Before the Storm

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

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5. Fractures

The huge complex buzzed with life.  Twisted, awful life.  The more the enemy was engaged, the more it became clear to the soldiers fighting them that it wasn’t just a public relations move, it was a necessity.

Seeing helpless people forced to engage in the murder of billions had awoken something in the Imperial officers.  They weren’t just destroying the Borg, they were liberating the trillions of enslaved minds that had been overtaken by the oppressive will of the Collective.  As (newly promoted) Captain Gregari’s Star Destroyer, the Raven, and her support ships, an entire flotilla of frigates, corvettes and dreadnoughts, closed in on Unimatrix One, the captain took heart from the fact that this would be the last engagement- the Borg were gone elsewhere, this was their last stronghold.

Unlike previous engagements, Gregari did not expect an easy fight.  The structure they faced was large enough, and powerful enough, to dish out damage, particularly against the smaller vessels.  Fortunately, TIE Defenders and Missile Boats were quick, nimble fighters that could launch powerful rockets and bombs, straight into the heart of the enemy.  A large contingent of Borg cubes and spheres had been detected at the base, but they would pose no threat.  If they were true to form, the Borg would send their ships in to assimilate the Imperial starships, despite the futility of their efforts having been proven time and time again.

“All ships and fighters report ready Captain.” Stated Lt. Commander Jos formally.  To Gregari, the scientist almost seemed disappointed- as though he was about to wipe out a fascinating research project, or laboratory specimen.  Too bad.

“Order the ships to move in closer, lets get the attention of those Borg vessels.  Once they’re engaged, order the fighters to begin their strikes.”

At the signal, with the Raven taking point, the Imperial fleet moved forward, advancing upon Unimatrix One.  As expected, the Borg began to send out their ships, some thirty vessels, black and with glowing green innards, that would look menacing, if it weren’t for their pathetic firepower. 

Immediately the Borg ships opened fire, and the Imperial vessels were mildly rocked by the hit of torpedoes against their ships.  In response, a pair of lancer frigates opened up all batteries on the nearest sphere, tearing to shreds in a fireball that briefly illuminated the rest of the fleet.

Without wasting any time, the fighters shot forward, screaming toward their target areas, increasing speed to make themselves harder to track.  They banked toward the structure at brake-neck speeds, firing off their rockets at the last moment, as Borg phaser fire and torpedoes shot furiously at them.  One or two fighters were hit, and in a blaze of glory fired off as many bombs as they could, before colliding against the Borg station.  Their weapons found their target zones, and blew tremendous holes into Unimatrix One, hot debris spewed everywhere, as the fighters veered off and prepared for another attack run.  Their primary aim was to destroy or disable enough of the enemy station to make it safe for the capital ships to close in and finish it off, and already, after one round of bombs, it appeared that part of the station was struggling to maintain power, the crackle of damage seen where the huge explosions had ripped into it.

As the fighters began to devastate their target, the Imperial fleet was cutting into the Borg fleet like a knife through butter.  Gregari found it amusing in many respects- the Borg were the most inept enemy he had ever fought, lacking in any form of tactics, and unable to advance their technology through research.  It was inevitable that they’d come across a race one day more advanced, that would repel them.  It was Gregari’s fortune that it was the Empire that had that honour.

A second wave of fighters now advanced, equipped with more heavy bombs and missiles.  They swooped upon their target areas like birds of prey, showing no mercy.  With large portions of the superstructure already suffering the effects of damage, Borg weapons fire was sparser for the second attack, and the fighters easily dove upon the last bastion of the Borg, their bombs ploughing into the structure with huge fireballs, plumes of vaporised material flung away.

It was a slaughter.  With the fighters getting deep into Unimatrix One and delivering their powerful payloads into the heart of the Collective, it was all the Borg could do to even maintain a Collective. 

Deep in the heart of the Unimatrix, she fumed with impotent rage, the sheer indignity of the scale of her defeat.  From controlling thousands of worlds and trillions of Borg, to one base that was now being dismantled.  And all of it, gone in just a few months.

A concept was brewing deep inside of her, one so alien, so against everything she was.  The notion of negotiation.  Of surrender.  Her will to survive was beginning to overcome her pride.  As she stood in her chamber, drones surrounding her, drones that had not yet become disconnected from the damage raging across the base, the Borg Queen stepped up to a control panel, and steeled herself.  Closing her eyes, she silently instructed the base to hail the alien vessel, and then spoke for all the remaining Borg.

 

“Captain, we are being hailed, by the base.” Stated Jos flatly as the last remaining Borg cube erupted behind them.

“It will be the same drivel as before.  Cut them off.” Gregari waved dismissively with a hand, not at all interested.

“I tried sir, but they keep repeating.  It’s not the same frequency as their usual transmissions either.”

His curiosity suddenly aroused, Gregari eyed the viewscreen.

“Open a channel.  Lets see what they have to say.”

“I am the Borg.” The female voice was a surprise, a single voice at that. 

“What you are is an abomination.  What do you want?”  Answered Gregari vehemently.

“You are about to destroy us, destroy me- I can’t allow that.  I want to survive.”

Another wave of fighters closed in, explosions still enemating from the Borg structure, as Gregari pondered the woman’s words with interest.

“I find it curious that you can even hope for mercy, when you have shown none to countless billions in your time.  How many beings have been enslaved against their will, their bodies mutilated, their minds engulfed by the evil Collective?”

“I don’t expect you to understand.  You are a simple human, and your race has power, not greatness.  Not perfection.”

Gregari snorted.  “Perhaps the Empire is not perfect, but compared to your puny little Collective, it is great- none of that matters though.  You said it yourself, we have power.  You do not.  Right now, I have the power at my fingertips to see to the total destruction of your twisted form of life.  This simple human will determine what happens to you.”

From the sensor station, Jos gestured to his Captain, indicating that he had something to say.  Gregari responded by closing the channel, a smirk on his face.  Whoever he was talking to would be scared at the sudden closing of communications.  Doubtless they expected death to follow at any moment.

“Yes Commander?” Asked Gregari wearily.  Another science lecture…

“Sir, this is definitely not normal Borg behaviour.  We have a unique opportunity here.” Bubbled Jos excitedly, the possibility hitting his mind like lightening.

“What would that be?”

“The apprehension of a live Borg, one that had surrendered to us- one we could use as slave labour, to teach us how to develop adaptive technologies.  The Rebels would never be able to touch our ships.”

More interested now that the idea of defensive technology was being thrown about, Gregari stood, pacing a little.

