the

 

nose and the bridge. The engines were surrounded by massive field

 

effects as well, and the exhaust is a natural shielding."

 

"Well," Boyd commented, "those two ships will be out of action

 

for quite a time, if not decommissioned altogether. That is worthwhile

 

payback for the California. Maybe now they will finally be prepared to

 

talk, and we can get to the bottom of this mess."

 

There were a few skeptical faces in the command room. But Boyd

 

ignored them. Starfleet was not in the business of war, but the

 

business of peace. His command staff may not all like it, but they

 

would come to understand.

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D-PLUS-FORTY-SIX HOURS

 

The Annihilator and it's three escorts came out of hyperspace

 

broadcasting jamming signals on all frequencies. They were several

 

light-seconds away from the target planet, and quickly angled off to

 

enclosing positions, while maintaining their distance, wary of mines.

 

They paid close attention to each other's sub-space broadcasts,

 

attempting to locate 'shadows' in the sub-space energies indicative of

 

energy lost to a passive sub-space sensor.

 

"Tracking eighteen possibles. All close in to the planet."

 

"Close formation to ten diameters."

 

"Thirty two confirmed, seventy possible."

 

"Target and destroy confirmed targets, close to five

 

diameters."

 

"One hundred eighty seven solid targets."

 

"Target and destroy. Close to three planetary diameters."

 

"No readings."

 

"Launch bombers, have them do a few fly-bys close to the upper

 

atmosphere."

 

Storve watched dispassionately as the bombers made one pass

 

after another, gradually working their way closer to the planet. They

 

were maneuvrable enough to stand a chance of evading any mines which

 

attempted an intercept, and were large enough to provide a reasonable

 

target for any lurking mines.

 

"Were any communications detected from the planet's surface?"

 

"None strong enough to have made orbit against our jamming

 

signals."

 

"Very well, have the Victories move in to one diameter and

 

commence bombardment."

 

Storve checked the clock. At the enemey's sub-space

 

communication speed, the nearest starbase was one point five hours

 

away. He could get there in twenty-five minutes despite his slow

 

escorts. More than enough time for his escorts to pound the planet,

 

and his sensor crews to evaluate their performance against cloaked

 

targets.

 

"Bombardment completed, sir."

 

"Set course for rendezvous one."

 

"Yes, sir. Plotting. Transmitting jump co-ordinates. Fleet

 

acknowledges. Jumping. ETA Twenty ten minutes seventeen seconds."

 

Storve's group would link up with the Judicator's group and

 

they would combine forces for an attack on the starbase. Heyward had

 

given him command of the attack, Judicator's captain still being on

 

reprimand for not intercepting the California sooner. The heavy

 

casualties on the Tyrant and the Furious had sent a wave of bitterness

 

through the fleet. The crews were used to casualties, but the use of

 

cloaked mines had angered a lot of people. They were a coward's

 

tactic. The crews, and their officers, were keen to get some payback.

 

The Judicator and three dreadnaughts were already on station

 

at the rendezvous point. Storve bit back a smirk. He had been taken

 

aback at having to take three old Victories as escorts. He could

 

imagine the disgust of the Judicator's command crew at having been

 

given the dreadnaught heavy cruisers as escorts.

 

"Fleet message. Judicator to form up on Annihilators

 

starboard, at double optimum weapons range. The Star Destroyer's will

 

jump in to three light-seconds range. Dreadnaughts and Victories will

 

jump in to fifteen light-seconds, in enclosing formation. Scan for

 

mines and cloaked ships, then close in to screening positions. The

 

Star Destroyers will engage the enemy, escorts primary duty is

 

screening the Star Destroyers. Each bomber squadron will have one

 

squadron of escorting TIE's. Primary target is enemy industrial

 

facilities in the star system. Remaining TIE squadrons will engage

 

enemy starships first, the starbase second. Transmitting jump

 

co-ordinates."

