Before the Storm

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

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3. Diplomacy

Sleep is definitely a commodity in my line of work, thought Beniga to himself, as he thought of the frantic days that had led up to his return to this new space.  His first officer, Commander Gregari was standing, as usual looking proud and militant.  On Communications, Lieutenant Duiek, young and inexperienced, looked pale, with bags under his eyes. 

Over at the Engineering station, Lt. Commander Jos was immersed in his readouts, looking naturally pale (as opposed to Duiek's normal look, red-faced and sweaty).  Tall and lanky, he was going over the information again and again, determined to learn as much as possible about the wormhole.

It was the craving for knowledge that had first made Beniga take Jos onboard.  Someone who would relentlessly seek out answers on both a scientific and engineering level, Jos had an understanding of such things that Beniga wanted to have a grasp of; Beniga was smart enough to know where he was lacking, and smart enough to spot the officers that filled the information gaps he had.

"You know, this wormhole is incredible.  It's extremely strong, to the order of several million teratons.  At least, I think it is.  The energy readouts go off the scale at a lower level than that." Murmured Jos, to no one in particular.  Gregari snickered; unlike Beniga, he considered knowing the how's and why's to be unimportant.  Only serving the Emperor mattered, and he already knew how to do that.

In a matter of moments, the Raven and her support ships, Emperor's Hand and Relic would emerge into the new territory once again, to be greeted by the oddly constructed Deep Space Nine.  Once there, intelligence gathering, both in the guise of efforts to establish diplomatic relations, and in spy work, would begin.  Beniga's primary orders- to determine if this Federation was a threat- was ringing loud in his head.

"ETA?" He asked Navigation, manned by Lieutenant Grojaer, a dark-skinned, strong-armed man, with a thin scar on his left palm. "Four minutes sir."

Four minutes to think and strategise, thought Beniga.

 

Alone in his ready room, Captain Picard mulled over the reports of Captain Sisko and the Admiralty, digesting every last piece of information.  A ship larger than anything seen before, humans from another part of the galaxy, possibly another galaxy.  A typical military command structure, of ensigns and admirals…

Picard caught himself.  The words might translate as the same through the Universal Translator, but to assume they meant the same, when dealing with a new culture, even one that appeared to have been created by humans, was foolish.  There was simply not enough information to make any judgements.

Time to prepare was running short.  Picard made his way from the ready room to the airlock, moving quickly.  En-route he contacted Counsellor Troi and told her to meet him at the airlock, which she duly did.

Captain Sisko and Major Kira greeted them as they set foot on Deep Space Nine, and together they proceeded to the runabout pad where the Imperial's shuttle would be landing.  Kira occasionally mentioned something to Sisko about the station's business for the day, and Sisko muttered a response, but Picard got the impression that he was not particularly welcome on Deep Space Nine.  He had his theories as to why, and made a note to try and speak to Sisko at some stage.

"Dax to Sisko, sir, the Imperial ship has just emerged from the wormhole.  They are requesting permission to send over their team."

"Permission granted.  Are all the security procedures in place?" Sisko asked.

"Yes sir.  If any other government tries anything, we'll be ready."

"Good, Sisko out."

Everyone waited in a slightly tense, slightly nervous silence, for the shuttle to land.  Picard caught a glimpse on the monitor as the shuttle's wings folded, and the craft touched down.  Next the platform lowered, and sealed over.  The bay was pressurised, and the Imperials marched from the shuttle.

Picard recognised Admiral Beniga from the security tapes of his earlier

visit to the station.  As the airlock slid open, Picard noticed several other people.

The introductions began.  A tall, blond-haired man was named as Commander Gregari, and a young, flame-haired woman named as Mara Jade.  Gregari seemed very assured of himself, and almost seemed to sneer at the Federation officers.

Mara Jade's eyes matched her hair.  They seemed to bore into everyone, even Beniga and Gregari, with an intensity that would have made Picard's hair stand up, if he'd had more of it.

Also travelling as part of the Imperial party were a number of politicians.  At least, they bickered amongst themselves like politicians.  There were five in total, three male, two female, and they were all human, of various ages and sizes.

Beniga explained that the diplomats wished to see the station and it's populace, and to learn about how the Federation worked.  It was agreed that four would tour the station, whilst one would join Captain Picard and Counsellor Troi, and answer any questions on the Empire.

"I'll see to our guests tour." Said Sisko quietly, ushering them to follow him.

"You're not taking part in this meeting Captain?" Asked Beniga inquisitively.

"I'm afraid not Admiral, however, Captain Picard has a great deal of experience, and is accomplished in diplomacy." Replied Sisko evenly.  Still, Beniga couldn't help but pick up on a bit of friction there.

"If you'll follow me." Said Picard to the team that would be joining him: Beniga, Gregari, Jade, and Ambassador Tolik, a middle-aged man with greying hair.

