Before the Storm

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

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8. The Seeds

Amidst the shattered remains of control consoles and the smell of burning plastic, Luke felt himself go cold.

All he could hear was the gentle vibration of his lightsaber, all he could see were the shadows cast by his saber and Vader’s weapon.  He felt stuck to the spot, as though his feet had become made of durasteel. 

All Luke could feel was icy dread.

“No…” He whispered, as much to himself as to Vader.  There was no way that what Vader said was true.  It just couldn’t be true.

“Search your feelings Luke.  Search the Force.  You know this to be true.” Intoned Vader harshly, as though scolding an infant for not being aware of a widely known fact.

Tentatively, Luke let the Force rush through his being.  The Force guided him through currents of chaos and confusion, and through the suddenly awakened fear that now seized him.  He asked the Force the question, is Darth Vader my father, and the Force led him through a kaleidoscope of feelings and prophecies that started to take shape...

That started to point at Vader.

“Obi-wan lied to you Luke.” Said Vader quietly.  “He deceived you.”

Luke felt sick.  He felt as though someone had punched him in the gut.  The man who had betrayed the Jedi, who had helped destroy them- the man who now struck fear into the hearts of beings everywhere- was his father- and Obi-wan had lied to him about it.

Revulsion welled up in Luke and it showed on his face.  Revulsion, mixed with shock and also with more than a little bit of outrage.  Outrage that Vader could be his father, outrage that Obi-wan had lied so blatantly about it. 

All of his training, all of his efforts to emulate his father, the great Anakin Skywalker- all of it was based on a lie.

“You… you betrayed them.  You killed them!”  Luke’s voice grew louder with every word, as anger built up in him.  Vader was pleased.

“The Jedi were archaic Luke.  They were stuck in the past, unable to see past their own importance.  Luke, I can show you the true meaning of power, the true nature of the Force, something Obi-wan would never have done.  Come with me, let me complete your training, and together, we can destroy the Emperor and rule the galaxy!”  Vader held out his left hand- his right hand still holding his saber toward the ground.

To Luke, Vader’s hand was stained with innocent blood.  Stained with countless deaths and atrocities.

“I will never join you!” He shot back vehemently, bringing up his saber and crashing it against Vader’s, unable even for a moment to accept the idea that this monster could be his father. 

Anger, grief and horror vied for supremacy in Luke’s heart as he swiped for Vader’s head, letting go of all thought and letting his instincts guide him, though his instincts were blunted by his growing fury. 

Vader could feel his son’s anger mount, eating through his control more and more with every passing attack that Luke made, and he was more than pleased.  Once Luke broke free of the shackles of the Jedi and understood the true nature of power, he would ready to stand at his side and together, they could overthrow Palpatine.

He was about to press this point home to Luke when, with a huge rumble and the flickering of the lights, the deck shifted beneath his feet.  Both Vader and Luke stumbled, and stumbled again as the ship shuddered.  Sparks burst from the consoles not touched by their battle; the alarm klaxon bleated and the computer was warning of an attack.

In the Force, both the Jedi and the Sith could sense what was happening.  A pair of Klingon warships were firing upon the ship with torpedoes.  Gaping holes had been opened up in the vessel and systems were already starting to fail.

One torpedo slammed right into the back of one of the warp nacelles, sending shards of warp coil scattering and provoking a dangerous explosion of gasses from the warp core itself. 

Knowing that the gas was poisonous, the two combatants stared at each for a moment, even as panels and conduits erupted in flame and smoke. 

Han and the others were not onboard, Luke could feel that now.  He could leave the ship knowing he hadn’t abandoned his friends to die. 

But he would still leave the ship gravely wounded.

Vader used a shove of the Force to send Luke hurtling out of Engineering and for a moment Luke was ready to charge back in and continue the fight.  The Force warned him that the Klingons were about to strafe the ship with disruptor fire, and moments later, the ship rocked again, with more consoles exploding.

The ship wasn’t going to last much longer.

With a snarl, Luke gave Engineering one final glance, then fled for the shuttle bay, as fast as he could.

 

The captains of the two Vor’Cha attack cruisers that were now punishing the Enterprise with lethal energies could not believe their luck.  The Federation flagship had boldly been heading right for the Empire, without escort, presenting a tempting- and dangerous- target.  Compelled by duty and honour to stop the enemy vessel, the captains had nonetheless been cautious- a single Sovereign class ship would be a formidable foe even though they had the advantage of numbers. 

Both captains had been stunned to discover that the Enterprise had not even bothered to raise shields when they de-cloaked.  Not wasting a moment of their advantage, they fired relentlessly, both hoping to be the one to strike the final blow.

From one of the shuttle bays, a single, one-man craft slipped away from the keening star ship.  From another bay, another small, one-man fighter did the same.  The Klingons made a half-hearted attempt to shoot them down, but their weapons weren’t designed to hit such small targets and the gunners didn’t care much anyway. 

As the two small craft shot into hyperspace in different directions, the Federation flagship blossomed into a fireball.

The Enterprise was lost.

 

“Admiral Piett sends his condolences Captain.” Said Kira over the comm system.  “His forces hadn’t expected Klingon ships to be within Federation space.  Their attack was too sudden to intercept.”

Picard had watched on a screen in the Infirmary as his ship winked out of existence on the computerised display, feeling like someone had driven a fist through his stomach.  In little over a day, he had lost his first officer and his ship and the reasons were hollow.

“Thank you for informing me Major.” He replied sadly.  “Please let the Admiral know that I don’t hold him responsible.” Even though I hold him and his ilk greatly responsible.

“Acknowledged, Kira out.”

“What now?” Asked Jadzia as Picard turned to face the others.

“I don’t know.” He replied simply.  Melancholy gripped his voice.  “The Empire outnumbers us and outguns us.  Worse, most Federation citizens want the Empire here.  They genuinely believe the Empire stands for justice and order.”

“One thing is certain.” Said Sisko, as he got up from the bio-bed.  “We have to consider any plan to be a long-term one.  There’s no quick fix to this, but there is an answer.” His voice was confident, crisp and clear. 

“What about these Rebels?” Asked Jadzia.  “If we can contact them, maybe they can help us.” She added optimistically.

