Before the Storm

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

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1. First Contact

It was agony, thought Sisko. Agony, to be left behind on Deep Space Nine, unable to avenge the death of his wife. Starfleet had given him his orders; owing to the increasingly volatile situation with the Dominion, he was of more use on Deep Space Nine that in the Typhon Sector. The Defiant was to depart, with a minimal crew (the risk of destruction- or worse, assimilation, was too great), and join a fleet some three-hundred strong, under the command of Admiral Hayes.

That order had been over a day ago, now the Defiant and the rest of the fleet prepared to engage the only enemy more dangerous than the Dominion: the Borg.

No one had yet determined the origin of the Borg, save for the fact that they came from the Delta Quadrant. They were singular of both mind and purpose, utterly consumed by their desire to assimilate other beings into their Collective. Captain Picard had never described the details of what it was like to absorbed into a single mind, his personality erased, but that hadn't stopped people from guessing. Sisko imagined it was as though one was a slave in their own body, trapped, and controlled by the will of the Collective. You could only move when the Borg needed you to, you could only stop when the Borg wanted you to. A thunderous voice was upon you all the time, beating away rational thought and personality, until a shell remained of the person inside the drone.

As if the losing of one's mind was a terrible enough fate, that wasn't the end of it. The Borg raped not only the mind but the body as well. Whilst the personal effects on Picard had never been revealed, the physical effects of assimilation were well- documented. The Borg removed limbs to replace them with grotesque metallic appendages, took out eyes to exchange them with their own, and throughout the body grew various other implants of Borg design. Skin was stretched until the surface broke, revealing a new item of Borg technology.

Veins ran black with the poison of the Collective. You became what the Borg wanted you to be, in both body and soul.

On the screen in Sisko's office, he could see a picture of the now fully assembled fleet. As much as facing the Borg terrified him, he also wanted to be there. He had lost his wife on the Saratoga six years ago, and many friends as well, when the Borg had first attacked. That day was etched in his memory, a mental scar that would never fully heal. Sisko still remembered the smoke, the heat of the flames, and the sight of people, bleeding over the deck, as he ran to find his wife and son. He could still hear Locutus, parroting the Collective's call, and the sight on the view-screen of ships being smashed like playthings by the Borg Cube. Thirty-nine starships had been lost, unable to halt the Borg, even for a moment.

Now the Federation had brought a great many more ships to the battle, more advanced vessels, with stronger shields, improved weapons, faster computers, and crews that were better prepared for the Borg.

Unable to remain in his office, too tense and nervous, Sisko left, entering Ops. Manning the Science station was Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax. At the central display, Major Kira and Constable Odo. Whilst Sisko and Dax knew of the Borg, either through experience or through study, Kira and Odo had only the stories of others. Both of them looked concerned, but neither could truly understand what it meant to face the Borg.

Sisko glanced at Dax, their dread mutual, before he asked her to bring up the tactical display on the central display. Three-hundred lights appeared on it, each with a barely readable writing next to it, giving the name and status of the ship represented. Dax spotted the Defiant first, having been looking for her lover's ship. Sisko spotted the look of fear and worry in Jadzia's eyes before it could pass, and wondered what his own eyes betrayed.

Without warning, another, larger blip appeared on the display. No ship name or status was given; none could be given, for this ship was nameless- like it's crew. The Borg ship moved toward the fleet at warp nine, seemingly oblivious to the ships laying before it.

Then almost as suddenly as it's arrival on the screen, the Borg ship dropped out of warp, moving quickly toward to the Federation fleet…

Good luck Worf…

 

Admiral Hayes was afraid. He didn't show it of course, but the nerves and tension he'd been feeling had given way to fear as the Borg cube filled the view-screen, looming before the fleet. The ship looked like hastily put together scaffolding, pipes criss- crossing over flat beds of dark-hued metal. A green glow came from within the depths of the cube, a sign of the enemy's power.

"Sir, the Borg are hailing us." Said Lieutenant Janice Morris, manning tactical. She was of average build, with short red hair, and dark green eyes, perfectly positioned on her round face. Those eyes shone with anticipation of battle- a true battler, ready for the fight, thought Hayes to himself.

"Lets hear it." He replied, keeping his eyes on the viewer. Immediately, the Bridge was filled with a monstrous droning voice, a voice interlaced with a thousand others, all saying the same thing:

"We are the Borg. You will lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your technological and biological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile."

Hayes narrowed his eyes as the Borg cut transmission. He had no intention of surrender, not when billions of lives were at stake.

"Hayes to all ships, attack."

As his flagship, the Akira-class Rising Sun moved to engage, Hayes saw on the screen other ships close in. Many were familiar designs, Miranda-class frigates, Excelsior, Ambassador and Nebula-class cruisers, even a Galaxy-class vessel. Others were new, carrying the most advanced technology developed by the Federation. There were other Akira-class ships, with their saucers swept forward gracefully, joined by pillars of metal to the engineering sections. Steamrunner-class vessels, similar to some degree to the Akira class, except the nacelles were swept upwards, the saucer section running a little more against the lines of the ship. Norway and Defiant-class ships make up the selection, all of them armed to the teeth. Hayes was proud to command this fleet, despite the foe they faced.

The Federation fleet opened fire first, quantum torpedoes, photon torpedoes and phaser fire piercing the twisted vision of a ship that was in front of them. To his delight, the cube was not resistant to the weaponry- clearly the advances made over the past few years had proven telling. A new modulating phaser frequency system was in place, altering the frequency after each burst of fire. The torpedoes were likewise enhanced, in addition to being more powerful. Each torpedo that found its target left behind a deep pock-mark in the face of the cube.

