Before the Storm

The Empire discovers the Federation and hatches a plan for control- can the Federation resist?

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6. Deception

Before Sisko could thumb the button that would end Picard’s life, the doors swished open, a security team led by Commander Riker bursting in.  Sisko screamed with rage, swirling around and firing blindly.

Commander Riker caught the blast straight in the stomach, and was sent out of the door and skidding along the corridor.  Two security guards caught Sisko with twin stun beams, and as the captain staggered, they fired again.  Sisko fought to stay conscious, but another blast sent him into Nether land.

 

Space was filled with tumbled debris from the broken hulls of once mighty starships.  Red and green bolts of energy blew fighter-sized holes in enemy vessels, and the fighters themselves buzzed across the battle scene like swarms of angry bees.

Piett’s prediction was coming true- the Rebels were attacking, and attack in earnest.

Two Golam defence stations had already been disabled, when the Rebels had dropped out of hyperspace right beside them and poured turbolaser fire into them.  Several Star Destroyers had suffered the same fate.

The unexpected presence of Mon Calamari cruisers had taken the Imperials at the wormhole complete unawares.  They had been blitzed in the opening moments of the battle, and surprised at how organised the Rebels were.  Fighters strafed starships with missiles and bombs, and the Rebel fleet had cut right into the heart of Imperial defence lines.

That wasn’t to say that the Rebels hadn’t been greeted with lethal firepower.  Several frigates and gunships now listed, fires raging within them, hull breaches all over them. 

“Definitely not my idea of courage.” Remarked Han Solo wryly as he brought the Falcon around in a loop, his ship now heading toward a Star Destroyer and a Mon Calamari cruiser, exchanging heavy weapons fire.

Up ahead were two squadrons of TIE Bombers, that were zeroing in on the Mon Calamari cruiser.  Their payload would be enough to tilt that particular battle in favour of the Star Destroyer, and Han was determined not to let that happen.  It was but one exchange, one battle in a space filled with exploding warships and nimble fighters, but it was Han’s immediate focus.

The Bombers were closing in, but so was the Falcon.  She gracefully came in behind the enemy craft, laser blasts suddenly pelting the Bombers and forcing them to veer off.  One Bomber was unlucky, clipped on it’s left wing, sent spiralling into a nearby Carrack Cruiser.

“One down, seven to go.” Muttered Han.  Chewbacca growled, and Han groaned.  The Bombers were coming about, the Falcon squarely in their sights.

Han jinked the Falcon hard to the left, quad cannons popping off shots at the Bombers even as their own guns fired.  The Falcon shook as it took a couple of hits, but three more Bombers were turned into fiery confetti, as Han brought the Falcon to bear right, and then into a loop that enabled the gunners to pepper the Bombers with more shots.

“Keep her steady Chewie, roll to the right, now!”

The remaining Bombers had split into two groups, trying to come at the Falcon from both sides.  The first two Bombers got in behind the Falcon, attempting to herd her into the path of the other two Bombers.  Han’s turn played into their hands, but only because he allowed it to.

Just as the Bombers began shooting, the Falcon dropped its nose, her cannons suddenly placed perfectly to return fire.  The attacking Bombers were blown to shreds and before the last two could react, the Falcon’s guns had pivoted, fired, and reduced them to hot scrap.

“Yee Haw!” Proclaimed Han, allowing himself to saviour their moment of victory.  That moment was brought to an abrupt end as the Falcon rocked hard.

“Rawrrrgh!” Rumbled Chewbecca, roughly translated as ‘Interceptors!’

“I see ‘em!”

The trio of enemy fighters zipped around and came back, firing savagely.  The Falcon shook again, and Han decided it was time to take a risk.

Up ahead, the Mon Calamari cruiser scored a decisive hit against the Star Destroyer.  The Imperial ship’s shields were punctured, and turbolaser fire poured into the hole, gouging out large chunks of metal and circuitry.  A heavy turbolaser blast tore away most of the forward section, a huge flaming mess left behind.

What remained of the forward section was wracked by fires and explosions, debris falling everywhere.

It was into this that Han flew.

The Interceptors were quicker, but Han was the better pilot.  The Falcon traded blows with the fighters as Han weaved an impossible course between blossoming fireballs and bits of metal.  Somehow Han pulled off death-defying turns and dodges, and took the Falcon through the remains of the Star Destroyer’s nose.

The Interceptors weren’t so lucky.

The lead fighter tried to follow Han into a particularly potent pocket of debris, only to be clipped by a laser blast, and subsequently becoming part of the debris.

Fighter number two was so intent on the Falcon that the pilot didn’t register the enemy ship firing into the wreckage field, sending fragments everywhere. 

The first the pilot knew of it was when one such fragment smashed into the cockpit.

The final fighter emerged from the Star Destroyer’s remains to find no sign of the Falcon.  All he could see was the maelstrom of the raging battle.

It was then that the Falcon reappeared, bursting from the wreckage with her cannons lighting up space.  In a matter of seconds, fighter number three became a dust cloud.

“Not bad for a day’s work eh Chewie?” Quipped Han.  The Wookiee roared in agreement.

But the battle was far from over.  Frigates and destroyers wove in-between the heavy cruisers, supporting their efforts, the fleets bombarding each other with such powerful energies that unlucky fighters were destroyed by the energy wash alone.

To starboard, an X-Wing fighter formed up alongside the Falcon.  The rugged workhorse of the Rebellion’s fighter fleet, the X-Wing packed an impressive punch, able to carry anti-fighter missiles or deadly bombs and torpedoes.  Equipped with shields and hyperdrive, it was a versatile breed of craft.

In the hands of a Jedi, it was even better.

Since Luke had returned from Dagobah, he had hardly talked of what he had done there.  What Han had noticed was that the young man seemed more disciplined, more focused, and somehow stronger.

Together Red Five and the Falcon made to end the battle and secure victory, coming up alongside other fighters and the Rebel fleet, as they made their final push.  A handful of Imperial and Victory-class Star Destroyers remained, and only a smattering of support ships.  Not enough to win.

TIEs screamed from the Imperial lines but were cut to ribbons by X-Wings and the new A-wings.  The path was clear for other X-Wings, Y-Wings and the even newer B-Wings to deliver their payloads of torpedoes and bombs, and the Falcon joined them.

