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Independence

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INDEPENDENCE

 

 

 

 

 

A fanfic by Michael January

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The huge Rebel fleet hung in space near the blue world, Sullust. Home

 

One was at the center of the formation, the rest of the fleet

 

jockeying into attack position covering Home One. A tiny Corellian

 

freighter swept past the massive Mon Calamari flagship.

 

Several X-wing starfighters moved to the fore, as the fleet

 

gathered protectively around Home One. A number of Nebulon-B frigates

 

moved to the outskirts of the formation, where they would perform a

 

picket duty, picking off stray TIE's on their approach or departure,

 

or any who didn't hug the larger warships closely enough. All the

 

ships were marked in Republic-red on the tactical display. The

 

transponder codes identified them as friendly ships. Any unidentified

 

transponder codes would register in Imperial Green until proven

 

otherwise. This star-system was not supposed to have any neutral ships

 

anyway, having been secured as an Alliance stronghold.

 

"Proceed with the countdown. All groups assume attack

 

coordinates." Admiral Ackbar ordered.

 

"The Jump will last about two hours," Captain Ess-Vin Stavros

 

was saying over the ship-wide comm. "We will be jumping directly into

 

action. According to intelligence ...." A nervous laugh ran through

 

the ship ... "According to intelligence only a small Imperial Force is

 

on guard duty. A commando team led by General Solo and Jedi Skywalker

 

will bring down the shield which protects the Death Star. Our job will

 

be to set up a defensive perimeter around the death Star while the

 

fighters fly into the incomplete superstructure and destroy the main

 

reactor. Men. I don't need to tell you the importance of this mission.

 

Should we fail ... there will be no stopping the Empire. The galaxy's

 

fate is on our shoulders. May the Force be with us."

 

He hesitated for a fraction of a second, then in more

 

business-like voice ordered "Secure for Jump." And cut the

 

communication.

 

The first officer took over.

 

"Docking bay shields secured." No ships were allowed to launch

 

or dock at this crucial stage.

 

"All droids accounted for and locked in." Didn't want any

 

stray droids getting thrown about or damaged if the jump was rough.

 

"Docking clamps locked in place." All ships still in the

 

docking bays were locked into place with additional clamps to ensure

 

they didn't go tumbling around the docking bays.

 

"Computer reports all crews strapped in."

 

"Ship secured." The First Officer finally reported.

 

"Signal the fleet. We're ready."

 

"All craft, prepare to jump to hyperspace on my mark." Ackbar

 

ordered.

 

A red light lit up on the navi-comp control panel. It was

 

slaved to Home One. A second light lit up to indicate receipt of the

 

co-ordinates. A third light lit up to confirm a second receipt of the

 

co-ordinates, then a green light to indicate the cross-check of the

 

co-ordinates was successful. Everything went silent on the bridge

 

while they waited while other ships checked in. This was usually the

 

hardest part. Once the jump was initiated, there would be no further

 

communication with intelligence operatives, and a combat action was

 

inevitable. Then nerves would usually settle down.

 

Stavros felt a mild pressure pushing him back into his seat,

 

and the nearby stars seemed to stretch suddenly, then with a flash of

 

blue distortion they whirled into static as the ship was hurled beyond

 

the light-speed barrier.

 

"Signal the crew to hyperspace duties. Alert status two. We

 

will be in action in two hours. The ship will go to alert status one

 

thirty minutes before Jump termination."

 

"Alert status two confirmed. Hyperspace duty cycle confirmed.

 

We are one point five hours from Alert status one." The first officer

 

confirmed.

 

"Thank you number one." Stavros finished.

 

"Sir?"

 

"Yes, Lieutenant."

 

"May I speak freely?"

 

"How long have you known me, Talon?" The captain smiled.

 

"What are our chances?" The first lieutenant, Talon, asked.

 

"At every turn, the Emperor or Vader has outguessed us.

 

Perhaps it is true that the Emperor is prescient. I for one believe

 

the rumours that Vader was once a Jedi. It is said that nobody can

 

outguess or outfox a Jedi."

 

"So you think this is a trap. The Empire will be waiting for

 

us."

 

"Of course it's a trap."

 

"Then why are we going?"

 

"Because we have no choice. Once complete, the Death Star will

 

be unstoppable. At least this way, we stand a half chance. It is known

 

that the Empire has not committed too many forces in defence of the

 

Death Star. Undoubtedly they have more ships there than intelligence

 

believes, but not much more or their patrols in other areas would be

 

suffering, and we would know. Better to die fighting for freedom than

 

to be oppressed and strangled to death."

 

"So we are going to our deaths?"

 

"Maybe. But we have faced death at the hands of the Empire

 

many times, and survived. The Force is with us."

 

"You believe in that?" Talon asked, with a half-smirk.

 

"What else is there to believe in?"

 

The first officer shrugged. "I fight for my family. I was born

 

on Coruscant you know. One day, I would like to return and see my wife

 

and children again. My defection came on me rather suddenly, and I

 

never had an opportunity to return for them."

 

Stavros nodded. He knew the story well. Talon had been an

 

officer on a Star Destroyer, but had objected to his superior officers

 

participating in selling prisoners of war as slaves. They had

 

conspired to have him court-martialled on false charges and he had

 

fled before being arrested.

 

"I once truly believed in the Empire." Talon was saying. "My

 

parents told me many tales of what life was like on Coruscant during

 

the days of the Old Republic. They were poor, and lived on the lower

 

levels. We were exploited by everybody, and not even the Jedi came to

 

our aid. The Empire solved all that. Cleaned out the scum, made even

 

the lower levels safe for people to live. They truly improved things

 

for a while. Then people started disappearing, and stories began to

 

circulate about what happened to those who didn't support the Empire.

 

"Even then, I believed. I joined the academy to prove my

 

belief. The things I saw ..."

 

"Aye." Stavros said. He had heard many similar stories.

 

"Lieutenant!" He barked, breaking the oppressive mood. "have

 

the kitchens prepare the men a meal. A good one. Nerf steaks. Real

 

ones. I will not have my men going into battle on an empty stomach."

 

 

 

 

 

It seemed like only seconds before the thirty minute warning

 

sounded. Klaxons sounded through the ship. Red lights flashed, then

 

steadied, as the normal running lights were dimmed. Power was shifted

 

into capacitor banks, ready to pour into shields and weaponry, in

 

expectation of action.

 

"All gunners have reported in. Local fire control is on-line.

 

Non-essential systems shut down. All power routed to main banks.

 

Shields are ready, weapons fully charged, engines on standby."

 

"Be prepared for anything. We can go into action any second.

 

Force alone knows what the Empire has prepared for us."

 

The minutes crept by. Anxious gunners fingered their controls,

 

and tracked whorls and bumps in the hyperspace static, ready to open

 

up on anything and everything in sight as soon as the jump terminated.

 

"Ten seconds to go. Five. Four ..."

 

The ship lurched violently. If they had not been at alert

 

status and all strapped in, many crew-members might have been

 

seriously injured. As it were, alarms sounded all over the ship.

 

Stavros guessed they must have hit an interdiction field. It was not

 

the first time it had happened to them.

 

"Interdiction field. It's a trap. Weapons free. Track all

 

targets. Fire at will."

 

At the tactical station, a blip appeared several thousand

 

kilometers off the Port bow. IFF was negative. The tactical officer

 

immediately tagged it as a threat and frantically scanned for more

 

targets. The ship shuddered slightly as all weapons which could bear

 

opened fire, many firing wildly in their haste. The Nebulon-B was a

 

heavily armed frigate. It carried eighty medium turbolasers, and a

 

hundred and twenty light laser-cannons for it's anti-starfighter role.

 

The target was well within range of all these weapons.

 

"How many ships? What designations?" The captain called,

 

impatiently waiting for tactical to supply him with data. "Where is

 

the rest of the fleet?"

 

The ship shuddered again as a second broadside was fired.

 

"Only one contact on short range scanners, sir. Unknown

 

designation. Scanning for more targets on mid-range scanners. I don't

 

see any friendly ships. Still scanning."

 

Something was wrong. There should have been dozens of ships.

 

Friendly or not. They were not jumping into a deserted sector, for

 

Force sake?

 

"Belay scanner search. Sensor focus on the one target."

 

The tactical holo-display immediately zoomed in on the single

 

target within short to mid-range. It was a curious design. Stavros had

 

never seen anything like it in his long career, and he had seen many

 

starships designed by dozens of alien races. One thing immediately

 

sprang to mind. That was certainly no Imperial ship. A circular disk,

 

with curiously slender pylons reaching to some sort of tubular

 

structures suspended in space and held separate from the main ship. It

 

was spewing flames from several breaches in the saucer section, and

 

bright blue plasma jetted from the tubes attached to it. Even as he

 

watched, another broadside smashed into the structure, sending it

 

tumbling and drifting through space. He could see it wouldn't be able

 

to take much more.

 

"Cease fire. Cease fire." He shouted.

 

Imperial or not. It was damaged far too severely to be a

 

threat to them.

 

"What the hell is that thing?" he asked no-one in particular.

 

"Life sign scan?"