Just as Hayes allowed himself to believe that the battle would be over far quicker and with far less casualties then anticipated, the cube returned fire.

Disruptor fire and Borg torpedoes crashed into the shields of several Federation vessels, bouncing them off their attack vectors. A second volley followed; this time the weapons fire penetrated the shields of some ships, a sign that the Borg were already learning weaknesses in the shields of the fleet. One starship exploded violently as a brace of torpedoes struck it's engineering section. An Ambassador-class vessel was left with a hole in it's saucer section, where a Borg cutting beam had sliced through.

"Morris, order all ships to activate the metaphasic shielding!" Shouted Hayes as Rising Sun was shaken by a torpedo. Morris quickly complied, then activated the shielding on the flagship as well.

The balance was once again tipped in the Federation's favour. This time, the Borg weapons damaged the shields, but did not break them. However, Hayes knew the cube still had a large advantage in power, and would inflict many losses before this day was over. The fleet was at least giving as good as it was getting, with the Borg showing no signs of adapting to the improved weaponry on the ships.

On the view-screen, Hayes watched as another salvo from the Rising Sun broke the surface of the cube, and watched as a Defiant-class vessel raked the cube with the new pulse phasers. So far, the Defiant-class ships were doing well against the cube- a relief to Starfleet, as they had always been intended to fight the Borg- and the Borg were hard-pressed to target a faster, more agile vessel than any Federation ship previous encountered.

That didn't stop the cube from targeting others though. A tractor beam lanced out, holding one of the new Akiras in place, despite it's shields. A moment later, the shields failed, and the tractor beam moved swiftly over the surface of the sleek starship, leaving behind hull breaches and power failures. Hayes realised to his horror, that the Borg had found a way past the metaphasic shields.

"Begin random modulation of shield frequencies. Don't give them time to adapt!" He called out, a note of panic in his voice.

"Aye sir!" Came the heated reply of Morris. The ship shuddered as a ship behind her was destroyed; seconds later, the Galaxy-class Horatio, a symbol of the Federation's strength, was crippled, a tractor beam tearing away the port nacelle, a torpedo rendering the deflector array a charred mess of flame and metal.

The Borg don't even care enough to give them quick deaths , thought Hayes grimly, horribly aware that the crew of the Horatio would die from exposure to vacuum, fire and lack of life support. No ships could be spared to save them.

Yet another ship, this time a Miranda-class, was sliced into by Borg weapons. A long fiery gash could be seen on the underbelly, the ship rolled out of control. After that, two more ships, both firing furiously the cube, were silenced by torpedoes.

Time was moving by, Hayes knew, but he had no idea how much time. He was about to order the fleet to regroup, when the world lurched hard to the left, and he felt himself fly through the air. Lights flickered, consoles exploded.

Hayes landed badly on his knee, grimacing as he heard it crack. Smoke poured from a damaged station behind him; in front of him lay a young Ensign named D'rek, a Vulcan. Hayes crawled over to him, but the Ensign was dead- a shard of metal buried in his neck.

It was then that Hayes became aware of how damp his uniform was. Clutching a hand to his midsection, he moaned from pain. Looking down, he saw a gash in his side, a piece of metal had sliced him.

An immediate assessment was that it wasn't a deep wound, but it was still serious. Unless treated, he could suffer from shock, perhaps even pass out- neither was an option whilst the battle raged."Report!" He roared over the alarms, uncertain of whom to expect a reply from, not even sure if anyone else was alive on the Bridge.

A female voice answered, but not Lieutenant Morris. Hayes turned to see a middle-aged woman at the helm, looking at the readouts. Commander Anya, her normally well-kept blonde hair now out of place, a bruise on her cheek.

"We've lost shields, and primary power! Secondary power is holding, but I don't know for how long. Hull breaches on decks seven, nine and twelve."

Hayes knew immediately that Rising Sun had avoided a direct hit, but also that the ship was in serious trouble. Pushing aside his personal injury, Hayes hauled himself back into his chair, noticing as he did so that Lieutenant Morris was still alive.

"Status of the Borg?" He asked, adding as an after-thought a request to turn off the sirens.

"The cube has taken damage to its hull, but sensors are damaged, I can't tell how bad their internal systems are." She seemed frustrated at the course of the battle, understandable, as on the screen yet another starship fell to a Borg onslaught.

"Dammit. Come about and fire again. Whatever happens, never stop shooting. These bastards won't get the better of us."

The fleet continued to wheel about, spraying phaser fire and spitting torpedoes. The cube took the damage once more, and dished out some of its own.

The stronger ships were continuing to hold out, just barely; a Miranda-class vessel was blown clean away by a torpedo.

Round after round of weapons fire was exchanged, each time the fleet peeling off and swinging about, each time the cube unrelentingly firing back.

Pain was slowly making itself aware to Hayes- his wound ached, particularly when he shifted. He was uncertain as to how many times the fleet hit at the cube- only that time was slowly running out, as were the number of ships.

 

Sisko winced as the indicators showed the Defiant had been hit once more.

The indicator for Defiant was a yellow mark, meaning moderate damage. Green meant perfect health, flashing green was light damage. Flashing yellow was a sight quite a few ships had- and it meant serious damage. Red- which so many ships had- meant crippled- a dead loss. When the indicator disappeared completely, the ship was gone.