Enemy support ships tried to disperse the fighters, but blasts from frigates and Mon Calamari destroyers silenced them.  The fighters unleashed their attack, a stream of bombs slamming against the shields of Star Destroyers, until localised breaches led to impressive explosions across their hulls, billowing debris into the midst of the Rebel fighters.

“Luke, you ok back there?” Asked Han, as the Falcon came about for another run on a Victory-class. 

Silence, static.

“Luke?!”  Asked Han again, more urgently this time.

“I’m here, but… hold on…”  To Han, Luke sounded distracted, worried.  But why, when victory was all but assured?

Han was cut from his musing by a bleeping console, and an agitated Wookiee.  Checking his sensors, Han cursed.

From hyperspace emerged a massive Super Star Destroyer.  Alongside it came innumerable Star Destroyers, both Imperial and Victory-class, as did several Interdictors.

Only one person commanded such a fearsome fleet: Darth Vader.

Han still had fresh memories of being chased through the Hoth system by Star Destroyers belonging to Death Squadron, and had no desire to repeat the experience.

“All ships, prepare to retreat!  We can’t defeat that fleet!” Ordered Admiral Ackbar over the conn.

“Admiral, we’ve come so far, gotten so close!  We can’t turn back now!” Pleaded Luke over the channel.

“We don’t even know what this anomaly is Commander Skywalker.  We can’t risk going into it.”

“Admiral, I know we can go into        it, and I know we can come out of it.  It’s the key to everything!  Please… if you won’t take my word for it, trust the word of the Force.”

Han wanted to scream.  Death Squadron was closing in, with the remaining defenders of the wormhole fleeing to join them as they advanced on the Rebels.  Luke it seemed was still as insane as ever!

The seconds ticked by, and Ackbar didn’t say anything.  Why didn’t the Admiral realise that this wasn’t the time for contemplation???

Ahead of the Rebel fleet, the vortex opened, a churning, angry hole in space.

They couldn’t surely go through it, could they?

Behind the Rebel fleet, Death Squadron readied their guns.  The Interdictors gravity wells were nearly ready to activate, trapping them all.

“All ships, head into the anomaly!  Hurry!” Came the Admiral’s order.  Han didn’t need telling twice.  He punched his controls and the Falcon vanished into the wormhole.

 

Admiral Beniga was enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea (introduced to him by Captain Picard) as he sat in his quarters, reading up on the latest reports from Intel, just before going on duty.  The new space station, MW 1 (Milky Way One, a name Beniga couldn’t stand) was finally operational, and gleamed with impressive weaponry.

Floating nearby was Deep Space Nine, with the Imperial fleet having dispersed to help protect the Federation’s borders.  The Enterprise remained moored to the station, with both crews still trying to come to terms with the tragedy of a few hours before.

Without any kind of warning, the wormhole blossomed before his window, bright and impressive as it always was.  Beniga was confused- no Imperial ships were due to come through for another day- and thus was about to order the command deck to send a communiqué when ships emerged from the wormhole.

They poured out, over two hundred, firing as they did.

MW 1 was raked with turbolaser fire, knocking Beniga off his feet and setting off a series of alarms.  Looking out of the window, the admiral wryly noted that Deep Space Nine had been fortunate enough to avoid being targeted, but his thoughts were ripped from him as the station shook again.

A new explosion lit up the view from the admiral’s window; one of the Star Destroyers assigned to guard MW1 had just been obliterated.

In a flurry of missiles and torpedoes, the attacking fleet fled. 

Slapping a control panel, Beniga demanded answers from the command deck.  Across the station damage control teams were already hard at work, dealing with the most critically damaged regions first.

“Admiral, Deep Space Nine is hailing, they are offering to beam over medical personnel to help us with the injured.” Came the voice of a young, panicky officer via the intercom.

“Tell them that any help they can offer will be gratefully received.  Ask them if they have sensor logs from the attack that we can view.  Beniga out.”

Another glance out of the window confirmed Beniga’s worst suspicions.  Several Imperial ships had been destroyed, and Deep Space Nine was missing a lower docking pylon, so it appeared the enemy had not spared the Federation station after all. 

Just as everyone was starting to calm down and gather themselves after the lightening strike, the wormhole opened again.  This time the shields of the remaining ships and the stations went up, and everyone braced themselves for another assault.

From the wormhole came a sight that inspired awe in Imperial personnel and sent waves of pure amazement through Starfleet personnel.  A massive Super Star Destroyer emerged, flanked by three Imperial Star Destroyers.  It did not take long for shuttles carrying medical supplies and repair equipment to make their way to MW1.

In the aftermath of the attack, Beniga took stock of the station and its ships.  After arriving at the command deck and calling on a full damage report, he was dismayed to learn that four Victory class Star Destroyers had been destroyed, and that the station itself was reduced to running on emergency power, none of its weaponry operative.  Even the command deck itself was littered with broken panels and scorched walls where fires had briefly burned.  There was no question that he would take personal responsibility for the deaths under his command, and so it was that Beniga stood on the command deck and began to compile a list of the dead.  He would memorise every name, pay each one their due respects.

Unfortunately for Beniga his work was about to interrupted.  As he sat down and thought about what to say to the families of those who had died, a communications panel bleeped.  One of the junior officers, a blonde-haired, scrawny man called Lear, answered, and went immediately pale.

“Admiral, Lord Vader requests permission to come aboard.  He wishes to speak with you.” The quiver in the young man’s voice was all too evident.

Well now… thought Beniga.  This should make life interesting…

 

“Doctor Crusher has cleared Picard to leave the Enterprise’s sickbay.  He’ll have a few new scars, which he won’t be getting removed, but other than that, he will be fine.” Doctor Bashir paused, uncertain of where to begin.  In Conference Room Seven, every pair of eyes was on him.  Worf, Kira, Jadzia, Data of the Enterprise, all of them wanted to know what had happened.  Chief O’Brien was not in attendance; instead he was supervising repairs on the wrecked Lower Pylon Three.

“Captain Sisko is another matter.  Physically, he is fine, and no one who has been speaking with him these past few months has reported anything unusual.  It seems like, for no apparent reason, he exploded.  Vented years of pent up anger and hate all in one burst.  I’ve kept him under sedation but I can’t do so forever.  What state he will be in when he wakes up, I have no idea.”

Jadzia was shaking her head.