 

"Reading several hundred life-forms. Humanoid. Possibly even

 

human. Some of them are fading pretty rapidly. Life support has

 

failed, and she's losing atmosphere in several sections of the ship.

 

Whoever is on board, they're going to be dead pretty soon."

 

"Move us in closer. Prepare an assault shuttle, load it with

 

medical supplies. I don't know what that ship is, but they're going to

 

need all the help we can give them. Com-Scan. Mid-range and long-range

 

scan for any Rebel or Imperial ships. Double-check everything.

 

Communications, attempt to hail them."

 

"Yes, Sir." Com-Scan responded.

 

"The shuttle will be ready in thirty seconds, Sir." Talon

 

informed him.

 

"Sir!" It was com-scan. "No Rebel ships or Imperial in

 

scanning range. I can't identify the Endor system at all."

 

"Which systems can you identify?"

 

"I am working on that, Sir."

 

"Well. Work faster. The fleet is relying on us. We can't be

 

late for this mission."

 

"Shuttle is ready, Sir. Shall I launch?" Talon again.

 

"Launch. Inform the crews to be ready for anything. They're

 

not gonna be friendly to us whoever they are."

 

"Yes, Sir." Talon had already told the men that.

 

"Com-Scan. I am waiting!"

 

"Sir. I cannot identify any systems within medium or

 

long-range scanning distance. I cannot get a location on our galactic

 

position either. The alien ship is not responding to hyper-wave or

 

sub-space. Perhaps their communications is down."

 

"Is the damn computer stuffed?"

 

"No sir. I have run a diagnostic. Everything checks out. We

 

are just not anywhere the computer can currently identify."

 

"Sir," Talon again, "The shuttle is approaching the alien

 

vessel."

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Captain Jefforson Stark forced himself to his feet. He spat

 

blood out of his mouth, and coughed as he inhaled something

 

acrid-smelling. Around him, only half his bridge crew was alive. The

 

bridge was filled with smoke, and sparks from a shattered console was

 

scattering everywhere. Somebody was moaning terribly. He ignored the

 

sound, and staggered over to the sensor console. A huge ship was

 

bearing down on him. An ugly L-shaped monstrosity, close to five

 

hundred meters long, and riddled with unidentifiable structures. It

 

had appeared out of nowhere and started shooting before he could issue

 

a single order. He had not even had time to order the shields raised.

 

"Captain?" A weak voice from behind him.

 

"Take over the tactical position, son. See if you can raise

 

shields, and power up the phasers,"

 

"The tactical station reports no power available sir. The

 

engines have been shut down."

 

"Find power from somewhere. Anywhere."

 

The junior lieutenant typed furiously at the console. Another

 

crewman was making her way to the communications desk.

 

"Open a channel to that ship."

 

"System are off-line all over the ship, Sir. Life-support has

 

failed, we have dozens of hull-breaches, the warp core has been shut

 

down as well."

 

"Sickbay to bridge. Come in please. Sickbay to bridge. Come in

 

please."

 

"Bridge here. Go ahead." Stark spoke into his communicator.

 

"I need power desperately. I have casualties, hundreds of

 

them. I need the Emergency Holographic Program, but the computers are

 

off-line. There are several fires on the civilian decks, but without

 

transporters I cannot get the civilians out."

 

"I'll see what I can do, doctor."

 

On the view-screen, he could see the L-shaped alien vessel

 

manoeuvring strangely. No. It was his ship. They were tumbling. Well,

 

without power there was no way to correct that. Then he saw it. A

 

smaller shape detaching itself from the warship, and bearing down on

 

them.

 

"Communications?"

 

"The computer is not responding, sir. I have tried

 

everything."

 

"They're going to board us. Have we got weapons on-line yet?"

 

"No sir."

 

"See if you can activate the phasers manually, route power

 

from the auxiliary power banks for the torpedo launchers. They're too

 

close for torpedoes anyway."

 

"Yes, Sir. Phasers on-line, but I only have a twenty degree

 

firing arc. I won't be able to target the small ship."

 

"Can you hit the big one?"

 

"In a few seconds, just waiting for the ship to roll over a

 

bit more." The starship continued tumbling, eventually bringing the

 

phaser banks in line with the unknown enemy. The lieutenant fired

 

immediately. A two second burst before the power cell ran dry. He

 

quickly patched power in from another power cell, and fired a second

 

shot. The red beam skittered across the side of the massive warship,

 

before their uncontrolled tumble moved the ship out of the firing arc.

 

Without sensors he couldn't tell what the effect, if any, of the hits

 

were.

 

The two officers waited apprehensively for the death blow.

 

Surely the unknown enemy would destroy them for firing on it. Nothing

 

happened. Slowly, the tumble continued, while the two officer stared

 

at each other, wondering why they were still alive.

 

"We'll have them in line again in another ten seconds." The

 

lieutenant said. They watched the view-screen anxiously as the ship

 

continued tumbling, waiting for the enemy to come into line.

 

"Damn, it's moved out of line." The lieutenant said.

 

"They probably want us alive. Find a hand-weapon, prepare to

 

repel boarders."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

The two men scrambled into an emergency hatchway, and made

 

their way to a defensive strong point down the hallway. The captain

 

stopped briefly to speak into a ship-wide intercom.

 

"All personnel. Prepare for boarders. Prepare for boarders."

 

 

 

 

 

Security officer Neil Dougherty glanced around him. His men

 

were all in whatever cover they could find. Ahead of him, at the far

 

end of the smoke-filled passage-way some form of cutting device was

 

burning a hole through the inner hull. He shut out thought of what the

 

civilian section had looked like. Those that had been sucked into

 

space were probably the lucky ones. Plasma burns, asphyxiation, broken

 

limbs and oxygen deprivation were the primary ailments he had seen.

 

His own family was in there somewhere.

 

A number of his men were trapped in remote areas of the ship,

 

cut off by fires or vacuum from him. He would have to make do with

 

what he could. The emergency lighting was flickering badly, and the

 

smoke made for poor visibility.

 

"They're nearly through."

 

"Steady. Weapons set for stun."

 

"Stun?"

 

"That's an order, ensign. Until we know what we're dealing

 

with. Don't shoot unless you're sure of your shot. Pick your shots

 

carefully, conserve power."

 

The men aimed down the passage-way. In the distance, a huge

 

section of deck-plating banged to the floor. There was a momentary

 

scream of escaping air, and Dougherty thought of ordering his men back

 

behind the next bulkhead before they got sucked out into space. Then

 

the opening was sealed, from the outside. Through the smoke, two

 

humanoid figures advanced cautiously, holding some kind of rifle-like

 

weapon.

 

"Hold your fire." He ordered his men.

 

The two figures advanced cautiously down the passage. One of

 

them nodded in the direction of the security officers. Dougherty

 

steeled himself, and prepared to shoot. One of the men raised his

 

rifle slowly, careful not to point it at them. He held the rifle above

 

his head with one hand, and slowly held out his other hand, palm up.

 

The second man bent down slowly, keeping an eye on them, and placed

 

his rifle on the deck. Behind them, Dougherty could see several more

 

humanoid figures framed in the makeshift hatchway. They had rifles

 

pointing down the passage, but their comrades were in the line of

 

fire.

 

"Stay here. Hold your fire." He ordered his men.

 

Slowly, he stepped out into the passage, and advanced towards

 

the dimly seen humanoid figures. They were clad in grey-and-black. It

 

was difficult to see through the smoke. He realised they were wearing

 

some kind of light body-armour. Flack-jackets, he would have called

 

it, with leggings, but allowing full freedom of movement for a human

 

body anyway. He could now discern a human face behind some kind of

 

transparent visor. Humans, wearing helmets and body armour. Serious

 

soldiers, he realised. The humanoid who had placed his rifle on the

 

ground slowly reached up and started removing his helmet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sergeant Stamco released the seals on his enviro-suit, and

 

took his first breath of the alien atmosphere. He coughed as the acrid

 

smoke was drawn into his lungs. For a second he cursed the damn droid.

 

It had told him the air was breathable. Then he realised it was. No

 

reason to panic. He told himself. He coughed a few more times as his

 

lungs battled with the acrid smoke. He watched the approaching human

 

through tear-stained eyes. Blinking his eyes clear, he finally managed

 

to get a clean breath. The human was wearing red long-johns. Probably

 

caught them in their sleep, he thought. For a second he was close to

 

laughing, as he wondered what anybody would think of him should they

 

invade his room during the night-watch. He banished the distressing

 

thought.

 

Long-Johns was pointing some kind of weapon at him. Not

 

threateningly so, just cautionary. He couldn't identify it. It looked

 

like a shaving device. Definitely caught him in his sleep. He just

 

hoped the guy spoke Basic. What to say? Something simple, he decided.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Who are you? Why did you attack us?"

 

Basic! Long-johns spoke perfect Galactic Basic. The damn fleet

 

people had said they were not even in the same galaxy, and here was

 

somebody speaking Galactic Basic.

 

"Do you understand me?" Stamco asked.