For two hours the fight had raged. The cube remained a grey light- because Federation sensors had difficultly determining it's exact status. It had also gotten nearer to it's target, and the fear was mounting. If earth fell to the Borg, they would have a beach head for the entire quadrant.

"How can they still be going?" Asked Kira. She had heard of the Borgs resilience, and of the massacre at Wolf 359, but until now had only the word of others. Now she understood why Sisko and the human officers were so worried.

When Kira had first heard of the Borg, she had still been fighting the Cardassians. The Borg were an abstract enemy, and their victims far away, unimportant. Now though, she considered these people her friends, and the Borg were a far more real danger.

"Believe me Major, the Borg can always keep going." Replied Sisko quietly, never taking his eyes from the display. Kira thought she saw an intensity in her Captain's eyes, an old pain of the heart that somehow this battle was bringing out.

The grey marker moved toward a formation of blinking lights, and small chirps indicated that weapons fire was being exchanged again. Sisko sucked in a breath, as yet more lights winked out.

"They're nearing earth." Said Bashir quietly, having finally joined the senior staff, no longer able to bear the fear as he sat in sickbay. Quite a few members of the crew had ended up in Ops, wanting to watch either their comrades victory, or their final defeat.

"I'm aware of that Doctor." Snapped Sisko, more harshly than he had intended.

Slowly, the grey marker moved toward the pearl-like image, as more and more indicators turned red.

 

The Rising Sun lurched through space, crackling with damage. It continued to spit torpedoes at the Borg vessel, but with seemingly no avail. Hayes grimaced from the twin problems of remaining conscious, and fighting off the pain of his chest wound. He had to focus, remain on the ball, or all would be lost. This battle… would be the defining fight of his career, perhaps even of the entire Federation!

Reign yourself in, you're getting delusional , Hayes told himself.

"Morris, I want you to begin a slow overload of the phasers. I want to hit the Borg with a larger than normal discharge."

A flash of concern washed over the Lieutenant's face, but she dutifully began the build-up of energy.

"Sir, this won't do the ship any good, it could rupture the hull in several places." She said calmly.

"Acknowledged."

A stream of quantum torpedoes peppered the surface of the cube, but in response, several ships were knocked hard off their course, shields flaring as they struggled to hold. Earth was becoming larger and larger in the background, her citizens becoming increasingly fearful. Hayes was determined to alleviate those fears.

In the foreground, the Defiant and the Thunderchild came about and fired

phasers furiously, in reply, the cube shot out deadly tractor beams. Both ships were caught, but their shields held, for the moment. Another ship was not so lucky, and lost half its saucer section to the Borg weaponry.

"ETA to earth?" asked Hayes, of no one in particular.

"Thirty minutes." Came the flat reply of Morris.

Half an hour. Just half an hour to stop the Borg, and things weren't going well, to say the least.

The ship was humming now, the conduits pulsing with nearly fifty percent more energy than they were designed to handle. The smell of burning dust began to fill the Bridge- an indication that the phasers would hit the Borg with a wallop. At least, that was the plan.

"Sir, plasma conduits are starting to rupture! We have to fire!" called Morris over the increasing drone, urgency in her voice.

Hayes sucked in a painful breath. It was do or die time.

"Fire."

A single stream of emerald energy shot out from Rising Sun, ripping into the hull of the cube. For a moment Hayes felt encouraged as the beam appeared to pierce deep- a feeling that quickly died, as the cube's shields finally adapted to the phasers. Energy conduits had blown out all over the ship, rendering her helpless, and the cube was barely scratched.

"No…" came the whispered word of Commander Anya. On the screen, the cube hurled torpedoes out at the passing Federation ships- including three at Rising Sun.

Hayes stood. He watched, in slow motion, as the torpedoes approached. The ship's shields had all but failed, and she was still reeling from earlier hits.

The first torpedo tore into the front of the saucer, ripping it to shards.

Number two smashed into the port nacelle, cleanly removing it. The keening starship rolled backwards, as torpedo three hit, punching straight through what remained of the saucer.

The flagship was gone.

 

"Admiral Hayes' ship has been destroyed." Stated Jadzia flatly. Her gaze met Sisko's for a split second, trying to gauge what her Captain was feeling.

Tension, anger, and fear, all seemed to be rolled into one package within Sisko's eyes. Jadzia couldn't bear to see her Captain looking so… defeated, and averted her eyes. Kira, Odo and Bashir, didn't even look up.

Chief O'Brien- who had since joined them- looked boiling with anger and worry. Like Sisko and Bashir, he still had family on earth; only they would soon be nothing but drones, slaves forever.

"The Borg vessel is twenty minutes from earth at current speed." Announced Kira in a deadpan voice. "Approximately two-hundred and forty-two ships have either been destroyed or crippled."

The lights continued to flicker quietly on the screen, the gruesome tale unfolding of the end of the Federation.

"The Defiant?" Asked Dax. Her anxiety about her lover's ship was evident.

"The Defiant's shields are at thirty-two percent, main power at seventy-four percent. She's still going round for round with the cube."

A small measure of comfort at least. Worf would fight to the bitter end, never giving up. To do otherwise would be to dishonour himself and his uniform.

But one ship couldn't make a difference now, not even the Defiant

 

Fury swept through his chest, as he shouted orders to his crew. Once again the ship peeled about in a tight turn, causing the inertial dampeners to squeal as they fought against the manoeuvres being made against them. The pulse phasers served as a manifestation of his rage, scarring the Borg's hull still further.

Worf would not permit defeat at the hands of such a dishonourable foe. Quantum torpedoes caused still more damage to the cube, and Worf punched the air in delight.