Deep Space Nine's conference room came complete with a replicator for food and drink, and the chairs were more comfortable than those elsewhere.  Two monitors allowed for everyone to see when any graphics and information were displayed.  Everyone took a seat, aside from Picard, who ordered two pitchers of water and some glasses from the replicator.

Once Picard was settled, he opened the talks.

"First of all, welcome back to Federation space.  I apologise that you are not dealing with someone more ranking than myself, but our main diplomatic team has been delayed.  In the meantime, I will be serving as ambassador.  Now, let us begin our talks."

Beniga leaned forward.

"Firstly, I have to say, that the Empire was surprised to find a human society, in what must be either the very fringes of the galaxy, or a new galaxy.  Myself and our ambassadors have so many questions, we have no idea where to begin.  However, diplomacy cannot proceed without questions, so I might as well ask one.  How big is the Federation?"

Picard smiled slightly.  "There are one-hundred and fifty member worlds, in addition over a thousand smaller colonies and outposts."

"What do you mean by 'member' worlds?" Asked Tolik quietly.

"The Federation is an 'opt-in', 'opt-out' government.  If a planet or government wishes to join the Federation, it can do so, provided it has had at least a century of peace, a single government, and meets certain economic and technological factors.  Each member world retains its autonomy for the most part, and sends a representative to the Federation Council.  If the planet should wish to leave the Federation it can do so." 

"What benefits do planets get for joining the Federation?" Again the question was asked by Tolik.

Picard took a breath.  "For one, they get protection from the Federation fleet.  Two, they gain access to technologies they might not have had, such as transporters and replicators.  Complete access to cultural and historical databases of the other worlds of the Federation is also granted.  Membership offers greater political clout in both local and inter-stellar affairs.  There are also economic benefits."

"What are the philosophies of the Federation?" This time Beniga was asking.

"Freedom and prosperity for all in the Federation.  Aside from the frontier regions, crime, poverty and disease have been eliminated on nearly all Federation worlds."  At that, Beniga raised an eyebrow.

"You can't mean that.  Prosperity for what must be billions of beings?"

"It's true.  No one goes hungry.  No one lives on the streets.  Everyone has a home, has free food, supplies, medicines, and free access to entertainment facilities.  Transportation is free."

"Then why does anyone work?  I presume that people work within the Federation, to maintain everything." Tolik's third question.

"We work to better ourselves and the Federation.  We have found ourselves in the position of having a wondrous society.  If we don't work to look after it, it will collapse."

"Does anyone get paid?" Asked Gregari, the first time he had spoken since the conference had begun.

"Well, yes and no.  Within the Federation, there is no need for money.  Everything and just about anything is available for free.  Hence, there is no need for money.  However, people who work in close contact with other governments are often away from Federation space and require money to purchase whatever they might need.  Starfleet officers on this station are paid in latinum, a valuable metal in this region, so that they can partake in station life."

The Imperials mulled over what Picard had told them for a moment, considered their next questions.

"You mentioned other governments Captain.  Should we expect to meet any of them any time soon?" Queried Tolik.

"That is a question I cannot answer.  The other powers of the area are aware of your arrival, but have made no moves toward diplomatic contact, as you are doubtless aware."

"What is the Federation's relationship with the other governments of the region?" Asked Gregari.

"At the moment, we are on good terms with the Cardassians, and for the most part, with the Romulans.  Relations have in the past been frosty in the past, but have been steadily improving for some time now.  We are in state of ambiguity regarding the Klingon Empire, who severed diplomatic ties last year."

Picard decided against mentioning the brief war recently fought between the Federation and the Klingons, lest it create the wrong impression.

Beniga smiled, clasping his hands in front of him.

"My apologies Captain.  This part of our diplomatic efforts was meant to be for you to learn more of my people.  We appear to have hijacked proceedings."

"No apology necessary.  I'm happy to answer any questions you might have, though I will admit, I have many of my own."

"Then by all means Captain, ask."

Picard thought for a moment, of the best possible starting question, then it came to him.

"I have to ask Admiral, until a few days ago, we were as unaware of your civilisation as you were of ours.  How big is this Empire?"

Gregari's eyes went wide with disbelief, as did Tolik's, but Beniga remained cool.

"The Galactic Empire spans nearly a whole galaxy Captain.  Millions of worlds, trillions of beings, under the Imperial flag." He replied calmly.

Now it was Picard's turn to be surprised, but he too kept calm.

"What of the ideals of the Empire?"

Tolik decided to field the question.

"Formed only two decades ago, the Empire was committed to seeing that the corruption and chaos of the Republic was washed away, and replaced with an orderly society, where businesses did not control armies or threaten to undermine the authority of the legitimate government.

Let me give you some background history Captain.  Over thirty years ago, when the Republic was in it's final years, powerful corporations were able to gain the favour of high-ranking politicians in the Senate.  The Trade Federation had the ear of the Chancellor himself!  The very same Federation also controlled a vast army of battle-droids, an army they deployed when decisions on taxes went against them.  They blockaded, then invaded the peaceful world of Naboo, and the Senate did nothing.

