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The Final Test

Chapter Text

The Final Test

Prologue

To early humans the greater universe did not exist. It did not need to exist. It did not need their attention, concern or fear. It was an incomprehensible reality that did not cross their undeveloped minds. To them, the instinctual need to eat and survive was all pressing.

Early humans were as much a part of the natural ecosystem as a ground slug or big cat of the savanna; upon waking each morning their instinct was to find food. Each morning was the beginning of a new adventure, and with no memory of the previous, it was an endless instinctual cycle.

Over the next million years, these early humans would slowly develop more complex thoughts and emotions. In time their ability to plan beyond the immediate future was apparent. Tools and weapons were used to assist them in their everyday cycle of food gathering and shelter. For the first time on Earth, a species could break the endless cycle of the previous day. All biological energy up to this point was used to maintain this endless loop with no single calorie left to spare. Now with the development of tools and weapons, excess energy was available and allowed for a greater development of the human race. Within a million years, plantation, livestock, construction, and self-governance were now common place. The human brain had developed beyond its basic instinctual need and allowed for wonder, passion, love, hate and countless emotions totally unknown to any other living creature. No longer would they glance up at the sky in a passing thought. Now their eyes would bore into the heavens and wonder what was there. What were those bright shiny dots in the night sky? And what was beyond them.

Human progress was now moving forward at breakneck speed. Technology was allowing for greater and greater scientific leaps of invention. The progression of all things material was improving, but not necessarily for the betterment of mankind. With superior brains came superior ambition. Wars were fought and country lines were redrawn. More and more resources were being channeled into weapons of war until the treasury of countries were depleted and wide scale conscription was mandated.

World War 3 was the culmination of their superior ambition. Mass starvation and disease spread over the globe as each nations collapse triggered the onset of mass genocide through various causes. 'The Great Cleanse' is now what it is referred to in history books. The history of the world was almost snuffed out, lost forever. It would take time, but progress was made. The survivors banded together and promised never to allow this to happen again. Energy, creativity, resources and desire would be channeled into the betterment of mankind. Within a few generations the first warp drive was created and contact was made with an alien race. The first of many as the warp signature was a beacon to the rest of the galaxy that mankind was ready for the stars. Social progress was made over the next century and the United Federation of Planets was formed. An alliance of 150 different worlds spread across 4000 light-years. While each world remains independent they form a political and social unity where each could rely on another in a time of need. Wars were fought and won, but this time it was not human against human. It was the collective and democratic will of the whole, The 'Federation' would defend the rights and freedoms of other races throughout the Alpha Quadrant. No longer would wars be started due to power, money or land, but for the protection of all sentient life. The United Federation of Planets had and still has a keen interest in exploration and science; to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Modern humans now stretch out with eyes wide open, moving steadfastly towards their bright horizon on the cusp of their vision. The boundary of science is being pushed and so is their understanding of what they seek. Driven by their wonder and natural instinct to explore, humans are devoting a great many resources to exploration and discovery. And yet as they search and learn there is an unmistakable and unforgiving truth. The universe is a dangerous place, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Unlike human ancestors, the universe now matters, the need to know, the need to pay attention is pressing. And yet with all these advances and developments, they are limited by 'Human Nature'. The concept of right and wrong, life and death, and time and space are all human constructs. The universe, however, comprises more than the dreams and imagination of mankind.

Beyond the stars and galaxies are deeper realities of space and time where things are no longer things and places no longer places; where all force and matter is perverted, stretched and torn. Black gulfs with no end, no beginning, no distance, no direction... and what may lurk in the darkness no one can know...

Chapter Text

Routine Mission

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant

The Enterprise-D, flagship of the United Federation of Planets was orbiting a Class 3 star at the end of its long life. The mission was to study the multitude of gravitational readings upon its collapse, an area of study in which information was proportional to observed opportunities.

Captain Picard was seated in a small white chair adjacent the large windows that stretched the length of his quarters. Both feet were firmly planted and his finger was slowly circling his upper lip. Crimson light from the red giant star filled his dimmed windows but went unnoticed as Picard was deep in thought. His eyes were fixated on the center mass of the dying star; its bubbling cauldron of nuclear froth splashing and sloshing along its multi-million kilometer diameter. He was not actually looking at the star, but beyond it, to the future, and to the past.

As the Captain of the Federation's flagship, he was often contacted before classified information was disseminated to the fleet. A moment ago he received an encrypted message from Admiral Paris indicating a disturbing uptrend in activity from 'The Dominion' which was being picked up through wormhole listening devices near Bajor. Not much was known of the Dominion, only that there were many levels of their social hierarchy and their motives were unknown. Deep Space 9 which orbited Bajor was our first line of defense if there were ever an attack. Admiral Paris had stressed that no actionable intelligence was available on any impending invasion. Even if there was, we are still rebuilding thought Picard. The Borg attack on Wolf 359 had devastated a significant portion of the Federation fleet and now capital ships were stretched thin throughout Federation territory. He leaned back and placed his head against the chair and his gaze shifted to the far wall. In any other circumstance he would have contacted the commander of DS9 to reassure him that the Enterprise would respond if there were a need; but not in this case. Commander Benjamin Sisko held Captain Picard directly responsible for the death of his wife. The last time they had conversed it had not gone well, and the last thing the commander of DS9 needed was a distraction or a disturbance of a long-buried memory. It was the Borg that destroyed the starship that Benjamin Sisko and his wife were on, the commander unable to save her. More specifically it was Picard, then named Locutus a Borg, that orchestrated the campaign against Federation forces. Picard could still remember the thoughts of the victims as they were disassembled and then reassembled into Borg drones. Typically a neural transmitter was inserted via nano-probe and thoughts and memories of the victims became part of the collective before the individual body was ready. They will be back.

His thoughts were interrupted by a door chime.

"Come," said Picard, his thoughts swept aside. The door hissed open and in strode his first officer. "What can I do for you Will?"

"Data estimates the star will go Nova in less than 8 minutes, I thought you would appreciate the view and technological readouts," said Riker with an exaggerated level of enthusiasm. Picard smiled and pulled himself out of his chair. While he had only been sitting for less than hour, it seemed upwards of a day. He walked out of his quarters, his fist officer in tow.

Picard glanced sideways towards his lumbering first officer,
"Have you ever witnessed a supernova Will?"

"Truthfully no, only in simulations and back at the Academy, you?"

"Yes actually, it was my first assignment on board the Stargazer,"

Will's eyebrow raised at the thought of a fresh new captain having to sit for a few weeks outside a solar system while the supernova took shape.
"Doesn't sound too exciting for a new post,"

"Well, they say no two supernovae are the same, I hope this will be interesting" Both officers stepped into the turbo lift and were whisked towards the bridge.

"Captain on the bridge" announced Data who was halfway out of the Captain's chair and moving towards 'ops'. The Lieutenant Commander had been monitoring the events of the star for the last 157 hours without rest. To the surprise of Data and the Federation models, the star's demise had been accelerating faster than expected and there was no clear answer as to why. At present, the red giant had a radius of 247 million kilometers and was rapidly running out of fuel to maintain its ballooned size. As Data jockeyed into his seat and Picard took his, Riker put a big boot on the support frame of 'ops' and leaned in to take a closer look at the instrument panel. Riker and Picard had been informed two days ago that the stars helium reserve was shrinking at an 8% increased rate. While every supernova was slightly different, all found it surprising that the mathematical models could be so wrong. Data volunteered to monitor the situation 'round the clock' and while Picard and Riker knew it would not affect him, it was still deemed a choice to do so.

Riker was rubbing his eyes with thumb and forefinger as he looked at the readouts.
"Any idea when this thing is going to start to collapse?" He had probably asked the question fifteen times in the last few hours but each time he figured he might get a different answer.

Data's fingers flew over the controls,
"As far as I can tell, there is-" A loud beep sprang from Worf's tactical station and the everyone turned towards the back of the bridge,

"Report" asked Picard as he inched a little closer to the edge of his seat.

Worf's display was now indicating a new reading and he was looking at it with ever-widening eyes,
"Captain!" his deep voice resonating throughout the bridge. "I am detecting core ejection, distance..." he eyes darted back and forth along his security console. And for what seemed like an eternity he said nothing. Riker looked down at Data who had a baffled look on his face as he was also eyeing his own controls.

Picard shot out of his chair and spun around to face his security chief.
"Report Mr. Worf!" The bridge crew was tense and all eyes were on their stations looking for any sign of danger.

Worf was trying to piece together what he was seeing before saying another word, but the Captain wanted an answer, immediately.
"Captain, sensors detected core ejection, and now it's gone," bafflement was more than apparent in the Klingon's voice. Riker heaved himself off the support arm of Data's station and rushed towards tactical where the Klingon danced with the controls to pull up sensor logs.

As he did this, Data delivered his analysis,
"Confirmed Captain, core ejection was detected for 5 point 38 seconds. However, I am not able to determine how that is possible without the collapse of the outer shell of the star."

Picard took only a moment to know that something was terribly wrong, either it was malfunctioning equipment or something very strange was occurring with the red giant.
"Yellow Alert, back us off 100 million kilometers." Alarm klaxons filled the ship as every on-duty officer went to their stations for real-time task management and situational updates. Picard walked towards the view screen, the red giant filling every inch. How can we detect something that hasn't happened yet… "Data, are we sure that we actually detected core material being ejected?"

The androids' eyebrow rose for a moment as he looked down at his control station.
"Confir-" A loud intruding beep cut-off Data mid-sentence, his neck snapped to the side in his usual display of confusion. The Captain, who was standing beside him looked down with patience, watching the Lt. Commander's unbelievably fast fingers fly across the controls. "Captain, detecting a complete collapse of the photosphere on the far side of the star."

Riker who was now lurched over science station three at the back of the bridge whirled around in bewilderment,
"Data how the hell can half a star collapse?" Picard looked thoughtfully at his first officer and nodded in agreement. His lips were pursed together, arms folded as he turned his head slowly back towards the main viewer. He heard the bridge turbolift door hiss open but ignored it for a moment. Counselor Troi had just reported to the bridge and took her seat to the left of the Captain's chair. She could sense bewilderment, worry, stress and excitement.

For the next several minutes Riker and Picard circled the bridge asking questions to determine what exactly had happened. They were studying the graphic display at the rear of the bridge where the situation became much more apparent. The graphic displayed showed the red giant, but instead of a supermassive sphere, the star looked like it had been chopped in half from top to bottom. One-half collapsed, one-half still in the final stages. All parties were now working on this impossible problem. Lt. Commander Laforge in engineering was going back and forth with Data while Riker and Worf looked through sensor logs from the last several days. Picard found himself eavesdropping on Data's conversation to try and catch any keywords which would help with the puzzle. He did not need to wait long.

"Captain, I am detecting heavy graviton emissions,"

"From the core of the star?" asked Picard

Data shook his head,
"Negative, attempting to localize…327 by 18 by 103" Riker had been following along on the tactical display verifying the numbers, but the location of the graviton waves made little sense,

"That's 50 million kilometers from the star's core, the ejection material has already left the core on the far side and it's headed outward," remarked Riker. Every 1st-year cadet knew that graviton waves were only detected a microsecond before the core exploded. Either their sensors were off, or the star was off.

"Confirmed," Data spun around in his chair to face the rest of the bridge. "I am unable to explain-" More beeps interrupted his analysis which seemed to be commonplace on this day.

"Commander!" Worf's giant finger was guiding Riker's eyes to the correct readout,

"Unknown ship detected, 50 million kilometers from the center of the star!" reported Riker incredulously. "It's on the far side, inside what should be within the red giant's radius."

"Confirmed, detecting unknown vessel inside the radius of the star. It appears to have emerged after the star collapsed on the far side," said Data.

Picard stood quickly from his chair,
"On screen, life Signs?"

The view screen flickered for a moment and then showed a tactical overlay of the solar system. In the center was the red giant star, with the far side completely collapsed while the near side was ballooned-out but stable. A small green blip 50 million kilometers from the stars' core on the collapsed side indicated the location of the recently detected ship. There was however another object that was blipping and it was much larger than the new arrival. Core ejection material was moving outwards at 40% the speed of light. As each bridge officer analyzed the main viewer the danger was apparent.

Worf had been scanning the ship in an attempt to identify life signs but his work was proving futile.
"Captain, the ship is heavily damaged. I am unable to determine its origin or its compliment. Heavy graviton and chronometric particles are disrupting scans."

Picard turned to face tactical,
"Hail them Mr. Worf." The sound of hailing frequencies echoed through the bridge but there was no reply.

"Again" ordered Riker. Worf sent another communication attempt, this time using all known frequencies, even those outdated by hundreds of years of technological advancement and yet there was still no acknowledgment. Picard slowly turned back towards the main viewer his eyes fixated on the massive ejecta material that was headed straight towards the unknown vessel. Why would there be chronometric particles?

He half-consciously put his hand on Data's shoulder.
"Time until impact Mr. Data?"

"7 minutes, 43 seconds Captain."

"Any idea why there would be chronometric particles here Data? Is it from a singularity at the center of the star?" asked Riker who was moving back and forth between tactical and science station three. The Federation understood time travel to the extent that these particles only became detectable when a time-event had occurred. Starfleet had detected these particles as early as the NX-1s stellar journeys 220 years ago, but their appearance was so seldom that studying these elusive particles was almost impossible.

Data had been working on his own theory amongst the bridge discussion, one of the many advantages of being an android was that he could run complex simulations and methods in the 'background' while his immediate tasks were fulfilled with sufficient processing power and awareness. And as invaluable seconds ticked by his theory was beginning to take shape. He turned towards Riker,
"Commander, a singularity has not yet formed at the center of the star, the chronometric particles are widespread, covering 700 billion square kilometers. I have a theory." Data turned his chair to the Captain who was standing between the 'con' and 'ops'. "I believe we are witnessing a time-event, where half of the star has been accelerated through time. This would explain why only half the star has gone nova, while the rest is still in its final stage. It would also explain the widespread chronometric particles without a singularity present. "

Picard's eyelids fluttered while he absorbed the information.
"Is the time-event originating from the vessel?"

Data offered one of his perplexed yet skeptical looks, his eyes flashed back and forth, analyzing at the very limit of his positronic brain, searching for an available answer.
"Unknown."

"Captain…" Troi was now standing and looking beyond the view screen, her face winced in pain but it was not a physical pain, but of the mind. Across the solar system, she could feel it. It was not there a moment ago but now it was crying out in agony; an unknown person's soul was burning "I sense…" her fingers now holding the side of her temples. "…such pain." Picard looked up at Riker who had locked eyes with him. Both men knew what needed to be done, both men knew there was no other choice they could live with. With a slight nod of the head, Picard turned back to the main viewer.

"Red alert" ordered Riker as he made his way back down the ramp towards his chair. The bridge lights throbbed red as shields were brought to maximum power. Riker slid into his seat and pulled his side console towards him. He was looking at the course which needed to be plotted around the red giant. "Captain, recommend we set course 337 mark 8. That should keep us skimming along the corona at 1 million kilometers and allow us to cut in where the star has already collapsed."

"Set course 337 mark 8, warp 3" ordered Picard as he marched back towards his chair. Data looked over at ensign Rodriguez who was only two weeks out of the academy and gave him a slight nod. Data and Rodriguez's fingers flew over the controls as they coordinated their current flight path as well as subsequent maneuvering around the star. The main viewer switched from tactical overlay to real-time visual. The entire view was that of the red giant, foaming and frothing with nuclear energy only 100 million kilometers away. It moved along the screen as the Enterprise banked right and entered Warp. Normally under warp conditions, the stars elongated and the blackness of space became even faster as solar systems skimmed past in minutes; now though, the visual was different. The red giant now at peak size was 1.4 billion kilometers in circumference, even light took 77 minutes to circumvent this enormous solar object.

The Enterprise was rushing around the Star's circumference, headed towards the seemingly impossible 'edge' of the star. And as the Enterprise made quick time of the circumference, it was also moving closer and closer to the surface to optimize its flightpath. The top of the main-viewer was now a blinding red blur as the nuclear furnace streaked past. Energized solarwind and fluctuating magnetic fields pummeled the artificial dampening fields and control surfaces of the Galaxy Class ship as the last of the helium was being exhausted.

"Approaching chronometric field in 8 seconds, preparing to adjust heading towards alien vessel," stated Data. He had 'slaved' the 'con' to his 'ops' control station to ensure perfect execution of their next maneuver. The Enterprise was to make a sharp turn inwards towards the center of the star as soon as they reached the edge of what was now a great empty space where the star had once occupied. Much like the corner of a building, the Enterprise was following the contour.

"Proceed with course adjustment" instructed Picard as he monitored telemetry on his arm control.

Troi had been quiet for the last several minutes but her concentration had not abated, she could feel the mind and emotions of something on that ship; a mind on fire. She could not tell if it was human or alien; emotions came in waves like the wind on an open prairie. Fear, confusion, bewilderment
"Captain, whoever is on that vessel is in great pain," Picard turned to face his counselor who was invaluable, especially in circumstances such as these. No other Captain in the fleet would have known there was even a person to save. The power of the mind was a remarkable tool if used appropriately, and Deanna served all humanity with it. There were more occasions than Picard had cared to remember where sensors had failed him but the half-telepath penetrated the interference and delivered critical information. Picard gave Riker a nod and instructions were sent down to transporter room 3 and Sickbay in preparation for the transport.

"20 seconds" stated Worf flatly. The bridge continued to shake and buffet against cosmic turbulence, the shield generators repulsing the cosmic radiation and star particles that littered the system. Shields while invaluable were a double-edged sword in this case, as no transporter beam known could penetrate them. In order to rescue the sole survivor of the stricken craft, both warp and shields would have to be disengaged. Data was preparing for the simultaneous action, something he had already computed 100,000 times, taking into account all variables he could conceive. Rodriguez who sat to his right was monitoring the situation, but with the 'con' slaved to 'ops' he was more of a secondary set of eyes than an active participant.

"10 seconds….9….8…..7…..6….5….4…..3…preparing to cut warp drive and disengage the shields" reported Data. And as the last few numbers seemed to stretch into eternity there was a tremendous shudder as the warp drive cut and all the free-floating particles from the star hit the unprotected hull. Internal dampeners fought against inertia to keep the crew in their seats and gravity at normal levels. Bridge circuits burst, resistors overloaded and sparks flew into the air. In no other circumstance would it be advisable to fly into the path of a billion tons of core ejecta. And while the core remnants had not reached them yet, the uncountable gigatons of particles flowing like a torrential river made their presence known.

"Bridge to transporter room 3, transport," barked Riker. An acknowledgment came from a nameless ensign and as fast as it had begun, it was over. Shields were activated and a more thorough scan could commence on the stricken vessel. Worf made his customary bridge exit towards sickbay while Data was tasked with analyzing the debris. It was impossible to tell what sort of ship it was, with millions of pieces of fractured hull scattered for hundreds of kilometers in all directions. Data surmised it had been cylindrical and no more than 80 meters across, but that was all that was known. Propulsion, weapons, and sensors were all unidentified due to a combination of interference, near total destruction and their unknown qualities. Over the next critical minutes, scans and analysis continued, but time was running out. Core material was headed their way that no shield could resist, an exit was needed from this system.

"Is there anything we need to transport into a shuttle bay?" asked Picard, as he made his way over to Data.

"Due to our inability to analyze the materials and structures of his craft, I advise against it. We do not know if they are volatile, especially in this condition."

"I concur Captain, it's too risky," seconded Riker.

Picard took a moment to think everything over. The question of how an alien craft had penetrated the Federations monitoring stations needed to be answered, but bringing potential hazardous material aboard seemed unwarranted. Perhaps the survivor can address some of our questions…
"Bring us outside the system Mr. Data, monitor the star and report as needed. I think it's time you and I met our new guest,"

Will nodded and extended his arm towards the nearest turbo lift. Deanna Troi hurried over to join them on their descent. The ride down was silent as each experienced officer contemplated what had happened. An accelerated supernova, chronometric particles, strange graviton waves, and an unidentified ship appearing suddenly in the heart of a supernova, were all cause for concern individually. In this case, they all occurred in a single system within the span of ten minutes. There was no clear answer of course. Why would a ship maroon itself in a supernova it created? Did the ship create the supernova? Why would a ship decide to jump through time to the middle of a supernova? How can only half a star be susceptible to a time-event? All these questions and more were pouring through each of their experienced brains. In addition to these problems, the counselor was also mentally 'listening' to the patient who was now in sickbay. She was relieved that the pain the passenger had been feeling was subsiding and that there was now a state of surprise and shock rather than fear. It was conscious.

The trio rounded the last corner before reaching Sickbay when Riker slowed down to comment.
"If that ship was responsible for the time-event, we could be dealing with something very dangerous, perhaps even a danger to the ship," Picard nodded to himself in agreement. Will's skepticism was justified. They would need to determine what threat this passenger represented, and quickly. Troi was just about to chime in when Picard's communicator beeped,

"Picard here,"

"Captain," It was Dr. Crusher from sickbay, unaware they were just outside the entrance. "You had better come down here."

Chapter Text

The Stage is Set

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away lay the tattered remains of a once thriving galaxy. For 25,000 years the Republic had inspired and fostered voices from millions of worlds to gather and address their issues and concerns. A great democracy stretched for 75,000 light years encompassing millions of star systems and trillions of beings. Integral to this governance were the Jedi, guardians of peace and justice throughout the Old Republic; that is before the dark times, before the Empire. Events of this particular piece of history are now well known, but to the everyday denizen of the Imperial Galaxy, facts have been twisted and distorted to suit the specific narrative of the time. Now, the history and establishment of the Jedi was shrouded in twisted stories of history, their once golden status diminished.

Palpatine, now referred to as the Emperor played the central role in the downfall of democracy. Through his will, Darth Vader helped hunt down and wipe out the Jedi. The goal was not just their destruction, but to erase them from the collective memory of the Galaxy. Truth, justice, and freedom were stomped into oblivion, replaced by consolidated power and fear. Vader had been consumed by the darkside of the Force; his hatred of the Jedi, especially Kenobi, fueled his insatiable thirst for death and destruction. Whatever Kenobi cherished, must be destroyed; as it was he who Vader blamed for the death of his beautiful wife, Padme.

Vader's misplaced hope that she could be resurrected proved to be his undoing. The Emperor told him years ago that his own Master Plagueis was able to cheat death; with resurrection a distinct possibility. Darth Vader clung to this slim hope, he knew the Emperor was using him for power and conquest but what choice did he have? He would need to follow along and obey. However, it was not all for nothing, Obi-Wan Kenobi had fallen to his lightsabre blade three years ago on board the ill-fated Deathstar. So while that aspect of his revenge was complete, the loss of his wife was still an aching sickness he could not cure himself of. Victory on the Hoth planet brought little satisfaction as the Rebels had scattered without significant losses, now scouring away to distant corners of the galaxy to regroup and rebuild. Perhaps he would have felt better about Admiral Ozzel's bumbling of the operation had rebel leadership been captured. The mistaken Admiral had brought the fleet of star destroyers out of hyperspace too close to the Hoth system, thinking surprise was wiser than stealth. Vader had seen to it that the Admiral would never again lead an attack force. That was one week ago, and this is where the future of the story unfolds.

Imperial Galaxy

A fleet of star destroyers now under the command of Admiral Piett was combing a dense asteroid field for the Millennium Falcon a week after it had eluded the Imperial blockade around Hoth. A game of cat and mouse was unfolding in a churning and seemingly endless sea of building size rocks. Four-dozen star destroyers and escort ships were dispatched to help track and trap the famous rebel ship. A half dozen tie fighters had given chase but now all fell silent, either destroyed or lost. Anxiety was building among the crew as each passing day brought a steady stream of bad news. Vader's patience was stretched thin as he stood on the bridge of the super star destroyer Executor. In front of him were three holographic captains, each from a different star destroyer within the asteroid field. Interference from dense iron rocks was making for a difficult conference, all ships were suffering heavy bombardment. As he was being updated, one captain's face flashed in panic and then promptly disappeared. His bridge shield had failed under the onslaught and was obliterated in an instant. No one seemed to notice or care, such was the way of the Empire.

"And that Lord Vader was the last time they appeared in any of our scopes. Considering the amount of damage we have sustained, they must have been destroyed," reported Captain Needa. His hologram was flickering and only his faint outline was visible. Radar and electromagnetic scans were useless and so his deduction was based off nothing more than an erroneous assumption.

"No captain, they're alive. I want every ship available to sweep the asteroid field until they are found." Once an order was delivered there was no rebuttal, the two remaining captains bowed and switched off their holo-nets. Vader had moved only a few steps before he noticed Admiral Piett walking hurriedly towards him,

"Lord Vader,"

"Yes Admiral, what is it?"

"The emperor commands you make contact with him," said Piett flatly.

"Move the ship out of the asteroid field so we can send a clear transmission." It had been several weeks since he had last holo-netted with the Emperor and he was not too anxious to report the attack against the rebels was a complete failure. If Ozzel had used stealth instead of surprise, a siege of the planet might have been possible, thought Vader. As he strode towards the holo-net chamber, rocks the size of buildings crumbled to dust against the powerful shields of the super star destroyer as it plowed its way out of the asteroid field. The Executor was nearly impervious to asteroids, as its shields were hundreds of times that of the smaller ships. That however did not make serving on her any less stressful. Crewmembers had learned to avoid the unpleasant and frightful lift rides with the Sith Lord. There had been rumors that people had been killed for simply looking at him. Space legends to be sure, for the truth of the matter was that few crew members had been killed directly by Darth Vader. Only a handful a month were executed on the spot, and always for gross negligence.

Vader entered the communication chamber and made his way down the steps to the holo-pad and knelt to await his master. An ebbing sound of energy filled the room and the face of the Emperor shimmered into view.

"What is thy bidding... my master?"

The Emperor's face had aged terribly, years of darkside use had left deep chasms in his wrinkled yellow skin, he had traded life for power.

"There has been a great disturbance in the force,"

"I have felt it,"

"The young rebel who destroyed the first Deathstar is no doubt the offspring of Anakin Skywalker."

"How is that possible?" Vader's skepticism was detectable even though the filtration mask and artificial lungs.

"Search your feelings Lord Vader, you know it to be true."

There was a pause in the conversation as Vader was allotted time to sift around in his mind, and whatever was left of his tortured soul. Finally, he answered his master,

"He is just a boy and Obi-wan can no longer help him," He is Obi-wan's final failure.

"He could destroy us, the son of Skywalker cannot become a Jedi."

Vader at this moment was unsure if he could destroy his own son, the loss of Padme was enough for one lifetime.

"If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally."

The Emperor liked this idea, it had in fact, not occurred to him up to this moment. All Jedi's were a threat to his rule, but if one could be turned...

"Yes...yes….can it be done?"

"He will join us or die, master."

"Good...good...and now there is something else I wish to discuss with you my old friend. I had told you long ago that there were secrets to the force I had not known regarding death, and more importantly resurrection." At this moment Vader ceased to breath as if all the air were sucked out of his mechanical lungs. "I have resurrected an old apprentice, and with each passing day I draw nearer my ultimate goal, to-"

"Padme," said Vader longingly. This was unexpected. The Emperor paused as he had not anticipated his apprentice's feelings for her to be so strong after so long.

"It will take time, but it can be done. However... there is a distraction, our astrometric center has reported a wormhole in the Caleise system, leading to an uncharted region of space beyond our galaxy. Discontinue your search for the Rebels, return to me immediately."

"Yes, my master."

The Emperor's face vanished and the room fell dark once again, only the rhythmic breathing filled the empty void. Vader remained on one knee, his mechanical legs unyielding to fatigue, ache or pain. Minutes past but he did not move. A state of shock and complete surprise had swept over his body. He was back on Mustafar, back on Naboo. Padme. It was a trap but what could he do? It was more control he knew, but she was all he had left, a memory yes, but perhaps more in due time. As his mind calmed he could feel the dark energies of the force seething and bubbling with delight around the resurrected apprentice. It could be no other, it was Darth Maul. No illusion, no trick, he had been resurrected to carry out the will of the Emperor, to kill, destroy and conquer.

Imperial Galaxy - Coruscant

High above the sprawling city lights of Coruscant sat the Emperor, master of the galaxy and it's unknown future. Unknown only because of what was being orchestrated; for the Emperor had a visitor, the third time in which it had made its presence known. And now, in that private chamber, the fate of the galaxy was being discussed,

"I told you it would work...your excellency. I am after all... the real master" spoke the brown haired man with contempt. This man, this thing, had stretched himself out in a chair usually reserved for a top aide or servant. The Emperor had grown used to his antics over the course of several months and now took them as meaningless showmanship.

"Q" the letters dripped from the Emperor's thin lips, "The rebels are still a threat to us, one resurrected Sith will not be enough." Q sat up with an exasperated look on his face. He was dressed in traditional Jedi garbs which annoyed the Emperor to no end. Everything he did and said was a mockery of all the accomplishments the Emperor had achieved, yet he was untouchable and unfathomably powerful. The darkside of the Force recognized this man as pure energy, not alive, not inanimate. Just power incarnate.

"Do you want me to give you all the answers Palpy?." If he had been anything else, any man or droid he would have died then and there. "I'm offering you an entire galaxy, all you need to do is cease it." Q grasped for the air, pretending to catch something in his hand. "As I have mentioned before, they are weak, pathetic; much like yourselves but to a greater extent. No galaxy-wide government, it will be so easy!" Q was now walking around the large chamber, flipping his Jedi lightsabre in the air and trying to balance it on the top of his hand.

"How can I trust you?" Asked the Emperor. Q stopped and looked at him with a puzzled look on his face,

"Isn't Darth Maul enough?"

"No."

Q looked at him mischievously,

"Your excellency...if I wanted I could splash you to the four winds, your atoms blasted throughout all creation. I do not need to trick you, I simply need to tell you what is, and what isn't." The Emperor said nothing, there was nothing to say. It was the truth, there was no apparent reason to trick him. "If you can't handle a few Rebel scum and conquer an unimportant galaxy I am literally placing in your hands…" he did not need to finish his sentence.

"Yes…" The Emperors' eyes flashed with energy, he could feel it within his grasp. There were many details to work out, but they would come, "...my finest admirals…"

"Yes yes, I was listening, you wouldn't have known of course...but.. Thrawn, clever for a mortal actually. He prefers to stay and take care of the Rebels before moving into the new galaxy... insightful for a bug." Q took a moment to needlessly reflect, more out of habit than necessity, "If you do not go, I will have to nudge those in the Milk Way to come here instead. The test for humanity will commence, one way or another." Q raised his hand to snap himself away but the Emperor had one last question and held up his finger in anticipation,

"Are you helping the humans in the other galaxy?"

"They wouldn't know what to do with advice if I gave it to them, they are self-righteous, arrogant and closed minded. This is now the second test I am giving them, the first they failed; begging me to return them to their small corner of the galaxy. This time it will be different," he said with a smile. "There will be no stopping this test. You see my liege, with you and the Sith there is no denying your true motives and desires. You do not pretend to be something you are not. This galaxy is of course guilty as charged but that does not mean you cannot be a tool so I may judge others. You do not need to thank me for this opportunity or my little present. Darth Maul will indirectly keep Anakin inline, which is your biggest fear. I can read your mind, there are no secrets that I do not know." and with a snap he was gone. The Emperor now sat alone for the first time in over an hour. Q was right. Vader was now on a tighter leash than he had been before, he could never be allowed to discover the truth. And no one knew it but the Emperor and Q. Maul in contrast was the perfect apprentice, without ambition to rule or overthrow his master. His memory had been erased, changed and adapted to the idea that the Emperor had teleported him from the past just before he was sliced by Obi-wan on Naboo. This story would circulate among the galaxy, and the power of the Emperor would be even greater. And while his fictitious power grew, his actual power waned. The darkside of the Force usually allowed for great insight into the future, all possible futures. Now though, it was blocked. Something was preventing the Force from seeing any possible future. Instead turbulence and erratic images filled the Emperor's mind, a clear picture was no longer available. Each day it grew worse, and when he had asked the Q if he were the cause, the question was ignored. He would need to rely more on his intuition and advisors than clairvoyance. He flicked the communication button with his finger,

"Inform high command, strategic meeting to commence when Lord Vader arrives. Be sure to send for Grand Admiral Thrawn."

Milky Way - Earth - Starfleet Command

"….you can see now that these phenomena are not localized, but are occurring in random locations across the quadrant, possibly further. Spacetime phenomena, unexplained occurrences and two unwelcome visitors, one on Phobos the other in a damaged ship our sensor network didn't detect. Lieutenant Barkley's report is available now on our secure system, we are awaiting the Enterprise's report shortly. We do not know if any of these are linked, or the cause. We will issue another briefing at 0800, dismissed." The lights flicked on and the illustrative holograms disappeared. Admiral Paris had finished his presentation to the assembled Captains, Admirals, and other Starfleet senior officers. New and strange readings were flooding in from all sectors. Planets shifting orbit, stars shrinking and disappearing, unexplained gravitational waves and radiation. Less than an hour ago a man had been rescued from the frozen surface of Phobos, the largest of two moons orbiting Mars. This person had been found on the surface, apparently appearing out of thin air.

Admiral Paris exited the room muttering to himself as he reviewed more files on his datapad, the keen eyes of Commander Sloan following his every step. Sloan whose face looked more like a skeleton with skin was the last to leave the assembly area. His cheekbones were so prominent he had considered corrective surgery in the academy. He was thin, fit and focused as a laser, but right now he was preoccupied with his data tablet. The report from Phobos was bizarre and needed greater scrutiny. As the Admiral had eluded too, a man wearing aged combat gear had appeared suddenly out of nowhere, screaming and ripping at his helmet. The vacuum of space had nearly killed him before he was detected by a passing shuttlecraft and dragged into a substation for rescue. The officer who made the report had estimated the man had been exposed to the vacuum of space for at least nineteen minutes but was alive. Impossible. The report described further the strange phrases and noises the man was shouting and hissing once he was inside the airlock. The report read,

Lt. Reginald Barkley

Stardate 2134.8

Time 19:33

Shuttlecraft Exodus on route from Jupiter station detected chronometric particles emanating from the surface of Phobos. Course changed to investigate. Discovered humanoid half buried in the frozen surface. Unable to transport due to unknown interference with transporter lock. Exited shuttlecraft to recover body. Humanoid was covered with armor and helmet, heavily damaged with signs of blood and unknown fluids on the exterior. Face protection on mask shattered, total known time of vacuum exposure, 19 minutes. Ensign Forshaw and I carried the person into airlock C77 on substation 883 and were able to remove the helmet. Male was now alert but agitated, shouting and spitting. Universal translator functional, words were English but carried unknown meaning. Ensign Forshaw was attacked, but the man collapsed immediately after, clutching at his head and losing consciousness. We do not know why. Attacker seemed disoriented, if not, we both would have been killed. We also discovered paper in the armored glove, an incomplete document or perhaps page. I have attached the image to this report.

[[He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man's truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites.]]

Ensign Forshaw and the unknown male have been transferred to Spacedock 01 for medical treatment. Chronometric particles were localized around the entire planet, no known source. All sensor data has been sent to astroengineering for further analysis.

End report.

-Lt. Reginald Barkley

Jupiter Station

Sloan switched off his tablet and returned to his office fourteen floors underground. This is where Starfleet branch commanders did their finest work. Astro-Engineering, Starfleet Intelligence, Communication, Science, and so on. The Admirals were generally found on the higher floors, with the highest given to members of the Federation Council. Out among the stars, Captains and Admirals were the highest on the totem pole, whereas at headquarters they were mid-rung. Starfleet was the military and science branch of the United Federation of Planets. It was under the command of the Federation Council, which oversaw all the other lesser military and science bureaus of all Federation members. Atop the pyramid was the president, he or she was elected by the council to oversee all the United Federation of Planet operations much like the hierarchy of 20th and 21st-century companies. Sloan as Commander of Starfleet Communications was equal to an Admiral, the formal title not assigned to anyone not commanding a sector of starships. And so with his 'lowly' status, he was content working beneath the busy and bustling headquarters of Starfleet Command. His job and personality were a ruse however, a front. For Sloan only appeared and acted as a Commander of Communications, the truth was far more sinister, far more in-depth and devious.

He was part of Section 31, born out of the Starfleet charter of 2133, article 14 section 31. The article allowed for a clandestine organization to operate outside of the framework of the governance that was Starfleet. To do what had to be done, to keep Earth safe from threats from without and within. At the inception, the federation had not existed, but as time passed and the United Federation of Planets was created, Section 31 bypassed the lower echelons of the greater organization and have become known only to the Council and a select few Admirals. Sloan, who reported to only the council in his Section 31 capacity was unsure himself of exactly how many others were in Section 31, but he knew enough not to ask. He had subordinates who were loyal, often single men without the desire for family, friends, or confidants. Their motto was 'for the greater good,' where the result justified the means. Many had died to protect their secrets, often unknowingly. Sloan thrived in this environment, and what greater position could he obtain to siphon data from Starfleet than Command of Communications.

Now, Sloan sat in his chair and pressed a few buttons on his desk,

"Doctor Pulaski, this is Commander Sloan of Starfleet Command, please respond." His monitor flickered to life with Dr. Katherine Pulaski looking back at him. She was dressed in a containment suit with the helmet pulled off and frustration on her face. Behind her was a gaggle of nurses and medical assistants overlooking monitors and readouts. It was evident they had just finished with 'the' patient.

"I'm a little busy right now Commander Sloan, I have just finished a level 2 spinal reattachment," she said, wiping a few beads of sweat away. The environment suits, especially the surgical ones were hot, especially under the bright lights of a surgical table.

"Do we not have robots that can do that sort of work doctor?" he asked dismissively,

"Robots need to know what they are dealing with, and this is a strange case, now can you get to the point? I do not mean to be rude but is this urgent?" Sloan raised his hand to fend off her verbal jab.

"Yes of course doctor, I have read the report from Lieutenant Barkley, how is your patient doing?"

"Fine" responded Pulaski as she snapped off her gloves, paying little attention to the monitor.

"There are rumors, and I'm getting nonstop questions from the higher-ups to put out a bulletin. What should I write?" he asked with an exaggerated shoulder shrug.

"I will have my medical report done in about 7 hours, I have a few things to do." Pulaski was reaching to cut the feed when Sloan jumped in,

"Oh, well perhaps just a headline then? Something I can tell the Admirals." Pulaski rolled her eyes and placed the gloves down on the table. She closed her eyes and scratched her forehead, even she was trying to figure out what had happened, or rather how it happened.

"Well he's a human male, we think... 190 centimeters tall, 100 kilograms in weight. Was covered in armor…."

"I'm sorry, you think?" Was he a member of the Dominion? Thought Sloan. One of the drawbacks or perhaps benefits of being a Section 31 operator was that you were always paranoid.

"His DNA has some strange mutations, seems he was subjected to some sort of… well I don't know what he was the victim of. He was human…" Pulaskis' voice trailed off and she glanced over her shoulder at her patient now laying on a gurney just out of view. "He is still human. He overpowered Ensign Forshaw while having a severed spine and his left leg was broken in four places. He has healed wounds all over his body. I don't know where he came from... we have sent for a psychiatrist." She turned now to face the commander. "This man should be dead, a hundred times over, based on his healed wounds."

Sloan was looking down at Barkley's report, trying to think of more to ask.

"In the report it says he was subjected to space for an extended period of time, is that accurate?"

"Humans cannot survive for nineteen minutes in space, the armor was damaged, but maybe it was able to protect him. I don't know." Pulaski again looked over her shoulder and in the background nurses and armed security could be seen hurriedly moving to something off screen.

"Is he awake?" asked Sloan, anticipating she would be disconnecting any moment. Before she could answer a sharp cry of pain and anger came through the speaker.

Dr. Pulaski jumped in surprise, then shouted to someone off screen,

"Make sure he is restrained!" That is when Sloan heard him for the first time, not a man, but an animal,

"I will be there, to fight YOU! In the space between SPACES!" Pulaski shot out of her chair and the screen went dead. Sloan let his head fall against the back of his chair and closed his eyes. What the hell is going on? Was it human? Was it responsible for these anomalies? Is it the Dominion? He would need to get a '31' agent onto Spacedock 01 which orbited Earth and another into Astro-Engineering on Titan to look at those sensor readings from the shuttlecraft. He typed out a few commands into his datapad, and the appropriate personnel were assigned. Another perk of being in this position was that he could assign and reassign officers up to the rank of lieutenant-commander at his discretion. It fell into the category of branch communication; officers could be switched from one assignment to another under the guise of communication optimization between departments, ships or bases; it worked well for Sloan's purposes. He could swap out agents and replace them with Section 31 operatives at a whim. Captains or Base Commanders experienced personnel changes regularly, and unless he requested a highly ranked officer to move, no one treated it as abnormal. His datapad beeped and the highly anticipated report from the Enterprise was now available. He took a deep breath and began to read. His eyes focused on any word that may seem relevant, any clue that may be useful. As he read the report, he slowed as Picard detailed the encounter with their visitor, that is when Sloan's mouth began to slowly open, his eyes narrowed on the last sentence.

...it is with much regret we were unable to recover the fragments of alien technology that lay scattered within the stars' radius. We will continue our search until informed otherwise.

End report.

-Captain Jean-Luc Picard

U.S.S. Enterprise

He flicked a switch, we must find it

"Sloan to Mcgreggor" he barked into his secure communications line. It had been specially installed just for him. It is hard to disseminate classified information throughout the fleet and regulate inter-branch communication if everyone can listen in, another perk to the job which suited him perfectly.

"Mcgreggor here," answered his Section 31 direct report who was buried deep within the layers of the bureaucratic pyramid known as Starfleet. Dylan Mcgreggor was currently assigned to Admiral Ross as a relay analyst, making sure orders given throughout a sector were received by their relevant Captains. He could however monitor orders from other sectors and Admirals as well, a sort of 'backup' for other analysts. Sloan had placed him there with the rank of Lieutenant three years ago, his real identity completely unknown to all but a select few.

"Has the Douglas rendezvoused with the Enterprise yet?" asked Sloan as he pulled up the rotation schedule for the other ships in the surrounding area.

"It is entering the system now."

"Acknowledged, Sloan out." Pressing a few more buttons and looking into his communications monitor a familiar face appeared.

"What can I do for your Luther?" Asked Admiral Ross who was looking over some reports in his office.

"Admiral, I have been studying the reports from Lieutenant Barkley and Captain Picard. I have also been in communication with the physician working on the unknown visitor from Phobos. I am concerned about widespread panic throughout the Federation. Betazed reported their outermost planet has changed orbit by twenty-eight degrees due to gravitational tidal forces."

"Yes I am aware of that, Ambassador Troi contacted me this morning. As for your concern, I share it. What do you need?"

"The Douglas has arrived in the Elop system to assist the Enterprise in a full system sweep. However, Starfleet Intelligence has made it a priority that they speak to both visitors as soon as possible."

"They just left my office. The Enterprise is headed for Spacedock 01, they should arrive in six days."

"I am also placing a fleet-wide level 3 communication ban on all information regarding our visitors or any potential breakthroughs with data analysis or fragmentation recovery from the chronometric particles or debris field."

The baffled face of Admiral Paris looked up at the screen for the first time,

"Why in gods name would you do that? We need to share information with our partners."

"It is my responsibility to make sure all our fleet and branch-wide communications are secure and appropriate under any circumstance. There is a possibility, that Dominion agents are listening."

Dominion?! Paris had not considered this angle. Why would they be listening? Did they create the anomalies?

"You think the Dominion is involved in all this?"

"I do not know, but I feel the precaution is necessary. If they are, we don't want them to know we are aware. If a captain sends information across the quadrant, I don't want everyone listening."

"Make sure you let the rest of the fleet Admirals know about the communication ban, Paris out." The Dominion will not get away with this thought Sloan. They will believe, if it is them, that the Federation is oblivious to their new weapon or transporter technology. Chronometric particles are generally reserved for time travel he had to admit, but our understanding of them was just in its infancy.

"Sloan to Mcgreggor."

"Go."

"As soon as the Enterprise leaves the Elop system, have the Douglas comb the entire star field. That ship slipped through our detection grid, if that is what the Dominion are using we need to know. And if they do find something, make sure it ends up at Bakerfield."

"Acknowledged."

Sloan placed the datapad down on his desk and closed his eyes to think. This communication ban would mask any movement of technology recovered. They could transport it ship to ship and no one could report on its whereabouts. After the ban is lifted it will show it ended up with Starfleet Intelligence. In reality it would be carted off to Section 31s' secret Bakerfield facility on the edge of Federation space. It was a tough position he was managing. His day to day duties had to appear to fall within the scope of his communication position, but his true work would have to remain a mystery to all, as it always had and always would. His thoughts were interrupted by an incoming call,

"Commander Sloan here,"

"It's Mcgreggor"

"Go"

"U.S.S. Burke has reported a chronometric disturbance near the Romulan Neutral Zone. A ship has emerged"

"Another Dominion ship?"

Silence filled the room for several seconds, the distracted Mcgreggor could be heard shuffling around datapads,

"Uhh, no. It's….uhh", his voice trailed off.

"What?" Asked Sloan now starting to pay more attention,

"The Enterprise"

"The Enterprise is near the neutral zone? How the hell is that possible? They were just in the Elop system." Sloan spun his chair around to look at the twenty-foot star chart on his office wall. He knew the Elop system was 400 light years from the neutral zone, and a trip to the Romulan Neutral Zone should take months,

The nearly speechless Mcgreggor managed to sputter out a few more words,

"My God….." Sloan stopped analyzing the star chart and looked slowly back towards his comm. system, totally baffled as to what was happening. Finally, the rest of the sentence came through, "...not... that Enterprise."

Chapter Text

Guest

You must bring the human soldier back! You cannot fail!

Then blackness. Silence. Absolute stillness. What little could be remembered was fragmented, noise without substance. Am I awake?

Eyelids as heavy as drawbridges were being lifted, slowly, painfully. Am I opening my own eyes? Yes...what am I? A human? Yes. Why am I human? Oh yes, that was it….. Wait, what did I just say? What was I saying? Bright blinding light was now entering the eyes of the guest.

"Hello...you are alright. It's OK," said a soft voice. The light slowly faded in intensity and the guest's eyes narrowed and squinted under the strain. A friendly woman with bright red hair and a blue uniform was standing over her. Her smile seemingly genuine. "I am Doctor Crusher, and you are onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. You are OK; it's safe."

"I…" My voice! My human voice! What a beautiful voice I have. "Thank you for rescuing me. I was on a ship I think." Doctor Crusher smiled and put her hand under the newly awakened patient to help her sit. The room was spinning, and she almost fell back but for the hand of the doctor. Her last memory was vanishing now, a ship exploding into fire, perhaps a star somewhere... but she could not be sure.

"What is your name?" asked the doctor as she moved to the other side of the medical table to check on more readings.

The woman sitting on the medical table looked around slowly, then down towards her arms and hands, studying them. A small smile crept across her face,

"Cienna."

"Welcome aboard. I am glad you are alright," came a new rich voice. Cienna turned her head and standing a few feet away were three more humans. Each was wearing a uniform, two men, one woman. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, this is my first officer William Riker and ship counselor, Deanna Troi," motioning to his left and right. Riker was trying not to stare, trying not to do anything but to stand completely still. For in front of him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen or dared dream. She was in perfect shape, wearing a white sleeveless dress down to her ankles. On each wrist was a thin golden bracelet with a black ribbon extending behind her arms and up towards the back of her head. The ribbon interwove perfectly with her done up hair which was held together with braids. As Riker was taking this all in, he also noticed Cienna's dress had 'wings' that attached the wrists to the back of the dress, the delicate white fabric would certainly blow in the wind, she looks like a Greek goddess he thought. Troi could sense all these feelings and more coming from her friend, she smirked in amusement as her own mind was deep in concentration; busy 'listening' to the emotions from the new visitor.

Cienna returned the smile she was receiving from the three officers, especially one William Riker's.

"Nice to meet you, I should thank you for saving me." Cienna opened her mouth to continue but stopped. Yes, I was on a ship, a destroyed ship...I think. "Everything is moving in my head, I am having a hard time focusing, I am...sorry," she said apologetically. Riker and to a lesser extent Picard were blushing, her silky smooth voice creating a mesmerizing effect.

"Take your time, the Doctor has told us you may have a concussion. When you are feeling better, we do have some questions for you if you do not mind" said Jean-Luc warmly.

Cienna could sense, although without any form of telepathy that these people were kind, that they meant well.

"Yes of course, I can try to answer any questions you have."

"Wonderful, now if you would excuse us a few minutes."

The four senior officers huddle together on the far side of sickbay as Cienna sat quietly, looking around at the soft features and calming atmosphere of the room. She closed her eyes and listened to the rhythmic beating of the monitors, yes...this will do.

"Not human?" asked Riker in disbelief as he looked back over his shoulder towards their guest.

Doctor Crusher passed Will the datapad to explain her reasoning.

"Will, she has no DNA. I have no idea how her body even functions or repairs itself. She looks human, her bio-readouts are human, but when you look deeper it is like she is an empty slate. She wasn't injured when you beamed her aboard, some unusual neural activity but besides that…"

Picard's ears perked,

"What sort of neural activity?"

"Well, she seems to have memory loss, but there is no damage to the soft tissue, I cannot explain it."

"Counselor?"

Troi being only half-Betazoid was limited in her power, she was not a true telepath. Instead, she was an empath, able to feel the emotions and desires of others, but not direct thoughts.

"I sense no hostility, no deception."

"She isn't what I was expecting." Riker's voice trailed off as he scratched his beard and considered all possibilities, some inappropriate for print.

Picard let slip a small smile before returning to his train of thought,

"We need to find out what we can. Will, have all senior officers assemble in the conference room."

Conference Room

Seated around the conference table was Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Doctor Crusher, Deanna Troi, Lieutenant Commander Data, and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge. They had been in discussion for over an hour when the door hissed open. As Cienna entered the three men seated at the table put on their best poker faces, conscious of what they were saying and where they were looking. Serious issues needed to be addressed and this was no time for games. Even still, she seemed to float through the doorway flanked by Worf and two security men who stood against the far wall. After introductions had been completed, the business of the time distortions and what role if any this new passenger played were top of list.

Picard opened,

"Cienna, can you tell us where you are from?"

Instead of answering, the mysterious guest found herself looking out the window at the half-star she had narrowly escaped. Untold energies were radiating out, a tapestry of light and energized molecules were pouring into the local system. Heavy elements would spread throughout the galaxy for the next hundred million years to bring new life and opportunity for races not yet born. Cienna found herself daydreaming, the radiant colors shining into her soft eyes, what almost killed me will bring life to some that I will never know... She had been there, moments from death and she was keenly aware of how lucky she was.

"I was created by my masters, tasked with a duty then destroyed and reborn then re-tasked again. I was asked to do terrible things."

"Destroyed?" asked Data, seemingly confused at the context of such an expression by a biological being.

Picard looked at Deanna who shook her head inconspicuously. Cienna was telling the truth.

"Can you elaborate? You were created?"

"I..." her eyes were now much more alert, realizing that she may not be able to answer all of their questions. The truth was in her mind, but she could not find it, it was pushed aside, buried and blocked. "...I just know what they did to me, I am not sure where I came from."

Riker cut in,

"Whose ship were you on?"

"My masters,"

"And who is that? Who is your master?"

The stark realization that even primary memories were shrouded or missing was starting to weigh on Cienna.

"I am trying to remember." Her eyes were shut now with her hands clasped together in front of her. Troi could feel the frustration, anger, and fear. "They were not like you. They were different, maybe they were machines?" Were they machines? How can I not know this? I can't remember!

"Cienna" began Troi, "I know it's hard, but it is important you try and remember. It may take time, but I believe the answers are available to you."

"They were monsters, inside machines" Yes, yes they were monsters. Or were they just machines? "...at least I think."

Data had been studying the report from the Federation sensor grid, it had successfully tracked all other ships, and so he began his line of questioning.

"Cienna. Do you know where they were from? From which part of the quadrant? Or galaxy?" The last part caused the assembled officers to look over with confusion as it would take the Enterprise seventy years to cross the Milky Way. Galaxy crossing was impossible in a reasonable amount of time by Starfleet and was often overlooked in discussion. Data noticed the group's surprise and repositioned himself to explain. "Captain, neither sensor grid in this sector detected any vessels beyond those which were authorized to be here. In addition, the composition of the debris is of unknown design and material. This leads me to believe the ship's origin is not local, and perhaps beyond our explored territory."

Picard nodded in agreement,

"Cienna, did your ship have cloaking technology? Do you have any idea how far you have traveled?" Cienna said nothing, only shaking her said slowly in the negative. She was not sure, and as each question was asked, it became more painful for her to face the fact she may never remember. Years of diplomacy enabled Picard to read her body language and facial expression, he sat back and put his hands in his lap. He took a moment and smiled warmly, "I suppose we have jumped the gun on these questions, forgive us. What do you remember?"

No….no! Memory fragments now swept through Cienna's mind, she could remember vague images, horrifying thoughts were now surfacing. "I was liquefied and reborn...and reborn again and again..." No one said anything for several seconds; Troi's face grimaced as she could feel the emotions swirling around in Cienna's head. "The last thing I remember, I was in my bio-tube, and then the far wall exploded. The surrounding ship disintegrated..." her voice trailed off.

"Are you aware of any temporal technology that-" Data was interrupted by the Counselor,

"Captain, I recommend we take a recess and perhaps start again in the morning," advised Troi.

"Agreed. Mr. Worf, see to it that Cienna finds her way to her quarters." As Cienna rose from her seat and headed towards the door, she could hear the officers continue discussing the situation,

"...we need to find these masters and find out-" Riker was cut off by Cienna who spun around on her heels with a desperate look etched into her face,

"No, please no. They are awful. They bring pain and suffering and death," Troi stood up and walked over to Cienna and placed her hand on her shoulder.

"It will be OK. We will keep you safe, but we do need to discover what happened." Troi smiled and led her out of the room. As they walked Cienna could hear their awful shrieking voices deep in her memory.

You cannot fail! You will not fail!

Chapter Text

Welcome To The Party

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise

Captain Kirk set his empty glass down on the table and motioned for a refill.

"How the hell did this happen Bones?" Doctor McCoy pulled the empty glass closer and poured in some scotch. The pair had been sitting in Kirk's quarters for over an hour; the yeoman had prepared them an excellent dinner, and they were now resting comfortably in chairs with full bellies.

"I don't know Jim, I'm only a doctor," responded McCoy as he took another sip. It had been over sixty days since the Enterprise had been pulled into the future. Now, escorted by the U.S.S. Burke, the Enterprise was heading towards Earth at warp six. The journey from the Romulan neutral zone to Earth would take ninety days, giving plenty of time for reflection and inspection of what had happened.

"Bones. What could it have been? Lazarus? Trapped for all time. Maybe it hadn't worked..." Kirk's conflicting thoughts caused him to trail off as he ran his index finger along the rim of his glass. The two had been going over scenarios all month, and as each shot of whiskey burned their throats, the ideas became more farfetched and outrageous.

"Jim. Lazarus sealed the rift between two universes years ago, why now?"

The Captain continued to shake his head slowly, he could not fathom how this has occurred, to him there was no reason for it.

"I don't know Bones. It doesn't make a damn bit of sense. Janice Lester and Doctor Coleman had just beamed down to penal colony alpha-seven when the ship was struck. Then we all woke up...here...in this...time. We even moved a few hundred parsecs."

Bones was resting his head against the bulkhead, his eyes looking towards the ceiling.

"Well, we sure ain't imagining it. Spock and his computer brain hasn't come up with a reason either."

"Maybe the Guardian of Forever?" It was a more rhetorical question at this point as there was no answer to give. It had been three years since the Enterprise had been in contact with the strange gate. It was hard to believe even for them that it could wield this much power.

"Jim," McCoy paused as he searched for the words, the scotch slowing him down just a bit. "No matter the time period, the universe..no matter where we are. We have an obligation-"

"To whom? Ourselves? Starfleet?"

"To humanity,"

Kirk said nothing as he absorbed his friend's words. His thoughts were of his crew and their families. Mothers, fathers, children, friends. All dead, if any were alive now they would be over one hundred years old

"I need to get these people back Bones; I need to return us to the past."

"And what if you can't? What if we can't go back Jim? Then what? Will we all just sit around and sulk?" said McCoy distastefully.

"That's enough doctor!" shouted Kirk as he stood up and walked towards the door before pausing to face his friend, "My duty is to this ship, this crew, this…"

"I know Jim... just don't be so damn miserable about it." McCoy put his feet up on another chair and poured himself a glass. Kirk grinned and took off down the corridor towards the bridge. Ever since the Enterprise had arrived in this timeline, Starfleet had been busy analyzing their sensor data and readings. Hundreds of requests for information were being sent daily, crew questionnaires, engineering details, even questions about dreams or hallucinations. Under regular circumstances information regarding different timelines would not be shared in the assumption it would pollute the time stream. However, these were not ordinary times or normal circumstances. The Enterprise, a ship not designed for time travel had been mysteriously moved a hundred years into the future, a Betazoid planet thrown off its orbit, half-novas, and strange visitors. Starfleet Intelligence was desperate to piece together these events to determine their cause and any possible link.

Many possible factors were being explored, the Dominion, Romulans, Borg, even the Q were brought up in the discussion. Unbeknownst to Starfleet Intelligence was Section 31s' own research and theories. While often in line with Starfleet they often differed slightly on secret data or technology not available to the broader organization. This left Kirk and other captains in the dark on possible developments. With the level-three communication ban set by Commander Sloan, no information regarding temporal anomalies or recovered ships was to be shared. All relevant data was being stored, analyzed, and filtered at headquarters.

It had been determined by Starfleet that whomever the perpetrator of these events was, they should be left in the dark on what the Federation could or could not decipher. And so with this 'blackout,' the Enterprise crew had been busy bringing themselves up-to-date on the last century of new history and the current political and military situation throughout the Alpha Quadrant. This ship needs an upgrade mused Kirk as the turbolift door opened and the familiar beeping of the bridge filled his ears.

"Report Mr. Spock"

"Ship is operating at peak efficiency captain."

"Good," replied Kirk as he rested against the science console, "did you get to the bottom of those technical manuals?"

"Engineer Scott and I have completed the final review of technical data and journals provided by Starfleet for this era,"

"And?" said Kirk emphatically as he knew there was much more,

"As you know Captain, there has been a tremendous increase in computer processing power over the last century."

"Can we upgrade our systems?"

"Negative. Modern ships use a main computer core for all ship functions, whereas ours ship uses many. We can however upgrade certain aspect of our dilithium chamber, but not until we reach Spacedock. I would like to remind you from our last briefing that warp core power-output has plateaued. There has been extensive testing of subspace weapons but all have been failures, further research has been banned by various treaties within the Alpha Quadrant. Our defensive and offensive systems are still relevant, the frequency-modulation of modern ships brings other uses but not enhanced destructive power."

"Can we get this ship to warp 9.97?"

"Starfleet has made significant progress with warp bubble theory and engine efficiency; we will require a major retrofit, as stated in my original briefing forty-six days ago, on Bones'-"

Kirk raised his hand with a smile,

"Acknowledged, good work Spock" Kirk patted his first officer on the shoulder. Scotty is going to have a fit

"Captain, I am getting a signal from Starfleet command" reported Uhura from communications,

"On viewer Lieutenant" The screen flickered and filled with a familiar face. The Enterprise had been assigned to Admiral Ross, commander of all ships near the Romulan Neutral Zone as well as Deep Space 9.

"Captain Kirk," smiled Ross. From what could be seen through the viewer, The Admiral was seated in a large room with various tactical and strategic screens with nameless ensigns and lieutenants scurrying about.

"What can I do for you Admiral?"

"Captain, I am contacting all ships under my command to ask you to review the information we just sent out."

"Uhura?"

"Receiving now Captain."

"We will study it Admiral, but maybe you could save me the read?" asked Kirk with a smile.

Ross chuckled, he liked Kirk. He knew the legend well and over the last 60 days had grown to like him even more.

"To summarize, we are detecting unknown ships appearing all over Federation space. The Klingons are telling us the same."

"What are they? Where are they from?"

"That is why I'm making a personal call, we want to capture one. Every time we get within a million kilometers they self-destruct. The Yorktown is trying to piece one back together now, but the destruction is pretty thorough. We are trying to coordinate with the Klingons to see what tactics they have been using..." Ross was about to continue when his eyes caught something off camera, the muffled voice of a junior officer could be heard. "If you manage to catch one, contact Commander Sloan at Starfleet headquarters. He is in command of fleet-wide communication and will take over from there."

"We will do our best, see you in about thirty days," said Kirk. Ross nodded and the signal cut.

Kirk's stomach was churning slowly, Why the Klingons...I hate the Klingons. In his timeline the Klingons were much different from the ones of this era. Over the past one hundred years there had been significant changes in their culture, governance, and beliefs. For the longest of times they had been a race of conquerors, with a totalitarian style of governance; resembling the nation-state of the Soviet Union of the mid to late 20th century. That governance style, social hierarchy, and culture were now completely gone; replaced by a complicated form of honor and family status. Based on the information available to Kirk, he was unsure if he liked them more or less but he wasn't in a hurry to find out. And their foreheads...why the ridges all of a sudden...what have they done to themselves...Those thoughts flashed away as he focused on the task at hand,

"Spock set sensors to maximum, we have a job to do."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Spacedock01

Doctor Pelco tapped her fingernails along the top of her datapad, she was seated and looking keenly through the brig forcefield at her patient. Pelco was a Betazoid psychiatrist, often regarded as the best 'head doctor' in all the Federation. With her telepathic ability, she was able to read the thoughts of patients, allowing for a greater understanding of their problems and needs. For the last sixty days she had been helping the unknown soldier who had been found on Phobos. She had given him the name 'John' in a vain attempt to help his memory and suffering. The hope was, that by giving him a name and treating him as a regular person suffering from memory loss and PTSD, that he may warm up to her and come around.

They had spent tens of hours together, trying to discern what had happened, how he got to Phobos, and who he was. His real name had been stripped from him, along with interests, hobbies, and personality; only fear and delusions remain. He had described to the best of his ability his reason for being on Phobos, whether he understood the ramifications of what he was saying was unknowable. With the Doctor's telepathic strength, she could see that he genuinely believed what he was saying, his 'lies' indifferent from truth. Pelco after each session would be briefed by Starfleet Intelligence about specific questions she needed to ask him for the next meeting. Initially she had resisted this strategy, but after seeing the footage of the half-nova star in the Elop system as well as the outlying Betazed planet that had changed orbit, she relented. There had been many other visitors as well, including some crew members of the Enterprise-D who had returned to Earth five weeks ago. Captain Picard was asked to compare the soldier to that of his newly arrived guest, Cienna. At this point, Starfleet believed the two had different backgrounds, but nothing could be certain, as nothing could be proven, or more accurately, disproven.

If one didn't know better, 'John' seemed like he was in a comatose state. His black eyes rarely moved, they were lifeless and devoid of sparkle and charm. The pupil was so large that very little white could be seen, just deadening blackness casting itself out from his soul. Within the brig he slept, ate, and bathed in full view of the security personnel stationed in the holding center, safely behind their desks facing the cell. No chances were being taken after the attack on Ensign Forshaw.

Pelco smiled warmly,

"So John, we have seen each other since you arrived, how are you doing? How are you?"

"Better." He was sitting on his bed, slumped against the wall without energy or life. His armor had been stripped off and sent to an unknown location for study. Both his ears had been missing, and deep tissue lacerations covered his entire body. Extensive reconstructive and plastic surgery had been necessary to fix the severe wounds. Broken bones, a fractured spinal column, small breaks and sprains as well as the closure of the gaping ear wounds were all addressed. His new set of ears were working perfectly, but a debate as to how he had lost them in the first place was raging. Some were saying that it was self-inflicted, while others insisted that it was done by a wild animal. No one could tell, and 'John' didn't remember.

Pelco cringed every time she thought of the pain he must have endured, and suffering that he must have went through.

"That is good, you know I think you have come a long way. As you know, we do monitor your sleep, and you have not had any nightmares for eighteen days, a vast improvement," she said warmly. As she spoke her mind was searching his, trying to read the thoughts that came from the deep black well of fear that he had suppressed.

Again, 'John' did not move or react, his slow, slurred answers indicative of his mental exhaustion.

"I told you before, they have left me alone, for now."

"Yes you've said that...I just wanted you to know; this is our last session together. Is there anything you wanted to tell me? Anything about your story you wanted to change? You have told me some interesting stories,"

John's eyes suddenly hardened,

"For the last time, they are not stories... they are real," he said between his clenched teeth.

"Yes," she said glancing down at her datapad "Do you still believe then that you were a Marine fighting on Mars? Fighting aliens?"

"Aliens...no." The contempt in his voice was now as thick as oil, he wasn't sure if she was purposely misrepresenting his statements, but he was growing angry.

"Oh, sorry, you said they were from Hell?"

"No!" 'John' shot out of his bed and was now screaming through the forcefield, only inches from Pelco's face. She jumped out of her seat and scampered a few feet back. Instinctively, both security personnel rushed closer, a needless act given the forcefield. "I said that is what we were told! All of us! The scientists, the corps, we were told these things were from somewhere else. Some researchers said they were from Hell, not me!" One of security guards found himself looking at the energy field readout, he had thought, but only for a moment that the power range had fluctuated. He continued to eye it suspiciously for the remainder of the Doctor's stay.

"I see." Pelco had never seen the soldier like this, it seemed to her that a portion of his mental block had been broken. She scanned his mind for deceit, but there was none. He still believed every word he was saying. She pushed further she into his consciousness but as she drove deeper so too was a resistance. This was new to her, never before had she detected any mind-resistance, but now, out of nowhere, she could sense it. Pelco felt like she was getting lost in his thoughts, deep down into the abyss where she could not travel. She pulled her mind back but not before feeling a terrible dread, like a cave scuba diver who lost their sense of direction. Up, down, left, right, all were the same, a clawing panic and desperate bid to find 'air' enveloped her mind.

Finally, she was out, breathing slowly as 'John' continued,

"The ones that died said the gates of Hell had been opened. I saw things, I told you I saw things that I can't describe. It was that book, it was all from that book."

"John," she began, "we have been over this before. There is no Marine Corp unit on Mars, we do not have such a unit. Phobos has no facilities that match your description. This portal-"

'John' did not wait for her to finish, he was angry and tired of the same questions.

"The gate was opened from the book I found, I don't know where it came from! The people on the base said they needed power from the another dimension to solve the world's energy problems. That's what I think happened, yes...yes that's what happened. It's hard to think straight you know!" screamed John.

"Please John, remain calm. You said before you tried to take the book?"

"I wanted to grab the entire book, but something blew, and I only got a page. Then I woke up on the surface of Phobos."

This story had been told before, but in fragments. Pelco had been able to coax the information out slowly, with specific questions designed to trigger an emotional response. If looked at objectively, it may have been possible to describe most of the circumstance as dimensional experimentation. But the book...why is his mind creating a book to base his stories…

"This book, it allowed for the opening of the portal?" asked Pelco with a hint of disbelief.

"I was told that the only way to talk to them is through the words in the book. It allows for portals as well…"

"John, what I don't understand is why were you fighting the things from the book?"

'John's' eyes blinked and an ounce of clarity appeared across his face. He remembered more each minute,

"No. No it wasn't them that I was fighting. It…" the marine was no longer looking at Pelco but somewhere else, into his past, the rest of the sentence sounded if it were spoken from a daze. "...it was just their images...only the features they have begotten on mankind…" 'John's' face was now expressionless, continuing as if reciting from a script. "...from man's truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them…"

"Is that from the book John?"

The voice of Doctor Pelco seemed to wrestle 'John' from wherever his mind had been, he regained his focus and took a seat.

"No, the book was in another language, I grabbed the only translated part." The Doctor was hesitant to re-enter his mind; she gathered that 'John's' PTSD was affecting her ability to read it properly. She knew that a soldier's mind could believe anything once irreversible trauma was sustained. At this point, she knew the case would continue to be a mystery, what was real and unreal would need to be solved using another method.

"I was going to end our official treatment today, but you seem to be very talkative. I will return a few more times, is that ok?"

"I can hear them, whispering to me."

Pelco sighed quietly. This poor soul...She was sure he was insane, but not entirely convinced that his story or at least part of it was not real. He had to have been brought to Phobos, undetected by Starfleet in some manner of fashion and so the search for the truth would continue. As she was getting ready to stand, 'John' was starting to tug at his ears. She motioned for the security guards,

"Do not let him harm himself."

Within the brig, 'John's' eyes were darting from side to side, seemingly reacting to what he believed he was seeing and hearing. Kill them! Teach them new ways to die! New ways to suffer! They cannot harm you! What doesn't truly live, cannot truly die! We walk the forest and stalk the city, they cannot behold us as we smite. No one but you can hear us, no one but you can call us, no one but you can know us.

Johns' face was spasming violently, and for one brief and utterly impossible second, Doctor Pelco thought she saw the bones in his face oozing and shifting beneath the skin. Her mouth gaped and her eyes squinted for a closer look, but it was over. John was unconscious. Slumped in an upright position against the far wall, sweat could be seen pooling under his arms and urine soaked his hospital pants. Pelco stood still in complete shock, she had never experienced anything like this.

Later the security footage of the cell was reviewed which corroborated both guards reports, that nothing unusual had occurred upon the patient's face. I must have imagined it thought Pelco from her private office as he looked down at the report she was finishing.

[[...John's mind has endured more than any patient I have ever helped, creating false personalities which are manifesting as voices in his head. This in turn creates more dread and more exhaustion. A vicious circle... ]]

She had asked him several times for his name when they had first met, only to receive a descriptive term instead. Up until this point the name of his file was "John Doe" but it no longer seemed fitting. She would change it to the term he had used,

DOOM

Chapter Text

Sandbox

Outside Known Universe - Q Continuum

Another gale of wind pummeled the wooden walls and boarded up windows of the dilapidated tavern. It's filthy rotten walls and drooping ceiling a reminder of the depressing times now facing the Q Continuum. None of this, or any of the following descriptions are 'real' in the sense that they are material. Not real in a sense that you or I could go there to experience it, but only a mere semblance of what the super-beings experience, and how you can relate to their strife and current misery.

Inside the shabby walls, small bits of earth and sand covered the floor and plank cracks, upkeep at this time was tedious, and lengthy. Oil Lamps burned sluggishly, barely enough to keep the shadows at bay as the endless night wore on.

"One hell of a night," said the barkeep. He had been keeping a keen eye on the flimsy wooden door all evening. The howling wind was relentless, and the door buckled inward every so often as the wood flirted with its limit.

"Yep," said a man seated down the bar with a white suit and mustache to match. "Never seen anything like it."

"Me neither," said another Q, and another and so on and so forth until every man and woman in the tavern had all acknowledged they had not seen something like this.

"This is what it must be like for mortals, like those humans of yours," said the barkeep towards Common-Q who was seated at the far end of the tavern overlooking two chessboards which were joined.

Common-Q is the Q that you and I know, the one who for years harassed Picard, the one who set up the wormhole between the Milky Way and Imperial Galaxies. I tell you this just for convenience sake; as the description of events and telepathic communication between super-beings is difficult, and is susceptible to error. Back to the tavern.

Common-Q ignored the barkeep, he was too busy studying his pieces. Gusts of wind had knocked several onto the floor and he had gotten into an argument with another Q not long ago about possible swapped rooks.

"This is intolerable…" he whined, "keep your own pieces over there! Away from mine! I do not want a mix-up," shouted Common-Q' to a woman 20 paces away who was picking her own pieces off the ground. The storm had descended upon the town without warning, travel was impossible, and any venture beyond the tavern was dangerous due to poor vision. Common-Q blew some errand dust off his board and then hesitated. Maybe that dust was there the entire time? He reached down and picked up a few specks and put them back where they had been a moment before; not entirely sure if those were the exact ones he had just blown off. Under normal conditions it would be easy to tell. A mere glance back through time would verify those dust mites were there the entire time, or a look ahead to check if the end result was what he knew it should be. Now though, for the first time he could not. He could monitor what was there now, but he could not see forward or backward.

"When is Q supposed to be back?" asked the white-suited man at the bar. No one answered. No one knew. The door remained closed for now, the brave Q who had ventured out had not been seen again.

"We just need to maintain as always," said one,

"As we always have," said another

"It is only a disruption" voiced the barkeep.

This discourse continued on and on, each glancing around for answers while monitoring their own chess boards. Of all the hundreds of billions of galaxies, in all the dimensions, in all the places, crooks and crannies of the cosmos, the Q's were essentially stuck in one corner. The maelstrom outside allowed no passage, no viewable spectrum beyond their small game boards. The uncountable zillions of molecules, beings, and planets that stretched from one corner of known existence to another were not trackable all at once. The Q were not omnipresent, they needed to focus, much like a man would focus on an ant if worth his study. And now, with the temporal-time winds howling uncontrollably and with attention pulled in many directions, some ants were roaming free. Before the storm, the Q could travel, move and peer between dimensions at leisure, looking forward, backward and sideways through time. Now, they could not, only able to cross between the Continuum and the reality of the Milky Way Universe, and by extension the Imperial Universe through the Q wormhole. This was due to the telepathic anchor they had set up between the Continuum and Milky Way Universe to conduct the test of humanity. No 'thought' could pass through the temporal maelstrom, and so they waited.

"We must maintain The Continuum Temporal Foundation," said one,

"As it has always been maintained," replied another.

A smug thin man was seated closest the piano near the now boarded up window. His banker's mustache and top hat representing a smugness inherent in all Qs. He sat with his feet on a chair and twisted a slow burning cigar in his mouth. Snapping his pocket watch closed he looked up at the secured door.

"You know, it has not always been the case where we could see infinity," he said taking the cigar out of his mouth and dabbing the burnt end into an ashtray. "You are all forgetting who we are, and where we came from. If I so much as detect a hint of fear in any of you, you shall be banished." He blew gently on the end of his cigar, the delicate embers floated upwards, finally disappearing out of view.

"Should we fear the Ultimate Gate?" asked the youngest Q, a mere 4 billion years old. The room suddenly became quiet and still, even the piano player who had been lumbering on the keys for hours rested a moment. Young-Q's head slowly turned on a swivel, everyone was looking at him. "Was...was I not supposed to ask? "

"Have you ever seen it?" asked the top hat Q, squashing the head of his cigar into the table.

"No."

"Can you go to it? Can your mind reach it?"

Again, Young-Q answered,

"No…"

"That is because it is not real." top hat Q raised his hand and opened his fist like a magician releasing a dove. Energy sparkled and crackled through the air, in front of the group bubbles started to form above their heads. "Our minds can go anywhere, to any dimension, to any place or time. Tell me Q. Where is the gate? What is the gate?" The honeycomb continued to expand outward, first thousands and then millions of small bubbles were foaming and frothing. "These are the universes and dimensions you can go, your mind can take you to all of them, to all infinity. You know this already, we've seen them all. So have you. Now then. Let your question rest."

Common-Q was listening on the opposite side of the room, he was keenly observing his game pieces, as well as dust and sand particles spread across his board. He was confident that all the dust was supposed to be there. The early days of the storm had caused dust and grime to fly through the room, but in any case, he was unphased. Nothing would interfere with his test. Now though, his desire for conversation was drawing him away from his game and towards rare socializing in the tavern. What relative amount of time passed as he looked away from peering into the Milky Way or Imperial Universe is not known; an impossibility to even estimate.

"It was a weakness of our once mortal selves, in the dreary days when we were not omnipotent we sometimes dreamt of things that were unreal. Sad and pathetic I know," said Common-Q as he strode through the universal bubbles. He reached out and grabbed a few, then gently released them back into the air. "The truth is, we know all there is to know about the universe, we can go everywhere and see anything." The youngest Q nodded his head in agreeance, we are omnipotent, there is nothing to fear. "You were not alive in the oldest of days, when we were fearful, cowering in one small corner of the cosmos. Look how far we have come." Common-Q stopped at the edge of the table where Young-Q was seated and put his hand on his shoulder in reassurance.

"And do you remember those days?" asked top hat Q.

Common-Q smiled and started back towards his chessboards,

"I remember everything. And everyone."

The tavern remained quiet, the only noise but a match striking the table as another cigar was lit. Outside the wind continued to howl, rattling the walls and boarded windows. Oil lamps flickered and the flimsy ceiling chandelier rocked from side to side. There was nothing to do but sit and wait, and so they sat, and so they waited.

Imperial Galaxy - Coruscant

"That concludes our presentation my Lords'," said Grand Admiral Thrawn from the front of the room. His voice was as smooth as silk and as cool as a cucumber. His blue skin contrasted perfectly with his impossibly white Imperial uniform decorated with two dozen medals for various combat campaigns against the Rebels and other Imperial enemies. HIs boots were impeccably polished, the black leather almost shining like a flashlight. As the Grand Admiral picked up this datapad his mouth betrayed no smile. However, if one were to pay close attention to the corner of his red eyes, you might have seen an inkling of one. This was his third and final presentation over the last eighty days and he was confident of its adoption. He worked diligently on a supreme strategy. Political, religious, cultural, biological, technological, industrial and militaristic variables had been carefully screened, pulped and sifted to be sure nothing had been missed. Even art, which some would say would be useless was collected, studied and cataloged as part of the analysis.

"Leave us" oozed the Emperor. Thrawn bowed respectfully, turned heel and marched out of the room followed closely by Admiral Piett. As the large metal doors were closing they heard the distinct rumblings of Vader,

"It seems-" and then the doors clanged shut. Thrawn walked briskly towards the lift at the far end of the walkway and eventually to his shuttle. He believed the plan to be the best it could be under the circumstances. The Emperor had given him a deadline, today was the final day of his teams' deliberations and strategy crafting. Thrawn would have preferred an invasion after four or five years of careful study. Instead, he was given no more than three months. He had initially suggested the rebels needed to be dealt with first, but it was evident the Emperor had other plans. Control of the Milky Way.

Piett who had said nothing during their walk to the lift finally commented as the doors closed,

"I think that went well Grand Admiral,"

Thrawn stood motionless with his hands clasped behind his back, even subordinates working under him for years found it difficult to read his body language.

"And why do you say that?"

"Well, for one, they asked few questions."

"And is that a good thing in your opinion?" Thrawn was more interested in his subordinates thought process rather than his final answer. Piett was adequate, loyal and would rarely disappoint. Good to keep around as a tool... thought the Grand Admiral.

"Perhaps they had not seen any flaws in it, the research behind this plan is exhaustive."

"We know the known knowns, and we know the known unknowns."

Piett awkwardly nodded his head through the mental gymnastics,

"Yes…"

"But we do not know the unknown unknowns, that is what will take time. Time we do not have."

"Unknown unknowns….right sir." Pietts' eyes flickered as he tried in vain as to what those could be.

This new galaxy presented many obstacles but offered just as many opportunities. Imperial engineers were busy working on modifying shields, sensors, communication equipment, and other systems to optimize the fleet against possible threats. These calibrations had been carefully and deliberately completed with Thrawn's' approval and guidance. You can defeat an enemy before the battle even begins. It did not take long for the call to come in, within an hour a holonet signal was received. Thrawn nodded to his communications officer and a towering black figure shimmered to life in front of him.

"Lord Vader, how can I be of service?" he asked with a slight bow,

"You may begin the operation as planned."

Chapter Text

Pieces on the Board

Imperial Galaxy - Outer Rim - Dagobah

Ten thousand-million planets covered the Imperial cosmos; most uninhabitable lifeless rocks circling distant stars which had been cataloged and measured but nothing more. So it was no wonder that Dagobah remained a mystery. It was covered with over-nourished vegetation, animal life, molds, and fungus. What made it unique however was its only intelligent permanent resident, known to some as the most celebrated Jedi Master the galaxy had ever known.

On the surface, the usually dry shoreline of an unimportant bog was now below water. Torrential rain pooled and swashed along the ground, overflowing into the surrounding area and collecting near the foot of a large tree. The base of this tree had a small dwelling constructed of mud and giant exposed roots. Through the small windows, the last remnants of firelight flickered beneath a suspended pot of stew. And there, in the firelight along a narrow passage was Luke Skywalker, the last hope of the Rebellion.

His white drabs were dirty and unkempt, neatly combed hair was now messy, and stubble covered his face as the many months he had been training was telling. His regretful eyes were now looking at a shaky claw reaching for the corner of the well-worn blanket.

"Yes..strong are you," strained Yoda as he turned himself over to face his apprentice. Luke had been with him only a few months, but his progress surprised even Yoda. Luke smiled as he pulled the blanket higher towards his master's chin; the small fire unable to warm the room.

"Master Yoda…" there was so much he wanted to say and ask. In his short time on Dagobah, secrets of the Force had been unlocked, and untold power lay waiting to grasp. With no distractions and his friends safe he had concentrated, trained and understood. Strange images had swirled in his head, cloud cities, battles above a forest moon, futures that may or may not have existed. One possible future... As time passed these images had become more fragmented, disjointed and harder to discern.

"Nothing to say…" Yoda coughed and closed his eyes; he smiled as images flashed before him. Like all Force users the future was mostly unreadable now, but when the mind was calm as it was now, flashes of the true future could be seen. "Luke... Luke….your training is not over…you will have to learn all that there is to learn."

A look of surprise flashed across Luke's face,

"I am not a Jedi?"

"A Jedi?!" Yoda snickered before a wave of coughing overtook him. "A Jedi? ...no … no. Vader...you must confront Vader." Luke hung his head low and closed his eyes. He had experienced vivid dreams of a climactic battle, and a lingering question. Is it my destiny? He was shaking his head in disbelief when he felt a brittle claw raise his chin; he looked up into his master's eyes. Yoda had a soft smile on his face, and with each passing minute he was becoming closer to the Force. In these final moments, when the mind was most calm, the Force opened to him, no more distortions, no more fragmented visions. He could see. The future, the past, old friends long gone. "Remember...a Jedi's strength flows from the Force, luminous being are we... not this crude matter," he shook Luke's chin with emphasis. Several minutes passed in silence before Luke asked his last question,

"Will I face him?" Yoda was laying still, and at first Luke thought the firelight was playing tricks with his eyes. In reality, his master was disappearing, phasing out like previous masters before him. It was the way of things, the way of the Force. The moment seemed to last forever, but in a final second of semblance a message was delivered,

"When it is your turn to pass... a Jedi you will be."

Then he was gone.

Luke sat back against the cold wall and stared out into the sheets of rain. I am the last one. Instantly he felt intolerably lonely, first Obi-Wan and now Yoda were gone,

"I am all alone…"

"Not exactly"

Luke's neck snapped sideways,

"Obi-wan…" out in the pouring rain stood his old friend, his force ghost shimmering in the storm. Luke struggled to his feet and walked out into knee deep water to greet him. The torrential downpour in conjunction with blistering wind limited visibility to a few feet, and even in a foot of water, waves were churning and splashing along the surface. "Ben... I can't do it" he pleaded. When he had first arrived, he was cocky, willing, and brash. The failure in the cave continued to haunt him. Luke had faced his deepest fears, and he had been shaken to the core. Yoda had told him that he did not need his weapons, that only his mind was required. The fear was inside him, Vader's broken helmet had revealed himself, that within him lay the potential for evil.

"Luke, you have to be strong. There are challenging times ahead, the future is unknown," said Kenobi.

Luke wiped his eyes and looked back at the small hut,

"I wanted to know, is it my destiny to face Vader?" Luke turned back but Obi-wan had vanished. Now the desolation of his situation was crashing down upon him; there was nothing more on this world, it was time to leave. Luke gathered all his gear, clothing and supplies and stowed them into the belly of his X-wing. R2 was waiting for him in the navigator position and happily chirped as Luke climbed into the cockpit and switched on his encoded receiver.

-Priority message

-Increased Imperial activity in Caleise System

-Kuat Drive Yards producing probe droids

-Increased fleet rotations

-Contacts within Imperial Navy are showing longer deployment times

-Bounty-Hunters are being recruited

-Keep Safe

Luke switched off the encoder and sat in silence. He knew he would never return, never again to train under a master. And as he sat, one question continued to haunt him, what is my destiny... what can I control? He did not know. There was no answer. Then his train-of-thought stopped as his eye caught a random raindrop as it ran down the canopy. It started off small and as it fell towards the bottom of the windshield, it collided with other water droplets which joined the whole. Luke followed it carefully, it grew larger and larger, down and down it went until it was about to reach the lock-seal. It then switched directions and headed diagonally across the canopy towards the other end. The wind had shifted, and so to had the droplet. Luke shook his head and took one last somber look outside,

"So long," he whispered as his X-wing climbed into the sky, disappearing from sight.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise

The bridge of the Enterprise was dark and quiet, no light or instrument panel was active. Their current position was deep within a nebula, running in 'silent' operation as final calculations were completed. It had been hypothesized after dozens of failed attempts that the random appearance of these unknown ships cropping up across Federation space were not random at all. They were precisely calculated distances and time periods based on Euclidean Geometry, according to Spock. The previous attempts to capture one of these ships had failed due to insufficient data, but as time wore on, Spock was certain he had discovered a pattern. Forty-eight failed captures in the last three weeks across Federation space was allowing for an ever decreasing margin of error, the Enterprise making up six of those failed attempts.

"Spock?" whispered Kirk. "Spock," the Vulcan raised his finger while finishing the last calculations in his head,

"Now," said Spock coldly.

Kirk did not need to hear another word. He jammed his thumb into the communication button, connecting the bridge to the phaser control room,

"Fire!" Phaser banks came to life and a blanket of fire was laid down a few thousand kilometers ahead of the ship. A wide-angle, low-power firing pattern had been pre-programmed, and everyone on the bridge was teeming with excitement to see if their plan had worked. Energized Nebula played havoc with Federation sensors and Kirk had gambled, or perhaps hoped, that the Enterprise would remain hidden long enough to spring the trap. Everyone was on edge as the Enterprise cleared the distortion field,

"Sensors coming back online now Captain. Scanning... detecting a small craft…" Spock turned back towards the Captain, "Only sixty percent damaged, but I believe the self-destruct device has been disabled."

"Well done Mr. Spock, well done," said Kirk with an appreciative smile. While the trap had been his idea, it would not have been possible without the diligent work of his first officer. Best officer in the fleet, then, best officer in the fleet, now, he thought to himself. He ordered the Enterprise to retrieve the crippled ship and bring it into the shuttle bay for inspection. Starfleet had been waiting almost a month for someone to catch one of these ships and now the wait was over. Hundreds of tons of debris had been collected up to this point, but the self-destruct system was so thorough that nothing of any significance had been learned.

"So Scotty, what do we have?" asked Kirk as he and Spock entered the shuttle bay.

"I don't know yet Captain, may take a few days."

The ship was in terrible shape, at only eight meters in length it would normally be easy for a small engineering team to look over every inch. In this case, the protective shell had been melted by phaser fire. Pieces were missing and in some cases fused with others, making it difficult to even sort the bow from the stern. Over the next several days Scotty, Spock and an engineering team worked round the clock trying to understand what they had disabled. After exhaustive effort, and many questions from Starfleet they were able to present their findings,

"Ok gentlemen, what have you found?" Kirk was seated at the head of the conference table, pouring over notes and figures. The Enterprise was only a few days from Earth and he thought it best for a debriefing before it was confiscated by Starfleet Intelligence.

"This unmanned ship appears to be a probe, a detection ship sent here to gather information. I surmise whoever is sending it is trying to discover all they can about us."

"How does it penetrate our sensor grids?"

"It does not appear it travels using warp technology, it is moving outside of real space, and so we cannot determine its origin. Its computer, communication, and propulsion systems are all unknown to us. The drive system was too heavily damaged to determine the exact nature of its travel."

"Outside of space?" asked Kirk.

"Yes Captain, I believe it is the only logical conclusion that can be made now that I have examined its systems. The drive system while damaged corroborates my hypothesis of how these ships are penetrating our sensor grids, they do not travel in our space."

"Scotty?"

"We have tried to talk to its computer, tried to replicate its mode of communication, we are at a loss," said the Scotsman.

"Spock, could it be from the Dominion?"

"Unknown Captain, we do not have enough data. However, this technology has never been seen before."

Kirk frowned,

"Can we stop them?"

Spock raised his eyebrow, and with everlasting patience he concentrated on strategies that could be used quadrant-wide,

"Not yet Captain, perhaps in time."

The analysis of the probe was shared with Sloan in the Communications Branch, which was then filtered through to all the other branches of Starfleet. Classified information in-line with Sloan's level 3 ban, was then distributed to key Federation personnel, but probe encroachment continued unabated. Tens of thousands of probes continued to penetrate Federation space over the next several days as the Enterprise made its way back to Spacedock. The capture of the probe seemed to not affect their frequency or ever-increasing brazenness. What started as a slow trickle was now a full-on shower. Federation worlds were actively seeking out stealth probes within their solar systems after a few were seen burying into asteroids or large comets. Others made landfall, entering the atmosphere of many worlds, only to explode a few minutes after touching down. No member world was left unaffected, nor were the surrounding territories of the Romulans, Klingons, Breen, Gorn, Melkotians, Ferengi, and others. Federation listening posts had detected communication between other Alpha Quadrant inhabitants, each was as puzzled and baffled as the other. There was no way to stop them, and no way to track them.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Betazed - Federation World

Yalick was finishing the final detail of his Inash Zu pastry as four more customers walked into his store. The conversations taking place are a mixture of telepathy and verbal speech, the distinction having no significance.

"Hi Yalick, got any more of that Zu?" Asked one of the frequent customers that could not seem to get enough of the fabulous food.

"Sure do Nilo, just finishing one now. How did the Admiral like the last batch?" asked Yalick with a disarming smile. To describe Yalick, one would have to first imagine a piece of granite rock. From there, chisel a perfectly square jaw, a solid chest and back, and sturdy legs and hands. At 6'2 and a solid 220lbs. of muscle, he was far from 'soft'. Atop his head was thick brown hair, cut short and neat on the sides but a little longer on the top where it was combed to one side. But it was his eyes that undoubtedly made the man, and if it didn't seem so absurd, one would say that if you were to stare into them, they would remind you of an eagles. Deep, alluring, and deadly.

"Oh! Loved it. She keeps asking me to run over here and get more, if you keep it up you might become Starfleet's official caterer," chuckled Nilo. Yalick had transferred from Betazed Colony 17 on the other side of the sector, his new shop only a month old was bursting with delicious pastries, desserts, and lunches. "Not sure how you got the permits to open here, but, couldn't ask for a better place." The bakery was situated only a few hundred meters from the Betazed-Starfleet command building, one of several across the planet.

"You would not believe what I had to go through, I actually started the process back on '17', I wouldn't have moved here otherwise," said Yalick as he placed the Inash Zu pastry into a 'take out' box.

"Well I'm glad you did, this stuff beats the replicator ten out of ten. See you tomorrow friend!" Nilo smiled and grabbed the box and enthusiastically left the establishment. Yalick smirked and continued to serve the other customers. He had been so busy he almost forgot the Minar-Rolls in the oven, almost. Yalick never forgot anything, all information in his wonderfully compartmentalized brain was sorted, labeled and set aside for further or even immediate analysis. As each customer came to and fro only a small portion of his conscience was being used to interact, bake, and tell the occasional joke. His primary-thought was busy with his sense of perception, he was inside the Starfleet building, inside the minds of the Admiral and junior officers. Every square inch of the building was known. His new identity had allowed him around the clock proximity, and most importantly, plausible deniability. The store permit was real; his past was not. Nothing was 'real' in the sense of truth, but it was real in the sense of records. Computer libraries had been changed, minds altered and information adjusted. 'Yalick' was as 'real' as the bedtime stories told to children, the truth only known to the teller. Yalick had been busy, and at this moment he was busy listening to a briefing made by the Admiral to Starfleet command.

"We searched the lake again, we found nothing, same as before. We think it may have been another one of those damn probes. If something had been there it was long gone. Maybe destroyed, we do not know."