That joy was short-lived as the Borg replied with torpedoes of their own.

The first two bounced off the Defiant's shields, and sent the helmsman sprawling from his seat. For a dizzying moment, the Defiant was out of control, but Ensign

Martinez hauled himself back into his seat, and steered the ship away from the next two torpedoes. A quick glance at a readout showed the shields weakened to just twenty percent.

"Report!" Yelled Worf over the din of alarms.

"The Borg are taking a lot of outer hull damage from torpedoes, but all phasers apart from ours are useless. No readings on inner systems, but our sensors aren't fully functional." Reported Martinez dutifully.

They cannot be invincible. No enemy is invincible, they must have a weakness!

Again and again the Defiant circled, along with the remaining ships, firing all the time, but aside from some fresh puncture marks, the cube moved onward, unremittingly, toward it's target. Fresh torpedoes slammed against the Defiant's shields, and deadly tractor beams caught out ships that failed to manoeuvre in time. Worf held grimly onto his console as the ship shook violently. He tried to shout orders, but another torpedo penetrated the shields and smashed against the hull, triggering all kinds of alarms. Smoke billowed from damaged consoles; Worf didn't want to think of the toxins he was breathing in.

"Damage report!" He yelled.

In the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but notice a fallen crewmember.

He or she (the smoke made it difficult to tell) was slumped against the bulkhead, neck twisted at an impossible angle.

"shields at twelve percent, weapons only at twenty percent! Main power is fluctuating." Came Martinez's reply.

"Come about, attack them again!" Roared Worf. He would not lose a battle to the Borg, even if he meant his death.

Systems screaming, the Defiant angled around, shooting darts of emerald energy at the cube. Worf noted that Martinez managed to dodge as the cube swept its tractor beam out, looking for a death hold on the Defiant. Worf was about to encourage him to continue, when a tractor beam latched onto the damaged region of the hull. Panels erupted in flame; others simply went dead.

Tasting blood in his mouth, Worf took stock of the situation. He checked the chair console, then pounded it in frustration as it refused to yield anything information.

"Report" He asked again, already suspecting the answers.

"Main power's offline, our shields are down and our weapons are gone."

Well, that confirmed his suspicions at least. They were defenceless.

"Perhaps today is a good day to die…" he mused, more to himself. With a steely resolve, he faced in the direction of Martinez. "Prepare for ramming speed!"

Martinez began to initiate the order, when his console bleeped, indicating the arrival of another ship. The information puzzled him, for he had thought all ships that had been ordered to battle had already arrived. Realisation of what the ship was dawned on him as he stared at the readouts. He tried, but failed to keep the excitement from his voice.

"Sir, there's another starship coming in, it's the Enterprise!"

I knew they would come thought Worf. He had had a feeling in his gut since the battle began, that Captain Picard would not be denied his rightful vengeance.

The Defiant shuddered under the hammer blow of another Borg attack, but as Worf felt the tingle of the transporter, he knew the day would be won.

 

Cheers erupted from the command center of Deep Space Nine, as the Enterprise sailed in orbit of earth, her mission to repair the time line a success. Bashir and O'Brien were punching the air in delight, whilst others simply sighed with relief. The Borg were defeated.

Jadzia however, was in contact with earth, worried about Worf. Sisko gave her a supportive nod, then retired to his office, feeling exhausted.

Adding to his concerns about his tactical officers safety was the grim reality that lives had been lost on the Defiant, fine men and women whose loss was a great one. Although he knew the task awaited him, Sisko did not want to begin to replace those officers, too morbid a task for his weary and heavy brain. Even worse was the task of sending letters of condolence to the families of the lost- never an easy duty.

Retiring to his office to consider the eventful battle, and what it meant, Sisko sat behind his desk, idly rolling the baseball he kept back and forth.

Despite the victory, he still felt taught, the adrenaline not yet purged from his system.

Some of the tension, Sisko knew deep down, would stay with him. A pit of worry and excitement had settled in his stomach ever since his visions of the Federation's coming war with the Dominion. He knew, with unwavering certainty that war was inevitable, and the Federation seemed to believe him, given the advent of new, more advanced ships, and the removal of civilians from military installations and vessels. Some areas had been declared no go zones for civilians, most notably the Bajoran sector, and areas around military bases.

Even the new uniforms seemed to suggest a new sense of purpose about Starfleet officers.

The door to his office chimed, removing Sisko from his reverie. Without looking up, he knew it was Major Kira. Only she seemed to ring the door so loudly and forcefully.

"Enter."

In stepped the fierily-haired Major. As ever her eyes was betraying an intensity that her voice and posture did not. Sisko also noticed two things;

Kira had something to report, and it was troubling her.

"Captain, we might have a situation." She said formally, but faltered, not certain of how to continue.

"Well Major?" Sisko prodded, raising an eyebrow.

Taking a breath, Kira steadied herself.

"The wormhole sir… it's… fluctuating, unusually. Dax thinks a cloaked Dominion fleet could be coming through."

Without a word, Sisko bolted from his seat and was somehow back into Ops before Kira. He marched to Dax's station, where the young Trill was busying herself with a kaleidoscope of readouts and information that boggled Sisko's mind.

"What do you have Dax?" He asked stiffly. Was the war he had just being thinking of about to begin?

"I'm not sure Captain. Neutrino emissions are nearly three-hundred percent above normal, it's blanketing our sensors quite fiercely. I'm also detecting subspace oscillations that are off the scale. It's like someone's plugged the wormhole into a very large power source… it's extending the wormhole's reach Benjamin."