“Do you think the Borg would willingly help us?  Or betray once they had learned enough about our technology?” The cynic in him demanded the question.

“It’s possible, but I think right now, they are more concerned with survival.”

It was a curveball from his science officer, no doubt about that.  It was also something that would not please the Federation- which almost struck Gregari as a reason to do it, though he found himself considering Beniga’s orders and plans, and the officer in him demanded that he did not rock the boat.  Integrating the Federation into the Empire would be easier if the Empire defeated the biggest threat to the Federation.

“While your idea had merit Commander, but I don’t believe it would further the long-term aims of the good Admiral Beniga.  Besides, I don’t like the idea of letting the Borg take a close look at our technology- and why should we show mercy to such a barbaric race anyway?  Re-open communications.”

Disappointed, but understanding, Jos re-opened the channel.

“Borg person, thing, whatever it is that you are, I have considered your wishes, and I have reached my decision.  The Borg are a barbaric, evil race, without mercy or regard for the rights and wishes of other life forms.  If I let you live today, you might return in the future, and I cannot possibly permit that.  Close channel.”

Smiling now, Gregari could only imagine what the Borg were thinking, as Imperial forces moved in, taking apart what left of their base, piece by piece.

 

“The Klingons are still maintaining an aggressive posture toward the Empire, and also to us, for associating with them.  They believe that a human conspiracy is underfoot, one that will undermine them.” Said Captain Picard, seated comfortably in Conference Room 14 on Starbase 74.  Around him were representatives of the Federation Council and the Admiralty, who sat attentive, keen to get some insight on what had been happening lately.

They knew of the general details, having read reports and statements, but getting a first-hand account of the situation from someone who had been in the thick of things offered a different kind of insight.  Picard had been alternating between having talks with Imperial ambassadors on Deep Space Nine, and travelling with them to conferences on Vulcan, earth and Andor, during the past six months.  As a result, he had developed an understanding of the Empire that was currently better than that of anyone else in the room.

“If the Klingons try anything, the Empire can easily repel them.  They must know it would be a foolish move to antagonise the Empire, or us, for that matter.” Replied Admiral Ross, who was perhaps more keen than anyone else to learn more about what was happening on the frontier.

“True Admiral, but the mood when we attended a meeting on Q'onoS, the mood was belligerent, to put it mildly.  I suspect that if the Klingons fear there is the slightest possibility of an attack or subterfuge, they will move against us.”

“And the Empire has no luck in convincing them that their intentions are honourable?”

“No sir.  Ambassador Tolik spoke at length of the Empire’s peaceful intentions, as did his attaché Mara Jade, but the Klingons didn’t accept that.  If anything, they were more angry by the time we left, for daring to lie to their faces.”  Picard sighed.  He knew how things might look to other governments- humans doing business with other humans from another galaxy, humans who were in possession of powerful weaponry and considerable resources… yet the Klingons, who had worked with and fought alongside humans as allies… there had often been friction, but not like this.  Did the Klingon Empire really understand humanity so poorly?

“Admiral.” Picard continued. “I think we need to consider the possibility that the Klingons might take aggressive action against us in the not-so-distant future.  The mood at the meeting was… passionate, to say the least.”

Looking tired, Admiral Ross rubbed his nose.  Glancing at Picard, the captain could see in the admiral’s eyes the stress and worry that came with the rank.  He saw it reflected in the eyes of the Council members and the rest of the Admiralty, and knew more than ever that he could never give up command of a ship. 

“We’ll keep trying to talk to the Klingons.  What of the Romulans?” Asked Ross wearily.

“The Romulans are suspicious, but not as much as we had first thought.  They seemed open to reason during our discussions, and despite one or two cutting remarks about humans, the atmosphere was amiable.  I’m surprised actually- I didn’t think the Romulans would accept the Empire, but they appear to be doing so, for the moment.”

To Picard, this was most unusual.  Romulans had a low opinion of the Federation, and in particular of humans.  Long had the Romulans believed that the Federation plotted against them, and the Romulans had long plotted against the Federation.  The distrust and disdain of humanity had been present at their meeting with the Empire, but it had been muted.  Instead the Romulans had seemed more interested in what the Empire had to offer.  They, like the Federation, had taken note of the destruction of the Borg, a selfless act that had purged the galaxy of one of it’s biggest dangers.  Such a display of strength had apparently earned the admiration and respect of some on the Romulan High Council.

There was much to be done though.  Old prejudices were still there, and a long-term peace deal was still some way off.  Still, Picard was more optimistic than ever about the situation.  The Empire had done much to elevate the opinion of humanity in the eyes of the Romulan Empire, and had also seduced more than one member of their Council with the promise of economic riches.

Another government that was more than intrigued about economic riches was the Ferengi Alliance.  The Imperial diplomats were in possession of much savvy and also some very good intelligence- they seemed able to understand what motivated a government after only a few short meetings with them.  Picard was faintly troubled by this, for it suggested that they had a method of information gathering unlike any previously encountered, and that opened up the possibility that they had infiltrated the Federation.

Just as quickly as the idea occurred to him, it left.  It was nonsense.  The Empire had been nothing but a force for good so far, having gone out of its way to aid the Federation in forming a lasting peace in the Alpha Quadrant, and even destroying the Borg, an act that Picard was thankful for on a very personal level.  His experience with the Borg had nearly destroyed him, and nearly cost humanity everything.  Finally, the threat was well and truly gone.

To Picard, the Empire had proven to be invaluable allies, selfless and honourable.  It made the Klingon Empire’s paranoid reaction all the more bewildering.

The time ticked on by, as the Enterprise captain delivered his report.  Inwardly, he was tired and fed up with the endless bureaucratic processes that seemed to dominate diplomacy- at least, in this case.  Never had there been so many meetings and reviews and tactical updates to do.

Finally, just when he could feel fatigue setting in, Picard was given a reprieve.  The briefing finished, and the Admiralty appeared to be satisfied with what they’d heard.  Picard was dismissed, and he gladly took his leave of the Conference Room.  His ship was docked at the starbase, and when he saw her through a window, he was, as always, in awe of her beauty and grace.

The Enterprise-E hung in dock, a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one, the greatest honour that could ever have been bestowed upon him.  To captain the namesake that was once commanded by James Kirk himself… every so often, unbeknownst to his crew, buried in his heart of steely resolve, Picard allowed himself to be in awe of his command. 

There was one though, who knew this.  Someone who had been a part of the Imperial diplomatic team.  Someone who was plotting his downfall.