“Admiral Beniga is looking into ways of contacting them.  I think, for the meantime, we must only talk to those we can trust and look at ways of resisting covertly.  If we are in this for the long haul, we’ll need resources, a support structure, some kind of organised resistance.”  Mused Picard, as much to himself as to the others.

Sisko clasped his hands together, then looked at Picard and Jadzia. 

“I know someone who has experience with organised resistance.”

 

For a few days the Rebels had sought allies amongst the various races of this new galaxy and worked hard at cementing tentative bonds they had already forged.  The Voth continued to be agreeable and there was already talk of sharing technology with them, though elements of both sides were hesitant to take such a step.  Other races, such as the Kazon, were too fractured to form a worthwhile alliance.  Their various factions were too busy conspiring against one another to join forces with anyone else.

Efforts were underfoot to prepare the Delta Quadrant for war, but Admiral Ackbar knew, as he sat on the bridge of Home One, that aside from the Voth, none of the empires they had encountered were anywhere near powerful enough to face the Empire.  In fact, not even the Voth were that powerful.  Aside from preparing them for long-term resistance, there was little the Rebels could do for anyone here.

Not for the first time since travelling through the wormhole, Ackbar wondered if he had made the right decision.  He couldn’t even begin to understand why Luke had led them here.  All he believed right now was that this galaxy would prove to be his grave.

He was just about to go off-duty and get some sleep when the communications panel bleeped.  The noise startled the officer manning the station, who pressed a few buttons and then looked at her commander.

“Sir, we’re receiving a message on an Imperial frequency, very low power.” She stated.

“Hmm.  They don’t know we’re here.  They know roughly where we are but not exactly.  This could be a trap.”  Replied Ackbar.  It was a strange ploy for the Empire to use, but then, everything about their activity in this galaxy was strange. 

“How shall we respond sir?” Asked the comm officer.”

“For now, we don’t.”

 

Using his authority as an Admiral, Beniga had ordered that a Star Destroyer pick him up from Milky Way One and he had also recalled Commander Jos from the Raven.  After about an hour of waiting, the Imperial-class Incisor had arrived, with Jos onboard.  Beniga had relieved the captain of the vessel for a few days, expecting that his expedition would take a little while to bear fruit.  Ideally, he wanted the vessel for longer, but couldn’t do so without arousing suspicion. 

The official line was that he was assisting in locating the Rebels by leading the search personally and by bringing Jos with him, he was exploiting the talents of an expert in the field of fuzzy sensor readings.  In many respects, the message he had sent through the wormhole and to Lord Vader was true- he was looking for the Rebels, just not the reason others thought.

The search had only been underway for a few hours and Jos had yet to locate anything.  It wasn’t surprising that they weren’t having much luck so far- the Rebel forces were likely to be scattered across the Delta Quadrant and they were good at evading Imperial forces, thanks to a variety of tricks they had developed.  The Empire had devoted several hundred ships to the search, but the bulk of their forces in the Milky Way remained in the Alpha Quadrant, ostensibly to protect friendly forces. 

From his simple quarters, Beniga had spent some time in deep thought, trying to think of some way to oppose the Empire from within.  He had tried to form in his mind, as he laid upon his bed, a list of people whom he felt might share his opinions on the Empire’s activities, but he had sorely struggled. 

Unable to sleep, Beniga had gotten up, gotten dressed and summoned to his quarters the one person he believed he could trust to at least listen to him.

Just as he was accessing his personal computer link for the latest information on Rebel ship movements, his door chimed.

“Enter.”

The door parted and in stepped Commander Jos, looking even taller than he had a few hours ago.  He looked tired, and gaunt, like he hadn’t eaten for a day or two.  Beniga knew that Jos often pushed himself hard to get results, an admirable trait, but he didn’t want one of his finest officers collapsing from exhaustion.

There wasn’t much in the way of furniture in Beniga’s quarters- a few chairs and a glass table, a bed and a computer terminal from where Beniga could work.  The admiral gestured for Jos to have a seat near the door after Jos had dutifully ‘reported as ordered sir’ and the two men sat in silence for a moment, as Beniga considered where to begin.

“Commander, what is your overall impression of the peoples of the Federation?” He began simply.

If Jos was confused by the question, or curious as to why Beniga had asked it, he gave no sign.

“They are, on the whole, good people sir.  They work to better themselves and the world around them.  They have a spirit of co-operation and friendship that in turn, would make them a formidable enemy to any other government in this quadrant.  These people would fight for each other, and for the ideals of the Federation, to the bitter end.”

Beniga’s eyes sparkled with interest.

“Go on Commander.” He urged gently.  Jos drew a breath then continued.

“They appear, at first sight, to lack discipline in many ways.  The Federation has not been truly tested by adversity for many years.  This would explain why in terms of military technology, they have not made great strides for a number of years.  Their society is geared up toward making the population happy and comfortable, hence Holo-decks and the convenience of transporter technology.  I can’t say that such a lack of discipline appeals to me sir, though their resolve, when tested, has proven to be admirable.”

Beniga digested Jos’ words, turning them over in his head.  He had to phrase his questions carefully, respond properly to what Jos was saying and somehow nudge softly for the Commander’s true feelings.  He silently wished he knew how to read minds, and wished that Mara was with him.

“Tell me Commander….” He began.  “When comparing the government of the Empire and the government of the Federation, what conclusions do you reach?”

Again, if Jos was puzzled at all by the line of questioning, he gave no sign.  He did however, fidget a little in his seat, as though uncomfortable, an action that did not escape Beniga’s experienced eyes.

“The Empire does not embrace the same ideals of co-operation and togetherness of the Federation, at least, not in the same way.  In the Empire loyalty to the Emperor comes first.  That loyalty must sometimes be enforced by the military to prevent the slide toward corruption that so blighted the old Republic.  If one star system wavers from this, it could undermine us all.  That’s what makes the Rebels so dangerous- they are trying to undermine the order that the Empire brought to our galaxy.  It is the Emperor who has given us focus and peace.”  Jos paused, looking uncertain for the first time since the conversation began.  Beniga took advantage of the hesitation to ask another difficult question.

“Commander, do you feel that the Emperor is right to impose his methods on a society that already has peace and order?”

It was a harmless enough question, phrased carefully and spoke calmly.  Beniga suspected that Jos would either think he was testing the Commander’s loyalty, or having treacherous thoughts, assuming that Jos was in fact in agreement that the Emperor’s actions were just.