 

Storve's intention was to attack the enemy starships and

 

starbase as hard as possible with his Destroyers. The enemy would only

 

be able to counter the Destroyers by running a gauntlet of fire from

 

his escorts. If they attacked the escorts, then it left his Destroyers

 

free to engage whatever targets he chose. He would rather lose a

 

Dreadnaught or Victory than an Imperator.

 

The fleet flashed into the system, and immediately activated

 

full all-spectrum jamming. The first bomber squadrons were dropped

 

immediately, followed by their escorting TIE's. Already, the sensor

 

data from the six escorts were picking up enemy unit dispositions. The

 

starbase was five times the size of a Star Destroyer, and was in a

 

high orbit over the planet. The lower orbits were littered with

 

communication and weather satellites. As the ships drew closer to the

 

planet and it's orbiting starbase, the sub-space energy blanket

 

beginning to pick up cloaked mines in-between the comm and weather

 

satellites.

 

"TIE's, do not, repeat do NOT destroy the mines. Punch through

 

the minefield into the atmosphere and commence planetary bombardment."

 

Two huge doors ponderously slid open on the starbase, and

 

three small starships slipped out in quick succession. Bits of the

 

starbase also seemed to break away. The bits turned out to be other

 

starships which had been hull-docked.

 

"No sign of ECM. No enemy fighters detected. Total defensive

 

force appears to be fourteen capital ships of gunship and corvette

 

size. Enemy designations have them as light cruisers and frigates."

 

"Intelligence have put a team of programmers to work on enemy

 

transponder codes. No results yet."

 

Storve ignored the comment. Code-breaking rarely occurred in

 

any battle, although the New Republic was known to have a few top

 

slicers working for them.

 

"Leave the starships to the fighters, primary target is the

 

starbase."

 

"ECM crews have analysed all starship's sub-space signatures.

 

Broadcasting destructive interference for all enemy starships."

 

Two of the starships broke away and attempted to intercept the

 

TIE bombers, but were forced to take evasive action when met by a

 

swarm of tiny proton torpedoes. Their phasers flickered through the

 

torpedo swarm, but the missiles were very tiny, and most of them made

 

it through. By the time they had turned back on course, the TIEs had

 

reached the minefield. The bombers ignored the mines, relying on the

 

escorting fighters to shoot them down. Most of the bombers made it

 

through into the atmosphere, but the fighters were forced to break

 

away as a number of mines detonated in the wake of the bombers. Storve

 

spotted them.

 

"Fighter groups one and two to attack the starbase."

 

The Star Destroyers were also approaching extreme range on the

 

starbase now, but twelve enemy starships had formed into a close

 

formation and were moving to cut the Star Destroyers off from the

 

comparatively immobile starbase. "Ignore the starships," Storve

 

told his gunners, "leave them for the escorts. Helm, maintain course."

 

Four of the escorts were within line of sight on the enemy

 

starships, two more being on the far side of the planet, assisting in

 

setting up a sub-space web for detecting cloaked mines and ships. The

 

four escorts opened fire on the approaching formation of starships,

 

pumping flak-bursts into their path and concentrating on the lead

 

ships. Six squadrons of TIE fighters were harassing the rear of the

 

formation, but the starships ignored them, reserving their weapons for

 

the bigger ships.

 

It was a mistake. TIE fighters were not very powerful

 

individually, but that wasn't the point. A squadron of fighters firing

 

linked bursts of laser-cannon fire plus multiple volleys of linked

 

proton torpedoes were extremely efficient at punching tiny holes in

 

the shields of much more powerful capital ships. Their job was to

 

knock out weapons blisters, shield generators, sensor pods,

 

communications dishes, or even to cause tiny breaches in the hull.

 

Four of the starships were damaged in short order, and they broke away

 

from the formation to deal with the TIEs, joined by the two starships

 

which had failed to stop the bombers.

 

This too was a mistake. Immediately the six squadrons of TIEs

 

raced for the main formation, while three dreadnaughts and a Victory

 

moved in to isolate the six ships from the main formation. They were

 

joined seconds later by the other two Victories powering in from the

 

far side of the planet. The two Star Destroyers ignored the main

 

formation of starships, and opened fire on the starbase. The eight

 

starships of the main formation were themselves now being harassed by

 

the six squadrons of TIEs. They fired several torpedoes after the Star

 

Destroyers, but to no real effect. They were unable to capitalise on

 

the reduced shields without opening themselves up to even more attacks

 

by the TIEs. Torn between the two groups of targets, they were forced

 

to engage the TIEs.