"There were no traces?"

"None."

"Alright, keep at it. What else Admiral?"

"We have detected eighteen more of those probes in our local sector, all self-destructed before we could even get close. The strange reading in the lake could have been one of them. We just don't know."

What Starfleet did not know was the ship in the lake was no probe, it had no association with the probes. Just over two months ago, Yalick's ship had been violently ripped out of a hyperspace-tube only a few hundred feet above a forest on Betazed. The expulsion from the hyperspace tube was such magnitude that his ship had begun to break apart, causing him to careen into a nearby lake. Yalick had made sure that all traces were gone, a combination of Starfleet computer reprogramming and vaporization. He completed none of these tasks in person, that would have been too risky. From the moment he swam ashore from his sinking ship, he had been busy establishing exactly where he was, lying low and reading the thoughts of the local population. Over the span of several weeks and thousands of digested but unharmed minds, he began setting up his false identity, history, and eventual storefront. Yalick had worked diligently and conservatively to cover all his tracks. Betazoid's are telepaths, with the ability to read the thoughts of most species, but Yalick was a cut above. Able to control multiple minds at once, he effortlessly played puppeteer as Starfleet officers changed sensor logs without memory of doing so. Debris was dealt with by phaser vaporization, orchestrated by manipulated log entries and commandeering security officers on shore leave. He had been searching for any hint of his detection, any sign if someone was 'onto' him. After a month of baking in his store he had decided it was safe to continue his plan. There was a lot to consider at the moment. How do I get home? Was the attack on Ploor the final echelon of control? Why can't Mentor or the kids find me? Those were important questions that had to be answered, but there were many others now cropping up as he learned more and more about his current situation.

The Federation is being probed, something or someone wants to learn a lot about them. Someone who had not been in contact with them before, he surmised. C'mon..THINK...can I help these people before I leave? There were many incomplete facts and partial pieces of information floating around in the minds of Starfleet officers on Betazed. A total picture was impossible from this vantage point, though he knew more than all of them combined thanks to his ability to truly think and consolidate the information. The fact of the matter was that there simply wasn't enough information on this member world to determine if he could help them, and to discover what technology could send him home. Alright...time for action

Several mental instructions were now sent into the Starfleet building. Some commands were for junior officers in database management, others to security officers and a few to the Admiral. It was a precise and delicate operation to plant fake information deep within the Starfleet system. There were many computer redundancies and security checks that could not be changed by any single person. Data security was continuously monitored from Earth which forced his 'puppets' to make small incremental changes over a period of time. A slight change in classification here, Admiral-level overrides there, etc. Things were looking good, very good.

Alright Kinnison you old space hound, time to expand

Chapter Text

Opening Pitch

Milky Way - Delta Quadrant - UNIMATRIX 01 - Borg Primary Installation

-Events Log

-Summary / Delta Quadrant, Grid 1 - 87

-27,000 probes detected

-1756 probes self-destructed

-18 probes assimilated

-Propulsion system, analyzing

-Navigation system, assimilated

-Communication system, assimilated

-Material, assimilated

-Computer core, encrypted, analyzing

-Events Log

-Summary / Beta Quadrant, Grid 8

-Chronometric particles detected for 0.27 seconds

-Unknown spatial disturbance

-Cubes 4557 / 332 sent to investigate, contact lost

-Tactical Cube 18 sent to investigate, debris identified as Cubes 4557 / 332

-Cubes 32 / 3243 / 333 / 18 / 8 / 98 - deployed for Grid 8 sweep

-Threat level : High

-Analysis Priority: Identify Spatial Disturbance

The relationship between the Queen and Hivemind has never been fully understood, what can be said is they form a symbiotic relationship that together forms The Collective. It is believed, but not confirmed, that day to day micromanagement of the ships, drones, and research is handled by the Hivemind, leaving the Queen to ponder and decide strategic direction and initiatives. For the last several months The Collective has been sorting and analyzing droves of new information. Probes have continuously penetrated Borg space in both the Delta and Beta Quadrants, with long-range trans-scanners detecting probes beyond the edge of the galaxy. To the Hivemind it was just another puzzle to solve, another unknown variable in an always changing universe; to the Queen, she felt it represented a potential danger. These contrary viewpoints were by design, as differentiating outlooks allowed in times past for the Borg to overcome many obstacles that had proven difficult for either side to handle. Right now was a prime example. The Borg had already reverse-engineered the communication systems of the probes and were now able to determine their approximate origin which was on the far side of the Gamma Quadrant. Several cubes had been dispatched but even at high warp they were decades away. The Transwarp-Hub was not yet finished and so near instant galactic travel was unavailable.

The Queen had prioritized the completion of the 'hub' over territorial expansion with the assumption that once galactic travel was made available, the Borg would deposit their ships deep into enemy territory without warning.

Central to Borg civilization was UniMatrix 01. A vast network of intertwined structures stretching for a hundred kilometers in all directions. Here the main processing core of the Hivemind was housed, as well as critical nodes for major systems. While the Collective could function without them, rebuilding would be slow and brutal, certainly not desirable under any circumstances. Spacefarers foolish enough to approach this sprawling installation would inevitably be assimilated. There had been many who allowed their curiosity get the best of them, all now part of the Borg.

The Queen spent most of her time here, looking at various statistics and conferring with the Hivemind on issues both large and small. She was fully protected, fully assured by their superiority that nothing could harm her, that is, until now.

UNIMATRIX 01

-emergency broadcast

-Hyperspace corridors detected

-Multiple vectors

-Raise shields

-Dispatch Cubes 783 / 3452 / 13 / 103 / 1919 / 876 / 28 / 101

-Dispatch Spheres 232 / 323 / 345 / 22 / 1111 / 87 / 320 / 843

-Dispatch Tactical Cubes 32 / 4 / 28 / 19 / 6

-938 unknown vessels detected

-Threat Level : Severe

With only seconds warning, a massive fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers exited hyperspace on top of the honeycomb structure that is UniMatrix 01. Upon entering real space, sheets of green turbolaser rain fell towards the sprawling Borg complex. Thousands of rounds smacked into the shields of the central Attachment Hub, the Borg within vaporized instantly, the shields unable to repel such force. The opening salvo caused a ripple effect into the adjoining hubs, explosions burst through the weak points in the superstructure as mooring ripped loose and atmosphere vented into space. This attack had taken months of preparation, and in the eyes of the Empire, guaranteed to succeed.

Onboard the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer Vigilant stood Grand Admiral Thrawn. He was front and center above UniMatrix 01, watching hundreds of megatons of power bombard the network of ships, structures, and nodes. Target points had been distributed to the gunnery teams in advance so that overwhelming fire could be concentrated on a few key points. No Tie-Fighters would be launched, they were unnecessarily and not suited for such a campaign.

Cubes detaching from the Unimatrix to help thwart the attack were dog-piled a 100:1, dead drones littered the skyways, and superheated plasma and metal glowed hot in cold frigid space.

Thrawn's attention was divided between the bridge windows and a 3D hologram of the engagement. Everything had been calculated and all possible scenarios devised. This was his specialty, acute planning and strategy, both tactical and strategic, their destruction is inevitable. Cube after cube detached itself from the UniMatrix and each was destroyed in turn. The 3km sides of the Borg Cubes presented easy targets for even the most novice of gun-teams. Thousands upon thousands of turbolaser bolts were concentrated on each Borg ship until they exploded in a blinding white flash. House-sized turbolaser turrets were all firing at a feverish rate, the resulting recoil was pushing the dampeners to their limit.

POW! - POW! - POW! Went the turbolasers in an endless display of aggression and determination. Gunnery Sergeants were screaming at their men, "Keep firing! Keep firing!" as blinding light singed their eyes and deafening noise filled their ears. Explosion after explosion of ruptured Borg warp cores and anti-matter containment fields made visibility almost impossible, but they had their orders. Fire at all costs.

Months of study had uncovered the Borg's over-reliance on subspace for their ship-to-ship communication, this could be taken advantage of given enough resources. Jury-rigged to the hulls of eight star destroyers were seventy-meter concave dishes which were pumping out enormous amounts of subspace-distortion, twenty-three other star destroyers had similar hardware producing ungodly amounts of gravity and magnetic interference. The cosmic ether vibrated as energies never before utilized for combat were pushed out into the chaotic scenario which the Borg now found themselves in.

BORG COLLECTIVE

-weapon technology unknown

-adaption matrix -

-SIGNAL LOST-

-Connecting-

-adjust shields to modulation to 371.32

-SIGNAL LOST-

-UNABLE TO RE-ESTABLISH-

UniMatrix 01 was in tatters, trillions of tons of debris was now expanding outward from the smoldering slag that was once the center of all things Borg. Still, the Borg kept coming. The Imperial Fleet had created a spherical formation, with the Super Star Destroyer Vigilant in the center. Over nine-hundred star destroyers, each with dozens of turbolasers were blasting out in all directions. Cubes, spheres and other classes of Borg ships were racing in, some not making it more than a few kilometers, others penetrating the formation. All forms of standard and exotic weaponry was being thrown at the Imperial Fleet. Weapon emitters, especially on the Cubes were cycling through as many adaptations as they could. Proton beams, molecular cutters, graviton destabilizers, slicer beams, anti-matter implosion pulses, plasma cutters, phasers, polaron beams, energy dampeners, tractor beams and the list went on. Despite this, adaptation and modulation was proving difficult due to the hellish filled subspace ether. The Collective was having trouble communicating, and in the chaos, they were suffering, but unyielding.

"Grand Admiral! Star Destroyer Eboch is reporting that they are being boarded" reported a frenzied Captain Vasis from across the bridge. Thrawn flipped a few buttons and the holographic display switched to the besieged ship, this was the Empire's worst fear, and it could not be allowed to happen.

"Increase power to gravity and subspace emitters, have the Eboch change heading to 213 mark 38"

"Yes Grand Admiral"

Within the deep recesses of the Eboch, Borg drones were materializing by the dozen. Some were cut down right away, others adapted and continued on. Every stormtrooper was being scrambled and hurried towards the problem areas. The drones were being hacked, sliced, blasted and beaten. For every stormtrooper injected with assimilation nanoprobes, half a dozen drones were being destroyed. Gaining computer control from assimilated terminals, a standard boarding procedure, was proving difficult for the Borg. Thrawn had ordered all critical systems disconnected from the primary or secondary computer cores, making ship-wide software take-over an impossibility.

Suddenly and violently, the bridge jolted sideways, the sound of shrieking-stressed metal filling the air. Thrawn grabbed the corner of the holographic display table to keep himself afoot. He could hear officers shouting and hollering at each other to stabilize the ship. After regaining his balance he quickly glanced out the bridge window. On the bow of the Vigilant was the finale of a giant explosion.

"Report?"

Captain Vasis was down on his knees screaming at one of his shield operators in the control-pit on the right side of the bridge walkway.

"You keep the shield up Lieutenant!" The Captain struggled to his feet and rushed over to brief the Grand Admiral. "Sir, a Borg cube came out of warp and hit us straight on the nose! Forward shield is holding."

Thrawn looked into his holographic display and bore-in on the situation at hand. His red eyes were darting around several screens, snapping out orders and sending adjustments to the fleet. There was layer upon layer of star destroyer between him and the ensuing battle, but he knew that his ship was the primary target. He had studied the Borg carefully enough to observe that they always went for the central world, or in this case, ship. Super star destroyers were enormous, at 19,000 meters long, and hundreds of thousands of times the volume of an average Milky Way vessel, they stood out like a lighthouse in the fog. Comparatively, the U.S.S Enterprise, Captained by Picard was a mere 642 meters, with Kirk's coming in even smaller at just under 300m. To the Borg, such an unusually large vessel was like a Christmas feast, and their insatiable desire to assimilate drove them to it.

"Any word from Admiral Piett?" asked Thrawn to his communications officer,

"Admiral Piett is reporting total destruction of the Transwarp-Hub, only a handful of Borg ships remain, half inoperative without discernible damage" The Queen must be dead thought Thrawn.

"Has his fleet suffered any losses?"

This time the communication officer took a moment to answer, no one liked delivering bad news.

"Twenty-seven star destroyers lost." Thrawn was expressionless, but inside he was burning. Imbecil!

"Sir!" a junior operator was making his way over from another panel, "Eboch has gone silent, last transmission was that their bridge had been boarded."

"Instruct Templeton and Neyoh to form up along our port side, our number four deflector-shield is starting to buckle" snapped Thrawn. He knew any shield drop would invite transporter beams and he could not afford to get boarded under any circumstances. A blinding flash filled the bridge, and Thrawn and the rest of the officers covered their eyes; a ship had been lost. The fateful star destroyer had been simultaneously kamikazed and targeted by the remaining few Unimatrix Hubs still in operation. It had exploded violently only eight kilometers from the Vigilant. "Send a command to the fleet, tighten up sphere formation, switch to heading 83 mark 6."

The Borg Hivemind continued to send ships from across the sector at warp 9.99, each attempting a different tactic or weapon in a bid to learn and adapt. The Queen was dead, atomized in the opening volley of Thrawn's attack. She wasn't critical for combat, but as Piett's fleet across the Quadrant had noticed, not all ships and resources could be channeled to wage war. This was the grey area that no one seemed to understand, and perhaps never would.

On Thrawn's display, long-range sensors detected many inactive vessels, but even more were headed towards them.

"Captain Vasis, pull the Eboch towards our starboard side using tractor beams. Instruct our gunnery teams to target her. If she does not radio us in the next three minutes, destroy her." A pin drop could have been heard as this order was voiced. Bridge crew members shared ominously looks as Vasis obeyed,

"Yes sir."

Thrawn eyed the holographic display once again, adjusting the fleet's position and structure depending on what threat he perceived. Borg ships were attacked head-on, it was imperative that the broadest firing arc was maintained for each vessel. Only overwhelming firepower from many star destroyers at once could bring down the shields of the ever-adapting Borg. Wave after wave of relentless attacks pounded the fleet. As the shields withered on the ships on the outer sphere of the Imperial Fleet, Thrawn would send orders moving the ship back one layer, and a fresher star destroyer would take its place. Thrawn saw two more of his ships disappear from his hologram, losses were climbing, but it was acceptable, and expected.

"Transmission received from Star Destroyer Eboch," reported Captain Vasis. "It's a squad commander in the hangar bay, they've lost communication with the bridge, they're saying fighting has broken out all over the ship. Our response Grand Admiral?" Thrawn was quiet, he was thinking, analyzing the situation.

"Captain Vasis, order gunnery teams to destroy the Eboch"

Vasis whisked across the bridge to protest,

"Grand Admiral-"

Thrawn reached out and grabbed the Captain by the wrist and pulled him close. The Grand Admiral was practically hissing as he walked Vasis through his reasoning.

"If the only communication we have received is from a squad in the hangar bay, and they can't communicate with the bridge, that means they probably do not control the bridge. Which means they can't raise the shields, and if they can't raise the shields, they can't stop drones from beaming aboard from incoming Borg ships. There could be thousands of drones aboard that ship, not including assimilated officers and stormtroopers. We would have to send a legion of troops and droids to recapture her. Meanwhile, the Borg is assimilating information we do not want them to have. So, Captain Vasis, do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal"

A moment later, the Eboch exploded from the pulverizing assault by the Vigilant. Thrawn looked down for a moment and sighed. He hated losing ships, he hated losing troops, but what he hated most of all was losing wars. With that in mind, he signaled for an update on Lord Vader's assault fleet, deep inside Borg Space.

Fifty light-years away, a Borg Industrial center lay in ruin. The planet had been bombarded by another massive Imperial fleet, headed by Lord Vader's Super Star Destroyer Executor. Vader had exited hyperspace ten minutes after Thrawn had begun his attack. It was a perfectly timed maneuver. The local Borg vessels had been recalled at maximum warp to Unimatrix 01 and the planet lay defenseless. Across the Delta and Beta Quadrants the same story unfolded over the next several weeks.

With the Collective in complete disarray, Borg production facilities were systematically destroyed before a defending fleet of Borg ships could consolidate and counter-attack. The tremendous speed advantage the Empire enjoyed was used to full effect. A fleet of star destroyers could cross the galaxy in five days, whereas it would take the Borg decades.

When crafting his master plan, Thrawn knew any protracted war with the Borg would eventually lead to them assimilating the necessary technology to counter the Empire strategically as well as tactically. Borg weapon systems were superior in many ways, but they could not rally their ships across their territory in a reasonable amount of time. This strategic weakness was Thrawn's only hope of defeating them, he could not risk battles on equal footing. Every engagement had to be 50:1, the higher the better.

Three weeks after the campaign commenced, it is hard to judge the exact state of the Collective, but a dismal transmission intercepted by a probe droid may be an indicator.

SITUATIONAL ANALYSIS

-UniMatrix 01 destroyed

-Transwarp-Hub destroyed

-288 production facilities destroyed

-170 planet facilities non-functional

-56 million drones destroyed

-18 Tactical Cubes destroyed

-377 Cubes destroyed

-413 Spheres destroyed

-Severe communication blackouts

-drone regeneration efficiency 77%

-weapons analysis 12%

-countermeasure analysis 34%

-priority analysis [propulsion]

-SIGNAL LOST-

-connecting-

-backup system online

-research hyperspace propulsion fields

-countermeasures

-SIGNAL LOST-

-connecting-

-evade and retreat

Imperial Galaxy - Coruscant

The Emperor grinned from ear to ear as weekly reports arrived on his desk. Nothing can stand against the Empire. It had now been four months since the wormhole had been opened to him, and the plan that he had approved was working flawlessly. Vader was thoroughly convinced his precious Padme was only months away from revival, and the Emperor's military advisers expected the Alpha Quadrant to submit within a year, the entire galaxy in less than five. Pathetic, they stand no chance against us he chuckled to himself. Palpatine was playing his cards diligently, he could not give away his advanced knowledge provided by Q. The super-being wanted the humans enslaved or destroyed, but this fact could not be revealed to anyone. That goal would be obtained naturally through Thrawn's mandate to control the Galaxy.

The Emperor grinned as he viewed the endless city landscape of Coruscant. His plan to control the Imperial galaxy had taken decades, but that was different. It had already been united by the Republic and so a slow political takeover was necessary. Not so in this case... Yet as he sat and reflected, a nervousness filled a tiny crevice of his brain. The Force was still only showing him fragmented images of the future, his clairvoyance had not returned. He hoped that his powers would alert him to dangers, but he could not be sure. An intelligence apparatus now more than ever had to be maintained. The most significant threat from the other galaxy is now neutralized, but the rebels...what of the rebels? It was a question he had been mulling over for weeks. Luke Skywalker was also a problem, it was too risky for Vader to take matters into his own hands. Vader must bring his son before me, then Darth Maul and I shall destroy them both…

Milky Way Galaxy - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

The Enterprise had reached Earth orbit almost three weeks ago, with all crew members participating in debriefings and interviews by Starfleet Intelligence and other branches. Now as those priorities were wrapping up, political formalities were in full swing. Within the prestigiously large and lush office of the Federation President, Captain Kirk stood front and center. His gold uniform a stark contrast to the red Captain and Admiral uniforms used today. The presidential office was lined wall to wall with dignitaries, Admirals, and reporters, taking holographic records of the historic event.

"President Jaresh-Inyo, it is an honor," said the Captain extending his hand,

It was accepted firmly and enthusiastically,

"No Captain Kirk, the honor is all mine." The President was not human, he was a species from the planet Grazerite, a Federation member world which had joined over a hundred years ago. Long gone was the stigma and xenophobia of the previous centuries, any member world could select a representative to run for office. "I can only understand how hard this must be for you and your crew," said the president remorsefully. Kirk smiled, and looked around the room at the Admirals and advisers seated around. They all had a sparkle in their eye, a living legend was standing before them. James T. Kirk was the youngest Captain to ever sit in the chair, at only 35 years old, he had already completed three years of his five-year mission, and he was admired as highly today as he was then.

"Since we arrived in this century," Said Kirk looking around slowly, he was speaking to the Admirals, looking each of them in the eye, "...our reception has been extraordinary. Everyone has treated us with the utmost respect. But. I need to get my crew home. To their time. And. Their place." A look of disappointment was shared among a few, they wanted him to stay and continue his career in this timeline. Their eyes dropped knowing it was wrong to wish such things, he was right, the Enterprise had to return.

"We will Captain, we promise you we will do everything we can to help you, but please, now that you have been debriefed you must enjoy the small time you have here," said the President motioning towards his window. The Golden Gate Bridge shone in the sunlight, a beautiful spring day with vibrant warmth and color stretched to the horizon. Kirk made his way to the window and stood looking at the scenery below. Starfleet officers and cadets were walking busily between buildings and campus, smiling, laughing and otherwise enjoying their time. He had done the same thing, in the same buildings over a hundred years ago. Not much has changed… his thoughts drifted to the conversation with Bones back aboard the Enterprise, my crew... Starfleet...humanity...

"A little shore leave never hurt anyone I suppose," said the captain with a smile. "Has Starfleet had any luck with the probe or spatial anomalies?"

"Yes a little, we will hold a briefing later today, you and your first officer are invited to attend. In the meantime, go and enjoy the day," he said with a smile. Kirk smiled back, nodded to the assembled group and exited the room.

He had several hours to kill, Bones was busy on Spacedock 01 high above Earth. He had been invited to pour over the medical reports of the mysterious patient from Phobos. Spock was equally busy with Starfleet Intelligence and Stellar Cartography. Kirk looked around and decided to head out into the fresh air to clear his head and take a moment to think everything over.

"Gentlemen," Kirk nodded as he entered the turbolift with two other officers. "Does anyone know where I can get a bite to eat besides a replicator?" asked Kirk as the turbolift continued its journey. He looked at both men but then realized one was not a man at all, it was a machine, an android.

"I do not require subsistence, but-"

"No. Of course not...Mr. Data?" asked Kirk with a keen eye, he had read about him on his three month long journey back to Earth.

"Yes sir," replied the surprised Data, he had not expected Captain Kirk to know of him so soon.

Kirk smiled and eyed the other officer,

"Well, how about you... Lieutenant….?"

"Gulliver sir,"

"Know of a good place to eat?"

"Pastry Farm across the walkway from door C-12 sir," said the square-jawed lieutenant. Kirk nodded at the much needed advice as he looked the Lieutenant over. If he hadn't known better, he'd had thought the Lieutenant was cut from a piece of iron.

"Yes.." Data's eyes were flashing through the city history "...recently opened by a Betazed merchant..." Data's eyes continued a flurry of activity "...recently acquired by Quark Limited.." Kirk eyed him carefully as the yellow-skinned humanoid tilted his head slightly in what seemed like confusion,

"Mr. Data. You seem to have something on your mind."

"Sorry Captain, I was just accessing the updated city-file on the cafe', it seems the owner has been killed in a transporter malfunction...the new owner is Quark Limited also owner of-"

Kirk raised his hand with a big smile,

"Thank you Commander, I think that is all I need to know." Minutes later, fresh air filled the Captain's nostrils as he took a deep satisfying breath outside the building. He missed the outdoor smell, growing up in Iowa provided daily doses in his youth, now almost forgotten. Enjoyment of the pleasing aroma didn't last long, interrupted by a beeping communicator.

"Kirk here,"

"Jim, are you done your meetings yet?"

"Yes I'm done. How are things going with you?"

"This patient profile, my God,"

"Why are you doing that anyway? Don't they have doctors in the 24th century?"

"I'm a surgeon Jim, that's what I do, I don't go around shaking hands of big shots," countered McCoy.

Kirk laughed at his friend's response, typical of the doc to brush aside politics.

"Bones, you need to come down here and relax," said Kirk looking up at the sky.

"I will, but this soldier should have been dead, I mean...and she, this other one here…" he could hear Bones moving around data pads, "this one has no DNA, can you believe it? No DNA Jim."

"Where are they now?"

"Some cafe', Pastry Farm, I think it's called. Everyone is talking about it."

"Funny enough I'm headed there now,"

"Starfleet Intelligence is tailing them, they've been questioned and monitored for three months, there was no medical reason to keep them under restraint. Starfleet Medical implanted neural-regressors in the male, they have a guard near him most of the time." Kirk finished the conversation and headed out towards the cafe'. Starfleet must have run out of questions, but I have not. Maybe I can find a connection, some...shared experience. Something. Kirk had spent many hours listening to the audio recordings of the interviews, he knew Cienna's memory was blocked and it had not recovered since her rescue. He was not sure about the soldier, the last interview seemed to reveal strange stories, but I have heard many before,

The captain rounded a building paralleling the cafe' only to stop dead in his tracks; his knees locked up, his heart jumped. There she is… Cienna was seated at a table on the cafe' patio, her hair and dress were blowing gently in the warm breeze and her smooth skin radiated a golden brown in the bright sun. The asteroid size lump in his throat finally went down as he walked forward, he could not believe her beauty. It took another twenty steps to even notice the person she was sitting with, That must be him...the soldier…

Kirk approached the patio, it was surrounded by a quaint fence with potted plants evenly spaced around the exterior. He nodded to the guards and then stopped a few feet from the seated pair. Cienna at first did not notice him but then turned her head slowly and locked eyes, brilliant eyes that no man could resist.

"Hello, I'm Captain-"

"Kirk," her voice melted through his ears and every impulse in his brain exploded into a symphony of excitement. He wasn't sure how she knew, but it did not matter at that exact moment. His devilish grin and steely eyes caused her to return a smile, "It is a pleasure to meet you." Starfleet Intelligence concluded that she posed no threat, and so limited information sharing was allowed. She had been informed of both John and the Enterprise who had crossed through dimension and time, Kirk's unfamiliar uniform giving him away in this instance.

"And are you...John?" asked the captain, extending his hand towards the man seated across from her.

"Yes," he said as he met the captain halfway with a firm handshake. He was dressed in plain civilian clothes, his eyes were lifeless and black. The reports were accurate, he is dead inside. Maybe it's the neural-regressor thought Kirk. No man can be that dead inside.

"May I join you?"

"Of course," said Cienna, offering the seat beside her with a small pat of her hand. Kirk may, or may not have visibly gulped. He took a seat and called the waiter over for a drink,

"I have been brought up to date on current events, it seems we are all trapped here together...in this time and place," he said looking around. "I've also had a chance to review the interviews that were conducted with each of you. That being said. I'd like to hear it from you. Cienna, what is your connection to John?"

Chapter Text

Blind

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth - Starfleet Command

The Enterprise - D had been recalled to Earth from the Elop system over two months ago. Cienna, rescued from certain death near the half-exploded star was of supreme interest to Starfleet. Cause and effect had not been established between the mystery woman and the half-nova and so extensive deliberation, time, and research was being devoted to his question.

In normal times, a ship would stay no longer than a few days, a week at most. But these were not normal times, or normal circumstances.

Captain Picard took another sip of cool water to soothe his dry throat, discussion related to minor and major events was continuing into its third hour, his energy fading as time crawled forward. Seated around an enormous twenty-meter table were senior leaders of Starfleet Command as well as two members of the Federation Security Council. The Federation was frantically trying to get a grasp on the entire situation; with similar meetings were being held on other member worlds. The strange space phenomena had stopped no sooner than it had started, with only four known occurrences up to this point. An unknown man in a suit of bloodstained armor appearing half materialized in the frozen ground on the Martian moon Phobos. An incredible half-nova in the Elop system with a distressed ship caught in its wake. The Enterprise from another era moving eighty years into the future, and finally a displaced outer planet in the Betazed system with no accompanying ship or person. Starfleet had checked and re-checked logs at the local Betazed branch, nothing appeared to be missed. In three out of four occurrences, something or someone had accompanied the phenomena. Starfleet was befuddled, baffled, and perplexed.

Why was it happening? They could not answer that question. To compound this issue were the endless waves of penetrating probes. Were they related to the space phenomenon? What was their origin? Who was sending them? Why were they sending them? What threat did they pose? Initially the Borg were the assumed culprit, but thanks to Captain Kirk those fears were laid to rest. The capture of the damaged probe had given insight into who was not sending them rather than who was.

Round-the-clock, engineers were working to reassemble the damaged or destroyed probes littering the solar systems with little success. The technology was very different from what was typically found within the Alpha Quadrant. The computer cores all seemed to be heavily encrypted, and the propulsion systems made the least sense of all. Complementing this engineering effort was the diplomatic outreach to other Alpha Quadrant empires, everyone was trying to determine what the others knew without giving too much away; discussion to share information was going in circles. All this and more had been covered up to this point in the Council Chamber. Still, debriefing and debate continued.

"Captain, I would like to ask you a question about the Dominion," said Council Member Peron from Vulcan. "You have studied the information as well as we have, what are your thoughts?"

"Council Member, we simply do not have enough information to make a determination. We have to be mindful not to make assumptions about their intentions and motives,"

Peron keyed a few buttons and the hologram above the table shifted to show a tactical overlay of the Alpha Quadrant, a small red blinking dot standing out against the solar systems.

"You are of course familiar with Bajor, if it were not for them, we would not control the wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant."

"Yes of course," replied Picard as he studied the overlay. The wormhole, located only a few hundred-thousand kilometers from the Bajoran planet was the only link to an unexplored region of the galaxy known as the Gamma Quadrant. Taking over sixty years to make the fifty-thousand light year journey with conventional warp drive, the wormhole created a natural bottleneck of control and influence. The Bajorans were not members of the Federation, instead, allowing for joint management of Deep Space 9 after it was reclaimed at the end of the Bajoran-Cardassian war. The station which was situated at the entrance of the wormhole allowed for commerce, trade, and a launch-point into the Gamma Quadrant for exploratory and diplomatic missions. The Dominion controlled large swaths of this mysterious quadrant, claiming absurd levels of territorial control.

"We would like the Enterprise to proceed through the wormhole to try and make contact with the so-called, Founders." Picard nodded in approval; we cannot in our haste judge those who we do not know

"Is the Enterprise to be expected? The Vorta are adamant that they speak for the Founders." Asked the captain.

Director Sloan, who was seated at the table cut in,

"We have been in communication with the Vorta, but we need to discover who is behind them. What are their motives? What do they want?" Council Member Peron turned to face the newly assertive Director.

"I see you are taking your new responsibilities as head of Starfleet Intelligence seriously, but please remember we cannot condemn those before we have enough information," said the Vulcan as a matter of fact.

Sloan let off an icy smile and turned his attention back to Picard.

"My apologies Council Member, I just hope the captain is aware this is a fact-finding mission, not just a diplomatic meet-and-greet." His operatives had been working non-stop for a year trying to determine who precisely the Founders were. Traders, smugglers, bartenders, no one seemed to know. It was impossible for him to judge the actual threat without knowing who they were and how they operated. Now with his new post, he could control undercover operatives with Intelligence as well as Section 31, each unaware of the other. Sloan felt beyond confident that the Founders were behind the recent probe incursions into the Alpha Quadrant, and he doubted the Federation was ready for what was coming next.

Jean-Luc was skeptical, of both the mission and the Vorta's reluctance to introduce the Founders.

"It seems to me, that we are experiencing a little pushback when it comes to exploring the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion is laying claim to thousands of light-years, is that correct?"

Admiral Ross who oversees DS9 and surrounding sectors voiced particularly frustrated.

"The Vorta say the Dominion has occupied that region of space for hundreds of years. The exit to the wormhole in the Gamma Quadrant is apparently in the heart of their territory. They do not want us there. Ships we sent through have all been escorted back, only traders and gun-runners are allowed free passage.

"They appear to have no problem coming here, however," noted Picard.

"They keep coming into the Alpha Quadrant on diplomatic missions-"

"Can we not block the wormhole?" asked another Admiral.

This time, Council Member Dundas, representing Earth piped in,

"On what authority? That isn't Federation space, and never has been, its Bajors. There are hundreds of ships a month that go to and fro between both Quadrants, are we to stop them all? In case anyone has not figured it out yet, we have no moral authority here. Why do we get to decide who enters the Alpha Quadrant and who doesn't? Bajor can't enforce a blockade on their own, and if we help them, we are just as guilty. We need a treaty signed with the Dominion to allow for fair access."

"Do we know if the Ferengi have signed a cross-border agreement?"

"We do not know."

"Rumour is the Cardassians are trying to sign one as well."

"Well, it's only a rumor…"

"Shouldn't you know?'

"Shouldn't you?"

"As you all know, we now have a solution for the Gamma Quadrant, the Defiant. She is being sent to DS9 right now, she should arrive in less than a week," said Dundas as he wrestled to keep control of the conversation.

"Well that is a relief, that borrowed Romulan cloaking device took us three years to negotiate; but I'm more concerned about this Cienna character," said Admiral Paris.

"Oh?" Picard raised his eyebrow,

"It seems to me, that your Counselor Troi was able to determine she was not lying. And even after several weeks of interacting with your crew, nothing more has come to light."

"Yes Admiral, that is correct."

"Jean-Luc...how can she come from another galaxy and not know more than just her name and a few vague details?"

"That Admiral has been logged in my report, both mine and Counselor Troi's."

"Yes, I've read it. Just doesn't seem right to me."

Picard continued to be peppered with questions until he was finally excused. Food and drinks were brought in, and the discussion continued for several additional hours. The crux of the problem facing Starfleet was that too much was happening simultaneously without enough information to support a strategy. Sensor ranges, measured in millions or perhaps in some cases billions of kilometers, while appearing impressive, were in fact entirely inadequate for seeing beyond the confines of Federation territory. What was happening in one small section of the galaxy may, or may not have been happening in other areas. Were the spatial phenomena universal? Or galactic? Was it concentrated? None of these questions could be answered.

Concerning diplomatic issues, any civilization able to negotiate 'fair pass' treaty with the Dominion would allow for unobstructed travel into the unknown Quadrant. Typically, a treaty for technology sharing would soon follow. The possibilities were dizzying when one laid them all out. The Vorta, the representatives from the Dominion adamantly deny the probes to be theirs, suggesting the spatial anomalies were just that, anomalies. It posed a big problem politically, without knowing for sure who was sending the ships, it was hard to convince member worlds that a treaty with the Dominion was beneficial. All over, these unknown probes were entering atmosphere's, crashing into oceans or disrupting common routes for freighters and commercial ships.

On top of all the listed problems, which seemed to stretch to infinity when laid out, the pressing question of the Enterprise, Cienna and the marine on Phobos had yet to be solved.

"Director Shannon, can you explain to me again how the Enterprise moved eighty years into the future?" asked Dundas looking down at his datapad.

"We are now confident that a fold in space-time occurred near the demilitarized zone, we are equally convinced the same chronometric frequency was present on Phobos, in the Elop system, and near Betazed. They are all linked."

"Is it a weapon?"

"If it was, it is incomplete, the outcome was..." Direct Shannon was searching for words,

"Illogical," said the Vulcan coldly.

"Could it be the Q?" groans could be heard from around the table. That possibility was in the back of everyone's mind, but it was utterly unprovable.

"If it is the Q, we may as well stop researching and investigating this now, there is no pattern or reason," said Dundas dismissively.

"If I may," Sloan inched forward in his chair and looked around the room at each of the senior officers, "If it is the Q, there could be a reason." This seemed to make everyone uneasy, yet they could not deny this possibility. No one was sure how to proceed, there just wasn't enough information.

"I am reading the report on the woman Cienna, she says she was sent here...no sorry," Dundas quickly switched back to another data page, "...she was inside her master's ship, it was not in this galaxy, or at least she does not believe it was. Not in this galaxy? How is that type of travel even possible? Why are we not interrogating her Sloan?" This question surprised many at the table, Starfleet did not interrogate. There was a fine line between interrogation and questioning, and that line had been walked a thousand times on a hundred planets, but not crossed.

"We are allowing her and the soldier from Phobos to move about. They alone are no threat, but that does not mean we cannot gain valuable information. We are monitoring them around the clock, it appears the woman knows the soldier...the slightest slip and we will pounce on them. In fact, I was just told as of right now they are meeting with Captain Kirk at the Pastry Farm."

"Captain Kirk, surely you do not suspect him of anything?" Scoffed an Admiral.

"We in Intelligence assume nothing and verify everything," said Sloan coldly. His cheekbones pulsating with disdain. All that matters is the prosperity of Starfleet, and no hero from the past is going to blind our vision

"This is preposterous!" shouted another,

"Are you saying Kirk is in league with these people?" More shouts and disagreements were hurled at Sloan, but he sat motionless and cold. Finally, after a minute, Council Members Dundas and Peron rose from their seats and addressed the hot collared officers.

"We are going to meet with the President to advise him of our recommendations; please continue your work. We know it is difficult, but we must get to the bottom of all of this, dismissed."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Cardassian Homeworld

"Ambassador, for the last time, we are within our rights to mine ore from the demilitarized zone. We have even issued the colonists joint-venture mining permits," said the head of the Cardassian Detapa Council, the chief governing body of the Cardassian Union which borders the Klingon and Federation territories.

"We are not saying you cannot mine ore, what we are saying is you are setting up mining facilities and then issuing joint-venture certificates. Either they start mining with you, or they have to leave," said John Tilbury, a Federation diplomat.

"You are pushing them into Klingon territory with this mining; we do not want your colonists," spat the Klingon ambassador who was also present at the discussion. A treaty between the Cardassian Union and Federation had lead to the transfer of dozens of colonized worlds whose inhabitants refused to relocate. The colonists who were once Federation citizens now existed in diplomatic purgatory. This swath of space was now called the demilitarized zone, where only trade and commerce could be sought.

"In the last six years, we have registered over one-hundred thousand migrants. We are no longer allowing them to move into our territory."

"One hundred thousand? Surely, Ambassador, you are exaggerating," said a Detapa Council member.

"Why are you talking like we are not here?" asked the representative of one of the colony clusters. The colony worlds were no more united than the countries of 20th century Earth, some grouped together politically but others pursued their own path. This loose governance made negotiation incredibly tricky, and was the primary reason why nothing had been accomplished diplomatically up to this point.

"Quiet, you are lower than a Melarian Slime Beetle, we-" said a Detapa Council member before being interrupted,

"You will not talk to us that way! Your mines have ruined our worlds; the planets are dying. All we ask is you leave us in peace! We have never bothered you, we are farmers, and builders, we want to be left in peace!" She shouted. The representative spun on her heels to leave but never took another step.

A massive explosion ripped through the chamber and blasted its way into the surrounding buildings. Overpressure, measured in millions of atmospheres snapped the reinforced walls like toothpicks, the capital building seemed to expand, and then with nothing left to hold it up, collapsed into a smoldering ruin. Smoke billowed thousands of feet into the air, and fires raged in all directions. The scene was horrific, a chaotic mix of shredded bodies and duranium alloy.

Local officials were scrambling, full evacuation the capital city had been ordered. Within a minute, planetary lock-down was initiated. Less than an hour later, secured in an emergency bunker, new heads of government were sworn in. A one-kiloton bomb had been planted beneath the Detapa's chamber. Every living person within the building was dead, including a Dominion delegation who had been on the twentieth floor.

"Send a message to the Klingon's, Federation and Dominion, tell them we have been attacked and that we will send them a casualty list when it is available." snapped Gul Dukat, newly appointed ruler of Cardassia.

"Message coming in from the Dominion ship in orbit," reported an aid,

"Put it through."

"Gul Dukat, this is Weyoun, what can we do to help?"

Chapter Text

Destiny

Imperial Galaxy - Outer Rim - Outland Transit Station

The heavy clunk of Han Solo's boots filled the vast multi-story hanger bay. Stretching for several kilometers, it serviced many small and medium-sized merchant ships daily. Outland Transit Station, the most notorious, scum-ridden trade outpost in the galaxy was situated far from regular commerce routes. It had three individual sections, merchant, entertainment and the hanger bay. Eighty-thousand pirates, scoundrels, traders, gamblers, and prostitutes called it home, with another ten million visitors coming throughout the year. It was a cesspool of vice and immoral-aptitude.

Han slowed his pace, looking around to take it all in.

"Smell that kid?" A big whiff of air filled his lungs, the damp atmosphere drifted with dank stale filth. Still the same

"Smells great Han, where to?" asked Luke sarcastically. Their mission, to uncover the details of a 'new day' initiative the Empire had launched several months ago. Word was spreading throughout the systems that the Imperials sought bounty hunters looking for a change of scenery. Yes, it was true the Empire often recruited bounty hunters to achieve specific goals deemed politically sensitive, but this program captured all the necessary ingredients of a galaxy-wide effort. According to rebel spies, thousands of recruited bounty hunters were rushing off in various directions without a trace. The underground information web spun far and wide, and yet even in the whispers in the dingiest of bars on the most forbidden worlds their fate was uncertain. Han was counting on his old connections to help the Rebellion ascertain where the 'hunters' were, or what their mission was. Chewie murmured something to Han as the three rested up against a guardrail overlooking one of the 'streets' in the merchant district.

"You said it...lost a lot of money here," said Han staring out into the sea of bobbing heads, whistling as the memories came pouring back, "...lots...of money." Chewie growled and pointed a hairy finger towards one of the commercial stands,

"Wow, it's still here, lost eight thousand credits in that dump." Chewie shot him a look, "...you said I had until next year to pay you back."

Luke felt uneasy, his initial reservations about the mission were now being verified.

"Han, are you sure we are going to be able to walk around here, maybe someone you swindled is going to recognize you,"

The smuggler turned his head in total shock,

"Luke, we did a lot of good deals around here, right Chewie?" said Han slapping his friend's shoulder. "...we did good deals, hardly any of them went sour. A few went sour...actually…" Luke could not help but roll his eyes as he saw doubt creeping onto Han's face, "...we had a few bad ones...we had one good deal, a really good one," Han offered a smug nod and the trio started off towards the merchant sector.

Pushing through hordes of vermin-pirates and sweaty inhabitants, music and shouting bombarded their ears as each shop, canteen, bar, or storefront offered something different. The internal maze-city, closely resembling a shanty-town, was overrun with homeless merchants and drug runners lying low or unconscious between the stores. Luke's senses were on high alert, his hand no more than a few inches from his lightsaber beneath his brown cloak. After more than an hour, Han stopped in front of a rundown hut.

"Karm, how are ya?" asked Solo with a grin. They were stopped in front of a freshwater food deli, disgusting clumps of tentacle and fish slop were overflowing from the trough. The slithery alien with twenty eyes twitched, making strange gurgling noises while it jabbered at Solo.

"Oh, I forgot about that, uh, listen, I'm a little short…" Karm repeated the same sound sequence, and Han couldn't hide his reluctance as he leaned towards Chewie. "Just pay him what I owe, and then we can get the info and get out of here."

Luke was looking on in amazement, there must not have been a single person Han had not double-crossed or cheated. Chewie handed over the credit chips which Karm counted carefully before ushering them into a back room where an enormously fat alien waited.

"Solo, you scoundrel, what brings you to this corner of the galaxy?" asked the repulsive merchant,

"Need some information,"

"Oh ya?" He slobbered.

"Heard there are some good contracts for bounty hunters,"

"I sell fish, what do I know?" Luke was carefully looking the man over, not with his vision, but through the Force. He sensed weakness, fear, joy, passion, drive and many other aspects of the fat merchants being. He felt his weak mind, and how quickly it could be tricked or convinced. I should tell these people was the mental suggestion. A moment later, "Ok, listen, I get contracts, but I farm them out, I get twenty percent." I should tell them everything was the next impulse. "These contracts are for information gathering; it's crazy Han! Crazy! The Empire wants these bounty hunters to find them information, to blend in, I don't know. I guess they hide and get information, or they become citizens, I'm not sure really. Fifteen thousand credits for six months, it's great."

Han raised an eyebrow, that was a lot of money,

"Where are they going? What information?"

"I don't know where they go, but I know they have to go get a new ship in the Kuat docks, custom built for them. Can you believe it? Custom built ships for bounty hunters!"

"A new ship and lots of money, I'd like one of those contracts, but where do I go? What part of the galaxy do I end up in?" asked Han.

"Ask Ruuni; he just got back." Luke felt a sudden danger. Behind him he could perceive a blaster raising to take a shot, he spun around and ignited his lightsaber just in time to deflect a bolt streaking for his face. The bolt deflected back towards its shooter, a hole the size of a fist blew through the chest of an unknown alien. Panic and chaos erupted in the streets. Screams and confusion swept the marketplace as everyone dove for cover. Luke was undeterred. As the steaming body slumped to the floor, Luke drove in with the power of the Force, this is Runni. He pushed his skills to the limit, where had he been? What had he seen? There it is..oh my… Vivid images filled his mind, he could see what Ruuni had done. Another galaxy… Luke was trying to process the experiences when he felt something else. Something he had not sensed since… Yavin

Luke reached out with a hand and shoved his friend aside,

"Han get down!"

The flimsy merchant wall exploded inward, and Luke spun to meet the intruder. Red and blue lightsabers connected in a torrent of energy. Vader. It was impossible! Luke saw his own reflection in the black helmet, both men were locked in place, unwavering.

A Force projection of dark power obliterated the room and Han and Chewie were sent careening away, tumbling end over end through people and merchandise. Luke was unable to help them now, all his energy was focused on the dark lord. He had been well trained, but despite this, his body trembled. Luke disconnected his lightsaber and struck hard, focusing all his strength and Force energy into a single swing. He connected with a tonnage of power, Vader's wrists buckled under the stress as he disengaged and stepped back, he had not expected such a blow.

Luke pushed forward, his sword held, his legs held, his arms held, his soul held. Vader retreated under the onslaught. Slicing through errand tables and shelves, Luke was an unstoppable force. Sweat was already pooling in his hair, his body was expending vast amounts of energy, but, somewhere deep down, in the recesses of his spirit, lay untold ethers of it. He was powerful, more powerful than Vader had anticipated, but he was still learning, and there is much to learn

A metal shelving unit disconnected from the wall and rushed towards Luke's head, the rebel ducking and rolling just in time to avoid decapitation. Vader lunged forward but there was no advantage to be gained. Luke leaped back onto his feet, snapping on his lightsaber and catching Vader's in mid-swing. Again they locked eyes,

"I have been expecting you, young Skywalker," rumbled Vader.

Brittle displays smashed to the ground, and fire leaped from one shelf to another as both lightsabers slashed and parried. They made their way out onto the 'street,' Luke was pushing hard, each blow equivalent to a sledgehammer. Thirty feet away Han and Chewie were pulling themselves out of a pile of garbage but were quickly knocked to the ground by a pair of waiting gun-drawn stormtroopers.

"Luke, I have foreseen this." Lightsabers crisscrossed again and again. Vader had now adjusted to Luke's power; their duel was now balanced, each unable to best the other. "I sense," said Vader under the stress of the fight, "that you have too." Luke continued to ignore him as he desperately tried to find an advantage, up-down-left-right-sideways, all attacks were parried, but no ground was given. By now hundreds of merchants had either fled or taken up spectator positions on the handrails above. No one had seen a Jedi in twenty years; no one had believed there were any left. "Luke," Vader grumbled, "It was a cloud city," Luke disconnected his lightsaber and stood back.

"Why should I listen to you?" he managed to say, his chest was heaving, his hair a mess. Then, Luke heard Vader's voice in his head, It was another life, another existence. He attacked the dark lord again with new vigor. He could not understand why this murderer was talking to him, the man who killed his Aunt and Uncle, the man who almost killed Leia. Each blow was stronger than the previous, his anger was swelling up, but it was met with equal violence, with equal Force. Vader was using all the tricks in his arsenal, bodies, chairs, walls, shelves, garbage, and more were now flying through the air, Luke was fighting a battle on all fronts.

To the untuned observer, it would seem that Luke's two companions were watching helplessly, but that was far from the case. The stormtroopers now more interested in the fight than their duties, were paying little attention to what was happening beside them. Han's hand was slipping into his satchel, his fingers rummaging around slowly for the thermal detonator, careful not to attract attention. There it is...

"Watch out kid!" he shouted. Suddenly, Chewie swiped both stormtrooper's legs, causing them to fall on their backs. Han tossed the thermal detonator like a grenade while simultaneously drawing his blaster and cracking off a shot. Vader spun around and deflected the bolt harmlessly, but was unable to do anything about the thermal detonator. Luke realized the danger and used a Force-assisted jump to catapult towards his friends, then,

BOOM!

For the next several seconds it was complete and utter chaos on the merchant level. Smoke and debris filled the air, the deafening sound of the explosion burst ear drums and caused concussions all around. Chewie snapped the necks of both stormtroopers while Han coughed and staggered to find his friend. He did.

"Let's get outta here!" Screamed the smuggler.

Han and Chewie were in the lead, bowling over any hapless trader or merchant unfortunate enough to step into their path. Luke was backpedaling the entire way, deflecting blaster bolts and slashing and cutting when needed.

Han was plowing forward like a wild man, his frenzied hair and quick hip-shots had all the ingredients of a man unhinged.

"Faster kid! Faster!" Tables, chairs and knickknacks were being smashed or tossed aside, with blaster fire ringing out in all directions. Hot on their heels were pursuing stormtroopers and other imperial officers. Smooth coordination between the units was now tossed out the window, the chaotic mess of people, debris, fires and smoke was a nightmare scenario. Many troopers were gunned down without even having raised their weapon, caught off guard on a blind corner or alleyway.

Up the stairs, past the security checkpoint, they were getting closer to the Millennium Falcon. Four more stormtroopers died, Chewie had hit them each with his bowcaster, another losing both arms at the hands of the lumbering wookie.

"Get up there and get her started, we'll hold them off!" The ramp of the Falcon lowered, and Chewie ran up the ramp like an out of control freight train.

Han turned back and took a knee behind the landing gear, with Luke deciding to stay in the open preparing to deflect blaster bolts. They came. The hull of the Falcon sparked and hissed from dozens of impacts. More than ten stormtroopers were trying to break out into the open, they knew that the rebels were about to escape, and in their earpieces officers were screaming at them to advance. Heavy weapons able to harm the Falcon was being brought up from lower levels and a real danger started to present itself.

"Han, we need to leave, now. Go." A few deflected bolts were sent back towards the grouped troopers before both Han and Luke were safe aboard their ship.

"This is gonna be close," outside Han could see a tripod being secured to the floor, the anti-ship weaponry was being set up. Systems hummed and servos whined under an accelerated startup sequence Chewie was implementing. Finally, after an incredibly long few seconds, the Falcon lifted off and blasted out of the hanger.

"We made it," said the exhausted Solo "Vader? How did he know we were there? They were waiting for us."

"I don't know, but he's alive, I can sense it," replied Luke. He had felt the Force 'wall' Vader had raised to protect himself from the blast. The energy had sent him across the room, but he was unharmed.

"You sure? That was point blank." Luke did not reply, he was looking out into the whirling vortex of hyperspace, he could hear HIM in his mind,

We were there Luke, in the clouds, on the walkway, it was you and I, father and son.

Luke's legs buckled, reaching for the passenger seat to steady himself; he had experienced the same vision, but he had thought it a dream. Retreating back into the Falcon, he sat alone and meditated. For a long time he was silent, searching the absolute fringes of the Force. He knew it was true, somehow, something had changed, their destiny's had changed. But the truth remained.

"Father,"

Son…

"I know what you want to do, I can sense it," whispered Luke,

Join me, it is the only way

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

Clenching her jaw and shaking her head, Cienna was beyond frustrated with her lost memories. She was trying desperately to explain to Kirk who she was, and how her and 'John' were tied together. More than an hour had passed since the three had sat down at Pastry Farm just outside Starfleet Command, but the conversation had hit a wall. Kirk was studying both of them, as he was sure they were looking over him.

"You know, I have a friend, someone who could help you. Someone who could help you unlock what is in there," he said with a smile as he pointed towards her head. "He's a Vulcan." His boyish smile radiating out, Cienna could almost feel the warmth from it.

Her eyes were glistening pearls,

"I would like that very much," she said with a soft smile. Kirk returned a half smile, but he was more interested in what lay behind the eyes, behind the smile. Who is this woman, what does she want? What does she know?

"And you, soldier, I do not believe your memories are blocked, I just think no one understands you." John was watching their interaction intently, expressionless, cold. He feared no man, no consequence.

HIs dull, lifeless eyes shifting back and forth, he had nothing to hide.

"What do you want to know,"

"Who were you fighting, why were you fighting them?"

"Demons, monsters, whatever you want to call them. I fought them, all of them, not just some. I died…" John's voice trailed off, seemingly reliving the events in his head, he was somewhere else, somewhere in his past. "I died a thousand times, and I kept coming back, I was brought back again and again to fight those things,"

"What things? Demons aren't enough John, what were they?" Kirk leaned in, pressing the issue.

"The portal, there was a portal that the scientists opened, some sort of portal, they said they got it out of a book. The things that came out-" they were not us, only the features we have begotten on mankind John winced in pain and his neural-regressor beeped on his temple.

"Stick with it John, tell me" demanded Kirk, slamming his fist down on the table.

"They were just their images, images that we could see and understand, but they are beyond the images, beyond those things. They speak to me, even now, I can hear them muttering," Deeper than thought we tread, deeper than your subconsciousness, in your soul we exist, "Oh god!" he screamed. Kirk looked over at the guards but to his surprise, they did not move, they stood watching, emotionless.

"What do they want John? What are they telling you?" asked Kirk.

"They want me to open a doorway, they-" Yog-Sothoth knows it, Yog-Sothoth is it, when the words are truly spoken. Kirk could see the mental anguish on the face of the Marine. There must be a way to get more information without torturing him, without this level of pain. As if fate were answering his request, Spock, now finished at Starfleet Intelligence stepped onto the patio.

John's eyes were closed, his breathing was deep and steady, relaxing the best he could. The captain motioned for his first officer to come over and he introduced him to Cienna and 'John'.

"I am hoping that you could mind meld with each, to help unlock those memories that we read about in the debriefing, And...to retrieve information...that seems difficult to access."

"Certainly," Spock pulled up a chair and sat down beside Cienna, "I cannot proceed without your expressed consent, nor can I guarantee success."

"I will do anything to remember, please help me."

It did not take long, within a minute Spock removed his hands from her cheek and sat back,

"I'm sorry, I cannot read your-"

Cienna shot out of her chair, standing straight up, frozen,

"I can remember, I... I can remember everything," she looked slowly around, but there was something different. Still gentle, still beautiful, but her soul appeared to have aged a thousand years. She looked down at each of the men before stopping at John, she reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. "I was to entrap you, I was on my way to trick you, to do the bidding of my masters. To have you open the gate. Those are not demons; they are beings from another place, there is no language to describe them, no picture to show them... We found them, in a book called the Necronomicon, and you have been healed and healed again, died and died again, a fragment of them, the smallest of parts is now part of you. It was all an elaborate plan. We are…" she stopped for a moment as she took it all in, the emotions, the lost memories now made available. "My master's have an alliance with them, to bring them through." John now placed his hands to his temples, this sudden revelation was causing waves of impulses to race through his mind. Only you can save her! When the time is right, as it will be again, we will tell you when it is near...

"But why?" Asked Kirk, trying not to distract himself with the convulsing facial pain covering 'John's' face.

"To win the war."

"Which war?"

"All wars, in all times, in all realities,"

Kirk stared at her in disbelief, not because he did not believe her, but from the ramifications of what was being suggested.

"Fascinating, I did not think I had touched your mind. Evidently, I did," said Spock, thoroughly perplexed. Kirk's communicator beeped, interrupting his train of thought.

"Kirk here,"

"Captain Kirk, Lt. Commander Gulliver," Kirk looked down at his communicator as he recognized the name, he had just met the officer an hour ago in the turbolift but he was only a lieutenant then,

"Promoted so soon Gulliver?"

"Yes Sir, sorry to disturb you, but your device isn't set to receive broadcast messages. Admiral Ross has issued a priority 1 message, you are ordered by Starfleet Command to briefing room A13."

"Acknowledged, Kirk out," just as his communicator snapped closed, an ominous siren swept across the bay. Everyone on the patio bolted,

"Let's go!" Kirk hurried off the patio, but not before grabbing Cienna gently by the wrist, "but you're coming with me, I need your help," he said looking deep into her eyes. His face was dead set, what she knows could mean life or death to the galaxy. She nodded in approval,

"You too soldier."

Briefing Room A13

The room was packed full of directors, captains, and branch leaders, anxiously awaiting the presentation to begin. A guard stood just outside the door and several admirals were huddled together at the front near the holographic controls.

Finally after a few minutes, Admiral Ross made his way to the podium,

"Attention. Attention. As of right now, Earth and all member worlds are on Priority 1 lockdown. Cardassian Prime has been attacked; we are getting reports our diplomat was killed along with the entire Cardassian Detapa Council." The room erupted with questions, but Ross waived his hand to silence it,

"Cardassia is holding us personally responsible for the death of their Council members. They sent us their security footage; Director Sloan believes it to be authentic." Ross let out a regretful sigh before continuing, "It shows our diplomatic security team planting a bomb under the chamber an hour before. They think we were trying to frame the colonists." Crosstalk and arguing rose again before being silenced. "Attention! People, there is more. As of eight minutes ago, a fleet of Dominion ships has set up a blockade on the Alpha Quadrant side of the wormhole. DS9 has reported there are twenty-six medical ships on their way to Cardassian space. All merchant traffic is being boarded and inspected. Bajor is trying to talk to the Dominion about this..." Ross moved to the side to allow the Federation top diplomat to take center stage.

"The Vorta have contacted us, they lost seventy people in the building, as Admiral Ross pointed out, the Dominion are sending medical ships and supplies to Cardassia. Weyuon, for anybody who doesn't know by now, is the top Vorta representative, says the blockade is for the safety of their ships. They do not want any Federation or Klingon ships going through the wormhole until a full investigation is completed. So far, they blame us,"

Captain Kirk stood up to ask a question,

"Have we verified the identity of the security team who planted the bomb?"

"Yes, of course, Captain Kirk," said Sloan from across the room. "All checkout, it was them."

Discussion continued, but it was futile, the necessary information was not available, and instead of the puzzle pieces coming together, they were being pushed apart, with more dumping onto the board. Luckily for the Federation, there was someone else listening in on the meeting. Through the minds of the assembled officers, Kinnison was listening, watching, feeling, sensing and digging. He had been accumulating information for over a month, his Pastry Farm sale to Quark Ltd. was the perfect springboard to start a new identity on Earth. He knew now that the Federation was hopelessly behind the information curve, there was so much they didn't realize, and he had decided he was going to help before he returned to his universe. Assisting Cienna unlock her memory was just the beginning, the Federation's knowledge or at least way of thinking needed to be expanded. He would begin the process now.

Within the briefing room a Betazoid stood from the crowd,

"I sense something…" He did not. It was all a ruse, his mind was no longer his, but the next series of events had to look as real and believable as possible, both live and on security footage.

"OH MY GOD!" Shouted a branch director from the back of the room. Everyone jumped and turned around to see what was happening. Senior Commander O'Donnell, a man everyone knew, was twisting into a new shape. His clothes and skin were dissolving into a yellow fluid, people panicked and scattered against the four walls,

"Security!" shouted Admiral Ross. O'Donnell was now slurping and slopping in his chair, the Changeling was losing its form. It did not want to, it was doing everything it could to stop the transformation, but there was nothing it could do. Its body actively being controlled by another mind, randomly shifting forms, exposing itself. Down the hall Kinnison was ready, Go he commanded.

Ensign Veeno, the security guard outside the briefing room door charged inward, phaser drawn. He fired center mass, striking the Changeling at maximum power. A loud shriek and the stench of burned flesh filled the room. It slumped in its chair, its liquid body solidifying into dark muck. Kinnison was already running headlong towards briefing room A13, arms pumping and chest heaving. Need to make this look just right. With a mental nudge, a group of senior officers huddling in the corner moved a few steps towards the door, just as Lieutenant Commander Gulliver came bursting in.

"Did someone call for secu-" The 'surprised' Gulliver smacked into the tightly packed group of officers like a bowling ball into pins. Datapads, communicators, phasers, tricorders and other items went flying in all directions. Curse words that cannot be printed were being tossed about as the pile of bodies tried to sort itself out.

"Gulliver! Be careful!" Shouted a shocked commander, pulling himself off the floor. Kinnison had played it flawlessly, the 'bumbling' Gulliver was just trying to help, no one would suspect he was more than just a security officer. Untangling himself from the bodies, he felt the Changeling was not quite dead, but severely wounded. It was laying still, trying to regenerate its damaged cells when Kinnison reached out telepathically, and killed it then and there, it's mind blasted. To those monitoring security footage, it would have seemed like it died from phaser fire, same with the autopsy. More security officers came rushing in and surrounded the smoldering, black muck.

"Thanks for stopping in," said Kirk as he extended his hand towards 'Gulliver' to help the man off the floor. Kinnison stood up and shook his head to feign confusion,

"Not sure what happened, heard a security call, was about twenty feet behind Veeno," he said, seemingly disoriented. The room was full of commotion, Starfleet personnel were rushing in and out, some to their offices, others to brief their direct reports. 'Gulliver' bent over and put his hands on his knees, "I feel so stupid, I can't believe I ran into those people,"

"It's okay Commander, you tried to get here, you had no idea they were standing there," Kirk patted the man on the shoulder, 'Gulliver' sighed and straightened his uniform before joining the other security officers. To a Second Stage Lensman, it was easy to appear to be doing one thing, but in fact be in several places at once. He was now 'operating' as two security guards in F building about two kilometers away. Kinnison had parked them precisely where they had to be for a series of events to 'randomly' occur. The pair were coming around a corner when they saw an engineer hurrying towards them. He was out of place, no engineers should have been in this section with lockdown protocols enacted.

"Stop!" shouted one of the officers. The engineer kept coming, they pulled their phasers and gave another warning. Against his will, the engineer continued to rush forward, every ounce of his thought was on controlling his body, but to no avail. One last warning was issued before the security pair opened fire. Upon being hit the engineer mutated and shifted into a globulous liquid, it sprang forward in an attempt to escape. Six security cameras were recording the encounter, a perfect setup. Kinnison knew that all security footage would be replayed and analyzed, even someone as smart as the Android Data could not be allowed to piece it all together. In the corridor under normal circumstances, both officers would have been killed, their stun settings having little effect. Unfortunately for the Changeling, a slight delay in its reflexes was all the time required to allow the guards to switch their phasers settings to kill. It died in the next volley. A black sludge stained the carpet, both officers were released from control, both believing they had completed the task on their own. Kinnison was careful to leave no trace of his telepathic presence, he careful disconnected himself, not even a Vulcan mind meld at a later date could uncover his manipulation.

Kinnison had for weeks been watching the Changelings, he had dissected their minds a thousand times without their knowledge. He knew there were more, plenty more, all over the Federation, but not even he could feel them at interstellar distances; their plans were devious. Kinnison's hope was for the Federation to start looking at the Alpha Quadrant turmoil with a bit more vision; necessary vision to uncover the truth. He could of course tell them, but it would then reveal his existence, he could plant the information in their minds, but that could lead to questions by others. He was still unsure if he was indeed alone. Was there something he could not detect, watching, waiting for a slip-up? The best he could figure, in his universe, his speeder had been pulled into the maelstrom set by the Ploorians. He was only in the hyperspace tube for a moment before he felt a tremendous jolt and then the tree line on Betazed appeared. Had something followed him in? It was impossible to know. Ploor had been destroyed, the pirate organization Boskone was history. This new universe he found himself in was so unique, so different from the one he knew. The Q are undoubtedly the top dogs, the biggest operators, but seem mostly passive according to Federation records. The real struggle he figured was between near equal races, and the deck was getting stacked.

Across the room, deliberation and analysis had already started on the new discovery,

"Spock, hypothesis?" Asked Kirk,

"It seems strange that a Federation security detail on Cardassia would purposely start a war."

"Agreed...and these shape-shifting creatures, they could be anywhere."

"Affirmative,"

"We need to look at this on a big scale, we need to brainstorm," Kirk motioned for a colleague to join them, Picard walked over to greet the pair.

"Captain Kirk, I do not believe we have had a formal introduction," said Picard with a warm smile and firm handshake.

"Captain...the fleet is going to be deployed shortly, we both know that,"

"I would certainly agree,"

"Can you and your Android meet Spock and I in Astrolab 3 in ten minutes?"

Starfleet Intelligence

Sloan was seated at his desk, he had not moved in several minutes. The shape-shifting infiltrators had been killed, thank God, they could be anywhere, anyone. War is coming with the Dominion. And what the hell are these things? Sloan was looking at his office wall, trying to decide, they must be Dominion agents, what else could they be?

"Sloan to Bakerfield come in,"

"Dewal here,"

"Is it still willing to help?"

"Yes,"

"Do we still need to let it rebuild its shell? It's suit?"

"That is what it is telling us,"

"Patch me through,"

"You're through,"

"This is Sloan, I am coming to meet you. If we let you rebuild your exterior shell, will you be able to boost our sensor ranges like you said?"

"A-f-f-i-r-m-a-t-i-v-e"

Chapter Text

Expanded Horizons

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

Captain Kirk's keen eyes swept the sixty-foot screen inside Astrolab 3, the 3D topographical map of the galaxy was expanding further and further out, until all one-hundred thousand lightyears spanned the map. Picard stood beside him, with Spock and Data seated at the control panel ahead. The outline of Alpha Quadrant territories were shown at the bottom left quarter of the galaxy, the Gorn, Tholians, Breen, Romulans, Klingon, Ferengi, Cardassians and a few others were prominently marked. One must understand, the daunting scale of it all. Marked in the middle of the top left quarter of the galaxy was the exit point of the Bajoran wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant, now known or at least claimed as Dominion space. The opposite end of the wormhole was located on the Federation border in the Alpha Quadrant; this distance would take more than five decades by conventional travel, accomplished in only minutes through the wormhole. The Delta Quadrant took-up the top right quartile of the spiral galaxy, and the suspected home territory of the Borg; with the Beta Quadrant making up the bottom right quartile. What was not displayed, and not currently known to the Federation was the location of the wormhole linking the Imperial universe to the Milky Way. If that location were discovered, it would have been displayed at the very top left of the galaxy, on the edge of intergalactic space.

Interlaced throughout the galactic map were millions of stars and planets, with unknown billions yet to be discovered. All possible diplomatic, backroom, pirate, merchant, and military connections were being compared with religion, culture, currency and much more. All displayed by either dotted lines or shaded areas. The picture was beginning to look like a collage of random color, instead of anything resembling an actionable dataset.

Before the four had arrived in Astrolab 3, Kirk had been explaining to Picard as they walked through the halls the details and circumstance surrounding Cienna's memory, both had agreed the information could be vital and recommended she debrief Starfleet command immediately. Security officers had been called, and she was escorted, not under guard but as a precaution to the Admirals wing on the other side of the building. Security detail had been set to maximum and medic teams accompanied by armed guard were administering blood screening tests. No person could be unchecked; no assumptions could be made. Starfleet Command was determined to find any shapeshifting aliens they could only assume were roaming about.

'John' had been escorted back to security detachment 'B' where Lieutenant Worf was hastily finishing a last minute self-defense course to new security recruits. There was significant activity, and the fleet was preparing to disburse within a few hours, giving precious time for both captains to pour over some vital information.

Kirk was skeptical,

"I don't believe it was Starfleet officers that planted that bomb, either they were coerced, or it was not them."

"Agreed..." letting out a sigh, Picard continued, "...proving it to the Cardassians will be difficult. I can't imagine them taking our word for it. It would have been more than coercion, no man or woman in Starfleet would commit mass murder, perhaps mind control. The problem is, we do not know the truth."

"We need to warn them,"

"Our diplomats are hard at work I am sure," said Picard. His eyes were darting across the display, there was so much there, and even more to be discovered. Starfleet had cataloged less than one percent of the total galaxy; it was simply too big for their relatively slow propulsion. "Data, can you overlay any known probe locations along the same timeline as the spatial disturbances?" Data punched in a few commands, and a few sporadic red dots appeared. Cienna had been confident that the probes were not her masters, and so the long and drawn out analysis continued for their origin and purpose.

"They do seem to have been present, but not in all cases," said Spock, looking up at the giant screen.

"There is no discernible pattern," added Data. The Android and Vulcan continued to overlay a nearly endless array of information, removing some and adding others. Merchant routes, fleet deployments, planet populations, territories, orbit distances, magnetic field density, gravity concentration per sector, and the list went on. The probes seemed to follow no pattern, but perhaps a purpose was emerging in the minds of the assembled officers.

"It does appear, that these probes care not for any particular instance, they follow no particular path or time," said Spock, now standing beside Kirk, both looking up at the screen, "It does however indicate one thing, that these probes or rather, those who send them wish to learn everything about everything. Their emphasis seems no more towards us than it is to the Cardassians, Romulans, or even the spatial anomalies. They wish to know everything that there is to know."

"There is no pattern relative to Dominion ship movements, or diplomatic engagement. In addition, the technology recovered from the disabled probe," Data nodded towards Kirk, " as well as others pieces recovered throughout Federation territory does not match any known Dominion technology. It is therefore reasonable to conclude they are not of Dominion origin," said Data, finishing his analysis and joining the conversation,

"Where are we getting all the probe coordinates?" asked Picard,

"Fourteen percent through fleet or Federation member world sensors, sixty-seven percent through diplomatic channels, and the remaining nineteen percent through various back channels related to merchants or Starfleet Intelligence."

"So in other words, we are unable to verify if these probes locations are real," said Kirk firmly.

Data's eyes fluttered while analyzing the remark,

"Captain Kirk, are you suggesting that there has been an error in data delivery from other Alpha Quadrant inhabitants?"

"No...but there could be factions that are withholding information. There are upwards of one-hundred and fifty thousand probe sightings, thousands more per week. These things are raining down upon us. Nonstop. Someone, somewhere is going to figure it out. Look in the Gamma Quadrant for instances, eighty thousand sightings, where are we getting that information from?"

"Only one percent has been provided by Federation ships, we have been unable to collect data since the policy change by the Dominion regarding our exploration of their space. We are relying on their sensor logs which Ambassador Weyoun has provided us."

"I see. Our ships never traveled more than a few hundred light years from the exit, that quadrant is billions of cubic light years...," Kirk trailed off and turned his head to his first officer, "Spock, we need to get into the Gamma Quadrant...we need to investigate. Have Scotty-"

"Captain Kirk," Picard said sternly, "may I have a word in private," both men moved towards the corner, "with all due respect, may I remind you that you are eighty years out of place, and your ship needs to be retrofitted. Even if you were given orders to explore the Gamma Quadrant, there is a Dominion blockade in effect. There is no evidence that there is foul play through our diplomatic channels, and these probes can be originating from anywhere in the galaxy. The Gamma Quadrant probe information we recorded is months old, but we have new data, provided by the Dominion, you cannot just unilaterally decide they are liars." Picard's face was stone cold, he did not want to confront Kirk in this manner, but the rumors and legends were turning out to be true. He was brash, jumped to assumptions and often found himself creating political quagmires that usually didn't arise until years later. Picard was a student of history, and he knew the smallest mistake could cause tidal waves years later.

Kirk mulled the speech over, there is some truth to what he has said, there was no evidence, just suspicion...but we can't just sit here, we need to act, we need to push,

"Those shapeshifters could be everywhere, in every city...on every planet,"

"We do not know that. Yes, we need to be careful, yes we need to take precautions, but we cannot jump to conclusions. We do not know if they are connected with what has happened on Cardassia," Kirk was about to protest but Picard raised his hand to allow himself to continue, "but it is not unreasonable to investigate, I have been promised by both Admiral Ross and Paris that our best people are on this."

"Gentlemen," said Spock interrupting the tension, "I do not mean to eavesdrop, but Captain Picard is correct, we have only assumptions, not facts. We are missing vast amounts of information, in the Delta and Beta Quadrants for example. However, we also have enormous amounts of information on other scenarios that are unfolding, and there is much we can do with the current level of information. First and foremost, Starfleet Medical has just announced the DNA samples analyzed from the two dead shapeshifters precisely match those of Odo, the present head of security upon Deep Space 9. It appears, based on records, that the home planet of his species is unknown; therefore their political affiliations are unknown. We know who has infiltrated us, but we do not know why."

"And, this Odo?" Kirk seemed skeptical,

"He has passed all Starfleet security requirements, there is no reason to suspect him of any wrongdoing," reported Data before continuing, "I have analyzed all possible information available to us, there are currently eight hundred and forty-seven correlated occurrences. Without further information, I cannot differentiate between meaningful correlation and random chance."

"You heard what Cienna said...those things she calls her masters, they can manipulate time, they can move through dimensions and create weapons that we can't even think of...and those creatures from another dimension that John talks about, what are they? Now tell me gentlemen, what are our priorities?" Spock was standing with his hands behind his back, his face showing no sign of emotion. He was accustomed to the irrational thought processes of humans, but even he had to admit the priority changed based on what level of assumed risk these 'masters' and undimensioned creatures presented.

"I think we can all agree, that we are in a grave situation, the political climate is rife with unintended consequences, the smallest misstep could push either side over the edge. I think we need to be mindful of the fact, that this situation is fluid. Cienna has alluded to far-ranging dangers, but they seem removed from our present situation. There may come a time when our rational will need to shift, and priorities change, but right now our minds must be here in the present. It is not for us to decide on how the Federation uses its resources, we can only help analyze the situation and report our findings." This back and forth continued for several minutes before being interrupted by a communicator, "Picard here,"

"Jean-Luc, Admiral Ross. You are to depart as soon as possible to Deep Space 9 to meet a delegation from Cardassia and the Dominion. The Klingons will be joining you as well, push your engines to the limit, time is something we do not have, Ross out." Picard offered a stiff hand to his fellow captain, and it was firmly accepted,

"Captain Kirk, let us keep each other informed of whatever truths we can find, we are all in this together, no matter what century we are from," Kirk returned the warm smile, and Picard and Data exited Astrolab 3.

"If I may say, Captain,"

"Oh, I know you would Spock,"

"To craft the correct course of action, with an overwhelming amount of information, we require, even more information."

"More?" asked Kirk with a sly grin,

"I am merely stating a fact."

Kirk flipped open his communicator,

"Bones,"

"McCoy here,"

"Get back to the Enterprise; we have work to do."

Spock raised an eyebrow,

"I assume we are leaving orbit?"

"We need to go visit our old friends, the Metrons."

Security Detachment 'B' - Starfleet Command - Earth

"Listen carefully," barked Worf to the eleven security personnel who were standing along the edge of a padded mat. "Computer, begin program four." On the mat, eight 'people' of various Alpha Quadrant races shimmered to life, motionless, waiting in a prone position. "Your task is to subdue these computer programs; I have adjusted the parameters myself to make them seem more real. They will resist, and I have been authorized to remove the safety protocols, it will be very...difficult." A young ensign raised his hand, "Yes?"

"Sir, are we not to stun them with phasers?" Worf could not hide his smirk,

"No. There will be times that you will not have access to your weapons." The group of rookies inched onto the mat, each eyeing the opponents carefully, one program held a small baton, another a club.

"Computer...begin!"

The programs sprang to life, three rushing the smallest rookie of the class. Ensign Smoon was tackled to the ground within the first second, with three computer figures piling onto him. Four security personnel moved to assist but were tied up with kicking and scratching 'Ferengi.' The wildness of the programs was a shock to the rookie class, they were used to well-practiced instructors, harsh but fair sparring sessions, and relatively predictable attacks. This situation was entirely different; it was the first time Worf had been asked to teach a class at the Academy, and from how things were turning out so far, perhaps the last time. A loud snap was heard as the elbow joint of one of the programs was dislocated by Lieutenant Cohmun while he attempted to toss the 'Romulan' to the ground. Even though they were programs, their body mechanics were programmed to mimic the real thing. Blood, spit, bad breath, dislocations, breaks, saliva, sweat, everything. Worf allowed the insanity to continue for another thirty seconds before halting the exercise. The programs disappeared, and each officer pulled themselves to their feet. Some were scratched, three had bloody noses, with Ensign Smoon fairing the worst, four of his teeth were left on the mat.

Worf walked among the injured ensigns, looking each of them over from top to bottom.

"You have scrapes and bruises, a few injuries. This is what is to be expected on a Starship while fulfilling your security duties." In the corner of his eye he could see a civilian sitting in the corner, the person's gaze not breaking contact with the Klingon for even a second. Worf had noticed him earlier, up until this point it had not bothered him, there is something about him… The deadness and blackness of the man's eyes were apparent even across the room. Over the next fifteen minutes and several more drills, Worf found himself locking eyes with the person instead of watching his class. The man's broken face, trampled and reconstructed a thousand times painted a stark picture. He is a warrior...

"Computer, discontinue program," Worf's curiosity had peaked, "Can I help you?"

"No…" that was all. No elaboration, or small talk, just the exhausted sound of a man long remiss. But the shared gaze did not break, both Klingon and soldier were locked to each other. One, a bubbling pool of honor and aggression, the other, endless Doom and insufferable agony.

"Do you have anything to add for this session? You look like you have seen some combat."

Lifeless eyes scanned each cadet, uneasiness spread among them,

"Wrong tactics," came the dry reply.

Worf's eyes expanded to the size of saucers. If a stare could kill, Worf would have obliterated the man where he sat, but fortunately, a dirty look was all that was delivered. Worf knew it was 'John,' having been briefed on the situation. The guest was 'required' to stay in the security wing, he was not a prisoner, but Starfleet Intelligence had requested someone keeps an eye on him while security protocols were enacted.

"I can assure you, the tactics are correct," Worf continued to ignore his class; this 'John' was on the cusp of dishonoring him, it was he who had instructed them. Their failure was his.

"They need to learn to kill..."

"That, is not the Starfleet way," said Worf turning his back on 'John' and returning to his class.

"To kill is to live, to subdue is to die." Yeeesssss! Teach them! Teach them to kill, teach them new ways to murder! John winced in pain before his neural-regressor temporarily shut the voices out. The assembled rookies were looking on in amazement, no one had ever spoken to Worf in such a manner.

"Show me," demanded Worf. His blood was now boiling; it's time for this human to be taught a lesson. Slowly 'John' stood from his seat, seemingly without worry or concern to what lay ahead. He made his way towards the edge of the mat, scars as deep as canyons crisscrossed his face. One class-member blinked and shook his head, thinking he saw one of them slithering like a snake across his skin.

"Computer, run program three point one."

"No"

"So you do not wish to test your theory?" Asked Worf, almost triumphantly.

"The other one, the same as they had."

"You are not fighting with my class." Worf asked a security officer to escort 'John' to another room but stopped his request when the Marine stepped fully onto the mat, his cold gaze unbending, unyielding.

"Class, you are to remain on the sideline. Computer…" Worf was eyeing the man, and his every instinct was to challenge him, how dare he question his teaching methods, "...program four." The eight computer programs once again appeared in the prone position. John raised one of his clenched fists towards his face and studied it. He could feel it, the insanity, the mayhem.

"Computer, begin!"

Simultaneously, 'John' felt a tremendous surge of mental power. His mind being instantly bombarded, the neural-regressor hopelessly overpowered. Feel our pleasure! Feel our pppooooowweerrrr!

The closest program rushed forward but did not make it more than a few paces, a fist as hard as iron exploded through the back side of its holographic skull. The 'Romulan' did not have time to hit the ground before 'John' sprang ahead with a vicious attack on the 'human' program which was moving towards him. Yeeeeeess! Teach them! Slash and tear! Throats, eyes, ligaments, joints, all were smashed or torn apart. One rookie was sick, rushing off to the corner to vomit, soon to be joined by another; gruesome being too light a word to describe the unfolding events.

'John' was wading through the group effortlessly, a loud, sickening pop was heard as an arm was detached from a program. Virtual blood, indistinguishable from the real thing flowed down his face and neck, none his own, only victims soaking his clothing. Through us you can save her, through the gate, we are limitless, endless, when the time is near, you will know. Eyes as sharp as diamonds spotted his next target,

CRACK!

The skull of the 'Ferengi' caved inward under the tremendous blow, only three remained now. Blood, teeth, appendages and intestine smeared the blue padded exercise mat. Still, the slaughter continued.

Across the building, Kinnison watched. Through the eyes of Worf and the assembled rookies, he was witnessing an unbelievable event. This man cannot be human. The medical tests had shown he was, but he could not believe it. There must be more. The Lensman extended his mind into 'John's' expecting to see what he always saw, a tortured man, but this time it was different. He convulsed and had to bring his hand to his mouth. What in all the heavens... If insanity could be described with words it would be printed here. Is this his mind?..yes..wait...are there others in here? His probing thought was now steered downward, down deep into the abyss of consciousness rarely explored, and yet what Kinnison saw he could not comprehend, even his tremendous brain was hopelessly floundering. What Kinnison did not know, and perhaps would never know is that THEY could not be seen by mortals, even those beings who men call gods could not see them, just their influence on humanity could potentially be understood. That is what he saw now, deep in the mind of 'John'... Shapeless things, what horrible things, in the forest, between the spaces, between things...my...god. Images were flashing past. ... A small town... Dunwich? Whoever was projecting the images into the mind of 'John' was projecting the knowledge of what they were, 'Mad Arab' Abdul Alhazred…pyramids...the book, the Necronomicon... Kinnison recognized some images from Earth's past, hundreds, maybe thousands of years. But which Earth? He could not be sure. He pushed deeper still. Where are these images coming from? Then without warning, they were gone, only 'John's' tortured mind remained.

Back in Security Detachment 'B', the last program had met its fate. The 'female' Cardassian slumped to the floor, both arms had been ripped off, the 'program' was dead.

"You must have Klingon blood!" bellowed Worf as he rushed forward to engage,

"STOP! Computer end program!" shouted Captain Picard who had just entered the room, Data was beside him; Worf stopped mid-stride, and 'John' spun around to face them. The programs disappeared, as well as the blood and guts flowing down the mat. "Lieutenant Worf," hissed Picard, "you are to report to the Enterprise immediately, please see Commander Riker in the briefing room. As for your class, I suggest you dismiss them and have them report to Medical." The captain had never seen such carnage, the holographic pile of bodies made his stomach turn even in the brief second he had seen them. Data was perplexed as to how this had happened, by his calculations, the energy required to inflict such damage should not have been possible for a human or Klingon. The team of rookie security guards limped past, Worf stopped in front of Picard.

"Captain, I-"

"You had better be giving me an explanation."

"Aye sir," Worf looked back over his shoulder and waited as 'John' was escorted out of the room and into another part of the building. "I was instructing the class, and he," indicating with his head, "suggested an alternative technique."

"What I saw, is unacceptable for a Starfleet Officer, we are not trained to slaughter." Worf puffed out his chest and was about to protest but then relented, the captain was right.

"Aye, permission to report for duty?"

"Granted."

Chapter Text

Hiccup

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

Frigid cold and utter stillness are the most accurate words to describe the fleet of star destroyers listlessly adrift beyond the galactic rim. Adrift not due to insufficient power, but strategy. Grand Admiral Thrawn had made it a priority to remain undetected, to be unknowable to the vast majority of races in the Milky Way. His fleet was situated thousands of light years outside the Gamma Quadrant, in intergalactic space; Admiral Piett's fleet was maintaining a similar posture on the opposite side of the galaxy. Each had been there for months, receiving encrypted probe droid data in an endless stream of information. The Empire had 99.80% real-time coverage of the galaxy; the remaining 0.002% being what Thrawn called, the known unknowns. Super advanced races, all seeming to be isolationists which either trapped or destroyed the probes upon real space entry. These super-races, scattered throughout, were not a mystery, knowledge of them had come in other ways. Imperial technological advancement was running at breakneck speed; the 'younger' races were more than sufficient in providing invaluable technological leaps. The Empire had successfully grafted transporter technology into their ships, there were bugs at first, but they were close to being resolved. Entire teams of scientists, engineers and mechanics poured over the information, all strictly confidential, not to be shared with the systems and industries of the Imperial galaxy. This allowed for greater secrecy, and tighter controls, the rebels, or worse yet the large industrial conglomerates and criminal organizations could not get their hands on such precious advancements. Thrawn kept an especially careful eye on the Bounty Hunters the Empire had recruited to blend into the new galaxy. Tasked with infiltration and data collection, they blended deep into the societies of the quadrants, government and civilian life alike. But what made the Bounty Hunters so capable also created a danger. They could be bought, bribed, or coerced. They worked for money, and so every log-in, every report was scrutinized for slippage, or worse, double-cross of the program.

In a large office onboard the Super Star Destroyer Vigilant, the Grand Admiral sat in an oversized chair, flipping through translated scriptures of Kahless, the greatest of long-dead Klingon Warriors.

"So you can see, that is why the Klingons cannot be conquered, only eradicated. Yes perhaps a hundred years ago, when their culture was more aligned with nationalism and totalitarianism, they may have entertained surrender under great duress, but no longer. Their governance and culture have changed so drastically; their destruction is the only answer." Thrawn pulled up another translated document, this time from a relatively unknown race in the Gamma Quadrant. "The Utori, a socialist race, have been able to withstand the assimilation into the Dominion for over fifty-years. Their gravity weapons, still in the early stages of development, have been sufficient to hold back several Dominion campaigns. I have discovered a weakness after reading their religious scriptures, as well as studying what they consider art. The concept of sacrifice for the greater good is not a philosophy they support; it would be possible then to hold their entire race hostage by threatening only a small percentage of it. The Dominion has not been able to take advantage of this."

Admiral Tarcus raised his hand, he had participated in dozens of debriefings but was consistently impressed with the contrived ideas of Thrawn

"What is our strategy for the Utori?"

"I am glad you asked Admiral Tarcus, we will discuss that in due time," said Thrawn. His desk beeped and he pressed the switch, "Thrawn here,"

"Grand Admiral, the Founder has arrived,"

"Send it in." The doors of his office hissed open and in walked a small female humanoid, its orange, drab, dress was nothing but an illusion, not material, but an organic part of the creature. Its flat, featureless face was nearly identical to Odo on Deep Space 9. 'She' bowed slightly and then stood silent. The eyes of forty senior commanders along with Thrawn scanned every feature; contempt was thick, this 'thing' had bumbled a big operation.

"Madam Founder, so good of you to join us," Thrawn's eyes were ice, his demeanor barely giving away the rage he was withholding. "You of course know why you were summoned,"

"I do," she murmured. Her lips hardly moved, she was looking straight ahead, her soft eyes not revealing the hatred she held for them. The Changelings were a cold, ruthless, conquering species. They were the 'Founders' of the Dominion, who had enslaved hundreds of species and thousands of worlds, arrogantly believing themselves untouchable. The Empire had shown them their foolish belief was a mere illusion. Thrawn had blackmailed her race, not through a long political process, or subtle coercion, but by a display of utter destruction and power. No one but the Founders knew of the Empire, less the Dominion would fall apart at the seams. Their clone army the Jem'Hadar, thought of them as gods, their fanatical worship of the Founders was part of their DNA, manufactured and adjusted like pieces of equipment. Even the Vorta, who were a species of cloned advisors, often administering campaigns of conquest, were kept in the dark.

This was their first face to face meeting, all other communication had been completed through probe-droid holo-transmission, but something had happened, and the Imperial commanders were none too pleased.

"Has there been an update regarding the situation on Earth, have you determined how your fellow Changelings were discovered?" asked Thrawn. When news of lost contact with the Changelings had been first relayed, he had nearly killed the hapless messenger. For the last three weeks, all available information had been combed through and analyzed. Bounty Hunters and Changelings who had taken up positions on Earth and other Federation worlds had increased their espionage activity, and slowly but surely, a picture began to form.

"No... I am afraid not."

Frustrated, Thrawn stood up, one hand locked behind his back, the other on his belt buckle, How could this have happened?

"Do you understand the enormous security breach that has occurred?" The Founder said nothing. "Allow me to elaborate. You had assured us, that no Changeling had ever been discovered, that no member of the Federation could read your thoughts. That no technology currently deployed was set to detect you."

"Yes, correct Grand Admiral," replied the Founder, still looking straight forward,

"The picture is admittedly incomplete, even now after several weeks. What concerns me, and should concern you, is either your operatives made mistakes, or there is technology, currently deployed that can track you. We do not believe it was a Betazoid, or at least not primarily a Betazoid or telepath. Your people have been operating on Betazed for months, disguised as Ferengi, whose minds cannot be read. What may have occurred, is an unknown piece of technology could have caused your people to reveal themselves,"

"Why then, has this technology not been dispatched across the Federation, or on their starships? We have hundreds of operatives on their ships and planets." The Founder was genuinely perplexed, so was the 'great link' where all Founders formed a globulous state, an ocean of Changelings, sharing thoughts and ideas.

"That leads me to our other theory, that your operatives made mistakes, revealing themselves by accident. In either case, our relationship seems to remain confidential, as your people's minds cannot be read by any member of the Federation. This unfortunate turn of events has revealed your presence within their society, that cannot be undone. Our plans will need to be accelerated. Tell your Vorta representative he is to blame the Federation for the attack on Cardassia Prime, and that the blockade will continue."

"Grand Admiral, as we have already communicated with you, Starfleet is considering challenging the blockade with the 4th Fleet," said the Founder.

Thrawn flicked a piece of fine dust off his impeccably-kept white uniform,

"Yes, we are aware of this, we intercepted communications with our probe droids. Have your team on Cardassia carry out our orders, and lastly, we have already killed millions of your people. You tried to flee, to colonize another planet, hidden within a nebula...only to lose millions more. You do not know who we are, where we are from, and you never will. We promised you complete control, that the Alpha Quadrant would be yours, but it must be done our way. Do not fail me, or you will die." The Founder was escorted out of the room by a pair of stormtroopers, and sent back to her home planet, twenty-thousand light years away.

Thrawn encouraged discussion among his command staff, few things were off limits, and he felt this necessary to cultivate an environment of problem-solving and critical analysis. Specific duties had been delegated, there were billions of planets and millions of species to analyze and track, he could only look at so many items per day. He relied heavily on analysts to bring important matters to his desk.

"Grand Admiral, the latest report regarding the gravity anomalies is ready for your review," a young Captain stepped forward and handed over a datapad. Thrawn sat silently, his eyes reading each line, every detail being absorbed and considered.

"A pattern has not yet emerged, increase probe droid coverage by twenty percent, send instructions to Kuat Drive Yards on the next wormhole opening." Communication between the Imperial Galaxy and Milky Way was only possible when a ship made the journey. The current Imperial theory suggested the wormhole was not only a link through space, but also through time and even perhaps realities. The gravity anomalies in the Milky Way were certainly, as far as they were concerned, all related. Unformed wormholes was the working hypothesis, unproven up to this point. There were however, unanswered questions gnawing at Thrawn's inquisitive mind, "Have we established with certainty that nothing exited the unformed wormhole in the Beta Quadrant several months ago? Our probes discovered debris from Borg cubes in the immediate area."

"If I may remind the Grand Admiral," said a commander hesitantly, "...that we also lost four probe droids as well, the intense gravity fluctuations being the cause,"

"And the anomaly detected around Betazed in the Alpha Quadrant?" These two scenarios were eating away at him. Thrawn had asked his team to check and recheck all findings, but he had to be careful his persistence would not lead to a false answer just to satisfy him.

"We know for certain that nothing came through, we have been informed by the Founders a Changeling was working within the Starfleet branch on that planet, they completed a thorough analysis."

Thrawn was nodding along in agreement, his officers were doing a great job.

"Very well, is there anything else to report of significance? Or any other questions?"

"Admiral Piett has conducted one hundred and eighty raids on Borg planets and industrial bases, on top of the attacks this fleet has completed. We believe the Borg will be completely defeated within five years." Captain Needa was beaming with pride, anything not human was an insult to his senses, he despised the Borg more than any other.

"I share this view Captain Needa, we must be certain they cannot reverse-engineer our technology in any meaningful way. We will maintain alert status, every Borg facility must be sought out and destroyed."

"Grand Admiral, what are the chances that our Bounty Hunters have been compromised? Contact losses now total forty-six," asked an analyst.

"We are working hard to ensure that is not the case. Bear in mind, this galaxy is not connected, few races share information, or have ever communicated with one another. It is impossible for a compromised Bounty Hunter in the Beta Quadrant to influence races in the Delta or Gamma or Alpha Quadrants. The Mylene system has been purged of life has it not?"