"Where to? To the heart of Dominion space?" This time, the Captain couldn't keep the urgency from his voice. He needed to report something to Starfleet Command, and quickly, if this was the prelude of an invasion.

Dax shook her head.

"I can't tell. We'd need to send a probe or a ship through the wormhole to see where it opens up."

"Captain! Look!"

The call had come from Major Kira, who had pulled up an image of the wormhole on the main screen. Gone was the pattern of blues that usually accompanied the wormhole's opening, replaced by light hues of red and orange, and darker shades of red and green at the edges. Energy, translated as visible light on the screen, but in reality in the form of gamma radiation, was belched from the wormhole's maw, spreading and dissipating in the void of space.

"Energy levels within the wormhole are increasing exponentially, yet the wormhole's matrix appears to be stable. Excess energy is being spat out through the opening- presumably the same thing is happening at the other end as well.

There's enough energy in the wormhole to have the force of a two-thousand teraton explosion!" For once, even the unflappable Dax seemed in awe of the forces outside the station. She was about to continue with her analysis when the station shuddered, not violently, but enough to be noticed.

"Dax, what's happening?" Barked Sisko, never taking his eyes off the increasingly erratic image on the screen.

"The energy being funnelled away by the wormhole is reaching further away with each new expul…" Jadzia was drowned out as the station rumbled again, this time more strongly. "…sion. It's not yet enough to harm the station, but I recommend raising shields and using the thrusters to move away to a safer distance."

Finally glancing back to Dax, Sisko nodded. "Agreed. Chief O'Brien, get the thrusters ready. Dax, I need to be patched through to the whole station, and any ships docked with us. I also need a feed to Starfleet Command.""Aye Sir." Came O'Brien's and Dax's replies. Dax gave a slight nod when the channels were open.

"This is Captain Benjamin Sisko to all station personnel, and to all ships presently docked. This message is also being broadcast to Starfleet Command, given the possible threat that exists as I speak.

Due to forces unknown, the wormhole is receiving massive amounts of power to it. Most of that energy is being used to somehow increase the distance between the two ends of the wormhole. At the moment, the Alpha quadrant opening remains in the Bajoran system, although we can't say for how long. Due to the intense energies being emitted from the wormhole, I am ordering this station moved to a more safe distance, and all non-essential personnel and civilians to report to their quarters until the station comes to a halt. All non-station personnel onboard are to report to their ships for the same purpose.

It should be noted that the possibility exists that the Dominion is behind the wormhole's behaviour. If that is true, then an invasion might be imminent. I am request additional support from Starfleet to counter any possible invasion fleet. As more information becomes available to me, I will relay to you, the good people of this station, and to the commanders of the ships docked with us. Captain Sisko out."

Turning to face Major Kira, his brow now glistening with sweat, Sisko issued orders for the Major to liase with Odo and the people from the ships in dock, and make sure all his orders were followed by the myriad of types that were on the station at the moment. The Nausacans and Chal'noth on board were likely to be uncooperative, and Sisko knew from painful experience that Quark would squeal at any threat to his profits. Right now, he needed someone else to take on those duties, whilst he focused on the bigger picture. Kira was good at getting the nitty gritty things done.

As Kira left Ops, heading for the Promenade, Dr Bashir accompanying her- the doctor deciding he'd be of better use in the medical bay- Sisko rejoined Dax at the science station. The young Trill was intent on her screens, trying to fathom what was going on. Her focus was momentarily shaken as the station rocked again, this time forcing O'Brien, at Engineering, to hold onto the railing,

"Old man, you mentioned something about sending a ship through to get more information about where the other end of the wormhole was?" Asked the Captain quietly.

"Or a probe. Personally, I wouldn't risk sending a ship through that." Jadzia pointed at her own display of the wormhole, great plumes of increasingly forceful energy erupting as the mouth opened and closed.

"Mmm, trouble is, a probe would probably be destroyed instantly."

"I wouldn't bet on a ship lasting much longer Benjamin. Even the Defiant would be overwhelmed in seconds, and we don't even have her at the moment."

Frustration welled up in Sisko, making itself obvious in his eyes. At the moment, he had to play the game no captain wanted to play- wait and see.

A small bleep from Dax's station caught Jadzia's attention. She pressed a control, studied the information, then turned back to her Captain, as the latest burst of energy from the wormhole hit the shields. This time, the lights dimmed for a moment, causing alarm on O'Brien's face and concern on Sisko's.

"Ben, Kira reports everyone is either onboard their ship or in their quarters. We're ready to move away."

"Chief?"

"Ready Captain, all thrusters standing by."

"Fire thrusters!"

Slowly, unsteadily, Deep Space Nine heaved its way through space, away from the increasingly dangerous wormhole. As O'Brien channelled more power to the thrusters, the speed increased, and the station pulled clear of the reach of the wormhole's energies. Just to be safe, O'Brien kept going for a couple of seconds longer than he needed, just to give them all a margin for error. Sisko recognised his engineer's common sense, and didn't countermand him, letting the station keep going for a little while longer, before finally ordering a complete stop.

In the background, the wormhole continued it's spitting.

"We're in range of the test target." Reported the Lieutenant.

"Power up the main laser." Ordered the commander.

"Yes sir. Main laser charging."

"Fire when ready."