 

"Of course. I repeat. Who are you?" the guy's mouth was moving

 

funny. Translator of some kind? Must be. "Why did you attack our

 

ship?" Long-johns was asking. Stamco was about to explain that it was

 

a mistake, but the long-johns kept talking. "We are on a peaceful

 

mission. This ship is an exploration vessel, not a warship. We did not

 

realise this sector was inhabited by anyone. We meant no harm by

 

coming here. There was no reason to attack us. We would have left if

 

you had asked."

 

"What the fuck is he talking about?" Private Biggs asked,

 

behind him.

 

"Listen, uh ..."

 

"Lieutenant Dougherty, chief security officer, USS

 

Constellation. You are?"

 

"Sergeant first-class Stamco. Fleet regiment 5271, currently

 

assigned to the New Republic Starship Independence. Listen, Doher-Ti,

 

I don't know how to tell you this, but we made a mistake. I will

 

explain later, for now I think we need to get our medical and damage

 

control teams in here as fast as we can." The soldier said.

 

Dougherty nodded, and Stamco waved to his men. They

 

immediately put up their rifles, and stepped back and out of the way

 

as several more figures came rushing through the man-made hatchway.

 

Some of the figures moved with a curious gait. Robots?

 

"Their translators understand basic." Stamco was saying.

 

"We're medics, where are your wounded?" An obviously

 

artificial voice asked.

 

"This way," Dougherty indicated.

 

He led the team back down the passage until they came to the

 

empty turbo-lift shaft.

 

"The lifts are dead, you'll have to use the maintenance tubes.

 

The worst damage is on the upper decks." He pointed the way. "I'll

 

lead, in case anyone is trigger happy."

 

"Security to all personnel. Security to all personnel." He

 

spoke into his communicator. "We have friendlies aboard. We have

 

friendlies aboard. Medical assistance is on the way. Hold your fire."

 

"Fire on decks twelve through fifteen. We need help. Hurry."

 

"The fire-control systems are off-line, most of the ship

 

doesn't have power." Dougherty explained to the tall robot.

 

The robot turned and whistled rapidly to a number of squat

 

wheeled robots with domed heads. They barged ahead, whistling and

 

hooting and beeping at each other. One of them rolled straight into

 

the turbolift shaft, and shot up to the next deck. They probably had

 

some kind of on-board antigravity mechanism. Several more of the squat

 

robots followed, others headed off in different directions.

 

"Astro-mech droids." Stamco explained. "They can handle any

 

damage. What is the most critical thing you need?"

 

"Power." Dougherty said without hesitation. With power, they

 

could get the fire-control systems working, dispatch the Medical

 

Emergency Program to various parts of the ship, and transport wounded

 

directly to sick-bay.

 

Stamco spoke rapidly to a soldier standing nearby, who spoke

 

into what looked like a helmet mike.

 

"The Independence is about to tractor your vessel into a

 

docking position. They will attempt to patch power through to your

 

ship. What kind of power systems do you use?"

 

"Energised plasma for the most part, with electrically powered

 

photonic circuits and pneumatic systems elsewhere."

 

"We can supply electrical current, and positronic energy. I

 

don't know about the energised plasma bit, seems awfully dangerous to

 

be using on a starship."

 

Dougherty shrugged. There was no time for arguing the merits

 

of various technologies now.

 

"Can you direct me to your medical facilities?" The tall robot

 

asked. "Perhaps I can be of assistance to your medical staff?"

 

"Sickbay is three decks below us, and much further forward.

 

There are several fires between here and there, without a transporter,

 

we won't be able to get through."

 

"Fires do not concern me, I will find it."

 

With that, the robot jumped into the turbolift shaft, and

 

rapidly descended three decks. Dougherty shrugged.

 

"Lieutenant Dougherty," Stamco interrupted. "The Independence

 

is docking onto the ship five decks above us, and one hundred meters

 

forward. Can we get there from here?"

 

"The fires ..."

 

"Antilles, give him your enviro-suit. Organise two astro-mech

 

droids to clear a path for us."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

In seconds, Dougherty had pulled on the enviro-suit.

 

"This will protect you from the worst of the heat and keep you

 

supplied with clean air. It will also provide limited protection

 

against corrosive gases or liquids. Stay behind the droid, it will

 

clear a path for us."

 

Stamco waved the droids ahead, and clambered into the

 

maintenance tube. They quickly climbed to the next deck. One of the

 

droids whistled sharply at them as they climbed higher. Dougherty's

 

helmet earpiece provided a mechanised translation.

 

"Fire next deck. Wait ten seconds. Then come."

 

The droid levitated itself up on some kind of repulsor, and

 

Dougherty could see it spraying fire-suppressant as it went. He

 

scrambled after the droid, climbing through the burning decks as the

 

droid kept the flames at bay. One of the droids darted off down a side

 

passage, and he saw it lift some heavy equipment off a trapped

 

crewman, and drag the crewman back towards the maintenance tubes. The

 

droid sprayed the area liberally with fire-suppressant, and left the

 

crewman there.

 

"He is unconscious, but his life-signs are strong. I have

 

informed the medical droids of his location. They will fetch him

 

shortly."

 

"Thank you." Dougherty said, a bit taken aback. The droid

 

communicated rather lucidly. If it wasn't for the mechanical sounding

 

translation he would have thought it was sentient. Seconds later, they

 

were on the uppermost deck.

 

"This way." The droid beeped, and headed off towards the front

 

of the ship. "The Independence is cutting a hatch ninety seven meters

 

further along the next passage. There is crossway connecting to that

 

passage seventy meters ahead."

 

Dougherty could have told the droid that. Somebody had

 

probably downloaded a scan of the area to the droid. They were halfway

 

down the passage when a super-hot jet of plasma burst out of a nearby

 

conduit, blocking the passage. The droid bleeped in dismay.

 

"Too hot for fire-suppressant." The translation came. "Hot

 

enough to damage my shell too. We can't get past this way."

 

Just then a squad of droids came advancing from further down

 

the passage. The droids screamed rapidly at each other using whistles

 

and hoots and other electronic sounding noises. Dougherty wondered why

 

they didn't use other forms of communication, such as radio or

 

sub-space. At the same time it came to him that audio was the most

 

difficult to jam and the least likely to suffer from interference,

 

provided there was air. They probably used other mechanisms when in

 

vacuum. The droids seemd to have come up with a plan, and a large ugly

 

looking monstrosity barreled forward. It was holding up a sheet of

 

some kind of metal, which it proceeded to wrap around the conduit,

 

slid it along until it formed a sleeve over the breakage, then welded

 

it into place with some kind of laser-type device.

 

"Follow me please." A rather humanoid looking droid said, very

 

politely.

 

Dougherty was beginning to wonder if the alien ship was crewed

 

mostly by droids. So far the only humans he had seen were the handful

 

of soldiers with Stamco. They rounded the corner, and came to a point

 

where a hole had been cut into another passageway. Beyond the hole was

 

a new passageway that hadn't been there before. An extendible tube

 

connecting to the alien ship. Coming through it were a number of

 

humans in a soft loose-fitting grey and black uniforms. The uniform

 

was very casual, but more militaristic than the starfleet jumpsuits.

 

"Captain Ess-Vin Stavros." The leading man introduced himself.

 

"Security Chief Dougherty."

 

"Are you the senior officer aboard this vessel, Chief?"

 

"No. That would be the captain, and he was still alive as of

 

ten minutes ago. He sounded an alert warning against boarders. I will

 

see if he can get to this point."

 

Dougherty pulled back the enviro-suit he was wearing, and

 

reached in for his communicator. He kept his finger on the translation

 

suppressor so that his conversation with the captain would not be

 

translated into whatever language these aliens spoke.

 

"Security to Captain Stark."

 

"Stark here, Chief. What is your status?"

 

"My status is green, Captain, and my men are still armed. The

 

boarders are definitely friendly. Apparently the attack was a mistake.

 

They have medical and damage-control teams moving onto the ship as we

 

speak. I repeat, status is green, and my men are still armed. The

 

intruders have taken no steps to disarm anyone, and those of them who

 

were armed have laid down their weapons."

 

"Where are you now, chief? We have been tractored into a

 

stable position, but the sensor console is dead. I cannot see what

 

they're doing."

 

"They have opened a hatchway onto deck fourteen, just forward

 

of the secondary holo-suite. I am with their captain. They can supply

 

us with power, but I need an engineer up here?"

 

"Chief Engineer O'Connor is dead. I will have Lascalles report

 

to you."

 

 

 

 

 

Two hours later, most of the fires aboard the USS

 

Constellation were under control. A swarm of droids from the

 

Independence were now being assisted by the Constellation's

 

computerised fire-control system wherever it was still operational. A

 

smoke blackened Lascalles had soon managed to patch power through a

 

jury-rigged transformer into the Constellation's holo-suite power

 

cells, then siphoned it from there to the transporter room, Sickbay,

 

and Engineering. Once the transporters were working, they could start

 

transferring wounded or trapped people to Sickbay. The doctor and

 

several medical droids, as well nine instances of the Emergency

 

Medical Program were working furiously to save the worst cases.

 

Several dozen cases had also been transported directly to the medical

 

bays of the Independence.

 

"What is that?" Doctor Schneider asked. He had seen a medical

 

droid apply some sort of liquid to a burn wound.