Ten years later, the Trade Federation, and other businesses intent on maintaining their greedy ways, started a civil war that ripped the Republic apart.  Someone had to act to restore order and reason to the galaxy.  That someone was Emperor Palpatine, who to this day works to maintain order and keep corruption and private business out of politics.  The war is over, and the people are safe once again."

Interesting, thought Picard.  A true Empire, with one ruler.

"Emperor Palpatine appears to have done a remarkable and superb job of restoring peace to your galaxy." He replied.

"That he has Captain.  If it weren't for his leadership, we would have anarchy." Said Tolik, admiration creeping into his voice.

"What other governments does the Empire have to deal with?" Troi spoke for the first time.

"At this moment?  Only yours.  The Republic was a galactic government, all by itself.  It's the same with the Empire." Responded Tolik.  "There are a small number of insurgences that seek to undermine the Empire and bring about a return to the poisonous policies of the Republic, but their influence is small.  The majority of our citizens see the rebels for what they are- desperate former senators and businessmen who miss their lives of luxury."

Picard nodded in understanding.

"A few years ago, the Federation finalised a peace treaty with the Cardassian Union.  The treaty benefited both governments, and safeguarded the lives of both peoples.  Unfortunately, some of the terms of the treaty meant that both sides had to give up territory.  Some of the people reacted badly to this, and have since formed a resistance group.  They prey upon shipping lanes, without regard to the people they kill."

"It would seem, that some things are constants, regardless of distance." Remarked Beniga, cupping his hands.

"Distance is certainly a thought- it would seem Admiral, that the Federation is not from your galaxy." Replied Picard.

Excitement crept into Tolik's voice when he next spoke:

"Yet it would appear that a large percentage of the Federation's population is human!  Humans, not just in a new galaxy, but thriving!  This is the biggest discovery in history Captain, without a doubt, the biggest!"

"These are indeed exciting times.  The existence of the Empire is certain to shake up the political landscape here.  The Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Empire are both concerned that we were testing a new weapon on the wormhole, and that we've been secretly building new ships for a coming war." Picard smiled. 

"Despite over a hundred years of co-existence, of seeing our ways, they still suspect us of plotting wars and take-overs."

"And does the Federation ever engage in such things?" Asked Gregari coolly.

"No sir, we do not.  Naturally we have intelligence agencies to look after our interests and a fleet to protect our assets, but we are not in the habit of starting wars.  It only causes death and destruction, and is a last resort as a result.  We will fight to protect ourselves though."

Leaning back in his seat, Tolik stretched, then yawned unexpectedly. 

"Forgive me Captain, I'm just trying to absorb everything.  It takes it out of an old man." He grinned sheepishly.

"Quite understandable Ambassador.  Certainly we have covered a great deal in a short space of time.  Perhaps we should resume matters tomorrow, once you have all had the chance to acclimatize to station time, and to fully take in all we have discussed."

"I agree Captain." Replied Beniga, standing.  "This discussion, along with what our colleagues have learned, will give us a lot to talk about tonight."

The two teams said their goodbyes, though Mara Jade remained silent, just staring at everyone.  Beniga's team rejoined the others, and Sisko escorted them to their quarters for the night.  Unsurprisingly, there was much chatter.

 

Jade, Beniga and Gregari congregated in Beniga's quarters that evening, to discuss everything, without Tolik's input.

"Mara, did you sense anything, anything they didn't want to share?" Asked Beniga softly.

Mara Jade closed her eyes for a moment, remembering.

"Picard is strong of mind and will.  He revealed every little.  However, he did not like being pressed on matters of war.  Troi… Troi seems to have latent Force abilities, or is perhaps a natural telepath.  She was not actively probing the room for information, but she may have picked up on any stray thoughts of our own."

"I wonder why Picard is not keen to be pressed on warfare… is the Federation more violent than he said?" Asked Gregari.

"I don't think so.  The impression I get from everyone on this station, is that the Federation is a peaceful society.  That doesn't mean that they won't fight if they have to."

Beniga thought back to when Sisko had introduced Picard, and the tension that he'd noticed.

"Mara, when Captain Sisko introduced us to Captain Picard, I thought I picked up on some… tension there.  Did you notice anything?" He asked.

Again Jade closes her eyes as she concentrated on the memory.

"Sisko harbours a small level of resentment of Captain Picard.  There is something from their history… visions of fire, of loss, great loss… but I cannot be any clearer than that."

"Why is that important?  Personal grudges don't concern us, surely?" Remarked Gregari irritably.

"It's important to note every detail, Commander.  We might have cause to use everything we learn here." Replied Beniga firmly.

"What is the plan for tomorrow?" Enquired Jade.

"The ambassadors will enter detailed talks, covering the history of our galaxy in more detail, and gather more information for us as well.  There will be talk of trade, cultural exchanges, visits to here and there… it will incredibly boring."

"What will we be doing?" Asked Gregari.