 

"Set guns for broadside mode. TIE groups one and two to clear

 

the starbase. Fire."

 

The starbase was hit by alternating broadsides, first one from

 

the Annihilator, then one from the Judicator.

 

"Break away, target the starships, fighters to hit the

 

starbase."

 

The starbase was still functional, despite several breaches.

 

The main damage was that it had lost shields across one entire

 

hemisphere. A weakness the TIE fighters could exploit best. All eight

 

squadrons of TIE's accelerated towards the starbase, firing torpedoes

 

and laser-cannons as they came. The escort ships were gaining the

 

upper hand on the smaller group of starships, four of them having

 

already been damaged by the fighters.

 

The larger group of Federation ships, eight of them, two

 

visibly damaged by proton torpedo hits, moved to engage the Star

 

Destroyers, finally rid of the pesky TIE fighters.

 

"Set gunnery for fleet mode, move to supporting position on

 

the Victories. We'll hold them while the TIEs finish the starbase. How

 

are the bombers doing?"

 

"Seventy percent of industrial targets destroyed."

 

"Set point-defence weapons to open a path through the

 

mine-field for them. Have the escort ships pull back to screening

 

positions on the Star Destroyers."

 

"Judicator's got one."

 

A distant flash confirmed the sensor operators call. Three of

 

the enemy starships were attempting to withdraw, racked by internal

 

explosions and trailing superheated plasma. One of the dreadnaughts

 

suddenly staggered and rolled away, a jet of gas escaping from it's

 

wounded side. A Victory automatically laid down covering fire as the

 

dreadnaught crew fought it back into position. A starship attempting

 

to move in for the kill walked straight into a barrage of fire from

 

the Victory.

 

"TIEs report the starbase is finished."

 

"Recall TIE's. Have the bombers make a pass on the starbase on

 

their way back."

 

Storve glanced over his display, keying for a close-up on the

 

starbase. All it's major systems were down, there were no sign of

 

shields, and it's hull was pockmarked by breaches, through which

 

several internal fires could be seen. The starbase had also lost all

 

attitude control, and was slowly tumbling end over end.

 

"Got 'im," came the exuberant shout of the starboard gunnery

 

control sergeant. Storve frowned. He would not tolerate indiscipline

 

from any member of his crew.

 

"Lieutenant. One demerit to you, and to your starboard gunnery

 

control sergeant. Ensure that your men observe proper reporting

 

procedures in future."

 

"Yes, sir." The lieutenant glared in the direction of his

 

subordinate. He made a mental note to mark up three extra demerits for

 

him.

 

The enemy ships had reformed, with the stronger ships proving

 

cover for weaker or damaged ships as they withdrew. The escort ships

 

followed the retreating ships, and Judicator made as if to follow.

 

"Recall all ships, stand by to recover fighters."

 

The returning bombers made one final pass on the ravaged

 

starbase, as the remaining enemy starships reached the limit of

 

jamming range and jumped out of the system. Storve glanced at the

 

strategic display, counting the sub-space anomalies characteristic of

 

the enemy stardrive. Nine ships. All accounted for.

 

"Victories to clear the minefield, Dreadnaughts to provide

 

sensor support. Knock out all satellites as well."

 

The two Star Destroyers drifted closer to the stricken

 

starbase. Storve picked up a few stray life-signs on the starbase.

 

There were still people aboard, either trying to save it or escape it.

 

Judicator fired a broadside into the structure. The life-signs

 

disappeared as the structure broke into three separet pieces, one

 

headed for the planet below. That was bound to cause some damage.

 

Storve shrugged.

 

"All fighters recovered, sir. We lost sixteen, Judicator lost

 

eleven."

 

"Navigation to set course for the worm-hole. Jump at will."