“I know Ben.  I’ve known him through more than one set of eyes.  There is nothing in either my own experiences or in Curzon’s to suggest he’d be capable of something like this!” As Jadzia spoke, she got more and more angry.  This was impossible.  It had to be some kind of terrible dream.

“It is well documented that Captain Sisko had a long-standing disagreement with Starfleet Command regarding Imperial involvement in Federation affairs.  It is also well known that as a result of this both Starfleet and Imperial personnel have been somewhat cold toward Captain Sisko recently.  Captain Picard himself had spoken to Sisko about this matter and it was no secret that they disagreed.”  Commander Data was deadpan; his emotion chip not active.

“You’re not seriously suggesting this was some kind of political disagreement turned violent?” From across the table, Major Kira sounded incredulous, staring at the android in utterly disbelief.

“No Major.  However, Captain Sisko had been under considerable stress as a result of the situation, which may have been a contributing factor to a breakdown.”

Kira shook her head.  She could not accept that her commanding officer of the past six and a half years was capable of such an act.

“I know this is hard to accept Major.  Captain Sisko is a decorated officer and highly respected despite recent disagreements with Starfleet Command.  However the facts of the matter…” Data was cut off mid-sentence by a fuming Commander Worf.

“This is all impossible!  Captain Sisko is an honourable man.  There must be more to this than ‘the facts of the matter!” Worf drove his fists down upon the table with his last words, emphasising his point.

“That may be true Commander, but equally, things may be exactly as they appear to be.  To jump to any sort of conclusion at the moment would be premature; we need to speak to Captain Sisko if we are to properly ascertain what happened.”

Worf looked like he had more fury to vent, but kept silent.  Data was right.  They had to speak to Captain Sisko.

Data tactfully changed the subject.

“We have another situation to consider.  Admiral Beniga wishes to come aboard later to discuss the recent attack that we witnessed.  The Admiral explained that he believes the ships that came through the wormhole belonged to the Rebel Alliance.”

Deep Space Nine’s command crew were silent for a moment, other things clearly still on their minds.  It was Jadzia who was the first to respond.

“Whoever these new people are, they destroyed a docking pylon and killed over nineteen crewmembers.  From what I hear, hundreds of Imperials died on Milky Way One and thousands more died when the ships were destroyed.  This Rebel Alliance hasn’t done much to endear itself to me.”

“Nor me.” Replied Worf.  “Perhaps the Rebels consider the Empire to be a legitimate threat, but they attacked this station with no motivation whatsoever.  They lack honour.”

“Maybe there’s a link between Sisko’s attack on Picard and the sudden arrival of the Rebels?” Spoke Bashir quizzically.  “The timing does seem rather co-incidental.”

Data pondered Bashir’s query for a moment.

“It is difficult to work out what motives the Rebels would have for making Captain Sisko try to kill Captain Picard.  Equally, it is difficult to work out when they would have the opportunity to speak to or to manipulate Captain Sisko.”

“Is there any indication of where the Rebels fled to?” Asked Jadzia.

“At this time, none.  The Imperials have already begun to hunt for them, and our own range is extremely limited compared to theirs.  The Rebel ships could be years away from earth in terms of warp speed, but their hyperdrive would allow them to carry out a lightening strike that we would be unable to respond to.”

Jadzia thought about that for a moment.  The possibility of such an attack was frightening.

“Let us hope that the Empire will keep us safe then.” Said Bashir pensively.

 

Beniga felt very much relieved, all things considered.  He had expected Lord Vader to be in an angry mood for allowing the Rebellion to so easily overcome his defensives, but instead Vader had only been interested in the sensor records from Milky Way One.  The Dark Lord had not been onboard the station for very long, but his presence brought with it the usual mixture of fear and loathing.  The crew’s relief at his shuttle’s departure had been obvious to anyone watching.

The records had pointed to the possibility that the Rebel fleet had headed off in different directions, splitting up their forces.  It was a sound move that would them more difficult to round up and destroy.  No doubt they were already plotting how to undermine the Empire’s plans for the Milky Way. 

Vader had seemed distracted somehow, as though he was not interested in the Rebellion, but rather, a certain aspect of it.  He had commanded that the sensor records be transmitted to the Executor, and had then left. 

Looking out of the viewport of his quarters, Beniga took in the view of Deep Space Nine, now surrounded by little workbee shuttles that were carrying out repairs to it’s Lower Pylon Three.  The shadow of a civil war raging millions of lightyears away had now caused death and destruction to a civilisation that didn’t deserve to be a part of it.  Beniga thought of Captain Sisko and the events that had transpired and it suddenly hit him that what had happened had been a terrible crime.  With Beniga’s order, a great wrong had been committed against a decent, honest man, and against a good, peaceful society.  Slowly but surely the Federation was being transformed into something that went against the grain of all the Federation stood for, but it was in the name of the greater good, wasn’t it? 

Beniga had to search long and hard within himself before he decided that was probably true.

 

Never in her life had Mara Jade felt so miserable.  She watched from the upper level of the Promenade as Julian dined with Jadzia and tried her best to ignore the feeling of jealousy that welled up instead of her.  The Emperor’s training demanded that she let the emotion fuel her anger and her power, but she didn’t want to feel this way.  Not after what Julian had told her in the holosuite.

Reaching out with the Force, Mara could feel Julian’s emotions.  She could feel the shock and pain that he was feeling over what had happened to Captain Sisko, and a new emotion shot through her: guilt.  After all, was she not involved in what had happened?  Was she not responsible for how Julian was feeling?

No, she told herself.  She had been following orders and serving her master, that was all there was to it.  Julian meant nothing.

So why did her feelings of guilt and longing and pain rise up whenever she thought of him? 

The young attaché headed off toward the docking rings, where she would board a shuttle to take her back to her galaxy and forever away from the man who loved her… and the man she loved.

 

Captain Picard hated the duty that now faced him, but it was part of being a captain in the fleet, and a personal responsibility that weighed more heavily on his shoulders than it had ever done.

On Holodeck Two, Picard and his senior staff, adorned in dress uniform, looked out upon a recreation of the Aurora Borealis, on the cold snowy plans of Alaska.  It was a fitting sight.

A small platform had been created, with a podium to speak from.  With the knowledge that the entire crew was tuning into a live feed to the Holodeck, Captain Picard took to the podium, and took a deep breath.  He had prepared no notes, for they would not do justice to what his heart commanded he say.  With a pause, he looked up at his officers, noting the looks of pain and anger that was etched on their faces.  To the left of Picard, were a simple oak coffi, and a quartet of ensigns, also in dress uniform, standing guard over it.  Other members of the crew stood further back, watching in silence.