"Yes sir, one hundred percent," reported Needa.

"You see then gentlemen, our agent was discovered, and that knowledge was purged from the galaxy. No one will ever know, and that race, isolated in the Beta Quadrant revealed no secrets. As for the Bounty Hunters who could not resist the temptation of the illegal trades in this galaxy, by the command of the Emperor, they are being dealt with, permanently,"

"How sir?"

"Lord Maul is currently tracking them down, they will not evade him."

Milky Way - Section 31 - Secret Bakerfield Facility

Sloan tilted his head back and gulped back the last droplets of black coffee, his third cup in the last hour. It had been a long month, he had spent four weeks on an unregistered merchant craft making his way out to this facility. Constant updates regarding the Changelings had kept him busy. Technology to detect them was nowhere near ready. A live sample was needed for testing, and of that there was only one known source, Odo, aboard Deep Space 9. The Cardassian situation was deteriorating daily, there appeared at least to some, to be an emerging Dominion/Cardassian alliance. His spies had indicated high-level meetings were taking place on a weekly basis. War was coming, he could feel it in his bones.

Currently he sat outside a secure cell, a humming force-field ensuring his safety. Near him were other Section 31 officers, all armed with heavy phaser rifles. On the opposite side of the force-field was the source of much contention. Questions had been debated and discussed among them for almost four months. How much do we allow this thing to interact with Starfleet systems? What promises were real? Was anything it said possible? Cienna's debrief to Starfleet made it evident that this blob of tentacles with a single eye was indeed a Dalek. Its shell destroyed in the destruction of its ship in the Elop system. It had been rescued by the U.S.S. Douglas, which was sent to relieve the Enterprise during the half-nova stellar event. Sloan had been in regular communication with Cienna through subspace. He was careful not to reveal his true intentions, but probed enough to assess the dangers. As he gathered general knowledge of the Dalek's capabilities, he perceived the vastness and incredible power of the reward. Technology completely unfathomable was now at their fingertips; security measures implemented assured their safety, we are more than prepared. For several weeks it had been theorized the Dalek was dying, its mutated body unable to survive, leaving little choice in the eyes of Sloan to restore the mechanical suit. There had been some close calls, more than once the brain functions of the blob had disappeared, only to be revived with neural-agitators.

"We are ready to begin, lower the field," ordered Sloan. Two men carrying a power generator placed it beside the three thousand kilograms of various alloys that had already been brought into the brig. The slimy bulk, resting at the bottom of a destroyed armored case, squirmed and wriggled in anticipation. The men exited, the force-field snapping back into place. All phaser rifles were set on maximum power and were pointed at the Dalek, it was time.

"See now! Your soldier is reborn!" it shrieked. For months, its responses to questions had been vague, only when it realized the humans had discovered its true identity had it revealed its supposed potential. Section 31 was confident they understood the risks, and planned on keeping it alive until they deemed it necessary to eliminate it. We need it to help track the probes, to scan the Gamma Quadrant, to detect Romulan cloaked ships, perhaps anti-Borg weapons...maybe even detect Changelings… The decision to use the Dalek in this fashion was not just Sloan's, Council Member's familiar with Section 31 were also pressuring him for a solution to the above listed problems. As months dragged on and the friction in the galaxy heated up, answers were few and far between. The plan negotiated with the Dalek would upgrade their weapons, improve their sensors, and help them win the upcoming war. Sloan and company planned on enslaving the alien monstrosity. Its advanced technology proliferated, and then, finally, when its knowledge was exhausted, killed.

The power generator was activated and vast arcs of electricity jumped into the destroyed Dalek armored capsule, alloys melted and crept along the floor and interlaced into the damaged mechanisms. A blinding white-light radiated outward, causing Sloan and his men to cover their eyes. After more than a minute the white light dimmed and visibility returned, in front of the officers rested the repaired armor, the mutant blob encased once again. All mechanisms were in pristine shape, it's eye-stock glowing blue with deadly intent.

"Dalek, can you hear me?" Sloan was on edge, his men equally stressed. They knew what the plan was, they knew the next steps, even so, their hearts were racing,

"AFFIRMATIVE! What are your orders?"

"You are to instruct us on how to upgrade our sensor grids,"

"Have your soldier access the telemetry beacon for your nearest sensor network." The Dalek had been allowed to study certain Federation technologies within its cell, Sloan knew that this posed no security threat. At any time the alien could be vaporized, but Section 31 needed to see what enhancements were possible. An agent walked over to a panel and typed in a few commands,

"Ready,"

"Input the configuration matrix that I have provided you." After several long minutes, the sensor feedback flickered and new objects never before detected were now prominently displayed. Probes moving in hyperspace were now visible, as well as all cloaked Romulan and Klingon ships along the border, then it was gone.

"Sensor input has changed, we have lost the signal,"

"What are your orders now?"

Sloan walked over to the display, it was reading normal, the enhanced detection ability had vanished.

"Your program matrix did not work."

"I-N-C-O-R-R-E-C-T, your inferior computer core cannot process the information, it lacks sufficient power."

Sloan eyed the Dalek carefully, the sensor had worked, temporarily, but this was not part of the plan.

"What do you advise?"

"Does this installation have a sub-space sensor grid?"

"Yes."

"Instruct your soldier to tie-in all available power, including reactors of any ships docked or stationed nearby."

Sloan stepped into another room flanked by two of his advisors, the others remained on guard, phaser rifles at their sides.

"The code matrix had partially worked, the Dalek was right. The possibility of significantly enhancing our sensor-suite is possible," commented an advisor. Now though, it was asking them to complete patchwork in an odd configuration. Sloan looked over the details; there was still no perceivable threat. As far as they were concerned, the energy being tied into their sensor grid could not be used against them; and the level-four force-field on the cell was impenetrable. After more than six hours, and deliberations with Earth engineers on critical processes, they were ready. The reactor of the merchant's vessel along with all the systems of Bakerfield was now rerouted to their subspace detection grid.

"Morrison, on my mark," said Sloan as he held his finger in the air, "3...2...1-" the command was never given. Before the switch could be thrown, the lights flickered, "Report?!"

"Witness now the true power of the Daleks!"

Unknown to the Section 31 operatives, their prisoner had remotely hacked Bakerfield systems after its armor was restored. Their firewalls had been bypassed in milliseconds, security measures and intruder systems hopelessly compromised. Federation A.I., designed to destroy foreign computer-agents was obliterated in the blink of an eye. Suddenly torrents of energy flowed from the force-field directly into the Dalek, it was absorbing everything. Power, information, and material were flowing into the armor. Sloan's heart was pounding while rushing into the room, wide-eyed and afraid.

"Open fire! Kill it!" he barked, grabbing a free phaser off the table. In unison, all phaser rifles discharged in the expected vaporization of the Dalek, but it was not to be. Its restoration was now complete, it's armor and defensive screens were now at one-hundred percent.

"You are to serve ME!" The weapon nozzle of the Dalek swiveled and white energy swept the room. Every officer convulsed and dropped the floor, their motor-control neurons completely scrambled. Like a fish out of water, everyone was floundering and spasming uncontrollably; their minds were conscious and aware, but their bodies were inoperable. The Dalek levitated towards Sloan,

"Designate the least important!" Sloan was experiencing sheer terror. His body no longer worked, his plans had backfired, this was not supposed to happen! We had been careful! After several seconds the Dalek moved towards an advisor and stopped beside him. It's plunger arm extended slowly around the man's head, and then a loud crunch was heard, his skull cracking like an egg. After several seconds the plunger released its grip, and the lifeless body remained still. Morrison was no longer recognizable; his body appearing robbed of all nutrients and life-force.

"His mind has revealed many things not stored in your computer systems, there is information that I require! Commander William Riker is to be captured!" Sloan lay as still as possible, he felt his heart ready to burst from his chest, we must get word to Starfleet…

Replicators across the station hummed to life, impossibly small machines were now being manufactured to be implanted into the minds of the men. Soon, they would unknowingly carry out Dalek orders they believed to be their own free will.

"We will not help you!" shouted Sloan in defiance, his speech slurred by his uncooperative tongue.

"Correction! You will SUFFER!" Another beam of energy blasted the room, this time of a different sort. Flesh and bone bubbled and boiled, only to be restored and the process repeated.

In the stillness and quietness of space, if sound were capable of travel, the screams of a thousand deaths would have filled the space-ways.

Chapter Text

Prelude to Which War

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Deep Space 9 - Conference Room

"Captain Picard, this proves nothing," said Gul Dukat tossing the datapad back onto the table. The Cardassian leader stood up to pace the conference room. Thirty-minutes into the meeting may as well have been thirty-hours. Complete nonsense. Dukat was sure, his intelligence chiefs were sure, the bomb that killed the Detapa Council on his home planet was set by humans, not Changelings. "Jean-Luc, you even have one of those things working for you right now, on this station!"

An assortment of representatives from the Federation, Dominion, Cardassian, and Klingon Empires filled the room. If there were a better word to describe the proceedings it would be used, but for now, a 'mess' will suffice. Least encouraging of all, at least for the Federation party, was the Klingon's seeming inability for delicate diplomacy. Picard and Benjamin Sisko, Captain of DS9 were struggling to keep General Martok from blowing a gasket every few minutes.

"Dukat, how many times have we had to tell you, Odo has nothing to do with this. You even appointed him head of security when the Cardassians occupied this station, you know, as well as I do, that he has nothing to do with this," said Sisko firmly.

Picard raised his hand to quell the tension,

"Gentlemen, I think we are straying from the point."

"Which is?" Asked Dukat, hotly.

"Which is, that your capital was attacked. An attack, orchestrated by Starfleet to frame the colonists has no benefit to the Federation. If you want to believe we setup the device, then fine, so be it; but I would be remiss in pointing out it only makes our position weaker." Dukat stopped pacing and considered this for a long moment. That is true, it does put them in a difficult position…

"There is another explanation of course." smiled Weyoun with a slight tilt of his head. Vorta were deceptively timid and soft-spoken; they could easily be mistaken for caregivers or servants instead of cold-calculating war administrators. "We believe, that the device was planted to frame the Colonists, it is, after all, the only explanation." Sisko raised his head and let out a laugh; even Picard could not maintain his stoic expression. The Dominion, throughout the meeting were adamant that the Federation had set the bomb. They argued, that the attack was an attempt to draw the Cardassians into the demilitarized zone to wipeout the Colonist, thus invoking a Federation response. "You laugh now, of course, but, what is that human expression?" Weyoun thought a moment, "...ah yes, what hubris, what arrogance."

Picard shifted his gaze,

"What do you mean?"

"You thought you were so smart, believing your plan was going to succeed, only to see it fail. You had not anticipated our diplomatic party being in the Detapa Council build-"

Sisko was now beginning to lose his cool,

"Do you want a war Weyoun? Is that it? Is that what you want? It sounds to me, like you want one." Sisko then turned his attention to Dukat, who he had a working relationship with. "Dukat, this makes no sense. Why? Why is this happening? What advantage do we get from this?"

Gul Dukat had been quiet for the last few minutes, thinking everything over. As harsh as a Cardassian could be, they still cared and loved their young. War was always the last option, but is it necessary at this moment?

"Ben, Jean-Luc. Do you know how many children were in the daycare at the council building? These people did have kids, and if you know anything about Cardassians, then you will know they had many." Neither man had an answer, "Nine hundred and four, all dead."

Martok was shaking his head and rolling his eyes, he was losing it.

"Killing children is not an honorable way to wage battle, but I do not like this talk of treachery. The Klingon Empire requests that we are allowed to review all your data, we want to be sure who is responsible,"

"We already know who is responsible," voiced Weyoun, gently.

"You little insect! You are still withholding information from us, even after weeks of requests! We lost some fine warriors as well!" Martok was now on his feet, leaning over the table. Weyoun seemed startled but remained seated.

Picard grabbed the arm of Martok and gently coaxed him back into his chair,

"Gul Dukat. Weyoun. What is it that you want from us? We have provided you with all the evidence necessary for you to return to your respective governments to analyze, we have laid out the reasons in which it would be disadvantageous for us to target you. We do not want a war, we do not want any bloodshed, but. We are prepared to defend ourselves and our beliefs, but we will do everything possible so it does not come to that."

"Picard, it amazes me that you can grandstand after killing our people-" Weyoun was cut off by a flurry of activity from the Klingon delegation, a lowly lieutenant whispered in General Martok's ear.

Everyone in the room was silent, watching with interest as the General's demeanor changed from confusion to anger.

"What?!" The young Klingon jumped but continued to relay information into the ear of the General.

After several seconds, Dukot could not help but ask,

"Is everything ok?"

"No! It is not! One of our observation-outposts was boarded and overrun,"

"What?" Sisko was in disbelief,

"Forty Klingon warriors have been killed. Cardassian blood was found on their blades."

DS9 Quark's Bar

Commander Riker sat comfortably on a bar stool sipping a cold drink, an excellent beverage, unfamiliar, but splendid nonetheless. Captain Picard had sent him down to see what he could sniff out among the traders that frequented Quark's on route to, or returning from the Gamma Quadrant. Unsurprisingly busy, species utterly unfamiliar to Starfleet were gambling, drinking, talking, arguing, renting holosuites and occasionally getting into trouble. In essence, business was booming.

"Commander. I'm so busy I just hired three people just to maintain the holosuites, I'm charging a premium now, it's wonderful," said Quark as he fixed a drink for another patron. "Last time you were here, I would have been lucky to have five people in here at once, now, we are taking reservations."

"Doing something different?"

"Wish I could say I was, but truthfully it's just the merchants and traders. Activity has really picked up in the last five to six weeks. We have so many ships coming through the station docks that Sisko requested more personnel just to track the different species that are arriving from the Gamma Quadrant."

Riker smiled and looked around the room; he had not seen such a diverse crowd in a long time. All manner of alien were present, some familiar, most not. All were loose-of-mouth and drinking heavily, socializing and playing games at the tables. He did notice however, a stark contrast in demeanor between what he perceived to be successful material-traders, and those whom he suspected of being gun runners and contract-merchants. The latter were more recluse, tucked neatly away into their booths and holosuite waiting rooms. Their faces were stern, still enjoying themselves but not as boisterous as the rest.

"Quark, who is that big Romulan over there? The one with the women?" Over in a booth was the fattest Romulan Riker had ever seen. He was at least four-hundred pounds, excessively flabby and sweaty, he wore an open shirt with some sort of jewelry around his neck. Two women were playfully giggling and cooing beside him.

"Oh, that's Teemar, head honcho of some kind, big."

"What's his story?"

"Big tipper, always rents out my holosuites, I think he trades Dioplaxican, or mines it, one or the other. Why?"

"Never seen a Romulan who could be chopped into three smaller ones," said Riker with a big smile. Quark let out a laugh and leaned in closer,

"You know, I know a guy who can get you in on some Dioplaxican."

"What's so special about it."

"I hear they are making new Warbirds out of it."

"Out of Dioplaxican?" Riker was skeptical, from what he knew of the substance, refining it was lengthy and replication almost impossible. A strange choice for shipbuilding…

"Well, their private enterprise is trying to-" Quark was cut off,

"Private enterprise? Since when do the Romulans have private enterprise? Everything goes through the state."

"Hey, I'm just the messenger,"

"A messenger with a wrong message?" Riker frowned and gulped down the rest of his drink, he was half-off his stool when he was joined by a stunning woman. Conveniently pretending to adjust his uniform, Riker coolly slipped back onto his seat. She was, at least he thought she was, a mix between a humanoid woman and a jungle cat. She purred softly as her tail coiled around the stool leg, her hands were delicate, but beneath the finely groomed fur were deadly claws; she was as beautiful as she was deadly.

"What brings you here?" he asked with a big soft smile. Her ears flickered and she turned her sweet, but deadly face towards him. Her eyes were like a house cat's, and behind her beautiful smile was a pair of perfect white fangs,

"To spend some money," she purred,

"Oh, and what are you looking to purchase?"

"A few planets," she said with a wink. Riker couldn't hide the incredulous look spreading across his face, what? He signaled Quark for another round and offered to pay for the ladies before continuing his conversation.

"Never heard of someone buying an entire planet,"

"Well not a big one, maybe even a giant asteroid," her smile was infectious.

Riker reminded himself he was on duty, that there was information to be obtained. He leaned in,

"What do you need a planet for?"

"To mine, business is booming."

"So I've heard,"

"I don't expect you to understand, Starfleet-socialists would not agree with my ideas."

"Commander William Riker, a pleasure to meet you…?"

"Pleased to meet you," she said without mentioning her own name.

"So, you have enough gold-pressed-latinum to buy a planet?" They continued their back and forth for some time; a few more drinks were downed. Soon the alcohol was beginning to take effect, the mysterious huntress was becoming more limber and loose of tongue, his tactic was working.

"Ever heard of Utori?"

"No, should I have?"

She shrugged her shoulders before continuing,

"On Utori, a new political party forced a second world currency, which caused havoc. I was able to take advantage of it, long story short, you know. They were socialists just like you, they were practically begging me to halt the trade of their currency." Riker thought for a few moments, he had never heard of Utori. Must have been one hell of a scheme to rake in that much money

"So what are you mining?"

"Secret,"

"Is your name also a secret?"

"No, that can be earned,"

"What do I-" Riker stopped mid-sentence. He turned his head in time to see a verbal scuffle break out across the room,

"That was our seat you Romulan worm, move, now!" All activity in Quark's establishment immediately ceased, no one moved a muscle. A group of drunk Klingons stood over a pair of Romulans seated at a table. Eyes as hard as diamonds scanned the room, but they were not the eyes of the Klingons, but of the traders, the merchants, the scoundrels, and space-pirates within Quark's establishment. The two rugged looking Romulans stood slowly, and as they stood they seemed to grow, not physically but in stature. They were not to be bullied, mocked or slighted.

"Or what? What are you going to do Klingon?" Their voices were full of seething-loathsomeness, "are you going to show us what sort of Warrior you are," they spat, mockingly. That was all the Klingons could take, they lunged forward, bodies, table and chairs knocked to the ground. Riker jumped off his stool and rushed forward to try and calm the mayhem. More Klingons joined the fray, and soon, the Romulans were outnumbered five to one, but, that fact could have fooled any onlooker. To the surprise of the Klingons, the Romulans were fighting like wild animals. Clawing, biting, scratching, gouging, chewing, punching, kicking. Anything and everything to fight off the larger group. A wild-blow struck a Klingon's temple, killing him instantly.

"Stop this! Stop fighting!" Shouted Riker at the top of his lungs, but his efforts were to no avail. Moments later he was flung to the ground and almost stepped on as a group of ruffians rallied to the Romulan cause. After several minutes, Odo and two dozen security personnel rushed through the doors, wading into the chaos. Half of the establishment guests were scrambling for safety, through exit doors or under tables. Some were lucky enough to own self-teleportation devices, beaming away to their docked ships. The rest were locked in a life and death struggle with the drunken Klingons. A sort of madness had taken over, restricted weapons, hidden within boots, hats, and garments were being brought to bare. Never before had Odo seen such chaos in his station, the Klingon's who had started the fight were nearly dead; each had been stabbed, slashed and bludgeoned. The rowdy group of traders and merchants now turned on the security personnel; they seemed to collectively, if not consciously, attack as a single unit. Every man and woman, if you could call them that, were taking out all their pain on the Starfleet officers. Each felt they were given a bad break in life. They felt cast out, ridiculed, and mocked; they were the deprived, the desperate. Finding solace alone in the stars, as a trader, merchant, prostitute or gun-runner, they threw themselves into the fray. While many did not like one another, they hated authority even more.

"Another time my darlings," whispered the four-hundred pound Romulan to his 'company' before he too teleported off the station and onto his freighter. Behind the bar, Riker was giving a merchant the last right-cross he could muster. His wrist was broken, and a deep cut lacerated his stomach. He collapsed to one knee, to his right he could see his bar-mate, her fangs taking a huge chunk out of a Klingon's neck.

Across the establishment, a small group of Starfleet security officers were being pummeled mercilessly by a pair of greasy looking Pakleds, everywhere, bones were breaking and throats crushed. Odo realized the danger. His hopelessly outmatched forces had been well trained but were unable to stop the onslaught. Security personnel, while numerically evenly matched, were having a difficult time subduing and arresting the moving, seething crowd of fists and kicks. With reluctance, Odo pulled his phaser and set it to wide-beam stun, and fired. Half the room instantly dropped. The remaining were eventually subdued or managed to teleport away. Riker, who was laying behind the bar half conscious struggled to his feet; broken glass littered the floor and bar-top. What he saw was unbelievable. Blood flowed like a river along the floor, bodies lay on top of one another, and in the middle stood Odo, phaser in hand.

"Commander, are you ok?"

"Yes, just a few scratches,"

Quark pulled himself up over the bar-top,

"I'm all right,"

Odo ignored him. Minutes later medical personnel were treating the wounded, and trying to stabilize the dying.

Riker limped across the room,

"What's going on? This ever happen before?"

"It has been getting worse for a month or two, more and more traders are coming in, I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner," reflected Odo. Riker's communicator beeped and he excused himself,

"Riker here,"

"Will, report to the Enterprise immediately," ordered Picard.

"Trouble?"

"The Klingons have just declared war on the Cardassians, we are to rendezvous with the 4th fleet immediately,"

"Understood." Riker moved out into the promenade and approached a group of security officers, "Fastest way to transporter room two?" he asked quickly,

"We will lead you there sir." Through corridors, hallways and turbo lifts, they moved quickly until they reached a door,

"In here? That doesn't say transporter room. What the hell is going on?" Riker was growing suspicious, and was about to turn back when one of the officers pulled a phaser and pointed it at him,

"Inside, now."

As Riker stepped through the door a hypo-spray was shot into his neck, he convulsed and dropped to the floor. He was laying face down, his nose was broken and he could feel the blood pooling in his mouth. The room was spinning, and he was unable to move his body. A half-dozen security men were waiting inside, they were holding a large piece of equipment that resembled a suction cup.

"Easy, easy, now...place it on his skull," said one of them. The suction cup lowered and slowly tightened, a loud crunch followed. Within a few seconds, the dead, lifeless, fruitless body of William Riker lay on the floor. His mind had been absorbed and uploaded into the transference-machine. "Send mind-data to master, then set for self-destruct." Each of the men exited the room, leaving the machine beside the mummified body, then, with a silent uneventful flicker, both were reduced to their subatomic molecules, never to exist again.

Chapter Text

Back Against the Wall

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Metron Planetoid

Captain Kirk stood in the bright sunlight at the base of a shallow valley. The desolate, barren planetoid was the exact one he had been on when he fought the Gorn so many years ago. Nothing was natural, at least, he believed it was not. The Metrons, like before, had prepared a small planet in their solar system for humanoid life. With him, Cienna and 'John' stood looking around at the sparse plantation and non-existent animal life. The Enterprise was beyond the solar system, locked into place with an invisible force, the Metrons had agreed to transport Kirk and his friends to the surface. Now, the pale, thin, boyish-looking human appeared on the ridge,

"Captain Kirk," it's voice echoed, "We did not expect to see you again."

"Thank you for allowing me to return, and, thank you...for allowing my friends to come," replied Kirk, disjointedly.

"We see you are now in the wrong timeline, you do not belong here."

"Yes, that is why we have come, to seek answers," Kirk made a hand gesture towards himself and his two friends. He was hoping that the Metrons had an answer, that somehow he had impressed them enough in their last encounter that they could shed some light on the situation.

"Captain Kirk, you allowed us to witness the finer qualities of a stable, more evolved thought processes. What is it that you want us to answer." The slim, humanoid Metron offered its hands in a gesture of goodwill, they thought highly of Kirk, this mere human had surprised them so many years ago.

"I...we, have all been transported here, somehow, we've been pushed through time, and dimension. Our science cannot provide an answer." There was a long silence, the Metron remained visible, but seemed to be thinking, analyzing,

"We can address some of your questions, but not all."

"How has this happened?"

"A space-time explosion has spread itself between Universes; the ripple effect created micro-fissures across multiple dimensions. You being here is merely a coincidence, your ship was caught in the turbulence. Your companions were also ensnared, it is possible that other micro-fissures appeared within this universe, our sensors are advanced but not infinite. The space-time explosion's exact coordinate in the cosmos is unknown."

Cienna stepped forward hesitantly, her beautiful hair was tightly wound, only her silky white dress was flapping gently in the breeze.

"The Dalek's created a Time Destroyer, a temporal weapon to be used against their enemies. We were on route to Mars when we were hit by a time-shockwave."

"If the Dalek's survived, there is a grave danger to all mortal races in the universe." replied the Metron. Even with their advanced sensors, the Metrons had not detected the broken hulk of the Dalek deep inside the gravitational forces of the half-nova so many hundreds of light years away. If perhaps they had been explicitly looking for it, the Metrons may have picked it up, but we will never know.

"Metron," continued Cienna, "you have undoubtedly analyzed the plan that the Dalek's had envisioned for 'John' in the Enterprise's computer, what is your opinion of it? I was told by the Dalek's that the gate could open if words from the book were said by a human." Kirk could not help but admire Cienna. She was as intelligent as Spock, but conveyed it in a much different way. She was emotional, empathetic, yet logical. He let slip a smile, he had, over the last several weeks allowed many such smiles to spread across his face. Cienna was the most beautiful woman he could imagine, and he was glad he had fought hard with Starfleet Command to bring her along. They had, after some persuasion, adopted his reasoning. After her debrief there was little more they could learn from her, but the Metrons perhaps could unlock more. The same argument for 'John' proved equally fruitful. Over the last several weeks Kirk had bonded with them, maybe more in Cienna's instance.

"We have read all information held within your computer banks, what you suggest is illogical, much like your Mr. Spock has indicated in his log entries. Dimensions cannot open through words alone. We cannot explain this; we cannot explain why the Dalek's who possess sufficiently advanced technology would fall for the obvious superstition of an inferior race."

Kirk turned towards 'John,' this was the same logical impasse that Spock could not seem to overcome. The voices, those terrible thoughts creeping into his mind, they must be something, he isn't mad...is he mad? McCoy had detected over-active brain activity for weeks, but it was all associated back to 'John's thoughts. No telepathy could be detected, not by Bone's instruments or Spock's mind-melds. If John were insane, that would suggest Cienna was crazy, as her story corroborates his...no...it was real, it must be real.

Cienna stepped closer to Kirk, her soft voice blowing warm air on his cheek and ear,

"James, is it possible the Metron's are wrong? The Dalek's would not have made such an obvious mistake." The trio was discussing the situation, and after several minutes Kirk turned back towards the ridge.

"Metron. The book is just words, but perhaps there is an underlying danger, a form of technology that could access the dimension of these...things?"

"That is possible. There are many dimensions, perhaps an infinite amount. However, from what you have entered into your computer banks, our analysis diverges from your supposed possibilities. If these unknown creatures were as powerful as described and sought out by the Dalek's, it makes no logical sense that they could not move from universe to universe, dimension to dimension." This was identical to Spock's own reasoning, as well as the Enterprise's computer.

"The Old Ones are held at bay by a gate, one that can only open with words spoken from the Necronomicon. They must be said and believed by a human, or those who have been touched by the Old Ones," said Cienna. "This is why I exist, this is why I was destined for Phobos. 'John' was to find me in the realm the humans had discovered, and be tricked into opening the gate to save me. I was created for him. The creatures he fought were just...slaves to the Old Ones. A way to torture him, to destroy his mind and fighting spirit. It was an elaborate plan. The Dalek's wanted the Old Ones to kill their greatest enemies, the Time Lords. I do not know if it would have worked, but I do know that 'John' has been touched, I am confident, what he hears is real."

"We have access to all the information you have acquired, plus information that we have gained through our own devices. Right now we see no threat; if information changes we will reevaluate. The gate mentioned in the book, as you claim, appears to be the accessed gate on Phobos."

"No, that was just…" Cienna was searching for words, "...it was just a go-between. Yes it was another dimension, but that was just creatures whom the Old One's had touched. It allowed for more precise communication. What the Dalek's seek, exists beyond dimensions, through the gate."

"There is nothing beyond dimension. What you describe cannot be, in a place that cannot be. Your mind is not advanced enough to realize this. We have analyzed everything that can be analyzed, either the facts are incomplete, or the message is incomplete. What you say and have indicated cannot stand. We have scanned your Marine companion, he is human. There are mutations in his DNA, easily explained by his movement between dimensions." The Metrons had indeed looked into this possible danger after sifting through the Enterprise records. And while inter-dimensional scanning was blocked due to temporal interference, they knew that once the temporal winds subsided, they could locate said dimension if required. In their eyes however, there was no imperative, no creatures that could not move between universes would be a threat to them.

"Can you point us in the right direction regarding the thousands of probes that have entered this part of the galaxy?" Asked Kirk changing the subject, he suspected the Metron's were unwavering in their opinion of the Old Ones.

"We do. We have captured many, we have analyzed many. Please remember Captain Kirk, we are thousands of years more advanced than your Federation."

"Of course... are they from the Dominion?"

"No, from elsewhere, beyond the Galactic Rim. They are no concern to us, no threat to us. We recognize your primitive technology will not enable you to capture one intact. We will afford you the benefit of a fully functional probe. It is for your study, we no longer need it."

The brilliant strategy of Grand Admiral Thrawn related to the probe droids was on display even now. The droids were manufactured with no 'brain,' sent through the wormhole en masse and then programmed beyond the galactic rim of the Milky Way. This ensured captured and dissected probes would not lead anyone to their true origin. Up to this point, the Metron's had captured over four thousand probe droids, all void of meaningful information beyond their programming. To report all information possible, broadcasting omnidirectionally, so the receiver's location could remain a mystery. There were relay probes that helped move the information across the galaxy, but they also broadcast omnidirectionally. The Metron's were by nature, isolationists, and to them the probes and any technology behind them was harmless and beneath their concern. Would a tiger be concerned if a few ants came near? Would the cat seek out the colony and destroy it? It would surely not.

Cienna also believed the real danger still lay with her masters.

"Metron, do you believe the Dalek's can reach us here?" There was another long pause,

"The fate of the Dalek's is unknown to us, the temporal-blast may have destroyed them along with their enemies, but we cannot be sure. There was a Dalek onboard your ship when you entered this universe, was there not?"

"Yes, but it was destroyed along with the rest of my ship. We were caught in a Nova,"

"We are investigating, a conclusion has not yet been reached." Silence followed the Metron's response. Everyone was reflecting on the situation, looking back at all the events, scenarios, and possible explanations. They had of course been doing this nonstop for weeks and months but now the trio felt 'on the spot,'as if their conclusions were being challenged and judged. Kirk had the most intense stare, he wasn't looking at anything in particular, but into the findings and actions he had taken up to this point. Was it possible that Starfleet missed something? Could a Dalek have survived? Could a Dalek have come through the fissure near Betazed? Starfleet is sure nothing came through. Sensor logs, personal logs, interviews, investigations, all completed by various departments and by hundreds if not thousands of people…

"Did we miss something?" Murmured Kirk to his friends, each looking at one another.

"They do not believe us, they do not think those in the Necronomicon are real," said 'John' with much reluctance. Kirk said nothing, his mind elsewhere, disturbed. He was fighting off the urge to return to Earth. Doubt was creeping into his mind. He had come here in the hope the Metron's could shed light on the entire situation. With their steadfast stance on the Necronomicon and the more exotic parts of their stories, he was perturbed. His gut told him to push on, that 'John' and Cienna were telling the truth, a fantastic and unbelievable truth; but the truth. His rational part of his brain was telling him to double-back, Bones had warned him not to fall into a wild goose-chase. War between the Cardassians and Klingons leaves us with only borrowed time before the Federation is dragged in. Opportunities to solve problems could afford no waste, answers to their questions were vital if this 'expedition' for truth was to continue.

"Metron, I have one last question, do you...have any suggestions for us? Any guiding principles?"

"Our technology allows us to comprehend many things Captain Kirk, we are the masters of space, of speed, of distance. But with minds as advanced as ours, we also recognize our limitations. We consult another for questions on time,"

"Who? We must speak to this person," Kirk took a few steps forward, this was a critical juncture, if when everything is done, we could return to our natural timeline...

"Go then, to the Guardian of Forever."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - DS9

It had been four days since Commander Riker had disappeared aboard DS9, the thorough search of both station and ship was continuing nonstop. Crew quarters, jeffreys tubes, and cargo bays were being checked and re-checked; nothing was being left to chance. Counsellor Troi was spending time on the station, conducting joint interviews with Odo in the hopes of uncovering some unknown detail that may shed light on the situation. Most stories corroborated the known events, detailing a massive fight in Quark's bar. An eventual escort for Commander Riker to the nearest transporter bay was his last known contact. The problem being, no one would locate the escorting officers.

More than a dozen of Quark's guests found themselves thrown into the brig for mischief and fighting; a few were being charged with murder and attempted murder for the death and beatings of the Klingons. The feline currency trader, whose name we now know as Shunor was speaking with Troi,

"Will was flirty with me, paid for my drinks...too bad he is dead, I could have grown to like him," she said with a maniacal smile, her predator eyes gleaming in the dull light. Troi fought back her anger and rage, with each passing day it was becoming harder to handle. It had been years since her relationship with William Riker had ended, but all her buried memories were resurfacing.

"There is no proof of that. Now, what were you talking about at the bar?" asked Troi.

"You, Odo, you know he is dead. You must know he is dead. You would not be here if there were other leads. If your sensors had detected a transporter you would have known about it. What have you morons been doing for four days? He is dead! Or..." Shunor's white fangs crept out beyond her lips, "...he will be."

"What we know, is that you are going to be in a penal colony for the rest of your life for the murder of Klingon Commander Tu'Cha. He bled to death because of your bite. You will go and die there of old age. Your days as a trader are over," said Odo with contempt. He could not stand these vermin, hating every last one of them. The sooner he could process their transfer off station the better he would feel.

"I will BUY the stars from your Federation! I was meant for greatness! This cell will not hold me!" roared Shunor. As Odo and Troi exited the brig they heard the last of her tirade as the doors slammed shut." I will not be deni-"

Milky Way - U.S.S. Enterprise-D

Captain Picard was stewing in his ready room onboard the Enterprise, currently a few thousand kilometers from DS9. His head felt like someone had dropped a shuttlecraft on it, he had hardly slept, neither had his crew. Soon after the Klingons had waged war against the Cardassians a priority message had been received from Admiral Ross. The 4th Fleet was blasting towards Bajor at Warp 9.85. The Dominion blockade on the Alpha Quadrant side of the wormhole was to be removed, by force if necessary. Too many Dominion ships were pouring through and headed for Cardassian space. There was at this time no proof that the Dominion had engaged the Klingons but the writing was on the wall for all but the most closed-minded officer. Strong arguments by a select few politicians had convinced the Council that the flow of ships needed to stop. The political climate across some Federation worlds was becoming rife with dissident and it was no longer politically safe to 'tow the line' for Starfleet. Picard had just watched a short clip of a city mayor on Andoria, a Federation Member World calling for an audit of Starfleet due to slow ship production. In essence, in small isolated instances, people were getting anxious and their political representatives were becoming more vocal.

It's hard to convey the amount of stress upon Picard's mind, but the previous paragraph is but a glimpse. He carries both professional and personal responsibility for finding his first officer, even resorting to reading some quotes from his favorite author, Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle of the Sherlock Holmes series. Anything and everything to help him balance an impossible task.

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth, was Picard's favorite mantra. This logical principle, while simple, asks for the most faithful of minds in the process of elimination.

Data had thought it possible that the unidentified security officers who escorted Riker were perhaps Changelings. Their infiltration of Starfleet Command giving credence to their ability to mask their actual forms. Data had postulated the Changelings could have possibly kidnapped Riker onto a merchant ship, but there was little evidence to support this. Odo had agreed in principle it was a possibility but the question of 'Why?' was not being answered.

There were many other possibilities to consider including phaser disintegration, wilful abandonment, mind control and the list went on. Every plausible scenario was actively debated, and Picard was counting on his team to narrow the options. Now though, he was in a heated exchange with Starfleet Intelligence over the identities of the security officers.

"...that is exactly why I need all pertinent information regarding the detection of Changelings that is available to Starfleet," said Picard hotly into his Ready Room desktop screen.

Director Sloan let out a slow sigh, in his eyes the Captain was acting unreasonable,

"Picard, as I have already said, we cannot just hand out classified information willy-nilly. These Changelings are everywhere, they could even be part of your crew for all we know. If they know what we know, then we are in trouble. My team has the information required to detect them and we will send information to the fleet at an appropriate time."

"A man's life is on the line. An excellent officer, the Commander of the flagship of the Federation." Picard could not believe the stonewalling taking place. To him, the release of classified information was worth the risk if it could help eliminate possibilities in his investigation.

"Do you know how many men and women I've lost in the last few months trying to uncover information that is going to help us in the next few years? Where was the outrage when they didn't make it home? I'm sure you heard about the attempted murder of Council Member Bodega at Starfleet Command?"

"I had, but I have not reviewed the report, I have been a little busy..."

"Let me see…" Sloan looked down at his datapad, searching for the briefing, "...a security officer threw himself in front of a phaser discharge before it struck the Council Member...the guard was completely vaporized on the spot. The Changeling was then killed by another guard. You see Captain? We are losing people in the field...and this Gilver, sorry, Gulliver. Lieutenant Commander Gulliver paid the ultimate price. He's a goddamn hero if you ask me. Service was held this morning, Admiral Paris told me ten minutes ago that he knew his family growing up, or something of the effect...these are good men and women, but you don't see us releasing classified information over it. Commander Riker is no different. When I return to Earth I will assemble a team to track down those unidentified officers on DS9, until then, good luck in your investigation." The line cut. Picard slammed his first down and closed his eyes, this is unbelievable, how can this be happening?

"Oh...it's happening alright," came a sudden voice from across the room.

Picard's head snapped to the side, his eyes wide open,

"Q, I should have known, only you would stoop to such barbarity! Stop this at once, all of it."

"All of what?" Asked Q with a puzzled look. He was dressed in an Admiral's uniform, with a few extra medals attached to his chest.

"The Cardassian-Klingon war, the Changeling infiltrations, Captain Kirk and his crew, strange visitors, and, for the love of God bring back my first officer."

"Jean-Luc, I'm here only to say hello, and perhaps goodbye. It has been fun, our witty banter, our delicious and satisfying conversations about morality-"

"Q! Bring back my officer."

"No." Q had a smile on his face, but it was a ruse. He was unaware that William Riker was missing until this moment. Without his power to move forward and backward in time, he saw everything as it occurred; in the present-now. Typically a Q could see both forward and backward in time in any given situation, so all the previous events and future events could be known while having a conversation in 'the now.' The temporal distortions had put an end to this practice. At this point, it was difficult for any Q to truly know if things were 'as they should seem.' Unless precisely known, a Q could no more tell if something or someone belonged in any given Universe than a human would know if an ant belonged on their lawn or their neighbors.

"Q, listen to me, please," Picard had both hands palm-down on his desk. "There is significant instability in the galaxy right now. I do not know if you are creating it, if you are the one responsible, but what I say now transcends guilt and self-righteousness. Soon, possibly within the next few hours, the Federation is going to challenge the blockade on this side of the wormhole. If the Dominion does not relent their positions and withdraw into the Gamma Quadrant, it could start a war. Millions could die."

"Correct."

Picard stood up and walked around the desk and took a seat on the corner,

"Q. You once told me that humanity could reach beyond the stars, that we could become... perhaps one day as great as yourselves."

"Yes, perhaps being the key word."

"Is this another test Q?"

"Jean-Luc, your insect race is always being tested, judged, and studied. Not just from us you know, but originally from your makers." Q smiled as he saw the look of confusion creep along the Captain's face. "I know you think you know where you came from. That your species was farmed out like cattle into the galaxy, which is why so many of you look similar. Well, I have a secret for you, a long time ago, very very long ago actually, there were those who thought there should be more life in the Universe. We of course, disagreed. At any rate, we ascended into the Continuum and they chose to stay behind to create life, you specifically, and others, but you were their favorite."

"Why have you never mentioned this before?"

"Does your pet fish over in the tank know about the impending war? C'mon Picard, be intelligent," Q chuckled before continuing, "Anyway, they are gone now, so we thought it appropriate to take over their duties as judges for all life. So yes, this is a test, and your small, tiny little micro-brains may discover how to pass."

"And if we do not pass?"

"Life, Captain, what does life do when it cannot thrive? It withers, withdraws and dies."

"Are you judging us by the same criteria and morality that...these..these.." Picard was hunting for a name, "...these Precursors were using?" Before Q could answer the door chimed,

"Come." Q disappeared in a flash as recently promoted Commander Data entered the Ready Room. In normal circumstances the position would remain vacant, but with so much uncertainty, Data had been temporarily promoted to fill the gap.

"Captain, the 4th Fleet will arrive in three minutes, eight seconds. The Dominion has reinforced their blockade by another six ships, the total is now twenty-seven."

"Very well. Red alert."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Demilitarized Zone - Federation Colony World Epilus

Darth Maul and Boba Fett slipped quietly into the courtyard of a run down 'hut' on the edge of a Colonist town. It was close to midnight and cool moonlight stretched in all directions. They had been able to track down Danz Borin, a Bounty Hunter hired by the Galactic Empire six months ago to gather information on the few species in the Delta Quadrant. All contact had been lost and an investigation and manhunt was undertaken. It became known to the Empire that he chose to abandon his duties to take-up work within the Milky Way. Using probe droid information as well as Force sensitivities, Maul tracked him to this small world on the outcroppings of the Demilitarized Zone near the Cardassian border. Their mission was to kill Borin, plant a single Cardassian body, and exit undetected. The Colonist would likely suspect a commando team of Cardassians infiltrated their village and killed one of their own, or at least someone working in league with them. Thrawn suspected a call for help would then be sent to the Federation, pulling them into a terrible political situation with the Cardassians. This was the pairs thirty-seventh assassination, as each Bounty Hunter was killed, more it seemed were moving into exile and taking up work or blending into the local population to start new lives. Thrawn had taken note of this increased abandon and had to act quickly and politically to solve it. While not in direct command of Maul, the Grand Admiral would suggest ideas by way of the Emperor, and then the instruction would go out to Maul.

The Sith crept along the wall, his Force powers probing the innards of the small run down shanty. Danz was inside, asleep and alone. Boba Fett pressed a few commands into his forearm instrument and a hover-droid came over the shrubs with the underslung Cardassian body.

"Still no sensor instruments in range," whispered Fett. Maul nodded and unclipped his Lightsaber and placed it against the wall. It was over in a second, the ignited blade pierced the flimsy aluminum and drove straight into Danz Borin's heart. Fett signaled the droid and the Cardassian body was quietly laid a few meters from the smoking hole. A small Cardassian explosive was then placed in the courtyard on a set timer. A detonation signal was too detectable, and so a timer had to be implemented to ensure the assassin's obscurity. "Charge set for ten minutes," Maul nodded again and the pair began moving slowly out of the village.

"Stop." Commanded Maul as they reached the outskirts. His eyes closing and concentrating, Boba Fett dropped to one knee and started checking his sensors. While limited, they could still give him a relatively large field of view. Both men looked into the darkness; the village was a dull white from the moonlight. After a few seconds, they saw it. A small blue flicker, an engine exhaust, first one, then two, then three. More rose into the air as civilian craft began to lift off from the ground within the village and surrounding area. The distant rumble of thrusters slowly increased as more than a dozen were taking off.

Maul and Boba rushed quickly to their predesignated encrypted-transporter coordinates five kilometers away. Activating their teleporters, they materialized back onboard a heavily modified Slave-1 in orbit. Boba Fett's ship was outfitted with all the necessary technology to afford them such dangerous missions. A refurbished Borg sensor assembly, a modified Klingon cloak, and a teleporter system from the Dominion. Many other upgrades helped them stay undetected, but they do not need to be listed here.

"Why did we not detect those before?" hissed Maul angrily.

"We did, those are the crop and assembly ships that all the colony worlds have. They are just civilian and merchant craft."

"Why are they taking off? Where are they going?" Maul was furious, he did not like his missions to be compromised, and while this one technically hadn't, it still represented an unexpected event.

"Our device has detonated," said Fett looking into his Borg display. Fire and dust had replaced the well-worn shanty, soon he expected to see Colonists running wild. To his surprise, they were not. Instead, more and more ships were lifting off, far more than had been identified earlier.

"The ships...they are coming out of caves, deep caves we had not seen. Heavily armed, looks like...looks like weapons have just been attached, welded on." Now totaling more than four hundred, the heavily modified ships no larger than shuttlecraft created a wedge formation in the upper atmosphere.

"Have we been detected?" Asked Maul,

"No." Hundreds of flashes from warp drives filled their viewscreen,

"Where are they headed?"

"Course suggests, Cardassia Prime," responded Fett. He was shocked, he could not explain what had happened. The plan had worked, the Cardassians were supposed to be the blamed perpetrators, but the series of events did not make sense. Were they preparing to go beforehand? "There are still five thousand people on the surface, they are coming out of their dwellings now, looks like they are investigating the-"

"Move this ship, now!" shouted Maul. All sensor inputs flickered momentarily as the surface of the colony world seemed to lift and swell several kilometers as if the rock had turned to liquid. The planet was expanding from a tremendous detonation deep within it. For several minutes, Epilus was no longer 'whole', Slave-1 veered out of orbit to a safe distance to further witness the devastation. Magma spewed from the broken surface, oceans swelled and the atmosphere fought to keep its precious air. Slowly the pieces reformed under the power of gravity into a stable world, but it's ecosystem and supporting atmosphere was fading. All life on the surface was dead or soon to perish; even the smallest of animals would quickly suffocate or starve as ash clouds spread across the now toxic atmosphere.

There was silence on board Slave-1. Everything had gone fantastically right, and yet so unpredictably wrong. Maul was deep in thought, his mind was fused with the darkside. He felt and searched, trying to determine the cause of this planet's demise. Trying to see within the web of possibilities and outcomes. Everything was fragmented, he was unsure, the path was unclear.

The Emperor will see through this, and send guidance, thought Maul finally,

"Send all information, and set course for our next target,"

"Yes my lord."

Chapter Text

Drip to Torrent

Imperial Galaxy - Rebel Base - Secret Location

A rusty, thoroughly used ramp lowered onto the floor of the dank hanger bay deep inside a natural cave on an unknown moon. The shuttle was decades old, stolen years ago, and now re-purposed for the Rebel Alliance. The ship itself was unimportant, routinely making runs throughout the sector, moving passengers or information from one secret location to another. Today however was unique; its cargo being both unusual and suspicious.

Five armed Rebel soldiers guided a flanked a chained and blindfolded figure through the winding tunnels of the underground base. Long-dry underground streams created an elaborate network of caverns millions of years ago. Now, the only remaining water was moisture that condensed and dripped off stalactites on the ceilings. The visitor had been chained and blindfolded hours ago, the route leading to this secret base could not be revealed, the simplest of errors could give away their position. A jab of a blaster rifle dug deep into the visitor's back as each tunnel leads to even more endless tunnels. Twisting and sloping downward, they eventually reached their destination.

"Have her sit, remove her restraints and blindfold." Ordered Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebellion. Around her, standing in a semicircle were General Dodonna, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewie. Many droids and sensor operators whose identities are unimportant in the context of this story lined the peripheral of the room, continuing their work unabated. Mon Mothma was wearing her signature white dress, her thin delicate frame did not give hint to the enormous burden it carried. For twenty years she shouldered the leadership of the Rebellion, there was plenty of help to be sure but the responsibility ultimately rested with her.

The straggly, unkempt visitor was rubbing her eyes and wiping away the matted hairs stuck to her sweaty forehead.

"Thank you..thank you so much..." she whispered,

"You were looking for us?" Asked Dodonna.

"Yes, you are the leaders? I have been interrogated by so many people…"

Mothma sighed quietly while imagining the screenings this visitor must have endured. Security of the Rebellion was paramount, and at this stage of the game, elaborate protocols were unavoidable.

"You are free to speak now. We are the leadership, we are the ones you seek."

As Mothma finished her sentence, the haggard woman broke down and began to sob. Tears of joy and relief streamed down her dirty face,

"Please!" she wept, "You need to help us..." her voice faded out and her head sunk into her hands, she was both physically and emotionally exhausted.

The semi-circle of Rebels shared a concerned look, this was not what they had expected.

"Your name is Ro? Ro Laren?" Asked Leia in an attempt to 'break the ice.'

"Yes, you can call me Ro if you like, it's my mother's name. It's all I have left...just memories."

"So what do ya want?" asked Han gruffly, his fingers were tapping slowly on his blaster. He did not intend to use it, but old habits die hard.

"There is a secret war, my people are being targeted. We have lost so many, so many people have died."

"Is this war in another galaxy?" asked Leia. The leadership had been thoroughly briefed by Luke's visions of the Milky Way, whose images had been snatched from the mind of the ill-fated bounty hunter on Outland Transit Station months ago.

"Yes…"

"How do you know about us? What is your story?" Han was naturally suspicious, his old smuggler days coming in handy.

"I live in a place called the Demilitarized Zone, it is not my home planet, but it is my home now. There are many like us, we are colonists, people who want to be left alone. We create our own food, resources, ships, everything. We are not interested in politics or fighting over resources. There is a secret war like I said. Your Empire is pushing into-"

"Not our Empire, let us remember that," added Mothma, gently.

"They control others and through them we are being attacked. We have no weapons that can hurt them, we are no threat. We have been abandoned by everyone, used as pawns for inter-quadrant politics."

"And how did you discover us?"

"The Empire is using Bounty Hunters to infiltrate my galaxy. They are everywhere. Traders, merchants, officers, family members, they are buried so deep it's almost impossible to spot or uproot them. They have completely blended in. We caught one, and we got the information out of him. He had a ship and I used it to come here to seek you out. I have been searching for a month. I have had little rest or food...or," looking down at herself "...a shower. He knew all about you though, everyone does. We are like you, the Maquis, trying to make a difference."

"The Maquis? Are you an underground organization? How many are you?"

"We operate within the Colony worlds. Not officially part of the governance, we...sort of work in the shadows. There are dozens of worlds, hundreds of thousands of people. We are not all united but share more or less the same problems. The Cardassians used to come to our planets for ore and other resources. Now they just come and kill us, we are bombarded from orbit, or we are being infected with diseases. Our allies, or, the closest thing we have to an ally, the Federation, we have asked them for help for years; but they are useless. We tried to take matters into our own hands, we formed our rebellion, you need to help us, we have nothing. A few ships, and a few weapons, but not against starships."

During this time of conversation, Luke had remained silent, standing a few steps back from the group, his icy blue eyes penetrating the very fabric of Ro Laren's being. Through the Force he could 'feel' who she was, the suffering was real, the bitter-hatred, agony, the loss of her parents was bleeding through. She believed what she was telling them, he could, feel her pain, her hatred for the Cardassian's and now the Empire. Deeper he delved into her 'being.' What was her destiny? Where had she been? Where will she go? These were the questions Luke was trying to answer. Through the Force he could answer many questions, even questions he did not know to ask. There is more, Luke could feel it. Not deception...not willful ignorance...danger. Yes, there is something, darkness, Luke closed his eyes and raised his hand, he looked as if he was in slow motion, he pushed deeper into the Force. Not with power, or finesse, or anger, but with patience and wisdom. The power was potentially infinite, but so too had to be the mind that controlled it. There is a terrible danger somewhere beyond the wormhole. Luke opened his eyes and continued to listen to the conversation, Han was currently grilling her on propulsion,

"Let me get this straight, you plotted a course from your Demilitarized Zone to the wormhole leading to our Galaxy, ran the Imperial blockade on this side, then managed to make it to Yunif Colony on the Outer Rim?"

"Yes." Ro was shaking her head, not in disappointment, but because it did seem totally unbelievable when Han described it.

"You were clever using an old Republic communication channel to broadcast your wish to meet us," added Dodonna. "Did you learn this from the Bounty Hunter as well?"

"We did, we ...tortured him,"

"Something stinks," said Han looking at the others, "that ship we confiscated couldn't make that run, you'd have run out of fuel in the Milky Way."

"You can check the ship log," countered Ro,

"We did, which makes this even fishier," said Han flatly.

Discussion continued for hours as Ro Laren's story was questioned, checked and rechecked. The Rebels were scrupulous, going over even the most basic of ship computer code. It did not appear anything had been modified, and astrometric droid diagnostics came back clean which was mind-boggling to Solo. He just could not believe it, it has trap written all over it, but he could not prove it. In addition to fundamental navigational questions, the modified transporter technology set up inside the bounty hunter vessel was of supreme interest. The Rebels could scarcely believe its ability, with almost indescribable ramifications for their war effort. Han imagined all the ways such a device would be utilized, but something was missing. Without a subspace sensor grid, which according to Ro came standard on starships in her galaxy, the transporter was useless beyond a few hundred feet. How convenient. After four hours the group broke away, with Ro being sent to a guarded room, the Rebels could not risk letting her go at this time.

"General Solo... General Solo," Han turned around to see golden C3P0 clumsily moving towards him,

"Ya?"

"R2 has just extracted the entire Milky Way star-chart from Ro Laren's ship, and we are now able to plot hyperspace lanes." This was big. Han was hoping for some star-charts, but not the entire galaxy?! The Rebels could now move through the Milky Way without as much as sending a single scouting ship. This was essential if they were ever to make the journey. Their fleet could not afford to stop and ask for directions. Could be fake, maybe...could be real...maybe.

"It is real," said Luke, startling Han who had been thinking out loud,

"What makes you so sure?"

"I just know."

Han eyed Luke carefully, if it had been a few years ago he would have scoffed at the idea of the Force, but now...he was a believer.

"OK, kid, what do you got in mind?"

"We need to go through, there is a terrible danger to all of us, far worse than the Empire... I can feel it."

Leia was shaking her head, this was not at all what she had in mind,

"...but Luke, if there is such a terrible danger…"

"A mortal danger...and that is why we must go."

Milky Way -Alpha Quadrant - DS9 - Enterprise - D

The one-hundred and fifty ships making up the 4th Federation Fleet moved at half impulse towards the Dominion blockade. The fleet was shaped in a half-sphere, slowly shrinking and closing in on the wormhole entrance. All communication had ceased, Picard had just finished a heated conversation with Weyoun, the Vorta with administrative control of the Alpha Quadrant forces. A pointless discussion seethed Picard. This is going to end one of two ways, either they fall back, or we go to war.

"Three hundred thousand kilometers and closing, we are now in weapons range," reported Data from his new seat beside the Captain. All ships indicated red alert status, with weapons and shields pushed to maximum power. The idea was to close in from all angles, forcing the Dominion to retreat into the wormhole.

"Status?" asked Picard,

"Thirty-four Dominion ships, they have repositioned their cruisers for optimal defensive protection, I suspect they will fight."

"Thank you Mr. Worf, signal the fleet to increase speed to two-thirds impulse, adjust shields for maximum frontal protection."

"Aye sir, fleet responding."

"Data, how long until we are nose to nose with them?"

"At our new speed, four minutes, twenty-eight seconds."

The noose continued to tighten, and in response the Dominion ships adjusted and readjusted their positions. Onboard DS9, tensions were high, people were lining up along the promenade windows, watching, waiting. The wormhole was strangely quiet; no reinforcements had arrived for some time. A good sign for some who imagined a retreat was in order. Perhaps there would be no violence on this day. Quark's bar was empty, even the most loyal of customers were preoccupied with what was to come. If Starfleet engaged the Dominion, the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants would be at war, and all the trading that ensued would be lost. The cross of cultures and histories would cease, and friendships would be stretched thin. All this and more weighed on the hundreds of smugglers, merchants, businessmen and women, and aliens who frequented the station's hospitalities and commerce centers.

"Increase to full impulse," ordered Picard,

"We will be at the wormhole horizon in one minute, thirty-eight seconds," reported Data as he continued to scan his instrument panel attached to the side of his chair.

Picard was picking his lip, he could not shake the feeling that this was a terrible setup.

"Anytime Q! You can stop this anytime!" shouted Picard onto the bridge. The sudden outburst caused the crew to turn their heads to make sure everything was ok with their captain. Very well then, thought Picard pulling down his uniform and settling back into his seat. "Mr. Worf, signal Admiral Paris, we are about to engage the Dominion forces, tell him that they have not retreated. Deanna?"

"Captain, I sense uneasiness, I feel significant stress onboard the Dominion ships, they are worried."

Before Picard could respond, Worf's sensor input began to beep in earnest,

"Detecting ninety-six craft heading towards us on long-range sensors, traveling at warp...9.98"

Data stood up and whirled around,

"Can you identify them Lieutenant?"

"Negative," Data hustled up the ramp along the side of the bridge and briskly made his way to Worf's tactical station.

"Confirmed, detecting ninety-six incoming unidentified vessels, their origin trajectory places them from the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone. Attempting to ascertain their identity,"

"Hail them," ordered the Captain. Within a second an incoming transmission was detected and the viewscreen flickered to a new image. Seated in a small, cramped shuttlecraft was a human male. His civilian clothes were dirty, and from the looks of things, he was in bad shape. In the background, pieces of modified machinery and electronics could be seen scattered about, all seemingly interconnected to unknown systems. "I am Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. I urge you to change course, you are heading towards a potentially dangerous situation."

"Captain, thank god you are here. We are all that is left of Colony Outpost Epilus, we were attacked by the Cardassians and Dominion! Some of our ships are here with me, the rest are heading towards the Cardassian border, we need your help." Picard turned towards Worf and gave the 'mute' command.

"Data, any news regarding Outpost Epilus?"

"None sir,"

Picard signaled Worf and the viewer came back to life,

"We are not aware of any attack upon your-"

"They were all killed! We are what is left! We sent this information to Starfleet, but they do not care! We will make them PAY!" The transmission cut, the man being replaced with a star-field, and the small but growing gray outlines of Dominion ships in the distance.

"Captain, Colonist ships now approaching warp 10.55," Data could not comprehend how this was possible, he was confident the Colonists did not possess that level of technology. There was little time to act. In less than one minute the Federation fleet would be in point-blank-range of the Dominion with the Colonists only moments behind. Seconds ticked by, and Picard said nothing. He was thinking, if we choose the wrong path, we could start a war...history will judge us by what we do here. The bridge of the Enterprise was silent in anticipation, the slow humming and beeping of instrument panels the only noise audible. Finally, after crucial seconds ticked past, Picard made his decision.

"Mr. Worf...hail Weyoun on the Dominion command cruiser, inform them they are in danger. Explain they are about to be attacked." Worf was stunned. Data was equally surprised by the gesture of good faith, Picard turned around after a second of noncompliance, "Mr. Worf, now." The transmission was sent but there was no response,

"We are now within 50 kilometers," indicated the helmsmen.

"Cut to one-eighth impulse, signal the Delrayeo to form up alongside us, we are going nose to nose with the command cruiser. Order the Equinox to turn about and head off the lead Colonist ship,"

You have to imagine the remarkable situation unfolding in space only a few thousand kilometers from DS9 and an equal distance from the wormhole. The Federation fleet was like a giant hand, slowly closing around an ever compacting fleet of Dominion ships, there was nowhere to retreat but into the Gamma Quadrant. To fight would be assured defeat. With the Colonists on their way and warning from the Enterprise, the decision seemed obvious. Unfortunately for the poor Jem'Hadar and Vorta aboard the Dominion ships, their orders were explicit. Sent along in advance directly from the Founders, they stated, hold at all costs. The nervousness and apprehensiveness Deanna Troi sensed was the absence of expected reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant. Vorta commanders mixed within the fleet had been feverishly replanning their defensive strategy now that it was clear no more ships would be coming through. Back onboard the Enterprise, Worf was trying in vain to raise the lead Colonist ship,

"Colonist ships ignoring our hails...they have circumvented the Equinox," reported Data, still standing beside Worf at tactical, "they will be arriving within our defensive perimeter in six seconds...five...four…three...two...one." Right on cue, the ninety-six Colonist ships, each no larger than a bus exited Warp within a few kilometers of the Dominion ships.

Within half a second of arrival, each small ship fired a missile from a launcher welded to the underbelly or roof of their strung-together craft. Before the Federation fleet could react, the four closest Dominion cruisers from the Enterprise exploded in a ferocious flash of light. Picard and the rest of the bridge crew instinctively threw their hands in front of their faces. Sparks and explosions erupted from various command consoles with one poor ensign finding flight, sailing into a bulkhead several meters away. The Dominion command cruiser and it's escorting ships were gone. What remained was a hot expanding mass of molten metal, with indistinguishable engine and bulkhead pieces floating about.

This sudden attack did not to go unanswered. Trapped within a small spatial area with their backs to the wormhole, the Dominion lashed out.

Unbeknownst to the Federation, the phased polaron beams of the Dominion allowed for a complete bypass of Federation shield grids. Instantly, alarm klaxons were shrieking throughout the decks of the Federation fleet as shields designed to protect during combat were now completely useless. Within the first opening volley, eight Federation ships violently exploded. It was only blind circumstance the Enterprise was not targeted, thanks to the fact the Colonists had destroyed the four leading cruisers in the Dominion wedge formation. Faced with the startling reality that the battle must be won, or the wormhole would be left wide open, Picard started calling out orders.

Worf immediately took advantage of his targeting discretion. The opportunity came along rarely, and he did not let the opportunity pass. Phaser and Photon Torpedo's struck ship after ship as the Enterprise, flanked by five others, waded into the opening in the Dominion line. The half-sphere formation of the Starfleet vessels bombarded inward with a tremendous sustained attack. Every officer knew that if this were any other circumstance, the 4th Fleet would turn tail and regroup for another engagement; but not this time. The wormhole was the only connector between Quadrants; they had to hold. Every man, woman, and alien were rushing about in a desperate bid to keep their ships alive. Another massive explosion rocked the battle-scape. The last of the Colonist missiles had hit their marks, superheated plasma and debris were bouncing off the shields of friendly and foe alike, the destruction was surreal.

"Seems the Colonists are using...," Worf and Data were trying to analyze the explosions, but the level of interference was severe. "...they are massive nuclear or subatomic charges...some sort of super atomic device...?" Even Worf wasn't entirely certain how to describe them.

Data tried to clear up the explanation with his own,

"The Colonists are using ultra-high yield nuclear warheads, the entire missile, as well as surrounding spatial molecules, are being turned into pure energy, we cannot sustain-"

"Tell me about the Dominion!" snapped Picard sternly, he was almost certain the Colonists would not attack them. Data re-focused on the fleet deployment, his positronic brain trying to ascertain the dangers and opportunities. His lightning fast calculations were showing an eighty-nine percent probability the Dominion would be forced to retreat or be destroyed. There were a few outliers but he did not perceive them possible. He then saw a danger; three Dominion fighters, much larger than a standard Federation Shuttlecraft was streaking in low to try to catch them off guard.

"Mr. Worf, target the lead fighter, all phasers," ordered Picard. On the viewscreen, several phaser beams connected on the 'nose' of the craft, its relatively weak shielding buckling under the strain. Escort ships flanking the Enterprise quickly joined the attack and the fighter abruptly exploded under the onslaught. The Dominion wingmen, undeterred from their leader's demise fired their phased polaron beams towards the Enterprise. But they never reached their target. The Delrayeo, an Akira class starship banked hard into the line of fire, placing itself between the Enterprise and rapidly closing attackers. The Akira's shields were penetrated instantly, the polaron beams boring deep into her saucer section. "Helm, set course 323 mark 8, protect the Delrayeo."

The Enterprise and remaining escorts pitched downward to try and cover their crippled companion. The Delrayeo was adrift, its bridge had been destroyed and all communication had ceased. On-screen Picard could see the partially destroyed saucer section getting larger by the second, and just beyond, but out of view, raced the incoming Dominion fighters.

"Mr. Worf, as soon as we clear the Delrayeo, launch a full spread of photon torpedoes."

"Aye Sir." Within a moment, as if in coordination, both the Enterprise and Dominion fighters cleared the wreckage of the stricken Starfleet ship, but it was too late for the pair of Dominion attack ships. A full spread of photon torpedoes had been launched with perfect timing.

BOOM!

It is doubtful that the navigators and pilots of the Dominion ships had even seen the torpedoes, their massacred bodies now freely floating molecules among the wreckage. The Enterprise soon pitched upward, participating in the ferocious bombardment from beneath. The already small pocket of Dominion ships collapsed inward at an accelerated rate. Despite the relatively useless Starfleet shields, the Colonists initial attack had caused enough havoc for the ensuing Federation bombardment to keep them in the battle.

After several long minutes,

"Fleet down to nineteen ships...the Dominion have three remaining," bellowed Worf moments before the bridge was rocked. Picard's eyes flickered open, he was looking straight up at the ceiling dome, his head spinning and ears ringing. Data came charging down the ramp with a look of concern on his face, the Enterprise had taken a tremendous blow.

"Status?" asked the Captain as he was helped back into his chair. The viewscreen was a static mess, and the bridge was plunged into near darkness, only dimly lit emergency lights saving the crew from utter blackness.

"Captain! Captain!" shouted Geordie Laforge from engineering, "We've lost our port nacelle, it's been completely sheared off!." A phased polaron beam had indeed cut the supporting superstructure, separating the warp nacelle from the rest of the ship. Dangerous levels of radiation were now flooding the lower decks as critical infrastructure was now damaged or completely inoperable.

"Seal off bulkheads, have those crew members evacuated. Worf, hail the remaining Dominion ships," ordered the Captain. The static-ridden viewscreen changed to the bridge of a half-destroyed Dominion cruiser. Smoke filled the screen, with indications of fire or perhaps burning consoles somewhere in the background. What on earth… Picard was trying to determine what was happening. It was hard to see, but it looked as if Jem'Hadar fighters were firing their phaser rifles at something off-screen. A Vorta was hunkered down behind a console, barely in view as returning shots could be seen hitting the surrounding bulkhead.

"Tell your forces to withdraw Captain! We will do the same," said the Vorta as he ducked to avoid another phaser blast. Picard signaled for 'mute' and turned to his first officer.

"Have any of our ships boarded the Dominion vessel?"

"Negative."

Picard turned back to the viewscreen to watch for another moment, something was unfolding onboard one last of the three remaining Dominion ships, are the Colonists boarding them?" Picard thought it doubtful, there are only a handful of Colonist ships left, hardly enough for a boarding party...they can't be that foolish…

"Picard, the...your Colonists are trying to take over my ship!" shouted the Vorta as he directed his troops to a location somewhere off screen. "We are working to suppress them in the corridors, we- " his bridge shook violently and then the screen cut. The Jem'Hadar engineers had been working valiantly to contain a warp-core breach, but the constant interruptions by Colonist raiders proved too much; the cruiser exploded with all hands aboard lost. An order of general cease-fire was sent out and space suddenly became still and quiet.

"Both Dominion ships are attempting to retreat into the wormhole," reported Worf. Picard glanced down at his armchair instrument panel, finally. The two remaining ships were limping towards the wormhole horizon, plasma fluid and pieces of debris were falling away as they inched towards safety.

"We can still destroy them sir,"

Picard was slumped in his chair, he couldn't shake the terrible feeling of loss, the tens of thousands of lives snuffed out within the last few minutes in this horrific battle.

"What would be the point Mr. Worf? To kill another few hundred? No...that is not our way. Let them go…" he said with a heavy sigh. The bright blue 'maw' of the wormhole erupted open and the first of two Dominion ships entered, but then. In the corner of the viewscreen, a small object was hurtling towards the entrance, "What is that object?"

"Sensors are almost inoperable, but... I believe that is a Colonist shuttlecraft...heavily damaged."

"Hail them," said Picard but there was no use, the transmission system of the small shuttlecraft had been damaged, along with life support and navigation. Inside the cockpit of the civilian craft was a woman barely alive. Her breathing was labored, and blood streamed from her mouth as she pushed the throttle to maximum. The last of the Dominion ships was about to cross the threshold of the wormhole but she was gaining fast. In self-defense, a phased polaron beam clipped the side of the shuttle, causing the small craft to spin end over end towards the retreating Dominion ship. Still, undeterred, she grasped at the mechanical systems behind her, they will pay.

From the bridge of the Enterprise all that could be seen through the cracked viewscreen was a small burning craft careening uncontrollably towards the enemy cruiser. Data estimated it must have been a suicide mission, a last attempt to inflict damage upon the larger vessel. The shuttle struck the hull of the cruiser with terrific consequences. Like before, a bright blast of mass converted energy filled the visual spectrum with blinding white light. It was over.

Picard looked down at his tactical display, nineteen Federation ships remained, rescue operations were underway but he knew in his gut that there were few survivors among the wreckage. He also noticed that out of the ninety-six Colonist craft, only four survived, each damaged and adrift.

"Captain, incoming transmission, from one of the Colonist ships…" Picard looked up at his broken viewscreen to see a young woman seated in the cramped cockpit with an oxygen mask over her face. Life support was clearly out, but he could still hear her mumbled speech,

"Captain…" she wheezed through the mask, "thank you, thank you for defending us."

Chapter Text

Unveiling

Imperial Galaxy Wormhole - Milky Way Entrance

The throbbing red light of the cockpit sensor-system painted a crimson and shadowy outline of Kinnison's hard face. His newly acquired craft, the Omark IV was currently parked in a stationary position in front of the yet to be unveiled wormhole connecting the Milky Way and the mysterious Imperial Galaxy. In front and behind, there were dozens of similar craft all waiting to return to their home galaxy. He had killed an Imperial Bounty Hunter and effortlessly assumed his identity, the commandeered ship and scheduling logs allowing him to approach the caravan where he currently waited. Over the last four months, he had acquired vast amounts of information concerning Imperial plans, technology, and strategy. The minds of the foreign Bounty Hunters and Changelings were ripe with information. He did not yet know their 'master' plan as he had not touched minds with the Emperor or a high ranking commander but that time would come, he was sure of it.

How he found himself here, at the entrance to the wormhole was due to necessity rather than planning. His primary mission, the assassination of the Dalek had failed. Director Sloan had been in constant communication with his secretive base, but had not actually seen the alien they had found in the Elop system. It did not however take a genius, let alone a Second Stage Lensman to realize the information obtained corroborated the story of Cienna, and so his action was clear; he must kill it. Months had passed on Earth and all the while a ship was being constructed. A secret project, known temporarily to those scientists who worked on it during their vacations and shore leave. All blissfully unaware after the fact, their minds scraped clean of its existence. Technology native to the Lensman Universe had been placed into this ship, along with borrowed or stolen technology from other races, including Federation allies. Powered by ether-accumulators, six Warp Cores and a half-dozen exotic power plants, making it unparalleled in performance. Despite this impression hardware, there were a few setbacks. The Inertialess drive, the primary propulsion technology in Kinnison's universe had been unsuccessfully reconstructed. As smart as a Lensman was, he could not now, or ever grasp its mechanics. Men, possessed by Arisian super-beings had developed it in his own Universe, often known as the Berg, or the Bergenholm Drive. It allowed a vessel to shed its mass, enabling it to travel beyond the speed of light, with instant acceleration or deceleration. Beyond this was the hyperspace tube, the ultimate method of spatial or dimensional travel. It was this critical technology still so distant from becoming functional. Kinnison knew that only an Arisian could master its properties, much like they did when Ploor, the nexus of the Boskone organization was obliterated by Nth space planets by way of hypertube. Connecting one dimension or universe to another, entire planets, ships, and fleets could move great distances. This technology was essential if he was ever to return to his home, wherever that may be. He often thought of the trap the Ploorians had set for him, the 'maelstrom,' an enormous hyperspace tube that he had entered. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of universes had flashed past; incalculable speed was obtained within the tube. Amazing that the Ploorians had developed such propulsion, something was pushing me…

Kinnison shook his head to concentrate, That damn Dalek. As mentioned previously, the mission had failed miserably. Lt. Commander Gulliver, the Lensman's carefully crafted Starfleet identity had been 'killed' in the line of duty defending a Council Member from an attempted assassination by a Changeling. This event allowed for his permanent disappearance.

What set the Dalek assassination plan into motion was the total loss of contact with Sloan after his departure from Earth. The agreement to help the Dalek rebuild its shell was troubling, but there was no way for Kinnison to monitor this without leaving Earth and heading toward Bakersfield. He knew how powerful the Dalek's could be from the images and knowledge derived from the mind of Cienna, and that their potential for massive destruction was incalculable, but this is just a single Dalek, could it communicate with others? Were they all dead? Kimbal Kinnison's goal was either destruction or at the least telepathic control of the Dalek. The secret ship had been launched, the Dauntless it was so named moved towards the secret Section 31 base on the edge of Federation space. It used three different forms of cloaking devices; he had been confident that the ship was undetectable. Upon arriving at Bakerfield, and to the utter dismay of Kinnison, the base had vanished. The Dauntless had searched and scanned for any indication of Bakerfield's whereabouts, but it was ultimately fruitless. There was no trace, no clues, not even the faintest vibration of spatial ether. Kinnison knew then that this was potentially catastrophic, and that many moving parts had to begin to turn together in earnest. Sloan was still alive, but he was out of reach telepathically. Based on various intercepted conference calls with the admiralty, Sloan's return to Earth was certain, but not for some time. A new plan had to be set in motion.

First and foremost, the immediate search for the missing Dalek and Bakerfield facility. This would only be accomplished if there was a cessation of the rapid Imperial progress in their clandestine effort to overthrow the Galaxy. Resources soon to be squandered in a useless war must be preserved. From what Kinnison knew of the plan, the Federation did not stand a chance without help. From what he gathered from the hundreds of minds he had read, a major conflict was on the immediate horizon. From the knowledge obtained from their minds, Kinnison knew the war will be lost. Then, just before the Federation signs a peace treaty, a complete overthrow of the ruling governments by way of Changeling infiltrators would ensure long-lasting dominance and loyalty to the Empire. How long this would ultimately last Kinnison could not be sure, for the Empire had blackmailed the Founders by way of overwhelming force.

From the minds of the Changelings, Kinnison felt he had witnessed the event in real time. Seven or so months ago an enormous Imperial fleet had arrived over the Founders Homeworld and began an orbital bombardment into the "Great Link;" a planetary globular body of liquid Changelings. Millions had died in the opening volley, with a few million more surviving the assault. It was impossible for them to escape, the never-ending probe droids keeping a constant watch on their planet. A Dominion fleet had attempted to escort large swaths of the Great Link off-world, but it was intercepted and obliterated. The Changelings were trapped, and they knew it. There was no defense against such overwhelming intelligence gathering and military might. For now, the Changelings had to obey, and obey they did. The many Bounty Hunters that appeared across Earth were just another level of infiltration and information gathering. As far as Kinnison could tell it was working. He was seeing strange patterns arise with policy and procedural management coming from other branches and sectors of the Federation beyond his gaze; he was just one man, there were only so many places he could be.

His scope of the larger conflict while more diverse than any human was still limited. Events unfolding could be cataloged in real time, but the reasons and motives behind such events remained a great mystery. Multiple vantage points from the minds at Starfleet headquarters certainly allowed for greater insight, but Kinnison could not read the thoughts of bounty hunters and Changelings that he knew were on other worlds. He could not be everywhere, or reach everyone. Kinnison did note the social disruption was taking hold, arrests had skyrocketed two-hundred percent in less than five months and junior politicians from all over were hurriedly trying to sway voters to their cause. Rumors were swirling about private industry gaining a foothold in the Romulan Empire, a curious development. The Changelings are infiltrating everyone in the Alpha Quadrant but why private enterprise? Why capitalism? How does that help? And if not for a great many concerns related to Section 31 and their Dalek pet, or Imperial ambitions, these other circumstances would be worth investigating. There was however one instance where Kinnison did have to take a hard look, a brief trip to Andoria, a Federation world, to check on a very vocal mayor.

Val-Klaxin, an industrial city home to a million Andorian citizens tasked with the assembly of Starfleet warp cores for many vessel classes. While the technology of the cores had changed over the last hundred years, the labor and manufacturing economics of the city had not. Val-Klaxin represented a critical manufacturing hub for the Federation and had been fulfilling its duty unabated for over a century. Strange permutations began to seep into the political landscape a little over three months ago. A newly elected mayor, Ubino, began to question the arrangement openly. At first this was little more than a discussion among his supporters, but more recently he was met with thunderous applause as he publicly questioned the deployment of specific Federation fleets. Ubino went so far as to suggest Starfleet command was purposefully prioritizing the lives of humans over the lives of Andorians. This ludicrous accusation was of course shot down by the ruling Andorian ministers and finally their Federation Council-elect, but it did little to sway the growing dissident among the population. Ubino was positioning himself to be put on the minister's ballot within the next few years, giving way to a possible Federation Council member seat within a decade. Kinnison had considered this, and much more as he read Ubino's mind from end to end. This Andorian quested for power and control, he was not unlike other politicians. What set him apart from his peers was his unwavering belief in his people's injustice. Within the Andorian mayor's mind there were no grafts, stitchings or any other traits of brainwashing or telepathic manipulation. Only an Arisian could do this undetected, and there are none here...Ubino must believe this nonsense, Kinnison had thought as his investigation came to a close.

Regarding the Arisian super-beings responsible for creating the Lensman and helping humanity and the Galactic Patrol destroy Boskone, Kinnison was now convinced of one thing. The Dalek temporal weapon was the cause of Mentor's, or any other Arisians non-presence in the Milky Way universe. His theory was correct. The Arisian mind could effortlessly move from dimension to dimension or universe to universe. Now though, due to the temporal time destruction, no thought, neither Arisian or Q could pass until the winds subsided. Kinnison knew he would someday return to his home Universe, but that time was in the future, and so he focused on the present. A Lensman always goes in.

Towards the front of the space convoy, he saw the engine flare of the lead bounty hunter ship flair to life and move towards the wormhole horizon. The time for 'first contact' was approaching. He knew that returning mechanically through the wormhole was but a certainty, the problem arose with 'thought.' Unsure of when he was to return, his next actions had to be accomplished now before it was too late. Kinnison flicked a few buttons to give autonomous flight to the Dauntless running in ultra-quiet a few hundred meters off his port bow. He was sure that no one had detected it, he had scanned the minds of every Bounty Hunter just to be sure. His secret ship would follow them through the wormhole and into the Imperial Galaxy, where it would assist him with his mission, to deliver a blow to the Empire, and perhaps more…

Kinnison took a deep breath and closed his eyes, first contact...here it goes…

With a tremendous mental surge, he pushed his mind through the void of space. This was not an intrusive 'scan' or telepathic control, where distance was measured in kilometers, but a 'call' where boundaries within a defined Universe had no meaning.

"Captain Kirk…. Captain Kirk, this is Kimball Kinnison, Second Stage Lensman of the Galactic Patrol." Then Silence. Kinnison waited, and while the speed of thought was instantaneous, often the recipient of the mental jolt took a moment to regain their bearings,

"This is James Kirk, what is it that you want?" Came the mental voice of the confused, but coherent Captain.

Kinnison smiled and pushed deeper, his thoughts were now overlapping with his favorite Starfleet officer.

"Captain Kirk, there is so much you do not know, your society is in grave danger,"

"Who are you? What do you want? Where are you?" Kirk began peppering Kinnison with questions. On past missions Kirk had been subjected to telepathic intrusiveness and was no stranger to trickery and deception.

"I need to show you, open your mind, and we will begin slowly," Kinnison began pushing his thoughts through the massive emptiness of space, everything that he was and knew was being slowly poured into the mind of the Captain. Then, it stopped, like a trap door slamming shut, Kirk was unsure.

"How can I trust you? There are many powerful telepathic beings in this galaxy…"

"Captain, come into my mind, you will see that everything is true, there is no deception here." And like a parent helping a small child cross a river-brook, he held out his 'hand' and allowed for safe passage. After several seconds Kirk initiated the mind merge, like someone drinking from a cup of hot tea, first a sip to test the temperature, and if satisfactory, a gulp.

His mind is extraordinary... Thought Kinnison in his highly compartmentalized brain, Kirk has the mind of a Lensman, what power! He has just not been shown to use it... After several long minutes, information now moving both ways was being considered and evaluated. The conversation between Picard and Q was now known to Kinnison, along with the battle of DS9 between the Federation, Colonists, and Dominion. The journey from Bakerfield to the Imperial wormhole had taken over a week, and so it had not been possible to stay current on events. The war had begun.

"Lensman. I had no idea... we are facing two fronts. One an immediate military threat, the other, an unknown but far greater danger. Can, or...will...you help us?"

Kinnison smiled,

"See now Kirk everything I plan on doing, but only a select few can know of my existence. You must be creative as to how to educate the others, especially the Federation Council. Be wary, as you now know, Section 31 may be working with the Dalek. I cannot be sure." More thoughts were pushed across space and the entire picture was becoming clear to Kirk. There were of course still missing pieces, but those 'gaps' were also missing from Kinnison. Ideas and strategies were shared at the speed of thought; detailed plans were made, debated, and reshaped again. "You must rally the Federation and her allies, hopefully, if I am successful the Empire will no longer be a threat. Before I go, did Starfleet send you the information on the exact weapons the Colonists used at the battle of DS9?"

"Only what was recorded by the Starfleet ships, this is everything that we know,"

Kinnison absorbed as much as possible, he was reading the battle report as if he was looking at it in person,

"When I return from the Imperial Galaxy, I must have the exact details of those weapons, they seem out of place."

"Many things are out of place, Lensman." Kirk's smile could be felt through the wonders of 'thought,' "Good luck."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant

Four transporter beams shimmered into view within the ruins of a once thriving but long-extinct civilization. Captain Kirk, Spock, Mccoy and Cienna had transported down to the mysterious planet's surface, a lifeless rock stretching across all horizons. The crew had been here before, over eighty years ago they had stumbled upon the sole inhabitant. Kirk had hoped to gain knowledge that the Metron's lacked, and with Kinnison's communication less than an hour ago, time was critical. The Captain had known there was trouble on the horizon, everyone with a pulse new the war with the Dominion was terrible news. But no one, not the President of the Federation, or any of his cabinet and Admirals could sense the scale and magnitude of the danger. Kirk had shared this information with McCoy, Spock and Cienna. He needed them to know, to help him make decisions and to analyze the entire situation. This last stop was hopefully the culmination of his information gathering efforts before heading back towards Federation space. Necessary information had already been sent to Starfleet Command by way of reverse engineered components of the fully intact probe droid that the Metron's had gifted the Enterprise. More information would need to be sent soon, but what? Which pieces to send? Kinnison could not be revealed, especially to the Dalek, he was far more important as a 'surprise' super-weapon, working invisibly...right in front of us... this new and strikingly important information regarding the Dalek and Empire would need to be relayed carefully and deliberately, Section 31 nor the Imperials could be tipped off... Certainly everything would be shared with the Metron's, they needed to know that the Dalek was here, and it was now missing...perhaps their threat assessment would change... Kirk cleared his head, turning his attention to the towering structure before him.

"Captain Kirk, you have returned," boomed the voice of the Guardian of Forever. It looked the same as he had remembered. Placed in the center of ancient ruins, the glowing, throbbing 'thing' was alive. Not machine, not animal, but a mysterious entity connected to the past, and perhaps more.

"Guardian, we seek...answers to our questions," Kirk stepped forward with his companions, his hands facing out, pleading, rather than asking. "Our society is in grave danger, a greater danger than it has ever faced."

"This I know Captain, although the ultimate outcome is unimportant to me," it said flatly.

McCoy's face flushed with anger, and in typical fashion, he lashed out,

"How can you stand there, looking through time, looking through our history, and not care about us?! How can you know so much, and care so little?" Kirk looked back and smiled at his friend, politics and diplomacy be damned...a doctor first.

Before the Guardian could respond, Kirk pressed onward,

"When we were last here Guardian, you said to me... that you could be our guide. That you could help us explore time. Well...we are here now. We need to explore time. We need to explore possibilities."

"What is it that you wish to explore Captain Kirk."

Cienna cut in, her ability to articulate specific questions was critical if they were to obtain that which they desperately required.

"We wish to explore the cause, and effects of the temporal disruptions. Is the damage caused by the Dalek Time Destroyer permanent? We need to know what we can do to prevent the arrival of a Dalek, and we need to know the cause of a wormhole on the other side of the galaxy." For the next hour, the away-team and Guardian discussed who the Dalek is, and why it represented such an existential threat. Ideas were exchanged but as the conversation progressed the away-team became more frustrated, except for Spock, who merely found it 'fascinating.' A single 'master' plan was impossible to solve all problems; there were too many layers of danger surrounding the Federation and other Alpha Quadrant races.

"Guardian, can you show us the exact time when the Dalek Time Destroyer was detonated, relative to this temporal-plane?" Asked Cienna.

"As before, as is now, I am only permitted to give access to certain times at certain speeds, at certain intervals. My connection to the past is like a sea ship's anchor, which you are familiar. No amount of temporal interference can break my link. I am still connected, allow me to demonstrate." The center of the archway bloomed with light and as before, events from thousands of years past were flashing across the screen, or in this case, doorway.

"We don't need to see it. We need to know it. We need to know. We require answers. With your knowledge Guardian, can we...somehow stop the Dalek from crossing into our Universe?" asked Kirk disjointedly.

"Stopping it is not possible, even with me as your guide, it is impossible. For now, the temporal waves have blocked my ability to scan its universe of origin, I would not be able to locate it. I would be unable to point you in the right direction even if you could find another method of travel."

"Let's talk about that wormhole then on the other side of the galaxy. Another Captain, has told me it may have been opened by beings known as Q's...are you familiar?"

"I am familiar,"

"Is it possible then?"

"It is possible,"

Kirk's brain was cycling through all the information he had received from Kinnison, there was so much to contemplate.

"Guardian, as we have explained...we have threats on all sides, even threats within our own ranks, do you have any suggestions? Is there something we can do in our own timeline?" The Captain was starting to feel like they were running out of options, without the ability to stop the Dalek, which was his chief concern, they might have to change the past. To change the future…

"I have one, but it is not permitted."

"Explain?"

"Your creators can be reached, long ago, before there were stars and galaxies. I am tied to this timeline, but not permitted to show you. They and they alone would have a vested interest in saving you."

What?! Our creators? Kirk was shocked.

"Our...creators?"

"The ones who created me, are the same as the ones who created you. They are gone now."

"Why is it not permitted?" Kirk looked back at McCoy for guidance whose eyes were as large as saucers. This was uncharted territory, religion, faith, science, all mixing and coming together in this revelation.

Bones walked up to Jim and grabbed his arm and looked him dead in the eye,

"Jim...are we ready for this? And I don't mean us, here. I mean all of us, everywhere. Are we really going to try and call for help? To god knows somewhere or someplace. Besides, the last time we came here, our actions changed the entire galaxy, by accident!"

Kirk put a hand on his friend's shoulder and said nothing for several long seconds.

"Bones, do we have a choice?"

"There is always a choice!" hissed McCoy.

"The choice is to live, or...to die."

"But who lives?! And who dies Jim?!"

"Us Doctor! We live! We survive!" Shouted Kirk right back. He was about to yell again when he stopped himself. He let go of his friend's shoulder and stepped away to think, no...that's wrong…

"You're right Bones...it's not if we live, it's how we live, how... we survive."

"Doctor McCoy, Captain Kirk, your fear is not justified," said the Guardian. "It is not permitted. Our Creator's abandoned time travel as they saw the dangers of its potential abuse. I am not permitted to show you this period."

Spock and Cienna moved closer and the four made a small circle to discuss the situation. Cienna was intensely addressing time travel and consequence of action, or even inaction, this, the Enterprise crew knew all too well. Anything changed in the past would reverberate forward, potentially changing everything for the worse, and the further back one goes, the stronger the reverberation.

Kirk turned around to ask a question,

"Guardian, if we call for help, if we speak with them, will it change our present?"

"It is not permitted."

"Let us suppose for a moment that it was,"

"There would be no time disruptions, only the help you desire."

After several minutes of private debate, Spock broke from the group and faced the gate,

"Guardian, when last we were here, you said you were neither animal nor machine. I have a proposal that will allow you to see into our minds. Perhaps then you could permit this communication with these so-called creators? It is logical that you cannot fully appreciate our situation without reading our thoughts. It is evident the Creators wanted us to think, to feel, and to learn. Let my mind merge with yours, and through that you may read not only my thoughts, but that of the good Doctor, the Captain and Cienna."

There was a long silence as the great 'machine' considered this proposal, small lights flickered beneath its surface and strange noises emanated outward.

"It is permitted."

Gently, and deliberately, Spock placed his hand on the frame of the Guardian. His other on the temple of Captain Kirk, who made a chain from one temple to another until so all four were connected. After a long minute, Spock removed his hand and opened his eyes; the mind meld had been successful. Knowledge had only moved in one direction but as the next few seconds proved, it was enough to convince the Guardian that action must be taken.

"I now understand. Your minds are fragile, but through them I could perceive what you believe to be suffering and death. I will permit it but this one time. Captain Kirk, place your hand upon my frame, and time will begin to move back within the portal." As promised time began to move in reverse instead of forwards as traditionally seen through the doorway. The group looked on in amazement as the history of Earth played in reverse. Humanities accomplishments disappearing and replaced by thick, lush, forest. Further back it regressed, now a bubbling liquid surface of magma and toxic gases. More minutes passed until the Earth phased away, now just a young sun. Sol's star with no planets eventually faded into its birthing vortex and then disappeared. For what seemed like several minutes, there was only blackness, until,

"What am I seeing Guardian?"

"It is your creators Captain Kirk." Within the misty doorway were faint flickers, in what otherwise was complete and utter blackness. "You may communicate with them, use your mind, I will be your vessel."

Creators, this is James T. Kirk, representing the United Federation of Planets. The Captain was about to send another thought but stopped, he felt something inside his head. Not at all the same sensation he had experienced with Kinnison, this was a presence without a body, like a fog within his mind.

-Do you carry the Mantle of Responsibility James?-

I am sorry creator, I have not heard that term before, we seek your help,

-Do you seek the Mantle of Responsibility James?-

What I seek is peace, to help others, to discover new life and new civilizations. We are in desperate need. We the human race, along with others are in mortal danger, we are calling for help,

-Do you seek power?-

We seek only to live, to prosper, and to be at peace

A tremendous bolt of energy leaped from the Guardian of Forever and all four members of the away team found themselves flat on their backs. Where it once stood, now only a man wearing a Starfleet Admiral's uniform, it was Q.

"Who are you? Where is the Guardian." Shouted McCoy as he dusted himself off and helped his comrades to their feet. Q for the first time looked stressed, his arms were folded and if one weren't so observant, may not have noticed his skin was slightly flush with anger.

"Do you have any idea what you're meddling child-hands have gotten into?" He said hotly as he began to pace, beneath him the smoldering ruin of the Guardian of Forever.

"Q," said Kirk firmly. He knew, or at least thought he knew from the Starfleet records and recent conversation with Picard. "What have you done with Guardian, what do you want with us? Is it you who has done all this? Have you created this giant mess we find ourselves facing?"

"Jimbo, I know that you love asking questions, and being the hero, but you can't possibly understand all the wonderful facets of this universe. They, the ones the Guardian referred to as humanity's creators, are off limits, it's cheating,"

Kirk's keen eyes were like lasers as he thought it all over,

"Why? Are they...our creators? Can they help us?"

"With your little stunt, you may find out,"

"Do you know them?"

Q stopped pacing and shot Kirk a look of annoyance before continuing on.

"Jim-boy, we know everyone. They died off a long time ago...killed actually, by their creations, ironic. What matters now is the Guardian is gone, but I'm warning you, don't try anything like that again. You are far braver than Picard, that I can say...a real risk taker, although, I already knew that."

"Q," Kirk took a calmer approach, hoping to address some unanswerable questions, "...Q...can you stop this? You must see what is going to happen. The Dalek that came through... we can't find it…"

Q took a moment and eyed the Captain carefully,

"Yes, I know. It would be a shame if you didn't."

Interjected Cienna, grave concern evident in her voice.