Jos looked more uncomfortable.  He struggled to meet the implacable yet constant gaze of his superior.  Beniga was utterly unreadable. 

“Sir… Permission to speak freely sir?”  Asked Jos.

“You have my word Commander, that nothing you say will leave this room.”

Jos took a deep breath, then spoke:

“I can’t say that I agree with the Emperor or his orders sir.  The Federation was peaceful before we arrived here.  They didn’t have the most harmonious relationships with all of their neighbours, but they weren’t in a state of war.  They are only now at war with the Klingons because of our interference.  We’ve made promises under false pretences and for purposes that aren’t honourable.”

Beniga imagined what the reaction would be were Lord Vader himself to hear those words.  He suspected Jos would have died right where he sat.

That wasn’t Beniga’s wish though.  The Admiral had just heard exactly what he wanted to hear.

“Commander, what do you personally believe is the right step forward for this galaxy?” Beniga was pushing a little now.

“Admiral, can I ask why…”

“No Commander, you can’t.  I just need your answer to that question.” Interrupted Beniga bluntly.

Sucking in a deep breath, Jos continued.

“I believe sir, that we should withdraw our forces from the Milky Way and return home.  We are doing great harm to the societies and civilisations of this galaxy and that has to stop.”

To Jos’ surprise, Beniga smiled broadly.

“I had a feeling you would say that, and I admire your courage for admitting that to me.  It’s unfortunate that I don’t agree with you Commander.”  Jos’ face fell.  “I feel we cannot simply leave.  We must first undo the damage we have done.”  Now Jos looked astounded.  What had the Admiral just said?

Beniga smiled.  “I imagine you had not expected me to say that.  Well…” Continued the Admiral as he stood, moving to a small cabinet.  “… let me assure you Commander, I do not speak of treason or betrayal.  I speak of preserving the honour of the Empire.  When Palpatine first took office, he pledged to end corruption in our galaxy.  Now he rules with absolute authority, with no one to keep him in check- in much the same way that the Senate was unchecked during the days of the Old Republic.  What’s changed?  I mean, yes, we no longer have the corrupt politicians and companies with armies to worry about….” Beniga returned from the cabinet, armed with two small glasses filled with a blue liquid.  He handed one to Jos.  “… Romulan ale, Captain Sisko introduced me to it, it’s quite good, now where was I?  Ah yes…” Continued Beniga as he sat back down.  “We have replaced one evil with another, I fear.  The Emperor has blinded us for too long.  I should have known sooner, when the Death Star was being constructed- what sort of benign, peaceful society constructs such weapons?  Why are we undermining an entire galaxy here?”  Beniga paused, gazing sadly into his drink.  “Jos, the Federation does not deserve to be the Emperor’s latest acquisition.  That’s why we are out here.  We need to find a way to stop this, and I think I have a way, but I can’t find the help we need.”

“What do you mean sir?”

Beniga looked Jos squarely in the eyes.  “Jos- Carim- the Incisor is here because I am trying to make contact with Rebel forces, but so far my signal has gone unanswered.  They alone have a fleet that can even begin to challenge Imperial forces in his galaxy.”

Jos was somewhat stunned for a moment.  He had been scanning for Rebel ships on the assumption that they would engage any enemy forces they found, but now he knew why the Admiral had shown such a keen interest in his work.

“Begging your pardon sir, but how did you get a signal out in the first place?  I would have detected it.”

Beniga smiled.  “I ‘borrowed’ a Federation subspace transponder and set it to Imperial frequencies.  I used our own sensor scans to act as a carrier.  The Rebels must have picked up something by now, but they are understandably reluctant to respond.”

Jos considered that.  It was of course entirely understandable that the Rebels would ignore any Imperial signals.  It would appear to be a trick, a rather obvious and flimsy trick, to get them to reveal their location.  No Rebel commander worth their salt was that stupid.

“It might be impossible to contact them sir.  The Rebels won’t give away their position willingly.”

Beniga knew this, deep down, but wasn’t prepared to give up so soon- or so easily. 

“We are but one ship, and the Rebels are presumably travelling in numbers.  If you can locate them Carim, and I know you can, then I can think of an easy way of getting their attention.”

 

There was only one word to describe Luke’s feelings as his X-Wing flew on autopilot- shattered.  Luke felt completely and utterly shattered.  In the blink of an eye Darth Vader had completely unhinged everything young Luke had understood about Obi-wan and himself.

How could he be the son of such a barbarian, and why had Obi-wan denied him the truth?  Surely he had a right to know the truth?

Of course you do Luke, when the time is right for you to know it.

Luke’s eyes snapped wide open.  “Obi-wan!”

Yes Luke, it is I.

The disembodied voice sounded weary, sad.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Accused Luke.

Luke, you are the last hope for the Jedi Order, and some day you will have to confront and destroy the Sith.  Could you do that, knowing who Vader really is?

Luke was caught flat-footed by that question.  The not-so-subtle implication wasn’t attractive to him in the least.

“You were preparing me to kill my own father.” He said bluntly.

The sadness in Obi-wan’s voice deepened.  Yes Luke, I was.  You see Luke, deep down, all that remains of your father is in you.  When Anakin turned to the dark side, the good man that he used to be was destroyed.  Only the Sith, Darth Vader, remained.  It pained me deeply, and still does, to have lost such a good friend.  You see Luke, it all comes down to different points of view.  Anakin and Vader might have the same body, but the hate and fury of Vader crushed everything Anakin stood for.  When that happened, for all intent and purposes, Anakin was killed.

Luke was shaking his head.  “That’s not true.  I sensed something in him.  Not anger, not fury… I don’t know what it was, but didn’t feel dark to me.  There’s good in him, buried deep down.”

For an instant Luke could have sworn he felt Obi-wan sigh, even though there was no one there.

He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil.  He and the Emperor will destroy all who stand in their way, unless they are stopped.  You Luke, are the best hope for two galaxies.  I know you want to believe there is good in your father, but please understand what’s at stake.  Sooner or later, you must face him again.

“I… I can’t.  Not without giving him a chance.  Surely he deserves that much?”

You must do what you feel is right Luke.  I just want you to know what you are up against.  I lost Anakin to the Emperor because I didn’t prepare him for the battles he would face.  I don’t want to lose you as well.