 

He wondered if he had done better than the Invincible's group.

 

They had been sent to hit one of the other starbases.

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-FIFTY-ONE-HOURS

 

The area around the worm-hole was even busier than Storve

 

remembered. The Tyrant had been patched up and sent back through the

 

wormhole, and the mobile dockyard was working on the dreadnaughts.

 

Three of them were badly damaged, as were a Victory belonging to the

 

Invincibles group. The Victory would probably have to be scrapped.

 

Storve bit his gums to hide his elation. His battle record was now the

 

best in Commodore Heyward's squadron. If there were any promotions to

 

be had out of this campaign, he would be first in line.

 

"All ships are to lay up for three hours, while the escorts

 

are repaired." Heyward informed them. "My information is that the

 

Admiral will be here by the end of that time with the major part of

 

the fleet. Analysis of enemy communication patterns have revealed that

 

all communications for this entire half of Federation space is being

 

routed through the starbase designated number seventy four. Long-range

 

scans by probes in the area have also revealed that a total of sixty

 

three starships are converging on this starbase. Amongst these

 

starships, one of them stands out as significantly faster, and having

 

a significantly higher volume of communications passed to it.

 

"Intelligence believes that this ship is carrying the senior

 

officer for this entire sector. As soon as Admiral Pellaeon arrives,

 

we will launch an all out strike on this starbase. If we can destroy

 

this fleet and capture or kill this officer, we are confident that the

 

entire sector will fall, opening the way for a strike on the enemy's

 

home planet."

 

"Only sixty ships sir? Don't they have a fleet of some five

 

thousand vessels?"

 

"Yes, but these ships are spread very thinly, most of them

 

committed to border zones with other races. They are too far away to

 

make a difference, many of them are several months away from Earth,

 

the enemy's capital world. Destroy starbase 74, and we destroy all

 

defensive co-ordination for a four thousand light year region. Capture

 

Earth, and we can force a surrender of the entire Federation."

 

The Imperial forces gradually grew in strength, to a full ten

 

Star Destroyers and more than thirty Victories and Dreadnaughts. Then

 

Admiral Pellaeon arrived.

 

A collective hush fell over the Imperial forces as they caught

 

sight of the monstrosity the Admiral had brought to the Party. An

 

Eclipse Star Destroyer. Only two had ever been built, the first having

 

been destroyed by massive series of discharges of unknown nature

 

during a New Republic raid, taking the mad Emperor Palpatine with it.

 

The second had never been completed, and had also been rammed by a New

 

Republic Star Destroyer before mysteriously vanishing. So Pellaeon had

 

kept it on ice all these years, and somehow seen that it was finished.

 

The Eclipse itself was accompanied by another ten Imperators, four

 

Allegiance class heavy cruisers, and several Interdictors. Not that

 

the Eclipse needed Interdictors, it had it's own gravity well

 

generators.

 

 

 

 

 

D-PLUS-FIFTY-NINE HOURS

 

Boyd looked at the bulk of Starbase 74 with satisfaction. It

 

was one of the most impressive structures controlled by the

 

Federation. It was second in size only to the massive Space-Dock.

 

Surrounding the starbase, and dwarfed by it, were more than five dozen

 

starships.

 

It was while the command staff were relocating from the

 

Sovereign to the immense starbase that the reports started coming

 

through of the resumption of the enemy advance. A number of planets

 

had been marked 'grey' as communications were lost. Most disturbing of

 

all was that two starbases had also gone 'grey'. The enemy had started

 

moving against harder targets now as well. Boyd decided it was time to

 

bring out the heavy artillery.

 

"Send a message to the Neutral Zone. Every second Akira, and

 

all Sovereign and Galaxy class ships are to head to Earth at maximum

 

warp. The Galaxies are to be refuelled and sent on to starbase 74.

 

Deep Space Nine is to be turned over to the Bajorans, and all

 

Federation forces in the area, including Defiant and Enterprise, is to

 

report to Earth and await further orders."

 

Boyd ensured the order was sent off, and turned to the main

 

view-screen to see what else he could do.