"The Dalek's can be a threat even to you, you must see that. They had a plan during the Time War to bring those things through the gate, the ones in the book, even you are in danger."

"Nothing is a threat to the Q, not your tin-robot masters, or fairy tales from a superstitious book. We are omnipotent, do you not understand? We are above all time and reality, don't you see? I suppose I am asking too much for you to understand."

"They are not superstitious, they are real, they are, in fact right now, talking to our friend, on the Enterprise! Look into his mind, and you will see. I was supposed to help summon them! Do you-" Cienna was cut off,

"Were you to summon Jesus as well?" snickered Q. "Was...was I taking a nap for a few thousand years?" looking around mockingly. "What year is this? Do you seriously believe words and spells can open the secrets of the cosmos? Even you, Cienna, who is, I admit, smarter than your average human, cannot possibly believe such drivel. Your plunger-pots were wrong, that is why they had a Time Destroyer, it was all an elaborate ploy."

"Then what's in 'John's' head?" Asked the Captain. To his surprise, he saw, or believed he saw, for the quickest of moments, a slight twitch on the god-humans face.

"Captain. He. Is. Insane. I have looked."

"Alright Q, enough games. Why didn't you stop us before we came to this planet? Why didn't you come earlier? Why didn't you know we were going to communicate with our creators? If they are off limits, why allow it?"

"Dear Captain, I have an IQ of two-thousand and five, I do not need to explain my actions to you."

"I see. But. Why not an IQ of two-thousand and six?"

Q's arrogant expression changed, his eyebrows furrowing for an almost unnoticeable moment.

"What?"

"You know...Q. The universe continues on...and on...and on...and so do other universes, and other dimensions...so on and so forth up to infinity."

"Yes yes, of course, we have been to all of them, what is your point."

"Just curious if there is something out there with an IQ of two-thousand and six, or...twenty-thousand and six. Imagine." Kirk moved forward another few steps, "...just imagine what they would know..."

"Captain, I could atomize you and your entire ship, or send you off to the furthest corner of the universe-"

"Of course you could! But. You would still only have an IQ of two-thousand and five."

Spock now stood beside his Captain,

"Your statement is illogical. With infinite space, there then would be infinite information, which would then require an infinite mind to truly know and master. It is then by your own admission that you are not all powerful, or all knowing."

"Oh Mr. Spock, how delightful that you try and equate your basic understanding of logic to my existence."

"What gives you the right to do this, if it is you, stop it! There are billions of lives at stake, maybe more."

"My power, my position in this universe, gives me every right Doctor. Time for you to run along, there is nothing left for you here. Besides, don't you have a war to fight? Stop hiding like cowards and start fighting! Everyone is dying while you're running off searching for miracles. " Q snapped his fingers and the four returned to the Enterprise in orbit. Now, the self-declared omnipotent being stood alone on the forbidden world, thinking. The Continuum had discovered, more than likely before any other, that the disturbances in the temporal winds was due to the Dalek superweapon. There was no direct danger the Continuum had decided, but their ability to see through time and dimension was still blocked. They had calculated the temporal waves would dissipate within the next few years and all would be restored. There was even talk of visiting the Dalek home Universe and changing the past so that the temporal weapon was never activated.

A flash of light a few meters away gave-way to another Q, a woman, she stood looking at her equal.

"So, Q, what is bothering you?"

"I looked inside the mind of the tortured soldier, he knows of the Ultimate Gate, how can that be? That was our fantasy, when we were young, before we were Omnipotent. How can an insect dream the same dream as a god?" She did not answer. "Could we have been wrong? Have we lost our contact with those visions, not because they were fantasy, but because we can no longer dream? No longer wonder?" he took a long moment and looked back, way back to when he was young, when he used to dream, "... Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate-"

"...past, present, future, all are one with Yog-Sothoth." she finished his sentence for him. Male-Q turned slowly towards her before she continued. "The Continuum wants the test to come to its natural conclusion, time to return," she flashed away without another word.

Q stood alone once again, thinking, contemplating current and past events. For the first time in his long life, he felt 'uneasy' if such a feeling were possible for a being like he. Kirk's mockery had to his surprise, affected him. Was it possible that there were aspects of existence the Continuum did not understand? He dwelt on this problem for a few seconds longer before reaching his conclusion, no of course not, we have observed countless realities and dimensions, there are no mysteries, no realms we cannot go, no place we cannot see. If Yog-Sothoth and those beyond the Ultimate Gate existed, we would know, we would see it, feel it, visit it, control it. Q pushed aside these foolish thoughts and considered the future.

Our 'brothers' may return. Q took a deep, but unnecessary breath, and looked around at the landscape. His eyes peering 'into' the very rock, the substance of reality. He had not seen them for billions of years, those who were once considered 'equal' to the mortal Q. The Captain in his brazen had reached out, remarkable for a human,

Deeper and deeper his vision bore, past individual molecules and elemental particles, past the universal ether of Plancks, and cosmic mist, still nothing. You chose to stay mortal and died for that choice! Q shook his head to clear his thoughts, and while the physical representation did not need to do this, what his mind thought, his 'fake' body portrayed. Again Q peered into reality, deep beneath what you, the reader would consider 'real,' down deep into the Universe in search of a sign, but nothing, yet.

Very well Precursors, time will tell.

Chapter Text

Plans Beget Plans

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

If an analogy could be used to best describe the operating environment in which Thrawn's fleet of star destroyers operated, it would be ancient humanities submarine warfare. Silent and utterly brutal; they waited, potent and deadly. Parked thousands of light years beyond the Milky Way's galactic rim, the fleet waiting to be called upon for blitzkrieg attacks. Both Thrawn and Piett's fleets had raided, pummeled, and obliterated their designated targets with deadly efficiency for eight months; the latest, a nonconforming alien race within the Delta Quadrant. They had, somehow, discovered the Imperial campaign and wished to join it. Instead of discussion, they were quickly and mercilessly exterminated. No one could live to tell, no one could know of their exact plans, or identity.

At present, Thrawn sat in his immense 'planning room,' packed wall to wall with charts, graphs, artwork, poems, and many other less visible details of the Milky Way natives. Numbers and maps were not enough; one had to know their enemy, their history and culture. He wished to know their souls. Hours upon hours were spent reading their poetry, listening to their music and viewing their artwork. His desk consisted of a thirty-foot half-circle, with a dozen monitors flashing crucial information concerning galactic takeover. Beyond the giant windows, was the swirling galaxy, its billions of stars and planets in complete ignorance of their presence. Accompanying the Grand Admiral was the assembled fleet command along with Piett and his senior officers. Scattered among them sat Analyst Commanders who helped sift through the ungodly amount of information endlessly collected day in and day out.

At present, Thrawn enjoyed lecturing them on current events and strategy,

"I want to thank each and every one of you for the excellent work during this long and sometimes stressful campaign. As you can see here," a large 3D galactic map appearing overhead, "...the Borg have been vanquished from this Galaxy. Only small pockets remain, they are a shadow of their former selves. Our plan was well thought-out and executed precisely. For thousands of years they dominated the Delta Quadrant, and yet, in only a few short months they are nothing more than common house pests, scouring about, desperate, alone, and ultimately doomed."

An Analyst Commander raised his hand to ask a question,

"Grand Admiral, what are your thoughts on the recent Borg activity in the Beta Quadrant, they have become very efficient at stopping our probe droids. Their precise location is now hard to determine... our last operation failed to intercept the Cubes before they escaped to Warp. The Borg are now able to detect our incoming ships, and they jump to warp before we exit into real space. It is becoming harder to isolate them."

Thrawn nodded along as the question was asked, he believed in open discussion, allowing his staff to discuss and debate the strategy. More than accepted, he welcomed it. Discovering years ago that a healthy educated team performed far above those always working in fear.

"Thank you for the question Commander Krill. How many total Borg vessels do you believe there are in the Beta Quadrant at this present time?"

"We estimate no more than one hundred ships, maybe half that in the Delta... but we have been unable to destroy them. Their tactics have changed, drastically." Krill gulped a little as the last part of the sentence squeezed out. He did not want to take the blame for those few remaining ships. "They have also abandoned their assimilation tactics, they are no longer trying to grow their fleet...they seem content with evading and surviving."

Thrawn pushed a few buttons and the most recent probe data appeared on the closest monitor. He studied it intently for several minutes; no one dared say a word while the Grand Admiral worked the problem over.

"They alone are no threat to our plans, no threat to our ships and no threat to the Empire at large. Their change in tactics is an indication of their abandonment of the Collective. I do believe and so do many of our analysts that they are thinking as individuals. Individuals can be corrupted, they can be bribed, twisted, but, ultimately, they wish to survive." Thrawn rubbed his chin and then looked over at one of his commanders, "Send word to the Devonshire, have them equip for a diplomatic mission, remove all armament." The assembled officers looked at one another in surprise, "If they wish to survive so be it, we will create a ceasefire which will free up our fleets for the final invasion."

Piett stepped forward,

"Sir, I meant to ask you about that, what of our plans with the Federation? The DS9 wormhole is guarded with self-replicating mines."

"Great question Admiral." Thrawn slowly walked the room, both hands clasped firmly behind his back. This was his element, dictating well-thought strategy to those whom may not fully grasp its genius. "Firstly, it seems the Cardassian Forces along with current AQ Dominion forces are inflicting a considerable toll upon the Klingon Empire. What we would call tactical retreats, they consider cowardly. What we consider surprise attacks, they consider dishonorable. The Emperor has made it clear to us, we must absorb humanity, and any other species that we think would submit to our rule. The Klingons are not one of these species. They will never yield, never surrender, never give up. They will naturally fight and die until all are dead. So be it. With each passing week, we move closer to the Klingon Homeworld, there we will turn the surface to ash. By my calculations, in less than six weeks, every Klingon will be dead. Not a single one left alive. Next..." continued the Grand Admiral, checking for dust along the surface of his desk with his index finger. He stopped mid-sentence as he inspected for any errand particles. "...we knew from the beginning that the Dominion forces would need to be destroyed, either by us or by a more natural opposition. The self-replicating mines the Federation has managed to install at the entrance to the wormhole will be that instrument. Very clever of the Federation to develop these mines, from what our operators are telling us, they came from Starfleet Intelligence. We do not know how many self-replication cycles each can accomplish, but we will find out. Any comments? Questions so far?"

Commander Cheevers, a sputtering mess, stood to ask a question,

"Grand Admiral, can you tell us about the raider attack upon the Gamma Quadrant Dominion forces a few weeks ago?"

"Great question Commander. As everyone now knows, the colonists from Epilus who Darth Maul and Boba Fett had tricked, launched a simultaneous attack against the wormhole blockade at DS9 and a few outlying Cardassian bases. They forced the Federation's hand which played perfectly into ours. Our original plan was to have a few dozen Dominion cruisers traverse the DS9 wormhole and backup the Alpha Quadrant fleet. Remember men, we did not want to utterly crush the Federation. Granted, we did want to secure the wormhole, but just barely. They would have no choice but to send an even larger armada, allowing us to crush them in a single battle. It is unfortunate that a fleet of raiders attacked the Dominion cruisers on the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole before they could move to assist the AQ forces." Thrawn paused for effect before continuing. "I have been studying this situation intently, thanks to information provided by you, and your teams. The raiders originated from several systems within Dominion space, and it appears they are being sponsored by local and regional governments on Dominion held planets. Our probes have not yet located their base of operation, but we will, and we will destroy it. I have already sent word to the Founders, any hint of rebellion will be crushed immediately."

Cheevers gulped and asked another painful question.

"Sir, we are still waiting for your decision, but, I would like to address it again. What of the new technology Starfleet is rolling out to detect Changelings? My team has recommended we pull them out. Our operators and Changelings are no longer able to delay its implementation."

"Yes," said Thrawn knowingly. "I am in agreement, but there is one final task for them to perform. Commander Yilos, how many from the Betazoid species currently serve in Starfleet?"

"About forty sir,"

"I see, and how many live on other planets besides Betazed?"

"No more than a few thousand Grand Admiral."

Thrawn let a small, thin, smile creep along his face, time for the next phase...

"Inform our operators and Changelings to kill them all. Let me be clear, when your team organizes this, it must be done in unison. Across all planets and ships. No telepath loyal to the Federation can be left alive when we reveal ourselves. I estimate our Dominion puppets will reach Betazed within a few weeks, where they will turn the surface to slag. Let me remind you, once this occurs the Federation will be reeling. They have never in their history been subjected to such destruction. Our destabilization efforts have caused havoc in their council chambers and within the Presidential assembly. Some member worlds even now are considering abandoning the alliance and seeking peace by other methods. But... " Thrawn raised a long, delicate finger into the air, "...the Federation must break, we must break their backs. For when we arrive to eradicate the Dominion with our own forces, we will be saviors, not conquerors. The Federation, smashed into many smaller pieces will flock to us, their fleets destroyed and industrial centers in ruin, we, the Empire can restore them. We can bring them protection, technology and wealth. You see gentlemen, to those in the Milky Way, love, compassion, and respect is far more powerful than fear. We will have their respect, their love, their admiration, their loyalty..." Thrawn was now standing taller than ever, "...we will annihilate the Dominion forces within a few days, and they, the remnants of the Federation will watch. They will watch as we bring them liberty." Every officer in the giant room looked around at one another with a sense of pride and purpose never before instilled among them. This campaign was ruthless, brilliant and flawless. The Federation was hopelessly outmatched, and the Empire knew it. There is no possible way for them to know about us, was the resounding thought within the room. "There are however, issues to resolve, no plan can go without changes, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. We must maintain our secrecy, what is the latest on Starfleet's analysis of our intact probe droid?"

"Sir, Changelings reporting that primary communication has been compromised, they know what we are transmitting, but they cannot isolate the signal destination. All broadcasts maintain omnidirectional waves. As far as they know, the probes are just monitoring everything, all information. It would be impossible for them to associate the probes with the Dominion forces."

"I see," Thrawn did not like the fact that their information flow could be monitored, but there was little that could be done about that now. "And what of the missing Federation base?"

"We have been unable to locate it, we...well, we do not understand its relationship with Starfleet. There is no record of it, no mention of it. We are unsure of what to think of it. We will locate it." Strange, thought Thrawn, one small base among the millions in the galaxy is insignificant, but still...if they have developed a cloaking device, why install it on an outpost with no weapons, and seemingly no use...

Piett was standing still, looking over a few reports in detail, something was bothering him,

"Grand Admiral, if I were to be so bold, there is a risk from the Metrons. They provided the intact probe droid, it is possible they have also shared other information, not spread within the Starfleet network."

"I have considered this Admiral Piett, I believe it is a Captain James T. Kirk who made contact. If the Metrons do indeed know who we are, and that knowledge was shared with our dear Captain Kirk, it has not been shared with the broader alliance. He must be captured and questioned." Thrawn pulled up a few more displays and began reading the personnel file of the famous Starfleet Captain. Thrawn was silent for a good ten minutes while he absorbed all the information until finally, he broke the silence by switching off the monitor with a heavy fist. "He...has the others with him..." A look of confusion swept the Grand Admiral's face, he stood and looked out the large window encompassing the room. "...the two beings that came out of the spatial anomalies are on his ship, why…" Thrawn turned back to his staff, "Why! Why was I not told of this?"

The room collectively gulped before a low ranking Commander raised his hand,

"Sir...there is so much information coming from our operatives, and probe droids, we... I... I...didn't think it was necessary. We filtered that out a few levels before it came to your desk."

Thrawn closed his eyes and breathed slowly; his rage was building up within him, this fool, this utter fool. The room was silent for the next thirty minutes as log after log was displayed related to the Enterprise's activities. There it is…

"According to our Changeling operator, the Captain requested to take both Cienna and John with him in the hopes of discovering the truth about the time warp and any possible connection to a race known as the Dalek's. Apparently they are all dead, or believed dead. It seems no one is sure... curious…"

The door's hissed open and a young Captain hurried into the room,

"Excuse the intrusion Grand Admiral. Lord Vader's shuttle is approaching."

What?! Vader? Here?! Thrawn was expressionless, but inside he was nervous, unscheduled visits are never desirable.

"Clear the room."

Not long after the doors hissed open and in strode the Dark Lord, his black cape flowing behind him like water. He walked right up to the desk and placed his hands on his belt buckle, even through the helmet, Thrawn felt his gaze.

"Grand Admiral."

Thrawn stood up and bowed slightly,

"Lord Vader, how can I be of service."

"I am here to discuss the campaign, to determine if you are indeed on schedule."

"Lord Vader, I send reports to Imperial High Command frequently, I assure-"

"Spare me your overly optimistic appraisal Grand Admiral. What dangers do you perceive."

Thrawn was irked by the question, to suggest he was not competent enough to analyze the situation was insulting.

"My Lord, the campaign is on schedule, the Borg have been destroyed, many large alliances throughout the galaxy have been broken or swept away. Only the Alpha Quadrant remains as an unconquered element. The Dominion will be taking care of that shortly."

"There is a danger," barked Vader, his accusatory finger pointing at Thrawn's face. "Find it."

Thrawn did not dare show any anger on his face, but he was full of it. It was boiling, bubbling beneath his collar. Vader continued, uncaring of what his Grand Admiral thought,

"There has been an unanticipated delay in the final construction of the new Deathstar. Technology to propel the super-laser into hyperspace is on schedule, but our manufacturing of specialized equipment is now on hold, I will let you read the report." Vader raised a hand and a few switches flickered across the room as a new log loaded into the computer system. Thrawn eyed the event uneasily, he did not understand the Force, nor did he trust it. Something that could not be scientifically or statistically analyzed was unnatural, it is repugnant.

Kuat Drive Yards

-Probe Production, 723,523 Units per 30 days

-Star Destroyer, Imperial Class

-6 ready within 30 days

-Tie Fighters, 234 Units per 30 days

-614 Bounty Hunters on 30-day rotation

Galaxy-Wide Bounty Hunter Recruitment

-1,300 more recruited, training, familiarization, and assignment to be completed within two months

Death Star II Production

-Delayed

Log Entry: File 3232-432

Commander Rupert Milo, 342th Engineering Division,

It has recently come to my attention that the Metallurgical Guild on Nexus 7 is no longer willing to provide Burium Ore that is required to link the Power Inducers to the hyper-matter reactor. The P.I. is essential if we expect to complete the project on time, we have informed Moff Jerjerrod.

Log Entry: File 32399-32

Moff Jerjerrod, Death Star II Commander,

Communication with Metallurgical Guild has ceased, I have ordered Ambassador Tonus to immediately restart the shipment of Burium Ore.

Log Entry: File 44222-8832

Ambassador Tonus

The Guild is no longer satisfied with our agreement. By the power bestowed upon me by the Emperor of the Galactic Empire, I have agreed to raise our payment from 321 credits per ton to 948 credits per ton. As well, I recommend immediate diversification of our Burium Ore supplier.

Also, I have been informed of another issue related to production. Tractor-Emitters produced by the same Guild will no longer be supplied. No payment increase will suffice, they are unwilling to negotiate. From what I understand, they wish to adapt them to a new fleet they want to procure. Will inform Lord Vader.

Thrawn pursed his lips and carefully considered the ramifications,

"The Deathstar, with the hyperspace enabled super-laser is essential to our campaign. Without the hyperspace feature, we would be unable to destroy the Metrons. Our ships, including the Deathstar are unable to get close enough to destroy their planet. Everything freezes dead in space, approximately a billion kilometers from their system. It may be possible for the Deathstar to target the Metrons from that range but it has never been attempted. It is highly unlikely we would ever engage them. Based on our research, they have not been in regular contact with any species for at least a thousand years. However, if engagement were to become necessary, the hyperspace feature would be essential. Maybe critical."

Vader's mechanical breathing and heavy boots filled the room while making his way to the window. Within his mask he closed his eyes and reached out with the Force. Something is out theresomething running counter to our plans, he could FEEL it, if only on the fringes of his consciousness.

"There is uneasiness within this Galaxy, your destabilization strategy has been exemplary. However..." Vader turned back towards Thrawn, "Are you certain galaxy-wide turmoil is due to your sole efforts?"

Thrawn was rubbing his chin in deep thought, an interesting question...

"The local and regional governments across the galaxy have been collapsing faster than we anticipated, a few raiders and pirates have risen but nothing we cannot handle. Some, the Maquis, existed before we even arrived. They have proven resourceful, but most have already perished by the hands of the Dominion Cardassian alliance. As you have read in my reports my Lord, slow communication speed in this galaxy prevents galactic scale organization like we experience in our own with the Rebel Alliance. That level of sophistication, organization, and common cause would be impossible here. It takes decades for a signal to travel from one quadrant to another."

"What of the increasing defection rate of your Bounty Hunters? Darth Maul can only be in so many places at once, he cannot kill them all."

"Yes, he has killed or captured over a hundred so far, there are...some that have disappeared."

"How many."

"Approximately eight-hundred." Neither man said a word for the next several seconds, the number was high, even Thrawn had to admit that, but the information gathering they provided was critical. Even more valuable was their ultimate task of assassinating any Founders that refused to retreat into the Gamma Quadrant when instructed prior to the Dominion's destruction. Fourteen-thousand Bounty Hunters now operated within the Galaxy, losing less than six percent was within Thrawn's guidelines.

"Is the wormhole weapon ready?" asked Vader.

"Yes, it is ready. Once the Founders retreat back to their homeworld, we will detonate the weapon and destroy the only bridge between the Gamma and Alpha Quadrants. The Dominion fleets will be isolated and then annihilated. Since no Vorta or Jem'Hadar know of our existence, there will be no remaining elements to reveal our real motives. Betazoid telepaths will be extinct, that plan, as a matter of fact is being hatched now. Their planet will soon be turned to slag by a fleet of Cardassian and Dominion ships.

"And if your plan fails Grand Admiral? If we are revealed?"

"Then we will conquer the Federation, their ships already being destroyed by the Dominion. In this unlikely event, we would have to aggressively engage the other Alpha Quadrant races, some of which are heavily armed."

"Very good, the Emperor is pleased, as am I. There is only one question remaining. Those who came through the temporal rifts, are they a threat to us?"

"Not at this present time, the female humanoid claims that a race called the Dalek's were responsible for the anomalies, perhaps even for the wormhole leading into the Imperial Galaxy. But. It has not been proven. They, if they exist, are not from this or any known Universe."

"Are you certain nothing else has arrived?" Vader looked back towards the window, I sense something, I can feel it, working in the shadows, unseen, unheard… Finally, Vader spun around and headed towards the door, "Grand Admiral, be vigilant, we must complete this campaign on schedule."

Thrawn waited for the Dark Lord to exit before falling into his seat. He rested his hands on his temples and looked down at his desk, eyes closed. How can someone 'sense' a danger that our probes, operators, and puppets cannot detect? We are everywhere. The Force has not helped crush the Rebels...or anticipated the delay of the Deathstar… Thrawn angrily jammed his finger into his communication button,

"Captain Algo, assign one-thousand more personnel to oversee surveillance operations, and order another ten-thousand analysis droids. Send out instructions to our operators on Earth, we need to know where that missing Starfleet base is located. To our operators on Romulus, they need to begin to destabilize that military industrial complex, I just saw a report that can't explain where half of their industrial capacity is being allocated toward. And my last order. There are several currencies traded throughout Dominion space, I want people pouring over the movement of this money, how are these raiders being financed? I expect an answer within twenty hours. Divert analysis droids if need be. Thrawn out."

"Yes, yes, Grand Admiral, right away. But... Sir, I was about to call you, priority short-message from Boba Fett."

Priority 1 - Sigma Four

-Mission Failure

-Request permission to return to fleet

-Lord Maul severely injured, Bacta Tank requested

-Unable to apprehend ParSortum - rogue Bounty Hunter on Romulan moon

-Ambushed

-Assailants unknown

-Energy and rapid-fire projectile weapons

-We retreated after heavy exchange

-Ship stealth systems compromised in orbit

-Port-side subspace dampeners destroyed after ship-to-ship engagement

-Withdrew to fallback coordinates

-Awaiting instructions

-End Transmission.

Milky Way - Galactic Centre - SuperMassive Blackhole

The glowing eye-stock of the Supreme Dalek cast a dull blue light upon the instrument panel before it. The battle computer which helped assist the Dalek's in their planning and strategic options relayed various scenarios to the leader. Stealth was paramount, the slightest mistake could lead to dire consequences; there were undoubtedly dangers this early in the game, some fatal. At present, the stolen Section 31 base was drifting within the accretion disk of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It was being towed along by quintillions of tons of matter and energy as it swirled around the event horizon. Perfectly shielded by way of gravimetric distortions and advanced Dalek technology, it was virtually undetectable. Q was a significant danger, both the Supreme Dalek and Battle Computer had agreed on this. If the war was to be won, Q must die.

"Reeeeporrrrrrt." demanded the Supreme Dalek

"Connection to Borg Collective remains stable, all systems continue to be slaved to ours, we are in control.Squawked a nameless Dalek, many in a long line of replicants cloned and engineered within the galactic core.

"Progress of the Physic Destrrrrroooooyerrrrr?"

"Physic Destroyer currently at 7% assembly and synthesis,answered the unnamed Dalek.

The Dalek plan was an incredibly complex yet simple one, destroy the Q, and the rest will present no challenge. With the absorption of Commander Riker's thought waves on board DS9 several months ago, all information related to the Q had been absorbed into the Dalek consciousness. William Riker was, and still is the only human to have ever been given the power of the Q, and hidden, deep within his mind was that experience, as well as their abilities and weaknesses. The Dalek's had discovered this after a thorough scan of the entire Federation database as well as the mind siphoning of the Section 31 operative many months ago. The Dalek's reasoned that the instrument to attack the Q's Continuum would need to be one of telepathic variety. However, there would be more required to truly destroy them; the Physic Destroyer would only be enough to route them back into the Continuum. To exterminate the Q, a far more sinister plot needed execution; and if the Dalek's excelled at anything, it is planning.

The Supreme Dalek continued to give instructions,

"Order our human slaves within Section 31 to increase Xyit Compound 823 on Earth, we must increase synthesis speed."

Within the bodies of many Section 31 operatives existed unimaginably small robots operating discretely in each of their brains. The unaware puppets having their thoughts subtly altered by these machines to influence their behavior, utterly ignorant that they were being controlled or doing anything outside of their regular routines. Thanks to a complete hack of all Starfleet systems, the Dalek's confidently and rightfully felt that their microscopic-machines will remain undetectable by current or near future Federation technology. But there are still theoretical dangers.

Captain Kirk's direct communication with the Metron's presented an unknown equation into the otherwise precisely calculated Dalek strategy. The battle computer in conjunction with the Supreme Dalek reasoned that if their presence is detected or at least substantiated with high confidence, the Metron's might move against them. Typically, under normal circumstances this would pose no problem, but now, in their weakened state, the Metron's posed a threat. There as of course other dangers from other races, but none presented as severe a threat as the Q. Q's could not be incented or tricked. Therefore the actual and insidious Dalek plan had to remain a secret. Acted upon only at the last possible moment and developed below the Q's level of concern. Spreading out too much risks being destroyed by the Q, develop too little and falling to the Metrons becomes a possibility. A tough position to balance. Creating a grand army or armada was out of the question, their hands were tied, relying on stealth and deception to attain their goals. Part of their obscure strategy was the construction of various production sites spread throughout the Alpha Quadrant. These sites developed separate parts of the Physic Destroyer, a genuinely clandestine operation. This strategy whiles perhaps not effective against a full Q incursion, would be more than satisfactory against a lesser foe trying to unravel the Dalek master plan.

On Earth, Director Sloan expertly perfected the replication technology necessary for the development of the now deployed mines currently activated along the DS9 wormhole. The strategy and underlying technology to launch the mines was of course not Sloan's but the Dalek's, the Director having no clue it was not his 'brilliant' idea. With Starfleet Intelligence and not another branch controlling the manufacturing and research process, small pieces of equipment and resources could be redirected to the Dalek Physic Destroyer. This strategy was replicated across many planets within the Federation, and soon to be expanded into the Borg controlled sectors of the Beta and Delta Quadrants. Thanks to Dalek's upgraded Borg sensors and tractor emitters to detect and block any probe within a few million kilometers; the Empire was quickly losing track of what was happening in Borg space

Dalek's never slept, never tired, and are completely infatuated with one purpose, death and destruction. And so, orders and preparation continue,

"Begin upgrading Borg propulsion units, ensure only Borg technology is used, we must not reveal our involvement. Standby production of Oblivion Continuum bombs, we must prepare for a possible war with the inferior race known as the Metrons."

"Affirmative. Transmitting instructions to Collective, now. What are your orders for the fleet on the edge of the galaxy? All evidence suggests probe droids and fleet originate from the same industrial body."

"Fleet and probe technology is inferior, scans reveal primitive weapons, shields and propulsion, they will die soon after the Q." The Supreme Dalek turned and headed off towards a long hallway. Every square inch of Bakerfield was now being used for 'something,' there were no creature comforts or areas for rest or relaxation. And as the Dalek plan advanced, the risk increased they would be discovered. They were unsure if the Q knew that they inhabited this small station, but, they were sure that the Q had not uncovered their plans or they would surely have been atomized. The door hissed open and the Dalek floated inward to take a look at its other project. In the middle of the room, suspended by wires and equipment was a humanoid head. The eyeless, lipless, hairless and otherwise featureless severed head twitched and convulsed as the nerve endings tried to come to grips as to what had happened. Only the ears remained for any sensory input, but even those, the Dalek's were not entirely sure of their necessity.

"Have you made contact?" Instead of an answer, the head convulsed violently and the mouth opened to release an airless scream. Blood dripped onto the floor from the savage wounds and Dalek slaves ran about monitoring life support equipment and sensory data.

"My master, we are having problems picking up any signals, this is the sixtieth specimen. We used your adjustments...but master, both in dream and awake, we cannot detect any changes...perhaps we should rethink-"

"Humans do NOT question Dalek strategy!"shrieked the Supreme Dalek. With a quick blast, both the slave and head were killed; for the tortured mind within the skull, it was a relief. "Slave!" Another cloned humanoid came scuttling across the room, feet splashing through pools of blood and other bodily fluids. "Prepare another specimen, recast the spell from the Necronomicon, page three-twenty-two, paragraph eight. Include etchings from page sixteen, eighteen and one-hundred. The plan will not fail, it CANNOT FAIL!"

Milky Way - Unknown Quadrant - Large Asteroid

Deep beneath the surface of an unknown asteroid, in an unknown quadrant of an unknown system worked Teemar and his men. An enormous converted cave, now a teeming manufacturing center, with machines and operators working around the clock. There was no natural sunlight within the remote and miserable abyss, it was damp, cold, and dark. Despite the conditions, the work continued around the clock. High above the shop floor, nestled into the rock-face behind protective glass hung Teemar's office. Scattered about were charts, graphs, organizational pyramids and many more diagrams and notes to help keep track of the operation. Computer use was limited, relying instead on paper and booklets. While naturally less efficient, that was not the intended goal. Dexterity, durability, and secrecy topped the list of organizational priorities. Paper was far more secure, un-hackable, and, if destroyed, untraceable.

Within the private office, Teemar's steady eyes narrowed on the facemask of the smuggler on the opposite side of his messy desk. Yorsi had delivered the promised amount of Dioplaxican and other raw materials, but now it seems he was trying to take advantage of the situation.

"Listen you fat Romulan slug, I'll return all the ore if I don't get eight bars of gold pressed latinum," came the muffled voice of the smuggler.

"Are you insane?" shouted Teemar, "That is twice what I paid you last time!" He could barely believe what he was hearing, no one had asked for that much. "I've asked around, talked to people about you Yorsi, they say you used to work with the Ferengi. Is this where you learned your negotiating skills?"

Yorsi, whose origin was never inquired, was never befriended or companionship sought; he was here just for the money, and both knew it.

"This is going to go two ways, either I get all the bars, or…"

"Or…? Or what?" asked Teemar, a small but noticeable grin was moving across his chubby face. He scratched the back of his neck with a dirty finger, a boil was forming, and it itched immensely.

"Or I take over this operation myself, I've seen what you do, I know your routines, your contacts." The smuggler's left hand was slowly moving down towards his waistband, the grip of a weapon hidden beneath.

Teemar's eyes moved down to follow Yorsi's hand, he was not the first to try and double cross him. This came with the territory, any person who willingly accepted the lifestyle was already rotten to the core, this was not unexpected.

"You do not want to do that, Yorsi...or...should I call you, Yalax."

Yorsi's hand froze. He knows! How?! Yalax was his Bounty Hunter name, the alias he used within the Imperial Galaxy, How can he know?

"Yalax, I can pay you far more than those feeble Imperial Credits you are collecting, far more than the few modifications you are allowed to keep at Kuat Drive Yards. I know your mission is to infiltrate the Dioplaxican mining operations within this Quadrant. You have been partially successful only because I have allowed it. This is your chance. Do you want to join us? Or, do you want to die? This facility is shielded, your secret transponder will not work here. Your ship transponder has been blocked, the Empire and all their little probes do not know where you are." Yalax did not move, he was too stunned, there was nothing to say, nothing to lie about. Somehow, this fat Romulan knows about the Empire?! Teemar continued, "You are not the first I have approached, many of your fellow Bounty Hunters now work for my partners and I, they are moving product throughout the galaxy, and, making a fortune. Some even have their own teams, even small armies."

"This is impossible...impossible!" Yalax was reeling, he could not fathom how any of these details could be known to an ordinary gun-runner, especially one within the Milky Way. With confused desperation, Yalax reached down into his waistband to pull his blaster, but it was too late. Teemar's quick-draw was too fast, and within a fraction of a second, the Bounty Hunter was nothing more than an expanding cloud of gas, vaporized into his component molecules. The Romulan smugly re-holstered his DeLamater sidearm and walked casually across the room. Oh well, there will be more, there are always more. Just as he was about to sit down he heard a whirl of energy behind him, but he did not need to turn to see what was happening. The energy tunnel always brought a visitor, after which the disruption retreated into the nothingness from which it came. Now a man stood in the shadowy corner of his office, his face obscured by the low light. Black pants and a blue uniform with a few medals were visible, along with a golden sash tied around the waist with a silver weapon, resembling a dagger slung to the side.

"Mr. Teemar, status of hypermatter project, one?" the mystery-man asked coldly.

"I told you last time, we can't manufacture hypermatter in this Universe, it can only be completed in theirs! Something about how individual molecules react with one another... I thought you guys were smart," spat Teemar as he grabbed some papers and started hurriedly shuffling through them.

"Then it is logical that you begin manufacturing within the Imperial Universe. Your contacts are waiting for you. I will also mention time is not on your side. I calculate you have less than forty weeks to procure enough hypermatter to equip eight-hundred ships." The uniformed man adjusted a mechanical wristband as he spoke coolly and collectively. Teemar glanced over to try and get a better look, it seemed, at least to him that there was a majestic black pearl within the center of the band. It was glittering faintly, and within the blackness there was life, movement. "There are only two men and one woman who can trace this asteroid's location and place your previous whereabouts in the Cardassian DeMilitarized Zone. They are now dead."

Teemar rushed to the window as a commotion broke out below. Workers were rushing about trying to resuscitate the three dead workers, each lay in a heap on the floor, unmoving, unliving. Teeemar's hands were pressed against the glass, looking down at the frantic cries for help. The base doctor came rushing over but Teemar knew it was useless, this was not the sort of ailment where medicine and bandages would suffice. They had to die of course, he knew that, but he hated losing members of his crew. After several seconds he sighed and turned back towards the mystery-man, his mind now focused on the new task.

"I need something to keep the locals working for me in the Imperial Galaxy, they don't care about gold pressed latinum."

"We have something that will help you keep control, a payment method for even the most stubborn pirate." The shadowy figure took a small glass tube out of his sash and tossed it over to the Romulan.

Teemar looked at it and then placed it down on the table,

"Purple sparkle powder?"

"Thionite, the strongest, most addictive drug known to carbon-based lifeforms."

Teemar was skeptical as he shook the tube a few more times,

"As long as we control the source, we can control the population."

"Precisely. It cannot be replicated, I do not know where it was obtained, only that it was given to me, much like I am giving it to you. You will be supplied with as much as you need. Begin your venture into the Imperial Galaxy immediately. Bring what you need from this facility then destroy the asteroid using the same method as Epilus. Do you have superatomics in your stockpile?"

"Yes. Why did you have me do that by the way?"

"Teemar, I thought that would be apparent, but perhaps I have over-estimated your intelligence. The Epilus detonation rallied over thirty colony worlds to stand against the Cardassians, they all believed, as they should have, that it was the Cardassian and Dominion forces that destroyed the surface and subterranean cities of the planet. We are currently supplying them with weapons and resources. We can manipulate them as we see fit. We are in control now."

"Ah, I see..." Teemar was quiet for a long moment before continuing. "How big of an operation is this?"

"Bigger and more complex than you can imagine."

Are they operating across the entire galaxy? Isn't it just a quadrant? Teemar's thoughts were racing,

"No, not just a quadrant. One last thing. Put this on and keep it beneath your clothes. You know more than we can allow to be leaked, but until you fail, you shall live." The man tossed a small piece of equipment no larger than a deck of cards across the room.

"What is this?"

"A Thought Screen."

Chapter Text

In Comes the Jedi

Imperial Galaxy

It had been months since Ro Laren had sought out the Rebel leadership, her story and technology shared among the alliance members. After weeks of discussion and many more in preparation, the Rebel Alliance was making its move. The decision to move the military effort of the Alliance into the Milky Way was final. The game of cat and mouse between the Imperial Navy and Alliance would find a new playground. The far-reaching consequences of two galaxies under one rule was too much for even the most cautious Rebel leaders. Something needed to be done.

Ro to the best of her ability, described in detail the workings of the Alpha Quadrant. Both current and historical politics as well as military alliances had been laid out. Mon Mothma thought it best to communicate with the loosely aligned Federation Colonists in the hopes of stopping the barbarous bloodshed. Afterward, they would reach out to other Alpha Quadrant, primarily the Romulans to try and change the balance of power. According to Ro, the Romulans are the most supportive of their subversive efforts and so their civilization would be contacted first. The overall strategy was to bring awareness to the besieged quadrant in the hopes of creating a unified front against the Empire. Despite Ro's hatred towards the Federation and Cardassian's, she recognized their awareness of the puppeteering taking place would help her people immensely.

Efforts to drum up support both political and economical would continue in earnest within the Imperial Galaxy; with surprise success coming just a moment ago when the Rebel leadership received a surprised coded message from a member of the Hutt family on Tatooine. They wished to discuss terms of a joint-effort, promising to send a representative to draft an agreement. Shock was an understatement in describing the thoughts of Princess Leia who chose to stay behind with Mon Mothma and the rest of the leadership For years the Rebellion had tried to recruit support from the galaxies criminal elements, but until now, all proved unsuccessful. May the Force be with you, thought Leia as she turned her attention outward to try and feel Luke and Han.

The whirling vortex of hyperspace filled the cockpit windows of the hundreds of Rebel fighters, corvettes, and capital ships descending onto the unsuspecting Imperial blockade. There was a solemn feeling in the minds of every Rebel volunteering for this mission, taking them from their families and loved ones. Despite this, Rebels were fighting for something. Fighting for injustice, fighting to overthrow the Emperor and his minions. Incredible sacrifices had already been made, and all would be for nothing if one galaxy turned to two, and then perhaps three or four. If a military effort were to be waged within the Milky Way, then their sacrifice will be worth it.

Luke's grip tightened around the controls of his X-Wing fighter, the leather gloves scrunching as he pulled himself closer to his screens. This is it. The Rebellion had put great faith in his sense of danger. Immense, inescapable threat loomed large over their heads. With no face, no identity, and an unknown purpose, it remained hidden in the shadows, waiting, watching. In the corner of Luke's eye he saw the Millenium Falcon just ahead, it was the lead ship in the spear about to plow through the Imperial ranks, here we go...

In the Falcon, Han's eyes darted between his instrument panel and the swirling vortex beyond. He could see Luke's X-Wing to his right, bringing him temporary reprieve, but it was only a mild sedative for what wracked his mind. Han was seething hot. Furious at Leia for staying behind to help Mon Mothma keep control of the Rebellion. He had argued at length with her, had begged her, had pleaded with her to come along. In the end he had to accept she was staying, and that is why, he realized, why he loved her so much. This better work!

"Ok Chewie, get ready, deflectors on maximum, strap yourselves in," he said over his shoulder to C3P0 and Ro Laren. Both grabbed their restraint belts and pulled them tight. "...5...4...3...2...HIT IT!" The Wookie threw the switch and an instantaneous command triggered all the other ships hyperdrives to cut at the exact same moment. Within a second the fleet was out, almost exactly where they were supposed to be. Han's eyes expanded as wide as saucers when his brain finally registered what his eyes were seeing. With a desperate lunge over Chewie's left arm, Han yanked down hard on one of the controls, "HOLY! Sh-" The entire viewing area was a giant white bulkhead. They had come out of hyperspace right on top of a star destroyer! The Falcon pulled up violently just in time to avoid a collision. Luke banked hard, causing stabilizers and power-inducers to strain under the load. Both ships now skimmed along the surface of the giant Imperial destroyer. Other fighters and capital ships exited slightly back, enabling them to avoid a collision.

"Han, head straight for the wormhole," came the static voice of Luke over the receiver, "I'll be along shortly."

"You don't have to tell me twice," responded Solo. Pulling the Falcon up and away from the star destroyer, his blue afterburner glowed hot as he accelerated with tremendous speed towards the invisible wormhole horizon. After several long seconds of anticipation, nothing. "Hey lady! Where the hell is it?!" Ro opened her mouth to respond but nearly shot out of her seat from a violent jolt. A steady stream of turbo laser flak was incoming from the now alert and scrambling Imperials. Ro shouted her answer, but no voice could rise above the feverish back-and-forth between Chewie and Han. They appeared, at least to her to be arguing over which angle to set the shields.

"No! No! ... Ok fine, ok! Ok!" Han climbed out of his seat, stumbling over C3P0's legs who could not move quickly enough to avoid the entanglement. "Out of my way 3P0! Before I put you back in garbage disposal!" To the untrained eye Captain Solo appeared to be a madman. Cursing, sweating, and clawing his way around the small-cramped cockpit, Han threw switches and levers inefficiently placed throughout. But it was working. Turbo laser blasts were missing their mark as the freighter, the 'piece of junk,' was staying alive.

Ro unstrapped her restraints once Solo had reseated and pushed her way between them,

"Fly deeper!" she shouted, her finger pointing towards the middle of the Imperial fleet.

C3P0 gasped,

"Deeper?!"

Han shoved her back with a free arm before muttering something to himself, this is a bad idea,

"Chewie, set two-seven-one," And so, the Falcon, the fastest ship in the galaxy, plunged further into the Imperial blockade. Behind Han was the rest of the Rebels, blasting, pitching, yawing, dodging, and bobbing their way through the ever-increasing 'mess' of tie-fighters and expanding debris clouds of exploding Rebel and Imperial ships.

Only a few hundred kilometers away Luke launched all four of his Ion Torpedoes, striking squarely a star destroyer and protective cruiser engaging a Rebel medical frigate. Electronic surges and massive bolts of electricity crawled their way across the hulls like giant spiders, knocking out turbo lasers and other critical systems. Luke glanced down at his readout, we have lost eight already,

"Wedge, form up on my left, I am reading lots of fighters coming in,"

"You got it boss," came the static-filled voice of his friend,

Visualize for a moment the predicament the Empire faced when deciding on a strategy to cordon off the secret wormhole within the Imperial Galaxy. The wormhole, invisible unless entered, could be accessed from any direction. A blockade that may have been found on 20th century Earth around a naval base or port could not be accomplished. Any attempt to protect a 'side' of the entrance would leave the other sides completely open. In addition to this dilemma of how best to defend the wormhole, there was also the notion that an overwhelming flotilla in space would even draw suspicion. All this was of course decided almost a year ago, when as it is now, only eighty ships of various classes were assigned to protect the wormhole. They created a sphere, one currently being penetrated by overwhelming force. No single star destroyer could defend against a Rebel Fleet, but the plan was not designed for such a contingency. The Empire, not in their wildest dreams or imaginations conceived of jammers that masked an entire Rebel fleet. Ro had provided the technology as a sure way to penetrate the blockade. A good analogy would be a knife and a balloon. If a blade were laid flat on the surface, the weight would be supported. If however, the pointed end turned inward, it would burst. The Imperial sphere was now accelerating hard towards the gap so viciously created, but it was too late. Rebel ships continued to disappear into the wormhole, only a stricken Imperial star destroyer whose reactor exploded caused significant casualties.

Luke swung about and was now headed towards the wormhole, the last of the Rebel cruisers disappearing just ahead. His job was complete, all but fourteen Rebel ships had made it. He wished it were not the case but losses were expected. Glancing down at the radar panel, Luke saw dozens of star destroyers and hundreds of tie fighters collapsing towards the center of the sphere. He knew the Imperials would give chase but it was pointless, upon entering the other Galaxy, his hyperdrive would activate and his ship would disappear from their scopes.

Pushing the X-wing sub-light engines to the limit, the once moisture-farmer turned Rebel looked forward at the endless sea of stars. Instruments designed for ship-to-ship combat could not detect the wormhole, nor could eyes see it; but through the Force he could feel it. While the X-Wing sped onward at three-speed full throttle, Luke raised his hand slowly in front of him, his eyes closing in complete bliss. The fighter now piloted with his mind streaked onward, he soon 'saw' the horizon and that which lay beyond. The darkness was still there, the danger he sensed lurked in the shadows, yet he could see more. Fragmented images filled his mind, but instead of pushing harder and becoming frustrated, he relaxed. Yoda had been wise, and now he thought he could hear him, perhaps only in memory. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter...you must feel the Force around you... And so he accepted the fragments, accepted the chaotic images. He felt his father, felt his friends, felt the future, even if he could not see it. Yet.

"Father,"

"Son,"

"Join me, it is the only way."

And then the X-wing disappeared.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise - Constitution Class

Captain Kirk offered a soft smile to the yeoman delivering his second cup of freshly ground coffee before turning back to the viewer in his quarters,

"How's the Enterprise?" Asked Kirk taking a sip. Picard rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger, it seemed evident things were not going well.

"If i said exemplary, I would be exaggerating," Picard turned the screen to show his surroundings, "...my crew has been temporarily transferred to DS9 and Bajor as supplies and material are brought from Earth and other systems. The Enterprise is getting a complete retrofit at the station, teams are working day and night...she took significant damage. Captain Sisko was kind enough to give me the special Ambassador suite…" Picard trailed off in thought. "We lost just over fifty-thousand Starfleet officers in our engagement...families were onboard many of those ships."

"Yes, I read the report... a tragedy."

Picard continued rubbing his chin and looking off-screen in deep thought.

"The Klingons have been fighting both the Dominion and Cardassians, their losses, so I've been told are in the tens of millions. It could be argued the Dominion and Cardassians have lost just as many...and yet all our diplomatic missions fail to yield results-," Picard seemed to snap out of his daze and looked back towards the viewer, "Any luck with the Metron's?"

Kirk let the next sip of coffee sit in his mouth, What to say...what...to reveal…

"No. Besides providing us with an intact probe... they were... uninviting," Kirk then struggled with the rest of his sentence, he very much wanted to tell the whole story, but he couldn't, there was too much at stake. Was Picard a Dalek puppet? Was Picard a Founder?

"Unfortunate, and the Guardian?"

"Gone. It seems to have self-destructed." That lie hurt Kirk. He hated lying to a well respected Captain, especially one who cared so much for peace and human prosperity, but, the illusion of ignorance must be maintained...the true enemy is the Dalek...it cannot be tipped off…

"The Federation could certainly use some good news at this moment. I take it you watched the priority one message?"

Kirk barely heard the question, his mind was preoccupied with what lies and half-truths had to be maintained. Imperial control of the Dominion and Cardassian forces, as well as the Changelings real identities as Founders needed to be revealed, but how? Starfleet Intelligence is compromised...and the information from the intact probe certainly wouldn't support such a revelation in information...anyone can be a Changeling...even the President…

Kirk finally answered,

"War. It seems... Starfleet has sided with the Klingons, that we are waging war against both the Dominion and Cardassians..." the door hissed and Spock entered, hands clasped behind his back, waiting. "Sorry Jean-Luc I'll have to call you back," the line was cut and Kirk redirected his attention to his science officer. "Did we get word Spock?"

"Affirmative, the Metron's received the encrypted messages detailing your conversation with Kinnison, as well as our experience with the Guardian of Forever and Q."

"And?"

"I'll summarize their answers for you. They do not know whom you were in communication with, they do not know who the Creators are. They care not for trivial wars between the Empire and us, they will not assist. But."

"But?"

"They are going to find and destroy the Dalek." Kirk sat back a moment, his face full of expression, a thousand tons had been lifted off his shoulders.

"And what of our message to Starfleet regarding the Empire?"

"The Metrons insist we reveal nothing, the Dalek remains the top priority. The Metron's estimate that there is little chance of convincing the Cardassians or Dominion of the actual facts, but a high chance of alerting the Dalek's to our collaboration with the Metron's."

"That's how I see it as well. Nice work Spock, how are those Changeling sensors coming along?"

"We have installed them, using the specifications from Starfleet Intelligence. I believe they work as described, I see no reason, even if Starfleet Intelligence is compromised or controlled by a Dalek, which is unproven, that they would want Changelings running loose throughout the Federation. Sixty-seven percent of facilities, ships and outposts have installed similar systems. Although I do caution, depending on whom the Changelings have copied, that number could be significantly less."

"Agreed. We cannot take any chances...trust no one outside the ship."

"Captain, may I point out, that it is very possible other crews as well as Starfleet command have also come to the same conclusion you have. Information may not be accurately or readily moving through the Starfleet network."

"That cannot be helped right now. Once the Dalek is eliminated, we can turn our attention, collectively...towards the Empire. Only then can we reveal everything... Kinnison, if he is successful...can...hopefully stop the flow of ships...perhaps even their will to wage open war."

Spock exited and Captain Kirk turned his attention to a recently circulated log entry by Captain Benjamin Sisko, it read:

Captain Benjamin Sisko

Deep Space 9 - U.S.S. Defiant

Stardate 2743.2

Maiden voyage of Defiant has gone as expected, no major or minor problems to comment on, all systems operating as expected. My only regret is the reneging by the Romulan government on their agreement to provide a cloaking device.

We have just left the Klingon Home World, participated in intense discussions with Chancellor Gowron and his advisors on military efforts against the Cardassian and Dominion Alliance. It seems the Klingons have mobilized all major population centers spread across their territory. Old Birds of Prey, some as old as century are being brought back into service. I wasn't able to get a sense of their losses, but I told them it is critical we combine strategies and work as one military, with one strategy.

The Klingons are experimenting heavily with bio-engineering using an unknown powder which they stumbled upon a century ago. It seems they are artificially manipulating soldiers into what they call "super-warriors," shock troops which are dropped into trouble spots. I was informed it is the same technique that changed the Klingon physiology so drastically 80 years ago. I was able to observe these super-warriors up close. They are brutal, unhinged and totally without self-control. They are as far from Klingons, as Klingons are from us. Dr. Bashir did obtain samples of this powder and we are transporting it back to DS9 for study before joining up with the 8th fleet.

-Captain Sisko

Kirk switched off the screen and shook his head. He hated Klingons, he felt them to be utterly intolerable, but still...we need to join forces… Soon the Enterprise would be linking up with the 8th Fleet near the Cardassian border to flush out the area of enemy influence. Thirteen colonies had been attacked within the last week alone, the number of dead rising into the tens of thousands.

"Kirk to bridge, how long before we link-up with the 8th?"

Sulu responded promptly,

"Twenty-seven hours at present speed."

Kirk exited his quarters and purposefully made his way down the corridor, a half-scowl visible across his face. Before times of battle it was routine for a Captain to tour their ship. To talk to their crew and to see to it that all arrangements and preparations were coming along on schedule. Passing crew were given a nod or occasional pat on the shoulder, they had been tested many times, by many aliens and circumstance, they will not let me down. After several minutes, Kirk stopped at the entrance to 'John's' assigned quarters, the door chimed.

"Come in."

The door slid open but Kirk did not move, he was surprised to see the lights off.

"John?"

"In here."

A foul stench was in the air, a cool putrid dampness was inviting him in, pulling on his fingers, wrapping around him in a cold embrace.

"John? Are you ok?" He took a few steps, "John?" A whisper, perhaps a muttering of something terrible caught his attention. Then it was gone. Did I imagine that? Kirk turned towards the bedroom, his eyes narrowed, trying to focus on something, anything. Despite the silence, he continued onward, reaching slowly for his communicator on his waist. "Security, report to 'John's' quarters immediately." Then he saw something, it appeared to be a shadowy figure laying against the wall. "John. Respond." Kirk moved forward quickly,. "John?!" shouted the Captain as he knelt down to grab his comrade's leg. Kirk jumped as his hand touched the floor, the pant leg which he expected had vanished. Instantly Kirk rubbed his eyes, he was sure it had been there. It was there, I know it was….

"Jim..." Kirk's heart nearly exploded from the startling voice, he spun around to see 'John' laying against the other wall, his face and body shrouded in darkness.

"John! Are you ok?!" Kirk ran over, switching on a desk lamp and leaning down to attend to his friend.

"Captain," the marine sounded exhausted, "Cienna told me that we are headed into battle, that she thought we could get boarded."

"John…" then the Captain lost his words, he wasn't sure what to say. He knew how volatile and dangerous 'John' could become. He had read the report from Picard months ago on what had been observed in the training room on Earth. The risk was undeniable, ...but so are the rewards... After an awkward silence, Kirk slid down the wall and sat a few feet away from his companion. "John...we are a day away from perhaps the largest and costliest fleet engagement the Federation has ever known. Both in personnel and material. I want you to know, that i have the utmost confidence in you. There is a chance we could be boarded...from what we've seen with the Klingons...a chance that they will try and capture the ship, or someone on it. Me, you...Cien-" At the mention of her name, 'John' glanced up from the dark hell his mind occupied.

"She is defenseless."

"Not if we can help it. Not...if you can help it." Kirk drove his finger into the marine's arm. "I need to be on the bridge, I need you, to protect her. I need you, to protect my ship from anything that comes onboard." The door hissed open and two security men rushed in, phasers drawn. Kirk gave them the 'ok' and ordered them to retrieve some objects in storage. "Is it getting worse? McCoy says he's out of ideas…"

"Every day. Every week, they become stronger."

"I want to talk to them... I need to know what they want…"

John turned his head slowly, his dull expressionless eyes the window to his obliterated, consumed, and devoured soul.

"Captain, we know what they want, Cienna has told us, and they have spoken to me."

"Are they talking to you now?"

"Yes."

Kirk raised his chin, his eyes narrowing into lasers as he thought everything through, better John is on our side than theirs...

"This is Captain Kirk of the United Federation of Planets. Identify yourself." Nothing. The Captain moved closer, "Beings of Dunwich...beings of the Necronomicon...identify…" John's eyes flickered back and forth. Searching for something, not visible, but reacting to what he saw in his mind. Up to this point, mind-melds, hypnosis, meditation had all failed; but now there was something happening. John wasn't sure if THEY were reacting to what Kirk said, but he was seeing visions of a town, a dilapidated and forgotten place somewhere on 'John's' Earth hundreds of years ago. It was Dunwich, where so many centuries ago, creatures of indescribable ability were attempting to break into what you the reader would consider reality.

They had been close, their minions being stopped at the last moment. We can help you...we can bring you peace. Everlasting death. 'John' opened his eyes, and in the shadowy room, where the lamp seemed to shine dimmer and dimmer, where the walls squeezed inward, 'John' was starting to break. He wanted to die, he wanted the silence, an absolute peace appealed to him. How he wished for it, but he could not. THEY spoke again, What doesn't truly live, cannot truly die! In front of him he saw the Captain, but he was also seeing other worlds. Alien worlds of fantastic strangeness and dismay, where bodies, unrecognizable as humanoid lay slashed and torn. What 'John' was seeing was a time long ago, Universe's past, where THEY once ruled.

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again.Those words had been interpreted by the original author of the Necronomicon, but he was only a man; much like 'John' is only a man. Able to perceive but a tiny fraction of the truth, a morsel of the whole. Dunwich was only where THEIR activities were initiated by the faithful few. They were in fact attempting to cross into everywhere, in all places, specific words and spells being the key. Throughout the Necronomicon there are many descriptive words, some lost in translation from whatever language may have been initially used. "Long ago" in human terms is millions, perhaps billions of years. Less so for the original author of the ancient book; who is thought to have penned it tens of thousands of years ago. "Great distance" was measured in days on horseback or foot, but the same problem arises. What is the real meaning? What was the actual transcribed thoughts and whispers put into the book? No man can know. If written now, spacefaring races would use lightyears or galaxies; perhaps dimensions or universes by more advanced races.

How fantastically wrong, how unmeasurable naive. There are names that should not be written, but know the Nuclear Chaos, the Daemon-Sultan Azathoth lies at the center. How distance, time, energy, matter, dimension, and the infinite realities unknown to us can have a center is impossible for you or I to comprehend, but it is true. And how all existence can be a small portion of one entity, the All-In-One, Yog Sothoth is also indescribable, but equally and fantastically real.

After several minutes, 'John' spoke,

"Jim. They are gone now... I am sorry." Indeed they were, their voices fell silent and only rushing blood filled his ears. Kirk placed his hand on 'John's' leg and sighed. What in gods name are these things…how can we communicate with them... two security men entered the room, dropping a few heavy objects near the doorway before leaving.

"We brought this from Earth, we will issue you a phaser when the time comes." 'John's' eyes shifted from Kirk over to the armor, his armor. It was stained, damaged, abused. It had seen all the Doom that could be mustered, all the Doom that could be thrown at it, and still it survived. Black fluid, the remnants of his enemies stained the torso, cracks, dents and scratches covered the rest. "We didn't want to touch it...we didn't want to modify it, but...we could repair-"

"No. It is perfect."

"We noticed the protective eye covering is smashed on the right side of the helmet, it's... no longer airtight. There is a two-inch hole right on the eyepiece."

'John' closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall, his mind was no longer there, not truly. THEY were talking to him again, scratching, laughing, gnawing. Soon you will know, soon you will see his betrayal.

"Captain, the armor is perfect, leave it as it is."

Kirk patted 'John's' knee and walked towards the doorway, only to stop and look back.

"I want you to know, that Dr. McCoy is doing all he can for you, and that...we all want you to be at rest." I must keep this confidence, he is either with us, or against us...

'John' pulled his head off the wall and opened his eyes slowly. For an instant, for the quickest of moments, Kirk saw eyes staring back at him that were not human! Kirk blinked and shook his head, knowing deep down he had not imagined the fantastically strange or unexplainable hallucinations. He is as dangerous to us as he is to our enemies, we must keep him on our side. We cannot alienate him; we need to show him that he is part of us... part of humanity.

"Jim. No one will harm Cienna, I give you my word." Kirk did not reply, both men found themselves staring at each other knowingly. "The Daleks designed her entirely for me. Specifically for me. But. I am a monster. When this is all over, I will be gone, and she will continue, hopefully with someone worthy." Kirk had a solemn look on his face, he knew 'John' was right, he nodded and left.

Several minutes later Captain Kirk strolled into engineering as he had done a thousand times before. Humming and buzzing equipment mixed with many people talking and coordinating was reassuring. Moreover, while he was no engineer, it was his ship, his crew, his command; and so every decision or assigned duty ultimately fell on him.

"How's the work coming along?" He asked warmly to the trio of Scotty, Spock, and Cienna. They had been hard at work since leaving the forbidden planet of the Guardian of Forever. Trying to replicate the energy transmutation and repair operation that the Nomad probe had achieved years earlier. Nomad, for those who may not know the history of the Enterprise was a hyper-advanced probe which corrected deficiencies in the anti-matter input value to achieve a fifty-seven percent increase in power. The modification, while short-lived allowed for higher speed and weapons output. What the probe did was known, how it did it, remained a mystery.

Cienna lifted her eyes from the panel and for what seemed like an eternity, met Kirk's with dazzling brilliance. More than spectacular eyes, her beautiful hair sat pinned behind her head and silky smooth skin flowed like cream. Lost memories and knowledge had been fully restored, allowing for around the clock research to help recreate the modifications of the Nomad probe. All three-hundred of her impressive IQ poured into the project. If beauty is only skin deep, then what lay beneath shone spectacularly. Even years later, Spock and Scotty had been unable to replicate the exact science used to adjust the input values; the Nomad probe using a technique unknown to them. Now though, Cienna brought a whole new level of experience and acumen. Years of working with sophisticated Dalek technology began bridging the gap. New life breathed into a once impossible project.

Beneath the work desk Mr. Scott's legs could be seen and a muffled voice heard,

"Captain, we have isolated the proper frequencies, but the devil is in the details, the bloody thing just won't stabilize."

Kirk fixed his jaw, it was coming down to the wire and the pressure was rising. This is an essential project,

"We are only a day away from engaging the Cardassian and Dominion forces inside the demilitarized zone. We must. I repeat. We must have this power."

Spock nodded in agreement,

"If we cannot sustain the power, we will at least provide it temporarily, perhaps long enough for the engagement."

"The last time the Federation engaged the Dominion, their weapons cut right through the shields. From what I'm told, the fixes Starfleet sent out to the fleets will stop that...but... the Dominion might have new tricks."

Cienna had been keeping abreast of the strategic situation, her mind keenly interested in the tactical balances,

"How many ships do they think the Dominion and Cardassians have inside the demilitarized zone?"

There was a slight hesitation noticed by the trio, Kirk seemed to mull the answer, he didn't want to make it appear hopeless.

"I've been told to expect between three-hundred and fifty to four-hundred."

"FOUR-HUNDRED?" Cried Scotty as he scampered back to his feet. "We'll have this damn thing ready for you if it kills us."

"We will be outnumbered, the 8th should have about three-hundred and twenty ships. We must prevail. Keep at it, get some rest if you can." Kirk turned about and headed for the door. Only a day left before we engage the enemy. Just a day to tilt the odds in our favor. For the next several hours every department and crew team was checked and rechecked, the phaser crews given extra attention and instruction. The additional power that Kirk hoped to capture from the Nomad probe technique could not be converted into anti-matter warheads on photon-torpedoes. Instead, the extra energy could be channeled through the ship's phaser banks, shield grid and warp drive. Tired crew yawned and blinked themselves awake as the hours crawled onward. Minutes turned into hours and the decks and halls became more empty, shifts were ending and the last sleep they perhaps would ever take was upon them.

As the Captain approached his quarters he heard his dear friend Bones walking up behind him.

"Jim. I think you could use this," In the doctor's hand rested a bottle of Whiskey and two small glasses. "Been a devil of a day, and tomorrow, well tomorrow, who knows," he offered a full glass to the Captain and smiled.

Kirk grinned and accepted,

"Bones, have I ever told you that you are an excellent doctor with great bedside manner?" The two chuckled as they stopped at the doorway of the Captain's quarters, the door hissed open and Kirk gulped down his drink. McCoy held his glass to his lips and about to drink when his eyes caught something on the floor, a pair of black leather knee-high boots. They were laying on the ground near the entrance, not placed orderly like a guest, but rather flung off after a long day. Bones knew the boots right away, every man on the Enterprise knew those boots; they were Cienna's. Kirk noticed his friend's hesitation and looked back over his shoulder to see what had caught the doc's eye.

Bones reached over and pulled the empty glass from Kirk's hand and refilled it. An undeniably huge grin covered the doctor's face; he then passed Jim two full glasses.

"Jim, they say the biggest issue with living on a starship is loneliness, at least you are dealing with that."

Kirk smirked then broke out into a chuckle, a look of embarrassment on his face. He knew the jig was up,

"Bones I-"

"Doctor's orders." Bones winked and walked off down the hallway.

Milky Way - Galactic Rim - Imperial Fleet

Ragged may not be the best word to describe Grand Admiral Thrawn in this situation, but it will suffice. He had not slept in forty hours. His usually pristine uniform was hanging off him, his shirt only half-tucked into a wrinkled set of pants. The Rebels had broken through the Imperial blockade and now ran loose within the Milky Way, and he was none too pleased. This colossal military and intelligence failure was of such consequence, of such magnitude that Thrawn's entire campaign could be undone. If the Rebels were to reach a friendly race in the Alpha Quadrant and somehow convince them of the true nature of the threat, his almost year-long endeavor would be for not. Completely control was the primary mission, but the particular emphasis put on him by the Emperor towards the humans in the Alpha Quadrant was paramount.

How could they have found out!? How! How! How could they have known!? How did they create jammers for an entire fleet? These questions and more racked his brain. The fleet commander on the Imperial side of the wormhole had been arrested, then killed for incompetence. Piett and Thrawn's fleet now broken into a six-dozen; raced to various points in the galaxy to try and intercept the Rebels when they eventually came out of hyperspace. The galactic sensor-net would detect them, and once they did, the entire Imperial armada would descend on them like jackals.

Thrawn ran his exhausted fingers through his messy hair as he slammed his fist into the console. Kirk was another problem, thankfully an opportunity to capture him was approaching.

"Are the special commandos in position?" Thrawn planned to capture Kirk and determine what the Captain knew of the Imperial galaxy, then execute him. The other 'two' would also be captured and tortured for information, the 'two' being Cienna and 'John.' Boarding parties of Jem'Hadar were proving to be only half successful against the Klingons and so a modified strategy was created. An elite troop of Imperial Stormtrooper Commandos had been assigned to a Dominion Cruiser under the direct command of a seasoned Imperial Special Forces Commander.

"Yes sir, they are in position, the Federation 8th-Fleet is assembling, we expect to capture him in less than a day."

Thrawn dug his fingers into his temples, good...excellent...he's falling into our trap…

"Be sure that our detectable forces number less than four-hundred. The one-hundred Dominion cruisers hiding in the Yi Nebula will not be detected until it is too late," a smirk ran across the Grand Admiral's face, the first in several days. The trap was simple. Allow the Federation to believe their engagement would be on near equal footing, and then launch an attack on their flank with a hidden fleet inside a nearby nebula. Federation sensors were atrocious when it came to Nebula penetration, Thrawn was confident that the hidden fleet would remain so. "Open a secure channel to Commander Mortil onboard the Cruiser Hunaro." The Hunaro was the flagship of the hidden Nebula fleet, and temporary home of the elite Imperial Commandos.

"Open."

"Commander Mortil, this is Grand Admiral Thrawn." A blue hologram flickered to life, shifting erratically due to the extreme encryption now being used throughout the Imperial network. A scruffy looking Imperial officer bowed slightly and waited for instruction. "Tomorrow, when the Federation 8th Fleet engages Dominion and Cardassian forces inside the demilitarized zone, do not exit the Nebula until I give you the word. You are the best commandos in the galaxy, more than enough to overwhelm the few dozen security men on board the Enterprise. Kill everyone but the Captain and his two companions." The hologram flickered away and Thrawn sat in his chair, exhausted. He wanted to sleep, for the first time in his successful career he was feeling overwhelmed. The Rebels, Kirk, and those damn space pirates, who is helping those space pirates?

The stupendous amount of analysis droids and intelligence personnel working the pirate funding problem had all been reassigned to search for Rebel activity. What Thrawn had hoped to have been solved in less than a day, had continued to drag on for several weeks. No trace of money could be precisely tracked, no person of influence found. Changelings and Imperial operators assigned to the case had exhausted all leads. Captured and tortured barkeeps, outlaws and civilians knew little or nothing at all. It seemed, at least to Thrawn that no one pirate or person knew more than a slight fraction of what was going on. A drop of supplies or money was left here or there, only to be discovered it was transported away. Often the 'middle man' thought they were doing something completely different or were blackmailed themselves. All ends were dead ends, but that does not matter now…

Kirk's face shimmered on the monitor in front of Thrawn, stolen from a Starfleet records database. Tomorrow you are going to tell me all you know James T. Kirk, you will reveal everything, and then…

You will die.

Chapter Text

Enemy Within

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - DS9

Light pulsated down the face of Sloan as the turbolift descended into the lower promenade; his chiseled cheekbones painting dark shadows across his thin face. The man was now a puppet, a drone, a slave to his masters. Ever since the Dalek had implanted him with microscopic machines he was unknowingly fulfilling their plans. On the outside, Sloan was the same as he was before; stern, cold, meticulous, uncompassionate, and above all, loyal to Starfleet. The machines subtly altered his brain-waves, their influence indirect yet pervasive. What Sloan remembered of the Bakerfield incident was not real, just false memories implanted by the Dalek. He remembered perfectly the unexpected anti-matter leak which had destroyed the
Section 31 station just before his ship had arrived. Perfectly the daring rescue attempt to save his companions among the lifeboats, perfectly the unbelievable loss of opportunity with the destroyed 'changeling' that they had captured. These false memories were so real and granular that he was still upset with himself even now.

The turbolift shuddered to a halt and the door slid open, revealing the empty promenade ahead. The war and subsequent mining of the wormhole had closed all trade with the Gamma Quadrant, there was little need or incentive for merchants and entrepreneurs to stop at that station now. Quark's bar was mostly empty, every glass perfectly cleaned, every table perfectly washed and every holosuite fully charged and ready to go. Sloan walked through the double sliding doors of the establishment and paused at the entrance to survey the scene. No more than half a dozen off-duty officers were sitting about, some eating, some drinking, but none talking. The war weighed on everyone, the losses climbing too staggering levels, with each engagement bringing more destroyed ships and souls. Everyone had lost a relative, loved one or friend. Hearts were heavy and the outlook was grim.

"Quark I take it?" said Sloan, sliding over one of the barstools and resting his arms on the counter.

The Ferengi walked over casually and leaned forward as he had done a thousand times before,

"Director I believe? Director Sloan?"

The skull-like face was immediately evident to Quark, the Director's pronounced cheekbones pulsated as his snake eyes looked him over.

"So Quark, what do you know?"

"About?"

Sloan sat back, his interwoven fingers sliding back and forth as he studied the Ferengi's face, trying to decide how much this barkeep could be trusted.

"About things I need to know. Including, information about those colonists that had a few drinks in this place, after the battle out there," Sloan tilted his head towards the bulkhead where the Enterprise and fleet had engaged the Dominion for the first time a month ago.

"I can tell you that they hate Cardassians."

Sloan's eyes dulled as he heard the words,

"Everyone knows that,"

Quark chuckled and leaned back against the bar wall, a few bottles of expensive delicacy rattled under his weight. He wasn't sure what to think of this Sloan, Quark felt his conversations with the Colonists were entirely legitimate, all in pain, all suffering emotionally from the loss of their families.

"Aren't you the Director of Starfleet Intelligence? You should know this stuff."

"We know what our analysts-"

"Spies." Interjected Quark with a grin.

"...People can tell us. Did any of them mention help? Did any of them mention resources?"

"Nope, can't remember. Wasn't too many of them. The leader, maybe, at least someone who was a leader of those who survived was talking to Sisko and Picard. The ones down here, two or three at the most, were mostly quiet, nursing their...well I guess they were drinking away their problems. Nevermind them. I heard it was your department that Ferengi's the cloaked-self-replicating mines on this side of the wormhole. You know, you've killed my business. That's the real tragedy."

Sloan ignored the Ferengi's comments and continued with his questioning,

"Did they mention where they got their weapons? My team couldn't get here in time to inspect their ships."

"Too bad. That happened a while ago, what have you been doing this whole time?"

"It takes time to get here from Earth. They blocked Captain Sisko from boarding their ships as well, don't you find that odd?"

"No. Why would they want Starfleet looking at their stuff? Anyway, back to my problems, when are those mines going to come down?"

"When we win the war." Sloan pulled a small datapad from his pocket and started to dance along the keys. "I had a chance to review your license agreements with this station, all checkout. I also had a chance to review your license agreement on your venture in San Francisco."

"Great place, got it real cheap. My brother is running it for me."

"You don't find it strange that a pastry shop on Betazed moved to Starfleet headquarters?" This fact had never crossed Sloan's or anyone else's mind. Thousands of businesses moved across the quadrant all the time, a common occurrence. The question's origin and uneasiness was motivated by the micro-robots within the Director's brain. Unbeknownst to Starfleet or the broader Federation, the Dalek's maintained complete and unfettered access to all systems since the Bakerfield incident. Able to pour and sift through the sea of information, the genius level intellect of the Daleks began to see discrepancies in older data files. Kinnison had been ultra-careful during his time on Earth. Minds had been adjusted, wiped, reprogrammed. Computer systems had also been given careful consideration, with personnel records and status altered. All this was enough to fool humans or rudimentary security algorithms, but a Dalek was a cut above. Their incredible minds and Battle Computer had started to suspect something, or someone, or even a group of people that may be working covertly within the broader Federation. Threats to the Dalek master-plan were scrutinized hourly, and so far as they could tell there were two issues that their slave-Sloan could investigate. The Colonist weapons, and an unlikely, but possible saboteur activity operating within the Federation. The Imperial infiltration plan was long known, their easily decipherable transmissions cracked in seconds by the Dalek's. The Founders and Bounty Hunters were meaningless, spotted 'a mile away' by the super deduction and analysis of the 'pepperpots' operating at the center of the Galaxy. There were issues in all four quadrants that needed further attention, but with limited resources the Dalek's could only investigate in two ways, that by which of slaves and information analysis. This background information was unknown to Sloan, whose only impulse now was to figure out what was happening with the Colonists and to a lesser degree, the previous owner of Pastry Farm on Earth.

Quark scoffed at the absurdity of the question,

"No it's genius, do you know the profits I'm getting? Besides, I bid fair and square. And believe me, just saying I did it by the book makes me sick to my stomach."

"Did you ever meet the previous owner?"

"No, he got killed in a transporter accident. That's why I went through Kateborrows." Kateborrows is an organization that allows for the disbursement of assets and businesses if an owner was killed or passed away. Quark had jumped on the opportunity and bid heavily on the establishment. Behind the scenes, Kinnison had orchestrated the entire event. Adjusting minds and having computer records overwritten, 'Yalick' had died, managing to attract over three-hundred to his ceremony of passing. 'Yalick,' the man who never existed, a phony and fraud, was sorely missed. Created slowly with fake log entries by mind-controlled Starfleet personnel was a Lensman specialty. People were crying and swapping stories of when they used to play with him as a child. Others 'remembered' him when he was just a teenager, Yalick was always a dreamer…said one of his 'friends'. This was the same for the unfortunate death of Kinnison's other alter-ego, Lieutenant Commander Gulliver. People from across Earth had flooded to his service, showing unbelievable displays of compassion and loss. He had died a hero, stopping an assassination attempt by jumping in front of a phaser blast to save a Council Member. There was no link between the two 'people' but the Dalek's were masters of information. And as time passed they were detecting small, but unexplained lapses in security or even strange timings of certain events. The Dalek's were unconvinced, and so they continued their investigation.

"Alright Quark, I'll leave you alone, but, I'll make you a deal. You hear anything about the Colonists, you let me know. And if I find your information valuable, I'll transfer you ten bars of gold-pressed latinum."

Quark's face instantly went from suspicion to amazement,

"Ten! Bars!? Certified?"

"Certified by Starfleet." Quark rested his head against the drink-wall. He could use those bars, he wanted them badly. "Oh, and Quark. If you can manage to get me information, and not tell anyone about this conversation, I'll throw in another fifteen bars. And, believe me, I'll know if you tell anyone."

Sloan exited Quark's without another word, he was banking on the fact that while business had slowed, that smugglers and gun runners would still lean on their contacts to help fulfill transactions. One of which was Quark. This hopefully would lead him to the supplies of the weapons for the Federation Colonists in the demilitarized zone. If Starfleet could get their hands on some of these weapons…

The turbolift doors hissed open and Sloan was surprised to see Captain Picard standing within, a small nod was exchanged.

"Director." Said Picard,

"Jean-Luc," came the cold and distant reply. Sloan didn't particularly care for Picard, he considered him self-righteous, the stories of him undressing officers with lessons of morality were famous. Picard, at least in the mind of Sloan was unable to do what had to be done to keep the Federation on top. Section 31 and Picard had different views on the Prime Directive, no more so on the viewpoint of interference with lower lifeforms. Many lower forms had been taken advantage of by Section 31, manipulated to give up ores and precious minerals that Starfleet wanted. Whereas Picard held true to the Prime Directive, it was his moral compass, guiding his actions and sense or morality.

"Director Sloan, may I have a word?" asked Picard after seconds of cold-silence. The Director turned his head to acknowledge the Captain. "My first officer, Commander Data presented to me a rather novel theory on the Changelings."

"Oh?"

"He suggested that there must be other subversive elements within Starfleet and the Federation. Scanners are now installed on nearly all Federation outposts and ships, yet less than seventy percent are ever working during surprise audits. He feels they must be getting help of some sort."

Sloan turned back towards the front of the turbolift, with a less than impressive look on his face.

"We have already thought of that Picard, what do you take us for, idiots? We have a plan in place to take care of this."

"Can you share it?"

Sloan for a moment was going to dismiss the question, but as he thought about it more and more, he liked the idea of telling Picard face-to-face. He knew the Captain would be against it, knew it went against everything Picard stood for and believed. Now a small smile crept along his face,

"Sure. We will be assigning a telepath from Betazed to every ship, colony, and outpost within the Federation. They will be a second line of defense against intruders. Reading the minds of every person, every alien they come in contact with. Officers of Starfleet included. We will then weed out the saboteurs. So? What do you think."

PIcard said nothing, instead staring at Sloan with a look of disbelief and contempt. His rebuttal had to still honor the chain of command, but he felt this to be repugnant.

"You cannot just read the minds, en mass, of people whenever you want. Everyone is entitled to their privacy. No matter the Officer, no matter the person, people are not always in the best of moods. People are allowed to dissent, especially in their own heads."

"We are at war Jean-Luc. War. War against the Dominion, war against the Changelings, who are, probably working for the Dominion. These…" Sloan stretched his hand out into the air, "...damn probes. Who are also probably Dominion. We are being stretched to the limit. And, you're talking about privacy of the mind? When they are among us? Eating, sleeping...you get the point Captain?"

"And what will happen to these telepaths when the war is over? Will they still listen to our thoughts Director? What if someone decides they don't like the current administration at Starfleet Command. What then? We cannot lose our principles because we have met an obstacle. Nothing is more certain of an oppressive government, when the words, it is for your own protection, prefix an idea."

Sloan kept his icy eyes on Picard, both men were locked, neither flinching as the door opened.

"I've never liked you Picard,"

"I will accept that as a compliment, Director." Picard offered a warm smile and the two parted ways. Sloan kept his eye on Picard as the Captain rounded a corner on the far side of the promenade. What an idealist...not able to make the tough decisions necessary to win a war. Victory. At all costs.

Inside DS9's Sickbay, Doctor Bashir was busy analyzing the powder samples obtained from the Klingon Empire. Messily tossed about his desk were datapads and sample readings. In an isolation chamber just a few feet away, detailed subatomic scans and analysis were being completed. It was heavily shielded, with every precaution being taken. Bashir did not want this substance getting out. "Ok computer...scan sample A3, and composite a molecular map on my station." A soft hum and then a graphical picture of molecules floating in orbit around one another appeared on his screen. He sighed as he wiped down his face with an exhausted hand. "Computer, test sample A4."

"Not losing too much sleep I hope doctor." said Sloan from the doorway. Bashir barely looked up, he was indeed tired, overworked and stressed. Starfleet Medical, in conjunction with Starfleet Intelligence had asked him to analyze the strange samples and report back as soon as he could. After a week he was no closer to an answer than when he started.

"Director, as I said before, you will have a report when I have something to report. Have you asked Commander Data or Doctor Crusher on their findings?" With the Enterprise-D being repaired, both had dedicated their time to assist Bashir in his research.

"Oh?" Sloan gave off an exaggerated smile, his fake chipper mood caused the doctor to roll his eyes. "Yes I have. Data isn't sure and Crusher is more confused." His chipper smile faded as quickly as it came, back now was the skeleton face and serious demeanor. "Tell me now Doctor, what do you know. Their reports are inconclusive."

Bashir looked at him doubtingly,

"They share my conclusions, and I share theirs," looking down and back to his experiments. Sloan smiled and looked around at the dingy medical bay, it housed the necessary equipment for the task it was otherwise expected to perform, but things were changing. The director snapped his fingers and two men from the hallway came in swiftly, jointly carrying a case that they placed on the nearest medical table. Sloan flicked them away with a finger-motion and walked over to the newly arrived box.

Bashir furrowed his eyebrows and joined the director at the table.

"And what is this? Sloan pushed the button and the top opened, inside were three dozen live mice. Bashir looked at the mice and then back to Sloan, "testing on live animals has been banned for centuries."

Sloan almost laughed at the Doctor's absurd statement.

"Either you do the testing, or my team does the testing. Who do you think is going to be more humane to the mice?" Sloan read the doctor correctly as he continued, "So, what do you know so far."

Bashir sat back behind his desk and ran his fingers through his dark hair. It was all a mystery, a very strange mystery.

"Well...the Klingons found the derelict ship about a hundred years ago. They estimated the ship to be millions, perhaps billions of years old. Onboard they found vials of inert white powder. They ran some tests on it, but there was an accident. Some powder spilled onto one of the workers, and it caused some mutations over the next several weeks. Small mutations, but nothing too severe. The Klingons realized this powder was actually making the patient stronger and faster. So more were tested, and before long, thousands had been subjected to the testing. But it went too far, and family members started to get infected, and ridges began to form on some of their heads." Bashir sighed as he wrapped up the story for Sloan, "...so, that's how the Klingon's got their ridges, and why their look changed over the last century. Bio-experimentation and now it's in their gene pool. Aggression, intolerance...nothing good."

"Go on." Sloan was keenly interested, so too, were the microscopic robots in his brain. They recorded everything Sloan experienced, uploading to the Daleks whenever a secure connection could be established.

"Well, the Klingon's are not doing well against the Dominions and Cardassians, they are losing a lot of warriors. So they decided to start experimenting again, and, well. I saw the outcome."

"I read only Sisko's report, what did you see?"

"They had exposed two-hundred warriors to this powder, and within a few weeks they changed into...well. I mean they were still Klingon but some of them had horns, others had tusks, and well, I think I even saw one with four arms. They are trying to create super-warriors, but the results are not predictable. They launched this, I guess you could call it a pod of mutated warriors at a besieged outpost somewhere in the Klanos system. What I know, is the warriors released onto the planet helped lift the siege. Apparently a thousand Cardassian soldiers were captured alive."

"So, what is this powder Julian?"

"I wish I knew. It's not organic, it's just made of regular elements, nothing out of the ordinary. I'm sure we could replicate it if we wanted too, I have no idea how the powder is actually creating the effects I'm seeing."

"Maybe it isn't." Bashir had a confused look on his face, "Maybe the Klingons are using another method, and have just thrown you on a wild goose chase? That's why I want tests done on live samples. Believe me Julian, Starfleet Medical wants this done too-"

"For what reason? So you can turn it into a weapon?"

"No Doctor! Because if they ever turn this on the Federation, we want to know what it is. Sisko told me you saved the lives of seventeen-hundred men and women on board the ships that engaged the Dominion just outside this station. The dead and injured were lined up across the entire deck, even some down in the storage bays. Is that not correct Doctor?!" Bashir said nothing, but that was enough for Sloan. "...So then, imagine if all those injured and dying men and women, on top of their injuries from the battle, had a biological weapon attacking their bodies, how many could you have saved then?! None! Help us save lives!" Sloan spun around and exited sickbay in a tissy. Idiot doctor, does he not see? Does he not see the danger?! This outburst of passion was the genius of the Dalek puppet program. Intact was the passion, hatred, drive, or whatever else drove the subject-slave. The machines only giving vague but persistent direction, leaving everything else whole. There was no 'range' requirement either, unlike a Lensman who needed to be reasonably close, the machines were always present, always influencing the behavior.

Sloan sat down at his command terminal inside his quarters. It had been uniquely designed and set up for him, able to communicate with all branches of the Federation as well as clandestine teams and operatives scattered throughout the Alpha Quadrant. He slid his hand onto the biometric terminal for identification. There was a beep and the screens flickered on, his latest updates flashing before him. He considered each carefully before moving to the next.

-Report from A. Johnson, Romulus - Tal Shiar, Import / Export Clerk

[[Rumours of Dioplaxican being sent to Romulus are false, their intelligence agency the Tal Shiar is also mystified as to the rumors]]  If it's not going to Romulus, where the hell is it going?

-Report from G. Jeffries, Romulus - Senate, Senate Clerk

[[The Romulan Senate has just passed a Bill requiring the military to dismantle their old warbirds, the budget for the military seems to have been cut, fleet to be reduced by a 1/3rd]]  Why in the world would they do that? Don't they see what is going on? I need to speak to our diplomats about this.

-Report from S. Shelly, Romulus - Tal Shiar, Analyst

[[Most ship production is now carried out by various companies, with many shells and divisions, difficult to attribute raw material tonnage to production yields. I am still unable to get a clear picture of their ship building. A Changeling and foreign saboteur were killed by security inside a weapons testing facility in orbit, security has now been increased. Do not believe myself, Jeffries, Johnson have been discovered.]]

-Starfleet Security / Changeling scanners discovered to be inoperable during snap audit on Spacedock 01, U.S.S Huffington, U.S.S. Yorgi, U.S.S. Colton, U.S.S ShelbyJames, U.S.S. Ferroget, Starbase 18, Starbase 12.  As we suspected. Easy problem to fix with the Betazoids.

-Listening post 83 / Cardassian DeMilitarized Zone / Intercepted communication inside 'Zone', Attack on Cardassian Shipbuilding Facility 3 by Maquis or Colonists. Totally obliterated. Unverified.  Good. Keep those bastards off balance, we need all the help we can get

Another biomechanical scan locked the system and Sloan sat back, thinking. What had really happened was far more perverse than merely checking the latest intelligence updates. Upon scanning his hand into the identification reader, all the information stored in the micro-robots within his brain were being uploaded into an encrypted database. There they were downloaded by the Dalek's and analyzed scrupulously. If an 'update' to Sloan's behavior was necessary, an adjustment was sent and when the Director scanned in, the robots were updated and soon after his behavior adjusted. And like clockwork, after several more hours of report reading and briefings, Sloan 'suddenly' got an 'idea'. He now didn't like the reports coming out of Romulus. Seems...fishy... His embedded agents, who he trusted implicitly were telling him that the Romulan's were not importing Dioplaxican and that they were disarming and cutting their budget. Normally, this report would be accepted and set aside for later. With stretched resources and a war to contend with, he could set it aside for now. But that was his old thinking, that was the human reasoning process. Now, he didn't like it one bit, or to phrase it correctly, the Dalek's didn't like it, and so more agents were assigned. This mystery is going to be solved, what the hell are the Romulans doing? His newly found skepticism was helped along by the Dalek's knowledge of rogue traders making trips to and from Romulus, and strange occurrences throughout the galaxy on mining worlds and asteroids.

There was other business to attend to as well, the cloaked mines now placed in front of the DS9 wormhole were functioning perfectly. Manufactured by the engineers at Starfleet Intelligence and shipped from Earth and other outposts, they were a perfect fortification against incoming Dominion Fleets. The manufacturing facilities were deemed 'black sites' and only certain Starfleet Officers were aware of their existence, the mines being an unassailable defense keeping the Dominion fleets at bay. We have to keep that technology secret, no information can leak… Sloan's thoughts while genuine, were in fact, not entirely accurate. One particular site, Cherno 44, hidden in the mountains of Wyoming and staffed by Dalek slaves procured Xyit Compound 823. The essential and only ingredient of a functioning psychic super-weapon. The current synthesis was 12%, and when it reached 100%, it would be immediately turned against the Q.

Suddenly and spectacularly, the room exploded.

!BOOM!

Sloan was thrown clear of his desk, sailing over twenty feet and crashing through a plate-glass coffee table. Alarm klaxons sounded and emergency lights snapped on. Sloan's eardrums were blown, and blood gushed from his back and forehead. Smoke was everywhere, and in his disoriented state he could feel hands grabbing him, helping him to his feet. It was his security detail that had been stationed outside. He strained to hear them, fighting through the dizziness and ringing ears to make out what they were saying,

"Sir! We need to-" "Leave." "-explosion" "-emergency."

Sloan stumbled out of the doorway and fell against the bulkhead in the corridor. To his left and right he could see people screaming and scrambling in every direction. Security officers were rushing in, while others were being carried away.

"-move!". "...airlock 7"

The small security force surrounding the Director, pushed forward through the billowing smoke and mass confusion. Blood soaked his uniform, caused by glass shards stuck in his back and shoulder. Sloan's usually bright red uniform was now a tattered mess. The group pushed forward, clearing people out of the way in an attempt to move the Director to safety. It was hard to see, emergency lights were sparse, and the flickering, sparking corridors were filling with bodies. Many collapsed and gasped for air, their lungs overwhelmed by smoke, while others rested or dragged the wounded.

"Picard!" Shouted Sloan. He could see the captain rushing forward with Worf and Data in tow. "What is happening!?" The captain didn't break stride. Instead, he rushed past him into the fray, both officers right on his heels. "Wait!" snapped Sloan to his pushy security detail. He leaned against the wall, fighting to stay conscious from a loss of blood and a nasty concussion. The ringing was still present, but he strained to hear what was being said in the smoke. He couldn't tell who was speaking, just a jumble of conversations and frantic calls for help.

"Help! Help!"

"Has anyone seen Deanna?"

"Data, move that beam!"

"Deanna! Deanna!"

"Has anyone seen Counselor Troi!?"

A vibration from Sloan's encrypted communicator caught his attention and he looked down to see. It was Mcgreggor, his trusted confidant within Section 31.

"Sloan. Go."

"Sloan! Are you getting the updates?"

"We got hit. An...explosion." Sloan spit a glob of blood onto the floor, wiping the excess with the back of his hand. Now he was getting dozens of messages, Council Members, Admirals, and branch directors were all trying to contact him.

"You did? Well, there are attacks going on all over the place, someone just had their throat cut at Starfleet Academy. The Andorians have declared planetary martial law, they are shutting their borders."

Sloan switched to another incoming caller, it was Admiral Ross,

"Admiral, what the hell is going on?"

"Looks like a mass attack across Federation territory. All hell is breaking loose. A security detail on the U.S.S Colton just arrested an ensign after he stabbed one of the science officers, an explosion went off in the Vulcan capital...we'll need each other on this."

"Send that son of a bitch on the Colton to my security holding in Tokyo. I'm asking all Admirals and branch directors to send anyone they arrest to that facility." Sloan could question them there, and if needed, send them to a secret Section 31 facility for torture and other forms of enhanced interrogation. I'll rip their fingers off one by one to get the truth...or…ah...an even better idea...

"Director Sloan to Council Member Anora." Anora is the Council Member representing the planet Betazed, and he was hoping to call in a few favors.

Many long seconds passed before his communicator crackled to life.

"A little busy right now Director."

"Council Member, we are being attacked, I need telepaths to question-"

"You are being attacked!?" rage evident in her voice, "My people are being attacked Luther! All Betazoids are being recalled to our home planet. We can keep them safe there. Out."

Several Hours Later

"Is there anything else Captain?" asked Odo.

"No, thank you gentlemen," said Picard, offering a polite smile but dry smile. Odo and Dr. Bashir exited the dimly lit Ambassador Quarter's which served as Picard's temporary home. He was in no mood for lighting, or ambiance. A tragedy had struck the station. Deanna Troi was dead. With a heartfelt sigh, the Captain found himself looking out the spacious windows, the dim stars grew even fainter as he closed his eyes and relaxed. An explosion had ripped through her quarters just as the Counselor had settled down for dinner. In the hall, two dozen officers had been injured, as well as Director Sloan of Starfleet Intelligence who occupied the quarters next to hers. Within the Counselor's quarters the hull had ruptured during the blast, sucking Troi out into airless, deadly, space. Chief O'Brien had been able to transport her body directly to sickbay where Doctor Bashir and Crusher did all they could to stabilize her. Sadly even with all their experience nothing could be done. The concussive force had separated limbs from torso, the vacuum of space having little compounding effect.