 

After more than one close call with the powerful Hutt family, Han Solo had decided that he needed to refresh himself on the art of being stealthy.  It was bad enough that word of Luke’s death-defying destruction of the Death Star had gotten out, making him the number one target of Imperial forces, but the added and constant threat from the Hutts did nothing for Han’s nerves.

The endless searching for some mythical Force-based help was also starting to grate on Han.  Luke was still determined, and so sure too, that this help was out there, and yet, after endless months of looking, they were no closer to finding it. 

Han was not alone in his mood.  Leia and Chewbacca were also growing restless, and weary of always having someone hunting them. 

Luke remained focused, almost obsessed.  His pursuit of this Force phenomenon was relentless, and had led to them pursuing every strange thing in every part of the galaxy.  More than once they had nearly been caught in the grip of a black hole, or destroyed by supernovae explosions.  Every tiny ripple he felt in the Force was deemed worthy of following up.

Then there was Luke’s erratic behaviour.  Sometimes he would disappear off into the bowels of the ship, and no one would see or hear of him for hours at a stretch.  Not once did he mention what he was doing.

Currently Han’s motley crew was all assembled and accounted for on the bridge of the Falcon, and Luke was talking about a new lead he had, a new sensation in the Force.  Han had learned to tune out Luke’s ramblings- almost inevitably it was be another dead end, and almost certainly it would place them at risk of certain death. 

“It’s on the edge of the galaxy, not far from Dantooine.  I know it.  It’s something big.” Said Luke, the words spilling from him excitedly.

“You’re sure Luke?  We don’t want to end up on the tail of a Super Star Destroyer, like we did before.” Replied Leia, concerned that Luke’s powers were still too chaotic and uncontrolled.  There was no doubt that Luke had a gift, but Obi-wan had the training, the experience.  Luke was barely a man.

“I know I’ve led us to a few trouble-spots before, but this time I know it!  I can feel the Force much more now, understand it better than I could in the beginning.”

“No one doubts that your powers have grown Luke, but we have been at this for six months.  The Rebellion needs us Luke, we can’t stay out here forever.” Leia was as always, a voice of wisdom, of reason. 

“Please, Leia, just one more chance.  One more try.  Then I promise, that’s it.”

Chewbacca roared.

“You said it Chewie, Luke you said that three tries ago.” Remarked Han, who was more fed up than ever.  Dantooine was a three day journey, and one that took them into territory that had recently been buzzing with Imperial vessels.

“What if we stop looking right before we find something?  What if we are this close, and stop, and lose out on this chance?”  Pleaded Luke.

“Hey, look, we don’t even know if this mysterious thing can help us or not.  Between the word of an eccentric old man and a boy who’s not even yet a man, leading us on one wild goose chase after another, I’m getting a little tired!” Snapped Han, who immediately decided t hat he’d been a tad harsh.  Luke glared at him with adolescent anger, and Leia looked non-plussed as well. 

“Hey, Luke, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap like that, it’s just, between all the risks we’re taking and how long we’ve been doing this, well it’s getting weary.  I don’t want to wind up dead because we pop out of hyperspace on top of a neutron star.”

A bit calmer, nonetheless Luke still seemed excited.

“Just one final chance, that’s it.  After that, we can shoot back to the Rebellion and you and Chewie can do whatever you like.”

Faced with the young man’s stare, his eagerness and passion, Han found himself wavering, yet again.  Chewbacca was looking at him sceptically, as if to say ‘here we go again’, and Han felt his resistance crumble.

“Ok ok, one more try, but then that’s it.  Chewie, set a course for Dantooine.”

 

With a wry expression under the mask, Vader recalled how furious Tarkin had been to learn that Rebels had indeed been present on Dantooine, especially given that the same system had been a test site for the Death Star nearly a year ago.  For an instant, the Sith Lord felt a pang of regret and sadness at his friend’s death.  Tarkin had not been afraid to regard Vader as a person, rather than a feared abomination.

As he usually did when confronted with such feelings, Vader twisted them, used them.  The pain of his friend’s death was used to fuel the hate, the anger that empowered him. 

Aboard the Executor, Vader headed for the Bridge, keen to get a report on the status of the newly completed Golam defence platform, the third to adorn the region.

Civilian traffic was restricted in the sector, for reasons of ‘a natural hazard’.  It was easy enough to believe- there were various regions of the galaxy that were dangerous to traverse, and the result was that the Empire could keep the location of the wormhole a secret.

With dozens of Star Destroyers, three mighty Golam defence stations, and a multitude of support ships, it was unlikely anyone would want to pay the region a visit anyway.

As Vader arrived on the command deck, he was greeted with a yelp of surprise by a junior officer.  Displeased by such a lack of discipline, Vader was about to admonish the officer, when a new sensation gripped him.

There was a Force-user nearby, and getting closer.  It was also the reason for the officer’s startled noise, something that Vader understood, as he felt the presence of the Force-user, and others… in a ship.

“Lord Vader, a civilian vessel has just entered the system!  It’s small, four lifeforms aboard.  Sir, records indicate it is one of the vessels that attacked the Death Star near Yavin!” The young officer excitedly babbled, but Vader walked past him.  Captain Piett was now also checking the sensor readings and preparing to intercept the ship.

“Have fighter squadrons Alpha and Delta deploy and escort that ship to the hanger.  Send a message informing them to surrender and to follow our fighters to the hanger.” Spoke Piet to the Operations officer.  He had pre-empted Vader, who now stood at his side, but the Sith Lord did not mind on this occasion.  He wanted that ship, and the Force-user onboard.

 

“We have got multiple sensor contacts, Imperial ships, of all shapes and sizes!” Han worked the controls on the Falcon, spinning the ship around, and for a moment, he was stunned by what he saw.

A huge bulging vortex of energy, unlike anything he had ever seen, billowing in hues of red and blue, loomed large over even the Imperial-class Star Destroyers.  Then, without any warning, it vanished, like a trapdoor snapping shut.

Luke clutched at his temple, and appeared to be in pain.  He muttered something, but Han wasn’t in the mood for listening.  Whatever was going on, it was big, huge even.  All along, it looked like Luke had been right- only the hope of the galaxy was firmly in Imperial clutches.

Chewbacca growled, and Han groaned, as the sensors detected something else.

“We have incoming fighters, and a message from that Super Star Destroyer- they are demanding that we surrender.” Said Han testily.

“Not a chance, we have to get out of here1” Replied Leia, now tending to Luke, who had gone pale, looking on the verge of collapse.

“There’s… something… on… powerful… evil…” He was sweating now, his eyes wide with fear.

“Well, there’s no time to worry about anything, because we are outta here!” Cried Han. 