"Perhaps another chat with Captain Picard, and then we need to obtain details on the technology of these people.  Their threat potential.  After that, I will report back to the Empire.  In the meantime, Mara, I want you to mingle.  Explore the station and it's inhabitants.  Get a feel for how they behave, how they think.  Use the Force to get inside their heads."

 

Whilst some were planning to get inside people's heads, others planned to get inside their finances.  Quark, the honest, hard-working, kind bartender of the bar of the same name, was delighted with the influx of ambassadors from an alien land.  He was happy to introduce them all to various new forms of alcohol, as long as he made a profit from doing so. 

One of the advantages of getting an ambassador drunk was that they would then talk about things they wouldn't usually breathe a word about.  Quark had already heard a number of interesting tid-bits about the policies of the Empire, and about the possibilities of expanding to new regions.  There were apparently few restrictions on businesses outside the central territories.  A dream for a Ferengi.

Quark was pouring out a Jibetan Ale for a somewhat inebriated ambassador, not noticing a newcomer to the bar.  As the ambassador burped rather loudly, Quark glanced upwards, spotting one of the most beautiful creatures to not have lobes he had ever seen.

Her hair was red and flowing, her figure slender, and the eyes were shining with passion and intensity.  Quark paused for a moment to follow the newcomer as she took a seat at the bar, before remembering his charm.

"There you are, another ale Mr Ambassador." Crowed Quark, handing over the glass.  The ambassador mumbled a thanks, and Quark dismissed the guy from his mind.  He had more important things to do.

"So, what can I get for the lovely lady?"  Drawled Quark in his most charming voice.

"I'm just here to observe." Replied the auburn one.

"Well, there's plenty more to do here than just observe.  We have Dabo tables, darts, food, drink, anything you want.  Perhaps a spell in a holo-suite, free of charge?"

"No thank you." Came a clipped reply.

"Well, if you need anything, just let me know." Quark returned his attention to other customers, disappointed that he hadn't engaged the stranger.

The stranger herself took a seat in a corner of the bar, scanning the aliens and Starfleet officers with the Force.  She found it interesting to note that a number of visitors to the bar had illegal activity on their minds, including that of the barman.  Others were engrossed in gambling, and a pair of Starfleet officers were throwing pointed objects a circular board on the wall, also throwing good-natured insults at each other.  Some were Federation citizens, and appeared to be happy, content with their world and government.  The overall impression that she received was that the Federation was an open society, that did not deter it's citizens from from pursuing their desires, as long as they didn't engage in illegal activity (which she took for granted).  Other patrons were from a range of planets and governments, with varying levels of satisfaction with those governments.  The barman was concerned with profits, almost religiously, but was also trying to weasel information from patrons at every opportunity.  She also sensed, that he knew quite a lot about the station, if not the wider world beyond.

Well, a source is still a source.

She returned to the bar, taking a seat, waiting to catch the barman's attention.  It didn't take long before he returned, smiling, showing crooked teeth.

"I have decided I would like a drink after all." She smiled sweetly, probing a little more with the Force on this alien.

"By all means dear, what will you have?" The barman- Quark was his name- was now starting to think lecherous thoughts, which she found repulsive, but she had a job to do.

"Anything, as long as it's not alcoholic." Quark seemed to look disappointed at that, but she had figured out his game of getting ambassadors drunk, and she would not play.

"Very well, this is what hew-mans call orange juice.  Putrid if you ask me, but they love it." He poured out a large glass, and handed it over.

She took a sip, decided she liked it, and took another.  She then put the glass down and stared straight at Quark, directing more subtle energies of the Force at him.

"I'm seeking to understand how society works here, to learn more about the cultures and powers of this space.  You own a bar, you must hear and see things."

"That's true my dear, very true.  I'm a trustable guy, and so people talk to me.  Plus, I have excellent hearing." He pointed to his ears.  "So, you seek information huh?  Well, if I scratch your back, will you scratch my lobes?"

Sensing the sexual connotations of the lobe comment, she grimaced inwardly, but smiled again.

"What information do you seek?"

"Your name- I like to know the name of the beautiful creature I'm speaking to." Quark gazed deeply at her, making her skin crawl.

"Mara Jade, though most call me Mara." And do I continue this pointless charade, or do I scan him and take what I want?

Option two swiftly won out; as Quark proceeded to babble about different alien cultures, Mara sifted through the information, sensing what was a lie and what wasn't.  She probed deeper, slowly, as she sometimes nodded or replied to Quark.  She was ready to break her link, when a thought flickered through Quark's mind, a thought about data rods.  He was planning to hack the station's computer later, for some business deal.

Intrigued, Mara realised the value of such a device.  She now had information on the societies of the station, and chance had given her the opportunity to get at so much more.  Quark had computer components that could infiltrate the entire system, and reveal much.

Not confident though, of her skills to coerce another's mind, Mara broke the link, and smiled softly at Quark.

"Thank you for the information, and for the drink, but I'm afraid I have other observations to make, elsewhere.  How much do I owe you?"