 

"Bacta. A genetically modified bacterium bonded to molecular

 

bio-machines. It reads the subject's genetic code and repairs damage

 

according to instructions gained from the genetic coding. It's a

 

universally applicable medical substance, works for all species we've

 

encountered."

 

Schneider ran his tricorder over the wound. The nerves in the

 

area had been de-sensitized, and tissue was growing back at an

 

impressive rate.

 

"It will fix minor wounds without leaving a trace, but it does

 

have limits. We cannot for instance grow back an entire limb. For

 

that, cybernetics will have to suffice."

 

"Why not clone a limb and transplant it?"

 

The alien medic looked at him in horror. "Cloning is outlawed.

 

Modifying or artificially re-creating sentient life is a desecration

 

of the Force."

 

"I understand." Schneider said quickly, not wanting to

 

antagonise the medic or violate the Prime Directive. "Man is not God."

 

The medic looked at him a bit quizzically, and shrugged.

 

"How much of that bacta do you have?" Schneider asked instead.

 

"This is our last." The medic said. "We didn't have much to

 

start with, but the captain said we should not spare it in assisting

 

you."

 

"Why didn't you say so, man?" Schneider nearly shouted.

 

"Lascalles!" he ordered into his communicator.

 

"Yes, Doctor Schneider."

 

"I need a replicator on-line, now!"

 

"Yes, Doctor Schneider. I'm on my way."

 

Minutes later, Schneider had a crowd of the alien medics and

 

their droids around him. He placed a tab of bacta on the sensor tray

 

of the replicator.

 

"Computer, analyse the bio-mechanical substance in this

 

container. Replicate twenty containers."

 

"Analysing. Substance analysed. Replication possible.

 

Replicating."

 

Second later, the single bacta tab had been joined by twenty

 

more. The doctor picked up a random tab, and ran his tricorder over

 

it.

 

"As far as I can tell, it is identical. Shall we try it on

 

somebody?"

 

"My arm." Lascalles volunteered with a grin, and pulled his

 

sleeve back to reveal a nasty tear in his forearm. The doctor broke

 

open the tab, and applied the replicated substance liberally. He

 

watched Lascelles reactions carefully, glancing at his tricorder every

 

few seconds.

 

"It feels cool. The arm isn't burning anymore. Now it feels

 

kinda numb. Whow! What a rush."

 

"It's healing nicely." The doctor confirmed, glancing again at

 

his tricorder. He ran the device over Lascelles in general.

 

"Everything is well within tolerable levels. Stay here for a few more

 

minutes, just in case."

 

The alien medics were beside themselves. "An unlimited supply

 

of bacta. That's incredible. We've tried duplicating it ourselves, but

 

no matter how we tune the duplicators, they're terrible at duplicating

 

biological substances. What comes through is chemically identical, but

 

just not the same thing!"

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Stark walked through the corridors of the alien ship, guided

 

by a protocol droid. He kept having to remind himself that it was an

 

alien ship. It's crew was almost entirely human, with a few

 

unidentified alien species here and there. It definitely looked like

 

something a human mind might design, but certainly not a human mind as

 

he understood it. For all that these people looked human, and

 

registered human on a scanner, there morality and values and

 

thought-processes though were alien to him.

 

He had just finished the largest burial detail he had ever had

 

to undertake in his career as a starship captain. Various accidents

 

and incidents over the years had resulted in one or two or more deaths

 

and burials, but he had been fortunate never to have lost a ship, or

 

as many people as he just had to bury. There was hardly a family

 

on-board his ship that had not lost somebody. A wife. A husband. A

 

father or mother. A son.

 

The saddest funeral had been for Dougherty's six year old

 

daughter. Burnt to a crisp. Of the mother there was no trace. She must

 

have been sucked out into space or totally disintegrated in one of the

 

many explosions. The hardened security chief had cried inconsolably.

 

The discomfort on the faces of their attackers had been very evident.

 

They had sent a number of senior officers over in dress uniform to pay

 

respects to the dead during the mass transporter disintegration, but

 

many families had requested them to leave or wait outside.

 

He was thankful that he was not a married man, with a family.

 

He had always had a fear of taking innocents along into uncharted and

 

dangerous territory, and wondered how others justified it. Sure,

 

inter-stellar journeys were long and lonely times, and Starfleet was a

 

demanding employer. Families who opted to stay behind at starbases or

 

various colonial homeworlds would often have to wait for several

 

months or years before seeing loved ones again. He made a mental

 

promise that if he ever got married, his wife would never accompany

 

him on a starship.

 

It was a serious enough responsibility to have the lives of

 

the crew in his hands, he didn't think he could bear to make the risky

 

decisions demanded by Starfleet directives if his own family's lives

 

were weighed in the balance. For the first time, he felt a measure of

 

understanding of captains who would shoot first and ask questions

 

later. Somehow it was just not as easy to sacrifice your crew as it

 

was to sacrifice your family. He felt like a traitor even now, having

 

to converse civilly with the people who had murdered so many of his

 

friends and family.

 

 

 

"Captain Stark. Please, sit down." Stavros waved him to a seat

 

at the conference table. They were all still in formal dress uniform.

 

Stark sat down rather heavily.

 

"Captain Stark. I must once again formally offer to you and

 

your crew my sincerest apologies. My entire staff, right down to the

 

lowliest crew member, are terribly upset about this incident. I know

 

that our apologies can not bring back those who have become one with

 

the Force, but what we can do, we will. First. I feel I must explain

 

to you what happened. We were jumping into battle. We knew that every

 

ship we faced would be a mortal enemy. When the jump terminated

 

prematurely, we immediately suspected a trap, and thus opened fire on

 

the first and closest ship in sight. By the time we realised that no

 

identifiable enemy vessels were in sight, it was too late."

 

"Who is this enemy that you are fighting? The Borg?"

 

"The Galactic Empire. We are members of the New Republic, a

 

government that is fighting the oppression of the Galactic Empire.

 

Rebelling against the Empire, as it were. The battle we were jumping

 

into was an extremely important one, a battle which might decide the

 

fate of the war for independence."

 

"The Galactic Empire? That is a rather presumptious name. I

 

certainly have not heard of it. Do you mean the Romulon Star Empire,

 

or the Klingon Empire?"

 

"No. I am afraid 'Galactic Empire' is not entirely

 

presumptious. You see, the Galactic Empire is truly a Galactic Empire.

 

Just not this Galaxy."

 

"Not this galaxy? You are from another galaxy?"

 

"Yes, unfortunately, we don't know quite yet how we got here.

 

My navigators best theory is that we may have collided with an

 

uncharted black hole while in hyperspace. An asteroid would have been

 

too small to knock us out of hyperspace, and a rogue planetoid's mass

 

would have been detected by the safeties. A small black hole however

 

might have a sufficiently steep gravitational well that it is not

 

detectable until too late. The chances of colliding with an uncharted

 

black hole is astronomically small, but given the fact that the battle

 

was in an obscure region of the galaxy, and we were crossing

 

relatively uncharted space to get there, it is not beyond the realms

 

of chance."

 

"As a starship captain, and as one who has fought in various

 

battles, I can understand that your firing on us was an accident. Our

 

government is a peaceful organisation, and our directives demand that

 

we accept the situation, but I don't need to tell you that not all my

 

crew will see it the same way. There is not a family on-board who has

 

not lost somebody."

 

"We understand all too well. I re-iterate. Whatever we can do

 

in recompense, we will. However, I feel I must also tell you, and

 

please do not take offence, but this incident is also just one of the

 

vagaries of war. However sorry we are for what has occurred, my first

 

duty is to the New Republic. Somehow, we must get this ship back and

 

do what we can. Already, the battle for which we were prepared might

 

be over, and the bacta we carry may be sorely needed. My navigators

 

are working furiously on a solution to get us back home, maybe to

 

reverse the phenomenon which brought us here. The solution has not

 

presented itself yet, so for now, our services are still available to

 

you. My engineers tell me that your ship's engines are damaged beyond

 

their or your ability to repair, and that you will need dockyard

 

facilities to effect the repairs. If you could point out a nearby

 

friendly port, we will see that your crew is returned there. It may

 

even be possible to return your ship as well."

 

"We have been travelling for fourteen weeks at warp eight, out

 

of starbase 63. That puts us at about 400 light years from the nearest

 

repair facilities."

 

To Stark's consternation, Stavros actually looked relieved.

 

"400 light years, about three hours?" The navigation officer

 

nodded. "We can secure your ship, and tow you back there."

 

Stark kept his mouth shut. Three hours! Four hundred light

 

years, in three hours! No wonder they hadn't detected the black-hole

 

they had collided with, not even a sub-space pulse was that fast.

 

 

 

 

 

"Engineering?" Stavros asked.

 

"Ready, sir. We have installed stasis field generators onto

 

the alien vessel, and they are synchronised to our hyperdrive

 

motivator. We have configured the deflector shielding to include the

 

alien vessel, and attached multiple redundant docking clamps to her

 

hull. She is as secure as she's ever gonna be. We have also

 

jury-rigged a back-up power transfer point, and installed several

 

alluvial dampeners slaved to the hyperdrive motivator. She should hold

 

together. And survive the trip. We have also reconfifured the

 

hyperdrive motivators for the additional mass."