 

Three ferocious lines of green energy formed over the main dish, meeting at like a prism about the main point of the dish. An instant later, a fourth beam, larger than the others, leapt from the centre point, and plunged into and through the three others. Another second later, it impacted the large rocky body it was aimed at, shattering it outward so completely that not even the force of gravity could ever bind it back together again. Thousands of tiny bolts of energy leapt from the surface of the battle station that had just destroyed the planet, vaporising the smaller pieces of debris that were hurtling for the station. The larger pieces the shields handled with ease.

"Test successful sir. Target destroyed."

The commander smiled. His brainchild had now had three successful tests of the primary weapon, each time on progressively larger targets. The latest, of approximately earth density, was the most encouraging and exciting demonstration of his project's power.

"Send a message to the Emperor. Tell him that the latest test was a complete success, and that we will soon be ready to test the Death Star's main weapon on shielded targets." Ordered Grand Moff Tarkin.

"Yes sir!" Came the youth-infused voice of his Lieutenant, obviously exhilarated at being part of the tests.

As the Lieutenant went off to fulfil Tarkin's order, another person was making his way to firing control, where Tarkin sat. This person ignored those who walked hurriedly past him, aware that they feared him, and taking perverse delight in that. He made his way quickly to the control chamber, and actually felt a vague sense of disappointment that even Tarkin felt a twinge of fear to see him.

"Ah, Lord Vader. You will pleased to know, this latest test of the Death Star's firepower was a total success. I have sent a message to the Emperor to inform him of our progress." Any worry Tarkin felt was buried by his enthusiasm for his endeavour, what he felt was his ultimate accomplishment.

"The emperor will be pleased."

Tarkin stood, crossing the room and going to Vader's side. The small tremble of fear that the Sith Lord felt was tempered by a strange feeling of friendship that he felt coming from the Grand Moff. In his own, peculiar way, Vader returned that feeling.

Together the two highest-ranking officers on the Death Star made their way to the main command centre, receiving looks of respect and/or fear from the crew as they walked past. For a short while the pair said nothing, then Vader sensed Tarkin's desire to strike up conversation, and decided to beat him to it.

"When do you expect this battle station to be in proper use?" he rumbled.

"Very soon. I wish to conduct one last test, against planetary-level shielding, and then the Death Star can join the fleet, and that is when our enemies will finally surrender. No one will be able to oppose us." Tarkin was eagerly gloating about his project's capabilities, making no effort to hide his pride.

"Our names will go down in history, my friend."

Vader was silent. His pace slowed, as the tingling in the back of his mind increased. It had not been there a moment before, the slow rise of a ripple in the Force. It felt like someone was throwing pebbles in a stream, each time a slightly larger pebble, creating slightly bigger waves. The sensation was irritating, particularly as it was a constant annoyance.

Tarkin stopped and looked back at Vader, concern wrinkling his brow.

"Vader, are you alright?"

"I sense… a disturbance in the Force… yet I am not sure where it originates…" The uncertainty was lost as Vader drew upon his powers. He let the increasing, maddening effects of the Force fuel his anger, feed his power.

"Order a full sensor sweep of the area, all sensors, maximum range, then report anything unusual to me."

Technically, Tarkin held more authority than Vader, but the deep, resonant tone of the Sith's voice, the lurking passion behind the words, gave pause to Tarkin's protests.

"As you wish my lord." Came the subdued reply. He hurried to the command deck, acutely aware that Vader was right behind him.

Immediately the other officers on the command deck snapped to attention.

"Begin a full sensor sweep of the area. Have a TIE squadron deployed to investigate any anomalous readings you find, no matter now insignificant." Ordered Vader. The officers, with nervousness visible in their eyes, set about their task, all of them finding a console or panel to busy themselves with. No one wanted to look like they were dragging their heels.

Reaching out with the Force, Vader tried to pinpoint the exact location of the tremor he felt. He moved to the window, closed his eyes, and slowed his breathing, stretching his powers into the cold of space. He could feel the debris from the freshly annihilated planet, sense the throbbing power of the system's star, yet the pebbles that disturbed him, were out of reach, tantalising him with their presence.

A flame-haired officer moved to Tarkin's side, whispering something into his ear. With amusement, Vader sensed the officer's clear unwillingness to go near him, preferring that Tarkin do the reporting.

The Grand Moff held no such reluctance. Tarkin walked briskly to Vader's side.

"Lord Vader, a possible source for what ever it is you're looking for. Sensors are picking up some kind of rift where the core of the planet we just destroyed used to be. It's slowly increasing in size, and is emitting neutrinos and gamma radiation. TIE fighters are moving for a closer look as we speak."

"Any indication on what is causing this rift?"

"As of yet, we do not…" Tarkin's voice was cut off from a cry of anguish over the speakers. He and Vader moved quickly to a monitoring station, where the red-haired officer was observing the fighters.

A group of three TIE Interceptors had swooped toward the anomaly, scanning it at close range. Without warning, the energy emissions from the rift had increased rapidly, and now it spat that energy from it's opening, engulfing the fighters.

"Lieutenant, report!" Ordered Tarkin sternly.

"Sir, the rift, it's expending energy in large pulses, every few seconds. High intensity bursts of gamma radiation, and subspace emissions are increasing exponentially. Grand Moff, the fighters are gone. No trace of them, even of debris." The lieutenant looked guilty, as though it were his fault.

Tarkin opened his mouth to reply, but Vader beat him to it.

"Shouldn't the sensors be detecting at least some trace of the fighters remains?"

The Lieutenant now appeared frightened, as though he had made an error.

"W-well, perhaps, sir, but this is an unknown anomaly, never before seen."

Tarkin regarded Vader with an inquisitive look.