Luke considered this for a moment.  He went back to that moment of mounting anger as he had fought Vader.  The power had felt… good.  Was he ready for all of this?

“What if I’m not strong enough?  What if I just don’t have it in me to beat Vader?”

Trust yourself to the Force Luke.  Let it wash away your doubt.  The Force is your ally, and it is a powerful ally.  Yoda taught you that.  I am sorry Luke, that you have to carry this burden, believe me I am.  I also know that you are strong enough to succeed.  You have already faced the temptation of the dark side, and resisted.  Have faith in yourself.

Luke sighed, taking in Obi-wan’s wisdom and words, although he couldn’t shake the tingle of doubt from the back of his mind.

 

Using their considerable resources, the Empire had sent more ships through the wormhole over the course of the past few hours, deploying them to the Federation border as soon they arrived.  There was talk of building new Golem stations to fortify the border, and Picard knew as he watched the wormhole open through the windows of the Promenade that amongst the construction crews would come spies, troops and other agents of the Empire. 

The revelations of the past few hours had been hard to take.  Everything over the past few days had left Picard feeling incredibly tired.  His ship, his home, was gone, as was his close friend Riker.  Everything he held dear was being threatened by an enemy both powerful and cunning.  An enemy that few others felt was dangerous.

He heard footsteps behind him, and snapped out of his meandering.  He was greeted by the sight of Captain Sisko, up and about again, as well as Major Kira.

“Jean-Luc, we need to talk.” Said Sisko simply. 

The trio left the Promenade, heading for the Habitat Ring, whereupon they went to Sisko’s quarters.

“I’ve had my quarters checked for listening devices, and couldn’t find any, so we should be able to talk here.” Said Sisko as he poured Picard and Kira drinks.  The replicator sometimes struggled, but it always provided synthehol of a reasonable quality.  Kira took a seat on Sisko’s big couch, whilst Picard remained standing.

“As you know, we can’t act openly against the Empire, we just don’t have the strength for it, but we do have options…” Sisko gestured to Kira.  “.. such as covert resistance.”

Kira nodded.  “What we need to do Captains, is form our own Rebellion.  We need to start gathering weapons, equipment, anything and everything that we can use in the long haul.  I have several contacts on Bajor who were in the Resistance, they can be put in touch with the right people in the Federation, to help organise something.  We have the advantage here, the Empire doesn’t know that we know their true intentions.  They’ll attribute all acts of sabotage to the Rebels, not us.”

Picard had completed a circuit of the room.  Kira’s idea sounded good, in theory, though it would be a lot of work. 

“We can have Beniga supply us with the sort of equipment that the Rebels use, and start to carry out short-term attacks immediately.  If the Empire thinks that this galaxy will be more trouble than it’s worth, they might withdraw altogether.” Kira sounded optimistic, but from the look in her eyes even she didn’t believe what she’d said.

“Whatever the plan may be, the important thing is to start now.” Emphasised Sisko.  “Captain Picard, your influence carries a lot of weight.  If you can arrange for Kira to meet with anyone you think could be useful in starting a rebellion, it would get us on our way.”

Picard thought for a moment.  It was true that he knew quite a few important figures within the Federation.  The problem was determining which people to contact.

“It may be possible to put the old leaders of the Resistance in touch with a couple of Admirals that I know.  Admiral Neyachev has never been enamoured with the Empire, so she might help us.  It may also be possible to get in touch with Ro Laren...” Picard pondered that last thought.  “She had joined the Maquis, who would know a thing or two about rebellion.”

Kira nodded.  “We need, ideally, to gather every element of resistance, every dissident movement, every insurgency, to one cause.  The Cardassian Underground, Spock’s movement on Romulus, everyone.”

Picard started to walk around the room again.  “That will be difficult.  Covert communications will almost certainly be intercepted by the Empire, and they are already in favour with the Cardassian and Romulan governments.  They will be extremely suspicious if people on this station start contacting such groups.”

Sisko scratched his chin thoughtfully.  “Then we need to meet with them face to face.”

“That’s going to be difficult in itself.” Replied Kira.  “How do we get off Deep Space Nine, into Cardassian territory, find the dissidents, meet with them, convince them to join our cause, then go to Romulus and do the same, without being noticed?”

Picard and Sisko shared a glance.

“Good question.” Said Picard.

“The Defiant has a cloaking device.” Mused Sisko. 

“The Empire could well see through it.” Said Kira.  She sighed.  “What about going off on a diplomatic mission, attached to the Empire?  Captain Picard, you could do that- something about bringing the quadrant together under the Empire’s banner.  They’d not suspect a thing, and you could use your link with Spock.”

Now it was Picard’s turn to ponder.  “That could work.  I doubt everyone on Romulus is enamoured with the Empire, least of all Spock’s movement.  I don’t think I know anyone on Cardassia that I could...” A flash of realisation struck him.  “Well, as it happens, I think I do know someone.”

“Who?” Asked Sisko curiously.

“Gul Madred.”

“Wasn’t this the same Gul that held you prisoner and had you tortured... Sir?” An incredulous Jadzia asked.

“The very same.  However, that experience also taught me a thing or two about him.  I doubt he’d appreciate the Empire muscling in on his territory.”

Sisko gave this some thought.  “Isn’t he just as likely to resent your presence, given that you didn’t crack?”

Picard snorted. “Perhaps.  But we can use that- no one in their right mind would believe I’d even consider working with Gul Madred.”

“The perfect cover.” Said Dax with a smile.

 

“With Admiral Beniga off-station, Lord Vader has placed me in temporary charge of MW1. To that end, he has instructed me to provide orders as I see fit.  As such Captain, I am placing you in command of a task force to destroy the political entity known as the Dominion.”Admiral Zogo’s holographic persona stared Captain Gregari squarely in the eyes.  “Whilst they cannot threaten our military strength, the Emperor has some concerns about the Founders and their ability to shape-shift. They are not yet aware of us, but if they were to infiltrate our ranks they could be a nuisance.  The Emperor wants that nuisance dealt with before it ever happens.  Assemble your fleet, deploy probes to locate the Founders’ home world, and perform a Base Delta Zero.  Eradicate them.”

Gregari nodded.  “Yes sir, but Admiral, how would destroying the Founders destroy the rest of the Dominion?”