“As I stand here…” Began Picard solemnly.  “It is with the heaviest and weariest of hearts.  Today we have lost not only a fine officer and loyal commander, but a good friend.  I cannot begin to express in words what a blow this is… Commander Riker was a source of fun and excitement, and he was a natural leader, unwavering in the face of danger and willing to put his life on the line to make sure his crew were safe.  Will risked everything to save me after I was taken by the Borg….” Picard stopped for a moment, determined not to let his voice crack.  He would be the rock of strength for his crew.  Composing himself, Picard continued.

“When I first met William T Riker, it was at Farpoint Station, over seven years ago.  I selected him to by my first officer for the one reason why so many other captains had turned him down: he had a tendency to question the wisdom of command decisions.  I remember reading this as I studied candidates for the job, and I remember thinking that he would make a fine first officer, stopping me from going off half-cocked in some adventure or plan.  Will was always there to officer advice and opinions, and acted as a vital liaison between me and the rest of the crew.  He made families feel welcome and spared me the awkward duty of dealing with children, for which I was eternally grateful!”  There were a few bitter chuckles, smiles tinged with sadness, and Picard wondered how much more he could continue.  The Captain suddenly felt very old.

“William Riker never hesitated to offer me his opinion, or to give me his advice.  I am certain that I would not be alive today if it weren’t for him.”

Deanna Troi, who had until that moment been somehow holding off her tears, started to cry.  Low sobs cut into Picard’s eulogy, and all of the defences he had built up around his heart over the years began to crumble.  Suddenly he felt angry; Riker had been taken from the ship and her crew, cruelly and for no reason whatsoever.  It had all happened in an act of madness.

“There can be no doubt that no one will ever be able to replace Will Riker.  He was unique, dedicated to this ship and her crew, and the most courageous man I have ever known.  I will miss him.”

Picard came to the end of his speech, unable to carry on.  With a stone-faced nod to the ensigns, the traditional Last Post that the navy still used began to play, and the coffin was lifted, where it would be taken to Will Riker’s quarters and watched over in turn by the senior staff on the journey back to earth.  Only Captain Picard would be staying on Deep Space Nine.  He wanted answers and was determined to get them.

 

Deep Space Nine had presented Admiral Beniga with an honour guard as he made his way to the conference room, flanked by a pair of Stormtroopers and with Captain Gregari at his side.  The younger man had spent the past few hours heading back to Deep Space Nine from his previous position near Klingon territory.  Whilst Beniga had been silently counting the cost of the Rebel’s attack, Gregari had been raging, and had vowed to personally execute every last one of them.

Awaiting the Imperial group was Captain Picard, along with Lt. Commander Data and Lt. Commander Dax.  They had much to discuss.

Once everyone was seated, Dax activated the room’s display panel, which showed brief footage of the Rebel attack, and then an outline of where the Rebel ships had fled to.  Everyone digested that information for a moment.  Then Beniga spoke.

“Captain, Commanders, please accept my sincere apologies for this situation.  The Empire never intended for an internal matter such as this to bring death and destruction on this side of the wormhole.  As you can see, the Rebellion does not care or respect life, they attacked indiscriminately.”  Beniga paused for a moment.  His words were sticking in his throat, not from his anger over the attack, but at how his government was about to manipulate the situation.

“Rebel starships have comparable weaponry and defences to our own.  Their ships also have comparable speed.  As I’m sure your people have already surmised, an attack on a Federation world would be devastating.”

Captain Picard spoke first.

“What would you advise?”

“I will speak to my government and then to yours, about arranging an Imperial task force to help defend key Federation worlds.  We’ll extend that offer to other governments as well.  There may be logistical concerns at first, but in time we can overcome them.”

“Logistical concerns?” Asked Data.

“Yes Commander.  If the Empire is to increase it’s presence in this galaxy, it might be necessary to establish additional bases of operation and unfortunately that would mean additional cargo ships, support personnel, that sort of thing.  That would in turn bring extra bureaucracy.”

“Do you think your leaders would agree to send extra forces here?” Asked Picard.

Beniga paused, to present the appearance of thinking.

“I think so.” He said after a moment.  “They may be reluctant at first, but the friendship and harmony that we enjoy with the Federation and the Alpha Quadrant is worth the resources.” Beniga smiled.  “You have no idea what the relationship between our peoples is worth Captain.  It means a lot to the Empire.”

 

The discussion carried on, with various details about trade routes and possible locations for defence outposts and ships deployments, but Jadzia was only paying half her attention to it.  The young woman that was part of her smiled and nodded, observed and listened, but the much older part of her, the symbiont Dax, was turning it’s experience to every little nuance of what had transpired on the station over the past few hours. 

It was still impossible for Dax to believe that Captain Benjamin Sisko had tried to murder a fellow officer, especially given the apparent reasons.  Dax’s previous host, Curzon, had known Ben for even longer than Jadzia had, and nothing in his experience gave Dax any clues either. 

The symbiont chided itself, for it knew that its focus belonged on what Beniga was saying, but the Admiral was now discussing where to set up navigational buoys for Imperial ships and the prospect of sharing hyperdrive technology.  Jadzia was interested in that, but Dax wasn’t. 

With a lot of effort, the symbiont tuned back into the host, and Jadzia Dax focused once again completely on the matter at hand.

 

Captain Picard noted every detail in his mind, stored away facts and figures and ideas in his brain for future reference.  The truth though, was that Beniga did not have his full attention.

Elsewhere on the station, the man who had tried to kill him, the man who had killed his first officer, was lying on a medical bed, under guard.  Picard was itching for the chance to speak to him, to learn what had possessed him to do what he had done.  Part of him, the deepest, darkest part of him, considered how it would feel to exact revenge.

Exercising his iron will, Picard banished such thoughts.  He was on the station to do a job, and had to keep his mind focused. 

 

The discussions lasted for only forty-five minutes, but to Beniga, they had felt like much longer.  He was grateful when they had finished and he was able to return to Milky Way One and to his quarters.  Picard and the others seemed to genuinely believe that the Empire had their best interests at heart.  Only Beniga knew better.