"What do you suspect has happened Lord Vader?" He asked.

"I do not believe those fighters have been destroyed. No form of vaporisation is perfect, correct?"

"Correct."

"Then our fighters are intact."

Now bewildered, the lieutenant spoke up.

"But where?"

"That is what we will have to find out." Rumbled Vader.

 

Only an hour had passed, yet dozens of complaints about Sisko's actions had flooded in, ending up on his desk in the form of data pads. One thing Sisko had often wished for was the right to label all and any civilian mail destined for him as garbage, but sadly Starfleet had refused his request.

In the background, the wormhole glowed, and vomited, and remained a danger. Dax was looking into a way to calm things down, but it was a tall order, even for someone with the experience of eight lives.

Another, more important communiqué had also made it's way to Sisko's desk- a message from Starfleet Command. They were dispatching a fleet of over fifty starships to Deep Space Nine, in case the Dominion was preparing an attack.

The wormhole's exotic behaviour had attracted attention from elsewhere too. Long range sensors had monitored the approach of twenty-seven Klingon Vor'Cha class attack cruisers, who were now hovering in the edge of the station's sensor range. The Cardassians had dispatched a dozen Galor-class warships, which were giving the Klingons a wide berth. If the Romulans were here, as Sisko suspected, then they were running cloaked- not exactly surprising behaviour for the Vulcans sneakier cousins.

So far though, no other government, save for the Bajorans, had contacted Starfleet or Captain Sisko. Naturally, there was pressure from the Provisional Government on Bajor to find out what was threatening the wormhole, what they viewed as the Celestial Temple of the Prophets. Sisko suspected that Kai Winn was orchestrating that pressure, deep within a temple on Bajor; it wouldn't have been the first time she'd involved herself in political affairs.

Sisko circled his desk, unable to sit still. He prowled from one end of the room to the other, rolling his baseball in his hand. Idly he tossed it from hand to hand, waiting for answers. He was tempted to go back into Ops, harass Dax and the others, but he knew they were doing all they could to unlock this mystery. Bugging them would only cause irritation and slow any progress made so far.

Moving to the window, Sisko stopped playing with the baseball. The wormhole was there, glowing, opening and closing seemingly with nothing passing through it, though in reality it was unleashing huge amounts of radiation and energy. Yet that wasn't what had Sisko's attention.

Movement, movement that should not have been there, caught Sisko's eyes. A group of shapes, tumbling from the wormhole, black dots against the wormhole's luminous entrance.

Senses heightened, the Captain tried to ascertain what those objects were.

They were too small to be starships, which ruled out the possibility of a Dominion attack fleet.

Slapping his commbadge, Sisko got Dax to conduct a scan of the area around the wormhole, then marched into Ops.

"Benjamin." Called Jadzia. "Two things. One, I'm picking up four metallic objects, with internal power sources. I'm also detecting life-signs, faint but there…" Dax paused, as though uncertain how to continue. When she continued, her voice was softer.

"Ben, I'm reading human life-signs, and the wormhole has stabilised, I don't know how or why, but it has."

Immediately Sisko's mind raced with questions. If those ships were manned by humans, then could they be Starfleet ships from the future? Could it be that the wormhole had somehow connected to another time?

Still, a more immediate consideration took over Sisko's brain. The people on those small ships were injured, and would die without help. The questions of who they were, and why the wormhole had stabilised, could be answered later."Chief." As he spoke, the Captain turned to face his engineer. "We need to return the station to its normal position, and I want to take a runabout out to retrieve those people."

O'Brien stroked his chin thoughtfully, trying to recall which runabout was available.

"I'll have the Rio Grande prepped and ready in ten minutes." He replied.

"Make it five, those people don't have much time."

"Aye sir." Came the sober reply.

Again Sisko hit his commbadge, as O'Brien left Ops to head to the runabout

pad, muttering commands via his own commbadge to his staff.

"Sisko to Kira."

"Yes Captain?" In the background, Sisko could hear other voices, the voices of grumbling and complaining ship captains and shop staff. Quark's whiney tones were the most evident, and Sisko couldn't help but smile.

"Major, you can inform the good people down there that the alert has passed. We're going to return the station to it's normal location, then the lockdown can be ended. I'm sure your audience will appreciate the news."

"With pleasure Captain!" Kira made no effort to hide the relief from her voice.

Closing the channel, Sisko opened another to Bashir, informing him bring a medkit and an orderly to runabout pad C, where he would meet them.

The journey in the Rio Grande was quiet, mainly because no one knew what to expect or what to say. The metal blobs that Sisko had spotted from his office were more coherent now, clearly small vessels of some kind. A small round bubble formed the main body of each craft, and seemed to be the source of the energy readings. A quick scan from O'Brien confirmed what Sisko suspected- that the power sources of those ships weren't functioning at full capacity.

The other parts of the craft could be best described as fins, triangular fins on either side, with small ports at the front of each triangle.

"We're in transporter range Captain." Remarked O'Brien matter-of-factly.

"Energize Chief, lets get those people onboard."

Four shimmering columns of light illuminated the aft section of the cockpit, just behind Bashir and his orderly, a young Bajoran woman called Telia.

Everyone turned to see their new arrivals; Bashir and Telia moved immediately to the wounded.

The pilots of the craft were all wearing black fighter outfits, breathing apparatus fitting to their helmets. Bashir ran his tricorder over each pilot, then instructed Telia to remove their helmets, whilst he injected them each with a hypospray. Each pilots breathing was swallow, their faces pale. Whatever they'd been through, it had been rough.