The hologram suppressed a sigh.  “I can see you haven’t read all the reports we have from the Federation Captain.  The Founders have genetically engineered their soldiers, the Jem’Hadar, to believe that they are gods.  However, to completely ensure loyalty, the Founders supply the Jem’Hadar with a drug, ketracel-white, without which the Jem’Hadar will die.  Take out the Founders and this supply stops.  There are so many races who are dissatisfied under Dominion rule that without the Jem’Hadar, the Dominion will fall into civil war.  Then the Empire can move in, as a nice benevolent force, to establish order in the Gamma Quadrant.”

It was Gregari’s turn to suppress a sigh.  His one ship alone could make short work of entire fleets, yet he was effectively hamstrung by political games.

“Sounds like a good plan sir.” He said dutifully.

“Poppycock.  We have the firepower to wipe out the entire Gamma Quadrant easily.  We should be taking advantage of it, but instead we’re making friends.  Still, it is what the Emperor wishes and therefore, what we shall do. Gather your fleet and make ready to depart.” With that, Admiral Zogo cut the transmission.  Gregari stood by the holo-projector for a moment, silently surprised that the Admiral would be so blunt about his disapproval for this sort of mission, but also pleased that he wasn’t alone in his thinking.  At least he would get to flex his ship’s muscles against the Dominion, which was something.  With a predatory smile, he left his quarters, marching for the nearest lift.

 

Once on the Bridge, Gregari began issuing orders.  He had the Victory-class Destroyers Heart of Iron and Righteous Fury join the Raven near the boundary of the Gamma Quadrant.  A pair of Lancer-class frigates accompanied them, as did an old Dreadnought and four Carrick cruisers.  Finally, a pair of modified Nebulon-B frigates and an Interdictor arrived, and Gregari looked out of the main window at his fleet, satisfied that they could handle anything the Dominion threw at them. 

“All ships, release probes, have them focus on any worlds sending and receiving encrypted transmissions on a regular basis, and any worlds with large fleets or bases in system.” His crisp orders were acknowledged, and thousands of tiny probes shot into hyperspace into the Gamma Quadrant, seeking out the Founders.

 

Suspicions aboard Home One had now reached new levels.  The Imperial transmission continued to call out to them, despite the stupidity of such a trick.  It wasn’t one the Rebels had any intention of falling for, and whoever was in charge of the Imperials had to know it.

So why did the signal continue?

It was enough to test the nerves and patience of Admiral Ackbar.  Normally unflappable, his voice betrayed the tension of feeling like they were being hunted.

“Any new messages from the Imperials?” He asked gruffily.

“No sir, they just keep repeating their request to… wait a minute, sir, the signal is no longer a subspace transmission, but a bona fide holo net signal.  It’s much closer as well.” The comms officer looked up, her surprise evident.  “Sir, if I am reading this right, it’s coming from a Lambda-class shuttle!”

What?” Ackbar could not contain his incredulity.  What would possess the Imperials to think they could lure his fleet, or even a signal vessel, into such a poor trap?

Perhaps that’s the point.  Whoever wants our attention knows we wouldn’t be fooled in such a manner. 

“Helm, have four X-Wing fighters prepare for combat, and prepare to take us to the location of this shuttle.  It’s time to discover what the Imperials want.”

As his crew acknowledged his orders, Ackbar stared out of the bridge window.  Was this a trap?  If so, sending even a single ship to meet with the shuttle was taking a huge risk.  He had fighters being prepared, was that enough? 

“When the fighters rendezvous with the shuttle, have, have them escort it to…” Ackbar tapped a few buttons on his controls.  “This star system.  We’ll meet them there.”

 

These quarters are even more Spartan than my own, mused Picard as he settled into a guest room onboard the Victory-class Star Destroyer Red Blade.  Ambassador Tolik was visiting Romulus and then Cardassia- and Picard’s experience with both governments was the perfect cover to ‘smuggle’ him onto the mission. 

Nor was Picard alone.  He had requested the company of Jadzia Dax, who had the knowledge and wisdom of several lifetimes.  Dax’s own quarters were just next to his, so it was easy enough to assume the two Federation officers would confer with one another.  Nevertheless, before leaving Deep Space Nine, Picard had decided not to discuss their secret mission whilst on an Imperial ship- chances were, they had listening devices.

Picard dumped his duffel bag on the bed, and surveyed his quarters- they were roomy, if plain- grey walls did nothing for the imagination, and there was only one other room- a bathroom, behind an automatic door.  There were no paintings, no art of any kind, or much in the way of colour.  A table and two chairs were the only other companions Picard had.  He had a nagging feeling that something was missing…

Of course, a replicator.  The Imperials didn’t make use of that technology.  He suspected meals would be brought to him, or there was some kind of food court onboard.  Either that, or the ship would be at Romulus so soon that he’d be having local cuisine for dinner.  Probably the latter.

There was still something Picard wanted to discuss with Dax, although he wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.  He didn’t want it to be a discussion between two Starfleet officers, but he could see how rank would come into play.  On the other hand, given Dax’s experience, it may not matter. 

The door chimed, and Picard almost said ‘come’, but remembered that the doors weren’t voice-activated just in time to save himself private embarrassment.  He marched to them, letting Jadzia enter.

“Captain.” She greeted, hands as always behind her back.  Somehow, her eyes twinkled with the mischief of several other lives all at once.

“Commander, please, come in.” Picard ushered her inside.  “I would offer you refreshment, but without a replicator…”

Jadzia smiled.  “I don’t think we’ll need one.  From what I understand, we’ll be at Romulus within hours, if not minutes.”

It was Picard’s turn to smile, as he took a seat at the table, beckoning for Jadzia to do likewise.  “The same thought occurred to me as well.  It’s remarkable how hyperdrive will change the galaxy.  We always thought of Romulus and Cardassia as being reasonably close, not merely minutes away.”

Jadzia slid into the chair opposite Picard.  “It will take some getting used to.” She sat up straight, her eyes piercing Picard’s.  “Forgive me for being blunt Captain, but I suspect you invited me here for reasons other than discussing the Imperials.”

“You’re right, I did.” Picard sighed.  “Commander, you have known Ben Sisko for a long time, and seen him through two different pairs of eyes.  You and I both know the circumstances surrounding his recent episode, but what I wanted to know is, does he still blame me for what happened to his wife?”