 

Stavros looked at the holographic model of the two ships. The

 

alien vessel was roughly three hundred meters long, about half the

 

size of his frigate. It was secured with multiple clamps to his

 

underside, just abaft of the main ventral weapons tower.

 

"Very well. Chief. The jump is in your hands."

 

Stavros tried to keep his nervousness to himself. This was

 

their first jump since they had ended up in this galaxy. He hoped none

 

of his officer mentioned it. The alien officers looked nervous enough

 

about the whole procedure. They were in fact going to do four small

 

jumps. No more than a hundred light-years each. His navigator was not

 

ready to put complete faith in the astrogation data supplied to him.

 

Apparently, it was just not detailed enough. The aliens relied on

 

their ability to detect and avoid problems, rather than permanently

 

mapping out navigational problems in advance.

 

He didn't mention to Stark that his best engineers had been

 

checking and double-checking the hyperdrive ever since their arrival.

 

As his engineering staff counted down to the jump, and ran through

 

their expanded check-list, he mentally prayed that the Force would be

 

with them. He glanced around, everyone was strapped in, which was not

 

generally required, but on a military ship all safety precautions were

 

always taken.

 

The jump was remarkably smooth. For an instant, the stars

 

seemed to stretch, then flashed into blue lines, and vanished into

 

static. One of the Federation junior officers gasped in shock as the

 

stars stretched into lines.

 

"Surely we're not going fast enough for the stars to stretch

 

into lines like that? You said we'll cover a hundred light years in

 

forty five minutes. We may pass several stars every few minutes, but

 

not fast enough for them to stretch like that, surely?"

 

The Federation science officer replied before Stavros could

 

explain.

 

"Even with warp, the movement of the stars are exaggerated

 

because of relativity. It takes us 19 hours to cover four light years,

 

so even the closest stars do not just flash by. The appearance of

 

stars flashing by though is caused by relativistic distortion as light

 

incidents upon the warp field in a narrow cone on the forward edge of

 

the field. The distortion results as the light is twisted around the

 

entire field. I presume the same goes for hyperspace. As you approach

 

light-speed, just before you break through the barrier, it looks like

 

everything is stretching past you, but that is just a relativistic

 

effect. Notice how all the stars turned blue and then vanished? That

 

was doppler compression. Basic pre-warp theory, ensign Jones." He

 

admonished.

 

"But, if we're in hyperspace, and we're theoretically in a

 

realm where we are travelling faster than light, howcome we can still

 

see each other." The ensign asked.

 

Stavros answered before the science officer could. "I don't

 

know what you mean by relativity, but as I understand it, the stasis

 

field which operates during hyper-drive travel nullifies the

 

supra-doppler effects that faster-than-light travel causes to your

 

perception of the space-time continuum, because of the inversion in

 

the Force as you approach and pass the light-speed barrier. Hyperspace

 

travel was invented as a direct result of our discovery of the Force

 

which binds the Universe together, and is the underlying constant

 

which relates gravity, mass and energy to the speed of light and time.

 

"This is where the stasis field comes into play. It reverses

 

the Force inversion, but not altogether, and that results in this

 

pocket of 'real' space in hyperspace. The origins of the discovery of

 

hyperspace travel and the Force itself goes back more than ten

 

thousand years, and today it is unclear which was discovered first.

 

Certainly, knowledge of the Force and how it relates to matter,

 

energy, space and time, the very building blocks of the Universe,

 

would inevitably result in discovery of hyperspace travel. Conversely,

 

discovery of hyperspace travel leads directly to the mathematical

 

constructs which proves the existence of the Force and it's relation

 

to the structure of the Universe.

 

"What is known today is that the Jedi council traced it's

 

origin back to the same era which saw the discovery of hyperspace

 

travel."

 

"Jedi?" Stark asked. "I am not sure my translator understood

 

that word."

 

"All matter is inherently part of the Force, even vacuum. Time

 

and space are inherently part of the Force. It is what binds

 

everything together. Living creatures however, are closest to the

 

Force, inherently linked to it. We all hear the voice of the Force,

 

and it hears us, even the matter with which this ship is made of hears

 

the Force and speaks to it. Sentients are more closely linked to the

 

Force than other living creatures. However, some sentients are so

 

close to the Force, that they hear the Force clearer than others, and

 

obey it's will consciously, and may even twist the Force to their own

 

will. This group of sentients are carefully screened and each

 

generation, a select few are chosen and trained to be Jedi.

 

"A Jedi is the keeper of Justice, the messenger of the Force.

 

A Jedi has the power to control minds, to see the future, to bend the

 

world around him to his will. Sadly, this is also why we are at war. A

 

few such Jedi turned to the Dark Side, bending the Force to serve

 

their selfish desires, and out of this abomination rose the Galactic

 

Empire, a veritable manifestation of Evil."

 

"These Jedi, they are gods of some sort?" Stark asked

 

carefully.

 

"No." Stavros laughed. "They are mortal enough, though their

 

powers may be likened unto the Gods. Certainly no one mortal can stand

 

against a Jedi, but they are not invincible."

 

"The battle you were jumping into. It was against a Jedi?"

 

"Against a fleet of ships, to be real, but led by a Jedi, or

 

what once used to be a Jedi. The Sith Lord, Darth Vader. A being

 

cloaked in evil, surrounded by darkness. There is no doubt that he

 

would somehow have divined that we meant to attack him at Endor, and

 

he would have prepared accordingly. We expected to be going to our

 

deaths, and merely hoped that the knowledge that we were heading into

 

a trap would be sufficient to beat the trap. That the Force itself

 

would come to our aid, serving those who serve it."

 

"This ship, it would be sorely missed at the battle?"

 

"I doubt it." Stavros smiled. "This ship is but a small

 

frigate. We would have had a limited role on the edge of the main

 

battle. I doubt the fleet would even miss us, but duty is duty."

 

"Sir! Thirty seconds to termination."

 

"All secure!"

 

"Yes, sir. Ship secured."

 

"Action stations!"

 

"Action stations?" Stark asked, alarmed.

 

"A precautionary measure. Demanded by fleet regulations. One

 

never knows what is at the end of a Jump."

 

"Three ... Two .... One."

 

Suddenly the static whirled, coalesced into starlines, and the

 

lines contracted into points.

 

"Com-Scan?"

 

"No encroachments in gunnery range. Scanning mid-range. No

 

encroachments. Navigational scan initiated."

 

"Navigation. Calculate provisional Jump based on the

 

Constellation's charts."

 

'Working."

 

"What was the last Jump's accuracy?"

 

"The Constellation's charts checks out with ours position to

 

the fourth decimal."

 

"Excellent. Compare Navigational scan to Constellation's

 

charts. If accuracy is upheld to the fourth decimal, we may Jump a bit

 

further next time."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

"How long does it take to calculate a Jump?" Stark used.

 

"There are many variables. The accuracy of the current star

 

charts, the distance to be Jumped, the degree of local gravitational

 

distortion. The process is considerably speeded up by a decent

 

navigational scan of the surroundings, unless your scanners are being

 

jammed. Then you rely totally on your charts, but even so, your exact

 

position needs to be known. If the ship does not know where it is,

 

exactly, then a Jump can be extremely dangerous."

 

"A hundred light years? Under normal circumstances."

 

"A few seconds. A ten thousand light year Jump may take

 

several minutes, and a trans-galactic Jump maybe half an hour."

 

"Trans-galactic?" Jones asked.

 

"Yes."

 

"You mean across an entire galaxy?"

 

"Yes." Stavros said, somewhat impatient with the tone of this

 

upstart ensign.

 

"I suppose it's a small galaxy." Jones finished.

 

"Comparatively, yes." Stavros said. "It is small as galaxies

 

go. Some 120,000 light years across, and fifteen thousand light years

 

deep. A classic spiral galaxy though. There are about 350 billion

 

stars in the galaxy, and the Empire includes twenty million sentient

 

species, with about 12 million primary star systems, and various

 

backwater worlds."

 

Stark blanched. He thought about how this ship had come to be

 

in this galaxy. He hoped the gateway was one way. The prospect of a

 

twenty thousand year old galaxy spanning civilisation with millions of

 

worlds worth of industrial resources to draw upon and led by an evil

 

being with god-like powers somehow did not appeal to him as a

 

prospective neighbour.

 

"Navigational scan complete." The navi-comp operator called.

 

Comparing it to the Constellation's starmaps. I have parity to the

 

fifth decimal."

 

"Excellent. Secure ship for Jump. Engineering has the conn."

 

"Engineering here. Ship secured. We are clear for Jump."

 

"Execute."

 

They were in hyperspace again.

 

"Forty two minutes to Jump termination."

 

The second Jump would bring them within two hundred light

 

years of the starbase Stark was heading towards. Stavros spent the

 

time by taking Stark and his staff on a short tour of the

 

Independence. He set a time limit of thirty minutes for the tour,

 

which was really too short to show the entire ship, but sufficient to

 

give them an idea of it's operations.

 

He started by showing them the launch bays. Normally the

 

Nebulon-B frigate carried two squadrons of starfighters, but these had

 

been launched in advance of the Jump on Endor, and she currently

 

carried no fighters, except for a handful of X-wings which had been

 

down for maintenance.