Back on Earth all hell was breaking loose. Picard was getting updates by the minute covering the rest of the incidents throughout the Federation. Over fifteen-hundred attacks had been registered, but communication was slow from some outer Member Worlds and so the exact number would not be known for several days. Starship security teams had been given Alpha authority by Starfleet Command, allowing them to arrest anyone they deemed hostile to the Federation, up to and including Captains. The attacks without a doubt targeted telepaths. The majority had been blown up with improvised-explosive-devices, with a smaller number being shot, stabbed or bludgeoned. The Betazed Chamber of Rights and Freedoms had requested emergency protection for all remaining telepaths, with the goal of returning expatriates to their homeworld as soon as possible. No attacks had occurred on Betazed, with the prevailing theory that with so many telepaths, no treachery was possible.

The door chimed, and Commander Data was invited in.

"Captain, as you ordered, all Enterprise crew are reporting for duty. Repairs are 83.7% complete, we can depart on your order."

Picard motioned his first officer to take a seat across from him, but when the android sat down, there was silence. Data noticed that his Captain was just looking out the window, and decided based on his knowledge of human behavior, to say nothing.

"True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information."

Data's eyes darted back and forth, his neck twitched as he identified the quote,

"Prime MInister Winston Churchill. Is that how you feel now Captain?"

"We are in a conflict that stretches for hundreds of lightyears in all directions. The Klingon's, despite their bluster, are losing. We are losing." Picard was rubbing his chin, looking out at the twinkling stars, deep in thought. "Our ships are staffed with the lifeblood of the Federation, it's people and citizens, each serving and fighting for a cause. The Dominion fill their ships with Jem'Hadar fighters, an endless supply of clones. Clones can be replaced, our people, our wonderful resource cannot." Data was nodding along, the captain continuing, "The Cardassian's are like us, not precisely, but they do cherish life, especially their families and children. Maybe... that is the key Data. Maybe we need to try and split their alliance."

"Captain, I believe that is a wise course of action. However, the conflict occurred when the Cardassian's attacked a Klingon outpost."

"So it would seem."

Data offered a puzzled look,

"You do not believe that?"

"It is hard to know what to believe at this point. There is so much disinformation being spread, did the Cardassian's really attack the Klingon's? Or was that an excuse for the Klingon's to attack because they were upset with the colonists migrating into their territory? And Data, why would the Cardassian's launch an attack on the colonist worlds after they started a war with the Klingon's? To draw us in? To draw the Dominion in? Was it revenge for what they may have perceived as a colonist terrorist attack on their capital?" Picard was trying to piece it all together, but no puzzle can be completed without all the pieces being known.

The truth is, the Cardassian's had not started the war against the Klingon's. It had been a setup by the Founders, with planted Cardassian blood on the blades of the dead Klingon warriors. A small fire to set off the powder keg that Thrawn knew as the Klingon thirst for war. Likewise, the attack upon the Federation Colony Epilus inside the demilitarized zone was supposed payback for the capital bombing. All part of Thrawn's master plan, to force the Federation into conflict and eventual breakup.

Picard knew none of this, but his mind toyed with many ideas, the humanitarian within him was seething at the implications of an extended war. His diplomatic request to Starfleet Command had been granted, and so it was time to act.

"Data, listen to me carefully. The Enterprise will be departing to Cardassia, you will not be aboard her. Instead, you are to return to Earth, where a special initiative is to be commenced."

"Sir?"

"Starfleet is growing desperate, and so their initiative to tie you into the public and private networks is almost complete. This access will be unfettered, you will be able to access both private and public communication between all citizens of the Federation. They are confident this system will not fall into the wrong hands, and you are hereby ordered to Earth. From there you will scan all communication to try and determine the best course of action."

"Captain. They want me to scan private communication as well?"

Picard hesitated, then looked back at the stars. "Yes. That is what Starfleet Command wants."

"Does that include private diaries, journals, medical records-"

Picard interrupted Data, he did not like the ramifications. Down what avenues it would lead them was unknown. It was the same ideology that made him reject Sloan's telepath initiative. At what point do we turn into the enemy we so hope to defeat.

"Only you can judge what is morally or ethically justified to access. Use your best judgment."

Both men stood and shook hands. Picard knew the Federation was changing, morphing into something that they fought so hard against. He took a long, last, look out the window. Deanna and Will, two colleagues, two friends who were now gone. He then collected his things and headed towards the docking port where the Enterprise-D was attached. He knew he could change the war if the Cardassian's warmed his viewpoints, and he would have to use all his experience as a diplomat and Captain to do it.

Imperial Galaxy - Kuat Drive Yard

Hidden within the organized, sprawling network of industrial stations circling the planet Kuat lay a cancer. A potent and deadly actor who had blended himself with the five-million workers and inhabitants of the giant shipyard. The system of interconnected production facilities dwarfed the planet at its center, with all manner of vehicle and machine being produced. Kinnison lay awake in his bunk, he had been there 3 ½ weeks, his true identity safe, unknowable. Minds had been altered by the THOUSAND, paranoia and jealousy were now bubbling just below the surfaceit was nearly time.

Tomorrow, he would act.

Tomorrow, they would die.

For what is one to do against a Second Stage Lensman?

Chapter Text

Battle of Wits

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Cardassian Demilitarized Zone

Captain Kirk's eyes never closed, rested or otherwise shut to recoup is mental energy. In the corner of his eye he saw the time, 3:04am, but he thought little of missed sleep. In his mind flashed the soon to be waged battle, a decisive battle for the control of the Demilitarized Zone. They would be outnumbered. Yes, more ships could be brought in but that would leave flanks open, or entire system-clusters exposed. Somewhere, far beyond our Quadrant are the puppet masters, the Empire. Will they intervene? How much time do we need to waste fighting an unnecessary war? The Dalek...the real enemy must be faced sooner rather than later...perhaps by then it will be too late…

A sigh escaped his mouth while turning to face his companion. Cienna should have been asleep, but she was not. Laying silently on her pillow beside him, she stared into his eyes with faint light glistening off her pupils. How long she had been awake he did not know, a welcome surprise met with a soft smile.

"Cienna...why are you awake?" he murmured.

"For the same reason that you are awake James. Tomorrow is a big day."

Kirk reached out and touched her cheek gently, he still could not believe this incredible woman.

"Yes it is. We will need each other."

"I know...and, I am concerned. I studied intelligence reports of the Dominion fleet with Mr. Spock. The battle will commence near a class six nebula, we are still too far off, but I do not believe your sensors can penetrate it." The Captain stared distantly, working the problem over.

"It. Might. Be a trap."

Cienna ran her fingers through his hair and down his cheek. She did not want to overstep her bounds, but considering their now blossoming relationship, that line was ever shrinking.

"Maybe. The enemy fleet is not moving position. It's forcing Starfleet's hand by constantly sending smaller attack groups out and engaging colonist worlds. Admiral Ross made it clear, to attack the fleet and destroy it."

"Ross. Maybe he is a changeling. The Empire is maneuvering everyone on...both sides."

Cienna offered a soft smile, her effort to cover up genuine worry wasn't enough.

"Cienna. We are going to pull through. We have too. If we fall, then the Federation... the galaxy falls."

"I know, which is why, it's time for me to get up." She slid out of bed and turned on the desk lamp across the room. "Coffee, black." The food replicator hummed to life while she pulled out schematics for her new field-coil design. "I plan on delivering far more than the Nomad probe ever did."

"Is there a danger?"

"Only if I cannot." Each understood the other with nothing else said for some time. Kirk lay down on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. He worked through a series of plans in his head, we must survive this engagement. We must. The Metrons won't interfere with our petty wars...their only concern is the Dalek. If we do not survive to tell Starfleet of the Empire, after the Dalek is killed, then… the Federation still falls. We lose…

Another issue weighed heavily on the Captain, if only in the background, for now. 'John.' The monster, the friend, the ally, the enemy. A walking, talking... engine of destruction… and now Cienna. What a mistake I have made. My own weakness, my… own frailty.

Kirk rubbed his forehead slowly, he felt the stress mounting as the seconds ticked past. If he was to find out… how would he react?

"Cienna. What of John?"

She knew and felt the mistake, sitting in her throat, in her stomach and consciousness. 'John' and her had discussed this privately back on Earth over many lunches and dinners. He wished only for her to be happy and to someday find love. I have. But there is more to it than pure jealousy. The unknowable influence of the Old Ones within his mind. Cienna knew the book, knew they called to him, that their vision of events was not held at bay by a temporal disturbance. Only Yog-Sothoth keeps them at bay...

"James, we have made a grave mistake. Both of us, just not you, but I as well."

"Are you in danger?"

She shook her head, a deep sadness evident on her face.

"He will protect me until the last of his days. But I can never love him. He knows this, what worries me-"

"Is me." Kirk closed his eyes for the first time. My weakness, my own weakness...how foolish have I been? "The trap the Dalek's were to set for him in the inter-dimensional zone back on Phobos, tell me about it."

"Well, 'John' was to guide me through the zone, he being killed and rejuvenated again and again; like he always had. The Dalek's and the Old Ones were to rejuvenate me. A lifetime within a time-exclusive inter-dimension. Eventually 'John' would need to speak the words to give the Old Ones more power within him. Certain spells give them more and more influence until the final spell, and the unlocking of the gate. That was the Dalek plan. Spells only being useful if the speaker genuinely believes what he says. That is what safeguards all reality. And now only 'John' myself and the Dalek know of the Necronomicon, we are the last."

"Where is the gate? Is it something? Or nothing? Some sort of pocket dimension?"

"Not even the Dalek's know."

"I am...entrusting 'John' to help protect this ship. The Dominion always sends raiding parties, at least...they have in the past. As you know my security team is prepared and loyal... but if I need more…" he might be my only hope of protecting Cienna...

For the rest of the early morning Cienna worked on the schematics and Kirk studied Klingon fleet engagements relayed to Starfleet. He noted vast amounts of suicide attacks as well as boarding parties. We will need to keep our distance.

The time was now 10:40am and the turbolift doors snapped open allowing Kirk to march onto the bridge. His face was rock hard, he nodded to Spock before taking his seat.

"Ship-wide communication." The familiar hail filled the corridors, garnering everyone's attention. Crew stopped their tasks or discussions and waited. And for a few seconds there came no sound, just silence. Until,

"Attention crew. As you already know, our ship along with the 8th-Fleet will engage a joint Cardassian-Dominion force within the next fifteen minutes. This will be the largest fleet-battle Starfleet has ever participated in. I ask. That each of you performs his or her duty to their utmost ability. Your section heads have briefed you on possible boarding action. Every man and woman will be issued a phaser momentarily. Whether you went to the Academy for engineering, geology, astrophysics or medicine, we will need you to fight. It is okay to be afraid, to worry and be scared. Find strength in why you serve. Remember why you are fighting. Remember your loved ones, children and friends. We fight for all our freedom and prosperity… Captain out."

A solemn atmosphere now inhabited the Enterprise while minutes counted down, everyone felt ready to fight, clear as to their purpose aboard the ship and to a greater extent, humanity.

"We are now eight minutes from the 8th, sensors indicate both fleets are facing off, no weapons exchanged yet," reported Spock.

"Captain to engineering. Increase power."

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

Grand Admiral Thrawn's command room buzzed and pulsed with excitement and anticipation. Lieutenants ran in and out delivering up-to-date telemetry while analysts busily interpreted all surrounding probe information. Standing front and center was the Grand Admiral, his eyes glued to the holographic table. A small blip drew closer and closer to the two fleets.

"Enterprise now traveling at warp 8.5," reported Captain Needa. Thrawn said nothing, his eyes fixated on the blip. Over the last few days all manner of hell swept the Imperial ranks. No stone was left unturned, no lead not entertained. The operation to kill the Betazoids was crucial, and due to their diligent planning, a complete success. The few survivors banding together towards their homeworld, their final resting placesmirked Thrawn. Captured Changelings and Bounty Hunters of which there are few, will soon be rescued by Darth Maul in Tokyo, Earth.

But all was not rosy, Lord Vader had seen to the deployment of a thousand more Imperial ships to the Milky Way. The Rebel incursion had brought many Imperial deaths, one of which was Admiral Westin, commander of the blockade. Vader had force choked him during a holonet call from across the galaxy. Since then, Imperial planners continued to present counters to a possible confrontation with the Rebel navy. Ideas and strategies varied depending whom they were trying to appease, but the general consensus was thus. Only contact with the Federation or Bajorans posed a problem to the conquering of Earth. What initially seemed like a death blow to the Imperial campaign now seemed more likely a headache. Thrawn saw no reason why the Rebels would pick the Alpha Quadrant races, let alone the Federation, over any other, they may even engage us directly… even better.

"Sir, Enterprise is now angling five degrees upward, traveling at Warp 9.2,"

What? Thrawn stepped closer and leaned onto the holographic table. The blip was changing course ever slightly, moving upwards, the new telemetry line showing it to pass 'above' the two fleets.

"Grand Admiral, Enterprise now at Warp 10.8. At its present upward trajectory and speed it appears they'll be six billion kilometers above the battle."

"Bring up Constitution class." Detailed diagrams and capabilities stolen from Starfleet records flashed up. Thrawn looked it over, studying it. That's what I thought...it should not be able to do that...how? Grabbing the secure communications mic, the Grand Admiral spoke to the Founder commanding the 'known' fleet. "Founder. This is Thrawn. Break off Cruiser Veenorah, Tilu, Geerand, Joshow, Uuula, Miko, Reezzon, as well as Dreadnaught Uto, Linar and Bolson. Intercept the Enterprise. Have ships go to maximum warp. Do not let the Enterprise outflank you." The encrypted message delivered by way of probe droid took several seconds to reach its destination. To Thrawn's surprise, something other than an acknowledgment came back.

"It is just one ship, a hundred years old. We have a formidable fleet. Should we not just keep position?"

"Do as you are told!" Thrawn smashed the mic down and adjusted his collar. He did not want to allow Kirk any breathing room.

"Enterprise now at warp 12.3, continuing upward climb." Officers both senior and junior looked at each other in complete bafflement. How can this be? "Course adjustment detected. Standby."

The holographic display blipped and blooped, the Enterprise now far above the designated battlefield; the holographic display continuously shrinking to allow for an accurate distance representation. At eye level was the two globular fleet beacons, squared off and maneuvering to gain an advantage. Twenty feet above with a dotted line extending upward moved the Enterprise. Thrawn looked at it ominously, Kirk...what are you planning? The nine Dominion ships 'climbed' higher on an intercept course, only a few million kilometers from their target. More commands were issued to the Commanding Founder, and small adjustments here and there to the fleet formation, shield modulations, and other items.

"Enterprise now at warp 14. Grand Admiral, Enterprise is making its attack run!"

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - DeMilitarized Zone

Bridge plates vibrated and power whined as the Enterprise ripped through space at warp 14. Cienna's modifications to the warp output surpassed even her stringent expectations. Never before had the ship traveled so quickly, the stars no longer streaking but blurring and deforming.

"Mr. Sulu, execute." Another surge of power injected itself into the warp nacelles.

"Structural integrity approaching critical," shouted Spock over the deafening noise.

"Hold her together!" barked Kirk into his armrest, the message destined to Cienna and Scotty in engineering.

The intercepting ships coming upward from below found it impossible to adjust their trajectory fast enough to compensate for the ever-increasing speed of the 100-year-old Constitution. Undershooting their target by ten-million kilometers, they now floundered uselessly many billions of kilometers from the engagement zone. Sulu executed the predetermined sequence and the Enterprise slowly rotated onto her 'back.'

"Warp 15.5…..warp 16….warp 16.5…" Spock was reading out the climbing warp levels like one would call out the rising floors of an elevator. Now downward the Enterprise plunged towards the Dominion-Cardassian fleet. The ship elongating against the backdrop of twisted shapeless stars.

"Maximum power to phasers. Tie-in phaser control, the computer is to control attack. All decks prime. Spock. Countdown."

"Within phaser range in 10 seconds, 9...8...7….6….5….4…"

Now traveling at tremendous speed, the noise level of rushing power bombarded the bridge crew's ears and sense, every officer licked their lips and wiped their brow, this was it.

Captain Sisko commanding the U.S.S Defiant and lead ship for the 8th Fleet monitored the situation closely, all communication attempts with the Enterprise had been ignored. The knot in his stomach now the size of a tennis ball continued to grow. Captain Kirk had refused all contact, or any semblance of planning. Sisko and the rest of the fleet did not know what was going on, but somewhere, deep down in Sisko's subconscious, he cheered the Enterprise on. Captain Kirk was one of his childhood heroes and Sisko thought nothing more fitting than to follow him into battle. And so he waited for a signal, and perhaps more. Hope. Just as a small smirk crept onto the right side of his mouth, he got it.

The lead Dominion Dreadnaught exploded in a titanic blast. The modified ultra-powered phasers, a brainchild of Cienna, cut straight through the defensive shields of the enemy flagship. Somewhere in the galaxy Thrawn was reeling from the unexpected and unbelievable loss of his Command Founder. In unison the 8th Fleet lunged forward with slashing phasers and pulverizing torpedoes. Likewise, Cardassian and Dominion ships retaliated. In the opening exchange, two dozen starships on either side erupted into flame or exploded into expanding clouds of superheated gas.

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

Thrawn was nose to nose with Needa, his red eyes boring like lasers into the Captain's floundering face.

"Bring me the encrypted Vorta communicator. I will disguise our signal as a Founder's. Hurry!"

The Grand Admiral turned back towards the holographic display, his temper no longer suppressed by cold-confidence. He watched the Enterprise breakaway from the battle group and start its long arc. It's seemingly lengthy billion-kilometer turn gave little time for a counter-strategy at warp 17.3. On both the left and right of the holographic display were Dominion and Cardassian ship call signs flashing green or red depending on remaining shield strength.

"Grand Admiral, Enterprise has changed course, it's heading towards the Nebula."

Impossible, they cannot know…

"Raise Commander Mortil aboard the Dreadnaught Hunaro, encrypted frequency eleven."

"Open."

"Commander Mortil, this is Grand Admiral Thrawn. Under no circumstance is your hidden fleet to move. No matter what happens or you think is happening. Set shields to maximum power, run in silent mode until you are informed otherwise."

"Yes Grand Admiral," communication cut and the command room watched the Enterprise with stressed-anticipation. No one spoke or otherwise made a noise. Only constant blipping filled the echoey room.

Beep...

Beep...

Beep...

Beep...

"Detecting multiple salvos of photon torpedoes, he is targeting the Nebula."

Thrawn jammed down into the microphone

"Do not move. Do not respond!"

The Enterprise broke off and began a slow arc upwards, turning back towards the battle.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - DeMilitarized Zone

"Torpedo's detonating Captain,"

"Very good Mr. Chekov. Spock, anything?"

"No movement detected, no indication we struck an object. Sensors unable to penetrate the energized particles." Kirk gritted his teeth, he had hoped to ruffle some feathers but it seemed the Nebula was empty.

"Bring us back around Sulu."

Turning upward the Enterprise began its long journey back towards the engagement, all counter attacks upon it during the first 'run' had missed.

"Open communication to U.S.S. Defiant," seconds later Benjamin Sisko filled the viewer. "Captain Sisko, I'm sorry I couldn't communicate with you earlier, I could not risk the Dominion discovering our plan. Continue your attack, I will help where I can." On board the Defiant bridge, small flames flashed along the rear bulkhead and control surfaces.

"I'm glad to see you Captain Kirk, we are taking one hell of a-" a consol burst in the background, sending an ensign tumbling to the ground. "...beating. The Dominion and Cardassians are using sophisticated sphere formations, very organized. They are maneuvering in and out to help keep the damaged ships from our sights. We are taking heavy losses."

"Acknowledged, we will increase our attack, Kirk out."

From the vantage point of a lowly Cardassian Captain aboard his ship the situation felt chaotic. Caught between an ever-increasing comingling-quagmire of fleets and a shooting star picking them off one by one, the choice as to which to focus proved difficult. His command interface flashed with updating course adjustments, filtered down through Dominion ships but ultimately originating from the Super Star Destroyer Vigilant eighty-thousand light years away.

"What is the Enterprise course and speed?" asked Captain Ducet, his worried mind unable to focus on the task at hand.

"Current heading is 232 mark 4 at warp 17.3. Correction. 232 mark 2...232 mark 1...231 mark 9...231 mark 7...sir it's turning towards the fleet."

"On screen."

The viewscreen changed to a blurred star field sweeping past from left to right, the visual scanner fighting to keep the target in focus. The Enterprise was dead center, almost skimming along the surface of the streaking stars. Over the next stressful-seconds, she began banking inward towards the Cardassian vessel. Ducet closed his eyes, his second in command yammering out a hopeless order in a vain attempt to repel the coming attack.

"Set shields to frontal-" the viewer flashed a brilliant blue, the last image any Cardassian aboard the ship ever saw. The impossible-phaser sliced through shield and hull plating like a hot knife through butter. Striking the ship's reactor and continuing through into another, a dozen kilometers away.

Within the Enterprise engineering bay, Cienna kept screaming at Scotty to make endless adjustments to the field-coils, essential for their continued assault.

"Scotty, set all A and B Rods to invert levels, keep your eye on coil A13, it just broke loose."

"Oh for damn blazes!" Scotty shot up the ladder as quick as a whip and made the necessary adjustments. He was not upset in the slightest. He marveled at the orders Cienna issued, each and every command an absolute necessity. Never taking her eyes from the central control station, Cienna stood as master and commander of the project.

"Good Scotty, good. The slightest misstep and we go up like a supernova. Cienna to bridge."

"What is it Cienna?" asked the Captain, stress evident in his voice.

"Modified Nomad reroute systems are in full effect. We can run this all day, thanks to Mr. Scott," smiled Cienna towards the dripping wet Scotsman.

The Enterprise 'pulled up' from its attack run with enemy phaser and torpedo fire licking past. Spock started to notice a pattern within the enemy fleet, he saw their formations condensing, shrinking into smaller pockets.

"Enemy fleet is adjusting formation." Not immediately apparent to the Federation 8th were the precise and carefully crafted orders of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Across the Galaxy he had devised an 'on the spot' tactical strategy, one designed to address the super speed of the Enterprise. Now flashing upon the command boards of the Dominion and Cardassian ships ran new orders, new configurations, and quickly they began to implement them.

"It seems the enemy fleet is embedding themselves inside the Federation fleet, they are keeping our ships on the outside, we may not be able to target them accurately on our next run."

"Loss report Mr. Spock?"

"One-hundred and four, correction... one-hundred and five losses. The Saratoga broke in half just now. Enemy fleet has sustained similar losses. But remember Captain, they have more ships than we do."

"Open hailing frequencies to the entire battlefront, friend and foe." Uhura worked her controls and nodded to the Captain.

"Attention Dominion and Cardassian Fleet. This is Captain James T. Kirk of the United Starship Enterprise. Your losses. As well as our losses are climbing. Every second more and more are killed. To what end? Let us draw down our weapon systems and end this conflict."

Silence. After a deep sigh, Kirk relayed the last of his message,

"If you do not stop-"

"Attention Captain Kirk and the rest of the Federation fleet. For the crimes for which the Federation has committed, including the assassination of the Detapa Council, the arming of Colonists and the bioengineering of terror weapons for the Klingons; we find you guilty. There will be peace, but only in your destruction."

"Identify yourself?"

Silence. The voice unknown to Kirk was Thrawn's, sent from across the galaxy by way of probe droid and broadcast from Dominion ships. Another half-minute passed with no further communication.

"Coming around for another strafe, within phaser range in 10 seconds. Computer is indicating no target available," reported Sulu. Thrawn's tactic of burying the enemy fleet inside the globulous cluster of Starfleet's had worked. A new attack strategy now needed to be implemented, one that would play straight into Thrawn's hand.

"Sulu, prepare to cut warp, tie in all excess energy into phaser and shields. Ready. Set...cut now!" Kirk enthusiastically jumped from his chair as the viewer filled with hundreds of ships exchanging fire. "Form up with Group B, they are taking heavy damage. Set computer to fire continuously once we enter the inner sector. Take us in." The Enterprise dove into the fray, small and large pieces of debris bouncing harmlessly off its shields. Starfleet ships both large and small, damaged and destroyed raced past. The damage felt surreal, never before had so many lost their lives in such a short period of time, but death continued. Blue streams of phaser fire erupted outward from the phaser banks of the Enterprise, both Cardassian and Dominion ships exploding into candescent fireballs upon contact. No shield able to repel such concentrated energy existed in the stores of either race.

"Captain, nine Dominion attack ships forming up on our flank, recommend-"

WHAM! Every officer on the bridge lay flat on his or her back. All nine had successfully completed their kamikaze runs, exploding against the upper port shields of the Enterprise. Sparks flew and smoke filled the air,

"Damage report Mr. Spock?"

"Shields holding. Fighters appear to have been filled with high explosive warheads. Sensors now picking up subspace interference originating from many Dominion ships. I do not believe we can go to warp if needed. We cannot form a warp bubble in this interference."

Kirk mulled it all over, they don't have enough ships to sustain that level of kamikaze attack… our shields are too strong… unless… An alarm sensor rang out and ship-to-ship communication erupted. The trap sprung.

"Detecting eighty-five Dominion cruisers and fifteen Dominion Dreadnaughts exiting the Nebula. Approaching at warp 9.5, estimated time of arrival, four minutes."

Kirk's face went from concerned to outright worried, We fired into the Nebula… our attack invoked no response...if they had… we would have cut them to ribbons...

"I have underestimated the commander of their forces. I will not do that again." A giant jolt shook the bridge, this time a cruiser finished its suicide run.

"Shields at 77%. Dominion boarding parties reported throughout the fleet, sixteen ships unable to continue adequate combat activities. Jim. We are losing." Then to drive the point home, a desperate hail came from the U.S.S. Defiant. She was surrounded, her escorts having been destroyed. On the viewer Captain Sisko looked in bad shape, one eye closed the other bloodshot.

"Captain Kirk-" coughing and shielding his eyes from creeping flames. "-Win this war for us." The screen cut and in the distance a bright flash of white filled the visual spectrum, the Defiant's warp core making it painless. Captain Sisko was dead.

But there was no time for remorse or reflection. Two violent jolts shook the Enterprise bridge sending a young crewman rolling around in agony, a superheated conduit scorching his face. Kirk ran over and knelt down beside the screaming ensign, his face a mess of boils and pot marks.

"Medical team to the bridge!"

Despite the impressive power being generated from engineering, the endless battery of concentrated fire and kamikaze runs began taking its toll. Concussive blasts, toxic gas, and broken electrical lines represented real dangers to the crew. On the bridge Kirk's eyes could have cut diamond, his mind thinking, processing all the information.

"Spock, can you confirm the Metron's received all information. Do they know all that we know?"

"Affirmative." The bridge rocked again, the shield grid buckling under the stress of impact.

The needs of the many...

"Uhura, signal our fleet, they are to retreat as soon as the subspace interference is cut."

"Affirmative Captain, but... a message coming in from a Dominion dreadnought, they are asking for your personal surren-"

"Send this to the 8th Fleet. Prepare to withdraw, the Enterprise will destroy the subspace interference generators, go to warp on my signal. For those ships whose warp core is knocked out, lower your shields and you will be towed by an escort."

Spock left his post and approached the Captain's chair.

"If we are to target all ships in that fast an interval, our phaser coils will burn out."

"Bridge to phaser room. Set fire positions to maximum, we need rapid retargeting. Expect full phaser burnout. Evacuate control-room once complete." The crackly voice of an ensign came back, a few moments later they indicated ready.

"New enemy fleet will be here in one minute, detecting generators aboard their ships" reported Spock, now back at his science station.

"Mr. Sulu, target all ships housing the subspace generators, set computer to fire in rapid succession, target their reactors." Buttons bleeped and knobs throbbed bright colors, critical seconds ticked past, the window was closing. "Hurry Mr. Sulu...hurry."

"Enemy fleet will be here in thirty seconds…"

BOOM! A concussive blast ripped through the lower decks of the Enterprise, sending men and women flying in all directions. The fire-computer set on auto-targeting had been able to destroy six out of seven approaching attack ships, the last plunging headlong into the starboard side shield. The two-man fighters, explicitly set for suicide missions by Thrawn were all packed with thousands of pounds of high explosives. Designed specifically to destroy larger Starfleet capital ships, their task now refitted to suit the battle theater.

"Damage report?"

"Shields down, impossible to get them back, " shouted Spock over the clamoring alarms.

Kirk pushed between Chekov and Sulu, depressing the automated targeting sequence he had ordered.

"Fire!"

In quick succession, the full and unfettered power of Cienna's devices flowed through the phaser banks. Within four seconds, all subspace inhibitors and the alien crews assigned to each floated as component atoms among the rest of the battlescape. The remaining Starfleet ships detecting their opportunity and warping out immediately, some under their own power, others towed by way of tractor beam. For the Enterprise, it was too late. With all available energy fed into the phaser banks, Cienna was unable to channel it back into the warp drive before the new subspace inhibitors activated on the incoming Dominion ships. With phaser coils burnt out and photon torpedoes running low, they were trapped, but undeterred.

"Captain, enemy ships closing in,"

Kirk walked over to Spock and spoke softly, each murmuring back and forth, formulating a plan.

"...yet they haven't attacked us since our shields dropped…" noted Kirk.

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

Only air could be heard cycling through the nostrils of the piping-hot Grand Admiral, analysts and senior officers remained silent, waiting and watching. Thrawn stood in front of the holotable, his hands firmly clasped behind his back; there he stayed for another thirty seconds. His plan to isolate the Enterprise had worked, but the goal of obliterating the Federation 8th Fleet had not.

"Captain Needa, how many Federation ships escaped to warp?"

"Ahem…" the captain cleared his throat, "One hundred and one. We did manage to destroy two-hundred and-"

"Instruct B-Group to implement my boarding party plan. Remember, I want Kirk, Cienna, and the soldier alive. Have the boarding ships stay clear of the forward torpedo launcher, I suspect it is still functional. To ensure no more surprises have the Enterprise held by a minimum of six tractor beams on its aft quarter. Without shields, it will not be able to break the hold."

Thrawn now switched topographical maps to the surrounding sectors. He eyed it carefully, paying particular attention to distances and travel speeds. It was time for the final push.

Snapping his fingers, a young lieutenant came scurrying, standing front and center waiting for orders.

"Lieutenant, instruct mixed-fleet-four to move towards Betazed. All power systems to warp drive, run at maximum. Cut life support for non-critical Jem'Hadar if necessary. Remind the Vorta commander that I expect immediate planetary bombardment and then a kamikaze run along the major fault line leading to the Supervolcano Manuush. Dismissed." Turning his attention back to the immediate tactical situation, his eyes narrowed in on the sole remaining Starfleet blip. The Enterprise kept moving, firing, maneuvering, and careening recklessly through the thousands of kilometers of debris. This man does not quit…

"Enterprise launching another salvo of torpedoes… detonating along the upper shield of the Dreadnaught Hunaro. We are receiving a request to board from Commander Mortil."

"Tell him to send a wave of Jem'Hadar to test the waters. Once he feels confident, all one-hundred commandos, including himself are authorized to beam over."

In order for the Jem'Hadar to beam from their ships over to the Enterprise, two factors need to be fulfilled. One, the lowering of the Enterprise shields and subsequent lowering of the Jem'Hadar's. For a transporter beam to go from ship to ship or ship to planet, all shields must be down and the beam free to pass. Fortunate for the Jem'Hadar, the Enterprise shields had been battered down, and all that remained was the lowering of theirs.

"Jem'Hadar are commencing their raid, standby…" Thrawn eyed the communications man and then back to the holographic display. He watched as one of the Dominion cruisers following the Enterprise lowered its shield to transport, but as it did, disaster struck. The bridge and 40% of the hull in the command and control section exploded outward; the lifeless ship then banking uncontrollably into the port shield of another. Thrawn furrowed his brow, how… interesting…

"Instruct another cruiser to beam a team over, have Commander Mortil hold position until I give the all clear." Sure enough, a moment later another cruiser who lowered shields exploded from within.

Thrawn pressed a few controls and narrowed in on ship-to-ship readings, studying it intently.

"The boarding parties are making it aboard, it seems...our clever captain is beaming photon torpedoes onto the bridges of the ships that lower their shields to transport. Interesting." Impressive...

"Grand Admiral. We believe the Enterprise is trying to create a modified warp bubble. Detecting subspace distortion fields."

Beep…

Beep…

Beep…

Thrawn watched the Enterprise continue to fight, salvo after salvo of photon torpedoes smacked into the shields of the Dominion fleet. No return fire could be risked, without shields, even a glancing blow could detonate the warp core. We must Capture him...but we are running out of time.

"Grand Admiral, report coming in. They are having trouble getting a tractor beam lock on the Enterprise, it is moving in and out of the debris field, there is too much interference."

"Captain Needa, send word to Commander Mortil, tell him to prepare to transport, but only after the cruisers lower their shields. Now then. For the main course." A grin now spread across the Grand Admiral's face. You can only run for so long Captain, inevitably, you will fall to me.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - DeMilitarized Zone

"Kirk to torpedo room."

"Torpedo room here."

"You men keep that shop running, we've set computer to auto target and fire, keep those torpedoes loaded until you run out. Then, take up arms and defend engineering with the two teams already there."

"Acknowledged."

Cranks, pistons, blood, sweat, and tears drove the Enterprise Photon Torpedo room to maximum capacity. Crew ran their machines to the limit, as four torpedoes shot out of their tubes four more were loaded into place. Shudders, jolts, and all manner of distraction did not stop the endless cycling of firing gates and torpedo conveyors. Laying dead at the feet of the crewman were two dead Jem'Hadar fighters, both cut down by phaser fire a moment ago. The ship was on red alert and out in the hallway, screams of wounded personnel echoed throughout.

On the bridge, Kirk lunged out of his chair to deliver a judo chop to the neck of a just materialized intruder.

"Spock!" shouted Kirk from across the bridge, "Lockout main computer. Set standing order 44-" Two more Jem'Hadar beamed aboard the bridge. Two quick blasts, one from Kirk another from Sulu vaporized them instantly. But trouble brewed all over, security teams reported intruders searching room to room, others attacking critical junctions or facilities. "... Set standing order 4401, the computer is to continue to fire and evade, fire and evade. Even if we are all incapacitated. Encrypt the main computer."

"Torpedo room to bridge, we are all out, so are transporters. Reporting to engineering."

Sweat was pooling on the face of the Captain, his eyes hard as stone, looking, analyzing the situation. Three attackers had entered the bridge so far, but more are sure to come now that we stopped transporting...The hiss of the turbolift doors caught his attention, but it was too late. A blast from a Dominion rifle hit Chekov square in the back, death was instant. There was no time to check his health or to pull him to safety. Hand to hand combat broke-out, with red shirts and officers alike, punching, kicking, clawing and judo chopping anything and everything foreign and deadly. More and more came crashing onto the bridge, through jeffrey's tubes or transporter. Chaos and close-quarters combat stretched from bow to stern with no end in sight.

"Engineering..." spat Kirk, his shirt ripped and a droplet of blood in the crack of his mouth. He had just finished clobbering a Jem'Hadar fighter, the waves felt endless.

"Jim!" came Cienna's cry. In the background he heard phaser fire, yelling, and screaming. His already short breath instantly left him, his heart stopped, and a knot the size of a basketball appeared in his stomach and throat. "Jim, new soldiers are beaming aboard, we are holding them back but there is a lot. Some are wearing white armor and helmets. Watch it Scot-" her communicator cut.

"Cienna! Cienna do you copy?"

Silence.

Stormtroopers. Snatched by Kinnison from the minds of hundreds of Bounty Hunters and then shared with Kirk during their long and complete information transference; he knew this was serious. They must want…they have not fired on us since our shields dropped… the Empire must want something… or… Kirk's eyes widened, SOMEONE.

"Kirk to John."

Silence.

"John...come in."

Silence.

"John?…. John? Are you in engineering? Is Cienna safe? John!?" Kirk looked at each officer on the bridge, finally stopping at Chekov, dead on the floor. My ship, my crew… Cienna... we've got to win.

"Spock, hold the bridge. I'm heading to engineering. Lock computer and take defensive positions, set all function to auto. It seems they are sending stormtroopers."

"Captain, I must protest," Spock's bloody fingers, evidence of every officer's struggle, worked the controls, "...Internal sensors indicate the corridors are filled with dozens of Jem'Hadar fighters and even more Stormtroopers, it is illogical to-"

"You have your orders Mr. Spock." Both men staring at each other, a smile forming on the face of the captain, "Stay safe my friend," and with that he dashed into the turbolift.

Chapter Text

A Mole's Mole

Imperial Galaxy - Kuat Drive Yards

Stale smoke and dank fumes lofted like clouds within the dingy bar. Among the hundreds of establishments servicing the five-million workers and inhabitants of Kuat Drive Yards, this represented the worst. Generally avoided by the permanent workers, it attracted mainly traders and now bounty hunters ever since the Imperial campaign began rotating them in and out eight months ago.

Tal-Nuk-Toor moved slowly through the crowd, squeezing between patrons and tables, his eyes exuberating full intoxication. Toor tried blinking away the blurry images, resting for a moment against a table to right his balance. The Imperial Officer Forsooth sat at the bar a few dozen steps ahead, talking and laughing with some colleagues. A small belch escaped Toor's mouth before he shouted profanity into the air. Music cut and everyone turned slowly towards the drunken bounty hunter.

"You son..of ...a bitch! You bought her a drink! I know you did, I saw you. I…" Tal-Nuk-Toor was wobbling something fierce as he charged forward, bowling over a smaller patron not quick enough to get out of the way. The Imperial officer stood quickly and caught Toor's flimsy punch in mid-air.

Captain Forsooth yanked him closer and hissed into his face,

"Tal, for the last time, I did not buy her a drink. Piss off!" A hard shove sent Toor headfirst into a table leg; drinks came pouring down and broken glass littered the floor. Excellent. Good.

Kuat Drive Yard resembled an enormous spider web stretching for hundreds of kilometers in all directions. Nestled safely within the center lay planet Kuat, where most workers lived; traveling into orbit daily or weekly to report for their shifts or overtime work.

"I..Hate you! I...I…" Toor lost track of his thoughts and stumbled out into the walkway connecting to other parts of the humongous complex. "Wha- What are you looking at?" continued Toor to a few passersby. And now to make sure this gets caught on camera, a few more steps...perfect. Toor smashed through the doorway of another establishment and lay unconscious half under a table. Before long two stormtroopers dragged him through the corridors towards a detention cell. Best cell is B11, lots of camera coverage, noted Kinnison as he allowed the men to drag him along the ground. His body was thoroughly intoxicated, spending several hours drinking with some other 'hunter friends. A Lensman's mind operated independently from the physical brain, the alcohol having little to no effect on his 'real' thought process.

Between sports games, relaxation, prostitutes, drinking, eating and frequent visits to the firing range; no one suspected him of anything other than Tal-Nuk-Toor, infamous hired-gun. For thirty days Kinnison continued to blend in, and for those days the minds of the officers and security personnel in critical positions had been altered. A repercussion for such wide-scale adjustments would normally be found in the nine-thousand percent jump in medications related to paranoia symptoms. Unfortunately for the Empire, those records were destroyed by unaware nurses. Equally unfortunate was the low-dosage administered to fix such rampant symptoms, now at epidemic yet hidden proportions.

"Alright Toor you stupid drunk, sleep it off. You'll be out of here tomorrow, on your way to, well, god knows where..." said the detention center manager in passing. A moment later, Kinnison hit the ground hard, tossed like a sack of potatoes into the cold cell. Perfect. Now for a bit extra… The center manager turned to walk away but instead cursed himself, it seems the intoxicated Toor had wet himself and was soiling the surrounding cell. "Someone get a cleanup crew down here!" Stomping boots and curses cutoff when the door slammed shut. The cell block manager had it 'up to here' with his day. He swore up and down he had seen three strange occurrences over the last two weeks. In two cases, a cell bench moved on its own, the other was a case of mistaken identity. He had pulled his blaster on a guardsman who he thought had shifted into a vixen he was having an affair with. All were unreal, all had not happened. But thanks to the power of the Lensman, these 'life-like' memories, indistinguishable from 'real' created paranoia for thousands. Everyone's visions or conversations differed but a yet to be revealed station-wide constant existed in each; the Founders had infiltrated the Kuat Drive Yards.

Yesterday a new batch of bounty hunters arrived at the drive yards, and what Kinnison stole disturbed him greatly. The Imperial campaign to kill all the Betazoid's was swift, brutal and surprisingly thorough. Many 'hunters Kinnison probed had either personally set explosive charges, or shot and in some cases stabbed a telepath. Without the mind-reading of senior officers, Kinnison did not yet see the 'master' plan but many puzzle pieces rested on the board. Some bounty hunters have orders to eventually track down and kill Founders, a double cross, interesting… When? And how? Other strange occurrences circulated in the minds of the newly arrived. Kinnison could not yet identify a pattern, but in particular sectors of the Milky Way, there seemed, at least to him to be recruitment efforts. But who? Who is trying to recruit them? This did bother Kinnison a great deal, it reminded him of his nemesis from his original Universe. The pirate organization Boskone, a front name for a sophisticated multi-galactic campaign overseen by the Ploorians to destroy his civilization. But we won, we killed them. His mind sorted, categorized, analyzed, and dissected everything. A recruitment effort across the entire Milky Way? Who could organize something like that? Will have to look into this… when I have time.

Refocusing on his current task, he re-ran the strategy. Takeout the primary probe droid factory as well as significant industrial center, forcing the Empire to withdraw or suspend its campaign. Hopefully the belief that the Founders have infiltrated their ranks and are in league with the Rebels will exacerbate their position. The Rebels moving into the Milky Way was a pleasant surprise for the Lensman when he first learned of it. The information was not widespread, but rumors circulated among Imperial comrades. The sooner we can stop their push the sooner we can coordinate against the Dalek directly…

Laying in urine-soaked pants and a vomit drenched shirt, his mind prepped for the finale. Slow deliberate adjustments to mind and mechanisms had taken weeks. Stormtroopers continuously found their orders more drastic, more specific to anti-spy activities. Now outfitted with heavy gear and assigned to key locations across the station, they are to prove indispensable in spreading chaos. Engineers working with highly volatile power plant components erroneously installed the wrong mechanisms days ago. Many will have to die, but not all. Emergency Shutdown protocols had 'mysteriously' been re-written, all small cogs in an enormously complicated clock.

Alright Kinnison, you old space hound. Here. We. Go.

At the speed of thought, several images, misdirections, and oversights implanted themselves into the putty-like minds of officers and stormtroopers. The images, sounds, or otherwise, pushed the person over the edge; their minds having already been twisted and eased along. In Core Output Testing B23 a junior engineer shouted for help as a shape-shifting alien squirmed into the restricted assembly area. A few dozen kilometers away, another 'strange' sighting put everyone on alert. The sound of thunderous boots filled the extensive network of corridors and production facilities as thousands of stormtroopers rushed off to problem areas. Kinnison's sense of perception and telepathic power directed people and alien in real time, now then…

Many dozens of levels below the holding cell, a stormtrooper standing at his post activated a thermal detonator on his belt. Moving a few steps to his right he now stood between his squad mates and a cooling pipe for a gravity anchor, one of thirteen for the giant complex. No one's mind registered the beeping, only at the last second did a trooper frantically radio his commander,

"NC1088 in section 33! Shapeshift-" the line went dead. A blast, propagated by many secondary explosions ripped through hull and flesh alike. Red lights mixed with sirens whirled, and a general order to investigate flashed into the helmets and communicators of all available personnel. Not waiting for the Empire to catch its collective breath, Kinnison sent another telepathic signal, this time an officer in Command and Control.

"Shapeshifter! Shoot it!" Inside the control center everyone pulled their weapons and started blasting a junior officer. The riddled, helpless wight collapsed onto the floor, butchered. Across the sprawling complex every security station and guard watched the bulletins illuminate the screens.

Priority Alert! Priority Alert! Code 44!

-Six confirmed shapeshifters - B-Level 11

-Four confirmed shapeshifters - B-Level 12

-Rebel activity - B-Level 13,15,18

-Double-Agent caught in Control Room J3

-Stormtrooper Squad AA13, confirmed as shapeshifters - eliminate

All messages were real, as real as the station security chief's belief in the reports streaming into his office. Illusions, every last one of them, sent in by other staff who "positively" identified a shapeshifter or rebel spy. The double-agent and stormtrooper squad as well as dozens of other alerts and warnings all planted in the chief's head in real time. Panic swept through the station like a brush fire, the weeks of subtle manipulation paying dividends as each second passed. Men's mental fortitude snapped like toothpicks, blasting colleagues, workers, and officers alike. Thousands reached for their weapons and took up arms, with all form of hierarchy stamped out. Of the thousands 'touched' by Kinnison in weeks past, there were millions more untouched, but panic held no bias.

Deep within the recesses of gravity control, a three-man squad of troopers stood on guard. In their helmet earpiece all manner of hell was breaking loose. Hearing their commanders being shot and screaming for help as their teams turned on them supercharged their rampant paranoia to unmanageable levels. The latest news to filter down was the chief's death. Shot in the back by a subordinate whose last words before turning the blaster on himself was,

"-for what you did to my children."

The hearts of the three men raced a million miles an hour, their fingers fidgeting along their blasters. Backup supposedly was on the way, but now with the commotion they were unsure. After several minutes, Kinnison sent his command. One of the troopers turned on the others, then in a final act, pressed a thermal detonator on his belt. Flesh and metal shredded along with the supporting cooling system for a gravity generator. If any were you fail, a possible chain reaction could occur if not immediately contained. Alert's and commands immediately transmitted across the station to areas beyond Kinnison's range. But a tipping point had been reached, emergency crews including droids could no longer efficiently mobilize. Many linking supervisors or relay officers had been or would shortly be swept up in the frenzy. Over seventy reports of rebel behavior, or shape-shifting activity now flashed on Alert Screens.

Twisting shrieking metal deafened the eardrums of the few engineers able to respond to the broken cooling systems. The outer hull, weakened by the thermal detonator ripped open, pulling with it the twisting wreck that was once the cooling pump.

Now it's only a matter of time. Without the cooling system, the gravity generator allowing the Kuat Drive to distance itself from the planet could not function. Under normal circumstance, several engineering squads would repair the damage and power and other mechanisms would be rerouted to compensate. Now though, nothing could prevent its inevitable destruction.

Priority Alert! Priority Alert! Code 8!

-Evacuate Section 2 - detach sequence in 3 minutes

-Begin countdown

-2:59

-2:58

-2:57

All 84 sections of Kuat Drive Yard interconnected with others, allowing for shared power supply and atmosphere generation. The first phase in an emergency is to detach the problem area so it can be isolated and repaired. Now though, only fifty percent of the emergency procedures worked, others being overwritten or completely ignored in the spreading frenzy. Across the sector, dozens of Imperial and private ships pushed their engines to the limit, the emergency call from planet Kuat asking all willing and able ships to come and help.

Section 2 shuddered as the last of six docking clamps failed to uncouple.

"Send six teams down to that clamp, blow it if necessary." snapped a senior officer to a lowly lieutenant.

"We can't sir! Our last team got shot by a trooper squad, they are dug in, we don't understand-"

Suddenly a security guard rushed into the room howling like a madman.

"Rebel scum!"

BOOM! His vest covered in thermal detonators blasted the room into atoms. A newly automated directive now flashed on the monitor screens across the Kuat complex.

Abandon Ship! Abandon Ship!

Slowly but surely, Section 2 began pulling adjoined sections off-kilter. The planet's gravitational force once equalized by gravity generators now acted upon the station pieces at full strength. Kinnison predicted that without outside help, within three days the entire station would collapse into the planet's gravity well and explode on the surface. A useful analogy would be a tablecloth slowly sliding off the edge of a table. Most of the cloth covering the table is correctly balanced, anchored, and proportionally placed for best purpose. But the small piece of fabric dangling over the edge has upon it a secured rock, slowly pulling. And as more fabric slides off the table, so too does the acceleration of the problem.

Kinnison's cell door along with all the others snapped open within the holding block. Barely distinguishable screams echoed from the opposite side of the long corridor. Alright, here we go… Tal-Nuk-Toor slowly stirred, his drunken body flopping and sliding towards the exit. A blaster rang out and smoke billowed, have to time this just right. With a stagger Toor fell into the corridor, knocking over a random maintenance worker trying to escape.

"Help!" slurred Toor,

"Get the hell off me." A swift kick to the chin knocked Toor back, blood and spit running down his chin. "You better get to an escape pod buddy," the frantic maintenance worker scrambled to his feet and ran off down the smoke-filled corridor. On his hands and knees Toor spat a massive glob of blood into the grated flooring. Another strong shudder rattled the very bones of the Kuat Drive Yard, excellent. More boots clattered onto the walkway just behind him, perfect, just a bit closer. Just as a small squad of stormtroopers passed Toor reached up and grabbed one by the leg.

"Help!"

"It's a prisoner,"

"Could be a Rebel,"

"Or shapeshifter?" commented another. With precise mental control, the Lensman forced the squad leader to raise his blaster and fire a single shot into the shoulder of Toor. Kinnison fell face first into the grate while the squad rushed off.

The tremendous power of thought exhibited by a Lensman is more than enough to block all semblance of pain. Indeed it is true that Lensman did and can die, but never from pain alone. And while this extreme course of action may seem unnecessary, Kimball Kinnison is the master of sabotage and infiltration. Directly above the encounter hung a security camera, sending live footage to a central hub off-site. Perfect, caught right on camera, they'll never tie this back to Toor's actions.

Miles away, sparse engineers still able to coordinate, desperately tried to get a star destroyer underway. Mostly complete, it sat in a docking port without power or crew. Under the control of the Lensman the lead engineer wrongly sequenced the reactor startup. Misaligned injection values, set into their wrong places weeks ago, vaporized immediately. The resulting chain reaction measured in microseconds turned the star destroyer into an expanding nova. All conjoined sections quickly lost power, nothing and no one could stop the destruction of the manufacturing superstructure. Atmosphere leaked, power fluctuated and toxic gas and industrial chemicals spilled out. With the camera systems dead, and Kuat's ultimate fate established, it was time for Kinnison to leave. A small ocular implant allowed the Lensman to signal his secret ship Dauntless; idling silent and cloaked a few thousand kilometers away.

A final sweep of the station's fleeing inhabitants within range revealed nothing out of the ordinary. At the speed of thought his mind entered, searched and disconnected from theirs.

Good,

Good,

Excellent,

Good,

A small adjustment...perfect,

!BLOCKED!

What?! Kinnison's mind bounced off Major Kate McMallum, Commander of Engineering Station-AA23. He tried to enter her mind again and hit a wall. He knew the 'feeling' right away, a mechanical thought-screen. Impossible. That's impossible. No one has these...except... Boskone. The Major's assignment had been on the far side of the Kuat Drive Yards, beyond the range of the Lensman. What is she doing in a collapsing section? How can Boskone be here? It's impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. Through the power of perception, Kinnison continued to watch her run headlong for the emergency pods. Between her and the pods stood a small platoon of stormtroopers, shouting and arguing with one another as to what to do. Instantly the seven troopers raised their blasters and started shooting towards her. The Lensman now controlled all seven, but despite his expertise he was still limited to their armament. Bolts hissed and smacked into the surrounding durasteel, forcing Major Kate to dive behind cover.

"Shapeshifter! Shapeshifter!" shouted the troopers as they rushed forward. Kinnison needed to wound her in order to disconnect her thought-screen and enter her mind. Through the eyes of his lead trooper he saw the Major's hand come around the corner and then his mind-connection snapped off. He instantly realized what had happened, all seven stormtroopers had vaporized along with a huge section of wall and various droids and personnel. McMallum holstered her Delameter sidearm and continued onward. Only Boskone and the Galactic Patrol have that sidearm.

On the cold grated floor, Kinnison's mind raced, shocked would be an understatement. Boskone actively working in the shadows of two galaxies boggled his mind. They must have followed me, but who? The leaders are all dead... With a final ocular command, he materialized away just as his section broke apart and exploded. Safely aboard the Dauntless, he sat quiet as medic droids repaired his shoulder. C'mon Kinnison...THINK. How could this be possible… With a small portion of his mind, he tracked the escape pod McMallum occupied while the bulk of his mental processes concentrated on the past. Deep into all circumstances of his experience, reliving everything absorbed from the minds of the masses he had immersed himself in. From the earliest moments on Betazed to the last few minutes on Kuat. Stability. Yes, that's it. The Empire thinks it's breaking apart governments and worlds, but they are just the froth on the surface of a deep ocean.

Kinnison sat in his command chair and looked blankly out the large windows of his Dauntless ship. Bright flashes of blue, green, orange and yellow glowed and flickered in the distance. Kuat Drive Yard moved in slow motion, thousands of kilometers of infrastructure twisted and burst as tidal forces from the planet below slowly ripped it apart. Newly arrived ships tried in vain to help stabilize the doomed industrial center, but their tractor beams proved inadequate. As Kimball predicted, there was nothing that could be done to save the most critical, high yielding, irreplaceable station in the galaxy. Even with this tremendous accomplishment, no smile broke along Kinnison's face. Who is leading Boskone? It took decades to push them back, and we had an entire galaxy with Arisian's guiding us. Does the Dalek know? Do they know about the Dalek? Kimbal kicked the side of the console and stormed off into another room. He felt an inch tall, standing in a jungle and looking out and upward into the endless forest; wondering in what direction to travel. It took millions and billions of Lensman decades to unravel the echelons of their hierarchy. And now... I'm just one.

A beeping indicator broke his focus and he looked up at the control board. A mystery ship just entered the system and now traveled at high speed towards the stricken shipyard. No transponder identifier could be detected and so Kinnison watched it carefully. Bypassing the collapsing superstructure and ignoring hails to offer a helping hand, it moved cautiously through the expanding clouds of debris and settled in close to McMallum's probe. After a few seconds, the ship's shields dropped and then raised a moment later. Ah very sneaky, a transporter signal not detected by anything but the Dauntless, signaled that McMallum no longer occupied the escape pod. All technology procured from the Milky Way still remained top secret, only shared among engineers and crew directly involved in the campaign. Sadly for the security operators on the planet surface, watching in vain as their drive yard broke apart, they did not know the existence of a transporter or their identifying signals.

A second later, the mystery ship activated its hyperdrive and disappeared into the nether. The Dauntless followed, activating its own hyperdrive in hot pursuit. Kinnison sent his thoughts into the mystery ship, heavily modified...the pilot is a droid. For damn hell...she still has her screen up. Looking down at his display, Kinnison noticed their eventual destination,

Destination : Outland Transit Station.

ETA: 27 hours

Ah of course! So this is where they are recruiting the Bounty Hunter's, before the Empire even talks to them. Holy Krono. The Lensman wanted desperately to follow the rabbit hole as much as possible, but he knew he did not have the time. I can't spend a year chasing these guys... I need to get back and find the Dalek. And so for the next twenty-seven hours, Kinnison concentrated on his thoughts, strategies and actions. C'mon ya big idiot...THINK!

Imperial Galaxy - Secret Location - Rebel Base

"Watch it, watch it," cautioned Teemar while carefully instructing his minions to cart the rattling boxes into place. "...got this stuff from my inside man at Imperial Medical. Essentially it's like a Bacta tank for healing, except you take it through your nose. Very handy for undercover agents who are wounded."

"Yes, you mentioned this," commented Mothma, looking at the two dozen boxes now filling a corner of the room. The room, the very same Ro Laren sat in months ago and begged for help now seemed empty. There sat analysts of course, but not as many; the usual actors now deep within the Milky Way. What was left constituted the political 'arm' of the Rebel Alliance, and Princess Leia sought to capitalize on any advantage possibly gained.

"Can we get back to why you are here Teemar?"

The fat Romulan smiled and bowed slightly,

"Of course Princess. The Hutt's have asked me to come here to discuss an alliance."

"Why now Teemar?" asked General Dodonna. "They've never been interested in restoring the Republic. I would say, they enjoy criminal reign under Imperial rule."

Teemar nodded along with the General, listening and finishing the last stacking of boxes.

"This won't last forever, as the Empire pushes out into the Galaxy, into the outer rim, they will crack down on the criminal elements. And my employer wants to stay in business. The Hutt's figure that if there is a resurrection of the Republic, it will take decades to settle the political climate, giving them more...well, time." A fat smile spread across Teemar's pie face. He knew the Rebels were cautious isolationists, and of no surprise to him, untrusting. "To be honest, I don't care what the Hutt's do, I'm here cause I'm paid to be here, to deliver this stuff," the Romulan kicked a box and wiped the collecting beads of sweat off his brow.

"What is your idea?" Mothma felt particularly vulnerable at this point in time, she was accustomed to a sizeable navy. Now her Rebellion ran on a skeleton crew and despite Leia's reassurances, they were alone.

"The Metallurgical Guild on Nexus 7 is unhappy with the Empire. The Hutt's have friends within their ranks. I suggest to you, as I have suggested to Jabba that we join forces with them. Once we do, their new fleet will be at our disposal."

Mothma uncharacteristically laughed,

"They are capitalists supreme. Why would they join us? The Empire is supplying them with thousands of contracts and-"

"They have been building a secret fleet, one that can decapitate the Empire on Coruscant."

No one said a word, the air lay thick with distrust and deception. Mothma looked the fat alien up and down. What does he know? Does he know our fleet is gone? Equally, Teemar looked at the three Rebel leaders, his glistening eyes moving between them. He did know, informed by his 'true' superiors as to the developments within the galaxy. Teemar suspected his boss controlled Jabba and the rest of his gang, but he could not be sure. Finally, after a long pause Mothma continued,

"I see. Our fleet can do the same. Then what?"

"A new beginning Mothma. No more hiding in the shadows, here…" Teemar looked around, the command center reminding him of his old office within the asteroid in the Milky Way. "When the head of the snake is gone, factions will fight for their right to prosper, no more ruling government telling everyone what to do."

"That is not what we want at all. We want the restoration of the Republic, a democratic society."

"Yes I understand, but to make a change right now you need a powerful navy, larger than yours. The criminal elements I represent as well as the newly formed navy by the Guild on Nexus 7 provide this. We need you to organize your spies and concentrate on the newly designed Death Star. When will it be done? What industrial routes are their suppliers using? We know you have spies everywhere in the Galaxy, some dormant or deeply buried for decades."

"So what you're saying is you need access to our spy network," scoffed Dodonna. "Princess, Mon Mothma, I recommend we end this meeting immediately. We do not want to go down this route."

"You already have General. Do you think destroying the first Death Star was accomplished without loss? The millions of personnel you killed aboard her. The endless raids against Imperial factories and sabotage. If we do not obtain valuable information from your spies, neither attack is a sure-bet, and then we will be exposed and wiped out. This is the next step."

"No Teemar it is not. You suggest killing the Emperor which we of course support, but what you want as the next phase of this galaxy goes against what we believe in. If the Emperor were toppled, a new Republic must be formed immediately."

"But you have survived because you are strong, imagine what you will do when you can come out and really prosper?"

"We do not wish to rule Teemar, we want even those who cannot defend themselves to flourish."

"I came here to open dialogue between you and the Hutts. I can see that we are on different pages. What I tell you next is in good faith. We are planning a secret attack on the Death Star assembly hub. It will be different from your attack upon Kuat Drive Yards a few hours ago, but-"

"We had nothing to do with that."

"Oh I see." Pretending their answer was of no consequence, Teemar dismissed their statement with a wave of his hand; but nothing could be further from the truth. He had received an encrypted message to lower his thought-screen from his mysterious-superior only a moment before arriving at Rebel headquarters. The thoughts were as follows:

[[Kuat Drive Yards is in a death spiral, it will soon collapse into the planet. Multiple reports of shapeshifters and Rebel activity has been reported. I do not believe this to be the case, but I cannot prove it at this time. It seems illogical that they are both working together. Agent McMallum was unable to copy the superlaser assembly unit before the station broke-out in chaos. Keep your thought-screen on at all times, you could be in danger. Hatch Plan B. The Metallurgical Guild on Nexus 7 is still under our control.]]

"As I was saying, we are going to attack the Death Star assembly hub, you can choose to help if you wish. We cannot strike Coruscant without more information, that is for certain. Your information is invaluable."

"We will deliberate and get back to you," said Mothma firmly, her patience running low now that the Hutt's long-term objectives appeared drastically different from theirs.

"Very well, but I will say… some of your political sponsors and suppliers of credit and material may grow tired of your dithering when they see what we are about to accomplish. It would be a shame if you fell out of favor with them." With a leathery smile, Teemar heaved himself out of the control room and started his long walk back towards the hanger. Like Ro, he and his peons would be blindfolded to retain the secret location of the Rebel base. Once his massive bulk rounded a bend, a medical droid walked over to the stacked boxes and ran a scan. As before when the crates were first offloaded, there seemed to be no apparent danger. Deliberately and delicately the droid reached into a box and pulled out one of its many contents.

"A chrysalis, suspended in a liquid medium," it said matter of fact. In its hand was a vial with pink liquid within. "It is injected through the nasal cavity, presumably when injured."

"I don't want any of our agents using that stuff until we understand exactly what it is," said Leia picking one up and studying it. She did not trust Teemar one bit, but if we can use him to destroy the Death Star before its built…

"What are your thoughts General? Princess?" asked Mothma, reflecting on the conversation with the obese alien.

Not one to hold back his opinion, Dodonna wrestled two truths that he deemed existed at this moment.

"I don't trust him or the Hutt's, if we get caught up with them, it may push our supporters away. But. If he is to be believed, they are going to attack a major construction node for the Death Star… or a decapitation strike, or both. We may not get another chance at this. Ever."

"So what are you suggesting?" asked Mothma curiously,

"I think the Princess should talk to our supporters on Coruscant and the inner systems, see how quickly they can enact a new constitution."

"You mean. You want to go along with this plan?"

"If we don't we can be in a bad situation if the attacks work and we didn't help. And, if they do work, we better be ready for what's next. I see little choice," Dodonna faded off, he glanced at Leia whom he had known since she was a young girl. On her face read the slow realization that Dodonna was right. If the Hutt's succeed and we do not help… they may turn on us.

"I agree, we need to help. Let's start by talking to the Metallurgical Guild and find out exactly what they have been up too. If we can pull them away from the Hutt's with promises of hefty Republic contracts when this is all over… they might become loyal to us. I will leave in the morning."

Imperial Galaxy - Coruscant - Emperor's Chamber

Incandescent lightning bit and tore into the screaming and writhing Sector Admiral. Aides ducked for cover as the Emperor blasted the man across the room. Unfettered anger swelled again and another torrent of lightning zapped the last remaining life-force from the helpless officer. The smoking ruin of a man toppled to the ground and lay still. Smoke and the stench of burnt flesh filled the air, Incompetent fool!

Sector Admiral Nullus had been in charge of security for the Kuat Drive Yard and outlying systems. Yesterday when word broke that the industrial facility could not be saved, he had been summoned to the throne room. The Rebel's escaping into the Milky Way brought executions, and so too did this colossal disaster. To the Emperor, a seemingly simple campaign was quickly going sideways. The gargantuan loss of Kuat left the entire Imperial production operation in tatters.

"Nice light show." Palpatine turned his head and saw Q sitting on the far side of the room. As before he wore a traditional Jedi uniform, only now he also donned a set of dark sunglasses which he took off and polished with his sleeve. "That guy looks toasty." Palpatine said nothing, instead turning to his multiple screens and started reviewing the security hierarchy for his Death Star project. "You know, when I first asked if you wanted an opportunity to conquer an idiot galaxy I thought this would be over by now." Still Palpatine didn't respond. "Kill, maim, conquer, that's the sort of stuff your good at." A quick flash and Q now stood on the opposite side of the desk. "Do you have any idea what is going on your highness?"

Palpatine ignored him, instead walking to the window to gaze out of his tower. Endless buildings and structures created a maze-like pattern across the entire planet, windswept rain splattered against his window and lightning flashed in the distance. They could be everywhere… As he looked at each building through the blinding storm, he could not help but wonder where all this lead.

"We were to rule a galaxy and enslave a race of humans on Earth. Now we have been double-crossed by the Founders. I sense there's even more out there than you are telling me."

"Oh, there is far far more out there than I am telling you. But do not worry, as long as you complete your mission I will ensure your position is secure."

Slowly Palpatine turned towards Q, his aged face barely visible beneath the dark cloak.

"I am unconvinced," he muttered. "I see a great, many, things." Thunder boomed in the distance and the room illuminated with lightning crisscrossing the sky. The trillion inhabitants of Coruscant scampered below, any one of them could be a Founder...but… "I sense many threats. One's unlike any we have faced before. You told me this would be easy!" Lightning cracked outside to help emphasize the point.

"You want power Palpy? Go get it. It's waiting for you, take it, it's yours!" Q clasped the air with his hand and pointed outward into the storm.

The Emperor said nothing, he felt unsure of what the future held. Some visions presented a stellar outcome, with two galaxies under his sway. While others lead to emptiness, a future without form or substance.

"If you could only see what I see Q."

"I see everything,"

A small chuckle escaped the old man's lips,

"Of course you do Q, of course you do."

Imperial Galaxy - Kuat Drive Yard

Desperate attempts continued to try and save the disintegrating industrial complex, all manner of ship pulled and adjusted their tractor beams to try and stabilize the fragmented pieces. Some having already fallen to the surface, their multi-megaton impacts destroying cities and coastlines. Hundreds of thousands of lifeboats floated helplessly among the wreckage and emergency beacons lit up the command terminals like a Christmas tree. Despite the carnage, Vader stood stoically at the front window. He knew it was a hopeless endeavor to save the complex and with a last look he turned back towards the command deck. The Dark Lord knew where to go, and what to do. He could sense it.

"Captain, abandon the current mission. Prepare a boarding party and set course for Outland Transit Station."

"At once my lord."

Chapter Text

Beyond Words, Worlds, and Wonder

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Dalek Secret Base

Drip drip drip went the splattering blood of the mutated assembly of tendon, brain, and organ hanging from the twenty chains attached to the ceiling. Hooks dug into the globular revolting blob as it pulsated, shook, contracted, and expanded. Forty human heads, some still with eyes and tongues screamed and spasmed as their consciousness faltered under the tremendous mental strain. The blasphemous creature kept alive by tubes and electrodes strung together in a lattice-like structure.

"Rrrreeeeepppooorrrrtttttt."

A human-like slave hunched over a monitoring terminal sprang forward to share the good news

"Supreme Dalek, they have successfully entered the Dreamland."

"Exxxxcellent. Under what spell and word configuration?"

"We..we..we.. Master. We, we... do not know. We are not sure which triggered the dreaming cycle. But! I can say that half the brains survived and are now within the Dreamland."

The eyestock of the Supreme Dalek swiveled back to the disgusting tormented form. Their plan needed direct communication and timing to succeed, this breakthrough coming at a crucial time. A remote command sent by the Dalek triggered a question to the living brain glob, with the hopes of it being transmitted to the Old Ones.

-Riyuh Alma Teeykah-

Drip...

Drip...

Drip…

Measurable anticipation and stress filled the gloomy room, the humanoid slave knew it's life and this project was one and the same. Success or failure. Life or death.

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

The genius level brain of the Dalek continued to search for answers within the ancient text, the unknown language a tricky undertaking even for an intelligent and determined mutant pepper-pot.

"Upload spell on page seven-eighty-one, paragraph three. Remove the word 'Yee'."

A few moments later the slave uploaded a new pattern into the dreaming brains, the question asked a simple one. "Will you help?" At least that is what is believed the old words meant in their full translation.

-Teeyah Noshub Neegorath-

A roar sprang from the headed monstrosity without warning. The living mouths, brains and half-faces screaming in unison.

"Yes!"

But no windpipe or organ assembled now or that has ever lived on Earth or elsewhere could make such a grotesque noise. The Supreme Dalek moved back in surprise at the breakthrough communication. Scanners far superior to those found in the Alpha Quadrant penetrated the mass of flesh to determine how the noise had been created. The scan revealed nothing out of order, no hidden presence or entity.

"Mm..mm ma...master! We have done it!" The humanoid slave jumped for joy and ran around the front of the terminal. Its hands clasped together, with eyes as wide as saucers, twinkling in excitement. "Yes master! We will! We will help you."

The Supreme Dalek did not expect this and turned towards its terminal controlling slave.

"Eeeexxxxplain?" Genuine confusion filled the logic circuits and fleshy mind of the Supreme Dalek. What occurred now made no sense to it, and a general alert transmitted across the base. Why is the slave acting like this? Why is the slave answering for the Old Ones? This thought, loosely translated from computer and flesh unison for the sake of this story will have to suffice.

"Oh master! I can hear them in my ears, can...can you?"

The weapon stalk on the Dalek swiveled back and forth between the hanging sack and the humanoid slave. Now more pepper-pots glided into the room to witness the unfolding situation, all on alert and ready to kill.

"Identify."

"It's me master! It's me..." the slave turned towards the hanging blob, it's face now looking away from the assembling group.

"IDENTIFYYYYY!"

Terrified underlings vanished behind terminals and through corridors, scurrying quickly to put distance between themselves and the terrible room. Only one slave remained, the humanoid continued to blankly stare at the assortment of brain and heads.

"Old man Whately failed, but you won't, right master? I know you won't."

Within the biological and mechanical mind of the Supreme Dalek, it searched for a reference point. Slowly some semblance of rationale began to unfold,

"You speak of Whately and his son Wilbur, Dunwich Massachusetts, Earth. Referred to the Dunwich Horror in that history's timeline."

"Yes master. Yes that is it," now the slave moved towards the hanging-mess, it's arm outstretched to touch it.

"Your identity is confirrrrrrmmed. You are the Old Ones, we have been expecting-"

DO YOU WANT US TO BE? Screamed the hanging blob in unison. The slave reached up and touched one of the hanging heads, it's broken neck twisting and convulsing at the gesture.

"Are you the same beings that we contacted regarding the Time Lords?" a hint of doubt evident in the shrieking voice of the Dalek. The Necronomicon always vague and never specific caused fits to those trying to discern it. No 'real' truth lay within the thousand page assortment of spells and stories. Translated a dozen times and interpreted by those wanting to hear the calls of things beyond. Where logic and mathematics offers reasonable explanations, within the book no such concept exists.

"Oh master, yes, it's them, I know it's them." Reaching up, the humanoid grabbed hold of a neck and brain clump. Chains rattled under the new strain as the slave pulled itself upward, climbing onto the giant sack of flesh.

"RREEEEEmove yourself from the experiment!"

Mouths still functioning began taking chunks of flesh out of the slave, but no scream of pain escaped its mouth. Instead, the slave's eye were full of wonder and joy; wholly content and at peace with itself. A moment later, in a horrifying display of repugnant mutilation, the slave began eating flesh and tendon from the hanging sack of brain matter. The assembled group of Dalek's, incapable of dread looked on with bafflement and confusion. The station shook and alarms sounded as rumblings deep and mysterious propagated throughout. Finally, the half-eaten slave, still alive and communicating plunged the rest of its body into the hanging mess. An orgy of mouths and flesh ate, bit, and tore.

"Oh Master, I am here dreaming. Tell me your plans and I will share it."

The Supreme Dalek at this point could not correlate the strange turn of events, but saw no reason not to push its plan forward.

"When we open the Gate, they are to attack the Q inside the Continuum. As they were to have attacked the Time Lords on Gallifrey. If they carry out our orders, we will expand the Gate opening to other vistas."

THE CONTINUUM WILL BECOME US

"You are to deeeeeestrroyyy them!"

A pipe burst and steam hissed outward from the increased rumbling and shaking of the station. The half-eaten Slave began gibbering and jabbering, spouting into the air, lost among his own thoughts. A Dalek on the end of the semi-circle swiveled to it's right, believing for a moment a shadow stretched towards it. After a second of scanning, it reverted back to the ghastly experiment, determining the moving shadow was an optical illusion.

"When ouuuuurrr telepathic superweapon is ready the soldier muuuuussssttt cast the spell."

"Yes master he will. Oh… how delightful. I can… see, dreaming."

The assembled group of Dalek's were unsure of how precisely the slave remained alive but never the less conversation continued and plans matured. After an hour the mangled mash of heads and slave woke from their dreams and hung silently, chains rattling, blood dripping.

Making its way to the bridge the Supreme Dalek reviewed other areas of the operation. No longer the small and lightly equipment Bakerfield Facility, the new station massed ten times the space and equipment; all neatly tucked and hidden within the supermassive black hole's accretion disk. Weapons of every sort bristled on the exterior with sensor scans covering the entire Galaxy.

"Supreme Dalek! Detecting subspace disturbances near the Metron planet!" Shrieked an underling. The newly arrived information showed twenty-eight subspace fissures expanding outward from the Metron homeworld and into interstellar space. Probes of pure energy traveling just below the surface of this universe within subspace, only 'rising' to the surface to scan and then retreat to safety.

"Has our base or sites been detected?" asked the Supreme Dalek

"Neeegatttivveee" screeched another,

"Federation records indicate no such activity has ever been witnessed," said another.

"What they seek is unknown. We must prepare for a possible conflict. War demands sttttraaategyyy. I will align with the Battle Computer."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Demilitarized Zone

Smoke and small fires filled the corridors of the stricken Enterprise with all hands on every level fighting for their lives. Besides phasers, fierce hand-to-hand combat with knives and stabbing weapons came to bare throughout the ship.

Captain Kirk had not made it more than twenty feet from the turbolift when he found himself aligned with a group of red shirts clumped together. Pinned down by the endless blaster bolts smacking into the wall just ahead, they exchanged phaser fire with blaster fire, trying desperately to press any advantage they could garner.

"How long have you men been here?" asked the Captain, wincing from the shriek of metal being blasted apart just ahead.

"Sir, we can't move, but they can't either, we are just exchanging fire."

As each minute ticked past, stress and worry rose within Kirk. He desperately wanted to get to engineering, but every foot must be fought for and earned, and that would take time. Time we do not have.

"Alright men listen carefully. I am going to set this phaser on overload. When it explodes you rush forward. Understood?" In unison the men affirmed and Kirk keyed in the overload sequence, but before he pressed the last button he hesitated. John… Reaching for his communicator he flipped it open, a droplet of blood splashing against the speaker. Kirk's uniform could be described as tattered, and so too would all the others fighting aboard. Sweat, stains and blood-soaked their clothing, no one remained untouched in some shape or form. Still, they continued, frustrated, scared, but undeterred.

Kirk took a deep breath, preparing to scream into the communicator but caught himself at the last second. Every man huddled near and ably looked upon him with pain set eyes. Looking for hope, and a way out of this hell, chaos, and misery. Finally, Kirk opened his mouth, looking at each man in the eye, his heart heavy and soul hurting,

"John… we need you. Help us." he said softly.

The captain grabbed his phaser and finished the sequence, "stand ready." Everyone stiffened and readied their stance. Another blaster bolt smacked into the wall, causing the huddled men to jam closer together, the troopers were advancing. "Three… two… one... " Kirk tossed the phaser around the corner and plugged his ears. The deafening blast of bursting steel and bodies vibrated into each man's bones. But there was no time to wait, no time to rest. Instantly Kirk rushed around the corner, phaser firing and waving his men to follow. The tired and hurt men sprung forward, each with their phasers drawn, unloading everything they could into the smoking pile of bodies and debris.

"Go go go!" shouted Kirk continuing onward. Just ahead he saw a large hole in the floor leading to the deck below. It had been caused by the phaser overload and in the flickering light and smoke he saw more stormtroopers below. They were stunned and disorganized, the ceiling had collapsed onto them. "Down! Down!" shouted the captain, pointing into the hole. Without hesitation, he lunged through the gaping hole and pile-drived into the tightly grouped squad of troopers. Like rain, red shirts followed him into the fray, swinging wildly at anything and everything foreign and hostile. A scrum broke out within the mix of bodies and chard walls; chops, kicks, bites and flips pummeled the surprised commando squad. Three red shirts were gunned down and another injured as the melee continued without end, and as each critical second passed, Kirk fought harder and more desperate. We are running out of time, engineering can't hold them off forever...

But something festered and brewed deep and terrible only a few decks above,

A squad of elite Imperial Commandos rushed into the dark room, searching for their target. They found him. Kneeling in the darkness, entirely armored except for his helmet which sat beside him on the floor. 'John' faced the opposite wall, holding his head while seething words of anger and pain spewed out of his mouth.

"Leave me alone. Leave! Leave! Stop!"

Darkness partially obscured his body but enough could be seen to identify him. The elite commandos moved in cautiously, unsure if the soldier was talking to them or himself. A moment later the squad leader barked an order.

"Don't move!" With a small adjustment the trooper set his blaster to stun and fired square into 'John's' back. The marine flopped forward, his face hitting the bulkhead just ahead. A red blood mark slid down the wall following his collapsing body, his nose broken and twisted under the weight of the armor. Somewhere in the blurry incoherent darkness 'John' thought he heard laughing, wherever his mind currently resided, so too were the voices and laughter.

Within the helmet of the squad leader, Commander Mortil instructed the small squad to attach a transporter beacon to the prisoner and send him back to their command ship. A device no larger than a quarter was placed onto 'John's' armor and activated.

Nothing.

"Commander Mortil, the transporter isn't recognizing… something isn't right."

Teach them about pain! Teach them about suffering!

Each trooper jumped back at the stirring of 'John's' body, first his arm then leg started moving.

"Hit him again!" shouted the muffled voice. Another stun blast hit the marine but this time there was no effect. Slowly but surely he rose to his feet, his arms and legs trembling at first, then becoming steady and sure. Each trooper's mouth fell open with awe and dread, never in their service lives had they seen such an event. Still with his face looking away, the marine reached down slowly and picked up his helmet. With slow deliberate movement, 'John' pulled it down over his head and a crunch and hiss signaling its connection-lock.

Yessssss! Show them no mercy! Show them what is to come!

"Switch to-" the lead trooper looked down at his arm, and in complete bewilderment he felt something inside his armor, crawling along his skin, slithering, pulsating. "What the!" A squad mate turned sharply left and blasted a shadow, but nothing could prepare them for what came next. Suddenly 'John' whirled around and with a devastating punch, his fist exploded out the back of the lead trooper. Spine and lung broke and splattered, the two remaining troopers screamed, one from what he saw in front of him, the other from what he saw in his mind's eye, something was in there, unwholesome and terrible. He died instantly.

Just outside the door stood six more troopers, but before they could rush in to rescue their comrades, the wall erupted outward, blood and gore splattering in all directions. Of the three former trooper's nothing but slop and piles of dismembered clumps of matter remained. Grabbing a stray blaster, 'John' began firing in all directions, troopers fell like trees as their own blaster bolts hissed and sparked against his formidable armor. A pack of Jem'Hadar mixed within the Imperial ranks came around the corner to witness the bloodbath. The last of the troopers raised his hands to protect his face, but it was no use. 'John's' armored boot smashed right through the helmet, brain and fluid smearing in all directions.

"It's him!" shouted the lead Jem'Hadar. Before a single shot could be sent in his direction, 'John' sped forward. Wading through them like a bull elephant through small shrubs, the Dominion agents falling like all the rest. Bone, cartilage, spines and all manner of biological appendage ripped and torn. Whoever was lucky enough to be out of arms reach fell to well-placed blaster bolts to the face or neck.

While complete calamity unfolded, Commander Mortil of the Imperial Elite Commandos prepared his men for an encounter. Towards the end of the deck, near the turbolift was a blockade of twenty Imperial Commandos. Each man dressed in black armor and fashioning an upgraded and more powerful blaster. They stood ready.

Milky Way - Galactic Rim - Super Star Destroyer Ventilator

Thrawn could hear the spectacle unfolding on the giant screens behind him. Live-feed cameras, directly from the helmets of the Elite Commandos streamed into the command room. All level of officer busily gave instructions and up to date information on squad movement and expected resistance throughout the Enterprise decks. Right now their immediate attention focused on the missing squad of troopers sent to apprehend the soldier, but Thrawn's attention chose another priority, Kuat Drive Yards.

On his desk, strewn about in fits of frustration and anger lay the reports from the doomed industrial center. The Emperor had made it a priority to get him the information in the hopes of dissecting what it is they were dealing with. Thrawn's head rested in his clasped hands, he pressed hard into his temples concentrating on the problem. No more probes, no more Death Star hyperspace super laser. Significant delays in fleet production, Tie-Fighter production… extreme infiltration of Founder's within our ranks… and working with the Rebels? How?

"Captain Needa. Divert fifty-percent of our analytical droids and a thousand Analyst Officers to the reports and footage from Kuat. Imperial Intelligence is interviewing survivors, but that will take months and months. We do not have months, we have days."

"Yes Grand Admiral, is there any indication as to what happened?"

Thrawn pursed his lips and hesitated, what presented itself as evidence seemed so incredible he scarcely believed it. But in the absence of any other clues he needed to address it as fact.

"Captain Needa, it appears our friends the Founders have backstabbed us." Sputtering a reply, Thrawn saved him the mental gymnastics and continued. "They must have made their way from the Gamma Quadrant to Kuat within the Bounty Hunter ships."

"But Grand Admiral, those ships travel under escort from the wormhole to Kuat with no stops. Then when the Bounty Hunters disembark, they and their ships are scanned by Imperial Troops."

"I am aware Captain Needa. Nevertheless, many Founders were reported to be in the complex."

"I was unaware we had bio-scanners throughout the entire complex."

"We do not, it was not deemed necessary. The reports are internal sensors, cameras, and eyewitness accounts. Here…" Thrawn shuffled around his desk and handed Needa a datapad. "This is the security footage from the machine shop in section 18" Needa pressed play and watched the high-angled footage within the workshop. The crisp image showed an engineer working alone on some equipment. After a brief fast-forward the nameless engineer began shouting to an area off camera.

"Hello? … Anyone there? Any-" the engineer jumped and grabbed a pistol below his desk, "Guards!" An alarm sounded in the highly secure area, the engineer now pointing his pistol off-screen. "Do not move shapeshifter. I can see you!"

"We are everywhere! You cannot stop us all!" Came the shouted reply.

Soon after a squad of troops rushed in and started blasting. Needa almost jumped when the screen flashed white from the sudden explosion of thermal detonators around the waist of a stormtrooper.

"What in gods…" Needa passed the datapad back to Thrawn and blinked to clear his thoughts.

"As you can see Captain, we need people on this immediately. It is entirely possible we may lose control of the Dominion forces. We have run out of time. Send word to the Founder planet, do not give any indication of Kuat. Have all Dominion Gamma Quadrant forces assemble at the wormhole, all ships to be loaded with Jem'Hadar fighters. All Vorta administrators to be onboard as well."

"Grand Admiral, the minefield-"

"Exactly Captain Needa, the minefield will devastate the fleet, but hopefully not completely. Then we will move the remaining Forces towards Earth. The Dominion must lay siege to the human planet before the Rebels can reveal our motives, if ever they do, or can." Needa nodded along slowly, trying to connect all the dots. "Then when Earth is under siege and their population faces obliteration from orbital bombardment we will wipe them from the galaxy in a matter of minutes, the Founder's homeworld along with them."

"And the Founders who have already infiltrated our galaxy?"

"I am sure that Lord Vader and Lord Maul will hunt them down and wipe them out." Interrupting their conversation, a junior operator called for their attention across the room. Thrawn rushed over, closely followed by Captain Needa. On a crackling screen displayed the camera of Commander Mortril onboard the Enterprise. The audio and visual quality had deteriorated in the last minute and broken fragments could be heard coming over the speakers.

"-at anything that comes around that corner, do not-"

"-set to kill, switch to infrared."

"-move up."

The unsteady picture jostled as each trooper moved into position, nearly twenty in total now took-up position near the turbolift. Ahead the lights on the ceiling flickered and then switched off, something appeared to move in the darkness. The image snapped to infrared, but just the grayish outline of the corridor was visible. Eyes squinted and ears strained in the command room, even Thrawn's cold heart beat slightly faster than usual. A small four-man team moved forward under orders, inching their way along the wall. On-screen their bright white infrared images contrasted with the cold gray walls of the Enterprise. A few seconds longer and the small team disappeared around the corner, a crackled message from the lead trooper relayed what Mortil already knew.

"Sir, I… I'm not sure what happened. They are dead, torn apart."

"Copy, get back here, cover formation," ordered Mortil into his mic. His commands were just above a whisper, he did not want to give away their position. Again the infrared images showed the small squad heading back towards the main group when a throat-gurgling scream filled all the speakers of the command room. Thrawn's eyes darted from screen to screen, trying to determine what happened. Mortil's camera gyrated dizzyingly while pushing and pulling men in different directions. Pandemonium and utter horror struck the twenty-man squad, blaster fire rang out in all directions and men screamed like children,

"-came through the wall!"

A loud stomach-churning snap and a horrible gurgling filled Thrawn's ears. His face remained stoic but his heart and mind faltered slightly. What are they fighting…? Every helmet camera spun like a 'top,' some men switched back to normal view while others continued in infrared. Within a few seconds many started to push and claw their way to safety, nothing made any sense. Special commanders, assigned by Thrawn to overwatch the boarding action shouted and screamed orders into their microphones, but none were followed. Mortil's camera now back on regular viewing showed him blasting away at another elite trooper, Thrawn could not believe it. Then after a second he realized why, the trooper being shot was not alive, but being used as a shield. Just before Mortil's camera went black, a figure lunged forward, and in the dim light and flashing blaster bolts he saw 'John.'

"That's one of our three targets. We need to capture 'John' alive." Thrawn grabbed the nearest microphone and depressed the button. "This is Grand Admiral Th-"

"Help us! Help! Hel-" Sheer terror and panic filled their voices, no longer caring of command hierarchy, regulation, or respect. The squad no longer existed as a cohesive unit, now only scattered and scared men. Across the command deck a junior analyst who had been watching and advising one of the elite trooper's jumped out of his chair, his face a pale ghostly white. The act was so totally unexpected that every officer including Thrawn stood still, baffled. The young officer hesitated and then cleaned his ear out with a finger,

"Can anyone hear that?"

"Hear what Lieutenant?" asked his now aggravated superior. Thrawn's attention switched back and forth between the cameras and the seemingly strange behavior of a junior officer across the room. Small hairs and goosebumps, evidence of anxiety and creeping fear, rose on the arms and neck of the assembled command team. Guards rushed across the room and stood on either side of the delirious Lieutenant.

"Eeya, Shub-Niggurath!" His last words, resembling sounds more than discernible language hissed and frothed from the man's throat.

"Seize him." Thrawn pulled his own sidearm and pointed it at the deranged Lieutenant. "Bring him to the brig." No sooner had the pale-faced Lieutenant exited than the last of the twenty elite trooper cameras cut to black. Heart rate monitors, embedded within the armor all showed what Thrawn already suspected and in the recesses of his mind began to fear. They were dead, but how? How is that possible?

Milky Way - Demilitarized Zone - Enterprise

'John's' boot stomped down on the last living member of the sizeable elite unit he had just torn apart with blaster and fist.

The great deceiver moves towards her, hurry

'John' discarded a hand phaser, firing speed is too slow… Reaching down he pulled an automatic heavy blaster from a splattered and disfigured hand of a trooper. In all directions 'John' heard shouting and coordinating of Enterprise security personnel trying their best to repel the boarding party. He knew where he needed to go, and where Cienna waited. Walking to the turbolift and pressed the call button. Nothing. Power no longer flowed throughout the ship, sparse surges of backup stores were all that kept the air-supply and gravity in place. With a powerful jab of his hand, the armored glove pushed its way between the doors and 'John' slid them aside. Looking down into the dark shaft his mind raced with images and sounds of beings he barely conceived, but they existed there, within his mind and soul. Cienna, I am coming.

Two decks below a team of Jem'Hadar and elite troopers were successfully pushing a security detail back into a dead end. Redshirts, Imperials, and Jem'Hadar littered the floor, but everyone fought undeterred and unyielding. As the Imperial forces pushed forward an urgent broadcast came through their headsets; Mortil and his squat were dead. Footfalls as heavy as Clydesdale trampled towards them. The Imperial squad turned-about to see a charging armored figure rushing straight at them; automatic blaster fire spewed outward. Fist-sized chunks exploded out of the enemy forces; one unfortunate trooper found himself holding his intestine as it blew out his side.

"Shoot him! Fire! Fire! Fire!" screamed the muffled voice of the squad leader.

Blaster bolts and Dominion rifle-pulses sizzled and sparked across the marine's armor as he came at them like a freight train. As he barreled forward, the enemy group peddled backward into a tight corner, now caught between Federation security forces and Doom-incarnate speeding toward them at breakneck speed. On the opposite side of the firefight, Starfleet security and assembled geologists and mechanics sensed opportunity and broke out of their cordoned area, rushing forward with phasers firing.

The frantic squad of Imperial troops now resembled a pile of broken bodies and helpless amputees, with the remaining troops hunkered down in a tight corner. A few more seconds and 'John' would be right on top of them, their time was up. As the last remaining trooper took a blaster bolt to the midsection, he pulled his thermal detonator. 'John' in the corner of his eye saw the incoming Starfleet troops, the same men and women he befriended on his lengthy stay aboard the Enterprise.

"Get back!" he shouted. A final and lucky blaster bolt rang off in a last ditch effort to kill the abominable armored hulk. Leaping into the air he collided head first with the dying trooper before he could toss the grenade, the poor man's body bursting like an engorged bladder.

Hissing-searing pain erupted in the frenzied mind of 'John', the lucky penetrating shot incinerating his left lung. No sooner did his body smash the trooper than a concussive blast ripped through the corridor, men and armor splintering in all directions. Coughing fits overtook the surviving Starfleet officers, who thanks to 'John' escaped disaster. They waffled the smoke and fumes away from their faces, looking for their friend and savior. And somewhere, someplace, 'John's' mind continued.

Give us the power to heal you, give us the ability to help you. We are part of you, let us free

"Never!" No words sounded, and his eyes did not see. Somewhere, far out beyond strange space existed 'John's' tortured consciousness. Lost in darkness, dreaming and undying. 'John' felt a cold embrace, it oozed and slithered into his 'being', whatever part of him remained now felt THEM

Let us help her,

"Wha? - How…?"

Let us through

"I will never, ever, let you through."

See her future now, see her past

Overwhelming his distorted senses, 'John' witnessed Cienna in engineering. Kirk knelt beside her, holding a bloodied hand. From her mouth spewed globs of blood, a gaping hole in her chest from an Imperial blaster stained her beautiful white dress.

"No! No! You monsters!"

Let us in, let us help her

Now the images adjusted, no longer in the present or the future but her stood beside a mechanical creature that 'John' instantly recognized as a Dalek from the debriefings he held with Cienna and Kirk. On a viewscreen a battle was taking place deep inside a bunker, blistering exchanges of weapons fire flashed while the Dalek issued orders. 'John' saw himself fighting, clawing and scraping his way through the hordes of ungodly abominations that he faced for an endless amount of years. Now the perception changed and all 'John' could see was Cienna's face looking at the screen. Then he saw it, a tear trickling down her face. Despite her numerous liquidations, rebirths, and mindwipes, somewhere deep down she felt pity and remorse. This he already knew, but someway, somehow, in the voidless space where only a dream can dream, he felt her pain. Guilt heavy and burdensome weight rested on her shoulders, she did not want to fulfill the mission, she hated it, hated the Dalek and herself. He didn't want her to die on the cold floor in Engineering, did not want her to perish thinking he let her down.

"I... will only release the first key…can you save her?"

You can save her they hissed, the lapping frothing nothingness danced with excitement.

"What if I can't?"