Worlds that joined the Empire either willingly or because they were conquered served whatever purpose the Emperor deemed necessary.  Beniga had heard of entire systems being strip-mined and pillaged for resources, with the populations left to suffer.  Planets that defied the Empire had often become a port of call for slave labour- or worse.  In the case of the Alpha Quadrant, the transformation from peaceful democracy to iron dictatorship would be slow but steady, until the very idea of freedom was abhorrent and outlawed.  No one would be any the wiser until it was too late…

 

Recent events had led to a temporary suspension of travel through the wormhole, until Imperial forces on the other side could determine exactly how the Rebels had been able to so easily penetrate it.  As a result, Mara Jade was stuck onboard Milky Way One.

It had never occurred to her to think about how dreary the new station was, but with it’s uniform grey walls, it’s sterile eating halls and Spartan quarters, Mara found herself yearning for Deep Space Nine’s comparative vibrancies.  Even in the wake of the Rebel attack, the Bajoran station remained a centre of commercial activity, filled with fascinating aliens and situations.

Deep down of course, Mara had another reason to head back there.  She was pining for Julian, and none of her Dark Side training seemed to be distracting her from him.

It was maddening, but she found herself unable to resist looking out at the station from every window that afforded her a view.  Using the Force, Mara could ‘see’ inside the station, could almost taste the passionate energies of the beings within it, and she could sense Julian’s presence, sense his desperate desire to help his captain.

A pang of guilt shot through Mara every time she touched Julian’s mind.  After all, she was responsible for what had happened to Sisko.  She was responsible for Julian’s anguish.

NO, she thought.  She had merely been carrying out orders.  She was a servant of the Empire, the Hand of the Emperor, and she was above such petty and trivial feelings of guilt and regret. 

Even so, as she walked away from the view port in her quarters, she cast a lingering glance back at Deep Space Nine.

 

Orders were orders, but Gregari did not like his new assignment.  Escort duty was not what he had signed up for, and with recent events still leaving him furious, Gregari was hankering for the chance to get out into deep space and destroy every last Rebel starship.  Beniga had other plans.

In a matter of a couple of hours the Raven would be in orbit around earth, having towed a puny Federation vessel there (Beniga had offered to expedite the arrival of the Enterprise) where Beniga would be meeting with Federation officials to discuss an increase in military aid.  Gregari was pleased in some respects, that the mission was proceeding at a considerably faster pace than it had before, but still believed diplomacy to be a waste of time.  The Federation could be defeated in a matter of weeks, yet they were still talking to them!  Still, the Emperor had agreed with Beniga’s plan, and there was no arguing with the Emperor.

 

“No way!  There’s no way I’m letting you do this, Jedi Knight or not!”

Han stood between Luke and his X-Wing in the hanger bay of Home One, aghast at what Luke had just suggested.  The Force must have addled the younger man’s brain.

“Look, Han, Vader knows I’m here and he’ll be able to sense me.  If I stay with the fleet we’re all in danger.  It’s me he wants- I can create a distraction that will buy everyone else a chance to avoid detection.” Luke was maddeningly calm.  Han found himself considering the incredulous thought that he wanted the old Luke back.

 

It seemed that this new galaxy was filled with a myriad of places to hide.  Unstable pockets of what sensors had identified as subspace, plasma storms and various other galactic phenomena had provided the perfect foil to Imperial sensors, allowing the Rebel fleet to disperse and hide.  The task was made easier, thanks to the Empire keeping most of its fleet in a particular region of the galaxy.  It appeared that the Rebellion had stumbled upon a secret project of some kind. 

As the Rebels moved about, they learned that the galaxy was teeming with life forms never before seen, and nearly all of them had technology vastly inferior to their own.  It was a wonder then, that the Empire hadn’t overrun them.

Sometimes the alien governments had been happy to offer shelter and sometimes the Rebels had been met with xenophobic aggression.  A pair of frigates and a handful of Corellian gunships had made their way into a region of space seeking peaceful contact with a government known as the Dominion, and had been greeted with weaponry.  Over two dozen enemy ships had been destroyed before the Dominion had left the Rebels alone. 

Other contacts had proven more favourable.  The Voth had some advanced technology and offered to aid the Rebellion against what they saw as an insidious threat.  Even so, not even the Voth had the firepower to defeat the Empire.

With Mon Mothma and Princess Leia remaining in their own galaxy, it had fallen to General Rieekan and Admiral Ackbar to organise the peoples of this galaxy against the Empire.  Unfortunately, intercepted communications had led to the disturbing discovery that many governments saw the Empire as saviours and protectors.  The Empire had apparently destroyed this galaxy’s most dangerous threat, and had offered protection to more benign cultures against other, more aggressive societies.  Now the Imperial presence was growing in certain portions of the galaxy, and it appeared that it was not just in terms of ship numbers.

To one Rebel though, only one detail mattered- that Princess Leia was not at his side.

Han Solo moped about the Millennium Falcon, alone and miserable.  Despite all of her annoying traits, Han found himself drawn to the fiery and passionate Leia, who had somehow touched a chord in him, made him want to be more than a smuggler. 

It was impossible to think that a privileged, intelligent politician could ever be attracted to a roguish part-time crook like himself, yet Han held out hope that maybe, just maybe, she felt the same way.

In the mean time, there was work to be done.  The Falcon had been tuned up, and soon the task of unravelling the Empire’s plans would begin.  To do that, the Rebels first had to find out what that plan was, and the Falcon was therefore going to journey back to what was known as the ‘Alpha Quadrant’, to make contact with the peoples there.  It was risky, to put it mildly, with Imperial ships everywhere and the locals seemingly happy with the Empire, but it had to be done.

The Falcon was currently docked with Home One, the mighty Mon Calamari flagship, and Han spied from the cockpit a group of people making their way to his ship.  It was time to depart.

Han lowered the walkway, and onboard came Chewbecca, C-3PO, the plucky R2-D2 and finally General Rieekan himself. 

“General, I know I’ve already said this, but I’ll say it again: I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be coming.”

The General gave Han an admonishing look.

“I know why you think that Captain Solo, but I can speak for the Alliance with any governments that we meet.  Besides, I rarely get the chance to explore.” He finished with a smile.

Han smiled back, but he still felt that Rieekan was taking a huge risk.  One stray missile or torpedo and one of the Rebellion’s greatest leaders would bite the dust.  Unfortunately for Han, Rieekan was not about to take no for an answer.