 

"The X-wing starfighter. A single seater model with a very low

 

sensor profile, it has light shielding, on-board life-support, a

 

hyperdrive motivator with a three day operational range, on-board

 

sensor suite including automatic sensory counter-measures, an on-board

 

astro-mech droid of the R2 variety, limited atmospheric capability and

 

four computer linked laser-cannons with independent fire-control. It

 

is the backbone of our fighter complement, although many other models

 

are also used, some of which are faster, and some having greater

 

firepower."

 

"Until recently, our navy had overlooked the use of small

 

fighters in combat." Stark replied. "Initially, the thought of having

 

one or two pilots cooped up in a small space like that for great

 

lengths of time was unthinkable, considering the time it takes to

 

travel inter-stellar distances. Also, the logistical problems involved

 

in building a carrier vessel, and keeping it supplied over

 

inter-stellar distances in combat situations, made the entire scheme

 

impractical. Much better to build large self-sufficient ships.

 

"But recently, things have changed for the worse, and we have

 

developed short-range tactical fighters called Peregrines. They were

 

developed to counter a threat by another hegemony known as the

 

Dominion. The Dominion uses small fighter-type craft which are highly

 

maneuverable, difficult to track even at short ranges, and very good

 

at focussed attacks on weak or exposed points on a starship. The

 

Dominion fighters and our Peregrines are much larger than these

 

though, probably between seven and ten times larger at least."

 

Stavros led the group through to the engineering and

 

manufacturing bays behind the launch bays. Dozens of technicians and

 

several hundred droids were hard at work on various items. Repairing

 

droids, repairing parts for fighters, component repairs on modules

 

from various parts of the frigate, or manufacturing spare modules for

 

quick replacement during battle.

 

"You don't use replicators?"

 

"Duplicators? Yes, we do. But often it is more economical to

 

repair an existing component than to re-create it, though we do have

 

access to duplicators when in port for manufacturing of additional

 

components. Largely though, the duplicators we use require the

 

availability of a base of raw materials, and we are generally not in

 

the habit of having freighters trail along wherever we go. Back home,

 

there is always a port facility within a few hours range, no matter

 

where in the galaxy you are. It is therefore not necessary to have

 

access to duplicators on board the ship."

 

"What about for foodstuffs, or preparation of meals?"

 

"We do have a galley, which serves basic meals. But the galley

 

is rarely used. It is very rare for a ship to be in hyperspace or away

 

from port for several weeks at a time. Most missions involve only a

 

short Jump in, and a Jump back to port. The galleys are therefore

 

probably the most under-utilised area of the ship.

 

"Much the same goes for the crew compartments. My officers

 

told me that your ship has individual quarters for each and every

 

crew-member, and that these compartments are highly personalised. Our

 

crews tend to have quarters in port, or planet-side, and only a

 

temporary facility on-board which is shared by different watches on

 

long trips of a few days or a week or two. Families are not allowed

 

on-board military vessels, except of course for short visits when in

 

port.

 

"Larger ships, such as Star Cruisers or Star Destroyers will

 

have permanent quarters for most crew, but even then, they would tend

 

to make their homes planet-side, or in port."

 

"In port?"

 

"Yes. Systems which warrant a fleet defence will usually have

 

a space-dock facility or a battle-station which allows ships to dock

 

internally or externally. The crews tend to make their homes in these

 

facilities, or planet-side."

 

"We have never been able to operate like that. Embarking on an

 

inter-stellar journey often means several months or even years away

 

from home. As a result, our ships have extensive civilian quarters,

 

and crew-members tend to bring their families along. Traditionally,

 

the entire family joins the Fleet, not just the individual. Of course,

 

there are a handful of dedicated military vessels which do not cater

 

for civilians."

 

Mention of the civilians on the starship he had nearly

 

destroyed made Stavros uncomfortable. He decided to change the

 

subject. Stavros waved towards a nearby turbolift. Just before they

 

got to the lift, an ugly droid marched past on two legs with splayed

 

metal toes. It had a squat rounded superstructure and it's arms

 

terminated in multiple weapons tubes.

 

"What was that?"

 

"S-10 battle droid, used for repelling boarders. Droids don't

 

register on life-form scanners, makes it tricky for boarding parties

 

to advance through a ship. Droids are also less susceptible to the

 

effects of explosive de-compression, toxic chemicals, biological

 

agents, fires and so on. They have multiple redundant target tracking

 

systems, and can operate in total darkness or murky environments with

 

no loss in performance."

 

Stark shuddered.

 

"You make extensive use of droids? Why? Couldn't the ship be

 

designed to take care of itself?"

 

"Ships used to be designed that way, and still are. Droids are

 

just an integral part of the design, and these days are not slaved to

 

the central computer anymore. They are powered independently, have

 

pseudo-sentient algorithms, and can effect repairs or rescues even

 

when the ship is a near derelict. If the ship is extremely badly

 

damaged, then the sentient crews can retreat to safe hard-points,

 

while the droids bring the ship back into an operational state,

 

regardless of loss of power, damage to engines, loss of atmosphere or

 

even loss of gravity."

 

"But the operational crews are sentient? Your officers,

 

gunners, engineers, and so on?"

 

"Yes. Droids are obviously faster than humans, can process

 

information at a greater rate, can interface better with ship's

 

systems, etc, but they are not linked to the Force as closely as

 

sentient beings. As a result, they have poor battle intuition, no

 

imagination beyond randomness, respond poorly to new enemy tactics or

 

situations they weren't programmed for, and are always out-performed

 

by a well-trained and experienced sentient crew. Of course, their

 

deliberately humanoid design does allow them to replace injured or

 

dead crew-members in emergency situations."

 

"Some of your droids appear sentient, yet are treated as mere

 

machines, or servants. They appear to have feelings and mannerisms

 

simulating human feelings and mannerisms. How do you know when they

 

are truly sentient, or merely artificially so?"

 

"A machine cannot be sentient." Stavros said with conviction.

 

"That depends on how you define a machine, surely?" Stark

 

insisted. They were stepping out onto the bridge by now.

 

"There is no definition of life or sentience beyond the

 

relationship to the Force. A droid, a machine, a computer, and so on,

 

registers no different in Force-sensitivity than a rock or a random

 

atom or molecule. Living matter, such as plants, vegetables, animals,

 

and so on have measurably higher Force-sensitivity and the distinction

 

is clear. Sentient beings, whether carbon-based, silicon based,

 

crystalline, mammalian, reptilean, amphibian or vegetative, all again

 

have significantly higher Force-sensitivity. These things are

 

well-established and measurable. There is no life or sentience outside

 

the Force. The closest I have ever heard of that a near-machine has

 

come to sentience are droidships, like the Raaf. They are classified

 

as sentient beings, though conventional scanners often cannot

 

distinguish them from a droid.

 

"Millenia ago, and even as recently as a few decades ago,

 

experiments in artificial biological life, genetic engineering,

 

cloning and other abominations of the Force were attempted. All of

 

these things lead to evil, to destruction, to galactic hardship and

 

war. Part of the Jedi's responsibilities were to eradicate such

 

abominations."

 

"Your entire definition of life and sentience then is Force

 

based?"

 

"Yes. The Jedi, and a very few mathemeticians and engineers

 

who understand these relationships, have proved this understanding

 

over the course of several millenia. Many religions have died out over

 

these millenia as they were subsumed by the greater understanding of

 

the Force, though to many, even belief in the Force is no more than

 

religion. However, the proof of the Jedi's accomplishments, or the

 

understanding of hyperspace travel itself, cannot be denied, no matter

 

how much the Empire tries to suppress this knowledge."

 

"Why would the Empire suppress this knowledge?"

 

"The Empire is led by a being who's power rests in this

 

knowledge. Should the knowledge be suppressed in others, his power

 

will be unassailable."

 

They stepped out of the turbo-lift onto a nearly deserted

 

deck.

 

"This is the outer ring. Most decks have such an outer ring.

 

It is the ring of passage-ways just inside the primary hull. From

 

here, you can gain access to the various fire-control rooms,

 

turbolaser batteries, external observation rooms, and the external

 

damage control rooms where the hull-droids are stored."

 

Another S-10 battle-droid came marching down the corridor, it

 

seemed to glance at them, then move on.

 

"Turbolaser batteries? These are the weapons you used against

 

my ship." Stark commented.

 

"Lasers are not supposed to be so powerful, surely." Jones

 

piped in again, without preamble. Stark frowned at him.

 

"Ensign Jones. Speak only when you are spoken to."

 

Stavros smiled tolerantly, but inwardly winced that an officer

 

could display such poor mannerisms. He could see that Stark was

 

embarrassed by his kinsman though.

 

"Turbolasers are our primary energy weapon. It is actually a

 

combination energy and particle weapon. A high-powered conventional

 

laser is used to energise a specially mined and refined substance,

 

which in turn causes a feed-back into the photon-stream, boosting it's

 

energy levels immensely. The result is a volatile bolt of energy fired

 

at very high velocity. It is a highly destructive weapon, unmatched in

 

sheer power, though it has limited range due to dissipating relatively

 

rapidly. And of course it is unguided.