You will, we have seen it. You have done it already, we exist at all times, in all places. We are, we were, we shall ever be

'John' continued to exist and float in absolute stillness, anger brooding deep and scornful began to billow up. He wanted to hurt the Imperial forces, to teach them all a lesson. How dare they challenge us, how dare they try and kill us. His mind then switched to Kirk and his concentration broke, tormented as to what to do. He is a good man, a hero...

The Deceiver

"Yes... yes… he took her from me."

Her last image will be him

"No! Never! Yee-nah ulgulah nehhyelah elmesiq, Yog-Sothoth!"

'John's' eyes snapped open, he lay on his back with a small team of Starfleet officers standing a few feet away. Despite deafening ringing in his ears he caught the tail end of their conversation.

"-he's gone, the thermal detonator exploded right beside-"

"Look!" shouted one of the ensigns. All at once the red shirts turned their heads, one fainted, another screamed.

Clanking, crunching, slurping, crinkling, best described the sight unfolding before them; their armored friend was RECOMBINING. Knots of muscle twisted and stretched, brain matter splattered outside the helmet slopped back into place, armor performed elemental fusion impossible to known science.

Our hands are at their throats

"J.. John? How? My god…" a poor ensigns words faltered. 'John' rose to his feet and inspected his hand, flexing and turning it slowly. Another ensign ran up and passed 'John' his phaser rifle,

"Go get 'em"

Across the deck the Captain dropped the last Jem'Hadar fighter within striking distance, a judo-chop doing the trick. Kirk's shirt remained a tattered mess, blood streamed out of his nostrils and sweat and dirt clogged his pores. Looking around he counted six dead Jem'Hadar and two white stormtroopers and three black. He did not know the difference between the colors, but at this point he did not care. The small squad of officers he linked up with, held their positions to his rear; there remained one last corner before reaching transporter room three. Slowly, step by step he approached the blind turn, his phaser rifle raised and trigger finger steady.

Before he could reach the corner, the entire ship violently jolted and lights burst and flickered up and down the corridor. Flipping open his communicator he called to the bridge,

"Spock, report."

Nothing.

"Spock? Spock!" Finally a crackled voice broke through,

"Jim, new vessels have just come into real space, they use the same method of travel as the Imperial probes." The Captain's eyes widened but then turned to confusion at Spock's next comment, "...they are engaging the Dominion forces. The blast we just felt was an exploding Dominion cruiser off our port bow." In the background a phaser blast and the sounds of hand to hand combat came through the speaker, the line then cut. After several failed attempts to raise the bridge Kirk set his jaw and moved towards the dark corner. There was nothing he could do at this moment, he needed to trust his first officer to hold.

Step by precarious step he moved towards the blind turn; the lights were flickering on the other side making it difficult to see what waited around the bend. He walked a few more steps when his heart almost stopped. Crashing into the bulkhead just in front of him from the blind corner was a Founder. Having transported aboard with the Elite Imperial troops to lay in hiding, it's disguise now somehow compromised and identity revealed. Liquid spasms pulsated and flowed over its entire body, morphing from one form to another; to Kirk it seemed to be in pain. He fired point blank, hitting the gelatinous blob center mass. It shrieked and despite his fire, tried to crawl towards him.

"Help! Heeeeeellllpp" the liquid gurgling speech barely perceivable as the phaser burnt away the biological mass. But the recognition of utter terror lay within every man, and so Kirk stopped firing and for a second he did not know how to react. His enemy now begged for help, from something… oh my god… is it John?. Now the Enterprise shook again. This time instead of a sudden jolt from a proximity blast, it resembled a slow, soft rumble; like an earthquake felt from many miles off. More specifically, like the dull hill noises from the town of Dunwich so many centuries and universes ago.

Slowly the Founder elongated and began to flow back towards the corridor around the corner. Frantically it morphed its hands into claws and gripped the ground, something pulled it, what in the world…

To say Kirk's heart skipped a beat may be an exaggeration, but the point stands. In only his wildest imagination could his mind perceive the next series of events. As fast as lightning, the armored forearm of 'John' reached around the corner and grabbed the slithering Founder. But as the light flickered off, something else appeared to hold the leg of the floundering Founder. To say 'something' is also pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a thing. In the flickering light, just beyond the perception of ordinary vision the armored arm of his friend appeared to be a monstrous tentacle. A thousand eyes and mouths, whose mouths held more eyes and more mouths slopped and wrangled. Or maybe it wasn't… maybe…? Kirk leaned against the wall to steady himself, his head felt light while his imagination raced. The Founder disappeared into the darkness, a last scream of sheer fright filling the hearts of every man listening. But Kirk no longer thought of the Founder, only what he imagined he had seen a moment ago. The shape was all wrong… nothing can exist that way, nothing… can move that way…it slithered… or moved but not… it didn't really move, not in a way we know...

A few red shirts rushed up and grabbed the Captain by the arm to support him, nearly losing consciousness as his head bobbed and eyes strained to stay open while looking dizzyingly at his men. To say up, down, forward, and back are the only directions is logical. Yet Kirk saw something else, another direction of movement, something unnatural and equally unbelievable.

"Captain… Captain?"

It just… could not have existed… one last thought of the terrible thing before he snapped out of it and looked back towards the darkened corner.

"Men… what comes next I cannot say. We fight, to the last man." Each of them nodded and looked knowingly at each other. All dirty, sweaty, and unkempt, but each exhibiting a resolve that every officer in Kirk's era came to work with each morning.

"We are with you sir,"

Kirk gripped his phaser rifle, his hands sweaty and knuckles white. Counting down to himself he focused on his next few moves. The door to transporter room three was close and he needed to reach it if they were to save engineering. As his mental countdown reached zero he rushed the corner and made the turn. Already shaken by the vivid image of a horrific tentacle THING he stumbled forward through the nightmare passage. The first redshirt on the heels of Kirk immediately vomited, the second let out a shriek more commonly associated with a dog yelping in pain. The Captain looked back and grabbed the men and pulled them onward,

"Go! Go!"

"My god Captain, what is that smell?"

[[...by their smell shall you know them near...]] -Necronomicon-

Their feet splashed through an inch deep river of blood; the ceiling dripping like an old house's leaky ceiling. The faint images the team were able to see appeared to be enemy soldiers crushed and liquefied against the bulkheads. Kirk shoved his men through the transporter room door before turning back to squint into the flickering darkness.

"John? … John?" he hissed. Just before joining his men he looked down at a broken and tattered Jem'Hadar, the center of its smashed body forming a giant footprint. Bending down to inspect it, he noticed a black oily liquid, a tar-like sticky mass of disgusting ooze spread over the disfigured body. What is aboard my ship…?

A loud thud startled Kirk and he snapped his head up. Through the flickering light he saw a stormtrooper slip on the lake of blood and fall over a dead elite trooper whose pieces were scattered about. He was injured, a large portion of debris extruded from his armor, he murmured in pain. Raising his phaser rifle, Kirk took a step forward towards the fallen intruder. While he represented the enemy, he did not need to die for the sake of killing.

Making a few soggy steps forward, he bent down to inspect the unarmed man. Kirk then saw grotesque injuries, both hands were missing. Those look like… teeth marks?

"Help-" the sentence was never finished. A phaser blast coming from another direction hit the trooper in the back, vaporizing him on contact. Complete pandemonium broke out at that exact moment. Splashes and screams burst forth as an entire squad of elite stormtroopers barreled around the corner firing repeatedly in the direction in which they came. They were so busy trying to fight whatever it was they were fighting that they did not even notice the Captain standing in the hallway. Raising his phaser rifle quickly he laid down a devastating sweep, cutting down three troopers before they could turn to see what hit them.

"What?!" shouted a confused trooper, another tripped over a dead security officer and splashes of blood and bile swashed and slushed around their feet and ankles. Turning their weapons Kirk dove through the doorway into the transporter room, blaster bolts smacking into the wall.

"Captain, we'll cover you," shouted a red shirt taking up position opposite the doorway. Kirk did not hesitate, he scrambled off the floor and activated the site-to-site transporter. He needed to get to engineering, and he planned on beaming directly into it. As the controls set, he ordered his men into the transporter cove with him. Their position presented an easy target for anyone with weapons training, time was crucial. As the transporter energized an elite trooper rushed in and fired. Kirk's stomach churned as he saw the bolt moving through the air, then the familiar dazzle of energy. He had escaped, but barely.

A moment later the room appeared through the crystallized particles and the captain and his men stood in the center of engineering. Fire billowed and smoke waffled like a dark cloud throughout the room. Immediately phaser fire lashed out from a built-up position on the far side of engineering. Scotty and a squad of red shirts were holed up behind an improvised bunker they had created using scraps of metal and uprooted workstations. They unloaded barrage after barrage of phaser fire into the darkened corridor beyond the main engineering doors. Bodies littered the floor.

"Captain! Get over here!" shouted the Scott, waving his hand frantically to hurry them to safety. Bolts from Imperial blasters whizzed past Kirk as he dove behind cover.

"Report Scotty?" Kirk looked around, trying to distinguish details through the fiery room and blinding smoke. From what he could tell, Imperial and Dominion forces were grouped outside the main engineering door, trying desperately to gain a beachhead. Just inside engineering lay a pile of troopers, all cut down as they tried to breach. As Kirk's narrowed eyes scanned the room, they fell upon fallen Starfleet officers, about two dozen lay dead or dying. He knew throughout the ship battles raged and that there was no way to coordinate them all. He only hoped some skirmishes were going better than others.

"We can't get to them Captain, we've tried but we get cut to pieces." Another blistering exchange caused everyone to lower their heads. "But. They can't get in here, they've been trying since this all started."

"We need to get our injured… Where is Cienna?" Nestled deep into the chasm in the wall, safe from blaster fire worked Cienna. Diligently rerouting power and life support to keep everyone alive, her fingers bled as they crisscrossed wires and junction boxes in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the problems. As Commander Mortil and his subordinate teams had attempted to takeover particular computer systems, Cienna brilliantly rerouted them into Engineering. Spock, who never stopped fighting was far too busy to have managed such a feat. Now as the invading Force withered all attempted remote access ceased, and Cienna had a moment to breath and rest her fingers.

Kirk scrambled across the floor and into the wall alcove. He pushed up against her, not pulling back like he would a stranger. He held her hands in his and looked down at the bloodied digits.

"Are you ok?" he whispered. She looked into his eyes, but no fear existed in them, just resolve and a stern desire to succeed.

"Yes James, but I need to bring you up-to-date. I've been talking with Spock on and off. Unknown ships have engaged the Dominion forces, we don't know who they are."

"Yes, he told me that before we got cut off."

"Ok, also-" a blast shook the room, and Kirk instinctively pulled her inward, "... I just erected a partial field around our hull, no more Imperials or Dominion forces can beam over. I think about two-hundred came over, it's hard to say. I know one beamed over a moment ago, but-"

"Just one? Maybe a commander? And... two...hundred. That's a lot of troops…" the Captain looked away, his eyes on some distant horizon where he analyzed, planned, and adjusted strategy. The moment didn't last long, a loud cry of pain came from the improvised bunker and a few red shirts scrambled to grab Scotty. Kirk leaped out of the alcove and back towards his men. Scotty lay still, being dragged towards safety; a blaster had hit him square in the chest.

"Kirk to Bones... Bones? Kirk to medical…" only static filled his speaker. The sternest of expressions now filled the Captain's face. He reached over and grabbed a redshirt by the arm, "Ok listen carefully. When I say go, you lay down suppressing fire on the main engineering doors, lay waste to them. I am going to creep up on the left…" as the Captain spewed orders, the faintest perceivable noise crept into his consciousness. Some sort of whizzing and woozing, he had never heard before; and it was getting louder.

"Captain, look." an officer pointed toward the engineering doors, and instead of flickering lights and shadowy movement of stormtroopers, a green-flashing beam spun and twirled in the darkness. Elite troopers and Jem'Hadar were now firing back into the dark corridor, completely ignoring the incoming phaser fire from engineering. To Kirk's surprise, blaster bolts were reflecting off the green energy beam and striking the troops that shot them.

"Cease fire, cease fire." said the captain to his men, they hunkered down, watching and waiting.

Within ten seconds, the last remaining blaster fire sounded off, ending with a sizzling slice of energy. Kirk and his team stayed low, weapons down but alert. The figure walked towards them, still shrouded in darkness but energy weapon in hand. A few feet more and the mysterious person emerged through the doors, the man wore an orange and white pilot uniform, with a white helmet and orange visor. In his hand was a LIGHTSABER, it's green energy crackling and vibrating in the dense smoke.

"Identify yourself." shouted Kirk from behind the bunker.

The weathered pilot deactivated his weapon and pulled off his helmet, revealing a sweaty clump of blonde hair beneath.

"My names Luke Skywalker and I'm here to rescue you."

From behind the bunker, Kirk laid down his phaser rifle and stood up in total shock. He knew Luke's identity from Kinnison's mind connection over a month ago. Impossible…

"Han, I found them," reported the Jedi into his wrist communicator.

"Ok kid, sounds good." came the crackled reply of Solo.

Kirk took a staggered step forward, his mouth half agape.

"How… how did you get here?"

"That is a long story. I beamed aboard just before you raised the jamming field. Been… a bit busy." he said, wiping his brow of sweat and pushing his matted hair off his forehead.

Clunk...

Clunk...

Clunk...

Heavy armored footsteps sounded outside the main door, Luke's boyish grin faded and he turned slowly towards the dark corridor. In the recesses of the Force he felt something approaching. Kirk heard the boots as well and knew right away to whom they belonged. Blackness almost material flowed through the broken door into engineering. Smoke turned to soot and fire pulled backward, lifelike and afraid.

Out of the darkness appeared the armored form, moving deliberately, step by step towards the waiting group. Some men say they thought they saw shadows of writhing tentacles flickering against the wall as the fire dimmed and faltered in the strange air. Kirk's heart slid into his throat and looked over at Luke whose body stood tense,

"Luke, that's just a friend."

Clunk…

Clunk…

Clunk…

Kirk took a step forward, both hands facing outward in warm regard.

"John…"

No reply came, and then Kirk saw the facemask, the broken hole still present but no face behind it. Only blackness and the hint of something awful within. Blood and guts oozed down the armor, and after a few steps 'John' tossed his weapon aside and stood still. He did not need it for in his mind erupted a whirlwind of noise and elation.

The Deceiver and Jedi. Rip them apart, they are nothing to you

Luke ignited his lightsaber and stood ready, green energy crackling and throbbing in the smoke-filled room. Reaching deep down into his reserves he calmed his mind and brought forth all Force energy he could muster; he stood ready.

"That's no friend."

Chapter Text

True Enemy

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Cardassia Prime

A dark brown table perfectly matched the cold dark walls of the encompassing room. Two metal chairs, uninviting and uncomfortable pulled in close. In each, sat Captain Picard and Gul Dukat, leader of the Cardassian people. Both men had been chatting for about an hour when a young officer ran in and placed a report on the Gul's desk. Picard did not ask what it was, there was no need. Across the face of the Cardassian a cascade of emotions surfaced over several minutes of reading. Starting from curiosity to anger, and finally, sadness. Only the air flowing into the Cardassians hot nostrils filled the room, his eyes closed as he pondered the next steps.

"Picard. Do you know what this is?"

Picard studied his counterpart closely, years of diplomatic experience told him that the opportunity may have come.

"No, what is in that report?"

"It seems the battle of the Demilitarized Zone has ended. Over seven-hundred ships took part in that battle, of those, nearly one-hundred and fifty, Cardassian."

"Yes, I know, I received detailed reports from the Admiralty."

Dukat ignored the remark and continued with his remorseful summary.

"On my ships, the finest officers in the Union. Nearly one-hundred thousand."

Picard let out a soft sigh, he knew how deeply the Cardassians cherished their family bonds. Like humans their ancestry placed family at the center of their individual universes. Over the last seventy years, their culture had morphed into a militaristic dystopia, where blackmail and ruthless ambition was rewarded.

"Gul Dukat. Our ships held a compliment of more than one-hundred and ninety-"

"Yes! But your fleet escaped total disaster!" his fist furiously smashing down upon the table. Still breathing hotly, Dukat stood and paced the floor. "How? How did this happen? The Vorta promised that all would be ok, that your wretched fleet would crumple like Nizeelium Slime Devils in autumn. And. The Klingons, those… pesky lunatics. They are using bio-weapons! The Vorta tell us to continue, to take the brunt of the attacks, because all will be ok in the end!" Spat Dukat venomously.

There was little that could be said to quell the anger and sorrow of the Cardassian leader. Across the entire front, stretching between the demilitarized zone and Klingon space, all manner of Cardassian trooper slaughtered or was slaughtered. Kill or be killed. In the eyes of Gul Dukat and his leadership team, the benefits did not outweigh the costs, little in the way of territory was being gained inside the Klingon Empire, planets burned and cities fell, but nothing of any value remained.

Picard's eyes watched the leader pace back and forth, hands clasped with eyes facing the floor.

"How did a ship a hundred years old manage to destroy dozens, perhaps a hundred of ours? How did it achieve such incredible speed?" Jean-Luc did not know. Not privy to the final and detailed results of the battle, he continued to sit and watch the boiling Cardassian.

"I am sorry Dukat for your losses. To their families and to their loved ones. Captain Kirk is a resourceful member of the Federation. But, the war continues. The war will take more lives and more territory." Dukat stopped pacing, his eyes pulling themselves away from the floor and over towards Picard, he stood silent, waiting. "I do not know what manner of mechanisms caused such great destruction, but I know one thing of Captain Kirk. He doesn't believe in losing."

"One man cannot win a war."

"Is that what this battle represents Dukat? One man? One victory? You should know your opponents better than that."

"Do not insult me!" Spat Dukat, now leaning against the table, both hands firmly planted into the cold steel.

"He represents an ideal. A long time ago on Earth, an island nation called Britain was hemmed in. It faced extinction, like we now face extinction." Picard, a student of history held firm, and with eyes unwavering he began his recital. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Somewhere, deep down in the subconscious of Dukat, small cogs of a larger wheel began to turn. After a moment or two, Dukat pulled away from the table and stood still, his eyes locked.

"I see…"

"Before I leave Dukat, can I say something? I took time to read about your culture on my journey here, I found something in our archives. I translated it from Cardassian to English, you may recognize it. Under two moons and one star we reach, and climb, and stagger and even fall. Our children's children will feel our climb, not in their legs but in their minds, hearts, and souls. We must rise or our children will fall."

Silence, dead and sudden. Gul Dukat's face a blank stare. Picard smiled softly as he knew that the translation was not in error.

"Picard. That...that is the oath, the sacred oath. Not our current one, but the first, and most treasured. We…" Dukat now looked elsewhere, perhaps to his past. "... we no longer use that. The old oath is ten-thousand years old. How… how did you have a copy of this?"

"Remember, our two people's were friends once. Do you really believe the Dominion holds your best interests at heart? That all your sacrifices will be for something pleasant? War will continue, if we are beaten, there will be another. It will never end. You see Dukat, that is the price of power. Maintaining it requires sacrifice, but not from those who wield it." Walking around the table, the two men now stood face to face, the crushing burden of loss weighing on both. "I think if you let your people look without the blinders the Dominion have placed upon them, they will see their true enemy."

Dukat's face shared a thousand words without uttering one.

And at that moment, in a cold gloomy room, the Cardassian-Federation war ended.

Imperial Galaxy - Outer Rim - Outland Transit Station

Pressurized steam flowed from mechanical pistons lowering the ramp onto the floor. An Imperial shuttle, joined by four-dozen troop transports deployed their contents inside the main hangar deck of the grim station. Stormtroopers rushed out in two-man formations, accompanied by Imperial droids of varied abilities and duties. Beyond the protective screen leading into space, another round of transports ready to drop troops. As the boarding platoons fanned out into the surrounding service-tunnels Darth Vader made his dramatic entrance. Walking boldly down the first transport ramp, he stopped at the bottom to survey the situation, his mechanical breathing loud and present.

"Commander Beutel."

A small thin man rushed down the ramp and slid to a halt.

"Yes my lord?"

"See to it your men lock down this station. Have your bio-scanners set to the exact frequency I have designated."

"Aye." Beutel scurried off in another direction, leaving Vader to sift through the Force. He had been drawn to this location, something waits... Striding toward the exit doors with security team in tow he continued to push outward with his mind, searching and seeking for answers. Unsure of what exactly he sought, only knowing it was probably a shapeshifter, the same that had engineered the destruction of Kuat. All evidence, specific or circumstantial pointed to an infiltration effort by hundreds or perhaps thousands of Founders, but the Force told him something different. It isn't thousands…The bio-scanners brought aboard tuned precisely to detect biological reorganization at a molecular level, if anything changed shape, the scanner would go off.

A shout from a troop commander broke his concentration,

"What is that pilot doing? Stop! Stop!"

Vader whirled around to see a landing shuttle lifting off and fly further into the hangar. A sharp intake of mechanical air filled his dilapidated lungs, and within the helmet his eyes focused like lasers. Across the hangar deck men ran towards the shuttle, blasting at the cockpit. Instantly within the Dark Lord, anger swelled and he reached outward with his hand, ready to choke the neck of the wayward pilot. But it was not to be. The darkside of the Force told him to raise his defenses. Suddenly an intense blistering pain smashed into Vader's mind like a supernova. Not since the lake of fire on Mustafar where Anakin fell, had he faced such incredible anguish. Key neuron-relays connecting the biological to the technological spasmed and his mechanical legs buckled, his vision spun in all directions. The impossible pain continued. Troops rushed forward to help their fallen leader, and for the first time they heard him screaming through the mask. The power drilling into his mind pressed onward, down and in, deeper and deeper through his defenses. In another second Vader's mind would be snuffed out, obliterated. Then he thought of Obi-wan, it was his fault Padme was killed! Obi-wan's fault that his son now fought for the light. Kenobi!

With renewed anger, Vader shifted his focus to only his mental defenses, and like all darkside users of the Force; pain, suffering, fear, and anger, all brought power. As more and more power flowed through Vader, the unbelievable mental attack waned. Not entirely, only in the slightest degree. Whatever morsel of free psychological energy remained now attempted to restore his vision, still unfocused and seeing stars, but enough to have a sense of direction. Partially restored vision and hearing began to register his surroundings. The rogue troop transport slid along the ground straight toward him, only a second away. Every instinct, every Force warning told him to escape. Through the blinding pain, Vader wrestled for his lightsaber and ignited it.

Another deadly warning.

A stormtrooper standing a few feet away, always loyal, now turned his weapon upon his master and fired. The bolt a sure bet to strike home, deflected away at the last possible moment by the red crimson saber. The trooper, acting far more professional and trained than an average conscript, dropped to his stomach and began raining fire upon the Dark Lord. Weathering the attack with his lightsaber, he had now run out of time to escape the sliding and grinding troop transport. There was only one direction to go. No cohesive or organized thought could even be formed inside the blistering head of the once mighty but now withering Darth Vader.

Fighting off the urge to scream and crumple from the mental load, Vader turned his lightsaber down and cut a circle around himself. Instantly the floor fell, its red-hot metal edges giving way and down through the hole Vader fell. As he fell forty feet to the deck below, a terrific explosion erupted above. Metal beams and reinforced-columns snapped like toothpicks as three shuttle engines simultaneously exploded. In dizzying vision, between the spinning stars and blurred lights, Vader thought he saw a titanic fireball expanding overhead. More warnings from the Force told him to raise his physical defenses, but he could not. Everything he could muster, had ever mustered, now focused solely on the mental attack. Endless waves of throbbing telepathic energy bombarding his consciousness, drilling and smashing him to pieces. A large section of ceiling gave way and fell downward, at the last possible moment Vader rolled out of the way, finally collapsing into a heap on the ground.

Emergency shields snapped on to seal the atmosphere inside the station, the kilometer long hole blown in the side exposing many to the elements, floating in space, dead. Vader lay alone among the rubble, chard, broken, but alive. He knew his troops above did not survive, he could practically see the gaping hole through the smoldering ruinous ceiling and supporting walls. He stood slowly, his legs despite being mechanical shook while finding new ground, his mind still recovering from the now halted mental attack. Somewhere not far off, the sound of moving ruble caught his attention, someone was making their way down a steep embankment of broken wall and durasteel. Fire licked at the shadows and everywhere smoke billowed and rose towards the emergency shield overhead.

"Lord Vader? Lord Vader are you alright?" A lone stormtrooper limped into view, one arm a twisted mess, blood streaming from the armored hinges. Vader assessed his injuries. Some electrical components hung ragged and many tears and scratchings littered his black outfit. After a moment of examining his damaged servos, a sudden urge overtook him. Danger! Instantly Vader pushed all his Force power forward, hitting the stormtrooper square in the chest. The unexpected move sent the trooper flying backward, but to the dismay of Vader, the prepared soldier had already detached a thermal detonator and thrown it forward! Half-caught in the telekinetic push from Vader, the grenade hung in midair. The trooper hit the ground but somersaulted backward, landing on his feet all the while unholstering his sidearm in the process. But it was too late, the grenade detonated and both men flew back. Thanks only for the Force shield did Vader survive, the same technique he had used against Captain Solo's attack months earlier. Remnants of the trooper filled the four walls, beyond dead.

Quiet fell upon the level where Vader lay. His long black cape a tattered mess, shredded and smoldering with fire. Why his troops turned on him, or the cause of the massive explosions overhead could not be answered. The mental attack which he only now was coming to grips with, left him exhausted. Within the black helmet, his eyes closed allowing for full concentration. The Force pushed outward, seeking and searching the station. If I die now, I will never see Padme again, and Kenobi will have won.

After a minute of meditation,

There... in the merchant district.

Something or someone sat in an alley between shops, that is no panhandler. A sporadic blue silhouette then appeared in the darkness in front of Vader, the Captain of the Executor.

"My lord! Are you ok?"

Pushing against his knee, the Dark Lord rose off the ground,'

"Fine Captain."

"We cannot land any more transports, the-"

"Signal the troops and bounty hunters already aboard the station to deploy on Merchant Level, Section J."

The blue hologram flickered away and now the darkness returned. Through the Force, no user could be detected. There were no Jedi aboard the station save himself, they, or it, are not using the Force as a weapon.This disturbed Vader as he worked his way through destroyed doorways and clogged corridors towards the Merchant Level. In the decades since the fall of the Republic he had killed many Jedi, fought many battles but none had been like this. This enemy was different, perhaps the leader of the Founders… or… something else entirely. The more he felt with the Force he more he doubted this foe was the same as he had sensed in Thrawn's command room in the Milky Way. That something moved in the shadows, a vast network working against us. Does the Emperor sense it as well? Does Darth Maul? Feeling far more extensive than the Rebels, Founders, or Federation; colossal, an organization or group spanning galaxies. This is something else.

After twenty minutes of walking and coordinating with various commanders, Vader reached the Merchant Level. Standing above on the guardrail, the same his son had stood against months earlier, he looked down at the human nest of commerce and trafficking. No station-wide order for evacuation had signaled, there was no point. Of all the aliens who called Outland their home, only a handful had ships. Many had come years earlier, often trading their ships or just taxiing to the station and never leaving. Escape pods numbered few and far between, certainly not enough to usher all to safety.

Vader looked downward, and his focus shifted to the recent past, the trap he had set for his son. Luke, the Force is strong with him. The Darkside had told him where his son would be and when, Vader had seen a vision of them fighting in the street. But other images remained. The Force had shown him other realities that perhaps once were, or will never be. Their battle on Cloud City, and the eventual destruction of the second Death Star. As it stood now, Vader could not imagine turning against the Emperor as he had seen in his dreams, that was another reality. Vader felt Luke needed to be found, captured and taught the ways of the Darkside.

IG-88 an android bounty hunter hired by the Empire to help keep watch of their recruitment effort on the station walked up to Vader and offered his services.

"Lord Vader, I report to you for duty." A black gloved hand rose up to silence the android. Vader saw glimpses of the near future, small tidbits of information that may be crucial in the next few minutes. He wished to capture the strange person sitting in the alley begging for food or credits. Could it be this is a powerful telepath? Telepaths were not unknown to the Imperial Galaxy, but none with this sort of power and control.

"IG-88," grumbled Vader. "If any Imperial troop acts out of order, or any civilian, kill them."

"As you wish," the bloopy voice of the android conveyed a hint of surprise and doubt.

"Move your men into section J, walk along this street," Vader pointed down and towards the left, a long ally zigzagged its way through the enormous mile long merchant section. Without another word, the obedient bounty hunter moved out and formed up with his pack of hired guns, subcontractors who assisted the robot on missions.

A loud thud sounded as Vader leaped over the railing and landed in street below. People gasped and moved out of the way as he strode through the crowd, his tattered cape flowing behind. Confidently walking towards his target, more orders were sent to the teams already within the district. He planned to set a trap, one he believed would catch the telepathic-Founder before an attempted escape.

After two minutes, a report came in from IG-88,

"Lord Vader," came the crackly voice, "we have found a dead officer, Major McMallum. It appears she has been mugged, something was torn off her duty belt. ID badge indicates her assignment on Kuat Drive Yards. Biometric scan shows human."

Continuing to walk through the parting crowd, Vader considered the consequences of this new information. Why is she here? How did she escape? He could not be sure, and the Force did not help him. A new batch of troops ran up alongside, the commander giving his Dark Lord a nod before taking the flank and preparing for combat. After a few more blocks one of the troopers shouted frantically,

"Shapeshifter!" But Vader knew better, no warning came, that only means…

Spinning around on his heel, Vader slashed and decapitated the shouting trooper, setting off a flurry of activity. Immediately the squad turned their weapons inward and fired. Six of the seven shots were absorbed, the other hitting Vader in his mechanical arm, sparks flew into the air and men fell left and right. Now Darth Vader took no chances, everyone and anyone fell to his blade. Strange traders and merchant pirates rushed out of their storefronts with weapons drawn, some screaming for revenge for the destruction of Alderaan, others shouting of shapeshifting aliens running amuck throughout the district.

Vader pushed onward, hacking and slicing his way through friend and foe alike. People and animal turned on him, a suicide bomber jumped from the railing overhead but was pushed back and exploded harmlessly high above. Pieces of flesh rained downward as more and more people panicked and ran. The Force told him that his target was moving, walking up a flight of stairs onto the deck above.

A thunderous explosion ripped apart the zigzagging alley to Vader's left. Debris spilled over and several merchant shops burst into flames, smoke billowed and then Vader saw it. Coming to a stop just ahead, the rolling head of IG-88, obliterated. His band must have turned on him. It is just like Kuat, Outland is tearing itself to pieces. This fact made Vader angry, he did not want to lose another installation to the Founders, especially one whose power would go unchecked throughout the galaxy. I need to stop it here and now.

Clearing his head, Vader looked up at the overhang. Just above but out of view sat the telepath, no longer sitting but waiting. It also kept a form of company, several others stood close, also waiting and watching. Danger signs rushed into his consciousness, the Force told him to be wary, to be on absolute alert. Channeling all his power, he took in a deep breath and jumped forty-feet up over the railing and onto the grated platform above. To Vader's surprise, the people standing around the Founder were stormtroopers, all pointing their weapons at the human cowering against the wall.

"Lord Vader! We have him." For the slightest of moments Vader hesitated, he did not expect this. But then he felt a surging DANGER! Unfortunately for the Dark Lord, the hesitation proved a mistake. Vader's head snapped back as if hit with a sledgehammer, the telepathic assault had resumed. Exploding stars and whirling scenery overtook Darth Vader's vision, the unbearable and unstoppable pain once again took his sight and sense of surrounding. Only the Force guided him now. Adding to this incredible assault, all at once the troopers turned and fired. Unable to erect his absorption field due to the mental load, bolts not redirected with his lightsaber struck home. Pieces of machinery and servos blew-apart, but the attack did not rest. With lightning speed, the Founder bolted from the wall and connected a titanic kick to the dark master's abdomen. The herculean effort sent Vader backward towards the railing he had just surmounted. The troopers rushed forward in unison, the granite carved Founder taking the lead. Vader smashed through the railing, finding himself falling backward through the air, deflecting blaster bolts along the way. Within the quickly imploding mind of Vader everything seemed to be playing out in slow motion. With visibility limited, the grated platform grew smaller and smaller as he fell back.

Unexpectedly, jumping clear into the air atop the railing came the Founder and troopers. They dove downward, continuing their assault. But what came down was no Founder, but a Lensman. A Second Stage Lensman. Kinnison reached back into his waistband and produced a new weapon, a Delameter. Its unstoppable energy sure to vaporize the Dark Lord and his saber. Despite unyielding mental anguish, frantic danger signals swarmed into whatever cavity of consciousness remained. Death would be instant, and unavoidable. He needed to act. Now. Kinnison depressed the trigger and at that exact moment the gun ripped from his hand and met its demise by Vader's blade. The brief and momentary degrading of his mental defenses almost killing him.

Instinctively the Dark Lord righted himself to soften his landing. Stormtrooper's smashed into the ground like rain, each stabbed or decapitated as they fell; but not the Lensman. Landing on top of a trooper, Kinnison instantly ignited a shielded baton, and threw everything he had into a savage attack. Blade and baton met and energies crackled. All troopers lay dead, only Vader and Kinnison stood toe-to-toe. Vader disengaged to reorient himself, but no quarter was given. With no troops to control, more mental power collided into Vader's crumbling Force defense.

WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! A flurry of lunges and gouging baton attacks pushed Vader backward, bolts of telepathic power rammed home and the gasping mechanical breathing intensified. Half blinded and with mental sirens the volume of jet engines blasting into his ears, Vader pressed. A mistake.

Easily parrying a light-hearted lightsaber lunge, Kinnison dodged sideways and with an outstretched arm, smashed his baton into the left cheek of Vader. Pieces of helmet and armor erupted into the air and like a large tower, the mangled and broken Dark Lord collapsed forward onto the ground. Kinnison raised his baton for a killing blow when he was sent careening across the room. With nothing to lose, Vader unleashed a sustained telekinetic attack, gambling to suffocate his enemy before the mental attack killed him.

Kimbal now found himself pressed against a bulkhead in a crucifix position. Around his throat a deadly grip, he felt his windpipe crunching, blood gurgled up into his mouth and his vision faded to black. Within Vader's mind, all hope had been lost, now sensing his imminent death with the telepathic drill nearly penetrating his defenses. It would soon be over. On his hands and knees, with one arm raised horizontally to concentrate his power, his exposed eye and cheek shook violently under the load. With eyes flickering and tears running, at the very last of his wits he thought of nothing but Padme and his son Luke. I failed them both… This thought, a final possible thought gave him the strength to last a moment longer, a crucial and life-saving second.

Now out of oxygen, Kinnison calmly activated his ocular implant to signal the Dauntless. His incredible mind multitasking as he went. Across the station many Imperial recruiters dropped dead, along with a handful of key bounty hunters, their fragile minds blasted. A shimmery-glow engulfed the Lensman and he disappeared, retreating to fight another day.

Vader collapsed face-first into the ground, exhausted and overwhelmed. He did not know it yet, and not for many days. Not until he healed physically and mentally, would he discover new knowledge waiting within.

Onboard the Dauntless a few thousand kilometers away, Kinnison tugged at his collar and took in deep breaths his oxygen-starved body so desperately craved. Holy Krono… With a stiff limp from his blown knees, he climbed into his captain's chair and switched on a few screens, reflecting on the recent battle. So then, the Force is real. The Jedi, the Sith… it's all real. Up until this point, only vague stories from the snatched thoughts and memories of civilians, Imperial officers and bounty hunters offered him any glimpse into that old religion. The Force seems to allow the user telekinetic power, and… somehow he tracked me down within that enormous facility. How? How did he block all those blaster bolts? Unlike a mechanical thought-screen the likes of which were used in abundance by Boskone agents, this 'block' felt different to the Lensman. As if a third-party stood between him and Vader's mind. It must be the Force…

Pulling a device from his pocket he lay it down in front of him. A Boskone thought-screen. Unmistakable. MajorKate McMallum, chased from Kuat Drive Yards to Outland Transit Station, intending to rendezvous with a fat Romulan named Teemar. Kinnison's controlled goons had stripped her of the thought-screen. Her past mission now residing with Kinnison. Terrified may be an understatement to describe his exact mood. Her mission aboard Kuat involved the stealing of hyper-matter reaction chamber specifications. For a month she had sent encrypted data out to unknown recipients. Teemar the Romulan slug never showed, perhaps spooked by the destruction of Kuat… In any case, they may now suspect I am operating in this Galaxy.

Pinching the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger, Kinnison closed his eyes and concentrated on the last few days. He felt frustrated, his plan worked, but not wholly, not entirely. I cannot take over the mind of the Emperor, if he is a Sith like many suspect, he will surely be more powerful than Vader. Infiltration would take months and success may not be possible… Kuat is history and so are the recruiters and go-betweens for the bounty hunter effort. No protracted war is possible for the Empire, but… This next point made him feel ill, with my failure to kill Darth Vader, I have exposed myself to the Empire and possibly Boskone. Depending on how smart their leaders are, they may already suspect… Despite the rollercoaster analysis of his situation, a small smile formed in the crevice of his mouth. In the final moments before his teleportation, buried beneath his attack and penetrating the Force shield of Vader, lay the knowledge of Boskone. Kinnison had expertly slipped it through the guard, the Force correctly deeming it a non-threat. I could not reveal the Dalek's, the Empire may miscalculate and disclose their knowledge of them.

Razor-sharp and dangerous are words best used to describe the strategy being employed. The Empire, if correctly incented would bring valuable resources to hunt the Dalek down. But. What if they do not share the same appreciation for the danger? The Kuat Drive Yard destruction should force their retreat. Reflection and concentration continued. But what of Boskone? Do they know of the Dalek? Could they? We only know of them from Cienna's first-hand knowledge and the pure absurd luck she survived her ships destruction… But Boskone doesn't want to kill everyone, just control them. Rule them. Would they also try and hunt down the Dalek threat? Can we team up with Boskone? No. Absurd. They will do whatever they can to gain an advantage. The questions and self-doubt continued. If the Empire could be swayed to hunt down Boskone agents within their own galaxy...perhaps another incentive to pull back from the Milky Way...Yes, I stand by my decision. Vader can live.

Kinnison slowly pulled his finger off the 'energize' button, on the transporter-pad a two-hundred megaton bomb with coordinates set for inside the station. A swift series of inputs and the Dauntless shot into hyperspace,

Time to bring Jimbo up to speed.

Chapter Text

The Hottest Fires Forge the Hardest Steel

Milky Way - Galactic Rim

Squeaking rubber of dragged boots filled the ears of every Imperial Officer too stunned to speak. The ranking Intelligence officer, D. Lambert, aboard the Super Star Destroyer Ventilator lay dead. Darth Maul stood front and center, surveying the scene, his eyes carefully looking over charts, maps, and readouts. A small glance downward the only indication of a second-thought formed for his victim as two guards dragged the body out.

"Tell me," Maul's steely voice directed to Thrawn, who stood at full attention just several feet away. "The Emperor demanded you conquer the humans of Earth. Your plan, to use the Dominion as a tool is in jeopardy. Your inability to capture their lead commander a failure. The Federation 8th fleet, which you promised complete destruction, survives."

"Yes Lord Maul..." admittance, the only virtue keeping Thrawn alive.

An awkward silence descended on the room, no one dared say a word or move a muscle. Across the galaxy, the entire Rebel fleet had exited hyperspace just a few thousand kilometers from the battle of the Demilitarized Zone. The armada of Dominion and Cardassian ships obliterated. In Thrawn's mind, the situation blistered his consciousness. Why did the Rebels choose that area? How did they obtain a star-chart of the Galaxy? Equally worrying was the questioning of his command. Why is this Sith questioning my judgment? He nearly died on the Romulan moon of Sulsa, ambushed by Mechanized Infantry when searching for a rogue Bounty Hunter. He is lucky to be alive...

Maul's yellow eyes glistened and penetrated the Grand Admiral, perhaps feeling the hatred and frustration.

"Do you have something to say Grand Admiral?" contempt and annoyance evident under his cloaked face.

"My Lord. So much is occurring at once. I must order the Dominion fleet waiting in the Gamma Quadrant to pass through the Bajoran wormhole into the Alpha Quadrant. Without that distraction, the small Dominion fleet may not reach Betazed. And if that does not happen, many telepaths will survive and our plan ruined."

"Your plan is already ruined Grand Admiral, with the Rebels now in this galaxy, they will tell their story and the plight of the Rebellion will spread. We are revealed."

Thrawn acknowledged some parts of this statement to be accurate, but there existed a small chance to escape complete ruin.

"I have dispatched Admiral Piett to intercept the Rebel fleet within the Demilitarized Zone. If it can be crushed before entering hyperspace, we may yet keep them from telling their story."

"Hope for your sake that your plan works Grand Admiral, you will die surely if it does not. Prepare my ship, Boba Fett and I are to destroy the holding facility in Tokyo, Earth."

What?! Destroy?! Thrawn stood silent but his red eyes betrayed him. The campaign called for their rescue not destruction

"My Lord, the campaign-"

"It is the will of the Emperor, no loose ends can remain. There are already too many deserters, the Emperor cannot afford more. You have one last chance. Grand Admiral."

Turning on his heels, Darth Maul briskly exited the command deck, and with him the heart-wrenching anxiety in every man and woman. As soon as the coast appeared clear, Captain Needa hurried over,

"Grand Admiral! The Cardassians have sent out an all channel message across the Alpha Quadrant. They and the Federation have reached a truce. They will no longer be party to any acts against them." Thrawn's eyes blinked.

Stunned.

Slowly the dawning possibility of mission failure crept its way into the recesses of Thrawn's formidable brain. How… Why? Needa read the expression precisely and continued his urgent briefing. "According to the Founder who was privy to the meeting, Picard, captain of-"

"I know who Picard is you nitwit!" snapped Thrawn, the exceptionally rare showing of emotion sending shock waves across the bridge. The slow deterioration of his master plan kept him awake at night, but he felt they could still prevail.

Across the room on a small monitor, manned by an unimportant junior officer, came at first gentle flashes of red. The unlikely officer looked over and gulped, the alert grew brighter with each passing second. With the stakes higher than ever, he raised his hand slowly into the air, it shook under the unwanted stress. Thrawn noted small beads of sweat coming down the man's forehead and rushed over.

"Report."

With a dancing finger, the analyst pointed at his screen and tried to convey the danger.

"In… incom... incoming ships to Demilitarized Zone. They will arrive at the same time as Admiral Piett." Yanking the officer out of his chair, Thrawn slammed down into the seat and studied the screen. Before he fully grasped what he saw, in the back of his head he already knew. Colonists. He hated being right. Traveling at warp twelve, over six-HUNDRED small craft barreled towards the Rebels and Enterprise.

Have the Maquis terrorists spread throughout all colony worlds? Will they help the Rebels? Where did such a fleet assemble?

Pushing a few controls, Thrawn traced its origin back several minutes, then dialing and pressing more buttons, he dug deeper. Looking and cross-referencing several probe droids scattered throughout the sector a pattern emerged. Hours earlier, like ants crawling out of holes across an entire lawn, the ships spawned from hundreds of worlds within the Demilitarized Zone. All coordinating and moving in unison towards a single point in space. The Enterprise and Rebel Fleet. All colony worlds are launching craft... Are they going to try and recruit the Rebels?

"Grand Admiral." Came the voice of another officer,

"Yes?" Asked Thrawn not looking away from his screen.

"1st Dominion fleet reporting incoming."

Jolting from his chair, Thrawn purposefully marched over and grabbed the datapad from the back-peddling Lieutenant. Before his eyes could adjust, he interrupted only a massive globular pulsation on the small screen. Re-focusing, he peered at the small display of measured contacts. That's… impossible.

"Grand Admiral?" Needa nervously peaked over the shoulder of his commander, "What? How?"

Thrawn's eyes faced the floor, his mind processing other vistas of strategy, alternative ideas requiring attention. Signaling a control officer, a large topographical map of the Alpha Quadrant appeared overheard. To the bottom right, a red blip indicating the Betazed destruction fleet. Numbering slightly less than one-hundred Dominion cruisers and a few Dreadnaughts, mixed-fleet-four sped toward the telepaths homeworld. Starfleet detection grids had alerted their command and control and a small fleet still in its infancy, formed in the general vicinity of Betazed. Thrawn noted mixed-fleet would arrive in six days, and unless he miscalculated, would arrive before a realistic fleet could mass to counter it. A dozen Cardassian cruisers appeared to veer off and head back toward Cardassia, their peace treaty not allowing for further aggression. They will pay, they will all pay for their cowardice.

"I want everyone to listen carefully. The 1st Dominion fleet which awaits our orders to move into the Alpha Quadrant is at risk. We must act now or we invite these pirates to follow. As it stands now, five-thousand ships of many makes and models are on an intercept course. Our probe droids track them, in about nine days they will make contact. We can no longer wait for our plan to naturally unfold, the Dominion 1st fleet must come through or risks being destroyed. Send word to the Vorta Administrators, tell them to prepare."

Now directing his orders to Needa, Thrawn continued to dictate instructions.

"Have the wormhole-weapon readied and primed. We will deliver it ourselves. Then we will lay waste to the Founder's."

Needa charged off giving Thrawn time to study and precisely tune his new rushed tactics. As before, the bottom right of the topographical map indicated the mixed-fleet, towards the bottom left the Bajoran Wormhole, and dead center, Earth. The Grand Admiral envisioned the remnants of the 1st Dominion fleet steaming towards their target, how many ships will survive the minefield protecting the Bajoran exit? Will there be enough to draw the Federation away from all outlying worlds and defend their core territory? He could not be sure, and now there was no room for error. Looking down at his datapad he noted the Dominion fleet numbers. Twenty-seven-hundred ships… more than enough, their minefield cannot possibly destroy that many.

Total domination of the Galaxy never caused him concern, with over a thousand star destroyers operating beyond the rim, he knew there existed a full-proof backup plan. But he felt it would not work, not in the long-run. Knowing that occupation leads to rebellions gave him pause. We must be liberators, our own ships must destroy the Dominion. Even with the absolute belief of the Empire's ability to utterly dominate the Federation, an uncomfortable feeling resided within him. The resourcefulness and seemingly coordinated efforts of the Colonists. How can they have so many resources? Another development needing attention were the bands of pirates operating within the Gamma Quadrant. What are the chances of these two organizations or groups attacking my forces simultaneously, forty-thousand light-years apart? They can't communicate at that distance… we would have detected any stolen hyperspace transmitters… The Empire's so named Colonist-Pirate puzzle, frustrated many analysts working on the problem. Thousands of droids had plugged into the project, tracing money, guns and credits to dead-ends. Tortured informants never planning more than a few steps ahead, Founders hopelessly lost among the intertwined and naive operators, and daily or weekly double-crosses of bounty hunters still loyal to the Empire.

Regaining his composure, Thrawn took a deep breath and looked 'off', thinking and concentrating on the variables, but a key unknown plagued his precise concentration. Boba Fett's report on the Romulan moon Sulsa. The report itself was available weeks ago, all during Maul's surgery and restoration process analysis continued round the clock. Precise information was lacking due to the Romulan obsession with targeting and tracking probe droids within their territory. Strange occurrences continue within the Romulan Empire…

Three Founders and six bounty hunters had gone missing, one turning up in Ferragni space working in a gun smuggling ring, only discovered by fluke by a routine audit of informants within a local system. The Emperor's decree had instructed Thrawn to conquer the Galaxy but with a priority on the Federation, especially Earth. We will have to destroy the Romulans by force if necessary… Just then, a new thought crossed the Grand Admiral's mind. Missing Romulan production tonnage by the thousand… resources being used but no output detected. Could it be? Could the Romulans be supplying both the Colonists and Pirates? A second longer and the idea was dismissed as quickly as it had formed. No. They could not move millions of tons of material through Federation space into the Demilitarized Zone, let alone the Gamma Quadrant. The Bajor wormhole is patrolled on both ends, and our droids cover large swaths of territory. With the idea now dismissed, Thrawn flicked on a monitor and re-read a summarized encounter on Sulsa prepared by the now dead analyst chief. The report had been pieced together from Boba Fett and Maul's description along with other intelligence apparatuses within the area.

[[[[

Chief D. Lambert,

Senior Head, Analyst Division 3

Mission : Signa Four - ParSortum

Boba Fett received a tip from Ferengi trader to follow routes of local merchant shipments along the Romulan border. Told to track purchases of Element 133, a necessary component for the production of Dioplaxican. Lord Maul, through unknown means, located an uncharted settlement on the Romulan moon Sulsa. No indication Slave-I was detected upon entering orbit. According to computer records, it had maintained a full cloak for the entire duration of the mission.

At 02:00 hours local time, Lord Maul and Boba Fett approached the settlement from the river basin. ParSortum was rumored to be close, but they were unsure of which residence. While climbing over the steep river bank, they were ambushed by heavily armed men using an unknown explosive-driven device. We believe based on galaxy-wide research, that they were using what humans on Earth refer to as 'high caliber machine-guns' and exotic energy weapons. The attackers were also operating heavily armored and shielded mechanical armor, Boba Fett's weapons were unable to pierce the shielding.

Additionally, a thrown lightsaber also failed to pierce the shielding. Unable to push the attack and with their backs to the river, Lord Maul and Boba Fett were trapped. Intelligence suggests that three, perhaps four attackers were killed by a 'choke,' but we have been unable to verify this from Lord Maul.

Subsequent explosive attacks using thrown and fired explosions caused severe wounds to Lord Maul. It was at this point that his left leg and arm were severed. Boba Fett initiated an emergency beam-out. Once aboard Slave-1, emergency medical procedures were started as they prepared to depart to rendezvous coordinates.

We are unable to reliably verify how the Slave 1 was detected, but at 02:09 it was attacked by ground-based weapons as well as ships in low-orbit.

I assess that the unknown assailants were of an unknown organization, we have not witnessed or heard of any such weapons or mechanical suits up to this point.

Recommendation: Assign one-hundred Founders to the infiltration of the Romulan Empire.

]]]]

Thrawn switched off the analysis document, he had not sent the Founders. Too many Bounty Hunters were deserting, at last count, over three-thousand had disappeared, been killed or went rogue. We are being attacked from all sides…

"Grand Admiral! Emergency signal relay coming through the wormhole. Lord Vader has engaged a Telepathic-Founder on Outland Transit Station." As if connecting pieces of a scattered puzzle, Thrawn's brain snapped together various ideas loosely toyed with, but not seriously considered, until now.

Of course… that is how they penetrated Kuat. We need to have droids running the bio-scanners.

"Also," continued the debriefing. "The Death Star's assembly hub was attacked by ships associated with the Metallurgical Guild on Nexus 7, several hours after the battle of Outland. Vital blueprints for the superlaser were stolen, as well as design-schematics for the hypermatter reactor. According to Admiral Johnson, the battle station was not the target and escaped damage. It is scheduled for full operation in thirty-four days."

Thrawn mulled everything over, doing his best to prioritize avenues of action. Does someone really believe they could build an entire Death Star without us knowing? The Rebels still seem to have quite an influence in the Imperial Galaxy… or perhaps the Guild is being controlled by more Founders?

"Send a priority-1 message to Admiral Johnson. Order all bio-scanners to be manned by droids not soldiers. Set to detect shapeshifters. Keep me updated on Death Star construction schedule. Is there anything else?"

"Unusual activity coming from the Metron homeworld. Our probe droids are being disabled in a greater sphere surrounding their territory. The last signal showed strange energy readings spreading in all directions."

Thrawn observed on a holographic map the ever-expanding sphere of 'blackouts' from his probes. The Metrons were pushing outward, now more than seventy light years in all directions.

I need the Death Star

Milky Way - Demilitarized Zone - Enterprise

Green energy hummed and shimmered in the ever-darkening engineering bay. A foulness crept along the floor and into the hearts of everyone present. Pouring out of 'John,' a torrential flood of DOOM incarnate; hate, fear, and absolute madness. Kirk noted the ambient change in temperature, staleness, and stench of the air. Somewhere he heard jibbering and perhaps the hoof feet of unsanctioned terror stalking about.

"John..." Dropping his phaser, Kirk took a step forward to stand beside Luke, facing his deranged companion. "You saved us. Thank you." No reply. Just crackling and flickering fires, ever-dwindling under the strange and expanding darkness. Luke and Kirk's eyes strained to see through the smoke. They thought they saw John's face through the broken faceplate, but they could not be sure. Something appeared to move and shift within the helmet. Kirk lifted his right leg and shook his foot, he thought for a moment that something had crawled up his shin. Others scratched an unexpected itch on their back or neck.

Luke sensed movement, but could not precisely locate it.

Where is this coming from? Questioned the Jedi. It's… like things are moving in some sort of strange place that the Force cannot reach.

John lifted his right hand and studied it, squeezing it tightly and then relaxing. Within his mind a hurricane smashed against the last of his will, the last of his reason.

The Deceiver tries to trick you. Her tattered hands touched by his, her aching body held. No fire of Earth can harm you, like those before, like those again. Their souls will be yours, consume them.

Kirk slapped away a noise from his ear, and scratched a sudden itch behind his arm. The awful sensation of a million ants crawling along his skin caused goosebumps to form and hair bristle. What is happening? What did he release? After several intolerable seconds 'John' lunged forward. No longer a man, or anything resembling one, he barreled towards the Jedi and Captain. Unprintable evil screamed in exultation, faintly audible to the souls who were to be devoured.

"Move!" Luke shoved Kirk aside and brought his lightsaber to an attack position. He planned to decapitate the soldier, to strike him down in one swoop.

In another second, 'John' would be atop the Jedi,

"John!" Cienna stepped out of the alcove and raced forward. Like a snake, 'John's' head snapped sideways, stopping in his tracks, inches from the humming energy of the saber.

Kirk jumped up and grabbed Luke's shoulder, calming and steadying the Rebel. 'John' now completely ignored the two men, not noticing or caring that the lightsaber brushed so close to his face. The mad soldier stood frozen, every unimaginable facet of being pushed him onward, to rip apart those who oppose him, those who lie to him. Yet, somewhere deep down, in the darkest chamber of his heart, a light flickered. Surrounding by blackness and pain, of memories detailing a million tortured battles and unforgettable agony. Like a million tons of rock, it pushed and flattened, crushed and destroyed. But the light would not be snuffed today. The last of 'John's' soul resisted.

Nooooo! Cienna would not want this!

The flickering flame now burned hotter, brighter. In the frigid hell of 'John's' tortured existence, the unspeakable-undimensioned blasphemous things withdrew.

A voice, unrecognizable as human croaked from the internals of the armor, organs utterly unholy and inhumane mashed and slopped. 'John' took a disjointed and awkward step, his entire body fighting against itself. Another strange noise, this time with a hint of something familiar, something human. Kirk tugged on Luke's arm and both men moved back, offering a path for Cienna. Only a few feet separated them now, and Kirk noticed the air changing, the strangeness receding into the nothingness in which it came.

"Get out! Out of my head!" 'John' ripped off his helmet and collapsed onto the ground. Black fluid spilled out of his mouth, a gurgled scream of agony followed. All his injuries instantly became relevant, the unbearable pain tearing at every nerve and fiber of flesh and bone. Cienna rushed over and bent down beside him.

She lifted his head and whispered softly into his ear.

"It will be ok, you saved us 'John,' we are going to get you help."

"I am... so sorry. So…" 'John' trailed off, overcome with pain and anguish.

Kirk's face remained stone cold, he exchanged a knowing look with Cienna, nodding slowly as he silently directed his men to move-out. She had done it. John killed most of the boarding party, but she saved us from him. But what is John sorry about? What has he done?

Just before losing consciousness, 'John's' eyes flickered, they were completely bloodshot, with broken blood vessels crisscrossing throughout. Both Luke and Kirk stepped forward, straining their ears to hear the next words muttered,

"I… I had too. I had to save you. Un… unlocked the first k...key." With the last of his words, 'John's' body went limp and he lay unconscious.

Cienna looked slowly towards the Captain, blood rushing out of her face. The terrible realization of what could come, or what had already crossed through hit her like a ton of bricks. Kirk directed some men to bring the soldier to sickbay before taking up Cienna's side and asking her about 'John's' statement.

"What does that mean? What he said? Explain?" He held her firmly by the shoulders, shaking her softly to snap her out of whatever trance she had fallen into. After a second she shook her head and looked up,

"James. There are only two keys, the Old Ones, or… whatever exists beyond the gate can partially come through. Not entirely, not completely, but their influence and footprint increases."

"Come? Come where? To this ship?"

"No… everywhere, they don't exist like we know it. Not like you can imagine it, like something else. They exist in all places at once. I don't know everything. Only what I learned from the Daleks and from a bit of the book." Kirk's face did not change, confusion still evident, but his eyes wandered, thinking, processing as Cienna continued her description. "The Necronomicon, the ancient book was never clear, even to the Dalek's. Some phrases, if translated correctly, mentioned the Earth would be pulled somewhere else, in others, the book says they would come here."

The 'couple' pushed apart when they realized Luke stood within earshot, listening to every word. To their surprise, the pilot with matted blonde hair who looked no older than twenty-five conveyed understanding far beyond his years. Looking almost through them, Luke knew now what had drawn him to the Milky Way.

"So then, these are the things I sensed."

Kirk turned and locked eyes with Luke. An indisputable alliance now existed between them. Not needing an agreement or negotiated dialogue, the two men knew they were in this together. Through the Force, Luke felt compelled to stay, to fight and risk it all to stop the Old Ones. If we do not… even the Force ghosts will be no more, beyond anything I can imagine will be wiped clean...

"Luke," said Kirk, interrupting the Jedi's concentration. "I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, he will link our minds and you can know everything that there is to know about us. But for now, we need to get out of here, I'm sure the Empire is reacting to their defeat."

Luke acknowledged with a nod and pressed down on his wrist communicator.

"Luke to Home One, keep an eye out for Imperial activity."

"Aye, Commander Skywalker. We won't have much time to spot them if they come out of hyperspace."

Thinking along the same lines, Kirk pressed the bridge communication button on a wall terminal,

"Kirk to bridge,"

To the Captain's relief, Spock answered,

"Aye, Captain?"

"Everything ok up there?"

"Yes. However, Chekov did not survive his injuries."

The Captain's eyes remained downcast, with a heavy heart he acknowledged. I'm supposed to protect these men, they are my responsibility... After a second to gather his thoughts, he continued.

"Spock, do what you can to get navigation online. Major damage was spared because they wanted to take us alive. Set course for Earth, maximum warp."

Captain Kirk, Luke, and Cienna made their way through the horrific halls to the turbolift, Dr. McCoy was in desperate need of assistance in a sickbay overflowing with injured and dying officers. The trio walked briskly, with Luke enlightening Kirk and Cienna along the way. The Rebels journey to the Milky Way now becoming known.

"Luke. It is impossible for someone like Ro to have completed such a journey. The distances and times are not possible with our native technology. You mentioned she believed her words to be genuine." Kirk pressed the pause button and the turbolift came to a sudden halt. Facing the Jedi, the captain continued. "The Maquis, and no friends to freedom. They are treacherous, deceitful and cannot be trusted. We consider them a terrorist organization. You must accompany us to Earth, so we can reveal the Empire to the entire Alpha Quadrant and bring an end to their campaign."

"I am not sure that is going to halt their advance."

"I have a powerful friend working in your galaxy. If he is successful, if he achieves all the things he set out to do. When you return, the Empire will be no more."

Luke nodded along, but a spike of anxiety shot into his thoughts. Vader. What does that mean for my father? Discussion continued around Ro's ideas of Romulan intervention and the savior of her people. As the captain questioned and commented, Luke found his attention split between Kirk's reassurances and Cienna's stunning beauty. Never before in all his years had he seen a woman so lovely, and without dwelling on her once again, never in his future would he meet someone such as she. This rang true not only for her looks but brains. Making the point, she addressed a few issues.

"It is possible that Ro used technology not native to this Galaxy to complete her journey. And if that were the case, someone knows about both the Imperial galaxy and ours. But that is only speculation." Cienna shared a concerned look with James, The Dalek's. "You say your navigational droids were unable to detect any faulty files on Ro's ship. Species exist here that have a way with computers. It is possible, but not certain, that Ro is not who she appears to be."

A few kilometers away, Han Solo sat quietly in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon, his eyes carefully looking over sensor readings. Chewie grumbled a few tidbits of information as they sat and waited. C3P0 sat quietly beside Ro Laren, the desperate colonist who guided the Rebellion into the Milky Way. Over the last several months she had consulted the rebel leadership on the political turmoil within the Milky Way and developed a "meet and greet" plan with her Colonist people. The Rebel fleet coming out of hyperspace along the border of the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone was no fluke. Ro provided the Rebel fleet a transmission device to signal her colleagues upon their arrival, the interception and defeat of the Dominion puppet forces being a coincidence.

"Looks like we got company Chewie, about six hundred small craft coming at us." Han twisted his neck and directed the update towards Ro. "Must be your friends. Should be here in about ten minutes."

Ro closed her eyes and smiled, her genuine relief of the protracted conflict pouring out in waves. Almost crying, she thanked Han and wiped away a few tears before continuing.

"Thank you so much. Once we link-up with the Colonist, we will then continue to Romulus where we can coordinate our efforts against the Empire."

"If you say so." Han shrugged and continued to monitor the screens. He wanted the Rebellion to win, to defeat the Empire. The Colonist's future did not conjure up resolve within the smuggler, there were other things to worry about. Like Leia, alone and isolated in their old Galaxy.

"I must say, the probability of effectively engaging the Imperial, Dominion and Cardassian Navy's are one-thousand, two hundred and-"

"Shut it '3P0" said Han as he saw an incoming communicator signal from the Enterprise,

"Han," Luke's crackly voice came through the cramped cockpit. "We need to get out of here immediately. We think the Empire will be sending star destroyers. These people, this Federation needs us. I told R2 to set the X-Wing to follow you, I'm staying aboard. Tell the fleet to head to these coordinates." Han looked down at a series of X,Y,Z coordinates coming through his navigational system.

Ro nervously shifted in her seat, her expression of relief turning to concern.

"What's going on? Where are we going?" Han felt her bump into his chair, leaning forward and looking at the coordinates on the navigational computer screen. A soft audible whisper escaped Ro's lips. "No…"

"Buckle up, looks like we are headed to Earth. Home One, set your navigational tracker on the Falcon, I'll lead."

Ro did not move, she stood silent, her eyes wide with expression. Fear, anger, guilt, and worry, all pulsing and cycling through her mind. The Colonists needed help, and only through a Maquis-Romulan alliance did she wholeheartedly believe that possible.

Beliefs soon to be revealed as faulty. Not just upon the Rebellion but the poor messenger as well. Ro unknowingly had been tricked, twisted, and manipulated. Her mind rewritten, altered, adjusted to fit purposes still unknown. Technology she 'knew' to be hers was not. The tremendous journey she took, not taken. At least not in the way she had remembered it, not in the way she 'knew' to be true.

"No," Ro forcefully interjected, "we need to wait for the Colonist ships. I told Mon Mothma and Leia the Romulans were the key to defeating the Empire, they agreed! You know that Han."

Chewie dismissed her complaints with a half growl and Solo continued to punch in numbers, eagerly setting his hyperspace coordinates and linking his systems to all friendly ships. Realizing that the Rebel fleet would soon depart, Ro slowly backed away from the pilot chair and set her back against the wall.

C3P0 awkwardly twisted his head, following her slow retreat to the cockpit door.

"Look out!" Shouted the golden droid.

Han whirled out of his chair and like a gunslinger from the wild west, pulled his blaster and fired a single shot. The blaster bolt found its mark, Ro slumped to the floor, dead. Within her grip, a hidden weapon she had stowed away in a small cubby. Han stepped forward and picked it up, a little blaster, one he did not recognize.

"Chewie, what have we gotten ourselves into?"

Back on board the Enterprise, Luke received the chilling report from Han. Kirk stood within earshot and commented on the unraveling situation.

"She must have ties to either the Romulans or Colonists. I can't say why. But. She may have wanted your Rebellion here. To lure you in."

"We did not come here because of her story, we came because of what I felt through the Force. The danger."

Kirk's eyes narrowed, placing his hand on Luke's shoulder he smiled dimly, exploring the young man's face and eyes. Likewise, the young Jedi studied the Captain, Luke noticed Kirk's eyes appeared to go on forever, holding within vast reserves of knowledge and ability.

"Luke. Something tells me they did not count on your ability."

Minutes later the trio approached sickbay, bodies of moaning or unconscious officers lined the hallway leading up to the entrance. The ordinarily clean-kept carpet a tattered mess of blood and bodily fluid. In some horrific cases, a severed limb dangled by tendon fibers, barely attached to the body. Half-dead men reached upward to grab Cienna's hand, their last wish to touch an angel. She knelt down beside many and patted their sweaty foreheads, her touch soothing their pain if only for a moment.

"Nurse! Get this man to table six, fifteen CC of Quadripul… it also looks like the left arm just above the elbow joint needs to be amputated." Bones barely acknowledged the Captain, Cienna, and newcomer. Everywhere, bodies stacked against the walls, only the living were afforded gurney space. Doctor McCoy had survived the Enterprise assault, fighting furiously to defend the medical bay against the unwanted attackers. But, despite his and many medical staff's efforts, the stormtroopers and Jem'Hadar eventually breached the door.

"Bones!" Kirk rushed across the room, careful not to touch or disturb his friend while he scanned a patient for injuries.

"Jim! Cienna! My god, is it over? What in the damn blazes is going on?" Bones hardly noticed Luke, his forearms stained red from the five emergency operations just completed. "Who is that?" jabbing his thumb sideways while observing charts and graphs of a young ensign's failing heart.

"Long story, I'm… glad your alive Doc."

Unexpectedly the Doctor turned towards Jim, his eyes conveying a hint of sadness, something almost of regret.

"Many did not Jim. And I, just barely. Our friend… John, he came in here just as the stormtroopers broke through our defenses. It was just me, Nurse Chapel and a few others." Now Bones faltered, as if resetting his thoughts to continue. He licked his lips and tried to reflect on what he had seen. "He came through the door like a wild dog, and just... He tore them apart with his bare hands. Their weapons were useless…" Kirk nodded along, understanding. Cienna closed her eyes and winced, not at the terrible carnage but the pain 'John' must have been feeling. The Old Ones were deep and present within him.

Bones continued.

"But Jim. That isn't it. There was something else in here. I… I mean I think I…" All semblance of rational thought or clear description left the Doctor's face. He shook his head and looked back towards his patient, dazed and seemingly confused. "Something terrible Jim. Something I cannot explain." Placing his medical scanner down, McCoy faced Cienna. "Our friend John, well I suppose you know him more than all of us. And, I am no fool, we are at war after all. But this fell into a realm of madness. The stormtroopers begged and pleaded, I heard them screaming like terrified-" his voice almost gave way, "-like terrified children."

Cienna breathed slowly, her own emotions surfacing as she listened and imagined the sights and sounds of the sickbay not long ago.

"Leonard," her normally beautiful smile felt hollow, her sad eyes betraying her normally calm exterior. "That was not him. Not the man we know."

"Then what?" he spat hotly, picking up his medical device and re-scanning his patient. "Some part of him was here, some part of him fought and killed and… ate, and… god help me. Ingested some of them while alive. I saw in the darkness, some shape maybe part of him, maybe not. I don't know..."

"Bones." Kirk put his hand on his shoulder, trying to calm his friend. "What can we do to help?"

Luke listened intently to the conversation taking place, but something gently tugged at his mind, like a small child pulling the sleeve of a parent. He turned his head towards the other room of sickbay, John. Kirk, Bones and Cienna all watched Luke walk towards the door threshold and decided to follow him. More bodies filled the adjacent room, along with scattered bits of Imperial armor. No semblance of a full body remained of the stormtroopers, just pools of blood and a black tar stickiness. On the far operating table lay 'John,' his life-signs stabilized and critical wounds closed by McCoy a minute earlier. His armor had been stripped off and lay discarded by his bedside. Luke took a deep breath and walked across the room, his newly acquired friends in tow.

"What do you see?" Asked Kirk, stopping beside Luke at the foot of the bed.

"See?" asked the confused McCoy. Kirk ignored him for now and continued to stare at Luke, trying to understand precisely what the young man could do, feel, and see. Extending his hand, Luke closed his eyes and relaxed, allowing himself to purge the anxiety and fear from his mind. Slowly he fell away from it all, the sound of the urgent care being delivered in the medical bay, the beeping and blooping machines and then finally his own conscious thoughts. Deep down into the Force he fell, far below the surface of reality and order. Through the Force he felt the interconnected beings and objects of the room, the table, the chair, Kirk… 'John.'

John… Show me your secrets…

Deeper still, down into the betweenness, into the Force energy connecting all-things. Luke realized his subconscious orientation faced 'downward,' deep into the blackness. Is there more? How deep does it go? Far beyond any mortal's mind to reach, came a stirring. Something rose from the depths of infinity to greet the wandering and inquisitive spirit of the Jedi. And as he asked his question,

John… what is your destiny? What is your future?

THEY met him,

!WHATEVER WE WANT IT TO BE!

Luke's connection into the Force snapped like a chain pulled too tight. Kirk lunged to catch him before he fell backward onto the floor.

"Easy. Easy now…" Kirk and Bones both helped the Jedi into a chair close by. Sweat poured from his head and he stuttered and blabbered before catching his breath.

"That's impossible." Luke was panting like an exhausted dog, but his thoughts held steady. "I felt something. This is going to sound crazy but. Something exists down there. Down where not even the Force has sway."

"Excuse me?" bafflement would be an understatement for the Doctor as he tried quickly to orient himself to Luke's description.

"The Force is between all things, but, something is even between that. Beyond my reach… it came at me."

Pulling on both the Captain and Doctor's arms, Luke rose out of his chair and walked over to 'John', still resting peacefully on the bed. Now the Jedi's eyes were glassy, watery with fear and apprehension.

"This man… what I felt in him… it must be destroyed."

"We know. We know all about it. He is… dealing with it." said Kirk, unsure of how to express the terrible reality facing everyone.

"So what the hell happened then Jim? What ripped through this ship?" asked Bones.

"He is wrestling with the Old Ones, they are attacking his mind. But did he crack?" The question, more rhetorical than pointed, fell flat. No one knew. Bodies of dead shipmates and enemies alike littered the decks, but the assault had failed because of him. This fact did not escape the four standing at the bedside.

After a minute of silence, Bones looking as if searching for each painful word, spoke.

"Jim. Every man has a breaking point... 'John' may have reached his." Wiping away some moisture on his lips, Doc continued. His soul tearing at itself as he pushed the issue, suggesting what everyone already knew but dared not admit. "There is conflict in every human heart, between good and evil… and good does not always triumph."

The statement hung in the air, potent and unanswerable. Kirk stared at Bones, unwavering, his mind working strategy and consequence. Can we kill him, if we had too? Can he die? Kirk looked down at 'John', he appeared so helpless, asleep and unprotected. We could end this now. The Old Ones seem to have gone. Is he vulnerable? And if we tried and failed, what then? Will he become our enemy? Surely.

"Bones. Did his injuries heal themselves? What happened when you brought him in and took off the armor?" As Kirk asked, Cienna gave him a critical gaze, the train of thought her lover trod down felt dangerous, a path unknown.

"No Jim, we saved him. He was almost dead… should have been dead I mean. He's stable now, but who knows. He's not human, he can't be, I just can't tell you why."

The Captain's face looked as hard as a stone, this could be it. A chance to stop the Old Ones in their tracks. To ruin the Dalek plan and save us all from total annihilation. Without realizing it, Kirk's hand slowly slid towards a phaser attached to his hip. An overwhelming urge to end the threat gnawed at him, pushing against his morality and ethical boundaries. No external entity or telepathic control interfered at this moment. Only a battle of wits, of his own wits. McCoy noticed his friends hand movement, his eyes expanding to the size of saucers as he realized the next move.

"Jim. If we do this. If we kill him. Can we live with that?"

No one answered. Just the slow unlatching of the phaser case, and sliding sound of the phaser while it exited the holster. Heaven forgive me. John… I am… sorry. Sorrow, guilt, an unbelievable weight and despair filled Kirk's heart. The phaser was now entirely out of the holster, and with a thumb gesture, dialed to maximum power.

"Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny… consume you it will." Whispered Luke, reflecting on what Yoda once told him. The recollection not directed at anyone in particular, more to mark a moment of no return.

Kirk held the phaser forward and aimed it at 'John', the others backing away slowly, the surreal situation taking a toll on all their hearts.

Hesitation. Kirk's hand wavered. What did Luke just say? Taking a deep breath, he raised his chin, preparing to fire the most crucial shot in the history of the galaxy.

"No." Kirk shoved his phaser back into its holster and turned towards Bones. "Get him back on his feet."

McCoy, overcome with relief grinned from ear to ear,

"You got it Jim."

Turning now, Kirk pointed at both Luke and Cienna,

"We have a war to win," then marched forward and out of sickbay. Luke and Cienna shared a look of surprise and relief then quickly followed suit. Determination now replaced despair, resolve to replace reluctance. "Kirk to bridge,"

"Bridge,"

"Send word to Starfleet Command, tell them I want a meeting with all the senior leaders of the Federation. Tell them…" Kirk now turned back towards Luke, still dressed in his flight suit, helmet in hand. "...tell them, there is a new hope."

Cienna smiled, Luke smiled, and just as the Captain returned theirs, he grabbed the wall in dizzying surprise. Cienna rushed forward but Kirk raised his hand in a gesture of calm. His eyes darted back and forth, and a small smile crept along his mouth. Like a piece of technology receiving an 'update' Kirk heard, saw but more importantly understood precisely the message.

"Our powerful friend is back in this Galaxy, he'll be here in a few hours."

"A friend?" asked the bewildered Jedi,

"A Lensman"

Chapter Text

 

Collapse

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Tokyo, Earth

Sloan sat quietly in his oversized leather chair, fixated on the conference screen attached to the opposite wall. On it, the President, Federation Council, and many but not all Fleet Admirals. An emergency meeting had been ordered after the latest news out of Bajor.

"What we know so far," read Admiral Paris from his notes, " Is a massive Dominion fleet exited the wormhole a little over an hour ago. All communication from Bajor ceased when they commenced orbital bombardment. DS9 was destroyed in the opening volley."

President Jaresh-Inyo leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Even from the conference monitor, Sloan could see the stress building. But there existed no reprieve from it, no escape. The noose tightened, decisions needed to be made.

"I am ordering all Starfleet forces to head-off this attack and to launch emergency diplomatic negotiations with the Dominion. All ships, transports, and merchant vessels are to be commandeered immediately. Outlying worlds not in immediate danger will have their defenses reduced and-"

An exasperated gasp, followed by an angry fist smashing down on the far side of the enormous conference table. A blue-skinned Andorian stood tall, his glaring eyes scanning each of the other one-hundred and forty-nine Council Members.

"As I have been saying to my people. You are abandoning us. You worked us like dogs for two-hundred years, building your ships, weapons, our people built half the Starfleet Navy! Not any longer. Andoria withdraws from the Federation." Mouths dropped, eyes widened, a few audible gasps heard. Reaching into his robe, the Andorian Council member tossed the planetary vote across the table, the tablet coming to a stop near the fingers of President Jaresh-Inyo.

The President looked down and picked up the tablet. Andoria had called an emergency vote, with fifty-five percent in favor of separation.

"Council Member Ubino. I know you are new to this chamber due to your predecessor's unfortunate murder in your industrial city of Val-Klaxin. But if he were still here, he would vehemently oppose. Your vote was a majority, but just barely. My orders only reduce defenses around worlds not immediately in danger."

Ubino began to pull off tags and pins associated with the Federation, Starfleet, and the collective union.

"Do you know why my predecessor was killed?" Asked the angry Andorian. His anti-like antenna twitching in anger.

Silence. Ubino continued.

"The mob was not comprised of hooligans or mongrels. They were the workers of the mines, plants, and assembly facilities. They were the disenchanted, disheartened… the desperate! I represent them, the workers, the down-and-out. All of them elected me to push back against your continuous amalgamation of defenses around Earth and a few other worlds. Ever since this war started, our industrial centers have operated night and day, endless shifts and labor."

Council Member Peron of Vulcan raised a hand to comment, Ubino glanced over and offered a gesture to speak,

"I find it highly illogical for your planet to pursue this course of action. Are you certain your citizens were given all the facts on this matter?"

"Of course, fully informed." The last pin dropped onto the table and Ubino looked over the end of his nose, down onto the group of Members he felt were traitors to their own kind. Just before turning to leave, Peron asked another question; one many were undoubtedly thinking.

"How do you plan on defending yourselves? With your withdrawal from the Federation, of which there are many more steps than this vote, you will be removed from our military blanket of security."

"I can say now that the steps in section 4 of the charter are unnecessary. Andoria is finished with the Federation. Secondly, and this is for the rest of the room, to each of you." Ubino pointed at each representative. More than passion; obsession drove the Andorian Council-elect to defend his people's interests. "Starfleet's Navy grows weaker, we have less than five-hundred ships left, but one-hundred and fifty worlds. Travel time is months in some cases, do you think the navy will be taken so far from the core worlds? Even a small fleet sent into the outer regions would be completely cut-off from the fight. We have never faced this...this…" Ubino searched for the word. "Pincer. Yes, this is a pincer movement. We can't defend so many planets on multiple fronts. Andoria possesses thousands of merchant ships, ore-haulers and other industrial designs. They are our defense, they will not be commandeered by you or anyone else. All will be armed, and staffed with people like myself, willing and able to do what it takes. I'd rather have to defend one planet with a thousand civilian ships than your alternative. Think it over. Especially you Anora. Do you really think the Federation is going to help you? Goodbye."

Council Member Anora, representative of the Betazed people felt the knot in her stomach grow and twist. Grim reality and hopelessness crawled and festered in the minds of every Betazoid.

Sloan, still sitting in his seat in Tokyo, watching by way of conference, picked at his lip. We are cracking, splitting at the seems. Not completely unexpected. The Dominion is pushing harder than we could have ever imagined. Through the screen, Sloan watched pandemonium breakout. Council-elect's from outlying regions pushed hard at the President to help quell their understandable concern. In the minds of each, not so hidden behind their shifting eyes, the skepticism around Starfleet naval protection.

Council Member Anora stood,

"Mr. President, my people have been ruthlessly assassinated. We need assurances that Starfleet is going to protect us. There is a Dominion fleet heading towards our planet. We are afraid to flee due to what has happened. We lost thousands of citizens in a flash attack, our planet is our only safety."

A lesser-known Admiral answered,

"We are assembling the 8th fleet as well as other vessels in the immediate area. In the meantime, we have advised your people to use all necessary merchant vessels to help in defense of your planet."

Anora eyed the admiralty, her telepathic mind scanning each of their thoughts and feelings. Typically, only consented telepathic readings of minds occurred, but she was desperate, her people were desperate. She probed surface deep, not at a Lensman level, but enough to see images and concerns others could not.

"You people are not sure! The 8th Fleet is heavily damaged from the engagement in the Demilitarized Zone. What is Captain Kirk's assessment? We received his emergency message to assemble the governing members to Earth."

President Jaresh-Inyo cleared his throat; he needed to walk a fine line between respect for a legend and his current authority,

"Captain Kirk is currently on route to Earth. The Enterprise is defenseless, no weapons, no shields, no sensors. They took a beating and will take weeks to restore their systems. The Dominion forces will reach your world the day after tomorrow. Kirk hopes our plan will work, but it is my decision. He also tells us that he is going to change the war."

Anora held a long stare with the President, she knew he was unsure as well.

"Giselle," started the Vulcan member. "If a sizeable enemy fleet had not exited the Bajoran wormhole, it is possible we may have staged a more practical defense of Betazed. It would be illogical to expose our entire territory to enemy attack to save one planet." The heartless and cold explanation drove a dagger into Anora's already broken heart. She fell back into her seat and remained quiet. In the room she could sense and read everyone's thoughts, no one quite knew what to do.

"Well… at least Picard convinced the Cardassians to enter a peace treaty. Thank god for him," mentioned a member.

Admiral Ross, fleet commander of DS9 as well as surrounding sectors cleared his throat.

"We do not know how many ships survived the blockade, the minefield was designed to stop hundreds, if not thousands of ships. But, Bajor has gone black, so certainly a sizeable group remains. DS9 fell in the opening volley as the mines were detonating, it would have taken hundreds of ships to do that. As for Bajor, the last signal we received was a call for help."

"Surely the Dominion didn't kill everyone on the planet, that would be barbaric, impossible," shot a Council member.

Ross adjusted his collar and continued his analysis.

"Furthermore, with your permission Mr. President we will order our ships within Klingon space to withdraw immediately."

"Bill," the President calling Admiral Ross by his first name, "our ships are helping the Klingons protect their own inner territory, are they not?"

"Yes Mr. President. We suspect the Klingon lines will collapse almost immediately."

President Jaresh-Inyo shook his head slowly, his finger tracing the ridges of his brow.

"So then. We save ourselves and let the Klingons fall. Is that what this has come too? My god how? How could it have come to this?" No one said a word. Sensing this, the President looked onto the large monitor and tried to dig for more options.

"Director Sloan, you have been quiet through all this, do you have anything to say?"

"We have brought in the last of the captured perpetrators across Federation space. Those who killed the Betazoids. We are going to torture them." Uncomfortable shifting and clearing of throats filled the vacuum. It had always been against Federation policy to torture, but now everything had twisted, with lines of morality and right and wrong shifting beneath their feet. "We do not know yet if a link exists between the killing of our citizens and the Dominion evasion but we will soon. I suspect it is. I believe Mr. Data does as well. All prisoners are now here with me in Tokyo; we are set to begin immediately. If anything comes of the questioning, I will inform. Lastly, and you will have to forgive me for being so bold. In my opinion, the smaller the territory, the greater the chance of defending it."

More gasps, and a rare outburst of anger directed towards the Intelligence Director, but the Admirals remained silent. They knew deep down that all one-hundred and fifty planets could not be protected now that a new fleet emerged hundreds of lightyears from the primary engagement areas thus far. The Klingons, despite their bluster are only holding on by a thread, and if support were withdrawn, their empire would undoubtedly fall. A decision needed to be made.

Sloan more than anything wanted the Federation to survive, and would do anything for it to do so. He offered a solemn promise to the quickly deteriorating group of elected officials.

"The Klingons will never surrender, even though we now have a cease-fire agreement with the Cardassians, none such exists with the Klingons. The Dominion and Cardassians are double-teaming them, and our ships are caught in a troublesome position within their territory, unable to engage half the battle groups. Furthermore, the Klingons as you know have been experimenting using an ancient powder. Dr. Bashir, who was aboard DS9 when it was destroyed completed significant research for my department. This powder seems to mutate cells at the molecular level, turning them into a super-cell which then continues to spread. The dust overtakes and rewrites DNA, changes the cell's composition, it moves… to use an analogy, it washes over cells and bodies like a Flood. The Klingons plan on disbursing this across their entire population base in the hopes of creating super warriors. In small groups this has been successful, but we do not know how it will affect a world as a whole. They would only do this if all seemed lost. They may even send kamikaze attacks to Cardassia with this bio-agent.

Admiral Paris pressed a few buttons and the secure doors of the chamber opened. Commander Data, brought to Earth to plug-in to the 'system' of all interconnected networks briskly entered. For a week, Data scanned, analyzed, debugged, filtered, and sorted information. His task to shed some light on this war.

"Commander Data, you are current on all matters related to this war?" asked the President,

"Yes, I am fully aware of all circumstance."

"Should we withdraw our ships from Klingon territory?"

Data's head tilted in trademark fashion, the question allowed for a logical answer, but as the android knew all too well, biological species of any sort were rarely logical.

"It is difficult for me to recommend any course of action without taking into consideration-"

"Just the numbers Mr. Data," interrupted Ross.

"If I am to only use projected lives lost, the lives of Federation citizens, then it is logical to move the entire Federation fleet into our core territory." Data did not smile, his green-yellowish eyes moving from one face to another, searching for possible backlash or disagreement. His positronic brain knew full well the implications he suggested.

"You're only a machine!" shouted a Council-elect, another followed suit and now a shouting match broke-out in the chamber.

"You can't withdraw the Navy to just the core worlds! That is suicide for us!" shouted a Rigilian, whose world was furthest from Earth, the trip at maximum warp taking more than three months.

"Mr. President, may I continue?" Data received a nod as soon as the shouting subsided. "I have analyzed millions of log entries, charts, graphs, sensor sweeps, and personnel files. With the emergence of the new Dominion fleet, our territory is now under attack from two sides. I believe the best course of action is to recall all ships from Klingon territory and rebuild our wormhole defenses. We do not know how many more ships are going to come through, and now that our minefield has been destroyed, the door is open. Further, and of equal concern, is a concerted, well organized clandestine effort to destabilize our population base and governments."

"The Dominion…?" The President asking and commenting simultaneously.

Data's hesitant expression and rapidly blinking eyes conveyed apprehension, knowing full well his new statement would be incomplete, and perhaps bringing more unknowns.

"Mr. President. I am unable to verify the Dominion are solely responsible. I have traced thousands of coded signals across our territory, some of which were sent in the direction of the Colonist worlds inside the Demilitarized Zone. The Colonists are at war with the Dominion; I see no reason why they would willingly inflict harm upon themselves. Inaccurate information is spreading from Federation world to Federation world, shared among friends and relatives. To use an analogy, like a brushfire. I have also observed in our territory and within the Cardassian Union, entire population centers staging protests and rioting. I have also reviewed many private logs, mainly governing-"

"Wait! Wait wait wait." An angry Kazarite Council Member placed his hands on either side of his head, silencing the room. "Are you telling me Mr. Data, that you have been going through personal log files of governing officials?" Even Vulcan member Peron raised an eyebrow at this revelation. Data blinked, he knew then that they had not been informed by the President's inner circle or Intelligence Director Sloan. Before the question could be deferred towards the President or Sloan, pandemonium broke loose within the chamber.

The brooding Kazarite representative leaped to his feet and pointed directly at Jaresh-Inyo

"This is unbelievable, you have overstepped your grounds. You cannot scan private logs of elected officials. "

Jaresh-Inyo opened his mouth to defend himself but stopped as the Kararite representative tossed his Federation pin across the table.

"You people make me sick, all of you. Don't you see what is happening? We can't stop the wormhole flow of ships because to do that; we'd have to commit everything to it. Including pulling our ships out of Klingon territory. Once the Klingon's collapse, its over. Sure the Cardassians may not attack us now, but the Dominion is building shipyards around Cardassia. We are outmatched. Karazite will not be party to this."

"What on Earth are you saying?" Apprehension evident in the voice of the President.

"I'm saying, its over. We will make our own future, Andoria and Karazite."

Out of place, but hardly reprimanded, Admiral Ross shot out of his chair and screamed at the representative.

"You have Dilithium mines we need! You cannot just leave, our ships need the crystal to power the warp cores! Sloan, how are those new weapons coming along?" asked the furious Admiral.

"We have a working prototype, thanks to the fully intact probe diagrams we received from the Enterprise. We think we can stop the probes before they enter real space. It's almost beyond a shadow of a doubt there is a connection to the Dominion. Truthfully we can't find the connection but that's another issue. Regarding our war against the Dominion, subspace weapon testing is ongoing."

"How ongoing?"

"We are going to test a subspace torpedo next month."

More shouts and anger swelled, by the Admiralties calculations, the large fleet from the wormhole would reach Earth by then. Sloan wrongly felt that subspace weapons testing continued on secure site Cherno 44 in Wyoming. Unbeknownst to him, this location only processed Xyit Compound 823, the super substance for the Dalek superweapon. Work continued round the clock inside a mountain. The Dalek's expertly created a false narrative within the mind of the intelligence director. His fellow Section 31 comrades worked there, all helping create a compound they believed necessary for subspace weapons. Sloan glanced at the time readout for his 'subspace' compound, sixty-six percent. Excellent, we may get this off the ground before that Dominion fleet arrives. Subspace weapons had been banned by an Alpha Quadrant treaty, deemed too dangerous and volatile for procurement. Now, it was all Sloan and the Federation Security Council could hope for, and yet the irony cannot be overlooked. For when the Dominion fleet arrives, only the Dalek weapon would be at full readiness, and the Federation left with nothing.

After more back and forth between the President's inner circle, the admirals and Council Members, the meeting broke. More than ever the Federation found itself divided, many smaller worlds whose resources and leverage waned in times of war found themselves at odds with military policy. As they rushed out of the room to their private offices, great doubt existed within them. Are we better off on our own? Are we better off with the Andorians and Kazisians?

Sloan switched off the conference monitor. Moving quickly, he crossed into the next section of the secure facility, eventually stopping at the entrance to a long hallway. On either side, dozens of small holding areas, each with a humming blue force-field keeping the prisoners at bay. Mcgreggor, his old confidant stood two-hundred feet away at the other end, waiting with a datapad. Looking at each miserable resident gave Sloan some hope, if they were depressed enough, beaten enough, they may talk. No. They will talk. They will spill their guts and give me their secrets. And if not, Anora may help if she does not return to Betazed.

Sloan walked slowly, his hands clasped behind his back, stopping for a moment at each brig. His current pause came at Cell 22, Shunor; the feline currency trader caught up in the bar-fight aboard DS9 months ago, now lay on the floor. Transferred from a distant penal colony to Tokyo, Section 31 suspected her of racketeering with known smugglers and organizing the movement of materials into Romulan space. Months of torture up to this point revealed no substantial leads, but Sloan now felt nothing could be left on the table. She lay still, her malnourished body slowly rising and falling with each breath. Long faded was her radiant spunk, only a shell of torment remained.

"Once we finish with these murders, we will come back to you. I think we have asked the wrong questions in the past. I do not think you know much of who the Founders are, but I do think you may know where the Colonists are getting their weapons." The subconscious suspicion existing within Sloan was the result of adjustments by the Dalek micro-robots. The Supreme Dalek very much wanted to know where the Colonists procured or purchased superatomic warheads. Sloan, the forever puppet, did not realize why he asked, the mind-robots painting a perfect cover. If we could capture them, or produce our own, we may head off a Dominion invasion. The actual reason lay in the inability for current Federation or Colonist tech to create such weapons. Something or someone was helping, and the Dalek's wanted to know who.

Sloan marched onward down the hallway, he stopped again, this time for no apparent reason but to declare his intention.

"Attention all prisoners. My name is Luther Sloan, Director of Starfleet Intelligence. You have been brought here because each of you were involved in the targeted assassinations of Betazoid's across our territory. There are about ninety of you, but thousands of my Federation citizens perished, which means many escaped. But, we are prepared to make a deal. The first of you to reveal the 'why' will be set free. A clean slate, we will even provide transport to wherever you want to go. The rest will be sent to a penal colony where you will rot for eternity. The choice is yours. Oh, one more thing. One of you, or your friends, almost killed me by accident. Deanna Troi aboard DS9 was your target, but the blast got me as well. Whoever reveals the assassin for this crime will also go free."

The Director started off towards his smiling friend Mcgregor when he jumped. The following act came so sudden, so unexpected that for a moment Sloan scarcely believed it real. A glowing and buzzing red lightsaber burst from Mcgregor's chest; his eyes unable to process the terror and pain. With the shove of a black glove, Mcgreggor keeled forward onto the ground, dead. In his place stood Darth Maul, surrounded by darkness, looking ominous and equally terrifying.

"Wha… What?!" Incredulous, Sloan reached for his phaser and fired. The beam lunged outward, striking the moving and twirling lightsaber as it weaved and bobbed to keep the phaser beam blocked. Sloan back peddled, too stunned to speak or process the seemingly impossible infiltration of his secure base. He looked down and adjusted his phaser for 'wide-beam,' he won't block that. A sudden cry of pain and a security guard fell from an overlooking catwalk, clutching his throat as he fell.

Dropping to one knee, Sloan raised his phaser at the distracted Maul and pressed the firing button. Impossibly, Maul glanced over and ripped the weapon from his hand just as his thumb touched the button. What?! Shocked, Sloan turned tail to run for the armory but quickly collapsed, his neck convulsed, the Force squeezing the air from his lungs.