Jadzia stared at the table for a moment.  “I think, deep down, he always will, even though he’ll never admit it, and he’ll feel ashamed of it too.  He knows what you went through at the hands of the Borg must have been beyond terrible, and he knows you had no choice, and for the most part, he forgave you a long time ago.  Still, as I can attest to, it’s hard to completely let go of pain like that, even when you switch bodies.” Jadzia smiled wryly.  “It won’t interfere with his commitment to the Federation Captain, if anything, he’ll work all the harder because of it.”

Picard considered Jadzia’s words.  “You know, there hasn’t been a day gone by since I was assimilated that I didn’t wish I had fought harder, or that I could have done something, anything, to stop them.  What I never did though, what I felt I could never do, was meet face-to-face with the survivors or their families.  I must admit, every time I’ve spoken to Captain Sisko, I feel as though there’s a barrier between us, and that’s as much my doing as his.  When we return to the station, I’ll speak to him, one-to-one.  I owe him that.”

Jadzia smiled again, more warmly.  “I think he’d appreciate that.”

Picard leaned back.  “It’s funny, to be dwelling on what can only be described as the worst moments of my life, shortly before reliving a few more of them.”

“You mean Madred Captain?” Inquired Dax.

Picard nodded.  “Yes.  It will be strange- and as much as I hate to admit it, gratifying- to be in a position of strength this time.  It will probably gnaw at him to see me, sitting with the Imperials, forcing him into the inferior position.  Then of course there’s the Romulans.  I remember more than one encounter with Commander Sela…”

“The Romulan who claimed to be the daughter of Tasha Yar?”

“Yes, exactly.  She isn’t my biggest fan, lets put it that way.  If she’s still an officer, she might have a grudge.  It seems strange, to be going over such old territory, when the future is so vast and exciting right now.”

Jadzia leaned forward.  “Is that not what we do though?  We look to the past to find the future?”

Picard grinned.  “Commander, I do believe you were a philosopher in one of your former lives.”

 

At a dim red dwarf, five tiny pinpricks appeared as if from nowhere.  One was larger than the others and even at a distance it was clearly being flanked, as if it were dangerous.  Minutes later, a much larger object appeared, and the five smaller items began accelerating toward it.

The shuttle carrying Admiral Beniga maintained a steady course and kept its shields down.  He wasn’t about to do anything that would get him shot at. 

It had been a risky move, even if he could trust most of his crew.  His justification for leaving, alone, was that he had urgent and private communiqués to send from a secure location, and to that end, he had sent messages to Milky Way One and Deep Space Nine that spoke of the search. 

Now he started to wonder if this had been such a good idea.  He was completely alone, surrounded by forces that until recently he had regarded as an enemy, and they still thought of him as an enemy.  Convincing them of his sincerity was not going to be easy.

A hanger bay opened up on the side of the Mon Calamari cruiser, permitting his shuttle entry.  For a split second Beniga considered hitting the hyperspace controls and disappearing, but instead held his nerve and took his shuttle into Home One.

Once the wings had folded and the shuttle had safely touched down, Beniga lowered the ramp, and noted the presence of several well-armed Rebel officers, all of whom were pointing their blaster rifles at his shuttle.  As Beniga descended down the ramp, those same rifles tracked him with almost droid-like accuracy.  In the eyes of the Rebels he saw distrust, and outright hatred- which should hardly be a surprise now should it?

One of the guards gestured with his rifle for Beniga to put his hands above his head, and another searched him- quite roughly, Beniga thought- for hidden weapons. Once satisfied that the Admiral was unarmed, she nodded to another officer.

Doors to the hanger opened at the far end of the room, and in strode several Mon Calamari.  Beniga had to admit, he found it hard to tell members of the aquatic species apart, but where most were dressed in grey or brown robes, one was dressed in white, and stood just a little bit taller.

Walking with a confidence that he definitely didn’t feel, Beniga crossed the short distance between himself and who he assumed to be Admiral Ackbar.

“Admiral, it is… unusual to meet you in these circumstances, but I hope it will prove of great benefit to both of us. I am Admiral Beniga.” He extended a hand, which was viewed with (what he thought was) suspicion. However, Ackbar took it. His hand felt… oily.

“You are correct Admiral Beniga, these are unusual circumstances. I only hope I have not betrayed my better judgement for no reason. Please, follow me to my quarters- so we can talk.”

As the pair moved into the corridor beyond the hanger bay, Beniga made note that security guards were protecting the doors, and that they seemed to be everywhere. Their eyes tracked his every move, making him feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Ackbar did not say a word as he walked, and the silence made Beniga feel even more nervous. He didn’t want to say anything until they were alone, so he endured.

It felt like a long walk.

Two lift trips and more awkward silences later, the pair arrived at the door to Ackbar’s quarters. Two security guards took up posts either side, clearly not happy but not willing to contradict Ackbar’s orders.

Ackbar wordlessly ushered Beniga inside, ignoring his guards’ despairing looks, and the doors slid shut.

As an aquatic species, the Mon Calamari were most at home in the water, and his rather sparse quarters were largely taken up by a pool of crystal-clear water. Steam was coming up off the surface, implying warmth- and it made the room feel uncomfortably humid. A few holo-images of vast cities and what Beniga guessed were coral reefs were scattered throughout the room as well, and to the side was an archway that led to another compartment.

“If you’ll follow me.” Ackbar moved to the other room, which was revealed to be a small office. A computer terminal, tactical display and data pads were strewn across a desk in the corner of the room, and another small table was pressed against the far left wall, with two chairs either end. Ackbar strode to one of them, sat down, and looked at Beniga expectantly.

Taking a seat as well, Beniga wondered if he should speak first. Ackbar was simply staring at him. Clearing his throat, Beniga took a moment to compose himself.

“Well Admiral, I’d not expected to meet like this. Let me assure however, that I have very good reasons for doing this, and that we have the same goal.”

“And what goal is that Admiral?” Replied Ackbar suspiciously.

“The removal of the Empire from this galaxy.” Said Beniga bluntly.

Ackbar didn’t appear to react. Of course, Beniga might simply be unable to recognise the cues.

“Admiral Ackbar, know this. I’ve long believed the Emperor was right to throw off  the shackles of the corrupt Republic. Corporations were allowed to have huge armies, bureaucracy was leading to thousands of star systems wanting to break away, and it was a sprawling, uncoordinated mess. I always thought the Emperor acted in the best interests of the galaxy. Until now.