 

"Send a message to the Klingons. As Admiral of the Fleet for

 

the Federation, I formally request their assistance in this matter.

 

All Klingon ships that can be spared is to be equally divided between

 

Earth and starbase 74."

 

The communications were properly worded and despatched. The

 

reports received from the surviving ships attached to the destroyed

 

starbases indicated varying levels of damage to the enemy fleet. The

 

fact that only two starbases were hit, by eight ships each, indicated

 

a relatively small enemy fleet was operating in Federation space. Boyd

 

hoped the damage to them was severe enough to hold them off for

 

another few hours. Every hour gained meant another planet or two

 

defended with mines, for all the good that would do. It also gave his

 

ships that much more time to reach their destinations. A secondary

 

worry was beginning to nag at him as well.

 

The sheer volume of fleet movement and the speeds necessitated

 

by the rapid invasion meant that deuterium and anti-matter stores were

 

being used up faster than ever before in Federation history. There was

 

more than sufficient fuel in storage though, except that a third of

 

the production base had been destroyed in the last two days. Also, it

 

appeared that the new fleet dispositions had caught the supply

 

freighters by surprise, as all the fuel storage depots were positioned

 

strategically relative to the more traditional trouble spots, which

 

meant that a fair portion of his merchant fleet would have to be

 

dedicated to lugging fuel after his starships.

 

If the war continued at this pace for several months, his

 

ships would start running into major re-supply problems. Then a

 

comforting thought occurred to him. If the war continued at this pace

 

for several more days, there wouldn't be a Federation left to defend.

 

As if reading his thoughts, the battle alert sounded. There had been

 

no warning of approaching ships, but all the sensor boards were

 

screaming and flashing as they registered potential threats.

 

The view-screen flickered from one sector to another, Boyd

 

barely having an opportunity to count and assess the threats in each

 

sector. Then the view-screen reverted to an earlier sector. Two of the

 

massive dagger-shaped warships were visible, gliding over a metallic

 

surface. That wasn't right, Boyd thought. The view-screen was set to a

 

new magnification by an operator. Now there were five Star Destroyers

 

in picture, all much smaller at this magnification, with something

 

else sticking out of the bottom of the view-screen. The view-screen

 

panned downwards, and now Boyd could see that the surface over which

 

the Star Destroyers were gliding was in fact the hull of a starship.

 

A massive starship.

 

It dwarfed the starbase.

 

It even dwarfed Space-Dock.

 

It was clearly not a space-station, it's lines vaguely similar

 

to the smaller dagger-shaped warships surrounding it. Boyd could see

 

that it was in fact a spaceship, and not a space-station, but he

 

couldn't quite grasp that anybody would build something so massive.

 

In the nose of the immense starship, several green beams

 

lanced out, and joined in a nexus of energy just ahead of the

 

starship.

 

"Energy readings have gone off the scale." He heard somebody

 

say.

 

The incredulity in their voice not quite matching up to the

 

incredulity of the sight on the view-screen.

 

Time seemed to stand still for Boyd. In his mind he saw what

 

was coming, and he knew there was no escape. Everything ran in

 

slow-motion before his eyes. A pulse of energy ran out along the green

 

lines, the nexus of energy doubled in size, then a single much larger

 

beam lanced out of the ship, into the nexus of energy. The beam shot

 

towards the view-screen.

 

Boyd's last thought was one of anger at the universe. All the

 

Federation had strove to achieve. The betterment of humanity. Peace

 

and goodwill. The unity of the galaxy's species. Centuries of strife

 

and suffering and achievement and tears and happiness and laughter and

 

learning and sacrifice. For nothing. And he didn't even know why. Or

 

who.

 

 

 

 

 

Storve glanced at his display. The opening shot of the Eclipse had

 

totally destroyed the starbase, taking at least a dozen starships with

 

it. The Imperial fleet was spread over several light-seconds, and now

 

easily outnumbered the remains of the Federation fleet. This battle

 

would be over before the Eclipse could fire a second shot. It had been

 

a good three days.

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