Quark put on a smooth tone of voice, crowing how such a lovely young woman didn't need to pay.  She thanked him again, then left, thinking of how to get that data rod, but also keen to explore the station.

The main Promenade was full of life, with a variety of shops and food parlours.  A Klingon (Mara had seen pictures whilst Beniga had reviewed files on the Federation's rivals) was busy serving food to customers; food which was still moving, in some cases.  A Cardassian was in the middle of selling some trousers, making an excited case for why Alcazan silk was the smoothest available.  Bajorans were emerging from the local temple, where prayer had just finished. 

So wrapped up in observing everything, Mara failed to observe what was directly in front of her, and as a result clattered into the back of someone.  That someone turned around, grabbing her and supporting her as she almost stumbled back.  Looking up, Mara found herself face to face with a young man, human in appearance, wearing a Starfleet uniform of the blue neck variety. 

"I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention to my surroundings." Spoke the Starfleeter in a soft voice.

"My fault, I was looking in every direction except forward." Replied Mara, adopting a formal tone, despite finding the man in front of her to be attractive.  He was reasonably tall, had alert blue eyes, and darkish hair.  On closer inspection, he had been one of the people throwing darts at a board.

"There certainly is a lot to see, isn't there?  I remember when I first came onboard, I was amazed by it all.  Oh, sorry, I'm Julian, Julian Bashir, chief medical officer."

"Jade, Mara Jade, attaché with the Imperial diplomats."

Bashir smiled at her, and Mara picked up that he too considered her to be attractive.  Thankfully his thoughts were not like Quark's; she didn't pick up the same lusty feelings.  Curiosity though, and a pang of emotion for another, were present.

"Well, I hope so far your stay here has been enjoyable." He said pleasantly.

"So far it has, though I haven't seen very much of the station." She sensed a desire in him, to get to know her a little more, a desire she found herself curious about; a curiosity she had to put aside, as she had to inform Beniga of her discovery.

"Perhaps I can give you a tour?"  Asked the doctor. 

"I'm afraid I'm on official business, perhaps another time?"

Bashir seemed a little dejected, but nonetheless was looking forward to a reunion later.

"I'll see what my schedule allows me to do." He smiled, and Mara smiled back, wondering if he knew what she was, laughing to herself that she could probe him for all his thoughts, and he'd never be the wiser.  She bade farewell, and resumed her heading, for her quarters.  Once there, she left a message over the comm system for Beniga, stating that she needed to speak to him.

The prospect of obtaining a data rod would catch the Admiral's interest, of that Mara was sure.  She wasn't able to tell precisely what information the rod could get, but the very fact that Quark had it illegally and wanted to keep it secret told her it was important.

 

There was nothing worse than waiting, yet Vader was having to get used to it.  Admiral Beniga's team would not be returning for another couple of days, so instead Vader directed the movement of Imperial ships within the sector.  The Death Star had since departed the region, with Vader taking up residence on his flagship, the Super Star Destroyer Executor.  Flanked by Grand Admiral Zogo's Imperial class destroyer Epic, and Grand Admiral Lang's Star Destroyer Superior, the massive Super Destroyer was every bit as imposing as its name suggested.  Its hull was a much darker shade than the two Imperial class destroyers that floated nearby.  In addition to the heavy vessels, a floatia of dreadnoughts, corvettes, strike cruisers and frigates had built up, and construction had begun on a Golem defence platform.  The Emperor had decided that it would not be wise to let the rebels get near to the wormhole, for fear that they would exploit the resources on the other side.

Watching the wormhole location, Vader could still feel its vibrations coarse through him.  It was as though now the stone had been dropped in the pond, someone was scooping it out and dropping it, again and again.  It was a sensation Vader didn't like.

Duty though, required him to be here.  The Emperor wanted him to oversee the operation, and Vader could not disobey his master… at least, that was the idea.

But things were changing.  Vader's power continued to grow, fuelled by his hate.  The more power he had, the more his hate swelled, and so the more power he had.  In the corner of his mind, he was beginning to question why he needed a master.

Now was not the time to rebel.  Vader still had things to learn from Palpatine, namely, the art of control.  As long as that was so, Vader would remain loyal, at least, on the surface.

The rest of the Executor's bridge crew went about their duties, controlling their nerves with the efficiency that their training had drilled into them.  None of them wanted to be near him, and none of them talked to him unless spoken to.  Vader preferred it that way.

More ships, carrying construction crews, arrived, their access to the construction site being approved by the duty officer.  Vader watched, and waited, frustrated with it all.

It was then that an idea came to him.  Only an inkling, but still an idea.  The Emperor wanted to stop the Rebellion from gaining access to the wormhole… and Vader agreed with that.  He though, had other plans for the wormhole, and the peoples beyond it…

 

Sisko had expected this sooner or later, though he was in fact surprised it was later rather than sooner.