With the last of Sloan's oxygen exhausted, his arms and legs spasmed and his vision faded to black. Maul released his grip and began to look around for any security threats. Outclassed entirely, the remnants of Starfleet security quickly fell to his blade, their phasers routinely absorbed by the double-lightsaber.

Boba Fett, guarding the rear, promptly dispatched two security officers before starting his accounting. Methodically, the bounty hunter walked the length of holding cells; cross-checking each against a list obtained from Thrawn's vast network of intercepted messages and decrypted files. Before the mission could be called a success, all captured bounty hunters, all loose ends must be present.

"Got her!" he shouted back over his shoulder. Maul quickly closed the distance and stared into the cell. Shunor, no longer laying lifeless, stood against the far wall, her eyes wide and her claws out. Maul held his lightsaber to the force-field and it sparked and strained against the blade. Boba cautiously stepped back and raised his weapon, routinely thumbing the lever from 'kill' to 'stun'. Like a balloon, the field 'popped' and Shunor sprang forward like a cat. Maul, 'feeling' this ahead of time, raised his hand and Force caught her in mid-air. She floated helplessly, desperately clutching her neck to try and let air down into her gasping lungs. A sick smile formed on the tattooed face of the Sith. The more pain he caused and suffrage laid, his well-deserved sense superiority flourished.

Maul squeezed, ribs cracked and the little air in Shunor's lungs dribbled out in a measly scream. The Sith had been savagely attacked on the Romulan moon, he felt embarrassed, ashamed. Thrawn's idea to capture her seemed like a good idea, even for one so pathetic as non-Force-user. Pieces, not entire pictures of truth were coming together to link Shunor to the pirate infancy in the Gamma Quadrant, but Thrawn and his army of analysts could not be sure. No one could be sure.

SLAM!

SLAM!

SLAM!

Shunor hit the cold walls of the brig hard, her lungs empty and bones broken, she rattled around until finally coming to a stop on the floor. Soon she will feel the full power of the dark side. Effortlessly, Maul levitated her into the corridor and down towards their predetermined transport location.

Boba's boot missed Sloan's head by an inch as the bounty hunter ran along the cells, placing explosives every few feet. A prisoner, recognizing the famous tracker called out,

"Boba! Boba! You son of a bitch! What are you doing?" Skidding to a halt, Fett backed up and looked into the cell, he recognized the prisoner, but he did not recall his name.

"I'm getting paid," he said flatly, then moved off and continued his mission.

Now more prisoners were yelling and screaming, hopeful to be rescued, others accepted their fate and screamed profanities like a sailor. In either case, entirely ignored by the Sith who smiled at their approaching deaths. Passing the downed Intelligence Director, Maul 'felt' something odd surrounding Sloan, but he could not pinpoint it.

Within the brain of the Dalek-puppet, the super machines moved quickly, breaking their neuron attachments to move towards the heart. This emergency process began upon his death a minute ago. Surrounding Sloan's dead heart, they prepared to send an energy surge to restart it.

Zap!

Sloan gasped and floundered, his brain misfiring as he spasmed violently on the ground. The machines were successful, but as Sloan's vision restored and he settled down, he saw a hooded figure standing over him. Maul looked at him curiously, surprised he had been somehow resuscitated.

Now a preprogrammed survival mechanism took over, a deep and hidden psychological Dalek protocol. At lightning speed, Sloan raised his right hand and tapped the communicator on his chest, shouting,

"Echo-four-" Sloan never finished. His body now lay in two pieces, perfectly cut along the waistline by Maul's ignited blade. The Sith Lord eyed the dead Director for a moment, then stepping on his chest, moved forward with Boba Fett in tow.

"Are the charges set?" Asked Maul.

"Good to go."

Boba Fett tapped a few commands into his arm-pad and all at once the explosives armed, the last cries of helpless inmates bombarding his ears as the fifty or more explosives beeped in harmony.

"Forty-seconds,"

Maul nodded in acknowledgment, and then both men and their prisoner shimmered away.

Beep...

Beep...

Beep...

Captured prisoners now desperately threw themselves against the charged force fields, screaming and clawing at the walls. Others sat quietly, at peace, knowing this was the end of their long and sinful lives.

Beep…

Beep…

Beep...

5...4...3..

Sloan's upper half materialized away, transported from Tokyo to Starfleet Medical Center in San Francisco. His emergency cry for help had worked, now his survival lay in the hands of human doctors, the Dalek's unable to render aid.

2...1..

The entire facility and all within it vaporized in a flash of blinding light.

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Dalek Secret Facility

The Supreme Dalek overlooked the readouts from his Federation hacking apparatus, he was not pleased with Sloan's fate.

"Our slave may not survive, huuuuuman medical technology is inferior." The Supreme Dalek swiveled it's eyestock to look at another few items. "Did our embedded code infiltrate the positronic brain of the Android while it scanned through the Federation systems?"

"Affirmative."

"Status of Metron attack probes?"

"Our Beta Quadrant facility has been destroyed. Sixty-six stealth relays have also been detected and eliminated" reported a Dalek.

Over the last week, the Metron effort to detect and eliminate Dalek technology throughout the galaxy continued, small and medium-sized facilities now lay in ruins.

"Link battle computer to Borg fleet. Set instructions to exterminate the Metron home system. Only enhanced Borg technology is to be used. We C-A-N-N-O-T reveal our true pppooooowweerrrr!"

The Battle Computer chirped to life, its answer a perfect imitation of deliberate Dalek speech patterns.

"The Metron's possess advanced technology, probability of success is fifty-seven point four percent. Borg link initiated, Collective overwritten." A moment later, "Cloak engaged. Cubes entering ultra-transwarp. Time to target, six hours."

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant

Morphed and elongated stars appeared as sheets of white light as forty Borg Cubes raced towards their target. Traveling far faster than any Borg cube had ever gone, they moved quickly and invisibly towards the Metron home planet. Their upgraded technology only morsels of greater Dalek potential. The Collective, believing these actions a logical choice of its own free will, sought to rid the galaxy of the Metron menace.

-Event Log

-Time to Target : 00:00:30 seconds

-Adjust shield configuration for frontal dampening field

-Prime High-Yield warheads

-Set ship reactors to overcharge

-Self-Preservation Priority 0%

-Assimilation Priority 0%

-Target Destruction Priority 100%

-Countdown to target: Begin

29…

28…

27…

-Detecting subspace probes

-Prepare to engage

Beneath the veil of ordinary space lay subspace, another realm of reality where the Metron probes waited. Their advanced sensors tracking the attack force as it moved closer.

26…

25…

24…

The Metron's despite their long history and advanced technology existed as isolationists, their combat prowess never tested, their tactics never tried. Now within the transwarp stream, chaotic energy sparked and cracked below the cubes. A white ball of energy fought to emerge, attempting to pull itself through from subspace into transwarp, a feat never tried.

23…

22…

21…

White strands of energy danced along the transwarp stream as a 10 km probe birthed from below; its surface a solid white sheet of glimmering power. With a violent discharge, a blinding light connected with the closest Cube. A colossal chunk atomized into nothingness, the rest scattering into oblivion within the transwarp stream, like sand scattering in a fast moving stream.

-Engaging Metron Probe

-Adapt weaponry for transwarp environment

-Isolate Metron shell frequency

Green absorption beams fired from the Borg Cubes in unison, their goal to dissolve the energy barrier surrounding the mechanical probe within. Splashes of green absorption discharges washed over the perfect sphere, it's screen faltering but only for a second. Now a second probe emerged into transwarp, destroying three cubes in a single shot.

-Rotate shield harmonics

-Switch to scatter beam

-Adapt array to frequency 1332.33 Mhz

20…

19…
18…

-Metron frequency isolated

Firing together, modified beams hit the first probe at a precise coordinate, only this time the energy sheath protecting the Metron craft disappeared. For the first time in Metron history, their superior technology failed and the probe promptly lost power. Like a sinking ship of the 21st century, the probe slowly 'sunk' into the transwarp barrier, eventually disappearing from view.

17…

16…

15…

Two more Cubes violently exploded, their shields unable to repel the might of the Metron energy beam originating from the second probe. In addition to beams, the probe activated its dampening field, the same that held Kirk's Enterprise and Gorn vessel a hundred years earlier. But a hundred years ago, the Metron were not facing a Dalek Battle Computer.

14…

13…

12…

Realizing Borg adaption speeds to be inferior, the Battle Computer in unison with the Supreme Dalek switched tactics. Commands carefully uploaded into the Collective triggered an instant response; three cubes rushed forward and smacked into the energy barrier surrounding the Metron probe. Upgraded cube reactors detonated and in a blinding flash, the transwarp conduit disappeared with the surviving cubes thrown into real space. Only six escaped, but the probe had not.

11…

10…

9…

-Approaching outer Metron world

-Launch salvo

-Continue to primary target

Closing at breakneck speed, the cubes launched six energy torpedoes towards a cloaked planetoid on the outskirts of the Metron system. Metron energy dampeners powerful enough to stop a thousand Federation ships throbbed at maximum output, but the Dalek's had adapted, their torpedoes were immune. Warheads of unknown substance and yield smacked into the invisible outer planet. The cubes now millions of kilometers ahead did not pause for theatricality, instead pushing and grinding forward through the ever-increasing dampening field towards their primary target.

8…

7…

6…

-Detecting sixteen cloaked facilities

-target and fire.

More torpedoes launched, the cubes like before sped onward. In the distant rear, now billions of kilometers behind, the first world attacked twisted and fractured. A swirling vortex of matter and antimatter spun into a whirlpool on the surface, material turned to liquid and soon to gas. The surface spun and churned into a siphoning chasm, thousands of miles deep and hundreds wide. The planetoid imploded, taking with it a million screaming Metrons.

5…

4…

3…

Now the second batch of torpedoes struck their sixteen targets, lighting up the solar system like mini-novas, the cloaked energy relays so crucial to the Metron's flashed into trillions of particles before their eyes.

-Target 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th planets

-Launching long-range torpedoes

-Detecting energy spike on Metron Home World

-Launching warheads at primary target

-Set Cube cores for self-destruction

-Ready Nano-Bombs

Torpedos lashed out in all directions, with travel times in the minutes the doomed Metron targets could only watch helplessly as death closed in upon them. At the center of the galaxy, the Supreme Dalek worked harmoniously with the battle computer, their experience against the Time Lords becoming evident. No ordinary Borg attack would ever succeed against the Metron's, in any given circumstance save this one. But the fight was not over, and as the Supreme Dalek identified the massive energy spike from the Metron Home World it knew time was almost up.

-launch remaining warheads at primary target

As the final torpedoes streaked forward, six Metron Probes emerged into real space and collided with the missiles. Brilliant blues and purples filled the color spectrum, energies and frequencies radiated, cosmic ether ripped and matter superheated. The probes were gone, but so too was the cube's missiles. The overwhelming energy spike on the Metron Home Planet reached an unprecedented level and an energy discharge six miles across wiped five of the six remaining cubes from the face of existence. One remained.

Another super-discharge of energy rocketed past the evading Borg cube as it primed its nano-bomb

2…

1…

-Deton...

-Signal lost-

The command never finished, the last remaining cube exploded only a thousand kilometers from the Metron atmosphere, the nano-bomb designed to spread a biomechanical plague atomized before contact. Concerning galactic distances, the bomb missed its target by a 'hair'.

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Dalek Secret Facility

In the middle of the Galaxy the Supreme Dalek stood brooding in anger, but its options were limited. Full-scale war could not begin until the Q perished, for if the Q discovered the full potential of the Dalek war machine, they would surely be killed.

"The attack has failed!" shouted the Supreme Dalek

"Five out of seven planets destroyed, all cloaked facilities destroyed. Eight probes destroyed," commented another.

"Did the Nano-Bomb reach the planet's atmosphere?"

"Unlikely Supreme Dalek," came the Battle Computer.

A human slave scampered forward and gave praise,

"Master, you have done so well. With only forty ships you have managed to destroy a huge chunk of the Metron Empire, and they were not even Dalek ships, just slave ships! You could not have hoped to do-"

"We cannot build our own fleet, we risk revealing our potential." Changing subjects, "Is the abomination awake?"

"Yes. Yes, master, it is awake."

The Supreme Dalek flanked by several others floated into the dripping filth ridden room of the hanging blob of brain and flesh. Chains rattled, and liquid dripped as the spasmodic glob detected their arrival.

"Our attack has failed. We are vulnerable."

Nothing.

"Abomination! Respond."

Nothing.

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

Then, a partial head stirred on the surface, its face half eaten by another, its eyes long ripped from their sockets.

"If we do not survive, the final sequence will not be initiated. We are your Dalek master's, we are your only hope. Obey!" shrieked the Supreme.

Nothing.

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

Time is nothing to us! If it is not you, another, if not another, another. We are eternal.

"The psychic super-weapon will be assembled soon. Do not threaten us! We are in C-O-N-T-R-O-LLLLLLLL!"

The soldier waits, we wait. All is on you.

"We will be ready soon, standby for our orders."

Nothing.

"Acknowledge!"

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

Nothing.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise

The meeting of Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Cienna and Kimball Kinnison could be described as hugs, handshakes, laughs and elation. Scotty who recovered from his wound joined them for dinner as they ate, drank, and talked. Ideas, strategies, and experiences all shared among themselves with Kinnison bringing them each up to speed with his mission in the Imperial Galaxy as well as details surrounding Boskone. Exact details for each counter strategy would come later; only a few items needed immediate attention. The halting of the Imperial invasion so the Dalek could be prioritized and the unbelievable tales of 'John' the marine.

After hours of discussion and social bonding, Kinnison joined Captain Kirk in sickbay to take a look at 'John'. Both would descend into his mind, Kinnison simply carrying Kirk's consciousness along with his, a simple task for a Second Stage Lensman.

The medical bay around the Captain and Lensman faded, blurring in color until only blackness remained. Kirk felt like he was falling, wind swept past his face but his orientation did not seem obvious, he felt unsure, uneasy. More wind, more blackness. Sensing his friend's uneasiness, Kimbal smiled reassuringly, accustomed to the sensation and movement of mind.

"Jim, we are now inside 'John's' memories, it will give us a glimpse of what is going on inside his head."

Now the pair stood in a kitchen, floating dust particles illuminated by sunlight as they passed through. Kirk lifted his hand into the light stream; he felt the heat, warmth. It reminded him of his home in Iowa, Earth. A woman stood in the kitchen talking on the phone, one hand against her ear, the other covering her mouth. To Kirk, she looked familiar; her features were soft, her cheeks soft and… Cienna. My god, that looks like Cienna.

"This is on Earth, 'John's' home… these are subconscious memories." Kinnison paused the memory and looked around, his eyes prying back the layers as he sought to uncover exactly what it was they were witnessing. "Yes, this is his home, or at least he thinks it is his home. Significant brain damage, memory loss. The Dalek's seem to have done a number on him. Or perhaps the Old Ones, I can't tell precisely."

"That woman. She… looks like… No kidding. Of course. Of course 'John' would do anything to save her. He never mentioned this."

"Yes, it seems the Dalek's bioengineered Cienna to look like his wife, with a few upgrades of course. Her name is… " Kinnison seemed to be listening to something not audible to the Captain, "Cindy."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I'm also listening and watching a dozen other memories while we stand here."

Kirk's surprised face coaxed a laugh out of Kimbal, the dream continued as the Captain refocused on the unfolding situation. Then the door opened to the backyard and in walked 'John,' he was carrying some groceries, a big smile on his face as he saw his wife. His eyes were full of life, full of love, not sunken, not dead as they are now.

"Babe? … Babe?" 'John' dropped the grocery bag and rushed over, he put one hand on her stomach, she had a baby bump. The other on her shoulder, he looked as she listened intently into the cell phone. Finally, she dropped it onto the floor; almost fainting 'John' helped her towards a couch in the other room. Both Captain and Lensman followed, watching intently at the unfolding memory.

"She has a rare disease… incurable." commented Kinnison.

"Can they see us?"

"This is just a memory Jim."

"So then why is 'John' looking at me?"

Kimbal paused the images and moved a few feet to take a look from his friend's vantage point. He smiled and tapped Kirk on the shoulder and pointed to the wall, a clock hung eye level with the Captain. Kirk's eyes narrowed and he turned back towards 'John'.

"I could have sworn… he followed me as I moved in front of the clock."

Kinnison offered a skeptical look and rewound the memory a few seconds. Sure enough, 'John' looked at the clock before Kirk had stepped in front of his gaze. Or had he?

"Are you sure his head moved that way a second ago?" Kirk's hesitation and double guessing now caused Kinnison to second guess the direction in which 'John's' eyes pointed before the rewind.

"We are going to skip forward, this is where it all went downhill."

The kitchen and living room were gone, so too was Cindy and the surrounding house. Now a graveyard, cold sleet and gray clouds darkened the sky overhead. It looked to be early spring, leaves had not yet grown on the trees and patches of slush covered the sunken areas of the brownish grass.

Laying in front of the men was a withered and malnourished shell of his former self; 'John' lay beside a gravestone. His green parka flapping furiously against the strong gusts of wind whipping throughout the open cemetery. His jeans were stained and it appeared he had lost a lot of weight. His hand lay on the base of the gravestone, nails no longer maintained, appearing dirty and unhealthy.

[[[ Cindy Whately, 2055-2079]]]

"She didn't make it…"

"No," acknowledged Kinnison. "His memory is scattered, but this is where he was born. She took his name, that is what he knows. We are in Dunwich, Massachusetts."

Kirk looked carefully at their surroundings. Overnourished trees encircled the ancient graveyard, with rolling hills casting pale shadows throughout the landscape. Isolation, desolation, hopelessness best describe this memory. Dilapidated tombstones, broken and unkept lay strewn throughout. The Captain noted the names of the few still standing.

Wilbur Whately 1913-1928

Lavinia Whately 1878-1926

'Old' Noah Whately 1845-1924

A bronze plaque covered in moss and dirt lay beside the row. It read,

[[[

Donated by Miskatonic University 1929, Professor Henry Armitage, Professor Francis Morgan, Professor Warren Rice.

May the brother of Wilbur Whately find peace in the afterlife. May God have mercy on his soul.

]]]

Kirk moved back towards Kinnison, his feet splashing through the shallow puddles.

"Seems 'John's' relatives were buried here. Strange that the one over there," pointing towards the plaque, "did not have a name, perhaps a stillbirth? Medicine must have been… lacking. He slept here, lost everything. Poor guy." Even though this all occurred within 'John's' mind, Kirk still felt a chill run down his spine. So my friend, this is who you are. The Captain took another step, then his eye caught a glimpse of something far off.

"Kim! Look!" Kirk pointed to a dark patch of trees a few hundred feet off. Kim closed the short distance between them and followed the invisible line Kirk's finger drew toward the treeline.

Nothing.

"Just shadows Jim. He doesn't remember anything, he can't have things in his memory he doesn't remember."

"No. No. There were eyes, and a face. Something was there, looking right at me."

Kimbal grabbed Kirk by the shoulders and looked straight at him, his mind peering inside the Captain's, looking back at what he had just seen.

"That's…" now the Lensman looked ominously towards the treeline, "...impossible. There was something there..."

"We are not alone in here."

Rain continued to pour down the necks of both men, but Kim was elsewhere, his mind sweeping the entire spectrum of the dreams and memories.

"No. We are alone."

The sky now cleared and time accelerated, grass greened and trees grew leaves, but 'John' remained. His body deteriorating, alive but barely.

The scenery cut to an alley somewhere in a large city, 'John' sat alone behind a dumpster, his face a craggy mess, he was bleeding from large gashes on his face from frequent fights for food and shelter.

"This is where he lived. In the streets of New York, but this is another Earth than you know Jim. It's bad here, awful." Kim looked around, his eyes peering through the walls of the memories and into others, revealing to him the true extent of destruction and filth sweeping the city. "The military often conscripted homeless and forced them to work without pay; they lived in barracks, like slaves."

Fast forward, 'John' now laced up his black leather boots and green armor. He sat on a shuttle flying towards Mars, twenty other conscripts sat uneasily in their seats. Unlike in the current time, where the armor is a tattered and tarnished mess, here it looked pristine and unused.

"He doesn't seem nervous at all," commented Kirk as he stepped closer and stared directly into the now sunken eyes of his friend. "How long was he on the street?"

"He doesn't remember."

Now the scenery changed yet again, flashing warning lights illuminated dark hallways and dead bodies littered the ground.

"This is Phobos,"

'John' pressed himself against a wall, a mutated something lay at his side, evidently killed by the Marine. What Kirk and Kinnison saw now was the hellish nightmare that 'John' fought through, the turmoil and destruction that made him Doom. For the next several hours, Kirk and Kinnison watched as endless hordes of beasts from another dimension flowed into the base. Blistering fire from machine guns, plasma guns, shotguns and all manner of weapon rattled and overwhelmed the two men's senses. A living nightmare of flesh, fire, and blood.

In the final memory, 'John' sat in the corner of a room, laughing hysterically as he scrolled through the Necronomicon. His mind had snapped, the Dalek and Old One's plan to chisel away his humanity worked. Now with the help of whispers from beyond, the untold stories of the old book translated easily into his brain.

The memory promptly ended at that moment.

"This is where the Vortex blew, where the Time Destroyer detonated, according to Cienna," commented Kinnison while each man now stood in a white room.

"Where are we now?" asked the Captain.

"We are between his memories, consciousness, and subconsciousness. In a safe place where we can chat inside his mind." Kinnison smiled but noticed a look of dread on the Captain's face. "Jim? Jim, what's the matter?"

Kirk looked stone-faced, his eyes looking just past Kinnison's shoulder,

"Kim, if 'John' doesn't know we are here… why is he looking at us through the wall?"

The Lensman spun around and instantly threw everything he had into a mental block. The white walls blew outward in all directions, but 'John's' face remained. His eyes fixated, his stature growing by leaps and bounds, sky rocketing above and below. Blackness now surrounded them and somehow, incomprehensible to the Lensman they began to fall. Deep down into the pit of madness, horror, and utter nothingness.

Despite the Second Stage Lensman's superb mental block, 'John's' voice oozed into the Captain and Lensman consciousness. They heard him, felt him, 'John's' face seemed a hundred feet tall, growing still.

I was a man once,

Ghostly images began to move and swirl about, old memories surfacing and fading from view. As 'John' spoke, the images brightened in intensity, swirling like a tornado.

A husband,

A father,

Now I am something else,

'John's' head continued to grow, now the size of a building looking down upon the shrinking men. Eyes glowing red with fire belching ambers; the face was mutating and deforming into something awful. Kinnison fought desperately to maintain control of the situation, but no matter how hard he pushed, he could not fight it. 'John's' face started to move forward, his mouth opened but no human teeth existed in the voluminous cavern of darkness, just rows of razor-sharp daggers.

"John! We want to help you!" Pleaded Kirk, his hands stretched outward.

We all have our own problems,

Flashing in the whirlwind came terrible images of routine beatings at the hands of street cops in New York, and the robbing of stores for money and food. Burning barrels beneath bridges and alleys to fight off the bitter cold.

Our own issues,

"John, they are evil incarnate. They must be stopped."

They protect me,

They protect her,

"If you kill us 'John', what will you tell Cienna!?" shouted Kirk as he covered his head from the impending attack,

The Deceiver stole her from you!

Wait, what? Kirk did not immediately understand, but something else spoke in the darkness, from below, far below in the bottomless pit.

"Something else IS in here Jim!" Shouted Kinnison as a whirlwind of screaming and chaos suddenly filled their ears. "I… I am going to kill them. I'm going to send a mental bolt," shouted Kinnison, not sounding entirely sure.

"Noooo!" Shouted the giant head, withdrawing its razor attack. "No! I need them!" John's eyes looked downward, past the two floating men and into the blackness. His expression now desperate, "Do not hurt them!"

"Kim, can you kill them?" asked Kirk, his frantic voice indicative of the insanity they found themselves in

"I do not know, but I should try."

"Should you?"

Kim stopped and thought for a moment. Kirk's hard expression burning a hole into his mind,

"No.. no. It's a trick. We need to leave now!"

Suddenly, 'John's' head burst open and from it a million mouths and eyes squirming and writhing on disgusting tentacles, a horror of horrors launched forward, both men jumped and instinctively covered their faces.

Then.

Kirk and Kinnison both found themselves standing in sickbay, exactly where they had been when they decided to enter the soldier's mind.

McCoy stood watching, surprised to see them looking around, seemingly confused.

"That's it? That was less than a second."

"We're out," commented the surprised Captain, ignoring McCoy's remark for the time being.

"Yes, I pulled us out. He won't realize this happened. We were figments of a dream to him."

Both Captain and Lensman exited sickbay, their conversation a mix of verbal and telepathy as they made their way to Luke.

"Jim, we need to strike at the Dalek's soon, a super weapon needs to be constructed."

"Agreed. We need to locate them."

"Yes, the war will end soon between you and the Empire. Their distribution channel for bounty hunters is in ruins, their industrial hub destroyed. I didn't have time to get the Death Star though. That I regret."

"I know."

Kinnison paused and smiled, he had shared everything in its entirety with Kirk upon returning, but it was nice to speak to someone on the same wavelength after almost a year in complete isolation. Cienna and Spock also participants in the mind swap, worked numbers to try and determine a form of super weapon capable of taking out a Dalek base in a single swoop.

"Jim, if the Metron's can share anything with us, any tidbits of information."

"I don't think we can coax them into that, they are stubborn. We also can't expose the Dauntless, not even to protect Betazed. We need to keep it hidden for a final attack on the Dalek's."

"Assuming they don't know about it already. Cienna said their sensors are formidable."

Discussion continued for several minutes as the two men made their way to see Luke in conditioning room three. Before entering Kinnison stopped Kirk and shared another series of thoughts.

"Boskone, the enemy of my Galactic Patrol is running rampant. This IS big Jimmy."

"Is it possible there is another level of control beyond the Ploorians? Or are these just actors caught up in the Dalek time warp and were accidentally strewn across the universe like you?"

"I do not know. The Arisians, the creators of the Galactic Patrol and Lensman did not tell us. They were clear the war was over when Ploor was destroyed."

Kirk nodded, all the while sifting through the treasure trove of knowledge deposited into his mind when Kinnison arrived. Who exactly are we dealing with? What threat do they pose?

"If all Boskone wants is control, if their ideology is dictatorship, that the strong survive... that is a threat. But. Not an existential threat to our survival as a species. And if the remnants of their organization is now scattered throughout, they can be swiftly dealt with once the Dalek's are killed."

"Hrmmm. Don't underestimate these people Jim. Yes their ideology is different, but they'll kill you or I as quickly as you'd kill a stormtrooper. They don't kill for killing sake, but they would kill to continue their expansion and goals and so on and so forth."

"They remind me of the old Klingons I once knew, back in my time."

Kinnison scanned the Captain's memories and smiled,

"Yes actually, a little bit. I suppose the difference between the old Klingons and Boskone hierarchy is with the Klingons; there existed a clear line of sight between cause and effect. A planet or people subjugated here or there could be traced back to the Klingon government." Kinnison continued to scan the Captain's mind for old run-ins with his favorite former foe. Making mental notes as he crafted his story. "With Boskone, you'd never know if it was them, or just some local problems, or perhaps a new entity or influencer. They might have fifteen or twenty different channels. Politics, drugs, prostitution, gun running, trade… everything. I once took a year to infiltrate a drug-running ring, just to find out the shot callers were on the other side of the galaxy communicating by a telepathic signal. It's a colossal effort, and I had millions of other Lensman working against them as well. The Arisians who were billions of years old, whose minds could travel the Universe and beyond helped us, steering our actions in the right direction."

"Where are they now? The Arisians?"

"I suspect they are not able to travel beyond their own universe, the Dalek's making mince meat of the temporal planes."

"But you. You're here…"

"I came mechanically, through a hyperspatial tube, so, I suppose it's still possible but I do not know. That is how Boskone came, they were in the tube with me. They must have been."

The door to the exercise room hissed open; Luke sat on a raised platform surrounded by a railing. His fighter pilot attire switched to a black outfit, the same worn against Vader aboard the Death Star in another future. The two men entered and stopped at the edge of guardrail, the young man sat cross-legged on the ground, his eyes closed and demeanor calm.

After a few seconds Luke opened his eyes and slowly rose to his feet, he smiled gently and nodded towards the Lensman.

"Luke Skywalker, meet Kimball Kinnison." Luke offered his hand and Kim graciously accepted it. As they shook Luke poured over the Lensman with the Force, searching and probing his destiny, past, future. He felt the sureness, the incorruptible nature of the mind. A Jedi's mind easily if he so chooses. Same as Kirk.

Kinnison smiled warmly but did not push too hard with a mind probe. He knew Luke possessed the ability to use the Force much as Vader had, and did not want to trigger the Force as a threat.

"Nice to meet you Kimball,"

"Likewise,"

Kirk motioned Luke towards a monitor along the wall and switched it on,

"Luke, this just came in from Starfleet Command, I think you need to see this."

Luke viewed the security footage carefully, his eyes alert to the significance of the intrusion. Darth Maul and Boba Fett slashing and blasting their way through the Tokyo facility. The last image was Director Sloan teleporting away before the video went blank in the subsequent explosion.

"That is a Sith. I am not sure who though. Not Vader.

"No." quipped Kinnison quickly.

Luke eyed the Lensman before continuing.

"The other is Boba Fett, a bounty hunter from my galaxy. Who did they grab in the cell?"

"Shunor, a currency trader. Apparently from the Gamma Quadrant according to Starfleet Intelligence records." Kirk asked Luke if he knew the feline, hoping she may have originated from the Imperial galaxy. Unfortunately Luke shook his head, unaware of who she was.

"Kimball, do you know Darth Vader?" This question from Luke created a slight hesitation in the Lensman. A flurry of questions and probable answers streamed through his brain.

Do Luke and Vader know one another?

Are they old friends?

Are they related?

Do all Force users have a connection?

Does he already know and is testing me?

Possibly… to all the above.

"We had a run in, on Outland Transit Station." As Kimball spoke, he noticed Luke staring at him, almost through him. Perhaps he is using the Force, can he read my mind? No. I do not think so. Not without me knowing.

"I glad you are alright. James tells me you have quite the mind, could you share your experience with me?"

"Certainly." replied the Lensman. He figured lying or hiding events would be a wrong first step in their new relationship. In an instant it was all over, Luke stood blinking as the unexpected surge of memories flushed into his mind. He saw the battle, the near fight to the death aboard Outland, the hesitation and then eventual reluctance to kill his father.

"I think it's time I teach you a few things about lightsabers, come."

Luke, Kirk and Kinnison stepped onto the raised platform where Luke had been meditating a few minutes earlier. On a small table lay two lightsabers, he picked them up, tossing one to Kirk.

"Jim, these are set on sparing mode. The intensity has been brought down ninety-nine percent, if the blade touches you, it will just leave a small burn. Jedi use this to practice."

Kirk studied it for a moment then pressed the button, a hiss and a blue blade of energy hummed before the captain's eyes. Luke smiled and ignited his own green saber, he felt if he could teach the two men how they operate, they may be ready for any future run-ins with Maul or his father.

Kirk's eyes wandered up and down the blade, the handle, and then to his opponent.

Then.

Lunging forward he smacked hard into Luke's saber, energy crackled and both fought to maintain their balances. Disengaging, Kirk sidestepped and continued his attack. Luke had never witnessed such strange and awkward swipes and footwork, they seemed almost comedic.

Shoving hard, Luke pressed the Captain back, left, right, up, down, the lightsaber came at all angles, but to Luke's surprise, each and every attack was parried or avoided. The captain, seemingly floundering among his comedic and "overacted" actions, continued the fight.

"You fight well captain," commented Luke as their sabers connected again and again. But soon the precision and training of the Jedi became evident, Kirk yelped as the green saber singed his shirt, then arm, and soon Kirk retracted the blade of his weapon.

"I guess I need practice,"

"You did well, better than I expected."

Kirk smiled but there was something behind the smile, he did not like losing, he did not believe in it. Taking a moment to prepare himself again he reignited the blade and faced Luke.

"One more round."

Luke nodded and reignited, both looked at each other intently, no more smiles or chatty behavior. Luke could feel the tension through the Force; Kirk wanted to win. Same as before, Kirk's attack started off with a lunge, only this time, embarrassingly he tripped and lost the lightsaber from his grip. It deactivated and rolled to a stop a few feet from Luke.

"Woops." Kirk half-chuckled and walked over to pick it up, Luke snickered and lowered his saber to his side as he waited for the Captain.

"Have to be careful Jim, sometimes the handle can get-"

WOOSH!

Luke blinked, he felt a burning sensation in his stomach, it had happened so fast his brain barely processed the events. Upon bending down for his saber, Kirk had angled it upward and ignited it from the ground; the blue saber passing into the Jedi's exposed stomach. Kirk and Luke's eyes met, a slow smile crept along the Captain's mouth as he withdrew the blade and stood up. Luke felt strangely confused, had the captain purposely dropped the lightsaber?

Kinnison burst into a hearty laugh and walked over and patted Jim on the shoulder,

"Good god you hate losing don't you Jim."

Luke deactivated his saber, trying to hide his bemused smile, the Captain had pulled a crafty trick, so wholly unexpected he had not anticipated it.

"Give it a go Kim," said Kirk passing him the saber.

Accepting the blue lightsaber, the Lensman nodded at Luke before moving to the opposite side of the platform. He would not use his telepathic power, this was purely physical practice, a workout.

Jedi and Lensman squared off, the fighting utterly different to that of the starship captain. Kinnison's power of perception allowed for precise and detailed knowledge of all movement, he could fight with his eyes closed as comfortable as if open. Compared to Luke's Force power, it was more precise and consistent. Whereas the Force allowed for pre-cognition, knowing something before it occurred. But this did not always prove perfect; sometimes the mind did not register what the Force told them. Sometimes mistakes were made. Two different powers now met in clashes of blade and will.

Immediately Luke came forward and attacked, sensing the decades of battle under the Lensman belt, the ultimate hardened mind lavished in combat. Unbreakable.

Kimball slashed forward, their sabers meeting and holding their positions. Luke did not want to use the Force for extra power, but he sensed if he did not, the much stronger Kinnison would overwhelm him. As if sensing the inevitable, like a King Cobra, Kinnison's left hand snapped forward, grabbing Luke's arm in a vice-like grip. Now the men wrestled for control of Luke's arm, all the while pushing against one another with their blades.

Energy sparked, swords crackled.

With a push of Force energy, Kinnison staggered backward but regained his balance. Luke had given him a taste of his power, something the Lensman knew all too well from Vader. Narrowing his focus, Kinnison planned a final attack, one he felt could trip the Jedi up. As Kimball rushed forward he struck wildly, the blow easily caught by Luke's lightsaber, but Kinnison's attack did not end. His right hand released the saber and came through Luke's guard, connecting into his left shoulder with a solid fist.

The Jedi reeled backward, barely in time to see the blue-blade coming straight for his head. Instinctively, Luke called upon the Force for guidance. In a fraction of a second, he reached out and deactivated his opponent's weapon. Kinnison's 'final' strike failed, his saber blade withdrawing just before connecting with Luke's exposed head. As his strike fizzled, Luke's green saber came up and connected with the Lensman's torso, "killing" him.

"Nice trick," commented Kirk, nodding his head in approval.

Luke wiped a bit of sweat from his brow and looked at his new friends. Despite their competitiveness, they were honest, genuine people. Trustworthy to the very end.

"The Dauntless could replicate enough of these for everyone on this ship," commented Kinnison.

Luke's ears perked,

"Replicate?"

"Yes, my ship has advanced technology in every degree, I could make a lightsaber for everyone. We have phasers already but… I don't see why it would hurt? Might be useful in close combat."

Twenty minutes later the men stood in front of a small pile of different lightsabers spread across the table. Kirk picked one up and inspected it.

"How do we adjust the color,"

"Here," Luke adjusted a few items in the base and Kirk ignited it, yellow, brighter than his gold shirt but close enough.

"I'll stick with blue," commented Kinnison.

"I'll need a lot more practice. Hopefully I'll never have to use it," Jim saying this more to himself than anyone else.

"Your friend is coming,"

Kirk looked over at Kinnison,

"What?"

The door to the exercise facility hissed open and all three men turned their heads. 'John' stood in the doorway, flanked by Cienna and Bones. Kirk's heart skipped a beat as the soldier entered, his eyes zeroing in on each of them. Bones held a medical kit in his hands; he shared a concerned look with Kirk while moving to the side of the room. Cienna's beautiful smile radiated outward, but her eyes were narrow, worried. She had sat on the bedside for the better part of the day, talking and soothing the soldier. Bones had objected to him leaving sickbay, but after a gentle chat with Cienna he had relented.

Captain Kirk briskly walked to the edge of the platform and smiled,

"John. Welcome back. You saved us. Thank you."

"I am just glad I could help, I must have taken a few hits, my memory is vague."

Luke sensed confusion, anger, guilt, and many other emotions swirling in the mind of the soldier, but the evil he detected before was not present. Likewise, Kinnison probed the surface of 'John's' consciousness, he read no deception.

"What are you three doing?" asked 'John' making his way onto the platform to join them. Each of the men glanced at one another before clearing their throats.

"Oh, just practicing with a weapon, not as effective as a phaser or blaster though," said Kirk, downplaying its significance. He glanced over at Cienna who shared a concerned look with him. "John, I'd like you to meet my friend Kimball Kinnison, he's helping us in the war effort."

Kinnison extended his hand, 'John' slowly accepted the gesture; his dull eyes unwavering as they met the Lensman. Beyond the dead-blackness, Kinnison felt as if someone else watched him.

"And 'John', do you remember Luke?"

The soldier turned and shook the Jedi's hand, a slight nod of the head and he released his grip.

"A little, I remember you helped save the ship or something. Sorry, I took a few knocks. I had a few strange dreams as well, sorry guys. Not feeling like myself." Glancing down at the pile of lightsabers, he picked one up. "Is… is this what you were holding in engineering? How does it work?"

"Yes," he said calmly, reaching for his own blade on his hip. "It's an ancient Jedi weapon, around long before blasters. The tradition has been passed down from-"

"-From generation to generation. Since the beginning," interrupted John, almost ignoring Luke in the process.

Now in the glimmers of the Force, Luke felt something, boiling just beneath, bubbling like a cauldron ready to erupt. Kinnison's mind probe also felt strange, no longer clear, as if experiencing interference, like a radio antenna in a tunnel.

Whoosh! The blade ignited.

Luke's heart beat quicker, a blue energy blade did not emerge. Instead this one was pure black, he did not know how but the color had changed. The dark blade cast shadows across the soldier's scarred and grizzly face, his dead eyes staring intently at the light. Shadows and images not representative of the room he currently occupied flashed across his glassy eyes.

"Maybe we should call it a day?" chirped Bones from the corner nervously.

Kirk wiped his dry mouth, we have to keep him on our side, have to keep him with us, a friend, an ally.

Agreed, replied Kinnison telepathically.

"I have seen hell. There was no order, no rules, no turns. The best practice is to jump in." Twisting the blade in his hand, he brought it down to a guard position.

Kirk brought his blade to bare and readied himself. Luke and Kinnison ignited, all four men stood in a circle ten feet apart. Kinnison stared intently into 'John's' eyes, the soldier returning the glare, but there existed more. The deadeyes were pulling Kim in, tugging at his mind. Enticing him to join the terrorized soul, deep down where THEY waited.

He knows, he knows who I am. He knows we were in his memories.

Kinnison blinked and for a moment, a fraction of a millionth of a second, 'John's' face did not exist. Only a monstrous perversion of life, a disgusting slop of flesh and oozing somethingness. Then it disappeared, as fast as it had arrived.

Did anyone see that?

Luke felt a surge of danger and prepared himself,

Kirk took a deep breath,

"Every man for himself."

AS IT ALWAYS WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE

Now the black saber began to burn brighter, somehow, some way, the power started dialing upwards. Two percent, three, four, five.

Kirk noticed the throbbing power, despite 'John' not touching or knowing how to operate the internal mechanism, something adjusted the power upward.

Kinnison sent a mental command to both Luke and Kirk,

If this goes south, we all attack him at once, I'll hit him with a bolt god couldn't stop. Jim you swipe for the legs, Luke, you take the head.

Wait, ordered Kirk telepathically. He needed to say something.

"The best practice is to jump right in, to fight." Kirk held his gaze on 'John', then turning his head towards Cienna. "Won't you join us?"

A noticeable look of concern overcame 'John's' lifeless expression, he did not like this. Kirk read the expression perfectly and continued,

"Have to fight. Have to jump in. That's what you said 'John', that's what you wished for."

Whoosh! Cienna ignited a fifth lightsaber, its blue blade casting her dress in a pale glow. She positioned herself between Kirk and John, her eyes darting back and forth, readying herself.

"This setting," Kirk carefully increased the power-output of the lightsaber to match John's "...may kill us. But. That is the cost of true practice. True ability."

Hesitation. 'John's' mind reeled, he did not want Cienna harmed. What DO I want?

TO RIP THEM APART

No. No these are my friends. They fight for good, they fight for all humanity. Like I did. For a long frightful second, everyone stood still, waiting for the first move. It never came. Demons clawing and festering began to subside, he calmed and deactivated his lightsaber. He offered it to Kirk but the captain refused,

"No 'John'. When the time comes, you will need that to protect us. Thanks."

The soldier's eyes look downcast, a terrible expression of sadness on his face, he felt awful.

"I'm starving 'John', want to join me?" interjected Cienna. Her voice as soft as down-pillows, capable of soothing any man's ears. He turned and followed her out of the room, glancing back only once to nod at the doctor standing against the wall. As soon as the door hissed closed, Luke ran his fingers through his sweaty hair, Kinnison took a deep breath, each man looking at Kirk. Joining them on the platform was Bones, furious and red-faced.

"You are taking a big risk Jim!"

"The risk is greater if he becomes our enemy!" countered Kirk.

"He's on a razor's edge. If he turns on us. If he...finds out…" Bones was careful not to insinuate what he was sure the others already knew, but despite this, Kirk's relationship with Cienna reeked of danger.

"Bones… We have to keep him on our side. Our friend." No one said anything, each sensing Kirk was not finished. "Gentlemen. He is the key to keep back the Old Ones. Cienna and the Dalek's were to use him to open the gateway, to let them out. Imagine if he felt there was nothing to live for? He's this dangerous as a friend, imagine him an enemy?"

"Jim." Kinnison seemed to be in deep thought, contemplating future events in his head. "There may be a way to keep him on our side, but, not have him near her or us. You said she was to trick him into opening the Gate. Isn't it dangerous to keep them together?"

"Perhaps. What's your idea?"

"He needs a mission, something off this ship and away from Cienna. But something to keep him occupied, isolated, but fighting for her cause."

"Yes." Luke piped up, thinking. "The Sith who attacked your installation with Boba Fett will be turned against you and her. The elite stormtroopers failed, it's only a matter of time."

"Send him to find the Sith? Kim, didn't you say the Empire will withdraw?" asked the Captain.

"Well they should, at least I believe they'll have too once we take care of the Dalek and turn our attention towards them. But in the meantime, it would get him out of here."

Kirk nodded along, the plan seemed reasonable.

"OK, so he needs a ship…"

"Han and I will take him aboard the Falcon. I sense there is more to come with this Sith. John will need my help."

"I see. But what if he won't cooperate?" asked Kirk.

"He will." Luke's eyes were faroff, thinking of his next words. He sensed the connection between Kirk and Cienna, and he did not want to startle his new ally, but he could not avoid this vision. "I see many things. Many futures. Cienna dies by this Sith's hands. John must seek him out."

"What? Dies?"

"One possible future."

Kirk's face now hard as stone, staring right into Luke's eyes.

"Not THIS future. Not on my watch."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Betazed

Only minutes away, seventy-eight Dominion ships rocketed towards Betazed. Vorta Administrator Weyoun aboard the lead dreadnought received the last instructions of his lifetime.

:Executive Command:

:Founder Homeworld:

-Ignore the Federation fleet, fly directly into the planet at maximum speed. Your life is to serve us-

Little did Weyoun know, the Founder's were now dead, wholly obliterated. The rocky surface of their world devastated by Imperial orbital bombardment moments ago. The final command nothing more than a ruse by Grand Admiral Thrawn to decimate the last of the telepaths.

Weyoun read the command twice just to be sure, he blinked and smiled softly. His life was meaningless, he knew that.

"Long live the Dominion. Long live the Founders."

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Klingon Homeworld - Kronos

Resembling a manufacturing hub more than a homeworld. Kronos factories belched toxic fumes miles into the air; as all manner of military production continued at full speed. New and old Birds of Prey both in orbit and on the surface prepped for action. Anything and everything that could fly moved towards the front line. No longer able to produce complex mechanisms like cloak fields, the ships were scaled down versions of their previous potential. Millions, perhaps billions of Klingon lives had perished in battle, taking with them as many or more Dominion and Cardassian personnel. Children as young as six labored day and night in assembly facilities. There existed no reprieve from the war effort, no soul rested. In the beginning, the Klingon Empire was comprised of seventy-eight planets with many outlying regions under military dictatorship. Now, only thirteen planets remained, the rest now lay in the hands of the Dominion-Cardassian alliance.

Gowron, Chancellor of the Empire sat on his oversized chair, two warrior guards on either side. He slumped in his chair; the usual full-eyed enthusiasm of the Klingon leader long gone. His hair no longer kept back, it lay in tatters along his sweaty forehead. A moment ago his advisors informed him of the Federation withdrawal from their space. Based on Klingon calculations, the war would be over in less than two weeks. The warrior spirit long zapped from his body, no Klingon knew such defeat, never in their history had such destruction come to their people. And yet, Gowron had a plan. One hatched months ago, a rebirth of a hundred-year-old mistake.

"I should kill you both where you stand," he spat.

Captain Picard stood front and center inside the Klingon throne room, his chief of security Worf at his side. After leaving Cardassia, Starfleet ordered the Enterprise to Kronos to try and convince the Klingons to surrender before it was too late. Not surprisingly, the Klingon's rejected the proposal.

"Gowron," barked Worf. "The Klingon Empire is burning. You must surrender. What honor is there if all memory is wiped away?"

"We will know Worf! We will know in our hearts!" Shouted Gowron, leaping from his chair and swinging his arms wildly in rage. He did not look well, sickly and with a strange growth around the base of his neck. Worf noticed this, as did Picard. Both warrior guards on either side were not healthy individuals, both displayed formidable tusks and additional ridges along the forehead.

Picard leaned towards Worf and whispered,

"It seems both Gowron and his guards have been exposed to the powder that we read in the medical report from the late Dr. Bashir."

Worf eyed the Captain and spoke again.

"Chancellor, you have experimented with the powder. What is your plan? What do you plan on doing?"

Gowron smiled, his teeth longer and sharper than Worf remembered, they shined in the pale red light of the Throne Room.

"Worf, son of Mogh. Every warrior feels the urge to return home during a time of crises. Do you feel it?"

Worf swayed on his feet and set his jaw. He did feel it. A burning, boiling, instinct that flowed through his veins. For months he contemplated resigning his commission aboard the Enterprise and returning to his people, to fight and ultimately die among them.

"Worf is a Starfleet officer. He is here to help you with a decision. To help you understand the situation you face."

"Picard, I know the situation we are in. We have the opportunity for a glorious last stand. We will take as many Dominion and Cardassian soldiers as we can. But…" Gowron smiled again, seemingly enjoying the moment to bask in perceived glory. "Worf, our brother, I have something for you, take a look…"

Worf turned to see two Klingon warriors walking towards him, one carrying traditional battle armor, the other a knife. Not any knife, but a ceremonial blade, only reserved for the finest and most cherished Klingons. Worf accepted both and looked at the handle carefully, a small inscription.

[[Worf son of Mogh]]

"Your last name has been erased from our records, dishonored. But no longer. We need you Worf."

"My duty-"

"What will your son think of you if you return to Earth and your entire race is dead?"

Picard focused in on his security chief's response, he had not anticipated this. Guilt as painful as any blade stabbed at Worf's heart. What would Alexander think of me? Can I crawl back like a coward to Earth?

"Worf…" whispered the Captain. "He is trying to-"

Gowron slowly stood, he seemed in pain, his body ached and muscles strained under the load. With much effort, he unclipped his armor, letting it fall to the floor. Gowron stood bare-chested, growths covering a significant portion of his stomach.

"A hundred years ago, the powder turned our race into warriors. It took what we had slivers of, and amplified it." As the Chancellor said this, he touched the ridges of his head, then pointed towards the tusks of his bodyguards. "We are ready now, we've harvested the last of the powder from the derelict ship that we so foolishly set aside."

"Gowron, this is madness! Look at your warriors. They are not Klingon!" Worf pointed to each bodyguard. Both responded with a snort, but did not speak. Their speech taken from them by their mutated throats.

"These Klingons could tear apart ten warriors!" Shouted Gowron in response to Worf's accusation. "Die a warrior Worf, or live a coward. The choice is yours. Stovokor accepts all those who die in battle my friend."

Worf stood silently beside Picard, he could feel the impulses in his blood, a sickly and irresistible draw pulled him to his inevitable fate. To die a warrior was every Klingons ultimate wish.

"Think of it Worf, the person you stand beside now, are the same people removing their fleets. He!" pointed Gowron towards Picard, "is allowing our Empire to fall. Our children will burn."

"It is not my decision Gowron, I am here to advise you to surrender, I cannot be held responsible for your decisions." In the corner of Picard's eye he could see Worf moving his hand towards his Starfleet communicator, the agonizingly long movement showed the mental battle waging in his mind. Typically, a Starfleet officers resignation would be the removal of the communicator badge and its return to their commanding officer. Picard now watched in slow motion as this occurred.

"Wait…" whispered Picard, placing his hand on Worf's forearm. "Mr. Worf. Before you make your decision, let me say one thing. Kahless, your greatest warrior-"

"Do not use that name!" Shouted Gowron from a dozen feet away. His eyes bloodshot, slobber pooling in the creases of his mouth.

"Do you know why your people remember the name?" Picard directed the question towards Worf, but ultimately to any Klingon listening. Worf stood silent, unsure of his captain's direction. "The reason you remember is your society survived the wars thousands of years ago. His name and spirit passed on through the generations. If the Klingon Empire perishes, and all Klingons along with it, no one will remember him. There will be no one left. Who then gentlemen will sing the songs? To remember the glory?" Picard stepped away from Worf and faced Gowron, "Only a coward is scared to live with defeat. Surrender and face the consequences."

Worf exhaled loudly, his chest heaving.

"Captain, the Chancellor seems to have made his decision. I do not want to be the last of the Klingon's, I MUST die with my people."

Picard nodded his head, and in only a way he could convey, a sense of disappointment emanated from his face.

"Then I guess it will be the Romulans, Humans, and Dominion who write your history. I have no further time for this." The captain moved back towards the rear door of the Thone Room where he initially entered. "Mr. Worf, are you coming or staying? I have a history book to write."

Worf's nostrils flared, his hand still on his communicator badge, he looked back towards Gowron and then towards Picard. Slowly, he pulled it from his chest and looked at it a long moment. Gowron's grin spread from ear to ear.

Then.

Worf tossed the Starfleet badge towards Gowron who snatched it out of the air, his face a flurry of confusion then anger.

"The first chapter will be, Gowron the Fool and Coward." Worf lumbered back towards Picard and turned to face the Chancellor once more. "I will rebuild the Klingon Empire. You... will not be remembered."

"Fools!" Gowron contorted in rage, he pulled at his hair, shockingly a clump detached and fell to the ground. From behind his back he pulled out a device from his belt, a small black box with a green button. He studied it and tossed it aside before speaking. "That button. I pressed it eighteen-hours ago. The process has begun."

"What… what have you done?"

Gowron collapsed into his chair, one leg elevated on the oversized armrest.

"By releasing the last of the powder into the atmosphere around our major cities, we will evolve like before." His guards snorted and their tusks snapped in agreement.

Suddenly and with incredible ironic timing a large door across the throne chamber burst open and a large mass clambered and heaved towards them. Moving slowly and awkwardly into the light was a pile of Klingon's. Fused together at various points, it acted like a giant insect, a disgusting sight to be sure.

Gowron jumped out of his chair and looked in amazement, but confusion and fear also became evident in his expression.

"What… what is this?"

Each bodyguard began to shake and squeal, holding their sides and collapsing onto the ground. Other warriors ran over to protect the Chancellor, they too displaying signs of exposure.

"Is this the powder Gowron? Is this what has happened?" Shouted Picard over the wild animal noises. The clumsily moving mesh of Klingon warriors continued to evolve, individuals melting into the giant pile of hideous flesh.

"Captain, we need to leave. Now!" Barked Worf, standing in front of Picard to shield him from a possible attack.

Picard's communicator beeped,

"Crusher to Captain." Picard tapped his communicator,

"Picard here,"

"Captain, I'm monitoring the biometric scanners from the bridge. Something is happening down there. You need to leave. Now."

As both Starfleet officers watched in amazement at the sluggish insectoid, a large platoon of Klingon warriors rushed into the room and fired their disruptors at the multi-legged beast. It whaled in pain and flung itself towards the group of soldiers. Worf pushed Picard back with one hand towards the exit door. The Throne Room, like any other head of government was protected by a shield. Captain and Security Chief would need to exit the building if they wished to teleport away.

Squeals like slaughtered hogs filled the halls as every Klingon Warrior assembled and ran to protect their Chancellor. Some soldiers did not make it more than a few feet before being attacked by another, savagely bitten and torn by rapid ferial creatures once calling themselves Klingons. Picking up a discarded disruptor pistol, Worf continued to push Picard towards the exit. Turning the last corner, both halted and looked at the mutated creature blocking their path. Standing at just under seven-feet, it could have been said to be two or three Klingon's clumped together, with five legs and many arms, it swayed in the corridor, unbalanced but deadly.

Not hesitating, Worf dialed the disruptor to maximum and fired rapidly, the green energy smacked into the disturbing gargoyle. It howled and squealed, but did not stop its charge forward. Backpedaling to give themselves distance, the torrential blasts of disruptor finally brought the wild creature to a standstill. Keeled over, its multiple arms and legs spasming in a final death sprawl, before a last belch of exasperated trauma.

Now both men ran headlong for the exit door, and upon reaching the front steps of the great hall, they both stopped and surveyed the scene. From high above, three Klingon fighters swept downward and unloaded a salvo into a distant target. Green flashes illuminated the horizon and distant explosions rumbled like thunder.

The last image Picard and Worf witnessed just as their emergency transport activated was a small child screaming in the distance as he fell to the angry claws of some mutated creature.

Aboard the Enterprise high above Kronos Picard and Worf were safe, but far below on the surface pandemonium swept the globe. Warrior against warrior, husband against wife, and so on and so forth until everything and everyone lay dead or consumed by the rapidly spreading mutations. As described so accurately by Director Sloan to the Federation Security Council, the disease moved from person to person, animal to animal. Resembling a Flood smashing through a village during monsoon season, the unstoppable, incurable Flood Super Cell now fell upon the galaxy.

Captain Kirk's call into the blackness through the Guardian of Forever has been answered. A Gravemind forms, the Precursors return.

Q Continuum

Common-Q, our Q, sat along the wooden bar within the rickety tavern, wind howling like a wild animal, separated from the clustered group by thin wooden walls. Not real wood, not real beams. Like before only a representation of the higher dimension in which the self-proclaimed omnipotent beings dwell. As the shot glass touched his lips, he hesitated, as if someone were calling for him from far off.

Before Common-Q could say anything, an older Q with a mustache and banker top hat announced what others now felt.

"Our brothers have returned. In the form of a Gravemind."

"We are far beyond them now. Immortal. Omnipotent," said another.

"Beyond their understanding," added a third.

"But where are their minds? Where do they exist?" Asked the youngest Q, only four-billion years old.

"In the Flood Super Cell, the Precursor consciousness exists, which resides in the culmination of flesh that is a Gravemind," said the oldest Q, stroking his mustache.

Common-Q, noted the question was not precisely answered and pulled himself off the bar stool and walked over to an adjoining table.

"We don't know."

Silence.

Top hat Q flared his nostrils and took another puff from his cigar.

"What our friend here means to say is-"

"What I mean to say," interrupted common-Q "...is that we do not know where their consciousness lay before they return."

Gasps came from all directions. After an unusually long puff from his cigar, top hat Q elaborated.

"Sit down Q, be reasonable. We do not know because we have never looked into it."

Young-Q opened his mouth to speak but was promptly silenced with a sharp finger. The old man continued,

"I know where this is going. The Gates, perhaps one called the Ultimate Gate. We dreamed, we heard calls... whispers. But, like the Precursors, who also heard the calling, we evolved, and our superior minds no longer were plagued by such wondrous examples of imagination. We can travel anywhere time exists, back to the inception of creation, or forward, but no such place or time exists that would describe this concept."

Common-Q rolled his eyes and yawned, bored at the same old explanation.

"We have discussed this before, a long time ago young one," smiling at young-Q. "But one question exists we cannot answer."

"Be careful Q," said one.

"Do not tread this path," said another.

Common-Q raised his hand into the air to silence the naysayers,

"Please. Please. Be omnipotent. What are we, humans? Good grief." That earned a small chuckle from female-Q as common-Q continued his line of reasoning. "Why did our brothers and the Q dream the same dreams? Two different species dreaming the same concepts? Where did the images come from if we and our brothers were the first to exist? Another universe older than this one? We have traveled to millions, billions of other universes and dimensions, back and forwards. We have never met those who called to us. Why?"

No one said a word, so common-Q continued.

"And now a soldier from another Universe, one we have not got around to visiting dreams and sees the same images we did, billions of years ago. How?"

Top hat Q stood, raising his hands to bring order to his whispering and hesitant brethren.

"When the temporal winds subside, and time returns to normal, we have several items to address. First, it has been decided the Dalek's history be changed, reigned in. Second to visit the soldier's universe to see why he experiences our ancient dreams."

"The Dalek's are a curious bunch, I've read their minds," said one.

"As have I"

"And I"

Many Q's nodded in smug satisfaction.

"They intend to build a weapon to harm us, it will not work."

"No it will not."

"They lack the knowledge of the thought."

"They lack experience with mind weaponry."

Young-Q nodded along, having read the Dalek minds and reaching the same conclusion. But. Something still bothered him, a topic he had raised before.

"Forgive me for what I am about to say. I have read the mind of the Supreme Dalek, it wholeheartedly believes in the Old Ones. In the stories of the Necronomicon that we dismiss outright."

"Only through the power of mind or technology can dimensions be accessed, this is why they are of no threat to us." Top hat Q lit another cigar as he winked at the young-Q.

"Maybe we should ask the Precursors about the Ultimate Gate and Yog-Sothoth? They heard the whispers like we did." Young-Q, not alive when the Q were still mortal and existing within the regular universe seemed perplexed at the logical fallacies running rampant within the Q Continuum. "If the Dalek's were able to negate our ability to move, even for a short period, should we discount their intent in this matter?"

"We are beyond reproach. Do not question the Q leadership. Do you think we could survive for billions and billions of years without knowing a thing or two?" The statement by top hat Q ended the conversation. Once again the bar returned to its typical dull atmosphere. The same events occurring over and over. Pieces on chessboards, representing players of the universe below, they moved and adjusted their positions. Common-Q sat in front of his board, his eyes fixed on a small pieces representing humanity. It sat towards the back of the board, the sizeable Imperial piece and smaller Dominion piece closing in around it. Common-Q grinned, his peon, Emperor Palpatine, would fulfill the test requirements, he did not expect humanity to survive. Poor Lensman, he does not realize that despite destroying Imperial infrastructure, it will not stop their advance. Foolish mortals.

Sitting in his chair he noticed something strange in the corner of the tavern, he looked at it curiously for a long moment. Finally, he stood up and walked over to a dark corner, bending down he felt surprised at what he saw. For only the powerful mind of a Q being could notice such small and nearly imperceptible changes. The shadow, always familiar, always present had moved. In real terms, it is impossible to quantify such concepts as the tavern as it is described is not 'real', just a representation of the higher Continuum not understood.

Top hat Q walked over and bent down beside common-Q. He said nothing, standing up again he placed the cigar into his mouth. He took a long puff, the ember burning brightly in the dark corner. Perhaps deciding which words to use, top hat spoke to his friend,

"Do not be concerned, the temporal winds are pushing against our artificial dimension, the Continuum will hold. And if it does not, we will simply reform it."

Common-Q watched his old mentor walk away, then turning his attention back to the dark shadow he thought back to the planet of the Guardian of Forever. He thought of what Captain Kirk had said to him. Those pesky mortals...what do they know…

"Just curious if there is something out there with an IQ of two-thousand and six, or...twenty-thousand and six. Imagine… just imagine what they would know..."

Milky Way - Gamma Quadrant - Entrance to Wormhole

Grand Admiral Thrawn stood with his hands firmly clasped behind his back. Both feet spread apart, chin high. In the rear of the bridge, men and women held their breath, the wormhole super weapon glimmered blue as it grew smaller in the distance.

"Ten seconds," began the countdown from a control officer.

"9...8...7...telemetry stable…"

The maw of the wormhole erupted outward, the entrance way to the rapid journey towards the Alpha Quadrant.

"...weapon has entered the wormhole, switching to autonomous mode...5...4...3...2...1…"

Brilliant flashes of blue and white filled the color spectrum, the wormhole opening belching strange frequencies of light and irradiated particles. After a minute, the intensity started dropping until finally, the maw closed with a whimper.

"Send a probe," ordered Thrawn. Quickly a probe droid blasted from an ejection tube and headed towards the entrance.

"Probe will reach wormhole entrance in ten seconds, standby. 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1…"

Nothing.

Thrawn's lips formed into a thin smile, the weapon worked; the wormhole destroyed. Nothing but us can now reach the Alpha Quadrant. Any Founders still lingering will never know their planet destroyed. Thousands of lightyears away, a world once teeming with fluidic life, lakes of Changelings lay in ruin. The surface utterly and wholly pulverized by Thrawn's mighty fleet. Some attempted to flee in escape shuttles but were caught early and destroyed.

"Bring me the report on the Borg please," asked Thrawn to Captain Needa. Twelve hours ago, the Borg cubes had disappeared from the Delta Quadrant, the last remaining cubes seemingly activated a mystery faster-than-light drive and disappeared. All Imperial probes surrounding the Metron system and far beyond had been destroyed, and so the ultimate fate of the Borg would remain a mystery to the Empire.

Thrawn grabbed the datapad out of Needa's hand and reviewed it line by line.

Could the Borg be moving towards the Imperial wormhole? Perhaps beyond the galaxy to regroup and reform? Could the Borg have helped telepathic Founders into our Galaxy?

How telepathic Founders reached the Kuat Drive Yards and Outland Transit Station still remained a mystery to Thrawn. Vader's clash with a telepathic Founder is well known, but details of the battle remain a mystery, the Dark Lord's whereabouts equally unknown. Still, the nagging questions rattled Thrawn's brain, and despite his teams best efforts, no clear answers presented themselves.

A 3D topographical map of the Milky Way shimmered into view and Thrawn and Needa looked on. The last known Rebel location being the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone; Piett arriving too late to engage and entrap them with artificial gravity generators. This irked Thrawn, but he knew deep down Piett was not to blame, Kirk… he is crafty that one.

Switching directions, Thrawn eyed Piett's fleet sitting comfortably on the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. It had avoided real space entry at the last second when the Enterprise and Rebels had departed, preventing a conflict with the Colonists. We remain a secret for now. But for how long? The Jedi Skywalker was reported to be on the Enterprise, now Kirk must know. But no intercepted signal has been detected from the Enterprise to Earth… and yet the Enterprise travels to Earth at high-speed. He must want to tell them in person. He will not be allowed to do so.

"Grand Admiral, Darth Maul has arrived with the prisoner, they are waiting in holding block AA2."

Minutes later, the metal sheet door slid open with a loud bang and Thrawn flanked by two guards walked into the holding cell. Maul's boot smashed down on the head of Shunor just as Thrawn entered, the Sith all but ignoring the Grand Admiral.

Smash!

Smash!

Smash!

Shunor's already limp body now lay still, Maul's venomous eyes glaring at her, then over to Thrawn.

He approached the Grand Admiral slowly,

"Once you are done, inform me at once. She dies by my hands." Thrawn bowed graciously and the Sith exited in a flurry.

Snapping his fingers, the guards rushed over and propped the bloodied feline up on the slab one might consider a bench for the prisoners. Her tattered fur a matted mess, one fang punctured her lower lip and her consciousness faltered as Thrawn tried to wake her. Foolish Sith, what good is a prisoner in this condition. Useless.

"Shunor I believe. What a pleasure it is to meet you." Thrawn's red eyes glared downward.

No response.

"Now now Shunor, you must speak. The more information you give me, better yet, the longer it is drawn out the longer you shall live. So let's start."

Half conscious, the currency trader swayed her head, her voice a soft whisper.

"What. What do you want? Let me die."

Thrawn repositioned himself on one knee, coming face to face with the prisoner.

"You cannot die, I need information. Tell me, who finances the rogue elements within the Gamma Quadrant. Where does the money originate from?" Thrawn did not expect her to know, being in captivity for so long would have broken all her contacts, but, perhaps she knows where it all started. "You told Starfleet Intelligence that you made your small fortune on the planet Utoria. Then you helped smuggle, move, and produce material for a small band of scavengers and outlaws. Eventually ending up on DS9, now destroyed. I need to know what else you know. Did something happen while you were on Utoria? Did someone help you? Did Dominion credits get siphoned elsewhere while you were there?"

"Paper…" she managed to whisper.

Thrawn leaned closer, trying to hear her whispers.

"...paper. Only received instructions by paper, hand-scribbled notes. That's all." Shunor's head fell forward, but a guard reached down and yanked her fur, pulling her neck into a painful position.

"Are you saying that you received instructions by… hand written note?" Thrawn could hardly believe his OWN question. With technology integrated into all space-faring civilizations, handwritten notes were hundreds of years out of date; thousands in some cases.

"Yes," now her voice so faint he leaned closer, only a few inches from hers. The guards feeling uncomfortable held her feeble arms steady. Thrawn let out a slow breath and stood up. He stepped away and faced the wall, not looking at anything in particular, but giving himself a moment to think. His arms were crossed, his eyes moving back and forth as he tried to piece it all together. Over the course of the campaign, and even during the information gathering phase, he read thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of reports, documents, statistics. Is it possible no amount of sensor probe or long-range scans could uncover such a clandestine effort? One run by word of mouth, by… note passing?

"Were you instructed to crash the world currency? Dropping its value relative to the Dominion credit system? Breaking down their trade ability? To help bring down the socialist government? And, was this fortune you amassed while doing so, used to help finance startup operations for smugglers and the like?"

Shunor blinked slowly, her memory of events so long ago, so distant, so blurred, she could scarcely remember.

Thrawn continued to analyze, his mind far from the cold cell.

Pirates throughout the Gamma Quadrant…

Colonists running rampant with powerful weapons in the Alpha Quadrant… the Maquis terrorists among them.

Utori bankrupting itself, the local currency, usable throughout the Gamma Quadrant vanishing... with a new currency implemented… perhaps now funding the pirates, not lost after all, but why? Who? How?

Could it be? Could it ALL be connected?

Unbelievably clever… if true. Unprovable.

Thrawn's jaw set, a flash of anger.

So… that is where my Bounty Hunter's have gone. My on the ground intelligence apparatus deconstructed at the lowest level.

Then. Then it hit him.

The Metallurgical Guild on Nexus 7 attacked our facilities. They cut communication. Wished to build their OWN fleet…

They stole superlaser and hypermatter reactor blueprints...

Thrawn could feel a slight flutter of frustration welling up, the puzzle felt immense, impossibly large.

"You-" the rest of Shunor's words were indecipherable, exhaustion taking them from her lips. Thrawn turned and glared at her, his red eyes boring, calculating, perceiving.

One small cog in a massive machine. Not on a scale the Empire has ever seen. The Rebels would be lucky to maintain such an operation. But who? Who… could run such a group in a galaxy not connected. Not organized… How are they moving between our Galaxies? How?!

Thrawn moved closer to Shunor and bent down yet again, this time almost nose to nose.

"What organization do you belong to? Is it the Maquis? The Metrons? The-"

Thrawn now stood up straight as an arrow.

The woman… Cienna. She mentioned the Dalek's. She said they created this situation, the temporal rifts… wormholes… yes… perhaps…

"Do you work for the Dalek's?" Thrawn reached violently towards Shunor's throat and started to squeeze, patience having expired in his overreaching mind. She coughed, wheezed and spat blood.

"I don't know...no one knows anything. We do small bits of work, get paid."

Thrawn grabbed a guard by the arm and directed his orders,

"Hook her up to the mind scanner, I do not know if it will work, but bring me a detailed report. Then. If she survives… inform Lord Maul."

Shunor's boots dragged along the floor as she was pulled out of the room, never to be seen again.

Briskly leaving the detention cell, Thrawn rendezvoused with Captain Needa and ordered a dispatch to the Emperor.

"Inform the Emperor that I believe the entire government structure on Nexus 7 is compromised. That the attack upon our facilities was not a rogue element within their government. See to it that all available information is sent along."

I'd need tens of thousands… millions… billions of agents. Someone is INSIDE our very civilization. Morphing it from within.

Maybe... I cannot be sure. Yet.

Marching onto the bridge he walked over to his communications officer and asked to be patched through to Admiral Piett.

"Piett here,"

"Admiral, within a day, a small task force from the main Dominion fleet heading towards Earth will break off and engage the Andorian defenses, Starfleet will not assist, prompting more worlds to breakaway. Once the Dominion bombard the planet surface, you are to wipe them out. Have your fleet wait on the Galactic Rim on the edge of the Alpha Quadrant."

"Acknowledged."

Thrawn shut off the communicator and laid his eyes towards the 3D holographic display. The Dominion attack fleet approaching Betazed was only minutes away. He readied his relay devices and prepared for the attack. Probe droids scattered throughout the system showed a sizeable Starfleet presence, but he could handle them.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Betazed

Forty-seven ships, remnants of the fleet that joined Kirk in battle within the Demilitarized Zone now waited on high alert. The Dominion fleet numbered slightly more, but with the armament of merchant vessels within low orbit, several Starfleet captains felt confident in their ability to defend the planet. For days all available ships raced towards the defense of the telepaths planet. With Federation space spanning such a great distance, not all forces could be brought to bare at any given point within a moments notice. Now, sensors beeped and officers reported to their commanders the makeup of the approaching attack force; the battle was upon them.

Suddenly.

A flash of light and torrential outpour of energy filled the surrounding spaceways. The REBEL fleet had emerged from hyperspace right in the path of the oncoming attack force. Immediately turbolaser broadsides erupted outward, smashing into the oncoming Dominion ships still at warp. Like fireworks high above a night sky, explosions without identifiable objects exploded violently. Searing hot bulkheads, thrown from warp, house-sized chunks of cruiser and dreadnaught cascaded into real-space, each in turn vaporized by turbolaser or the now awakening Federation forces.

Pow!...

Pow!...

Pow!...

Like before with the Imperials and Borg, now the turbolasers of the Rebels fired in rhythmic unison, obliterating the relatively lightly armored Dominion. This astonishing turn of events came with a brief message from Captain Kirk, broadcast to the awaiting Federation fleet.

"These alien ships are there at my request... fighting on our side. Trust them, and… good luck. Kirk out."

Somewhere, deep in the Gamma Quadrant, Thrawn barked orders and spew commands into the galactic wide communications array.

The Dominion ships had essentially hit a wall of turbolaser fire, in the opening volley, thirty cruisers vaporizing instantly. Breaking off into various directions, the remaining force attempted to circumvent the sluggish Rebel cruisers and command ships. Whatever measure of defensive weaponry managed to be installed in such short order erupted from the planet surface, trying to hit any ship able to slip through. From the ground, the space battle could be viewed as flashes of light high above, and every so often a ground-based phaser would streak upward followed by an explosion.

Despite the initial pulverization of the Dominion fleet, three-dozen surviving ships broke into two separate groups, each heading in opposite directions around the equator. The slower Rebel ships heaved themselves towards one of the splitting fleets, Starfleet chasing the other. All the while, to the dismay of the Federation and Rebels, the Dominion ships fired continuously at the planet surface, completely ignoring the protective vessels.

Han Solo firmly held the controls of the Millennium Falcon as a polaron beam slashed dangerously close to his ship.

"Looks like they are after the planet, do they not have planetary shields?"

"It appears the Federation alliance does not have such forms of defensive protection" noted C3P0 from the rear seat. Far below on the planet surface, flashes of light caught the eye of Chewie who murmured something to Solo.

"Ya I see them, I see them. Looks like they are targeting the cities."

Every second, polaron beams and torpedoes smacked into population centers of Betazed. Buildings, thousands of meters tall melted under the tremendous impact of weaponry designed to bring down the shields of starships.

Despite the dramatic visual, the damage being done looked far worse than one might believe. Starfleet had ordered the evacuation of all cities, a tremendous movement of citizens across the entire planet. Now as the Dominion rained down a steady dose of devastation, Betazoids watched from the countryside as their cities erupted into fireballs ten kilometers across.

Thrawn's attack had been substantially thwarted by the unexpected Rebel fleet, but the crafty Grand Admiral was alert at the helm, dispensing orders to his ravaged and shrinking fleet. He could not fail. Betazed must die.

"Alert. Picking up incoming ships 232 mark 7," came the update from the Rebel command ship, Home One. Han looked down at his own display and noticed four incoming Dominion ships, they had been hiding behind an outer Moon and now approached at high warp.

"They are heading towards the back of the planet, I don't think they have as many ground-based weapons there." His assessment was correct. On the far side of the planet, loomed the Supervolcano Manuush, the tallest mountain in the entire Federation. Standing more than thirty-three kilometers, it dwarfed the surrounding continental features. Dormant for fifty million years, it served as a tourist site for millions of visitors yearly. But, far below, lay a cauldron of magma, trillions of tons of undisturbed planet shaping liquid rock.

Twenty Federation ships peeled off from the fleet and headed quickly towards the far side of the planet, desperately trying to reach their defensive position before the incoming Dominion ships came out of warp.

They never did.

Blinding light, the likes never before seen outside of a supernova, quietly and eerily filled the visual spectrum. At this unprecedented scale, the fireball slowly expanded outward from the surface of the planet. All four Dominion ships had plowed headfirst into the side of the Supervolcano, their cargo-holds full of high-explosive warheads. The precise energy involved in this destructive kamikaze is not known, but what remained was a ghastly sight. Continental fault lines directly beneath the volcano cracked, magma far below allowed a conduit for release. Now dozens of millions of years of pressure billowed upward. Seismic vibrations rippled outward for thousands of kilometers, rock liquefied under the tremendous pressure and city buildings toppled like matchsticks. Caves and valley's harboring Betazoid citizens collapsed and throttled wildly, devastation engulfed Betazed.

Far above the battle ended, with few losses the Federation in any other circumstance, would consider the space-battle a success; but the mission failed. BILLIONS of Betazoid's had perished, with millions and perhaps billions more suffering and starving. With no worldwide power grid due to the cataclysmic earthquakes and apocalyptic ejecta from the Dominion ship impacts, starvation would soon take hold.

But not ALL lives had perished, millions remained alive, gathering whatever resources available to make due as the planet transformed around them. Thanks to the Rebel fleet, the planetary bombardment had failed.

The Betazoid race lived.

Barely…

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Metron Home World

A man draped in a glimmering silver toga, one resembling a Roman Senator in Earth's ancient history stood at the center of a ring of similar looking men. A top his head a crown, indicating his rank among the Metron people. This pale skin and soft complexion suggested an age of no more than twenty. This Metron, who in fact is thousands of years old, the same who had spoken to Kirk after his dramatic fight with the Gorn held the rank of Elected Leader. Nothing of significance or interest furnished the large room, whose dome ceiling rose hundreds of feet into the air. Everything was white, with lights illuminating from the walls and floor. The bland room correctly representing Metron society.

Years of isolationist ideology and non-interference had brought a focused and settled temperament, until that is, the Dalek's attack.

"Metron citizens. Members of our planetary community. The heinous attack upon us cannot go unpunished. The savages who did so are undoubtedly the Dalek's, the Borg being nothing more than their puppets."

The ring of similar looking Metrons, all genderless, all biologically engineered, nodded their heads in agreement. Within their once secure solar system, planets once teeming with life now floated with the solar wind as atoms. Never in the Metron's history had they experienced an attack. In fact, never in Metron history had any member of their race been killed.

The following conversation is among the leadership ring; who is speaking is unimportant.

"This tragedy cannot go unpunished."

"We can reform the planets, but the life on it, that will take time to build. Our citizen clone generators were also destroyed, their patterns are forever lost."

"Even their thoughts are lost to us now, we cannot retrieve them from our network."

"We need help in finding the Dalek's. Our efforts up to this point have been unsuccessful. Our probes are searching, but, time is not on our side. Another attack is likely."

"We need to unite the Galaxy. This petty war between the Imperials and smaller races must end."

"Yes."

"We shall end it Immediately."

"Are our defenses back online?"

"Yes, we have reformed the power emitters. But only on our home planet. We cannot predict the next form of attack."

"We are to coordinate with the Melkotians. Their telepathic ability may become useful, especially if we are to capture the Dalek's alive."

"Set defensive barriers to maximum. Set probes to defensive priority."

"The Dalek's are anti-life."

"Once this is complete and the Dalek's are destroyed, we need to address the Imperial ambitions. What has occurred inside the Alpha Quadrant shocks the consciousness of this circle."

"We will fix everything."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Andoria

Ex-Federation Council Member Ubino watched ships of all sort approach the city of Val-Klaxin. His pale blue skin and large insect antenna the most apparent difference between himself and an average human. High above in his office tower, he counted the hundreds, perhaps thousands of ships coming in from orbit to land and upgrade their systems. The city of Val-Klaxin, once designated a primary production center for Starfleet now served the Andorian people. Ships, weapons, and other machines of war rolled, rattled, and assembled on production lines as far as the eye could see.

Sipping an expensive drink from his cup, Ubino's gold wristband clattered gently against the delicate glass. He took a moment to study it. Made from gold-pressed-latinum, it perfectly matched his necklace and rings he openly displayed. His office tower, once one of many in the government's inventory now belonged solely to him. Power, wealth, control, all came effortlessly. Andorian women once finding him repulsive, flocked to him, his aura of invincibility and staggering wealth insatiable.

Not surprising, his new power brought others to seek their own, to carve something out of the socialist government. Everything was changing.

A small screech from the rearranging desks interrupted his thoughts and he turned to see a laborer placing the final gold-encrusted chair beside his new sleek conference table.

"Is the furniture as you like it sir?"

Ubino almost felt insulted that such a lowly peasant would dare speak to him,

"Be gone."

The laborer, which he had never seen previous, and perhaps never again, bowed. But instead of leaving, he walked over to Ubino and extended his hand.

"As you wish, peace be with you." Ubino's eyes flashed in anger but in the back of his brain, he knew. Slowly offering his own hand, he shook the peasants. Ubino smiled as the worker walked off, not saying a word. A piece of paper had been delivered to him, passed from the palm of the peasant into his.

A small flutter, a trace of nervousness crawled along his spine. Taking a deep breath, he unraveled the tiny note. It read:

[[

-Make your speech

-Ensure to emphasize that Andoria will not retreat, and that you will defeat all invaders

-Leave four bars of gold-pressed-latinum in room 622 in Chacar Building at 19:00 hours behind the blue couch. Do not be late. Do not be early.

-Send forty transports capable of at least warp 6 to coordinate 232 / 32 / 88, inform only Judicial Judge Hilo of this. Ensure their cargo holds are empty, but set transponders to indicate medical supplies for Betazed. Autopilot only, no Andorians aboard. Do not file a flight path.

]]

Ubino crumpled the paper and placed it in a glass of water. He watched slowly as the paper molecules became unglued and after a dozen seconds, nothing remained but a thin layer of floating foam on the surface. Picking up the glass, he gently swayed the water, the last of the paper molecules disappearing completely. Downing the water with a slight gag, he called for his assistant.

"Contact as many journalists as you can. Tell them I am to make a planet-wide broadcast."

Soon after, jeering and cheering crowds filled Ubino's ears as he walked up the steps to the raised podium. Situated in a park overlooking the industrial center of Val-Klaxin, his home city. The city where almost a year ago he was only a mayor. Now I am the most powerful Andorian alive. Ubino's swagger extended to his small entourage of 'yes men' each supremely sure of their bosses potential. Ubino had brought them freedom. Power.

Upon reaching the podium he looked out into the sea of blue-skinned faces, their antennas each twitching and waiting for his words.

"Citizens of Val-Klaxin, citizens of Andoria, hear me!" The broadcast did not just span the globe, but to key worlds within the Federation, some yet unwilling to make the final leap. "As all of you now know, we are no longer part of the Federation, no longer part of the system," more cheers. "We left, together. We voted together. We made a decision, together!" Ubino pointed to a large sign at the entrance to the nearest factory, "... That symbol is one of oppression. You, you there standing near it." Ubino pointed to a cluster of workers standing near the Federation symbol attached to a sign. "Tear it down. Grab it, rip it off!"

Heads spun as if on swivels, and the roaring crowd shouted in exuberance. After a minute, the large sign lay trashed in the park, wrecked, pulled apart.

"Excellent! For too long we were held down. Endlessly building ships for a navy that never protected us, never fought FOR us! That time is over. We. We the Andorian people will build for ourselves, build for OUR needs, OUR people!" Pointing high into the sky, with more ships swooping in and landing far and wide, "Those. Those ships are going to liberate us. We must work hard. We must work diligently, for an enemy approaches. Not long ago, Betazed was attacked by a Dominion fleet. Their people completely annihilated. Imagine. Betazoid, a Federation member longer than almost any other was NOT protected!"

Boos and dirty words hurled forward, no love remained for the Federation. With a steady diet of fake-news, the population needed a savior. In Ubino, they believed they found one.

"We have friends and allies. The Federation made it seem like we were alone, isolated if we left. But we will be ok. The enemy approaches, and we will stand. We. Will. Fight! Andoria forever!" Ubino raised his fist into the air, the crowd's elation, immeasurable.

Ubino's starting and stopping style of speech may or may not have reminded some onlookers of another's, but perhaps one could easily look too deep.

Or not deep enough.

Ubino ended his speech and walked down the steps, shaking hands with other political players. As he crossed the threshold back into his building, he remembered crafting the speech, and just a moment ago addressing the crowd, he felt like his own man. His own boss. Although he had to admit, he had never composed such a great speech, never inspired a crowd to that level before.

Damn I am good.

A mind can believe whatever it is made to believe.

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Federation Space

Nine-hundred and twenty-six Dominion ships of differing classes sped towards Earth. At maximum warp only several weeks remained until they would reach their target. Total and utter planetary bombardment their sole mission. The 'Founders' demanding no survivors.

No Federation fleet could oppose them, their numbers and strength far beyond the remaining Starfleet navy. Any incoming fleet of substantially smaller number would be swatted like an insect, and so they traveled unopposed. Ignoring outer worlds and hundreds of hails for negotiation, the attack force sped onward, impervious to pleas from Starfleet Command.

Nothing could stop them.

Until now.

Ahead of the fleet, energy rippled outward, bursting from the subspace realm and flowing into real space. A ten-kilometer Metron probe of pure white energy emerged.

Instantly, a dampening field of incredible power cascaded over all the Dominion ships and like the Enterprise and Gorn vessel of the past, the entire fleet started to slow down. From behind, top, and below, three more Metron Probes emerged into real space, all projecting their dampening fields.

No one is entirely sure if the Metron's warned the panicking Vorta administrators of their doom, but what came next is indisputable. One by one, and in some cases in clustered groups, the Dominion ships exploded into their component molecules from torrential Metron energy discharges.

The Dominion attack fleet was no more. Wiped from existence without a returning shot fired, their energy fields drained, power systems snuffed out.

All across the Alpha Quadrant, Dominion ships were targeted and destroyed. Shipyards pumping out cruisers and dreadnaughts in Cardassian territory exploded in the same fashion. Hundreds of probes were cropping up all over the quadrant, in rare cases a ground installation or lucky Dominion ship managed to squeeze off a shot before they melted away into atoms.

Thrawn's plan of invasion by proxy ended. The Dominion navy no longer existed, anywhere.

Imperial Galaxy - Unknown Location

Teemar's boot pressed harder against the throat of the struggling Imperial Spy. The fat Romulan's forehead a sweaty mess of fat-creases and dirt.

"Tell us again Melkcom, what is your mission?" Gasps and desperate spasms the only response from the spy laying on his back. Teemar released the pressure a little to allow for an answer.

"I was supposed to try and figure out where the drugs were coming from," gasped Melkcom, a humanoid Imperial spy. His face a bloodied and tortured mess, beaten mercilessly by Teemar's goons.

"Oh," Teemar chuckled, his fat belly jiggling as he looked at his men lining the room. "Oh and, um, who did you tell?"

Shaking his head furiously from side to side, the spy denied any communication between himself and superiors, but Teemar suspected otherwise. He signaled to his right-hand man, a short but sturdy looking Ferrengi. The door hissed open; another humanoid fell into the room, hit in the small of the back with a rifle. Melkcom strained his head to see, his eyes betraying him.

"Ah see, I knew it. This is your superior officer eh? Hehe." Teemar pulled a clear vial from his pocket containing a purple crystal liquid. "This is Thionite, most potent drug in existence, It's what your searching for, and wondering, where can I find the providers… right? Well you found me."

He popped the top off the vial with his thumb, beneath the rubber top were two holes with a small button. Bending down he shoved the vial below the nostril of the spy and pressed down gently on the button. One hole opened, representing half the container, the crystal liquid shot into the Imperial's nose. Teemar lifted his boot grinning ear to ear. Almost immediately, Melkcom spasmed and tensed, his entire body experiencing an overwhelming ecstasy. In the spy's mind, all things were possible, visions always unclear seemed clear, his very dreams having been experienced first hand. It is not possible to accurately write and describe the phenomenal and overwhelming experience that Thionite brings, but let it just be known, there is no equal.

After ten minutes, the spy's spasms stopped and he lay exhausted on the floor, his body covered in sweat. Teemar snickered and stalked over to the other man,

"Don't worry, I'm not going to give you any, your subordinate is mine now you see? For the rest of his life, only one thing will consume his actions. To obtain more Thionite. He'll murder, steal, bribe, spy… anything I want. So where does that leave you? Well… let's see. How many men do you control? How many report to you?"

The spy commander now standing, swayed on his feet, unsure of how to act. Major Jammal Craw and his team had been assigned to infiltrate a drug smuggling ring on the frontier worlds, only to be compromised last night.

"Fourteen," he replied hesitantly.

"Fourteen. I see. How would you like to control two planets worth of people?"

Major Craw arched his head back and laughed,

"I'd never betray the Empire! You think your small band of misfits can take on the galaxy?" Craw laughed again.

Teemar raised a finger and waved it back and forth, like a parent scolding a small child.

"Are you sure?" The door opened and this time, instead of another spy being brought in, a dozen scantily clad women walked into the room, each dazzling their eyes in the direction of the Major. One stopped beside Teemar and planted a soft kiss on his cheek before moving towards the far wall. Major Craw watched the girls carefully, their eyes blurred and glassy, apparently at one point under the influence of the toxic and unbelievably potent Thionite. Teemar winked at the spy commander before continuing.

"I need you to run Tatooine and-"

"Tatooine? The Hutt's control Tatooine."

A small chuckle escaped the Romulans humungous gut.

"Not for long, I need you to control the Hutt's. Then, I need you to manufacture or steal seven hundred class-four hyperdrives. That's your mission. By my estimates you'll need ten or twenty thousand men."

An incredulous look overcame the Major, he was so taken back by the proposal he did not know how to react. On the floor, his subordinate Melkcom stirred to his knees, he held his head with both hands trying to balance himself. Kneeling down beside him, Teemar placed another vial into the trembling palm of the now hopeless drug addict.

"Listen to me Melkcom. You see this vial? You can have as many as you'd like. But. Before you do, I need you to gather one-thousand followers. I don't care what you do to get them, start a business, start a small criminal syndicate. That doesn't matter to me. Once you have a thousand to control, then you will obtain more Thionite. Here," Teemar pointed to a box in the corner, "... that box contains about twenty-seven type six navigation computers, you can sell those to get started and collect Imperial credits. You have four months."

Teemar snatched the vial back as Melkcom struggled to his feet and scampered towards the door; his life forever changed. Kids, wife, family, no longer mattered. Thionite now controlled his actions. But Teemar was not done with him, yet.

"Melkcom," the spy turned his head just as he was about to exit only to see an elephant-sized fist heading towards his face. The fat Romulan had thrown a haymaker, connecting squarely on the jaw of the still dazed Imperial. Despite Teemar's relatively slow speed, the massive bulk of the Romulan delivered devastating kinetic energy. Melkcom's head snapped sideways with a loud crack, his head hitting the wall like a battering ram. Then, to the surprise of Major Craw whose mouth lay agape, Teemar landed a tremendous kick, both in intensity and power into the chest of Melkcom. The impact carried so much force thanks in part to Teemar's weight the spy smashed straight through the door, tearing them off their rollers and crashing to the ground outside. Teemar's goons, women, and Major Craw followed the obese Romulan out the door, watching the entertainment unfold.

Laying on the ground, floundering to regain his composure and balance, was Melkcom. Spitting a glob of blood onto the dusty desert ground, he had a concussion, and perhaps worse. The small shack they had occupied looked like a bomb had gone off within, the doors laying several feet away. As Teemar exited, he pinched the end of his nose and flicked away whatever snot dribbled out. The Romulan lumbered forward, cocky, competent.

"Wha..what?" Melkcom still had no idea what was happening, or why.

"Now now Melkcom, I just wanted you and your Major to know that I control you. And no matter what I do to you… you will always be mine. Forever and ever." The Romulan's size fourteen boot came to a loud stomp a dozen feet away from the dazzed spy.

Melkcom wiped the blood from his mouth, his face contorting in rage, he scampered up and ran towards the colossal Romulan.

"Never!" Swinging with everything he had, for everything he knew he lost, his fist aimed for the bowling ball sized head. Only to never connect.

Teemar caught the fist in mid-air, squeezing it with his catcher's mitt palm. Melkcom pushed with everything he had, his feet digging and slipping in the dirt. But the Romulan was too strong, too big. Teemar grinned cruelly, his white teeth glimmering, his eyes focused. Both men stood face to face, Melkcom's one of rage, his opponent one of amusement and absolute confidence. Melkcom Wagner began to scream as he pushed his fist forward, trying to break the will of the Romulan; but it was not to be. With herculean strength, Teemar smashed Melkcom's fist back at his OWN face. The spy's head snapped back stunned, his nose exploding in blood. A digging and savage hook to the body then brought the Imperial spy to his knees.

"You are nothing to me. You must have more. I just took your life. Everything you cherish. Everything you hold dear!""

Melkcom held his ribs, they were broken, snapped like toothpicks. But he did not want to go down like this, he had to fight. He stood again, throwing another wild fist, only this time Teemar blocked it with his forearm, then drove his elbow like a pile driver into the shorter spy's neck.

Thud!

Melkcom collapsed, barely conscious, in pain, and utterly exhausted. Teemar looked back over his shoulder at Major Craw.

"You'd think a man beaten, smashed into bits would not do this, watch." Reaching into his pocket, he opened the top of another vial of Thionite and squirted some onto the toe of his mud-covered boots. Immediately Melkcom dropped to his stomach and started to feverishly lick it off. After a minute Teemar kicked Malkcom in the face and walked back towards Major Craw and elaborated.