 

At the first sign of a hyperdrive system coming online, the TIEs opened fire.  They landed a few blows, but couldn’t catch the Falcon.  In a heartbeat, she had fled.

 

The weeks on Deep Space Nine had been long, and as those weeks turned into months, they felt like years had gone by.  After the initial flurry of excitement and activity, the station was now once again a trading post and link to Bajor, and whilst it was felt that Captain Sisko still had an important job to do, everything was overshadowed by the Empire, by the new developments and the latest gesture of goodwill.

Ever since the first acts of kindness, Sisko had felt uneasy.  Something didn’t feel right; his instincts told him to be wary of the Empire.  There was no basis for his feeling- all he knew was that a government rarely displayed acts of selflessness- there was always an agenda, a motive.  But what was it?

For others too, the Empire had brought change.  Doctor Bashir had spent more than one lonely evening at Quarks, waiting for the next occasion when Mara Jade would visit.  Every so often, the diplomats would come by this way on their way back through the wormhole, and on those occasions Bashir and Jade would spend their evenings talking and laughing and simply watching station life go by.  It was scary to admit, even to himself, but Bashir knew in his heart that his feelings were deeper than friendship- and he could only hope that Jade felt the same way.

In a few hours, an Imperial team was due to stop off at the station before departing back for home.  Jade would be among that team, and Bashir was doing his best not to wear a hole in the carpet on the Promenade.  His gut feeling was telling to tell Jade how he felt, but to engage in a relationship with a diplomat who didn’t even live in the same galaxy?

There was the added complication of how Jade felt.  Did she harbour romantic feelings of her own?  Was he just a friend to her? 

“Doctor, whenever I see you these days, you are never standing still.”

The gruff voice startled Bashir from his day dreams, and he turned, to find himself face to face with Odo.

“Ah, yes, well, restless mind, restless feet, as they say.” Grinned Bashir.

“I doubt that it’s your mind that’s restless Doctor, I know that look, all too well.”

“I don’t know what you mean Constable.” Came the calm, assured reply.

“Love Doctor.  Hidden, secret.  But I can see it written on your face, clear as day.”

Bashir retained his startled look, but now for different reasons, worried now that his control- or lack thereof- was a talking point of the station.  After all, if it was obvious to Odo, it was probably obvious to everyone else.

“Relax Doctor, your secret is safe with me.” Odo crossed his arms and walked off, secretly amused at the increase in Bashir’s nerves.

Bashir was not alone in nervous waiting.  Onboard the Star Destroyer Raven, Mara Jade paced in her quarters, considering what she had to do- at least, she was trying to consider what she had to do.

Instead, her mind was distracted.  Since meeting Julian, she had felt a tug on her heartstrings, and that… that had other effects.  The lure of the Dark Side, her duty to serve the Emperor… the deception that she was taking part in… suddenly she was feeling torn between all of that, the power that she felt when she tapped into the Dark Side… and the power that Bashir seemed to have over her, when he smiled that boyish smile, and turned his dark eyes on hers. 

Seeds of doubt began to seep into her heart, but with resolve and steel that Palpatine himself had helped forge within her, Mara regained her focus.  Bashir was a pleasant diversion, but she her orders and she could not allow herself to be distracted.

 

“We must now prepare for an attack.  At the very least, for incursions and scans.”

The conference room onboard the Executor was a foreboding place.  The walls were black, punctuated only by an occasional small light, and the table around which the officers were assembled was also black, but gleamed enough in the light to reveal the reflections of those around it.  Lord Vader enjoyed the way that even the Admiralty squirmed in his presence.

The Rebel ship had been identified as the Millennium Falcon, the ship that had brought Obi-wan aboard the Death Star, the ship that had opened fire on him just as he was about to destroy the Rebel X-Wing.

Vader had felt the same presence aboard the Falcon as he had in that X-Wing- the boy that had become infamous for the destruction of the Death Star- Luke Skywalker.

The being who had once been Anakin Skywalker had become obsessed with finding out more about Luke- Skywalker was not a common name, and it turned out that the Falcon had brought both him and Obi-wan from Tantooine, of all places.

Just the very memory of Tantooine brought back painful memories.  His first meeting with Padme, leaving his mother… and his return there, ten years later, when he had cradled his mother’s broken body in his arms.

With the strength and will of a Sith Lord, Vader turned that hurt and pain into anger, into hate.  He still hated the barbaric Tusken Raiders, with a smouldering fury that fed his power.

Luke had been nearby, and his focus in the Force had grown.  He had become powerful, and yet was undisciplined.  Obi-wan must have told him of the Force, and perhaps trained him to some small degree, but not enough- and that was good news to Vader.  There existed the opportunity to turn Luke to the Dark Side.

Shaking himself from his musing, Vader brought himself back to the here and now.

It was Piett who had spoken first.  The sudden appearance of a ship with links to the Rebellion had triggered a tightening of the Empire’s control over the sector, with hundreds of escort carriers, cruisers and frigates now swarming the region.  For a Captain, Piett had done well with the responsibility that he had suddenly faced when he took command of the Executor, and was in line for a promotion.  Vader had to admit to being impressed with how the young man was handling himself in the presence of both himself and the Admirality.  Right now Piett was addressing the Admiralty with a great deal of confident and composure, though Vader could sense that a lot of that composure was forced, and that inwardly Piett was nervous and fearful.  This was quite an assignment to have thrust upon him.

“In fact…” Continued Piett.  “I believe it might be advisable to accelerate our plans for this Milky Way galaxy.  The Rebels now know of this project’s existence and might well take action to hinder it.  We need to secure the resources on the other side of that wormhole and ensure the Rebels can’t gain support from the beings there.”

Although their faces revealed nothing, Vader knew that as uncomfortable as the Admiralty were with his own presence, being advised by a Captain was even worse. 

At least they weren’t Grand Admirals- that would have been a step too far.

“Are you certain Captain, that such bold measures are needed?  We already have a huge number of ships here to guard this wormhole, and Admiral Beniga’s reports tell us that aside from the Klingons, the Alpha Quadrant is falling into line a nice pace.”

Admiral Chekenza was in his early fifties, had still retained a healthy amount of jet-black, bushy hair.  It was rumoured that he had as many as eleven mistresses, four on Coruscant alone.  It would have surprised no one to learn that were true, given the bright blue eyes, the strong jaw, and the almost playful smile that were all in the man’s arsenal of charms. 

It was easily for people to assume that he was nothing more than a womaniser, especially given the way he would flirt with just about every member of the opposite sex.  As a result of this assumption, people would also underestimate him, which was a huge mistake.