When we came here, we came across a civilisation that already had peace and order. Granted, some of the Federation’s neighbours weren’t friendly- some are even quite warlike- but the Federation itself was acting in the best interests of its people. The Empire is trying to undermine that by starting wars, changing alliances and turning the Federation into one big Imperial territory, that will soon be transformed from the peaceful society it is now, to one completely opposed to the ideals I thought I was fighting for.”

Beniga still couldn’t tell if there was any surprise on Ackbar’s face, but now his voice betrayed it.

“Are you telling me you see the Empire for what it actually is? Or are you simply telling me what you think I want to hear?”

Beniga sighed. “Admiral, Why would a peaceful Empire need weapons like the Death Star? What possible use would a benign regime have for such a thing? It’s taken me far too long, but I see the Empire for what it really is- and I cannot stand by and let another galaxy become like our own, which is why I am here. I’ve taken a huge risk coming here. You might decide you don’t  believe me, in which case I expect to become your prisoner, or to die. Alternatively, word of this meeting might get back to the Empire, in which case I’ll have a hard time justifying it to my superiors. I might be telling you what you want to hear, and you’d be taking a risk in trusting me, but I am taking a risk in simply being here. And just to prove my sincerity, I am willing to undergo whatever tests you have that prove I am telling you the truth.”

Now Ackbar looked… intrigued? I must never gamble against this man.

“What is you seek of us Admiral?”

Beniga leaned forward. “I want to stop the Empire from corrupting this galaxy for its own purposes. That means at some point confronting Imperial forces directly. I currently only have one ship that I know would be loyal to me, but I’m working on persuading more Imperial forces to see things my way. More importantly, myself and a few Federation officers are trying to build our own rebellion- but this is uncharted territory for us. We need help- your people know how to hide, when to raid enemy territory, how to make the best use of covert operations, and we need that expertise.”

Ackbar eyed Beniga suspiciously once more. “What is in it for us? If we commit to helping you, we are placing ourselves in greater danger. My people will want to know how it would benefit our cause. What is your end game Admiral Beniga?”

“My end game? Ultimately, to remove the Emperor from power and restore a true sense of peace and justice to our home galaxy. I honestly don’t know what the best system of government for that would be right now, but to begin with, my goal is to make this galaxy strong- strong enough to face off against the full might of the Empire.”

“That’s an ambitious goal Admiral. The peoples of this galaxy are considerably behind us in just about every conceivable way.”

“True.” Replied Beniga. “But we can help them, together.”

Ackbar sat back in his chair and appeared to be deep in thought. Beniga had made his case, and decided against pressing any further.

“Most of my instincts tell me this is a bad idea Admiral. The Rebel fleet cannot hope to defeat the Imperial presence here, the locals certainly can’t, and you tell me you so far have only one ship for your cause. You want to organise a covert rebellion, but you can’t hope to do so without more resources. We can help you, but what if you rediscover your love for the Empire? What if you get caught, and through torture or desperation, expose us?

Yet, I see a spark in your eyes Admiral. I see steel. I see someone willing to go to the death for what he believes. Betray us, and you’d better hope the Empire catches you before we do, but for what it’s worth, I believe you- and you have my support.”

Ackbar thrust his hand out for Beniga to take, and Beniga took it.

 

The probe droids had soon picked out a seemingly innocent world, which outwardly looked no different to a number of average rocks floating around their stars. The key difference however, was the higher-than-average number of subspace transmissions being send to and from the system. There was also the little detail that most of the signals were heavily encrypted.

Gregari had ordered his fleet to drop out of hyperspace as close to the planet as possible. Once they’d done so, the three Star Destroyers would fan out and begin bombardment, whilst the support ships would join them as soon as any orbiting defence structures or ships had been taken care of. The probe hadn’t detected any sign of such defences, but Gregari knew better than to take that as gospel.

He was looking forward to this. After spending so long playing nice, it felt good to let his true nature out of its cage. He was a warrior, and now it was time to fight.

The fleet dropped out of hyperspace and performed a quick sensor scan. No enemy ships were detected, and the planet appeared to have no active defences of any kind. What sensors did detect was a large mass of life forms that appeared to be spread out across the entire world. There was no variety however- it was one species, completely alone on their chosen world.

“This has to be it. Commence Base Delta Zero.” Gregari’s orders rang out to Heart of Iron and Righteous Fury, and along with his own ship, the attack began.

The rarely-used heavy turbolaser batteries unleashed their full destructive potential. Hundreds of gigatons were contained with each bolt, and when they hit the gelatinous mass of Changelings, huge portions of that living ocean were vaporised. Fireballs over a hundred kilometres in diameter rose from various spots on the planet’s surface, and shock waves of heat and pressure sent huge tidal waves through the Founders.

Lighter guns opened fire as well. Their effects were smaller, but no less devastating on the targeted areas. Plumes of smoke and dust and gas began to fan out, as the star destroyers started to circle the planet.

Despite the sudden destruction being rained down upon them, someone within the Founders was able to snap off a distress call before the interdictor could jam communications completely. As though such a message was expected, Imperial sensors picked up a large subspace disturbance- a fleet of Dominion ships was already on their way.

Gregari ordered the support vessels to take up position. As his turbolaser batteries battered the northern hemisphere of the planet, his fleet readied for battle.

Sensors picked up 240 Jem’Hadar vessels approaching. They probably wanted to get in close and swarm his ships, but Gregari had no intention of giving them that chance. His interdictor activated its gravity well generators, and all of the enemy ships came out of warp with a bump.

The Jem’Hadar recovered quickly, but they were out of position. They were nowhere as close to the Imperial fleet as they wanted to be, but that would prove to be the least of their worries.

The dreadnought and the pair of frigates were steaming out to meet them. The four Carrick cruisers were taking up flanking positions on the edge of the trio, whilst the Lancer frigates had tucked in close to the dreadnought. It hardly seemed like a fair fight, and the Jem’Hadar were confident in their abilities.

So when the first of their ships began to disappear under a storm of turbolaser fire it sent them reeling. Their attack ships were no match for the Imperials, and with just their opening salvo, the Imperials had turned twenty-seven attackers into clouds of gas and dust.