Instead of sending a message, the Klingons were coming by ship, namely the flagship, a Negh'Var class cruiser, of the same name.  It could only be that Chancellor Gowron was onboard that ship, and was heading to Deep Space Nine to personally voice his 'concerns' over the wormhole, and the alien ship.

If ever there was a headache to be caused with the whole issue of the alien ship, the Klingons were the mostly likely to provide it.  Sisko could guess Gowron's position: a large ship of unknown capability had emerged from a radically altered wormhole, and that ship was crewed by humans.  Gowron would probably equate 'human' with 'Federation', and assume the ship was a prototype warship of some sort.  He would demand to know why it was there, and what it was doing.

In fact, Sisko expected demands regardless of whether or not Gowron knew the ship wasn't of Federation origin.  Given the state of Federation/Klingon relations, an attempt to take the ship was not an impossibility, though the Klingons knew an attack on guests of the Federation, in Federation space, would be met with a passionate response. 

"ETA of the Negh'Var?" He asked, from the central display in Ops.

"Three hours twenty-two minutes." Replied Jadzia, from the science station.  "Should I inform Captain Picard?"

"No.  I'll take care of informing him, and the Imperials." With a brief pause, he opened a channel to the Enterprise.

"Deep Space Nine to Enterprise, we've picked up the approach of the Klingon flagship.  There's a good chance that Chancellor Gowron himself is

aboard, though there's been no communication as yet."

"Acknowledged DS9, we'll be ready, Enterprise out." Came Picard's clipped reply.

"Sisko to Admiral Beniga; Admiral, you should be aware, a ship is approaching from the Klingon Empire.  Whilst they have not yet made their intentions clear, I would imagine they wish to meet with you."

"How long until they arrive?" Came the Admiral's reply.

"A little over three hours.  Captain Picard will brief you on what to expect."

"Acknowledged.  Beniga out."

Jadzia looked at her Captain.

"Things are about to get fun." She said with a smile.  Sisko glared at her.

"'Fun' isn't quite the word I'd use old man.  The Klingons are just the start.  We can look forward to the Romulans, Ferengi, Cardassians, all of them wanting to know what's going on.  It's just a question of when they arrive."

Jadzia smiled again, more softly.  That much was true.

 

Time ticked by, as Picard revealed to Beniga the current situation with the Klingons, and what to expect from them upon their arrival.  Sisko mused in his office, partly over the Klingons, partly over how he still felt aggrieved over being upstaged by Picard.  Admiral Beniga, upon being informed about the Klingons, returned to his quarters, to find a message waiting from Mara Jade. 

 

"Well Mara, your message seemed quite urgent, what have you learned?" Asked the Admiral.

Beniga, Jade, and Commander Gregari were seated in Jade's quarters, Gregari with his feet up on the coffee table, looking bored.

"The owner of the bar here, Quark, has high-level access to the computers of this station.  We could learn a lot about the Federation, and indeed the

other powers here- information that they wouldn't want us to know."

Gregari sat up.  This was more interesting.

"I see.  Any idea as to what kind of information we would be obtaining?" Asked Beniga.

"I'm not sure, but I do know for certain that Quark is not supposed to have that kind of access.  I would presume he has access to Federation ship

movements, communication records, classified technical data on Federation ships, that sort of thing."

Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Beniga considered what getting hold of such information would mean.

"Our scans of this station show it to be capable of withstanding an assault from three Star Destroyers, possibly four.  Whilst that's not a great number of ships, if we had a way around their defences, it would prove useful. 

Not to mention we could use more information on their ships."

"You haven't had the Enterprise scanned yet?" Enquired Gregari.

"I ordered a subtle scan, but it will take time.  If we let on that we are conducting scans, it might still trigger a hostile response.  It would also encourage them to scan us back, something they have evidently hesitated to do-

and the less they know about our own capabilities, the better."

Turning his attention to Jade, Beniga decided that she'd found something worth pursuing. 

"Mara, do what you have to do get that information.  But first, I'd like you to be present with our first meeting with the Klingons.  From what Picard tells me, it will be interesting, to say the least."

"What did he tell you about them?" Asked Gregari, still annoyed that he hadn't been present when Picard had spoken about the Klingons.

Beniga stood, running over the details in his head.

"They are a proud people, with a strong sense of honour.  They value honour above life, and will disown family members before letting them hurt the family image, so to speak.  In the past they have proven to be warlike and aggressive, fighting furiously if they believe they have been affronted.  I suspect they will be feeling affronted right now, as the Federation has not invited them to meet with us- not that they have to, for the Klingons severed diplomatic ties, as Picard said in the conference room last night.  We should expect the Klingons to be direct with us, if not outright aggressive and full of bluster."

Gregari leaned back, raising an eyebrow.

"Well that should make things interesting."

 

With twin suns, the world of Tantooine was hot, very hot, and unforgiving to those who were not prepared for the heat and dust storms.  Still, people forged a living in the strangest, most inhospitable of places, and cities, villages and businesses had established themselves on the desert world.  Being far from the centre of the Empire, it was also a good place to hide.