With supplies brought onboard by the deck crew and the ship fully fuelled, it was time to get underway.  The first destination was into ‘Federation’ space, whatever that was.  It was the region where Imperial forces were most greatly concentrated, making it the most dangerous choice of destination- and therefore the most unlikely one.

“We’ll probably have to swap the Falcon for something more local once we get near their territory.” Said Han ruefully.  He didn’t fancy the idea of abandoning his ship, even for a short while, but its technology would act like a beacon for Imperial ships.  It would mean learning the ropes of something new, but there would be an instruction manual, wouldn’t there?

Entering in the co-ordinates and powering up the engines, Han looked out at the hanger bay for a moment, wondering if he would see the fleet again.  Then he looked out to the stars, fired up the engines, and took the Falcon out.

“We’re looking at a journey time of a good few hours, so might as well make yourselves comfy folks.” Said Han.  With the touch of a button the Falcon blasted into hyperspace.

 

Ripples, tremors, subtle changes of shade… Darth Vader could feel all of it from his hyperbaric chamber, nestled within the Executor.  Tuning out the distractions of the ship’s crew and blotting out the sensations of the local stars and phenomena, Vader drove deep into the Force, almost as though he had stuck his hand into someone’s mind, so as to unravel their secrets.  After half an hour or so of steady contemplation and the occasional burst of aggressive searching, the Sith Lord had felt what he was looking for- a sole presence, luminous and powerful, a beacon of the Light. 

That beacon was moving, and moving fast.  Vader focused his attention on the new sensation, studied it, considered it from all angles of the Force.  Through it, he could sense the presence of like-minded souls, people that the beacon of Light was seeking to protect. 

Therefore Vader intended to expose them to danger.  It was time to lay a trap…

 

Slowly the world came back into focus, though it was a painful process.  Sisko felt disorientated as he gradually came back to the land of the conscious.  His temples seemed to throb, and it hurt to open his eyes.

Nonetheless, Sisko opened them and looked around. 

He was in Sickbay, on a biobed, and he sorely wished for someone to turn down the glare of the lights above him.  They weren’t doing his headache any good- it had gone up from a volcanic eruption to a small star exploding.  His biobed was located out of the way, in a separate little chamber of the Sickbay, that at least meant he had some peace from the usual noise and bustle of Sickbay.

The next step was to get up and see what was going on.  Sisko went to sit up- and found himself blocked by the biobed’s force field.

“What the…?” Sisko again tried to sit up, only to once again be stopped by the field.

“Doctor!” He shouted.  Why had he been restrained?

A head popped round the corner, and moments later Doctor Bashir was moving to Sisko’s side, checking instruments and readouts. 

“Doctor, what’s going on, why am I restrained?” Asked Sisko angrily.  For a moment, he thought he caught a look of tension on the younger man’s face.

“Captain, you were involved in a fight.  Do you remember anything of what happened last night?” Bashir now looked at him, full of professionalism, but Sisko knew his staff- and Bashir seemed troubled.

“I…” Sisko paused.  He recalled that he had been on his way to speak to Picard about something… but from then on, his memory was blurred…

“I can’t quite remember at the moment.” Sisko frowned.  What had happened? 

Bashir took a deep breath.

“Sir, you were involved in a fight with Captain Picard.  According to the station’s logs, you took a phaser from one of the armouries and made your way to Picard’s quarters on the Enterprise.  You were stunned by security guards…” Bashir trailed off, suddenly seeming very distraught.

He looked how Sisko felt.  He didn’t like the sound of where this was going.

“Sir, the phaser… it was set to kill.  Enterprise sensor logs show that it was discharged when you reached Picard’s quarters, but he managed to wrestle it from you.  You fought, and during the fight Commander Riker intervened… but you’d gotten a hold of the phaser again…” Bashir bit his lip and looked miserable.  Sisko closed his eyes.  This could not be true, it just couldn’t.

“Commander Riker was killed sir.  You were stunned straight after firing.”

A cold numbness washed over Sisko.  He kept his eyes closed, for a moment unable to even consider the words that Bashir had just spoken.  He suddenly didn’t want to recall the events of the previous day. 

“I… I don’t remember…” He murmured.  Bashir replied in a soft voice, but Sisko wasn’t paying attention.  This was impossible.  Despite all of his misgivings and unhappiness about Picard’s position of importance with the Empire, there was no way whatsoever that he could have attacked his colleague.  That wasn’t him, it couldn’t be him.

A brief flash of anger ripped through his heart, and Sisko tried forcibly to sit up and break through the force field, but it easily held him back.  Like a flood, Sisko remembered- Picard had murdered Jennifer, and he had gone to exact justice… justice that he had been denied.

Bashir looked startled and immediately checked the readouts of the medical scanners.  Sisko’s blood pressure had risen and the signals from his brain were confusing.  The part that was responsible for emotional stimuli was in overdrive.

Sisko snarled, shouted, demanded to be set free as he continued to struggle against the force field.  Bashir looked at his captain, feeling a pang of guilt that he could not immediately decipher what was wrong and thus cure it, and hurried from the room, Sisko’s screams ringing in his ears.  He closed the door to the private chamber, and quickly made for his office.

He nearly ran right into Dax.

“Julian!” Bashir’s head snapped around to face the Trill, at the entrance to Bashir’s little office.

“Jadzia!  This isn’t a good time.”

“I was coming to see how Benjamin was doing.” She asked, her blue eyes filled with concern.

“He’s awake, and in a rage.  He’s not even coherent at the moment.” Bashir sighed.  “I have no idea what is causing this.  It’s totally unlike the Captain.  He was lucid, unable to recall last night at all, and the suddenly he changed, became angry, muttering about Picard, about Jennifer…”

“Jennifer?” Interrupted Jadzia.  “Why would he have brought up his wife?  He’s past that now.”

“Well, at the moment he’s in the quarantined area, though I can’t find any kind of virus or disease in his system.  I was about to get him a sedative.”

Jadzia nodded and stepped out of Bashir’s way.  The two met each other’s eyes for a moment, their fear for their captain evident in both of them, before Bashir swiftly retrieved a hypospray from his office and rushed back to administer a strong dose to Sisko, who was still hollering and was now thrashing furiously against the force field.  Thankfully the force field allowed for doctors to administer medication to patients, and in a matter of seconds Sisko was asleep again.