 

"Turbolasers require huge gun-barrels, which have immense

 

recoil. The barrels need to be steadied and their recoil precisely

 

damped or firing one would rip the ship apart. As a result, they are

 

only useful against relatively stationary targets, like other capital

 

ships. We also have smaller turbolasers though, which fire more

 

rapidly, and can track smaller faster targets, even starfighters."

 

"Captain. We have ten minutes to Jump termination." A protocol

 

droid interrupted.

 

"Thank you, C2-9B9." Stavros answered, and turned back to the

 

Federation captain.

 

"Captain Stark? Can you detail some of your men to assist us

 

in establishing a communications protocol for when we arrive. The

 

sub-space system you use is very different to that used by our

 

short-range transmitters. However, my engineers are certain that we

 

can modify one of our transmitters, or perhaps an active sub-space

 

scanner to send and receive on the frequencies you use."

 

"With pleasure."

 

In short order, the navigation computers were ready for the

 

last jump. This jump would take them directly into the outer fringes

 

of the star system which was home to the base the USS Constellation

 

had left some fourteen weeks back on their journey of exploration.

 

 

 

 

 

"Jump termination in thirty seconds."

 

"Action stations. Secure for termination." Stark watched with

 

apprehension each time he heard the call to 'action stations'. He

 

couldn't help feeling a little bit guilty about guiding this vessel

 

which had attacked his ship without provocation to the unsuspecting

 

starbase. At least it had weaponry sufficient to defend itself should

 

Stavros double-cross him and fire on the station. The only reassuring

 

factor was that he doubted Stavros or anyone would go into battle

 

while weighed down by having to piggy-back another starship.

 

"Ship secured."

 

"Three ... Two ... One."

 

"Scanning."

 

"Medium-sized structure detected, orbiting second planet.

 

Three starships on approach to structure, second planet has high

 

life-sign readings, low industrial capacity, high concentrations of

 

type two refined alloys."

 

"Captain Stark. Can you confirm the medium-sized structure to

 

be the starbase?"

 

Stark glanced at the holographic display in the centre of the

 

bridge. A translucent starbase 63 was suspended in mid-air over the

 

projector table.

 

"Aye. That is starbase 63."

 

The starbase was fairly large. One of the larger structures

 

assembled in space by the Federation. It was a bulb-shaped structure,

 

nearly two kilometers across and about four kilometers from the tip to

 

the tail. Medium-sized indeed.

 

"Com-scan. Open a channel on sub-space. Hail the station."

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"They're already hailing us, Sir. I'll patch it through to

 

the port vid-screen."

 

The port vid-screen, which usually had a stellar display on

 

it, suddenly went milky-white, a swirling rainbow of colours played

 

over the vid-screen for a second, and then coalesced into an image of

 

a plain-looking middle-aged woman.

 

"Unidentified vessel. What is your purpose here?" She seemed

 

somewhat distracted, as if she was looking at another display at the

 

same time, probably wondering at the strange contraption that looked

 

half-alien and half-familiar.

 

Stavros nodded at Stark. They had agreed that Stark would do

 

the talking.

 

"Control. This is Captain Jefferson Stark, USS Constellation.

 

We ran into a bit of a problem on our mission, and Captain Ess-Vin

 

Stavros of the NRS Independence here has offered us assistance. We

 

have a number of medical emergencies, and a severely damaged starship.

 

I need to get several of my people to the medical facilities on the

 

base as soon as possible. Does Captain Stavros have permission to

 

approach."

 

"Certainly, Independence. You may approach at warp 2 on vector

 

023 mark 279. I will see that you have priority clearance."

 

"Control. This ship does not have a warp drive. Do we have

 

permission to approach on a vector of our choosing?"

 

"Certainly. Just stay clear of the other traffic in this

 

system."

 

"Thank you, control. Independence out."

 

Stark nodded to Stavros. Stavros glanced again at his tactical

 

display. Three starships, several dozen planetary diameters from the

 

starbase. Hardly traffic.

 

"Navigation?"

 

"Co-ordinates loaded, sir."

 

"Initiate jump sequence."

 

There was a barely noticeable flash outside the viewing-ports,

 

the stars seemed to have not moved at all.

 

"In position, Federation facility 10,000 kilometers dead

 

ahead."

 

"Open communications. Arrange to disembark the wounded.

 

Prepare to undock the Constellation as soon as all passengers have

 

been disembarked."

 

"Independence. Lower your shields so that we may transport the

 

wounded over." The controller's voice announced.

 

Stavros glanced apprehensively at Stark. That starbase was

 

several times his size, and it had significant energy readings. Stark

 

nodded reassuringly.

 

"Tactical. Power down deflector shields. Shields on stand by."

 

"Yes, Sir."

 

"Control." Stark took over again. "I have twenty nine

 

patients, seriously wounded in the Independence's Sickbay. I have a

 

further eighty-two patients in the Constellation's Sickbay. Those are

 

the serious cases. Then I have a further sixty-one walking wounded,

 

broken bones, plasma burns, mild asphyxiation, acid burns and so on.

 

They are all on board the Constellation, but do not need immediate

 

transportation."

 

"The transportation cycle has begun, Captain Stark. Your

 

wounded are being transferred as we speak. You gave us quite a fright

 

with that sudden displacement. Quite a trick."

 

"Control. My guests are rather hesitant about using the

 

transporter themselves, so please be careful not to transport anybody

 

who is not identifiable as wounded. I and my senior staff will

 

accompany Captain Stark across in a shuttle."

 

"Independence. Your wishes will be respected. No

 

transportation unless specifically requested. The wounded have all

 

been transferred. I have a question from Doctor Ferryman. All the

 

wounds appear relatively fresh, yet you are supposed to be fourteen

 

weeks out from this base?"

 

"I will explain everything once we are aboard, Control."

 

"Very well, Captain. Commodore Larsen will be waiting in

 

conference room 7-B. Control Out."

 

 

 

 

 

Stavros went over alone with two pilots, accompanied by Stark

 

and various of his officers. He ordered the two pilots to remain with

 

the shuttle, and followed the Federation officers to the conference

 

room.

 

"Captain Stavros. This is Commodore Larsen, the senior

 

Starfleet officer for this sector."

 

Larsen spoke something in some unintelligible and impossible

 

sounding language, but was quickly interrupted by Stark, in the same

 

language. Hansen smiled apologetically.

 

"Sorry Captain. I didn't realise that you were not equipped

 

with a Universal Translator."

 

Stark had mentioned that all Starfleet Personnel had Universal

 

Translators implanted in their brains on graduating. Apparently, they

 

would have no problem understanding him, or making themselves

 

understood. The device seemed to be able to translate languages which

 

it could not possibly have been exposed to, and more than that, it

 

worked two ways, actually teaching the implantee (at the aural center

 

of the brain) how to speak languages totally alien to them. He

 

wondered what would happen if they came across a language the human

 

larynx could not duplicate.

 

"No apologies necessary, Sir."

 

"In any case, welcome to the United Federation of Planets. If

 

you don't mind, I need to hear Captain Stark's report first. Captain

 

Stark has insisted that his debriefing be conducted in your presence."

 

"Thank you for your acquiesence to his request. I appreciate

 

this gesture, immensely." Stavros sat down in the seat indicated, and

 

the Commodore turned his attention to Stark.

 

"The doctor informs me that injuries to your crew-members are

 

no more than five or six hours old at best. You are supposed to be

 

fourteen weeks out. I suppose this has something to do with the

 

presence of Captain Stavros here, and that warship out there. Please

 

explain."

 

"Yes, Sir. Our mission was proceeding according to plan, and

 

all records and observations are available for download from our

 

computer core, or the backup should the core be damaged. We had just

 

crossed the outer limits of the previous exploration markers, and were

 

heading into virgin territory. As such the ship was operating under

 

the standard exploration protocols. No starships or warp traces were

 

registered on our sensors.

 

"We had just entered the star-system coded G-67321. We slowed

 

to one quarter impulse and initiated a detailed sensor focus on all

 

the system's planets. The scan had barely begun when, with no warning,

 

an immense warship de-cloaked off our starboard bow and immediately

 

opened fire. The first volley smashed down our navigational shields,

 

breached the dorsal hull in several places, and knocked out the dorsal

 

phaser array. I ordered the shields raised, but a second volley hit

 

the ship before the tactical officer could comply.

 

"The dorsal hull breaches were expanded, several power systems

 

were knocked off-line, a hit on the starboard nacelle caused the

 

automatic shut down of the warp core, and excess plasma was

 

immediately dumped out of the port nacelle. The loss of power

 

prevented us from raising shields, or returning fire.

 

"I ordered power to be routed from the auxiliary fusion

 

reactors, but a third volley knocked out the inertial damping field,

 

causing ship-wide chaos and injuries. By this time, more than a third

 

of the ship was exposed to vacuum, and several decks were on fire. The

 

fusion reactors' containment field was under threat of imminent

 

failure, so the computer shut down the reactor core and dumped the

 

fusionable material.