Chekenza possessed a keen mind for knowing what resources he needed to win a battle, and how to deploy those resources.  He was not a leader from the front, but he could manipulate the flow of battle from his command post with devastating effectiveness.  It helped that he saw his troops and ships as numbers, rather than lives.

The Admiral was also cautious.  He would not commit forces to a battle unless he was at least eighty percent certain of victory, and didn’t approve of pointless shows of strength- it wasted energy.

Piett regarded him with a confident gaze.

“Sir, right now we know that a Rebel ship has pinpointed this location, and we know that in recent months the Mon Calarmari have been constructing cruisers for them.  We know that they are resourceful and that they are cunning.  If they penetrate the wormhole and gain any sort of influence on the peoples beyond it, or worse, if they collapse the wormhole… hundreds of thousands of Imperial personnel, thousands of ships, would be stuck.  To put it mildly, it would be a Public Relations disaster for the Empire.”

Vader now decided to add his weight to Piett’s request.

“I felt a presence on the Falcon, a dangerous presence.  The Jedi may not be as extinct as we thought.  They are a threat to the Empire, and must be extinguished.  Under no circumstances must the Jedi discover our plans, or all could be lost.  The Emperor’s design for the Milky Way must be accelerated.”

The Admirals fell silent.  They were prepared to challenge Piett, but to argue against Vader was another prospect entirely.  Simply put, none of them wanted to die today.

“Summon Death Squadron.  It is time to hunt down the Rebellion.”

 

It had been some hours since the Falcon’s daring jaunt to Dantooine, and now the small ship was heading toward the remote system of Hoth, where Han hoped to still find the Rebels.

It was a long shot- it had been a long time, and in the climate of fear and betrayal and seemed to have enveloped the galaxy, it wasn’t wise to stay in one place for long. 

Conversely, it meant that the Rebels, knowing this philosophy, might well have decided to take the opposite course of action. 

Luke had locked himself away in the Falcon’s small cabin, and had been there for hours.  Han didn’t want to even hazard a guess as to what the young Force user was up to.

Leia had tried to go to Luke, but he hadn’t even answered the door chime.  Since then, all of them had tried to make sense of what they had seen.

“I just don’t get it- Luke was right all along, and he’s not even gloating about it.  I would!” Remarked Han, wearily contemplating the lights and switches in front of him.

“Well, thankfully, not all of us are you.” Retorted Leia, her eyes sparkling mischievously. 

Han simply huffed.

“Well come on, he could at least explain to us what’s so special about that thing we saw.  I’d like to know a little more about it, wouldn’t you?”

“Well… I would like to know more.  But Luke will tell us when he’s ready.” Replied Leia thoughtfully.

“I hope so.  I hate flying in the dark.”

“Raawwwwwwwr.” Came Chewbacca’s input.

“I couldn’t put it better Chewie- Luke’s acting mighty weird.”

 

The spirit of the Jedi lived on, flowed through the galaxy, beyond the grasp of Vader and the Sith.  Obi-wan now felt that Luke was ready to take his place amongst the ranks of the Jedi, but before he could do that, he would need to complete his training.  Obi-wan could only do so much.

On a remote planet, swamp-like and clouded by the Dark Side, awaited Luke’s destiny.  So it was that Luke would go there, when the time was right.  For now, young Skywalker and his friends had other, more immediate concerns, and Obi-wan would not interfere.

 

As the Falcon popped out of hyperspace, Luke rejoined the others in the cockpit.  Before them was Hoth, a snowball in space, a frigid, almost lifeless world. 

Han’s hunch was about to be tested.

“Ok Chewie, open a channel, lets see if anyone’s down there.”

“Rawwrrrrgh!” Translated as ‘channel open’.

“This is Captain Solo of the Millennium Falcon, I come bearing gifts for my employers.” The code that they had agreed would let the Rebels know they hadn’t been compromised.

For a moment, there was nothing- no response.  Then the faintest click, and a voice.

“Captain Solo, it’s good to hear your voice.  We were starting to think you’d been lost.”

Han smiled, and Leia positively beamed, so much so that for a moment Han’s heart jumped.

“We request permission to land.” Replied the rogue.

“Permission granted, we’ll send you the coordinates.”

“We did it!” Cried Leia, who wrapped her arms around Han in a warm hug, catching the captain off guard.  He responded, a little more warmly than he meant to, and they caught each other’s eyes, suddenly embarrassed and peeling away from each quickly.

“We all did it.” Said Han.  “And right now, I think I can safely speak for us all when I say, lets never do that again.”

Luke smiled.  He knew that there was a lot more adventure still to come.

Echo Base was a well-concealed and well fortified installation, with a powerful theatre shield ready to be activated at a moment’s notice.  The Falcon glided swiftly down to the base, and touched down gently in the hanger, where the weary crew disembarked, and Luke made a beeline for Mon Mothma.

In the meantime, General Rieekan had the unenviable task of debriefing Han and Leia.  The tired commander of Echo Base picked his way past crates and levers and wiring as he made his way to the hanger, where Han and Chewbacca were busy removing boxes of supplies.

The news both Mothma and Rieekan were about to hear would be revolutionary.

 

Captain Gregari knew the plan was risky.  It would inevitably cost the Empire in lives and perhaps even a few ships, but it would prove the catalyst for uniting the Alpha Quadrant- in favour of the Empire.

On other ships, captains who knew about the plan could say nothing, knowing that they ran the risk of death, to their crews and themselves. 

Sensors bleeped and alarms blared into life as on panels and before the Imperial fleet, other ships shimmered into sight.  They were moving swiftly, and without any apparent warning, darts of green energy leapt from them, and crashed into the waiting Imperials.

Disruptor blasts and torpedoes initially tore chunks out of armour and sent destructive energies into the Imperial ships, including Gregari’s Star Destroyer Raven.  The Captain winced as his ship rocked, and lights dimmed.  Out before the main window, he watched as a Corvette disappeared into a ball of rapidly expanding gas and debris.

“That’s enough.  All ships, raise shields, launch fighters, and return fire, light and medium guns only.” The plan had to look genuine, for the sake of what was to come.  Therefore, the crews had to respond as though they were the victims of a vicious assault, one that they ultimately repelled. 

There were only some twenty or so Imperial vessels, and nearly a hundred enemy ships.  Yet the firepower difference was such that it didn’t matter.

Thousands of turbolaser bolts shot through space and splashed into enemy shielding, like relentless rain.  Almost immediately the smaller ships suffered catastrophic shield failure, and shortly thereafter were turned into nothing more than hot pieces of tumbling metal.