Within moments, at Bashir's request, Rio Grande was hurtling back to the station. Another moment later, and they had arrived, Bashir beaming his patients straight to sickbay, concern playing over his face.

How long it would be before of any of the pilots regained consciousness,

Bashir had no idea, though he knew it wouldn't be long before the captain asked him.

Within minutes, the orderlies and himself had each patient on a bio-bed and hooked up to the monitors. From his workspace, Bashir could monitor the heart rate, respiration and brain activity of each patient. The computer would also keep him notified if any of the readings changed.

Interestingly, each of the pilots were human males. Also noteworthy was that their injuries were very similar, as though a strong charge of electricity had flooded their bodies- except the neural injuries associated with a severe enough shock weren't as serious as they might have been.

Probably due to their flight suits, mused Bashir. There was some burning

of the internal organs, as well as to the skin, but none of it was hugely difficult to fix, in fact, Bashir was surprised the patients were having such difficulty breathing, since they obviously hadn't absorbed as much energy from their wormhole passage as they could have.

"Nurse Telia, set to work on patients one and two, specifically on correcting their neural injuries. Once those are under control, treat the burns. We can give those a little leeway, as they're not as serious as I expected. I'll deal with patients three and four."

"Yes Doctor." Replied Telia quietly. With that, Bashir got to work.

 

It had been twenty minutes now, twenty minutes of exact readings from the phenomenon. Still the TIEs remained missing, yet no trace of metallic or organic residue had been detected. The maddening question remained, where were they?

It was a question that played on Tarkin's mind as he took his seat in the Death Star's main conference chamber, a large room with a large round table, and enough chairs for twenty-five important figures.

Next to Tarkin, standing behind his chair, was Lord Vader, obviously preferring to stand, as a mark of his own importance.

Also present were three Grand Admirals, out of the twelve that existed: Admiral Beniga, Admira Zogo, and Admiral Lang.

Beniga was a veteran of the Clone Wars, and still carried a scar down his left cheek. In contrast to his pale, small face and his silver hair, the scar was a deep red, an indication of the severity of the original wound. Like a true soldier, Beniga had not had the scar removed, as it served to remind both himself and others of his experience.

To his left sat Zogo, a muscular, dark-haired man, with an appearance roughly fifteen years Beniga's junior. Zogo had shot through the ranks like a rising star, excelling both in training and as an officer. Still, he had yet to experience a true war, having only faced a few skirmishes with bands of rebels, or chases with pirates on the Rim.

On Beniga's right was Lang, the only woman present, and a rarity in that she, as a woman, had risen so far in the Empire. Middle-aged, flame-haired, and fiery of spirit and temper, it was said that Lang could be utterly ruthless and single-minded in achieving her objectives. She expected complete and utter loyalty from those she commanded, and did not hesitate to make examples of those who did wrong by her.

That said, to those who served her well, she was said to reward handsomely.

All three Admirals were looking expectantly at Tarkin, being the ranking military officer present. Zogo occasionally gave Vader a nervous glance, but Beniga and Lang had experience on their side, and controlled their expressions, save for the impatient looks they shot at Tarkin.

"Well?" Asked Zogo. "You have summoned our Star Destroyers and their support ships here, without telling us why. I for one, Grand Moff, would like to know why."

Inwardly Tarkin bristled at the impetuous tone in the Admiral's voice. It was not the place of Zogo to speak in such a manner to a Grand Moff. Still, cooler heads always prevailed.

"Forgive Zogo sir, he is young and impatient. That said, we are curious to know why you have asked us here." Said Beniga, casting a glare at Zogo.

Calmly and wordlessly, Tarkin pressed a small control in front of him. The door behind the Admirals opened up, and in stepped a nervous lieutenant. He paused when realised the company he was in, mouth slightly open, then hurriedly dispensed with his task, handing each of the Admirals a report. With a salute, the lieutenant quickly left.

"As you can see in the reports in front of you, the Death Star encountered an as yet unexplained disturbance that was somehow responsible for the disappearance of four TIE Interceptors. Also evident in the report is the immense energy readings taken, which have since stopped. The disturbance is still there, yet stable now, for an unknown reason." Tarkin paused, giving the

Admirals time to read the report.

"The fighters weren't destroyed." Said Lang, after a time.

Tarkin nodded slightly.

"You concur with the report's evidence? That no form of vaporisation is perfect?"

"Yes- that means wherever our fighters are, they're intact."

"A wormhole." Stated Beniga bluntly. Everyone else turned to look at him.

"Two years ago, my battle group engaged a group of pirates out on the Rim. In the ensuing battle, a great deal of energy was thrown around between ships. When we had crushed the pirates, we noticed an opening in space, like a hole in the fabric of the universe. It was emitting low levels of hyperspace and subspace energy." Beniga paused, recalling the event.

"I ordered a group of fighters to proceed to the opening, then ordered one to go into it. After a few moments, we detected the fighter- perfectly intact, over five thousand light-years away.This anomaly." He gestured to the report. "Is the same, based on these scans, only on a much larger scale."

The others considered this possibility. It did serve to explain the disappearance of the fighters, and the strong subspace emissions.

"If it is a wormhole, then where does it lead?" Asked Zogo.

Lang spoke up.

"We should send probes through, to gather data and ascertain where our fighters are."

"No."

The growl of Vader's voice caught the three Admirals attention. As ever, there was something about Vader that made everyone else be quiet.

"Probes will not be able to help our fighters. We send a ship through, for retrieval, and to scout this new location properly. Let us see what awaits us."

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