It has here that an old man kept out of sight from the rest of the galaxy, reflecting on times past, on events that took place long ago, galaxy-altering events that he had had a hand in.  In the shelter of the planet's many caves, he avoided the suns, the dust, and the rest of the population.

But even isolated as he was, he could still sense things, perceive things that no one else could.  A ripple, an echo of a powerful event, swept over the galaxy, unnoticed by most, but as it passed over Tantooine, he felt it.  It was faint, but it was there.  It raised the hairs on his neck, made his bones tingle.  Whatever it was, it was something incredible, and he knew he had to investigate- the Force had not trembled like that for years.

Leaving his cave, Obi-wan Kenobi set off toward someone he knew could one day help everyone- Luke Skywalker.

 

Picard, Sisko, Admiral Beniga, Commander Gregari and Mara Jade were waiting at the docking port, for the arrival of Chancellor Gowron, whose ship was in the process of docking.  The Negh'Var shimmered green in the starlight, large and imposing as it slid into place.

Almost as imposing (but thankfully nowhere as large), Chancellor Gowron, flanked by General Martok, and a pair of guards, could be seen approaching the airlock.  Everyone immediately noted that he did not look happy.

The door rolled away, and Gowron glared at those assembled to greet him.  Stomping from the airlock entrance into the corridor, he cast his eyes over everyone, in particular over the Imperial officers, narrowing his eyes at them.

"So, these are the so-called strangers from a distant location.  Remarkable then, that you all look human." The accusation was obvious- Gowron suspected a Federation conspiracy of some kind. 

"Tell me Captain Picard, Captain Sisko, how long has the Federation been secretly expanding, developing new warships?" Growled Gowron.

Picard stepped forward.

"I can assure you Chancellor, the Federation has done nothing out of the ordinary.  The Bajoran wormhole has undergone a transformation, which I'm sure your border outposts would have detected."

Gowron simply frowned as way of a reply, then waved an arm at the Imperials.

"Yet the crew of that ship are human Captain, how do you explain that?"

"I cannot.  We have only just met with the inhabitants from the other side of the wormhole, and speaking of which, let me introduce them to you." Picard gestured to the Imperials.  "Admiral Beniga, commander of the Raven, his first officer, Commander Gregari…" Gregari puffed up his chest a little. "and attaché Mara Jade."

Beniga thrust out his hand for a handshake, but Gowron simply looked at him, disdain clear in his eyes.  Slowly Beniga lowered his hand, casting a knowing glance at Gregari.

"I shall tell you what I see.  The Federation has control of the only stable wormhole in the galaxy.  The Federation has a monopoly on first contacts and has first access to new technologies, and the Federation has been using that monopoly to build new ships!  You can be assured Captain Picard, the Klingon

Empire will not stand for this!"  Gowron almost snarled the last sentence.

Taking a step forward, Picard looked Gowron squarely in the eyes, matching Gowron's anger with steel of his own.

"Sir, if you know us, you know we are not in the habit of exploiting first contacts for military purposes.  That ship out there is new to us, a complete unknown, and we are trying to learn more, but not to create weapons of war, instead out of the desire to learn.  I suggest you stop applying your own motives to us.  Now, if you wish to remain here, as a guest of the Federation, you can, but if you continue to make accusations about what has taken place here, you are welcome to leave."

Angry, chastised, Gowron smouldered, ready to launch into another outburst.  Instead, it was Beniga who calmed things down.

"Chancellor, I can assure you, we are not from this space.  Whatever the wormhole did, it was not expected or planned.  Something caused it to undergo a transformation, but it was not us, nor the Federation.  We have come through the wormhole on a mission of exploration, nothing more."

Everyone was silent for a moment, until Sisko spoke up.

"I suggest we take this discussion out of the corridor and into a conference room." He said quietly.

Smiling, Beniga agreed, as did Gowron.  Picard led the Imperial delegates and Gowron to one of the conference rooms, and Sisko moved to head back to Ops, when a hand grabbed his arm.  Sisko looked up, finding the hand was attached to General Martok.

"Is there something I can do for you General.?" He asked, as though the Klingon was not holding him.

"To be blunt Captain, I do not believe Captain Picard's pretty words.  That ship out there is beyond anything this quadrant has ever seen, armed to the teeth and generating more power than the Negh'Var and Enterprise combined.  It could take on a fleet of Negh'Vars!  It looks very much like a warship Captain, a warship that has conveniently shown up in Federation space as tensions between the Empire and Federation rise."

Sucking in a breath, Sisko took in what Martok had said.  So far no invasive scans had been conducted of the Raven, at least, not by Federation forces.

"I can assure General, we did not build that ship.  If what you say is true, we could not have built that ship."

"Then I pose the same question to you that Gowron put to Picard: Why is it manned by humans?"

"I have to reply as Picard did- we don't know." Replied Sisko.

The General simply stared at Sisko, doubt clearly displayed on his face.