Even the larger enemy ships were struggling to hold out in the face of such immense firepower.  Soon cruisers were losing their shielding, and bridge officers screamed at their helmsmen to take evasive action, only such was the storm around them that there could be no escape. 

Soon, only a handful of ships remained- the Klingon flagship, the Negh’Var, amongst them. 

“Ion cannons.” Came Gregari’s order.  And duly, Imperial ships now switched to their disabling weapons, blanketing the Negh’Var and any other remaining Klingon ships with the blue bolts.  Disabled, not even able to trigger their self-destruct mechanisms, the Klingons could now only watch from their viewports as Imperial shuttlecraft zeroed in on their positions, and listen as Imperial cutting lasers sliced through airlocks.

Klingons were noted for being determined warriors, ready and willing to fight to the death, and as Imperial Stormtroopers burst onboard, corridors were alight with disruptor and laser fire, scorching walls and blasting holes in doorways.  As determined as the Klingons were, they could not hold back against such a ruthless, well trained foe, and one by one, across the surviving ships, they died, their bodies left holed from Imperial weaponry.

It was on the Negh’Var that the fighting was heaviest.  General Martok led the charge against the invaders, his disruptor fire finding it’s mark and even killing a few Stormtroopers.  But not even he was a match for the skill and experience of the attackers, who switched their weapons to stun without warning, leaving Martok and his guards unconscious.  The scene was repeated across the remaining Klingon ships, and the Stormtroopers now completed the final phase of the Imperial plan, delivering Martok, and the remaining captains to the Raven.

On the Bridge of the Raven, Gregari smiled.  This stage of the plan had gone without a hitch.

 

The news networks were in a frenzy.  Admirals and Councillors and politicians were all clamouring for information, and the official channels were struggling to cope.  It was well known that the Klingons distrusted the Empire and its motives, but if the rumours were true…

Imperial ambassadors had returned to Imperial ships, which had in turn withdrawn to their base of operations near the wormhole.  As a gesture of friendship, Federation listening posts and sensor buoys were now scanning for Klingon activity.

What did it all mean though?  Could it be possible that something disastrous had happened?  Had the Klingons committed an act of war?  Had the Imperials been the victims of an unprovoked, merciless attack?

Hours passed, and the rumour mill began to slow down, but now, fear, worry began to set in.  Why had no official announcements been made?  What was going on?  What was going to happen?

Then finally, seven hours after the rumours had first surfaced, Captain Gregari made a statement to the Federation News Service.

“Noble citizens of the Federation, I am aware that for the past few hours, stories have been circulating of an attack against Imperial ships made by Klingon forces.  I can confirm that this took place, nine hours ago, and that as of now, the Empire has severed diplomatic relations with the Klingon Empire for this unprovoked attack.

Federation officials have graciously offered us the use of their medical facilities to help us treat our wounded, and have been supportive and helpful to all of us ever since the shocking attack took place.  I would like to extend my own personal thanks, and the gratitude of the families and friends of those lost today.

Disturbingly, the Empire has learned of the reasons behind the Klingons’ attack.  We captured several Klingon captains and one Klingon general, and have discovered that for some time the Klingons have been distrustful of the Empire and also of the Federation, for associating with us.  An alliance of the Klingon Empire, the Gorn, and the Sheilak was preparing to launch an assault on the Federation, and we believe their attack on our ships today was an attempt to acquire Imperial technology.

My friends, in light of this threat, to both the Federation and the Empire, and most likely all who have been kind to us and expressed a desire to maintain diplomatic relations with us, the Empire is extending not only the hand of friendship but a guarantee of protection.  We can position ships at the most vulnerable points of your borders to ensure that our enemies will not be able to launch a successful invasion, and we can aid in counter-attacks should any incursions take place.  We will show to our enemies that our desire for friendship and co-operation will not be undermined by such vicious and barbaric attacks.  The Empire will not be driven away from our friends so easily.

I thank you once again, for your support, and your kindness, and most of all, your friendship.  Captain Gregari out..”

Citizens from the Federation, the Romulan Empire, the Cardassian Union, from a multitude of other governments… all of them had the same reaction.  Shock.  Anger.  Fear.

Those fears were tempered though, by the offer of support.  The Empire was going to stand by them, aid them.  The Klingons and the others had ensured only that they would be unable to carry out their plans, and sooner or later they would be forced to return to the negotiating table, from a position of weakness.

Predictably, the governments named as enemies by Captain Gregari reacted angrily to the Empire’s accusations.  The Empire provided proof- holo-footage of interrogations and confessions by Klingon officers, and detailed computer records sliced from computers.  Perhaps the most shocking evidence though, was from the mouth of General Martok…

 

“There is no way I can accept this!” Captain Sisko tossed the Padd angrily to his desk, having read for the fourth time Martok’s confession.  He’d seen the footage once, and the image of his friend, talking so openly, like he was almost proud of what the Klingons were planning… it just didn’t feel right.  Something didn’t fit.

A day had passed since Gregari’s announcement, and Sisko had spent the past twenty-four hours trying to rationalise the actions of the Federation’s former allies.  The Klingons knew as well as the Federation of the power of Imperial starships, yet footage from both combatants showed the Klingons firing first.  It was madness.

Ever since Admiral Ross had passed on Sisko’s concerns about the Empire, he had found himself marginalised somewhat.  Admiral Benegia still spoke to him, and they had talked about the budding alliance, but it seemed clear that the Admiralty and Federation Council had

told the Empire about Sisko’s concerns, and since then, they hadn’t wanted to deal with him. 

Since Captain Picard had made known his ‘deep misgivings’ about Sisko’s comments, even Starfleet had been cold with him.

Now Captain Sisko felt out of the loop- information was hard to come by. 

“Ben, the evidence has been looked at by Starfleet’s top computer experts.  There’s no way anything’s been faked.  I don’t like it either, but it’s impossible to argue this.” Jadzia, standing in front of Sisko’s desk, arms clasped behind her back, gave her Captain a firm, yet consoling look.  There was always a flicker of Curzon behind the eyes of the young woman, and thanks to the symbiont she carried within her, Jadzia knew how to handle her Captain’s bad moods.

Sisko shook his head.

“Every fibre of my being says this is wrong.  I know Martok, I know he’d never have agreed with Gowron about this, much less lead the attack!  There must be something, somewhere, that’s been overlooked!”