Stepping back out into Sickbay’s main entrance, Bashir rubbed his eyes.  He glanced at Jadzia, who looked saddened, full of worry.  Bashir knew that Jadzia and the captain were close friends, and had been through a lot together.  To see her friend in such a condition must have been heartbreaking.

“Jadzia, I promise you, I will find out what is wrong with him, and cure it.” He spoke quietly, but with a voice full of determination.  “I won’t sleep until I do.”

Jadzia smiled, a small, sorrowful smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“That makes two of us.”

 

Captain Redwolfe was a man who had often been required to make snap decisions that required sacrifices.  He was not afraid of making those choices and every fibre of his being was devoted to the ideals and philosophies of the Federation.  Well, almost every fibre.

Alone in his ready room, onboard the Sovereign Class Valkyrie (currently orbiting earth), he was locked in a heated embrace with his wife- and second-in-command- Tara Wolfe.  The dark-haired Captain, with his rugged good looks, and his flame-haired vixen of a wife, made an intense pairing, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to the situations they came across on missions.

The stolen moment of closeness felt good, but it was all too brief.  A bleeping intercom interrupted them, and Redwolfe scowled.

“I should smash that thing.” He grumbled.

“I don’t think Starfleet would foot the bill.” Replied Tara, her eyes twinkling.

“Maybe not…” Said Redwolfe, as Tara got up off his lap.  “… but it would sure feel good.”  His hand slapped the panel on his desk.  “Redwolfe here, what is it?” He knew he had snapped at whoever had contacted him, but hey, he had good reason to.

“Lieutenant Groker here Captain.” Came the whispering voice of the Tellarite Chief of Security.  “Sensors have logged the approach of a number of vessels… vessels I think you should see.”

Redwolfe glanced at Tara and grumbled something about over excitable Tellarites.  To the intercom he simply acknowledged the message and stepped out onto the Bridge.

The first thing he noticed was the behemoth displayed on the main viewer.

The ship on the screen dwarfed even the Imperial-class Star Destroyers that had visited earth from time to time.  The enormous ship was flanked by around eleven of the said Star Destroyers, and as Redwolfe watched, another Star Destroyer popped out of hyperspace, complete with another Sovereign-class ship in tow.

Words escaped the good captain for a moment.  The ship was incredible.  It had the typical dagger shape of a Star Destroyer, except it was darker in hue, and of course, much much bigger.  What sort of construction capacity did the Empire have???

“Well…” He spoke slowly.  “The neighbourhood just got more crowded.”

 

Gregari had to suppress a gasp of surprise as his ship sprang from hyperspace, to find itself alongside the Executor.  It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying to suddenly find himself cruising alongside Lord Vader’s flagship, and Gregari was more than a little curious as to why Vader was here. 

The Enterprise was released from the tractor beam and the Federation ship sailed gracefully into earth’s orbit., where shortly Commander Riker’s body would be beamed down and a burial would take place.  Events on the planet no longer concerned Gregari.

What was of concern was the incoming communiqué from none other than Lord Vader himself.  Thankfully it was not in verbal form- the sound of Vader was considered almost as fearsome as the Dark Lord himself- but Gregari quickly made to follow the instructions of the message.  One did not disappoint Lord Vader and live to regret it.

 

“Well, this is interesting.” Said Beniga blandly.  “Lord Vader wishes us to assist in chasing down a Rebel freighter that is currently on the outskirts of Federation space.”

The Raven’s meeting room had not been used much of late (Gregari preferred to conduct meetings on the Bridge), and dust had gathered on the normally sleek black table.  Beniga tossed the message pad across the table, kicking up some of the dust, and sighed wearily.

“Sir, it’s better than ferrying diplomats.” Replied Gregari. “And it gives us the chance to actually get out and do something about the Rebels.”

“Catching one little ship in accordance with Lord Vader’s agenda is hardly doing something Captain.  There’s an entire fleet out there, yet these orders are for us to pull back and stop hunting them for a while.  Something is going on and we are not privy to the details of it.”

“Sir, at least we can achieve something by doing this.  Lord Vader has insights we cannot possibly understand.  This must be part of a greater plan of his to catch them all.”

Beniga shook his head. “If it is, then it’s a very well hidden plan, for I can’t see what it is.  I suppose we had better head for this ship, and see what all the fuss is about.  Inform the Bridge that we are looking for a YT3000 freighter, with a modified hyperdrive.  We will need an interdictor or two to prevent it from escaping.”

“Aye Admiral.” Gregari dutifully left for the Bridge, to deliver the instructions in person.  Beniga quietly wondered whether he wanted to be serving the Dark Lord at all.

 

Now flirting with the borders of Federation Space, the Millennium Falcon was looking intently for another ship. Any kind of ship that was inconspicuous enough for them to travel in without getting caught.  Han hated the idea of giving up his baby, but it was better than getting killed or captured. 

“Sensors are detecting a small, anti-matter powered vessel, about five minutes from here at hyperdrive.” Said Rieekan, manning the seat next to Han.  Chewie was busy about the ship with R2 and C3PO, fixing up some loose wires.

“Ok.  Lets head to it and see if it’s something we can use.”

To the small Federation runabout, the Falcon came as a complete shock.  One moment the alien ship had been hours away.  The next, it was upon them.

“Set blasters to stun.  We don’t want to hurt these people.” “Said Rieekan, as a tractor bean ensnared the other craft.  The other ship fired up its impulse engines, but they lacked the power to escape from the grip of the Falcon’s tractor beam, and slowly, the two ships came up alongside each other, their docking ports connecting.

The Federation officers were open-mouthed at the sight of a large, roaring Wookiee.  The fearsome beast stunned the two crewmembers with blaster fire before they could even raise their weapons.  Han and Chewie then bound their wrists and ankles and carted them off to the aft compartment, blasting the door controls to disable them.

Next was a very important issue.  The ship’s controls were… different.  Shiny, flat panels existed where there should have been some kind of steering mechanism.

“General, can you get R2 and 3PO in here?  We need them to take a look at the ship, help us figure out how to operate this thing.” Said Han into his communicator.  Who designed a ship without a control mechanism???