"Look, General, you've clearly scanned that ship.  Is it anything like a Federation vessel?"

"Mmmm…. No, it is not.  It contains technology far beyond what you have achieved."

Sisko raised an eyebrow at that.

"I am curious Captain, why have you not scanned that ship yourself?"

Sisko began to head back toward Ops, the General falling into step beside him.

"When they first arrived, they were a complete unknown.  A full scan might have been taken as a provocative act.  We've done a few low scans, we know the approximate crew complement, that it has a lot of weapons ports, but that's it."

Martok stopped Sisko once again.

"Captain, I have been serving with the Klingon fleet for a great many years, and I know a warship when I see it.  That ship has enormous power generation, and is bristling with weaponry.  I suggest you watch it carefully."

 

Assembled in the conference room, everyone present (Picard, Beniga, Gregari, Jade and Gowron) was now seated (with the except of Gowron, who was scowling at the Imperial team, and remaining standing). 

"I really don't know what I can say to assure you Chancellor, that we are not Federation operatives.  I have already told you sir, everything that I can tell you, and I swear it to be true." Beniga kept his voice soft, yet there was an unmistakable firmness behind it.

"And why should I trust you, Admiral?  Your ship appears out of nowhere, next to the stronghold of an ally that betrayed us!"

He kept his expression neutral, but inwardly Beniga was suddenly intrigued.  Picard had only touched upon the subject- that the Federation and Klingons had been allies, and subsequently the Klingons had ended the alliance due to a disagreement of some kind.  There had been no more said than that.  Evidently the Klingons had their own opinions on the matter.

"Sir, I understand your culture values honour, yet you will not give us the chance to prove our own.  Surely we deserve such a chance to prove our honour?"

At the use of the word honour, Gowron simply growled- the honourable thing to do was to give these humans the benefit of the doubt, at least for the moment.

"Very well, for now, I will trust you on your word Admiral, though know that the Klingon Empire will be watching you very carefully, and we expect to be allowed to participate in these proceedings from now on." As ever, Gowron was blunt.

"Of course, we welcome the opportunity to contact new societies and races.  Already we have met two distinctive governments, and we hope to develop lasting relationships with both the Klingon Empire and the Federation, and indeed, anyone else who wishes to meet with us."

Gowron sneered at that, still not impressed with diplomatic rhetoric.  Nonetheless, he sat at Picard's request, and discussions began in earnest.

Beniga recited Tolik's comments about the Empire to Picard, actually gaining the Empire respect in Gowron's eyes, for the Empire's tough stance on trouble makers, and the authority in wielded in bringing order to a galaxy.  Gowron, for his part, spoke of the history of the Klingon Empire, how Kahless united the planet after a twelve fight with his brother Morath, the history of the Empire in space, and its dealings with the Federation.  To his credit,

Gowron refrained from painting the Federation in a bad light, which intrigued Beniga still further, given the Chancellor's earlier comment about betrayal.

Every so often as Gowron talked, Beniga would feel a presence on his mind; Jade, sending him signals, clueing him in to what was truth, and what was exaggeration.  He'd sift over those details later. It was apparent to Beniga that the Klingons were indeed as aggressive as Picard had suggested, if not more.  Their strong system of honour prevented them from going to war at random, and held their instincts in check.  That didn't stop them from going to war, but only if there was a valid reason. 

Another interesting aspect of the structure of Klingon commands, was that a junior officer could actually kill a superior officer if it was felt that superior was weak, or lacking honour.  That said, a blow from a superior officer in the form of disciplinary action could not be returned.

At first glance, it was difficult to understand how an alliance between the Federation and Klingon Empire had come about.  The Federation, dedicated to peace, the Klingons with a culture forged in combat.  Clearly there was history there, that Beniga decided he would read up upon.

With everything concluded for the evening, and with the Federation ambassadors due to arrive soon, the participants retired, with Picard and Gowron thinking of new alliances and prospects for technologies, and Beniga thinking of his report back to the Emperor.

 

Back on the Raven, Beniga set out making his report.  It was concise, as usual, and emphasised the main points.

"This is the initial report of Grand Admiral Beniga concerning the possibility of threats and opportunities within this new space on the other side of the wormhole.  We have met with two local governments so far, the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  Scans of their ships would suggest that it would take between thirty to forty of their ships to bring down a single Imperial class Star Destroyer, with at least half of their forces destroyed.

From a military standpoint, I have seen nothing that truly threatens us, though there is the potential for news of the societies here to leak back into our own territory, and perhaps cause stirrings of rebellion. 

There is a great wealth of untapped resources here, that we could conceivably make use of.  My recommendation would be to get one of the local governments 'onside' so to speak.  The Federation would be the best choice for this, given their generally peaceful nature.  The fact that humans populate it will make it easier for them to accept us, and easier to convince them to trust us.  Any kind of alliance will aggravate the Klingons, and probably other local governments, but we can take measures to protect our assets.  In the meantime, I recommend further recon of the area, to see what else this new galaxy holds."

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