“But where Benjamin?  The records from the Klingon ships were conclusive.  Martok gave this plan his full backing.” There was a trace of disappointment behind Jadzia’s eyes.  She too had known Martok to be a good man, and her acceptance of the truth did not make that truth any easier to think about.

Computer records, interrogations, confessions… all of them condemned the Klingons. 

“I know, you’re right old man.  It just hurts.  Ever since the Empire came, nothing has been the same, and the universe I knew has been falling away.  This just feels like another part of that.”

“I know how you feel.  I can remember coming aboard this station, seeing it become the centre of business, of politics, of exploration… now, it might as well be barren down on the Promenade.  No more explorers- just an Imperial diplomat or two, and seedy characters visiting Quark’s holosuites.  I yearn for the days when we were exploring new worlds, and poking around new phenomena.” Jadzia sighed. “I would have liked to have seen Qo'noS again, I think Worf would like to see his home world again.  I doubt that will happen now.”

Sisko snorted.

“I doubt any Federation citizen will set foot on Qo’noS for a hundred years.”  A new thought entered Sisko’s mind.  “How is Worf handling this?”

Jadzia’s eyes took on a more sorrowful look.

“Worf refuses to believe it even more than you do.  Martok was his friend, and more than that, Martok took Worf into his House.  Worf is bracing himself for the shame and dishonour of it all, and doubts he will ever be permitted to speak to another Klingon ever again.”

Rising from his desk, Sisko gazed out at the stars, that had once held so much promise for him. 

How much worse was it for Worf?  As part of Gowron’s furious denials of the Klingon Empire’s plans, the Klingon leader had denounced Martok, condemning him and his House has traitors to the Empire.  How would Worf feel about being labelled a traitor?  How would he feel about his friend being held in an Imperial prison cell?

“I have a feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.” Said the Captain.

“I have the horrible feeling that you’re right.”

Sisko was about to continue their conversation, when his desk bleeped.  Pressing a button, he spoke.

“Sisko here.”

“Captain, the Enterprise is here.  They’re requesting permission to dock.” Came Kira’s no nonsense tone.

“Direct them to Upper Pylon Two, I’ll meet them there.”

“Aye Captain.”

Jadzia gave Sisko a quizzical look.

“What do you plan to say to Benegia?” She asked.

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

“Well, I can imagine the mood the Imperials will be in.  I think I’ll be giving them a wide berth.”

Sisko smiled a soft, bitter smile.

“I wish I could.”

 

Her heart nearly skipped a beat when she saw him, and she chided herself for it.  No one person was above the Dark Side- she could serve no one but the Emperor.

Still, as Mara Jade walked with Julian Bashir, she could not help but feel enchanted by him.

The Promenade was disappointingly lifeless, the only activity there was centred around Quark’s Bar, and the Dabo tables.  To pass the time, they had booked a holosuite- and Mara had resisted the urge to eradicate Quark’s smug smile. 

Bashir had selected a region of earth called Australia, and a region called ’75 Mile Beach’, on an island called ‘Fraser Island’.

“Back in the early 21st Century, this beach had been known as a ‘highway’, a road.  It would have been a bumpy ride, I imagine, on this.”

The good doctor was dressed in an ‘Hawaiian’ shirt, a strange and slightly nauseating blend of blues, greens and yellows, and long shorts of the beige variety.  Mara, dressed simply in a long, flowing blouse and a plain blue t-shirt, noted that it was a relief Bashir’s fashion sense was not a measure of his medical skills.

The sand beneath them alternated between feeling soft, harsh and wet, and Mara could readily imagine vehicles with wheels finding this surface to be treacherous.  Her sandals did little to stop the sand spilling over her toes.

“Why would people willingly come to such a place?  The beaches and tracks are difficult to cross, the forests burn in the summer with a ferocity only nature can produce, and sand gets everywhere!” Grumbled Mara.  Bashir chuckled his lovely chuckle.

“It’s all part of fun!  Fraser Island is unspoilt by human activities, a place where, even now, you have animals and plants that can’t be found anywhere else on earth.  It’s a living monument to history.” Bashir sounded like he was addressing a seminar, given his excitement.

The sun was starting to set in the distance, the sky perfectly free of clouds.  Mara imagined that Fraser Island experienced beautiful sunsets, and that sharing one with Julian would be beyond beautiful.

Again she caught herself.  Bashir was an amusing diversion, pleasant, but not relevant to either her mission or who she was.

The two walked in silence for a moment, soaking up the atmosphere.  Only the sound of a bird’s song would interrupt the quiet, and it was a beautiful sound.

“Mara…” Spoke Bashir after a moment.  “I was wondering, if I could ask you something…” The good doctor stared at the sand, steeling himself for a moment.

“What is it Julian?” She asked quietly.

“When you return home, to your galaxy, obviously, it will be difficult for us to see each other… and I want for us to keep seeing each other.  Which is why, I’m going to resign from Starfleet, to come with you.”

Mara simply stood open-mouthed for a moment.  This was something of a thermal detonator.

“Julian, I… I… I don’t know what to say.  My life involves a lot of travelling and meetings… I am flattered, but I don’t think it would work.  I can’t tear you away from your career, from your life.”

Bashir turned to face her, his eyes very clear.

“Mara, ever since I laid eyes on you, I’ve felt this… pull, this tugging at my very being.  I know what it is now, as I look at you.  I have felt it building up, making my heart leap whenever I see you.  Mara Jade, I love you.”

The thermal detonator exploded.  Suddenly Mara felt dizzy.  The Dark Side of the Force was powerful, and its hold on her strong- but her heart pounded, and at the word of love, it was as though someone had broken the fog of darkness with a spear of pure light.

“Julian… oh Julian… I… you… you have no idea what it means to me that you love me…”

Get a hold of yourself, stop acting like a fool!

“I am so honoured Julian.  You are the most charming, dashingly handsome man I have ever met, and I have to confess, I have feelings for you too, but trust me when I tell you that it would never work.  I can never be with you the way you want us to be together.  My work, my world, it makes it impossible.”  Mara brought a hand to stroke Bashir’s face, for a moment seeing in his eyes the twin sides of love- the pain and the glory of it all.

Her emotions, always kept in check, were now churning.  Gone was the focus, the drive, the determination that the Dark Side brought, replaced with something else… hope.

This isn’t me, this is not what the Emperor would want me to be… Mara looked inside herself, for the spark of anger, for the energy and strength to centre herself.  The Empire had a mission for her and she was determined to fulfil it.

Keeping her voice soft, gentle, Mara smiled a little.

“Julian, you will be a fine catch for any woman, and you need to focus on that- me, I am not a realistic prospect for any man.  It just wouldn’t work.  I’m sorry.”