A short time later, 3PO was in the middle of an angst-ridden argument with the ship’s computer and R2 was bleeping and whistling as he tried to locate an interface with the alien technology.  Han, Chewbacca and Rieekan had taken apart a number of wall panels and R2 was now going to each one in turn, looking for a port or a connector to hook up to.  Han had spent several minutes fruitlessly pounding a control console at what appeared to be the pilot’s seat, but to no avail, and had uttered several expletives that had been so crude not even 3PO’s systems had them stored. 

“Computers” Growled Han.

“Please restate the command.” Replied a soft female voice, which made everyone jump.

“Errr…. What?” Responded Han, glancing at the ceiling, and at the panel, and around the craft.

“Please restate the command.”

Slowly it dawned on them all- these aliens used voice-activated computers.  Unique, if a little unusual.

“Now what?” asked Rieekan. 

“Now…” Said Han, leaning back into the chair.  “We figure out where to go.  Computer, what is the busiest star system in the Federation?”

“Earth.” Came the prompt reply.

“Ok… computer, how long would it take, at maximum speed, to reach earth?”

“Four months three weeks and two days.” Came the deadpan answer.

Han’s face dropped.  This bucket was slow.

“We could be there in minutes in the Falcon!” Exclaimed C3PO, exasperated.

“Yeah, and have every Imperial weapon turret pointed at us before we could blink.  What we need to do…” Mused Han.  “Is to lure another, faster vessel our way.”

“How exactly do we do that? “ Asked Rieekan impatiently.

Chewbacca growled.

“Not a bad idea Chewie!” Replied Han, swivelling his chair.  “But a distress signal with the Falcon nearby might give us away.  We need to be moving, heading somewhere.”

Rieekan was about to open his mouth to make a suggestion when a horrible blaring klaxon sounded, and the lights changed to a reddish hue.  None of them needed to guess what that meant.

“Sirs, look!” Exclaimed 3-PO excitedly.  From the view port, everyone watched as a massive Imperial Star Destroyer popped out of hyperspace, an interdictor following close behind. 

Bast! Swore Rieekan. 

The Imperial vessel closed in quickly, with objects visible as they left the mighty ship’s hanger bay.  Han surmised that one was a shuttle, coming to capture them.

“They won’t get us without a fight.” Spoke Han sternly.  “There’s only one way into this bucket and we can make it hard for them.  Chewie, General, we need to set up…” Han was cut off as the door to the aft chamber of the craft blew open, one of the Federation people standing in the hole she had just made.

The woman had looked harmless- attractive, with red hair flowing down her shoulders- but harmless.  Now she stood there, with a lightsaber in hand, a blade that was blood-red.

“You need to surrender right now.” Sneered the woman.

Chewbacca trained his bowcaster on her and Han followed suit.  It would be insane to try and take her on, but what choices were left open to them? 

“I don’t think so sister.” Retorted Han with a cocky tilt of his head, sounding more confident than he felt.

The woman’s blade brushed across the carpet, starting small fires that her boots extinguished as she stepped slowly toward them.

“You can either surrender or you can die, and I assure you, it will be a slow and painful death.” She said matter-of-factly.  

Outside, a clanking noise could be heard- the shuttle had already docked with the alien ship and it was only a matter of time before stormtroopers were upon them.

Stormtroopers on one side, a lightsaber-wielding foe on the other. 

“Alright.” Said Han, lowering his blaster.  “You win, we surrender.”

“Commander…” Piped up Rieekan, sounding shocked.

“I’m saving our lives.  You can thank me later.” Replied Han nonchalantly.

The woman bared her teeth in an evil smile.

 

As a newly indoctrinated Sith, Vader had had much to learn about the ways of the Dark Side, and had been bitterly frustrated that his powers did not match his ambitions.  He had lacked the strength to make Padme see the truth, and he had lacked the power to overcome Obi-wan on Mustafar.  Those failures had gnawed at him in the aftermath of the Empire’s birth, as he coalesced on Coruscant and began to hunt down surviving Jedi. 

Unable to jump or leap as he once could, never able to wield the powerful Sith lightening, Vader had felt broken, mentally and physically.  He was trapped, in a shell, that was the only thing keeping him alive.  Ungainly, initially clumsy, he had felt anything but like a Chosen One.

As time progressed Vader had made improvements to his suit, determined to gain at least some sense of his former agility and speed.  His lightsaber technique had undergone a number of changes, borrowing from various styles to forge an approach that was uniquely his- a style that had served him well against the rogue Jedi he had found and killed in the weeks and months following the Republic’s end.  Palpatine taught him that his physical limitations were all in the mind- that the power of the Dark Side lied in it’s ability to bend the Force to it’s user’s will, to make the Force into whatever the Sith needed, be it a tool or a weapon.

Vader could never shake off the feeling that Palpatine was holding something back, some secret or power of the Dark Side that his Master wanted for himself.  Even so, Vader had learned much of the Dark Side and had learned to fully embrace his anger and rage, to use his anger to twist the Force to his will.  Missing limbs or not, Vader had soon discovered that he was still powerful; more than a match for the Jedi he had hunted down. 

It was only when he had given himself totally to his rage and hatred that Vader had truly understood how powerful the Dark Side was. 

Even then, Palpatine preached control.  Power without control is dangerous Lord Vader; it would be your undoing. 

To that end Vader had made sure to not completely forget all of his Jedi lessons.  Weak as the Jedi were, they had understood the art of control and that with control came focus- the kind of focus that had allowed Vader to learn Mace Windu’s shatterpoint technique.  Vader did not believe Palpatine was aware that he had mastered that power.  He had spent a lot of time at the ruined Jedi Temple, studying the Jedi Holocrons, using the Dark Side to force open their secrets and learn them for himself.  Whether or not Palpatine was aware of this, Vader did not know, but Vader found it unlikely that Palpatine would be aware of everything Vader had learned from them.  It had taken many years of patience and perseverance, but Vader now had a limited grasp of what Master Windu had so effortlessly wielded.

Seated in his hyperbaric chamber onboard the Executor, Vader meditated and stretched out with his anger, grabbing strands of the Force and forcing them to show him Luke.

The Force became a pattern of lines, leading to dozens of conclusions that followed a myriad of paths.  Luke’s X-Wing was a beacon of light that made it easy for Vader to trace a path that led to him.  All that he needed to do was apply the right kind of pressure to the recently captured Captain Solo and the other captives and Luke would sense that his friends were in danger.  Then Luke would come running and Vader could spring his trap.  Skywalker would be his.

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