The Jem’Hadar began to fire back, but their weapons simply splashed harmlessly against shields far beyond anything they had encountered before. Seventeen more attack ships were blown apart as they completed their first pass, and another twelve were pulverised as they attempted to target one of the frigates.

By now the Jem’Hadar were able to bring their cruisers to bear. Much larger than attack ships, they packed a lot more firepower. Phaser and torpedo fire streaked in large quantities toward the Imperial fleet. Most of the phaser blasts found their targets, but failed to achieve anything, much to the chargrin of the Jem’Hadar, whilst the Lancer frigates intercepted most of the torpedoes with concentrated anti-fighter fire. What torpedoes did find their targets did little more than rock the ships.

The Empire’s ships did not hold back- turbolaser bolts smashed their attackers into thousands of tiny pieces, and all the while the Star Destroyers continued to pummel the surface of the Founder home world, gouging out huge chunks of it, and turning the rest into molten rock.

In a matter of minutes the Jem’Hadar fleet was gone, completely destroyed.

A few hours later, there was nothing left of the Founders. The atmosphere of their home world had been blasted away, and the surface burned. Gregari felt good.

 

The ambassadors from the Empire had been led into the Romulan Senate to make their case for greater cooperation and an Imperial presence in Romulan territory. Captain Picard had excused himself from the duty and had instead sent a communique to an old ‘friend’, someone whom he believed might be willing to work with him.

Hallways decorated with pictures, holo-images and paintings of famous Romulan commanders and their victories adorned the walls of the lavish Senate chambers. It was clear a lot of wealth had been devoted to the upkeep of the Senate and its lifestyle. Picard wondered how many ordinary Romulans suffered as a result.

There were guards, centurions armed with disruptor pistols who stood completely motionless, even at the sight of a Starfleet officer marching down the corridors. They had undoubtedly been told to ignore him- this was, after all, a diplomatic mission, and a lot of the true work on such missions took place outside the official meetings.

The office of Admiral Tomalak had good old fashioned wooden doors (some sort of mahogany from the looks of it). They were large, with golden handles, and Tomalak’s name emblazoned upon them in the Romulan language. The image was clearly intended to convey power.

Picard paused for a moment before knocking. His past dealings with Tomalak had been mixed. The first them they’d met, Tomalak had been fully prepared to breach the Neutral Zone and enter Federation space- but he’d done so to aid a stricken away team. Picard had found himself respecting the man for that.

Their second meeting had been more hostile. Tomalak had been prepared to attack his ship and take his crew as prisoners as part of a ruse to uncover a defector. The intervention of the Klingons had stopped things from reaching that point.

All in all, Picard wasn’t sure how Tomalak would respond to his suggestions, but he was here, and he wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to make his case.

He knocked on the doors, and they swung open, to an impressive sight.

The room was large, with small busts of famous Romulans and ships that meant something to the Empire. Dark wood desks and stands supported the memorials to past battles and ornate light fixtures provided a steady illumination.

Tomalak himself sat behind a large desk, of the same style as the doors. A small computer terminal sat upon it, and a pile of data pads. The chair was surprisingly functional- not what Picard expected, judging from the décor of the rest of the room.

The man had not changed, aside from a few grey hairs. His brown eyes held the look of an intelligent, fiercely determined man, who wore his traditional silver uniform with pride.

The doors swung shut behind Picard. He guessed Tomalak had some control for them on his chair or desk. There was no chair for Picard- another means of asserting authority- Tomalak could sit comfortably whilst his adversary could not.

“Captain Jean-Luc Picard. It has been a long time.” Tomalak’s voice was as dry as ever.

“Yes, it has Admiral.” Picard started to walk toward the desk. “I see time has been good to you.”

“And to you as well Captain. I had not expected a human in a position as yours to age so gracefully. But let us dispense with pointless pleasantries. What is it you want?”

Picard stopped. “I am here to inform you of a dangerous and insidious threat to the Romulan Empire. One that cannot be defeated without a united effort.”

Tomalak’s eyes narrowed. “Is this some sort of threat?”

“No Admiral. It is a statement of fact. The future of the Alpha Quadrant- indeed, this entire galaxy- is on a knife-edge. I have come to you because I know you to be a fierce patriot and respected member of the Romulan military- and…” Picard’s voice lowered a notch. “And because you have demonstrated you will put your people first.”

For a moment Tomalak’s expression was as stone- he became unreadable. When he spoke again, it was calm, measured.

“What exactly is it you are referring to?” He asked.

“Understand that I am taking an enormous risk in speaking with you. You may decide your best interests lie in reporting what I’m about to say to your superiors. The consequences of that would be considerable. With that said, I am going to trust you.” Picard took a deep breath. “The Galactic Empire is not here to help us. They are here to subjugate us. Slowly but surely they are going to fill our territory with their ships and agents, and subvert us to their agenda. That process has already begun and the Federation Council is falling for it hook, line and sinker.”

Tomalak was silent. He appeared to be deep in thought, digesting Picard’s grim words. Would the Admiral turn him in? Should Tomalak report his concerns to the Romulan Council, they would almost certainly let the Empire know- and that would be that.

“How do I know this is not a ruse of your own?” Began Tomalak. He stood from his chair and started to walk around his desk. “You seek to recruit me into some kind of rebel movement, I assume?” Picard nodded, and Tomalak continued. “If I were to say I would support such a movement, how do I know you will not go immediately to the Senate and have them destroy me and anyone who might follow me?”

Tomalak now stood face-to-face with Picard, challenging with his eyes.

“It is a question of trust. I must trust you, and you must trust me. I don’t know if we can defeat the Empire- I know it cannot be done by force- but I also know we must try. I am reaching out to you because you are a patriot Tomalak. You will not tolerate the corruption of the Empire, and I will not stand by and do nothing to stop the Federation from facing the same fate. The road ahead will be long and difficult, but if we work together, we can at least help save the future.” Picard offered his hand. The gesture was not a customary one to a Romulan, but Tomalak was aware of it.

“If we are caught, our deaths will not be quick or merciful. They will make examples of us. If what you say is true, the Empire is going to be irresistible to our governments. This is a mission that will last the rest of our lives, with little chance of success. Yet I see such steel in your eyes Captain. You clearly wish to do what’s right, even if the odds are against you. I can respect that. So, let us get to work.” Tomalak took Picard’s hand, and the first element of the Milky Way Rebellion was in place.

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