Bashir simply stood, forlorn, unable to think of anything to say.  Without a word, Mara turned, and left the Holosuite, not quite unable to vanquish the light now shining in her heart.

 

It should have come to no surprise that the Empire would find them eventually.  Nothing could hide indefinitely from Lord Vader and Death Squadron.

Bungling Imperial commanders had brought the fleet out of hyperspace too close to Hoth, and the Rebels had been able to raise their defence shields.  A frantic evacuation had followed, and somehow, the Rebels had escaped, a brave few holding of Imperial AT-ATs until the last evacuations had taken place.

Luke’s X-Wing had zipped into hyperspace, for regions unknown, and now the Millennium Falcon fled from a trio of Imperial-class Star Destroyers, with the mighty Executor, Lord Vader’s personal flagship, not far behind. 

Asteroids tumbled in chaotic courses, clashing with each other and sending shards of rock in all directions.  It was madness to try and navigate such a dangerous asteroid belt, yet it was either try it or face Imperial torture droids, and Han had no intention of surrendering.

The TIE Fighters that chased them weren’t piloted as well as Han handled the Falcon.  One by one, they met their demise, shattered against asteroids.  Still the Star Destroyers pursued though, relentless.

Han was left with no choice but to try and hide.  Without hyperdrive, they had no hope of outrunning the Imperials, so he turned his attention to finding a safe place to land. 

In the midst of his search, blinding fire lit up the asteroid field.

Seven Mon Calamari cruisers burst from hyperspace on the edge of the asteroid field, turbolasers blazing at the Imperial fleet.  Caught between a rock and a hard place, The Star Destroyers had no choice but to withdraw, though in the midst of the fire-fight, they ensured the death of one Mon Calamari cruiser. 

Stunned by it all, dazed, Han turned to face Leia and Chewbacca.

“What in tarnation?”

Now they’d had two lucky escapes from the Empire.  Han didn’t fancy trying his luck for a third time though.

 

In the midst of angry exchanges and raised voices, the Sheliak and the Gorn had both cut off diplomatic relations with the Federation and the Empire, and fortified their borders.  Rumours circulated that their fleets were lurking, waiting for the time to strike.

The Klingons were still posturing, Gowron still denying that there had ever been a plot to steal Imperial technology.  No one believed him.

Imperial Star Destroyers were now positioned alongside Federation vessels in several star systems.  It was hoped their mere presence would act as a deterrent. 

During the middle of the night, Captain Sisko had awoken with a realisation.

The Klingon ships captured during their battle with the Empire had all had the same information in their computers regarding the Klingons long-term plans.  Such a plan, requiring a lot of planning and communications with other governments, would inevitably have originated on the Klingon home world, and there would records there.  Klingons were not noted for their computer security, and even if records were deleted, an experienced hacker could retrieve them.  Having hastily gotten dressed, Sisko was now heading to the Enterprise, a plan formulating in his head.  He would have to negotiate for Data’s services, but if there was a chance to head off a war…

As Sisko made his way up to Upper Pylon 2, a new thought started to form.  What if Picard, who seemed to be quite favourable of the Empire, refused to let Data go?  After all, such a mission would severely damage the credibility of the Empire.  They wouldn’t look so squeaky clean, and suddenly everyone would be on their guard.  Picard might not like that happening to his new friends.

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be the first time that Picard had thrown his lot in with shady characters.

After all, had Picard not once been Locutus?

The twisted servant of the Borg who had murdered his wife?

The Speaker of the Collective, who had slaughter thousands of Starfleet officers, been responsible for the deaths of entire families?

Was Picard now handing the Federation over the Empire, who may yet prove to be dangerous?  Was Picard going to place Jake in danger again?

Sisko’s journey to the Pylon took a slight detour, and then resumed.

Being a Starfleet captain, he was allowed onboard, and informed that Captain Picard was in his quarters, on Deck 2.

As Sisko patiently waited for his turbolift to deposit him on Deck 2, he felt a great sense of justice.  Picard had taken his wife, now Sisko would make sure that her death and the deaths of everyone else would be avenged.

He reached Picard’s quarters.

He pressed the door chime.

“Come.” Came the strong, commanding voice from behind the door.

In Sisko went.

Captain Picard was in uniform, though appeared to be winding down for the night.  He sat on the side of his bed, and looked up to see Captain Sisko.

Pointing a small Type-I phaser at him.

Picard barely had time to hurl himself behind a cabinet as a phaser blast scorched his bed sheets, setting them on fire.  A second blast forced Picard to dash for another, small cabinet, and a communications panel.

Unfortunately for Picard, Sisko spotted Picard’s destination and blasted the panel to shreds.

Now Picard faced his attacker, and in Sisko’s eyes he saw a rage that surpassed any he had ever seen.  The captain of Deep Space Nine raised his phaser again, firing emerald death at the captain of the Enterprise, though now Picard ducked and charged forward, crashing into Sisko and sending them both to the floor, the phaser coming loose and skittering across the floor to the door.

Picard tried to scramble over Sisko to get the phaser, but a swift punch to his jaw sent him backwards, and a kick to the stomach followed too quickly for him to block.  A left-hook came at his face, but Picard put his arm up in the way, and followed by driving his own left fist into Sisko’s teeth.

Sisko stumbled, and Picard seized his advantage, catching him off guard with a right jab and a snappy kick to his right knee.  Sisko was stronger though, and motivated by revenge, and as Picard threw another right jab, Sisko grabbed his arm and slammed Picard over his shoulder and onto his back. 

Winded, Picard couldn’t get out of the way as Sisko brought his fist down into his face.  And then again.  And again.

Blood spattered from Picard’s nose and mouth, but he was not going to succumb just yet.  As smoke began to cloud the room from the burning bed sheets, Picard grabbed said bed sheets and threw them over Sisko.  The act put out the flames but also landed burning material on Sisko’s face.  He howled, tearing the sheets away, only to take a kick to the stomach.  Sent tumbling, Sisko quickly righted himself, and the two captains charged each other, bones rattling as they clashed, not giving each other enough time to get in a punch or a kick.

Sisko decided to try something else.

His forehead smacked into Picard’s face, and there was the sickening crack of bone.  Picard’s nose began to bleed more profusely, and his vision swam. 

Sisko delivered a one-two combination of a right-hook and left-jab into Picard’s face, who grunted in pain, falling to the floor, stunned.

Sisko smouldered with hate, and picked up the phaser, aiming it squarely at Picard’s chest.

“For Jennifer.” He whispered, and went to fire…

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