 

"At this stage, the only power available to the ship was from

 

the backup power cells which service the life-support systems and the

 

artificial gravity. This power was fading fast due to damage to

 

several of the power cells. I ordered power routed to the ventral

 

phaser bank from the auxiliary cells attached to the torpedo

 

launchers. The ship had lost attitude control, but we managed to score

 

two hits on the enemy before they moved out of the line of fire.

 

"By this stage, we were aware that a boarding craft was

 

heading our way. I gave an order for the crew to prepare to repel

 

boarders. As I understand it, by this stage we had over three hundred

 

dead, mostly on the civilian decks in the upper dorsal saucer module.

 

Perhaps Captain Stavros would like to take over from here?"

 

There was a pained expression on Stavros face. He nodded to

 

Stark.

 

"My ship, the NRS Independence, was attached to the First

 

Republic Fleet. The fleet, numbering some forty ships, was preparing

 

to engage an enemy fleet, belonging to the Galactic Empire, with whom

 

we are at war. The fleet assembled into attack position, with my ship

 

covering one of the flanks in expectation of providing support against

 

enemy starfighters. Once assembled, the fleet jumped to hyperspace,

 

fully prepared to go directly into action against the Imperials on

 

Jump termination.

 

"Four seconds short of Jump termination, we hit what we

 

thought to be a hyperspace interdiction field, causing the premature

 

termination of our jump. Our ship was already at action stations, and

 

our immediate suspicion was that the Imperials, knowing of our

 

impending attack, had set a trap for us. My gun crews did what was

 

expected of them. They fired on the first non-friendly target in

 

gunnery range.

 

"The Independence is capable of firing a full broadside every

 

two seconds, and it took us at least that long to discern that the

 

ship we faced was not an Imperial ship. I immediately gave the order

 

for a cease fire while we scanned for the enemy. By this time two full

 

broadsides had already been fired. The cease-fire took effect just as

 

the third broadside was released.

 

"It pains me terribly, but I must accept all responsibility

 

for the damage to your starship."

 

To Stavros surprise, the Commodore nodded understandingly.

 

"I don't understand everything you've told me, but I can see

 

how it must have been from your point of view. Captain Stark, I must

 

ask you how you managed to wander into the middle of a battle without

 

realising it?"

 

"I am sorry Commodore," Stavros interrupted, "but there is

 

more. The good captain here did not wander into a battle. What we took

 

to be an interdiction field must have been an uncharted hypermatter

 

body, which knocked us way off course. When our jump terminated, it

 

was nowhere near the location where the battle was to take place. We

 

weren't even in the same galaxy."

 

"Ah, I see. You were knocked somewhat off course. So the

 

entire incident was an accident. I don't see how Starfleet can

 

apportion blame to either yourself or Captain Stark. Unless of course

 

you might have been able to avoid the navigational error somehow. At

 

worst, I suspect Starfleet might want reparations to the tune of the

 

damage to the starship, and perhaps the families of those unfortunate

 

to have died in the incident. We certainly wouldn't want to get

 

involved in your war, or a prolonged political squabble. It might even

 

be in the best interest of good relations between our respective

 

societies to forget this incident ever occurred.

 

"If you are in any way representative of your society, I can

 

only assume that any relations between our respective societies will

 

be most propitious. We must make arrangements to exchange ambassadors

 

at the earliest opportunity."

 

"Commodore. To be honest. I am not sure that that will be

 

possible." Stavros sighed.

 

"But why ever not?"

 

"You see, I don't know how to get home. Once matters here have

 

been resolved. I would like to return to the area of the star system

 

where the incident took place, and see if we can somehow reverse the

 

phenomenon which brought us here."

 

"But, I understood it to be a navigational error. How far is

 

it to your home systems? Surely you can travel back there?"

 

"Commodore. When I said we were not even in the same galaxy, I

 

meant it. My navigators are still working to locate our galaxy. But,

 

one thing we do know, this is not it."

 

"Good lord."

 

"Something like that, yes." Stavros smiled, faintly. "Now, I

 

would like to know what I can possibly do about reparations, before I

 

pursue my investigations as to how to get home any further."

 

"Captain Stavros. I would like time to discuss this matter

 

further with Captain Stark, and possibly my superiors. Do you think

 

you could allow us a few days to come to a decision. Perhaps we might

 

even be able to assist you in your quest to return home. Of course, we

 

cannot forcibly detain you. You are welcome to return to your ship,

 

and should you decide to leave, I would do nothing to stop you.

 

However, I am sure that as I judge you, you will stay until we have

 

reached a decision."

 

"I can give you three days. If you will agree, I would like my

 

first officer to take the Independence and attempt to scout a way

 

home. He can return here in three days for me, should you allow me to

 

leave."

 

"I must ask you this. If we refuse to let you go, what action

 

will your first officer take?"

 

"I have ordered him to abandon me here, if that were the case.

 

He is not to make an attempt to rescue me, and he is not to engage any

 

of your ships in battle. We have caused you sufficient grief. It is

 

not worth fighting a war over one man. I will not have my men

 

sacrifice their lives for my personal gratification, nor will I draw

 

my government into a conflict it might not want. Assuming a way home

 

is found. I am prepared to personally accept the responsibility of my

 

ship's action against the Constellation. My men were merely following

 

guidelines for which I, ultimately, am responsible."

 

"Spoken like a Federation officer." Commodore Larsen stated.

 

He stood and offered his hand to Stavros.

 

"Please, by all means take your ship and see if you can scout

 

a passage home. If you don't find your way home, I would be very

 

pleased if you returned to this outpost. I personally would vouch for

 

your acceptance as honorary Starfleet personnel. We would be happy to

 

offer you a home in the Federation should you be forced to remain in

 

this galaxy."

 

Stavros couldn't believe what he was hearing. Less than twelve

 

hours ago he had all but destroyed one of these people's starships,

 

murdering hundreds of their civilians in the process. Now they wanted

 

to offer him a home.

 

"Commodore. My first duty is still to my men and to the cause

 

for which we are fighting. I must attempt to return home and do

 

whatever I can in the interests of my people. My galaxy is facing it's

 

darkest trial, and any little thing I can do to help I am obligated to

 

do. However, should it prove impossible for me to return home, it will

 

be a pleasure to be of service to your Federation."

 

 

 

 

 

"You're not kidding me?" Talon asked.

 

"I am not." Stavros responded.

 

"I don't believe that anybody could be so ... so ... "

 

"I know what you mean." Stavros said, looking out at the

 

starbase below, with the wreck of the Constellation being slowly drawn

 

into a repair bay. "These people have something special. If the

 

Republic turns out to have half the character displayed by the people

 

we met here then it will be worth fighting for indeed."

 

"Yes. It will. Ship is secure, Sir!"

 

"Initiate jump sequence."

 

The stars stretched, flashed into blue and whirled into the

 

static of hyperspace. They were jumping directly back to the star

 

system where they had first encountered the Constellation.

 

"Jump termination in three hours, twenty two minutes sir."

 

"The ship will go to action stations thirty minutes before

 

termination, number one. Have com-scan double their shifts and scan

 

everything in sight. We must find a way home."

 

"Aye, Sir."

 

The three hour journey passed slowly. Most of the crew

 

wondered if their quest would meet with any success at all. The

 

prospect of being trapped in this galaxy, however noble it's citizens,

 

did not appeal to many. Their homes, the families for whom they

 

fought, were uppermost on all their minds. Somehow, they had to get

 

home and fight the Empire. If they could but bring a glimmer of the

 

hope found in this galaxy back with them, they would indeed have

 

something to fight for.

 

 

 

 

 

"Jump termination in five seconds. Four ... three ..."

 

The ship shuddered and bucked violently, throwing loose

 

equipment around the bridge. Fortunately, being at actions stations,

 

everyone was secured in place, and there was no injuries.

 

"Multiple targets, all around us. It's the Rebel fleet. Endor

 

is on our starboard flank, I count twenty five Imperial capital ships

 

dead ahead. There's the Death Star. The battle hasn't started yet."

 

"May the Force be with us." Ackbar's voice came over the ship

 

to ship relay system. The rebel fleet moved in towards the Imperial

 

fleet, the fighter squadrons and assorted small ships leading the way.

 

Stavros looked quizzically at his first officer. He shook his

 

head as if to rid himself of an irritation. Thumbing his internal

 

communications console, he put a call through to Sickbay.

 

"Doctor, how much bacta do we have in stock?"

 

"Captain, we still have everything that the Federation ship

 

replicated for us. Nearly an entire hold full. Why do you ask?"

 

"No reason." Stavros said, and cut the communication.

 

"Tactical, watch for fighters. I don't want any TIE's breaking

 

past us into the main formation. You all know what we're fighting for.

 

This will require our very best."

 

"Break off the attack! The shield is still up." General

 

Calrissian's voice came over the relay. "Pull up! All craft pull up!"

 

The fleet executed a desperate turn, attempting to avoid a

 

collision with the Death Star's protective shield.

 

"Take evasive action! Green Group, stick close to holding

 

sector MV-7." Admiral Ackbar ordered.

 

Stavros glanced at the tactical display in dismay. Another

 

Imperial Force was moving to cover their exit vector in sector 47.

 

"It's a trap!" Ackbar announced unnecessarily.

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