"I could inject you with this stuff, you'd be my slave. But I need your head a bit more clear, a bit more alert. I'll give you access to the drug if you wish to use it for your own control purposes. It's up to you, but the power I now have over Melkcom, you would have over worlds. Power! Power! Power!" Shouted Teemar with a big chuckle. He wiped away some sweat that accumulated during the beating he administered. Major Craw looked over the shoulder of Teemar, he saw his spy spasming on the ground from the Thionite, sand, dirt, and blood covering his mouth. Teemar followed his gaze and continued his one-way conversation. "He can't kill me, do you know why?" Craw did not answer, "... because if he does, he can't get more Thionite, because he does not know how to produce it. See? See how easy it is to control with such a powerful and irresistible drug? It's great for grunts and the like..."

A small beeping alert went off on the beltline of Teemar, he looked down for a moment and pressed a button. The ultra-wave transceiver read,

[[Meeting]]

Obediently, Teemar pressed another button on his belt and waited. With his thought-screen lowered, he waited. Then within his mind he heard the familiar voice, the same that spoke to him during his visit to the Rebels and visited him in the asteroid production facility in the Milky Way.

"There is trouble. We believe an experienced telepath is loose within the Galaxy."

Teemar was not surprised, he figured the thought-screen he had been given was for some useful purpose.

"Is that who killed my contact on Outland Transit Station? She was good, gave me a lot of info from Kuat."

"We have not verified, that assumption is logical. Did you inform her to always keep her thought-screen up?"

"Always… just like me."

"Good. Instruct your contacts on Coruscant to spread into their power facilities. How many are working as of now?"

"I have six teams, and I don't know how many below them, like you said, we spread organically. I'd say… maybe fifty-thousand. Tops."

"Your attack upon the Death Star facility was satisfactory. What is the current production rate of hypermatter?"

"We are having trouble aligning the magnetic fields, but once we get those right, about ten tons a month."

"Very good. I am now hereby ordering you to coordinates 0 by 0 by 0 within the Milky Way Galaxy. Leave immediately."

Teemar thought for a moment before replying,

"That's the galactic center, what am I doing there?"

"Negotiating."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Federation Space - Enterprise

Captain Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, Cienna, Kimball Kinnison, and Luke sat around the conference table listening to Spock finish his debriefing of all the latest news.

"The Metron's have single-handedly destroyed the Dominion attack force. Reports coming in throughout Federation space, all ships seemingly are gone."

Kirk could not help but smile, he leaned back in his chair almost exhausted. His gamble had worked, despite abandoning early engagements with the Dominion, his quest to find help ultimately paid off.

"That is excellent news. What else Spock?"

"Starfleet has successfully installed hyperspace gravity generators around Earth, no Imperial probes or ships can enter that system without being forced into real space. Thanks to the intact probe droid provided by the Metron's, myself, Cienna and several engineers were able to develop them. Director Sloan, who headed the project for mass production is in critical condition. I do not know if that will ultimately delay their production across all worlds."

Kirk's eyes narrowed, Kinnison suspected Sloan of perhaps working with the Dalek's, but nothing had been proven. With so much time having passed since Kinnison had visited Earth, many things could have changed.

"Yes… we cannot be too sure of him."

"Commander Data's total assessment of all readily available-" Spock was cut off by Bones,

"Good god, just skip to the good parts, would ya?"

Raising an eyebrow and receiving a few chuckles, Spock continued,

"Reports of widespread destabilization efforts are ongoing. I believe, this is Boskone based on Mr. Kinnison's reports."

Kinnison nodded,

"Yes agreed. The Empire had thousands of spies, bounty hunters, and changelings working for them, but, now that I know Boskone is around, I'm not sure how much was the Empire and how much is Boskone. I suppose both."

Cienna's eyes were closed, trying to listen and think at the same time. She offered a theory,

"Could it be Boskone is controlled by the Daleks?"

Kimball shook his head slowly, unsure if it were possible.

"Tough to say, everything screwy started happening after the Dalek Time Destroyer went off. It could be. Sure."

Kirk tapped his forefinger on the table, emphasizing his next point.

"Speaking of the Dalek's, we need a weapon able to destroy them in one fell swoop, Not allowing them to escape and rebuild. It has to be immediate and deadly."

"We need to find the buggers first," noted Bones.

"We'll let the Metron's handle that, their probes can cross the galaxy in a matter of weeks by our estimates. But when the time comes, we'll need something as well. We'll have to throw everything at them at once, all races."

The Captain's plan seemed reasonable to everyone, but a small point still frustrated Kinnison. Boskone.

"You know, it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Dalek's to control Boskone. It seems like a lot of effort just to eventually kill them all. The Ploorians, or… I guess whoever controlled them wanted control, power. That's all it was ever about, power and control. The Dalek's want to kill everything. I don't see how those two ideologies would work together. Something is off. Something doesn't make sense."

Spock nodded in agreement,

"Your analysis is very logical, I agree that we are missing critical information."

Kirk stared at the conference table, his eyes circling a problem in his mind. The weapon would need to be totally secret, totally unprecedented.

"What I say now does not leave this room." Everyone shuffled in their seats, uncertain as what came next. "The weapon must be totally and utterly destructive. And. A complete secret. We know the Dalek is capable of subversion. If Boskone is controlled by them, then any slips, any chances of them discovering what we are building could lead to disaster."

"Captain," started Spock. "We will reach Earth in only a few days. It is logical that the Empire will try and stop us. They must know we have not broadcast the truth of the situation to member worlds. The Rebel fleet has now made it clear they are on our side, I believe they will attack us."

Luke who sat quietly, taking it all in, agreed with this assessment.

"The Empire is bent on control, either with their military or politically. And if the Dominion is now gone…"

Kirk finished the thought for his new friend,

"Then they are left with but one option…"

Kinnison sighed, rubbing his forehead then tapping his fingers on the table.

"They would put themselves in a jam back in their own galaxy if they picked a fight now that the Dominion are gone. The Cardassians by my measure would join our side. And the Klingons…"

"The Klingons… may have done themselves in," said Kirk, reflecting on the report from Picard to the rest of the fleet. "Cienna," his tone now gentler and familiar. "I have an idea regarding a weapon. Years ago we encountered an inter-dimensional traveler named Lazarus. He's trapped now between universes, but, what if we could recreate the portal… and then shut the door while they are half way in."

Spock raised an eyebrow, thinking things over.

"Fascinating. A device to open a portal between universes, but to modify it to collapse the space. Whomever or whatever would be erased from existence."

"Precisely." Kirk's eyes glowed at the thought. He stood suddenly, leaning on the table, looking at each of his staff and friends. "We will need to build this in total secrecy. Total… isolation."

"May I recommend Commander Data be brought aboard this project, his knowledge and intelligence would be a great benefit," requested Spock.

"Aye, I agree," added Scotty.

"Let's get started."

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Dalek Secret Base

The Supreme Dalek moved its eye stock subtly, looking over the fat Romulan from head-to-toe. An encoded message a few hours ago by way of ultra-wave conveyed the need to meet and talk. The Dalek's had been surprised by its use, not believing anyone had discovered such technology in this galaxy.

"Your brain is INFFEERRRIIOOORR, you could not have developed ultra-wave. Who do you work for?"

Teemar blinked away the nervous sweat running down his eyelids and tried to explain again the circumstances as to how he ended up in this situation. The dark and uninviting station crept with strange oddities. Slaves grown to serve a common purpose stalked about, swaying clumsily and performing their duties as designed. Teemar did not like it, he could not wait to leave.

"I told you, I did not develop ultra-wave, it was given to me. I am under orders. I work for the Maquis. I have been-"

If a Dalek could laugh, it may have.

"The MMMMAQUIS? Improbable. Impossible." As fast as the words were spoken, the Dalek accessed all information ever obtained. The Supreme Dalek knew full well that ultra-wave could not, would not, and had never been discovered or otherwise tested by a rogue terrorist organization.

"Listen," Teemar held his hands in front of him, trying to focus the conversation best he could. "This is what I'm telling you, because this is all I know. Get me?"

Normally such insolence would have been handled with a quick blast of the Dalek energy weapon, but the fact that ultra-wave had been used gave them pause.

"Continue."

"As I was saying, you have a big problem. Your attack on the Metron's failed. And if they were not looking for you before, they sure are now. The Dominion just got smashed to pieces. You're next. It won't be long until they find you, we did."

"Hoooow did you find us? How do you know it was us who attacked?"

"I don't know, I didn't find you myself. I just got orders to come here. That is beside the point. You need our protection."

"In exchange for...?"

"We know your building a weapon, and-"

"You SCANNED our Cherno 44 site?" The ability of ultra-wave to act as both a communication medium and spy-beam had not crossed the Dalek's mind. Counter-measures had been taken but not against such a unique and improbable method.

"Listen, I don't know!" Teemar's frustration once a simmer, now started to boil over. "Stop interrupting me. We protect you. You kill the Q. That's it. Ok? I'm here to tell you this. Got it?"

The Supreme Dalek remained quiet, busy considering all available options. It did not know how the Romulan or his superior's knew of the superweapon, but the battle computer and it's brethren discussed the situation within their information-web.

"Your alliance..."

"Yes…?" Teemar swallowed slowly, his hand reaching for his Delameter pistol.

"Is... DEEENIIIEEEED!"

Quick as a whip, Teemar pulled his pistol! And at the exact same moment, the Supreme Dalek fired.

Zap!

Teemar clutched his chest while screaming in pain, but only for an instant. Falling like a large tree, he crumpled forward, dead. His quickdraw one-hundredth of a second too slow.

Turning in the opposite direction the Supreme Dalek floated over to one of its screens, a new object now entered their sensor array.

"U-N-E-X-P-E-C-T-E-D!"

"Incoming request for transport master," sputtered a human slave.

"Acknowledge. Allow."

Behind the Dalek, two transport beams shimmered into existence. Upon materialization the leader of the arriving guests spoke.

"Teemar… was my best operator," the start-stop nature of speech immediately triggering the Dalek's search mechanisms.

"I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E!"

Quickly the Supreme Dalek spun around, the voiceprint matched perfectly.

Standing twenty feet from the Dalek was mirror-universe-Kirk and mirror-universe-Spock. Each wearing their mirror-universe uniforms, the captain had a scowl on his face. No smile, no smirk. His face a tattered and scarred mess of wounds long healed. A light within the chamber illuminated evil-Kirk's eyes, boring like lasers into the Dalek's eye stock.

"Why don't you try that with someone your own size."

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Dalek Secret Base

Evil-Kirk stood supremely confident, his cocky expression disregarding the threat of the Dalek hoard within the station. Behind him, Evil-Spock scanned the room, his goatee the only noticeable difference between him and his 'good-self' known to THIS universe.

Somehow...

Someway...

The Mirror-Universe that Captain Kirk had visited by accident in his travels now operated here. Polar opposites to everything good and decent by which the Federation is measured, exists within this dimension. Conquest, power, brutality. All unique and ever-present facets of a demented and dangerous place.

Deep chasms of healed wounds drew deep shadows along the Captain's deformed face. One eye only a white semblance of the usual dark and richness to which we are accustomed.

"Revive him," demanded evil-Kirk.

"He C-A-N-N-O-T be revived," replied the Supreme Dalek.

"We'll see…" Evil-Kirk pulled a small metal piece out of his pocket and dropped it on the chest of Teemar. A moment later the fat and dead Romulan disappeared by transporter beam.

Within the armored shell, the Supreme Dalek worked his controls of sensor and analysis, but to the mutants surprise, his scanning beams bounced off a screen a millimeter from both visitors. Not many shields can block the scans of the Dalek's, and this fact, mixed with ultra-wave mastery, gave the Dalek's pause.

"Your personal screens are not of HUMAN design. Identify who you work for."

Ignoring the question, evil-Kirk continued where Teemar finished.

"Let's try this again, you stupid tin can. Either…" he raised his finger into the air, an insidious smirk crossing his face, "you continue your plan and we protect you...or… you die."

"HUMANS do not threaten Daleks!"

"The Metron's threaten you!" Evil-Kirk 'snapped', he thrashed his hands into the air, his manic expression that of madness. "Don't you see you stupid fools. Even now they are recruiting the Melkotians, we just intercepted their transmission for assistance. Tell me. Can you block a telepathic attack?"

A long silence ensued. The Dalek did have such a device, a so-called thought-screen, but it lacked real-world testing. Many months ago the Dalek's had suspected something 'strange' happening within the Federation, their vast reserves of computer power used to isolate inefficiencies in computer updates and strange occurrences. Kinnison 'had' been detected, not as a person, but an anomaly.

"We do not discuss such things with HUMANS."

Evil-Spock stepped forward, speaking to evil-Kirk more than the Daleks.

"Perhaps we should leave the Dalek's to their own devices and withdraw? If they are successful in stopping the telepathic attack we can return."

"Yes. " The captain liked this idea. "Yes. But… not just yet." Evil-Kirk licked his lips and stalked towards the Supreme Dalek. "You are taking too long to produce the components. You're going to run out of time."

"Do not lecture us! We are the Daleks!"

"The Metrons!" Evil-Kirk smashed his fist into the palm of his hand to emphasize the point. "Are going to be here within a month, two at most. Will your components and synthesis be done? No. Not quite."

No response. The Dalek neural-web waited for more information, analyzing all variables to try and determine a course of action. Evil-Kirk was not wrong, and it bothered them.

"This is what I am going to do for you. Watch."

Angrily walking back besides Spock, both men stood and for a moment, seemingly doing nothing. Then, the thick leather wrist bands they fashioned began to glow. Not wristbands of their mirror-universe uniform but of another. Black Lensman.

Their black lenses began to glow ominously, their telepathic power outgoing to unknown regions. Unlike Kinnison who no longer needed the physical lens to complete his telepathic tasks, black lensman had not progressed to such a level. Yet.

"Watch now Supreme Dalek, watch as their world ends."

Evil-Kirk tossed a device into the air, it unfolded rapidly into an immeasurably thin sheet, it flickered and now the Metron planet appeared. It's dull white surface uninspiring, seemingly quiet.

"Consider this... a down payment."

The camera angle, provided by ultra-wave spy beams zoomed out, now the planet seemed small, alone, vulnerable.

Without warning, a massive vortex of energy began to spin, like a giant ocean maelstrom, spinning wildly a million kilometers from the Metron home. With a diameter of ten-thousand miles, it belched and flared. The Daleks knew what they were witnessing, but they did not believe it possible that this universe possessed such technology.

"You have access to hyper-tubes?!" Squealed the Supreme Dalek.

A devilish grin from ear to ear appeared on evil-Kirk's face as he continued his telepathic commands. As the Dalek's looked on, another massive maelstrom opened, then another, then another. In no less than a minute, twenty-seven had opened within Metron space.

Out from the hyperspace-tubes came thousands of ships, like bats from a cave at dusk, spewing outward into real space. Romulan, Pirate, Colonist, Andorian, Ferragni, and many others still unknown made up the Boskone attack fleet.

Immediately, Metron probes emerged from subspace and activated their dampening fields, pushing everything they had into the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of ships coming out of the inter-dimensional and ultra-fast travel tubes. The ultra-wave picture zoomed in, focusing on a few ships. They began to slow, like a car trying to traverse a field of mud.

"The Metron's have advanced dampening fields," stated the Supreme Dalek.

Ten seconds later, the entire Boskone fleet came to a complete standstill in space, thousands of ships held in a tight grip as more Metron probes joined.

Then.

A faint blue hue, a glow of some sort appeared around the hulls of every Boskone ship. From the blue glows shot out an energy beam towards the planet. These beams were hollow energy tubes, counteracting the powerful dampening fields.

"Captain, Metron planetary defenses charging."

"Got it."

Realizing the danger, the Metron probes released white blasts of energy. Smacking into the Boskone fleet with everything they could muster. And as ships exploded in thermonuclear displays of power, projectiles protected in a blue energy sheath sped mercilessly towards the planet.

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

Explosions measured in thousands of megatons vaporized targets on the planet surface. Life, technology, culture, history, all wiped away in a devastating attack. The Circle of Leadership, never before faced with such a threat had no bunker to retreat to, no alternative base to hide in. The leadership died instantly, melted and boiled away into nothingness.

With the planetary defensive beam knocked out, the Boskone fleet now turned their attention to the probes, the blue hue allowing for partial movement. Swarming like locusts, the mixed fleet of many nation states unloaded salvo after salvo of highly focused negative-energy warheads. White energy rippled across the probes surfaces as they faltered against forces never before turned towards them. Massive ships, at least by Alpha Quadrant standards, attempted to entrap the probes with powerful locking beams. Others sliced and diced with pinpoint particle systems. The probes were now fighting a battle for no apparent reason, their race dead, the onboard A.I. system just completing its defensive task without true purpose.

In the Dalek command room, evil-Spock tossed another razor-thin expanding screen into the air. It floated, flickered, then another planet came into view.

"This is Melkot," noted the Vulcan.

"Yes, we KNNOOWWWW,"

"Evidently… home of the Melkotian-"

"Silence. Continue your I-N-F-E-R-I-O-R attack."

Evil-Kirk and evil-Spock exchanged bemused looks; they had been warned about the absurdity of the Dalek mentality. Nevertheless, the Dalek's were dangerous, highly intelligent, and utterly ruthless. Evil-Kirk sent a telepathic thought towards the Supreme Dalek, 'it' hit a rudimentary thought-screen. Like an architect observing a building from across the road, it became easy to spot solid designs against poor ones. The Dalek's design seemed lacking, but evil-Kirk did not want to push it; did not want to reveal his true power. Breaking through the Dalek screen was not a priority. A deal needed to be struck.

"As you know Supreme Dalek. The Melkotian race is highly advanced, keeping to themselves by punishing all intruders. They must also be destroyed," stated evil-Spock as a matter of fact.

On the viewscreen, dozens of hyper-tube maelstroms ripped open the fabric of space and spewed out their contents. Relying on the power of thought to ward off enemies, the Melkotians lacked the necessary firepower to defend themselves against such an attack; only this time, no planetary bombardment commenced.

Inside the tin can that is the Dalek armor, the Supreme Dalek watched as the Boskone fleet swept past the flimsy planetary defenses and moved into the atmosphere.

"You are landing an attack force? Your ships and soldiers can withstand such a telepathic attack?"

"We need soldiers," evil-Kirk barely answered, his attention focused on deploying his forces across Melkot.

Moving like meteors, hundreds of landing ships with engine nozzles the size of large buildings headed towards the surface. Ineffective ground weaponry flashed and illuminated their defensive shields, but it was too little too late. Within a minute, the kilometer long landing ships of unknown origin unloaded their contents. Men, women, and aliens within mechanical armored suits clambered out into the cities, smashing through walls with their five-thousand horsepower outfits. The Melkotians, unable to penetrate the thought-screens, fell swiftly. Their almost entirely brain-bodies, optimized for telepathic attack and telekinetic locomotion died by the thousands. Portable energy projectors the size of small cars wiped out entire buildings with the survivors being rounded up and carted off like cattle into the landing ships. From orbit, cities on the planet burned with fire.

"You captured only a few thousand. What is your plan NOOOOWWWW?"

"The Melkotians will never join us, not on a planetary scale. So... " evil-Kirk relished the next words. "They die."

Transports rose back through the atmosphere like whales breaching the surface of the ocean, and an 'all clear' was given to the Boskone Admirals controlling the large fleets.

"Explosives now ready Captain."

"Detonate"

Like the colonial planet of Epilus who Boskone destroyed to rally the Colonists to their cause against the Cardassians, now Melkot would be handed the same fate. Only here, the devices were not buried, but on the surface. Superatomic warheads, in ranges measured in gigatons, lit up the landscape. With all ships destroyed, there existed no escape for the remaining Melkot aliens. Billions perished in a flash, while only a few thousand prisoners survived, soon to be transformed into weapons. Evil-Kirk knew part of the plan, to deliver the Melkotians to the Andorian transport ships waiting idly in space.

Both floating screens switched off and folded back into their tiny dimensions. Evil-Kirk and evil-Spock's glowing black Lenses dimmed and now both men faced the Dalek group.

"We just destroyed-"

"YOU did not. Who do you work for? You are just a H-U-M-A-N."

Not wanting to reveal too much, equally, not wanting to reveal he did not know; evil-Kirk thought the question over. His insane, mad-brain running through the scenarios. Despite being from a parallel dimension, he possessed all the intelligence, tactics, wisdom, and cunning of his other self. A force to be reckoned with.

"We… operate on many levels. Political, nefarious, militaristic… we are everywhere. In the Alpha Quadrant, our illegal activities are disguised as the Maquis terrorist organization. Freedom fighters to some. Our political operations are disguised as nationalism. We have many levels, layers, platforms."

"You are operating across the Galaxy," more a statement than a question from the Supreme Dalek.

"Yes."

"Why do you want the Q, D-E-S-T-R-O-Y-E-D?"

"There is a human expression you may know. It's above my pay grade."

"You should NOT be alive. The journey to the mirror-universe is well documented by Captain James T. Kirk. You should have been overthrown upon your return."

Evil-Kirk ran his fingers across his tattered and disfigured face. As he touched individual disfigurements, he remembered the cause for each. His return to the mirror-Enterprise had been met with immediate mutiny. Evil-Spock had tried to overthrow him. First with logic, then when he could not be persuaded, violence. A running battle throughout the ship ensued, and after days of combat, both by hand and weapon, he had won. It had cost him his vision in his right eye and hearing loss in one ear.

"I survived. I am in command. I will always be... in command."

The Supreme Dalek did not like mysteries and unknowns, but the gesture concerning the Metrons and Melkotians could not be ignored. The alliance would prove beneficial, for now.

"We accept the alliance. But WE ARE IN C-O-N-T-R-O-L!"

The black lenses glimmered faintly, telepathic communication ongoing.

With no reply or objection from the visitors, the Supreme Dalek continued,

"We order you deal with the growing virus within Klingon territory. Our scans reveal it to be a danger if allowed to grow."

Spock thoughtfully considered what they knew of the Flood,

"We have already started investigating, we must collect a sample-"

"E-X-T-E-R-M-I-N-A-T-E the infection!"

The two visitors shimmered away, leaving the Supreme Dalek to think, to plan, to prepare.

"Begin synthesis of a biological weapon to counter the plague. We will deploy it on at-risk worlds. Second. Extrapolate all information. Find the leadership of that organization. After the Q die, we will turn our psychic super weapon upon them!"

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Cardassia Prime

Gul Dukat, leader of the Cardassian Union, anxiously paced the floor of his military command complex. Around him, massive screens displaying various points within his territory and beyond. Analysts glued to their stations called out changes to the scenario unfolding. Klingon ships once pushed to the brink by Dominion forces now sped towards Cardassia Prime. The Cardassian navy, utterly smashed to bits from the endless and relentless Colonists, did not have enough vessels to cover the entire territory from attack. Like the Federation, the Cardassians had to choose.

"Are the orbital defensive batteries ready?"

"Yes sir, fully charged."

Dukat nodded to himself,

Maybe that'll slow them down. How can this be? Our last intelligence reports said they committed mass genocide… And why are they flying merchant ships at us? Are they that desperate? We need more protection…

"Has Cardassia Beta responded to our request for reinforcements?"

Dukat's Secretary of State swallowed hard and rushed over to whisper,

"Sir… they are not sending reinforcements. They are dealing with planetary riots. Now they say they need to defend themselves…" The white's of Dukat's eyes seemed to expand outward,

They were our last hope…

Riots in the outlying and fringe regions of Cardassian control spread like wildfire, seemingly coming out of nowhere only a few short weeks ago. Entire government bodies locked their horns with protestors flooding the world capitals. No one, including the government, seemed to know what drew everyone together, or what precisely they were rioting for. Chaos, unfettered and unreasonable demands, came from all angles and manner of institution.

It's as if my people are being driven insane.

"Gul," a Cardassian word for 'leader' "... Klingon ships coming into range. Your orders?"

"Fire at will."

Above the planet, bursts of overloading warp cores cascaded down, causing radiant energy to create auroras in the upper ionosphere. Great purple and green streaks of changing atmosphere would on any other occasion seem pretty. But the citizens of the planet ran in terror, the war had come to Cardassia Prime. Ground installations launched salvo's of energized torpedoes and disruptor beams. The Klingon merchant ships kamikazed into anything they could ram, debris not vaporized rained down like fire.

"Gul! I don't think the Klingon's are even trying to engage our forces. They are trying to land."

"Are the transporter scramblers on?"

"Full power!"

Zip!

Zip!

Zip!

Disruptors continued to lace upward, hitting targets thousands of kilometers away.

"A Klingon merchant ship just hit the Sea of Takata, it broke up on the way down. Tuparo city has been hit! They tried to land, we got it though!" More shouts and reports poured in, but the next announcement stopped everyone in their tracks.

"What the... our orbital platforms are turning towards the surface!"

Dukat scrambled over to the analyst station and blinked in disbelief. The computer appeared to be making its own decisions, turning the platforms inward.

"Transporter scramblers being targeted. And this facility-"

The room jumped from a moderate twenty-two degrees Celsius to a sweltering billion degrees in less than a microsecond. A planet defense platform, designed to attack inbound enemies, suddenly and unexpectedly opened fire into the heart of Cardassian government. A crator four miles across replaced the nerve center of the Cardassian military. Unknown to the fateful commanders, their computer's logic analysis had been compromised. Using mysterious methods, the Gravemind preyed upon the hopeless and helpless computer A.I systems. Not fully understood, the Logic Plague spread from network to network, infecting and turning creations on creators. For what could not be consumed would be converted.

Cardassia, without a functioning government, fell within hours. Landing ships and transporter loosed the Flood onto the planet. Deep within the ocean, ecosystems morphed, cities panicked, and people fell. By the billions the citizens of Cardassia Prime were consumed by the Shaping Sickness, the Flood, the ultimate plague. Children, mothers, fathers, pets, livestock, plants, trees, all morphed into vile creatures, or turned to a syrup liquid that moved throughout the cities. What could be consumed joined the Gravemind; their memories, thoughts and prayers not lost, but used. Filtered, sifted, pulped. Compromised computer systems hummed at peak efficiency, joining the collective network of mind and machine. And as the planet changed, ships piloted by Flood minions departed for more worlds. A single Flood spore could bring the end to a world within a matter of days.

On Kronos, hidden beneath the ground far from sunlight, the mile-long glob of Klingon and alien flesh sent a message to its child. It's desperate offspring.

James T. Kirk. The human race shall be saved. Just as you wished. Just as you pleaded. Merge with me, and you will learn

"Who is this? Identify..."

Do you not recognize my thoughts?

"... Creator…"

I am the Gravemind. I am your savior. All will become as they were. Together with me. Only humanity shall remain.

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Cardassia Beta

Blistering and continuous booms and blasts rocked the outlying city of Mal Notta, the capital city of the second most populous planet within the Cardassian Union. Hours ago, a fleet of Klingon warships infected with Flood mutations transported themselves onto the surface just before their destruction. With the attacking ships destroyed, the planetary defensive teams erroneously had thought the battle over. They were wrong.

What started as hundreds of Flood forms, now numbered in the millions. Spreading across the planet by land, air, and sea. Grass, trees, and bush melted and converted into Flood Super Cells; in some cases trees uprooted and in a slow slumber, walked towards urban areas in search of living beings to infect. Military and national guard units sprang to action but as the Flood consumed, it grew in number, while the defensive army shrank with each death or plague-ridden injury.

"Begin bombarding the planet, incinerate the crust in all areas save major population centers." Ordered Commander Haloxin, a grizzly looking Cardassian. His thin and etched face indicative of battles waged. On his wrist glowed a black Lens, it throbbed and ebbed as telepathic commands were sent to various military commanders across the planet.

Armories everywhere raced at furious speed to unload and move weapons to the front lines, if there existed such a thing. Unlike a usual army which gathers and prods defensive positions, the Flood infect on a global scale - Pets, birds, insects. Within hours, large spore mounds hundreds of feet high began spewing toxic fumes into the atmosphere, allowing the winds to carry the Flood spores unchallenged. Citizens who inhaled the spurs would start to mutate within minutes, causing chaos in the rear positions.

"We are overrun, we cannot stop the infection!" Screamed Commander Haloxin telepathically to his Boskone superior.

"Then you die, and deservedly so. We warned you of the threat, warned you of the danger. No reinforcements will be sent. There is nothing to fight for now. Nothing to save. No people to rule, no world to conquer. The ecosystem is already dead."

"The Colonists are only a few hours away along the border, they can-"

"They are MINE to control! Not yours! You die, and if you do not, I will kill you myself for incompetence. Your orbital fleet is to be recalled shortly. I cannot lose them as foolishly as you have lost your planet. Kirk out."

Haloxic winced in pain as evil-Kirk snapped the telepathic line shut. He sat fuming, but he knew he had to fight, he did not want to die a coward, nor a fool. Gathering his energy, more telepathic commands instructed his forces to hold on for dear life.

Mechanical armored suits glistening with firepower, sprayed 'duodec' explosive shells by the thousand per minute. What can only be seen, not described, exploded in bombastic eruptions of color and fire around the planet. Rays of energy hot enough to melt meters of steel shone like blazing suns. And as the Flood melted and vaporized, more came. Trees, bush, animal, and sea creature, mutated into super forms. Clawing and scratching their way through the lines of infantry and conscripted Cardassian citizens. From high above, super-atomic warheads blew apart continents like they were made of paper, but as they exploded, Flood spores floated through the air and caused more conversion.

"Commander, we have lost our rear defensive lines, the plague has turned our own soldiers against us. We fight our own army! And more ships are reported incoming, all plague ships! Our transporters are not operational, something is wrong, something is shutting off the computer systems!" Shouted a panicking Boskone officer, newly recruited from within a diplomatic detail on Cardassia Prime a few weeks ago.

"It does not matter, our ships are about to depart."

The commanding officer walked into a larger room and climbed up into his mechanical suit, it hissed and groaned as the ten-thousand horsepower engine of destruction came online. A shield flickered to life, and he raised both arms to inspect the weapon systems.

"Fight until you die, goodbye."

The room exploded outward as the machine blasted through it, debris raining down and collapsing into a dust cloud. Commander Haloxic ran at full speed towards the city's edge and disappeared into the thundering noise and dust of their final stand.

After an hour, just before the withdrawal of the Cardassian warships in orbit; they turned their armament towards the last bastions of unscorched surface. The cities melted away and all life, citizen, Boskone, and Flood, perished in nuclear flames.

Imperial Galaxy - Nexus 7

Rain droplets the size of marbles attacked and streaked down the impressive floor to ceiling windows of the Presidential suite. Darth Vader illuminated by life-like lightning cast a long shadow across the floor. The dark lord looked down to the street below, where stormtroopers frantically raced forward to take-up positions across from the approaching demonstrators.

"I will give you one last chance President Boolbah. Who approached you with the idea to attack our Death Star installation?" Vader's voice rumbled throughout the room, to his back, kneeling in the center was President Boolbah, a Nexican. Around the president lay the remains of his government circle, chopped into pieces by Vader's deadly lightsaber.

Responding in weird clicks and clatter, to be understood as the following.

"I told you before, I do not know his name!" The repulsive insectoid Nexican, looking like a cross between a giant beetle and worm gurgled and begged. His skin pulsated, and despite not looking remotely human, gave away all that is necessary to identify fear.

"Time is short Mr. President." Vader unclipped his lightsaber and ignited it, the dull humming energy cascading red light across the water washed windows.

"He was fat. A big fat man. Not human. Very fat…"A swift kick by a stormtrooper refocused the flustered President. "He killed all my advisors and replaced them with a few like himself. Not fat, but the same race."

"And where are these advisors now?"

"When you came out of hyperspace, they left. No idea where."

Pointing to his Lieutenant, Vader ordered the President taken away to his ship. A more 'thorough' questioning period would need to be implemented.

Boskone must be rooted out before it can take a firm hold.

An emergency news broadcast came across a large display screen and everyone in the room turned to watch. Views of Imperial transports coming down through the atmosphere highlighted the theme of the broadcast. It showed the Imperial force as occupiers, as taking over the government body and implementing martial law.

"My lord, this did not happen!" Decried the Lieutenant.

Amateur footage of female Nexicans being blasted to pieces and litters of children being stomped, ran over and over. Clips cleverly spliced together portrayed a complete takeover of the planet, with burning cities and crumbling infrastructure on repeat. Across the bottom of the screen scrolled a message.

"Help citizens of Nexican 7! Our government has been overthrown, we must take it back! Nexican forever! - President Boolbah"

"It seems fake news is spreading," commented Vader before turning back towards the window. Far below he could see a slow-moving mass of Nexicans edging closer to the capital building. A wave of thousands of Nexican citizens followed by thousands more. Vader and his team had not been present for more than an hour, the speed at which the demonstrations were forming surprised him.

Vader stood looking out at the storm, his subordinate standing at his side. He felt telepathic prodding and probing from many directions, hidden within the crowd and sprawling city. Instinctively he raised his Force block, it held against the multiple angles of attack.

Boskone must also use telepaths…

Unlike the incredible power of Kinnison, these telepathic attacks were of lesser power, but he knew they could commandeer his own men. Leaving seemed like the best option, even now he sensed that troops he once commanded no longer took orders from him.

I will need to kill

"Lieutenant, bring down our transports and evacuate. Fake information can move faster than our ships and troops."

"Evacuate… my lord?"

"If we kill a thousand, a thousand more will replace them. We will need to destroy this planet. Set course for Coruscant."

Vader continued to look out the wind blasted window, rain-blurred his vision. He left the room behind, his mind flowing through the Force, searching...

Luke...

Father...

We can end this destructive conflict by overthrowing the Emperor.

Then I will become all that I have sworn to hate, all that I have promised to fight. I can see the future.

One possible future...

Then you know what I must do, and you will be forced to kill me.

If that is your destiny

Imperial Galaxy - Coruscant

Inside the Emperor's office, where all matters of galactic governance took place, Darth Vader and the Emperor discussed all things Boskone. The battle inside Outland Transit Station now monopolized the majority of dinner time conversations across the Galaxy. People and aliens everywhere could not stop talking about it, and like a game of telephone, the more that spread the story, the more it morphed. But Vader did not care about this, did not concern himself with untrue stories. What worried him and the Emperor was the vast network of Boskone agents inside their 'perfect' dictatorship.

"This is a problem, a great problem indeed," oozed the Emperor. The Rebel Alliance had no more than a few thousand men and women, this supported by an apparatus of a few worlds sympathetic to their cause. But this new and vastly more intricate and expansive enemy posed quite a problem.

"Why the telepath informed me of such things I do not know," admitted Vader.

"My friend. We will need to be careful. Surround yourself with loyalists, we cannot be allowed to be infiltrated. Now, leave to the foreign galaxy, supervise Grand Admiral Thrawn's campaign. It seems the political arm of his strategy has fallen away. See to it the Earth is captured or destroyed."

Vader swayed on his feet for a moment, wanting to raise a topic with his master. The Emperor eyed him carefully, sensing uneasiness.

"Master," he grumbled. "You have brought Darth Maul back from the dead. Is it possible to-"

"I need young Skywalker. Only then can Padme be returned to you." As the Emperor responded, he concentrated hard on his own thoughts and feelings. He did not want to betray it was not him who brought Maul back but the Q. No one but him knew the truth and he needed to keep it that way.

"As you wish..." Vader strolled out the doors, leaving the Emperor in peace, but he felt far from calm. Thrawn's prerecorded assessment he had just obtained of the Milky Way's campaign infuriated him.

I have been tricked.… Even thinking this rational thought brought him pain, anger, and embarrassment.

"Right on all fronts, Palpy."

If the Emperor jumped from the surprise voice he did not show it. Across the room, walking out of the wall came Q. Dressed in traditional Jedi garbs he hung a lightsaber from his belt and the hood drooped low across his forehead.

"Do you believe you are infallible?" This question caught Q off guard, and he smiled slowly, surprised by the Emperor insects boldness.

"I am omnipotent. Perhaps to you, with your tiny mind you feel that things are not going as planned. That somehow you have been lead astray?"

"I am trying to determine how much of this you knew."

"Everything. I am leading the blind."

The Emperor, as he had done countless times before, chuckled menacingly.

"So this mess is by design. These problems you foresaw."

Q delved into the Emperor's mind, looking for clues as to this set of questions. As he suspected, Palpatine did not trust him. The Force told the Imperial ruler something else, but despite all the power of the Q, he could not tap into it. Something his god-like mind could not process. Perhaps faith, a human concept, which may be necessary for this mysterious Force. An inferior power really…

"Your worried your going to fail, I get it. I would be worried too. Let me explain." Q launched himself into the chair opposite the Emperor's desk and placed his feet up on the dark glossy surface of the table. "You got a problem."

"Many…"

Q winked and raised his hand into a fist. As he named out each issue, he lifted a finger to emphasize his point.

"Your main industrial hub is gone. The Dominion are gone. Your probe droids are not being replaced as fast as they are being hunted down and destroyed. So your coverage is waning. Let's see… what else. Oh… the Federation builds area-denial hyperspace emitters around their territory so you're going to lose your chance very soon to go deep into their territory. Ahhhh, you inept monkeys… can you not even conquer a solar system?"

"I can see your weakness," The Emperor closed his eyes, straining, or perhaps gloating in the thought. "I can feel it."

Q's browline furrowed, the insect-man's menacing smile bothered him. He did not like something so pathetic judging him.

"What do your little powers tell you my liege?"

"You have never faced a challenge." Now the Emperor rose slowly out of his chair and stooped towards the god-being. "You have never faced death." The old man's smile, displaying aged and yellow teeth, hit home. How the Emperor knew this, Q could not tell.

How can he get a sense of that fact? That truth?

"Soon Earth will be mine…" Dark Force lightning crackled in his eyes, "... and then I will turn my attention to the Boskone disruptors running rampant throughout my Empire."

Q flashed away, leaving the Emperor alone to ponder over the next moves he needed to make. Vader's longing and need for Padme would only go so far in terms of control.

Vader and his son will need to be eliminated together. I cannot risk them turning against me. A soft beeping broke his concentration and an advisor requested entry into the chamber.

"What is it…"

"Your Highness… We are being sent a request from the Tridori Argricultural installation. They are requesting Imperial troops to help quell an uprising."

The sickly eyes and withered skin of the Emperor's face conveyed confusion. Such small matters should not have been brought to his attention.

"We have people for these matters…"

Stuttering, the aide continued,

"Yes… ahem. But this is now the fifty-sixth planet to request our help. They say there is a drug problem in the lower parts of their population. Mostly homeless or-"

"Dispatch troops immediately, Ensure there is plenty of droids along with men."

"At once…" the aide stirred on his feet nervously,

"Is there anything further?"

"Just that… that we lost contact with listening post seventy-seven in the outer territories. Last contact came from the base commander. He mentioned that everyone had turned against one another. Some sort of madness…"

"Send droids to investigate. Leave me."

After a long gracious bow, the peon made a hasty exit, leaving the Emperor to think once again.

This must be the work of Boskone… With millions of systems spread throughout the Galaxy, fifty-six represents a mere drop in the bucket, but even still… Far more than the Rebels ever managed to turn.

Moff Jerjerrod's blue hologram shimmered to life in the middle of the great room. He bowed and kept his eyes downcast until spoken too.

"Moff Jerjerrod, is the Death Star on schedule?"

"Yes your Highness."

"See to it that it is fully staffed and supplied for all contingencies. I am assigning General Veers to oversee the transfer of division units. Once that is completed, destroy Nexus 7. Then set course for the wormhole. I will be joining you."

If hesitation existed, it did not last more than a second. The lump in Jerjerrods throat cleared,

"I will inform you at once of our departure."

Milky Way - Edge of Galactic Rim - Alpha Quadrant

Grand Admiral Thrawn sat alone in his lightless office, only the faint blinking of computer monitors set to 'off' gave any indication that anything whatsoever belonged in the room. As close to depression as one could reasonably assume, the Grand Admiral slumped in his chair. For a day he sat, his hands clasped, eyes shut. Everything he had masterfully setup, created, nurtured, lay in ruin. The agonizingly long Dominion manipulation, only weeks from maturation was now a memory.

The Metrons… why? Why did they do that? The truth is, Thrawn already knew why. Kirk… you visited them months ago. What did you tell them…

Imperial probes long blasted from the heavens around Metron space blocked the Imperial operation from gathering any information on them, even their destruction continued to be a mystery. With Kuat no longer producing waves of probe droids, Thrawn could not afford to dispose of them so recklessly, and so the 'blackout' area, now hundreds of light years around their planet, maintained that absence of information.

Adding to the mind blowing pressure facing the campaign, the Bounty Hunter infiltration was all but exhausted. With more than a fifty-percent defect rate, all infiltration attempts had halted. Whoever continued to respond to orders did so, the others lost in the busy and ever corrupting Milky Way.

Where does this all lead… where are the Pirates getting their ships and supplies? Thrawn no longer trusted the embedded units on Romulus either, as they continued to transmit to his analysts that the government continued to cut back on military spending. Probe droids still active showed no unusual shipbuilding facilities, none of this makes sense… we are tracking millions of tons of raw materials illegally moving towards their space…

With millions upon billions of analyst subjects and topics, it came to no surprise that crucial details to tie everything together were not looked upon. Combing and sorting through vast reservoirs of information could no longer be correctly executed once a certain threshold is passed. Was a coup against a local government on a remote planet in the Beta quadrant significant? Was the devaluing of particular precious metal, in a particular trade sector in the Delta quadrant important? No one could be sure, and hence the unsolvable problem continued. No allotment of analysis droid and personnel could hope to uncover the paper and telepathic communication used by Boskone to command their agents. Fake news, now proliferating like cancer sought control of their population centers, with each planet subjected to a specific narrative that may at a later date be used to mobilize them into action. Freely. Willingly.

Boskone… far beyond the Rebels… a civilization within our own. Thrawn had been briefed by Imperial Command regarding this new and threatening enemy. The problem he now realized was the connection of dots. And even so… how do you combat nationalism… drugs… prostitution, gun running, crime, extreme capitalism... across a galactic scale? Especially if we are not representing all that is good and wholesome. Our galaxy is rife with this, Boskone is merely exacerbating it.

With a long sigh, Thrawn stood and collected himself, the time had come. Turning on the lights, he straightened his uniform and sat back in his chair, only this time his eyes gleamed and chin rested high. Activating his communications line, his finger hesitated for just a moment. Then he started,

"This is Grand Admiral Thrawn of the Imperial Navy. Captain Kirk, we have much to discuss."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise

Firmly snuggled into the arm of Captain Kirk, Cienna gently played with his ear lobe, tracing her finger around his upper ear and then hairline. Her steady eyes examining the not so subtle expressions of her partner. She had already read the report, but she enjoyed watching her lover analyze and comment on a second reading.

[[

Joint Assessment

Admiral Ross, Commander Data

Full Network and Analytical Scan and Assessment

Starfleet Command, San Francisco

-Dominion Warships have been completely destroyed throughout the entire detectable range of Starfleet long-range sensors

-Captain Picard's log related to the plague within Klingon space reveals a 99.9% likelihood of Galactic infection within 401 days.

-I calculate more than 84 planets within Klingon and Cardassian space have succumbed to the outbreak, it appears to be spreading at an exponential rate

-Production of Hyperspace denial systems are behind schedule. Starfleet Engineering reports that one system will be supplied daily, within an average of thirty needed per solar system

-Federation destabilization efforts are accelerating, I suspect a 66.3% chance of complete breakup within 882 days

-Captain Kirk is to brief Starfleet command and elected officials on the identities of unknown ships protecting Betazoid

-Ship production is ongoing, with eight ships slotted for completion within 24 months.

]]

The captain lay the pad down on his chest and sighed. He knew ship production fell far short of what the Empire could produce, but something else bothered him.

"James… have you felt it's presence again?"

"Yes, I can hear it."

Cienna nuzzled even closer to his warm body, minutes turned to hours and she felt his chest rise and fall as he lay awake, looking at the ceiling and beyond. The Gravemind called to him, it's voice the same as that which spoke to Kirk through the Guardian of Forever.

"Calling blindly into the darkness may have been a foolish mistake…" Kirk shook his head slowly, unable to fully grasp the enormity of the situation unfolding within Klingon and Cardassian space. "It says it wants to save humanity."

"The plague is alive then… intelligent and with a goal and plan."

"It wants me to go to Kronos, to merge with it. To help me… understand." Kirk's distracted speech seemed unsure, as if wavering on the decision as to what to do.

"No Jim. No, you cannot go." Cienna now sat up on the bed, leaning sideways to look down onto his face. "We need you, Earth needs you. You cannot go, who knows what it will do to you. Maybe you will get sick and-" Cienna caught herself, the sudden impulse of emotion creating a tremor in her lip and chin. "I need you here."

"I'm not going anywhere, do not worry." A lie. Kirk could not shake the last message, or thought-impulse he had received.

Come to Kronos before the Galaxy is brought into our fold

Captain Picard's report on the events on Kronos now consumed the daily briefings and analytical work of Starfleet. Nevertheless, without precise numbers, the exact death toll could not be adequately computed. Starfleet estimated that over fifty billion aliens had fallen to the Flood. The Shaping Sickness.

"Cienna, Mr. Data on Earth estimates that the virus could spread through the entire Galaxy inside of fifteen months. Spock concurs with this…"

"Perhaps that is why Q did not want us talking to the Creators. To whatever that virus is or represents. Maybe it will ruin his test?"

Their conversation ended when a message from the bridge informed the Captain of an incoming message of unknown origin.

"What do we have Lieutenant Uhura?" Asked Kirk as he strolled onto the bridge.

"Sir, I do not believe this. We are receiving an incoming signal off the closest Imperial probe. It seems… well… it seems to be their commander."

The Captain's eyes became hard as diamonds, locking with Spock they both exchanged knowing looks.

This moment could be a turning point

The viewer flickered to life and instantly filled with the upper torso of a blue-skinned humanoid. Dressed in a white uniform, impeccably kept and free of wrinkle or tatter. His red eyes unwavering and blinking, he nodded his head slowly to start his introduction.

"Captain James T. Kirk of the United Federation of Planets. How nice it is to meet you."

Taking a seat, Kirk crossed his legs and flicked a few buttons on his chair to alert Luke and Kimball.

"And you are?" Kirk asked tersely.

"I am Grand Admiral Thrawn, commander of the Imperial forces within your Galaxy."

"What do you want?" Kirk glanced over at Spock who nodded his head ever so slightly.

Thrawn's red eyes slowly circled the bridge, he studied every face, anything and everything to help delve into the Captain's psyche.

"You know what I want Captain Kirk. I am well aware of your rendezvous with the Rebel forces within the Cardassian Demilitarized zone and their assistance around Betazed."

"You killed a lot of people. Butchered. Murdered." Kirk's icy cold demeanor bemused Thrawn,

"You are not like your colleagues are you Captain. Not like the rest of your kind. You are a soldier and warrior. Carved from battle are you not?"

"Get to the point," Kirk again looked over at Spock to reaffirm 'something',

"You must know that your chances of defeating us are zero. Your Federation is cracking at the seems, already breaking into smaller parts. And that was just the Dominion, those poor puppets nearly brought an end to your union. Now imagine the full might of the Imperial Navy. I have been authorized-"

"By Emperor Palpatine?"

This brought a pause to Thrawn's speech, while he knew knowledge and information indeed would be shared among the Federation and Rebels, it still brought concern. Uneasiness.

"We will accept your surrender. No more will have to die. Already far too many of your fellow citizens have perished."

Kirk's chest began to deflate like a blown tire, he wiped his brow.

"How do I know you will keep your word? We would have a lot to discuss…"

"Let us discuss it."

"No. Not like this… it would have to be in person. I would need advisors, perhaps diplomats."

Kinnison following along through Kirk's eyes, hoped the trick would work.

Good one Jimmy, if I can get close enough I'll re-write his mind.

Thrawn gleaned from ear to ear and shook his head almost laughing. He did not trust the Captain one bit.

"I am your superior in every way James Kirk. I will run circles around your fleet and tear apart your planets one by one. For every day you do not surrender, one world shall perish."

The defeated and downtrodden 'act' from Kirk began to melt away, and he raised his head back towards the screen. His eyes hard, unwavering.

"We will fight for every inch of land, every sector of space. It isn't one man or woman standing against you, but all of us! All of humanity! Up to this point you've been hiding behind the Dominion, afraid to get your hands dirty." Kirk stood and walked towards the viewer, "...but it's time for you to put your ships on the line. We fight for something! For a reason. A purpose. What do your troops fight for?"

"Kirk… be reasonable, millions will die."

"Grand Admiral. No one will be left to rule. No one will be left to hear you gloat. Does that sound like a victory for you? There is something you need to understand about-"

"I understand everything about humanity James T. Kirk. Your weaknesses, your strengths, your history. Every war you've ever fought and waged. I know you better than you know yourself. You are going to lose, and there is nothing you can do about that my dear Captain."

"That leaves me little choice,"

Thrawn's fingers danced together, delighted and hopeful the stubborn human was coming around,

"No it does not James. No it does not…"

A wry grin came across the screen, and Thrawn's forehead furrowed in confusion, he recognized the human expression, it was not one of surrender and defeat, but the opposite.

"I don't believe in no-win scenarios. See you out there."

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

One-hundred and fifteen Federation Council Members sat within the governing chamber overseeing the remaining planets within the alliance. Each day, more civilizations withdrew from the Federation union, believing their solar systems to be better off fending for themselves or in a smaller group with the Andorians.

President Jaresh-Inyo, once a proud elected leader now seemed sunken and withdrawn. Greatly diminished by stress and the seemingly irreversible collapse of the Federation, his demeanor faded day by day. Now he listened to an unbelievable tale authored by Captain Kirk and his new foreign friends. Hour after hour, the Captain, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo described in great detail the Galactic Empire, it's resources and leadership.

"This is… outrageous. How can we hope to overcome such a military threat?" Asked a Council Member. This followed by another series of questions peppered towards the trio standing before them.

"Are we to expect a full attack?"

"What can we do about this?"

"Mr. Skywalker, you mentioned the Emperor, is he hellbent on conquering us? Or destroying us?"

Unending questions and answers were exchanged, but elsewhere, deeply hidden among the populace only a few kilometers away sat Kinnison.

His mind probing each of the representatives within the Council chamber. Prying back the layers of memory and consciousness, he sought the telltale signs of Boskone manipulation or Founder or Imperial agents. Of the remaining Federation elect, he suspected only three had been manipulated. Taking a few moments with each, he repaired the damage and overwrote the xenophobic tendencies each displayed.

Moving his mind outward he scanned the rest of Starfleet Command, sweeping quickly for imposters of any sort. He descended upon Director Sloan, still in a comatose state in the Starfleet Medical building. After being sliced in half, his body remained alive through a machine.

Wait a sec…

Moving deeper, he noticed Sloan's brain had almost imperceptible machines embedded within the neurons.

Why did they not detect these?

Moving to the minds of the doctors and nurses, Kinnison found none were aware of the miniature machines, their scans unable to read the masked saboteurs. The Dalek's in their wisdom had uploaded a sub-command algorithm to all transporter and medical device computer codes, disavowing the machines as biological matter and therefore unimportant.

As the Lensman moved and twisted through the labyrinth of Sloan's re-written memories, he began to understand test site Cherno 44 was not what it seemed. On the manipulated surface of the Director's mind, Cherno 44, hidden away in the mountains of Wyoming seemed innocent enough. A testing area for subspace weaponry, but when specific 'fake' memories were pulled away, and the true picture became apparent, Kinnison knew the worst. In Sloan's mind's eye, he saw the ill-fated resuscitation of the Dalek aboard the secret Section 31 space station, the history of mental adjustments and temperament alterations. All real and unreal history within Sloan's mind flowed into Kinnison's, and so the mission became clear.

Jim, Spock, Cienna. It's far worse than we thought. The Dalek's are running a secret base in Wyoming. I do not know precisely what they are doing, but I am willing to bet it isn't subspace weaponry.

No, it would not be, the Dalek's mastered that a long time ago. They would consider it ancient technology… replied Cienna telepathically to the group.

Back within the Council Chamber, Admiral Ross reviewed the hyperspace denial technology rolling off the production line.

"With these systems in place, no Imperial probe or ship can enter our solar system without being ripped out of hyperspace. But…" he sighed and switched on a monitor, "as you can see, the production facility in the Canary system has been sabotaged and our engineers killed."

The security footage revealed two attackers, Luke immediately narrowed his eyes to take careful observation of the Sith and Bounty Hunter. Slicing and dicing their way through the dozen engineers, they quickly destroyed the computer systems and then teleported away.

"That is the fiftieth production facility so far this week that has been hit. Our guards are not able to stop them. We lost over forty of our security staff in one raid alone. Can you help us? Without the hyperspace denial systems, our worlds are sitting ducks."

Luke leaned over and whispered a few somethings into Han's ear, the scoundrel reluctantly nodded along.

"Admiral," voiced Han, "we will track them down for you."

After another hour of back and forth between Starfleet Command and the Rebel alliance representatives, the time approached where the President needed to address the greater union, as well as the rest of the quadrant. Standing alone in front of his view screen, he spoke to a blank screen. His image and message transmitted throughout known space.

"Citizens of the Alpha Quadrant. I come to you now in our most desperate time. For almost a year we have faced the menace of the Dominion and Cardassian Union. Fighting for territory and ideology, the lives lost are uncountable. As many of you know, Betazed was nearly destroyed, and I say nearly only because of the help of our new friends. The Rebel Alliance ships helped repel the attack, allowing for the Betazed civilization to survive. " President Jaresh-Inyo paused and looked down at his cue-cards. One of the media officers quickly checked the equipment for a malfunction, thinking it the cause of the long pause. After a moment, stretched longer by the utter silence of the live broadcast, the President looked back towards the screen and smiled.

"On these cards, are a few notes, written by my staff to address the terrible truth we face. And even though I am the elected official for some, I feel now I am going to have someone else address the issue. Someone I know you respect, even if your races and cultures have faced him in the past." Stepping aside, the President raised his hand and invited Captain Kirk to the podium.

This unexpected move froze the Captain in place, he looked around at the Admirals and peers, and to his surprise, he saw them ushering him forward. Slowly the Captain stepped towards the podium and stood looking at the capture screen, knowing full well that what he said and did broadcast live to the trillions of Alpha Quadrant inhabitants.

"Thank you Mr. President. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Captain James T. Kirk. To all those listening and watching. All of us now face a threat unlike one we have ever faced, and we have ever known. Far from here, a wormhole exists that connects our Universe to another. This door allows for entry as well as exit. For a year, perhaps longer, the ruling government body referred to as the Galactic Empire has sought to influence and take over this galaxy. The Dominion were their puppets, the Cardassians being led by a lie. The bombing of their capital, in what seems like a lifetime ago, was set up by Dominion operatives. The changelings, the probes, some destabilization efforts… all part of the plan. We are going to broadcast to each of your capital worlds a complete set of detailed files related to their intervention. But. Thanks to the Rebel Alliance who stands opposed to the Empire and their cruel Emperor, we too, can have a chance." Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, Kirk thought back to the battle aboard the Enterprise. The resolve his crew displayed in the face of total defeat. Thrawn had come close to capturing him, close, so very close...

"What I ask now is in desperation. Of our very survival. For ourselves and our prosperity. For all our future generations. We must stand against the Empire. To cut no deals, to make no treaties. We cannot let them pick us apart and break our collective will. We. MUST. Stand. United!" Kirk's fist came down like a hammer on the desk. He caught himself for a moment, his passion surprising even him.

The President hesitantly walked into the viewer and shook the captain's hand, knowing full well that he, while elected President, did not represent the people.

Kirk walked back towards the group and asked Luke to join him in the hallway.

"Luke, can you find that Sith and Boba Fett? We can't stop the Empire if we can't build the hyperspace denial systems."

"I can find him, trust me."

"How? How can you be so sure?"

"This is going to be hard for you to accept, but Darth Vader will tell me."

The expression on Kirk's face changed immediately, from calm to concerned and rock hard.

"What? Why. Why would he tell you?"

"Because he's my father."

Like a sledgehammer into Kirk's psyche, the captain's mind reeled at the consequences of such truth and revelation. He stepped back and looked the Jedi up and down.

"Luke. Why didn't you tell me? Us? We trusted-"

"Because we would not have come to this point, you needed to trust me before the full truth came out."

Starting at a slow pace, Kirk considered everything while debating the information now loosed upon him.

"What is the Force exactly?"

"An energy connecting all things." Luke gestured with his hands and found a bench close by where he sat down and looked past the walls and into his memory. "It binds us… it resonates between all of us. I can tap into it, sense it."

"Is that what a Sith uses? Is that what Vader uses? Kimball, he faced your father you know…"

Nodding his head, Luke knew that to be the truth, he could sense it, almost see it. Continuing with his explanation of the Light and Dark sides of the Force; he spoke of Jedi history, the clone wars he only knew from stories, and to the events on Dagobah with Master Yoda.

"Luke, this energy. This ability seems to go both ways. It can either be used for good. Or for evil."

"Yes, the Dark Side feeds on fear, hatred… jealousy. Captain, the Force is strong with you. I can feel it swirling around you. In the past you might have called it intuition, or perhaps luck. But that is the power. What you feel when you take a guess, a hunch, a gut feeling is the Force speaking to you. My father, once Anakin Skywalker, who fought alongside the Jedi. He fell to the darkside. He was scared to lose my mother. My master once said, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

"I reject it."

"What?"

"You heard me. I reject it. I refuse to believe it. My fear, my passion, my hate, all of it. That is MINE to control. Decisions I make are mine." Turning back towards Luke, his eyes were now softer, reflecting on his past, his inner being. "The Force has no place with me. Only experience, skill, determination, the will to win. The will to survive."

"Jim," Luke smiled, "You may reject the Force, but it is with you. Now... speaking of that, I should start by hunting down the Sith. But I have one favor, I need more help, and it de-escalates a situation all at the same time."

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth - San Francisco

Cienna sauntered through the parting crowd of customers as she carried two drinks back to the table. Waiting for her sat 'John,' his back to the rest of the guests, he looked out at the beautiful scenery surrounding the San Francisco Bay area. He wore regular civilian clothes, a long green shirt carefully chosen to cover his gruesome scars and tattered skin. As Cienna approached, she closed her eyes for a moment, guilt as heavy as ever played with her mind.

"Yes of course sweetie, yes… yes of course." John mumbled to himself, his right hand holding steady in the air, stroking the hair of his long-dead wife. Madness, illusions, and the Old Ones tore and festered, sickened and tortured his consciousness. The physical, an empty shell once resembling a man, continued to whisper and murmur. "We will be together again of course, yes of course… Yes, I got eggs… sure that would be lovely."

The rattling of teacups startled 'John' and he stopped abruptly and looked over at his friend. She is so lovely, perfect. But…

Protect her always, kill all those who would bring harm to her

'John' shook away the Old Ones and managed a soft smile. He did not study her beauty as one would a model of a beautiful woman seated across the room. Instead, a life companion, a friend, his only true friend. He felt she was the only one in the world for him, in the entire Universe. My wife, Cienna. Are they the same? Had the Dalek's recreated her for me?

Yeeeessss, she is yours forever

Perhaps when this is all done…

His smile faded slowly, the thought of Kirk entered his mind, and he slowly reached for the teacup. Cienna noticed the change and asked what ailed him,

"What's the matter John?"

"I know about you and James…" replied 'John' bitterly.

Cienna did not react, her mouth moved to take a sip, uninterrupted by the revelation. She waited a moment, trying to gauge the damage done. The soldier took a long sip and placed the cup down, looking back out at the blue sky he smiled again.

"Did I ever tell you that you look like my wife, you look exactly like her. The Daleks… they must have done that on purpose." Sun shone on his face, closing his eyes he tried to remember their time together. The small house in Dunwich, not too far isolated from the major suburban centers but far enough to offer privacy. A thought then entered his mind, one which never previously had formed, wait a second… "How is it the Dalek's knew of her? How do they know what she looks like…" his voice trailed off.

Cienna winced inwardly, she knew the truth. Unable to tell the broken friend the facts, she shook her head and smiled.

"I do not know John." Guilt pushed the limits of her self-control. She felt like crying, even though she had not been the one to do it. The Dalek's knew the history of that Earth, the Whately bloodline. The Dunwich horror and all the terrible things his ancestors had done with the book. The Dalek's had poisoned his wife in an extended plodding plan to bring him to Phobos. The shocking events of Dunwich and the horrors unleashed into the small town hundreds of years prior were the turning point in the Dalek war against the Time Lords. They needed to seize what was only faintly hinted at in the old and grizzly scripture of the Necronomicon.

'John' sat in deep thought,

"And why me? Why can't anyone open the door?"

"From what I know John, your bloodline has a connection to those things. Somewhere long ago, your ancestors made a pact with those beyond our reality. That is what I know. And, and this is unknown and unproven, the person uttering the spell must believe, they must want the door to open."

"Which is why you were made to look… I see. The Dalek's wanted me to save you in the inter-dimensional realm, summoning the Old Ones through the gate. We know their plan now, I will not let that happen. I slipped once by unlocking the first pillar of the gate, the first section. But that will not happen again."

Cienna reached over and touched 'John's' mangled hand, a thousand times it had been broken, repaired and broken again.

"I know."

John locked eyes with her, he loved her truly, but I cannot have her.

"Sorry to interrupt." The familiar voice broke their gaze, and both turned to see a visitor standing beside their table. "John, Cienna. Nice to see you." Luke Skywalker stood beside their table, his black outfit covered by a brown cloak shifting gently in the breeze. "John, we need your help. The Sith that I saw in my visions is creating chaos. I need to find and stop him, but I need your help."

'John' paid little attention, turning back towards his tea and taking another sip. He sat quietly, and unresponsive. Again Luke tried to get through to him,

"John. The Sith will be coming. It is better we take the fight to him."

"I stay. I need to protect-"

"Cienna. Would you excuse us for a second?" Interrupted Luke. She gracefully rose from her seat and took a small walk away from the patio. Luke pulled her chair close and sat beside 'John,' his eyes boring into the soldiers. "She dies by his hand. I've seen it in my visions. Only we can stop him."

'John's' face boiled, his eyes flared, and at that moment, Luke Skywalker knew he could never kill 'John.' Within the eyes of the tortured man came the depths of stranger things, a blackness, the infinite abyss beyond the stars and heaven. Luke felt himself being pulled in, his soul swallowed in an all-encompassing 'something.' And after what seemed like an eternity, a reply.

"So be it. Jedi."

Milky Way Galaxy - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

The bright moon cast pale shadows across the forest landscape. On the edge of a lake, Captain Kirk, Kinnison, and a platoon of security personnel struggled up the steep embankment. Several kilometers away, carefully hidden from view on the face of the steep cliff, the entrance to Cherno 44. Kimbal, after analyzing the entire dissected mind of Sloan realized they needed to act. And while the vegetated Director knew little, it was enough to gauge the immediate danger. Kirk had argued any move against the Dalek's could spook them before the yet to be constructed Starfleet superweapon could be brought to bear.

What good is a super weapon if we are all dead to use it, he finally admitted.

This clandestine attack against Cherno 44 came with a significant risk, but one that must be taken. Moving under cover of night, armed with mobile transporter scramblers and communication jammers, the team hoped stealth would win the day.

Redwoods as tall as buildings rose up on either side of the marching platoon as the fifty-degree slope of exposed roots and jagged rocks slowed their progress.

"Let's move it men," whispered Kirk, "...take it easy with those generators, we don't want-"

GET DOWN! The telepathic command smashed into the captain and security personnel just as the tree line exploded into fire. A shockwave pushed everyone to the ground, and clumps of shredded tree rained down upon them.

Kinnison threw every morsel of telepathic power towards Cherno 44 to snuff out the resistance but found himself hitting a rudimentary thought-screen. His mind pushed and probed, pressed and drilled. The screen surrounded the site, but its design gave him hope. It felt weak, as if built by someone not entirely sure of the concept.

The Dalek's must have built this, but why? Why would they do that? Do they know I exist?! Did… did Boskone tell them?

Red phaser fire swept down the mountain, tree-trunks exploded in superheated temperatures and night turned to day. Kirk kept his head down but began shouting orders to his hunkered men.

"Move forward! Get under the ridge line and deploy your phaser rifles. Return fire when it is safe to do so."

Zip!

Zip!

Zip!

More inbound fire blasted apart trees and rocks crumbled under the intensity. Kinnison scrambled up the slope and rested beside his friend,

"I wish I had more than one!" The Lensman pulled his sleeve up and revealed a thick wrist controller with buttons. His fingers flew across the controls, carefully keeping an eye on the lake below. Moments later, emerging on its own from beneath the lake came his armored juggernaut. Ten feet tall and four feet across at the shoulders, it's design like those used by Boskone agents across his native galaxy. Twelve-thousand horsepower of armor, weapon, and shield came stalking up the hill, small trees snapping like matchsticks as it shouldered its way through.

As Kinnison climbed into his rig, the security attachment opened up with phaser fire towards the top of the cliff face. Chunks of rock the size of basketballs erupted and burst into superheated bombs of pulverized debris.

"Keep firing men! I'm going in." The machine groaned and twisted as shield and weapon systems came online. Then with labored momentum, the engine of destruction started to run, smash, and tear through the towering redwoods. Too far to see with the naked eye, Section 31 operatives were fanning out into the adjacent underbrush to spread out from the devastating return fire coming from the mech. Attacking with thunderous repetition, bullets tipped with 'duodec' shells ripped ten-foot holes into the solid rock and ferocious heat beams melted the trees and brush for hundreds of feet. Burning men screamed near the entrance of Cherno 44, and yet as the intensity grew to chaotic levels so too did the frenzy of slaves rushing out from the hidden site.

Like wasps exiting a nest to defend their territory, the hillside swarmed with brainwashed Section 31 operatives, shouting and hollering to hunker down and secure the site. The steep tree line now resembled an apocalyptic landscape, with clear lanes of blistering fire between the warring sides.

Section 31 rightfully concentrated on Kinnison, whose deflective screen now absorbed the incoming fire of dozens of powerful phaser rifles. It sizzled, belched, and radiated energy outward, pushing the generators to maximum limits.

After a fierce back and forth exchange, Kinnison launched another telepathic assault towards the fledgling thought-screen. Narrowing his focus, pushing with everything towards a small imperfection. All fiber of being smashed, drilled, and bore into the invisible barrier.

Success!

The thought-screen flickered, and in that impossibly small fraction of time, five Section 31 operatives died, their minds blasted to oblivion. The screen rebounded and Kinnison again found himself locked out. Dammit. Back down the hill by a few hundred feet, Kirk's men were hunkered in alcoves of jagged granite, their faces covered in mud and flying debris. And as each minute passed, more and more soil, rock, and tree root vaporized away.

Recognizing that he must push harder for Kirk's men to make their ascent up the right slope, the Lensman continued his assault.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Spat the machine gun.

WUSH! WUSH! WUSH! WUSH! Singed the heat ray.

Kinnison's machine scrambled, pulled, and twisted its way up the rocky slope. Again, Section 31 concentrated their phaser fire which plowed into the frontal shield, causing sparks and energy refraction in all direction. Trees not caught in the direct fire burst into flame from the outward expansion of heated air and melting earth.

The substantial and devastating exchange went on, with each passing minute men blew apart or melted on the spot. After an hour, the blistering phaser fire from the mountaintop came only as a small whimper, a few Section 31 operatives remained but not many. Kirk peered through the dark forest and saw a small outcropping just a kilometer ahead, a small flat area, almost like a landing platform not far from the main entrance to the secret base.

"Kim. I found the entrance, it's on the right flank near us, about a kilometer ahead. We are moving in, keep distracting them."

Good stuff, they are sputtering, just need my shield to recharge for a minute.

The Captain looked back and tried to count heads, of the seventy red shirts that had accompanied him, only fifteen remained. The rest lay dead along the steep slope, cut down, burned, or blasted over the course of the intense struggle.

Through Kirk's communicator, a broken message attempted to get through, the communication jammer stopping both friend and foes long-range communication.

"Cap-"... "-Kirk... " … "-Picard…"

Ordering the jammer to be temporary switched off, Kirk heard the full message.

"Captain Kirk, this is Captain Picard. An incoming ship headed for your direction. We are attempting to intercept but we are ten minutes away."

"Acknowledged, catch them if you can." Kirk switched to his secure frequency, "Kim, looks like Cherno called for help, they penetrated our jammers. Incoming."

Straining his eyes against the early morning pink horizon, Kirk and his men looked upward into the sky to try and catch a glimpse of the ship. Who it was or how it bypassed Starfleet planetary defenses presented a mystery, one he could not solve at this moment.

Kinnison sent his mind outward,

BLOCKED!

A thought-screen! Boskone. But how? Why are they here?! Kinnison examined the screen with his mind, solid, impenetrable.

Jim! Make sure that communication and sensor scrambler is at full power. We can't let that ship detect us here on the ground or we are dead meat. It's Boskone, protected by an atomic thought-screen.

It's at full… there! Look!" Kirk pointed his finger into the air, his men following it. Many miles away dove a ship, head first through the atmosphere towards the ground. A fireball five miles long following as the shield and atmosphere battled for supremacy.

"Is that one of ours?" commented the security officer to no one in particular.

The blazing fireball continued to fall, and as it came down the look on Kirk's face began to change. As the fire subsided and the ship became clear, he could scarcely believe it. Now skimming only meters above the giant lake came the Enterprise. It's thrusters causing hundred foot waves as 'she' streaked inward towards Cherno 44.

Oh my god, how can it be? How can it be...

ISS Enterprise NCC-1701

Sputtering, unable to think of the how, or the why, Kirk's mind floundered.

"That… that's the ship from our mirror Universe. Where… everyone is evil. I went to that ship, and my own evil self came to this one…"

Watching in awe, the Enterprise flew overhead and slowed to turn on its own axis, the wash of its thrusters blasting the forest flat as it settled just above the small landing pad near the Cherno 44 door. With the transport scramblers active, the rescue needed to be completed by foot.

Reversing slowly, the Enterprise now 'parked' itself a few meters from the landing platform, and with a loud hiss the shuttle bay doors opened, and a ramp lowered onto the embankment. Even from a distance Kirk knew the unmistakable uniform. The determined walk and green outfit with black pants gave the identity away. It was him, his mirror-self.

"Jim. Is… that who I think it is?" Asked Kim completely baffled, his mind unable to penetrate the now expertly crafted thought-screen.

Following behind evil-Kirk came evil-Spock, both men carried overly large phaser rifles, and then…

"Oh my god."

A Dalek floated out from the ship's hold and moved quickly towards the secret entrance, all but ignoring the earthly destruction.

"Captain Kirk, Picard here. We are coming around Jupiter, we will be in firing range in four minutes."

Kinnison sent his mind against the screen, feeling it out, pressing and prodding as he went.

Then.

Unexpectedly the screen dropped and what came next could only be described as instinctive-reflex. Immediately a tonnage of mental power came blasting out towards him. Catching the brunt of it head on, Kinnison screamed in anguish as he raised his block and pushed back with everything he could muster. Like a giant weight pushing him down, his 'mech' took a knee on the hillside, the machine mimicking its master's mental trauma.

Oh my god! Shouted the Lensman telepathically between clenched teeth, Your… Kinnison grunted and screamed as he pushed the mental force backward, straining to communicate to Kirk. ... Your alter egos are against me. They are Black Lensman!

Understanding a distraction could break the attack, Kirk called for his men to push forward up the right slope. Firing phasers wildly, the red shirts rushed over their rocky alcove. Far above, evil-Kirk dove and rolled to safety; his overemphasis almost comedic, but useful nonetheless. Jumping back to his feet, he stood like a giant over a conquered landscape, looking down below at the 'mech,' ground to a halt under his and evil-Spock's attack. He could sense the Lensman struggling, but the incredible power of Kinnison impressed him, despite the double team, they could not get through. Not wanting to risk more, he ordered the thought-screen raised.

Kinnison gasped as the attack cut. Not waiting, he sent a counter-attack with his own mental bolt.

BLOCKED!

Damn! Damn! They raised the screen again!

Evil-Kirk waved his men into position, each carrying upgraded phaser rifles and exotic weaponry. In addition, an energy and matter shield erected around the landing pad and all incoming fire now reflected outward, giving the Boskone rescue party plenty of time to carry out their mission.

Along the right flank, Kirk and his platoon inched their way forward, blasting and ducking along the way. He knew Picard's Enterprise would be in firing position soon and so he just needed to stall the rescue effort.

"OK men, I want everyone to aim for the rock just below the shield radius. We are going to try and cause the cliff face to fall off."

"Uh… sir. Won't that be an avalanche then? We will get pummeled."

"We better get out of the way then. Ready? Fire."

Altogether, the remaining security staff fired at a point just below the landing pad and beyond the shield radius. Rock blasted and melted, and black smoke billowed for a hundred feet blocking all visibility.

"Keep firing, don't let up!"

Atop the platform, evil-Kirk recognized the danger and grabbed evil-Spock,

"Let's move! This outcropping is about to collapse!"

Cracks zigzagged through the large 'shelf' of rock as the barrage of incoming phaser fire ate away at the supporting mountain just below. Section 31 and Boskone agents returned fire but it was too late, the damage had been done. Rips and gasps of hot air and disjointed granite grinded and ground downward, the entire platform began to sink. Pulling and pushing men to safety, evil-Kirk suddenly looked into the sky.

"Move!"

Large red blaster bolts smacked against the raised shield on the crumbling platform, then a loud and thunderous WOOSH! The Millenium Falcon rocketed overhead and then began a tight bank along a river canyon in the distance, preparing for another attack run.

"That ship is coming around for another pass. Spock! Forget the 31's, let's go!"

Both sprinted back to the hovering Enterprise just as the entire surface collapsed. Thousands of tons of rock, soil, and tree, turned to slag and began to ooze downward towards the lake. The engines of the Enterprise rumbled louder, and slowly it started to pull away from the mountain. And as the ship created distance between itself and the secret base, Cherno 44's door clanged open, revealing the last inhabitant.

The Dalek floated outward towards the flight deck of the mirror Enterprise. With it, two large cylinders, each exhibiting a green eerie glow flickering and pulsing through the dense smoke.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Woosh! Woosh! Woosh!

Kinnison concentrated everything he could on the furthest cylinder,

BOOM!

The cylinder violently exploded, sending shards of glowing green and yellow plasma in all directions.

"Exterminate!" Swiveling its gun, the Dalek fired a single energy bolt, striking Kinnison's 'mech' center mass. To the Lensman's surprise, the weapon bypassed the shield and scrambled the internal electronics of his armored suit. Crashing to the ground in a thunderous heap of twisted metal and fused circuits, Kimball struggled out of the machine and bolted to safety.

Jimmy, they are getting away, where is Picard?! Are you in communication with the Falcon?

No reply.

Kimball sent his mind into the forest in search of his friend. He found him, buried several feet under rock and earth from the avalanche. Immediately, he started off across the mountainface, but without the suit to propel him faster, he feared he may take too long to reach the buried captain.

Above, the mirror Enterprise began to move off, at first with a slow rumble, then a powerful woosh as it glided gently along the surface of the lake between the mountain passes. In the distance, coming around for its second attack run raced the Falcon. It fired another salvo, splashing against the raised shields. Like two knights in a jousting match, they passed one another only a few hundred feet above the lake. What surprised the Lensman was the lack of return fire on the part of the Enterprise. With it's thought-screen raised he could not read the minds of the crew and could not comprehend why they did not return fire.

Sending his mind into the now abandoned Cherno 44 site, he scanned every inch.

Abandoned, that Dalek took everything of import-

Then he felt it. Tucked neatly away in the corner of a room, the strange, yet unmistakable mechanics of a powerful bomb.

Oh my god! Han! Han! We need immediate evacuation! Transport us at once, here is Kirk's location! Sending a mental command through the smuggler, the transporter locked onto the buried captain and beamed him aboard. Next came Kinnison who materialized a few seconds later. Only due to sheer luck had the transport scrambler been destroyed in the avalanche.

Rushing through the hallway towards the cockpit, he saw 'John' sitting quietly at the games table in the central seating area. He nodded in acknowledgment before bursting into the cockpit.

"Guys, we need to move. Now! This entire mountain is about to blow."

Han's head spun like a top,

"What? How? Where is Kirk?"

Back on the transport pad, Kirk's eyes flickered open before a fit of coughing overtook him. Dirt, sand, and grime, flew out of his mouth while his eyes adjusted to his environment. The last thing he remembered was diving behind a large rock as the mudflow overwhelmed his platoon. An intense pain ran down the right side of his leg, he knew it must be broken. The ringing in his ears subsided, and he could hear Kinnison arguing with Luke and Han. Pulling himself off the floor he looked around, three redshirts coughed and wheezed near him, the only survivors from his platoon.

"You men stay put, let me go see what is going on."

Leaning onto the wall and placing more weight on his left leg, Kirk limped down the weathered corridor of the Falcon, inching his way towards the argument ahead. As he passed the central seating area, he fell to his hands and knees, wincing at the pain shooting through his leg and lower back. Struggling to keep his composure, his right eye caught something sitting on a bench. Turning his head slowly, he saw 'John' sitting, fully armored with one hand resting on the table, the other on his leg. Kirk blinked away a strange vision, a shadowy movement and then readjusted. Both men stared at each other, only one of 'John's' eyes could be seen through the cracked facemask.

"James, where is Cienna?" The muffled voice of the soldier sent an icy chill down the captain's spine. No hello, or how are you. The cold awfulness, the uncaring demeanor and otherwise disinterested behavior of the soldier felt like a cold knife through his heart. Knowing about Cienna and the Captain made 'John' wild with rage, Kirk knew this, but he hoped, perhaps foolishly that the man could get past it.

Kirk spat another glob of dirt from his mouth and tried to raise himself to one knee. Again the soldier repeated the question.

"Where. Is. Cienna."

"Safe. Aboard the Enterprise…"

With this answer, 'John's' one visible eye blinked slowly, keeping a close watch. The dim wall lights flickered for a moment, his eye disappeared, replaced with something else. Kirk blinked away the hallucination and pulled himself up against the wall, Luke rounded the corner and grabbed his friend.

"Jim! Sorry, we are up here arguing..." Kirk waved his hand to dismiss the apology,

"It's okay, I'm fine. What is going on?"

Luke helped Kirk into the cockpit where Kinnison and Han continued to argue.

"You said we need to leave, and now you're asking us to stay? Didn't you say the entire place was going to blow?!" Shouted Han over his shoulder as he kept his eye on the controls.

"Just a second longer, I'm reading the minds of the Section 31 guys who are still alive in the forest. Wait…"

Kinnison telepathically leaped from man to man, absorbing all their memories and knowledge, but there were many, and the entire mountain was about to blow.

"...wait….wait...ok go!" Kinnison slapped Han on the shoulder, and the smuggler pressed the throttle to max. The falcon blasted forward and simultaneously the mountain seemed to expand like a giant balloon. Due to the sheer size of the underground explosion, earth, forest, and mountain appeared to grow slowly, but nothing could be further from the truth. The eight-hundred megaton bomb detonated miles below the surface with devastating effect.

Skimming only meters from the surface of the lake, Han looked at his rear camera, the mountain now seemed enormous, the superheated gases were expanding, pushing upward until finally they released in thermonuclear fire. A fireball erupted outward, spewing building size chunks of rock into the atmosphere. Cracks a hundred miles deep shot outward in all directions and whatever life, either animal or human, died.

Kirk looked on in amazement, totally unaware of what was happening,

"What is going on?"

"Looks like your alter ego or the Dalek planted a giant bomb in Cherno 44, it's all gone. We are now chasing the Enterprise. It's headed for the Pacific coast."

Forest, tree, city, whipped past the cockpit windows as the Falcon hugged the contours of the land. Flying at thousands of miles an hour, Han pushed the Falcon to the max to try and chase down the fleeing mirror Enterprise.

Kirk fell into one of the seats, dirt caked to his pants puffed into the air causing Luke to break into laughter for a moment. Despite the enormous stress, the 'gang' were still afforded the opportunity to laugh on occasion.

"Kirk to Picard, Kirk to Picard."

"Picard here,"

"Can you detect the ship ahead of us?"

"Yes James, but it is throwing off significant interference, we are having a hard time locking on."

"Then come down into the atmosphere, it must be stopped. Try and stay behind it to avoid return fire."

After another minute, a faint ball of orange and red flickered and pulsed on the dancing horizon. Han raised his hand and pointed,

"There they are, the atmosphere is burning up around their shields due to friction."

The fireball drifted side to side, expertly navigating mountain range and topographical features.

"We've been spotted, it's increasing speed, hold on." Han flicked a few switches and now the red burning heat of the atmospheric friction danced and nipped at the Falcon's shields. Between clenched teeth, Kirk heard the smuggler muttering "...boy she is fast…"

Kirk leaned forward and laid his hand on Solo's shoulder,

"Stay directly behind where the main phaser array cannot target, we must avoid a direct assault. They must be headed out over the ocean so they can leave the atmosphere without drawing planetary fire. If they stay this low, their plan might work."

Bolts, covers, and levers, began vibrating and rattling at speeds never before reached within an atmosphere tested the old freighter.

"C'mon baby, c'mon… I know! I know! I see that! I understand that!" Shouted Han as Chewie barked and roared at stress indicator lights decorated the dashboard.

In the distance, an enormous emptiness approached, the ground giving way to the ocean. And as they approached, the mirror Enterprise banked left, the Falcon straining to keep pace.

Along the left side, the coastline blurred past. As both ships were heading south along the American coast, a sudden dread overcame Kirk.

"They aren't trying to escape… San Francisco…"

Kinnison thought it over as well,

"You sure?"

"That is what I'd do…" reflected Kirk. He flipped open his communicator and dialed Starfleet Command. "Captain Kirk to Starfleet command. You need to evacuate the San Francisco Bay area, incoming-"

"Kirk this is Admiral Ross, we can't evacuate ten million people, you must stop that ship!"

Ahead, twisting and turning, blazed the mirror Enterprise. And as it hugged the coastline, a massive phaser sweep hit the sea, causing a superheated geyser of water to shoot a thousand feet airborne.

Everyone glanced up, far above Picard's Enterprise broke the cloud line, firing continuously at the evading mirror Enterprise. Torpedo and phaser fire rained down mercilessly, pounding the aft and top shield of the evading ship.

"Why isn't it firing back?" Thought Kinnison out loud.

"They must have all power dedicated to shields, they have not reached their target yet…" Kirk's mind raced, thinking of options.

"Now I'm in range!" Han depressed the firing trigger and angry red bolts shot forward and splashed along the shields. Over the next minute, the Falcon and mirror Enterprise danced and weaved, sweeping in giant arcs as hundreds of miles raced past.

Static came over Kirk's communicator and he flicked it open,

"Say again?"

"-This is Captain Janeway. Break off, we are about to engage head-on."

"Abort! Do not engage head on!" Shouted Kirk into his communicator. He hoped onto one leg and looked at the radar scope. Ahead he could see Voyager coming down through the atmosphere a few thousand miles off.

"Captain Janeway, this is Captain Kirk. Do not engage. Do not engage head-on."

"This is Janeway, we will try and circle around but time is short."

Like a large glider, the Intrepid Starship Voyager fell at a forty-five-degree angle towards the ocean. It's impulse engines flared and weapon systems activated. Captain Janeway ordered her helmsman to try and circle around the side, careful to stay out of range.

Suddenly a plume of black smoke and plasma began to pour from the mirror Enterprise, Kirk's eyes narrowed in. Chewie noticed this as well and grunted something to Han.

"You got it pal, they are slowing down, don't overtake, hang back…"

Phaser fire and photon torpedo hit and missed from Picard's Enterprise in a dazzling display of explosion and avoidance, despite the damage, mirror Enterprise continued.

"This is Janeway, It appears the ship is slowing down, looks like Captain Picard inflicted damaged. We don't have time to circle around, we are engaging, Voyager out."

Kirk attempted to re-establish a line with Voyager as he knew a frontal attack may lead to disaster, but the interference from the mirror Enterprise quadrupled in an instant.

"They just accelerated again? Now switching to emergency fuel cells, we can't keep this up." Muttered Han as he flipped more switches to activate the reserves. "I'm detecting an energy surge, ya… something is happening."

Ahead, the bright blazing ball of fire began to pull away, its incredible speed surprising Solo yet again. Both pilot and co-pilot were cursing and growling at each other to keep the little freighter in pursuit. The ocean view swayed back and forth as the Falcon banked left and right, desperately trying to stay behind it and out of the firing arch.

"Kirk to Janeway, break off your attack. It's a trick. Repeat it's a trick." But it was no use, no signal reached the confident Janeway.

The Falcon raced onward, above, Picard's Enterprise continued salvo after salvo, half hitting, half missing, as the interference level caused static across all scopes.

"Jim, the Enterprise is banking hard towards Voyager, it's accelerating again. Wow." Han fought the controls to stay relevant, but out ahead, mirror Enterprise banked right and continued to grow smaller and smaller as it increased the distance.

"Kirk to Voyager. Kirk to Voyager, break off your attack, I believe they are-"

A crackled and broken message came through,

"-engaging…"

Kinnison and Kirk shared a look of dread.

She's too far for me to reach telepathically Jimmy...

"Looks like the rear door is opening…" noted Han as he strained to make out the readings from his radar scope. Far ahead, the shuttlecraft door opened, and like a parachute catching the wind, the small craft flew outward towards Picard's Enterprise. Perfectly timed, the distraction caused the Enterprise to refocus its fire to destroy the incoming ship. At the exact same time, the shield's of the mirror Enterprise dropped, the plasma leak ceased, and all available power, including life support and emergency reserves, focused into the primary phaser array. A bright blue beam, incredibly powerful and ultra-focused lashed out into the sky. Far above, a white blast illuminated the dark with terrific colors of white, blue, and orange.

A warp core breach.

Voyager was gone.

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Earth

"C'mon baby, hold together," gritted Han through clenched teeth and set jaw.

The Millenium Falcon streaked like a blazing star along the California coastline. Voyager's breached warp core illuminated the sky with a dazzling display of superheated particles and cascading droplets of liquid metal. Inside the Falcon cockpit, the vast ocean seemed still, but that only presented itself as an illusion. In truth, individual waves could not be seen at such blinding speed, just a massive sea of blue.

Ahead, mirror Enterprise began to climb higher into the air, it's upward trajectory placing it above San Francisco in a few seconds.

"Chewie," Luke opened his eyes from a brief meditation, "You need to hit the torpedoes out of the sky." The Wookie growled a reply as the Falcon pulled up, climbing by thousands of feet per second. Features not seen from such low level now became apparent. The beautiful city and surrounding area of lush green and booming metropolitan, just waking in the morning sun.

As the mirror Enterprise reached forty thousand feet, a barrage of torpedoes flew towards Starfleet Command and surrounding countryside. In a spectacular display of agility, the Falcon dove downward firing rapidly at the four blazing projectiles.

"Cmon! Cmon!" Shouted Han to Chewie who roared in anger as he missed the first shot. Phaser fire from Picard's Enterprise also lashed out, trying to destroy the projectiles.

1 destroyed,

2 destroyed,

3 destroyed,

BOOM!

Slipping through their desperate defense, the fourth torpedo smacked into the bay area and exploded in a white hot flash. Billions of degrees expanded outward in a fireball of superheated plasma and scorched atmosphere. Life caught in the blast scarcely felt a thing as bones and flesh atomized and disintegrated into their component elements.

"Hold on!" Han pulled hard on the controls as the rapidly approaching ground loomed large. Loud hisses and groans spewed from the instrument panel as the Falcon pulled up and back around towards the sky. Moving quickly, mirror Enterprise banked hard and brought its phaser array to target. Blue beams engulfed the city, cutting and slashing at the heart of the Federation and its people. And as the mirror Enterprise beams tore into California, Picard, in a stroke of luck scored a critical hit. A piece of mirror Enterprise hull exploded, sending the alter-universe ship into a tailspin. Sensing danger, evil-Kirk commanded their escape, and with quick action, mirror Enterprise ascended towards outer space.

Resembling a 20th-century space shuttle, blasting upward at a 90-degree angle, went mirror Enterprise. Behind it, Picard's Enterprise, and further behind him, the Falcon. All racing upward through the atmosphere into the darkness. Ground-based weapons, of which there were few, lashed outward but the damage had been done; the mission had been accomplished.

"Kirk to Spock, Kirk to Spock, come in."

"Spock here."

"Where the devil are you?"

"Seventeen seconds away, we are preparing to engage."

"Tell Cienna to set all power to the forward phasers, target their main reactor. Set beam to ultra-narrow and punch through their shields."

"Affirmative."

Further and further the ships flew, moving at hundreds of thousands of miles an hour and accelerating still. Onboard the Falcon, both ships could be seen directly ahead, orange and red plasma vented from the gaping hole in mirror Enterprise. How evil-Kirk had maintained his shields for so long could not be answered, whether it be Dalek help or masterful power allocation is a moot point.

"Ten seconds to firing range. We are at maximum power, Cienna's modification is in full effect" came Spock's live update. "9...8...7..."

"What the hell is that?!" Shouted Han as he pointed far ahead with his finger. Kirk, Luke, and Kinnison leaned forward to see. And sure enough, far ahead a storm brewed in space. A maelstrom of energy crackled and whirled.

"6...5…"

Kinnison's mouth opened, he could not believe it, no more than he could believe an evil-Kirk existed. Ahead, and quickly approaching due to their speed was a hyperspace tube. It spiraled open like a giant mouth, crackling and throbbing with energy.

"That's… that's a hyperspace tube. That's impossible. That's IMPOSSIBLE!"

Kirk looked sideways, he had never seen Kinnison so shocked and disturbed.

"4...3...2…"

Mirror Enterprise entered the maelstrom and disappeared from this universe. The giant maw blinked and all semblance of the tube erased from existence. Kirk hung his head, they had failed. Sitting in his chair, he thought about all the lives lost, the government body eradicated,

My god what have they done…

"Can we track them?"

Kinnison looked over at Luke and shook his head,

"Where does the light go when you turn off the switch? Nowhere, it just disappears."

Milky Way

Infected Flood ships continued their endless expansion of consumption and absorption. In all four quadrants of the Milky Way and perhaps beyond, planets and civilizations fought a hopeless war against a seemingly unstoppable foe. Alliances forged out of desperation attempted to push back the menace that seemed to creep into every corner of the galaxy. Now moving through slipspace, the infected Flood ships crossed the Milky Way in two days, arriving undetected to unleash their spores and mutated legions onto unsuspecting worlds. Overrunning thousands of planets, the Shaping Sickness masterfully controlled its forces to best expand at the fastest possible rate. The Gravemind with its unimaginable intelligence retained the memories and wisdom of all consumed. Trillions of minds now lay bare to its ancient soul, sifting and sorting through information it may need. And as it searched, filtered, and pulped, a realization dawned on the Precursor intelligence; the abstract thought forming the Gravemind.

Who controls the minions, who manages the corrupters?

Boskone agents and manipulated populations allowed the Gravemind to piece together the magnitude of the 'organization,' and yet even to the Flood, the ultimate top of the pyramid could not be found. No one knew enough, or their minds had been permanently erased.

More will need to be consumed

From across the stars, old structures began to reassemble, erecting themselves out of dust, out of the fabric of the universe. Star Roads, manipulated strands of ether connected themselves into giant whirling instruments of nearly unbreakable structures. Used eons ago to crush the Forerunners, the Star Roads served as both vehicle and weapon.

With a thought, ten-thousand Flood ships departed for the Imperial Galaxy Wormhole. To learn more about the corrupters, the Gravemind sought more life to consume. And as it did so, it continued to call to its child.

Kirk, come to me. I have spread to a thousand worlds with billions more to fall. I will enter the void between galaxies and soon cross to bring sweetness to all. Come and we will join as one, where you will learn the truth of all things.

I am coming… Creator

Milky Way and Beyond

Making up the local galactic cluster swirled fifty-four galaxies, the Milky Way among them. Contained in each, a billion worlds, and on many of those, life. Not all intelligent, not all cooperative, but alive. Moving faster than even the Flood, information and manipulation spread rapidly. Ideological, populace, and government manipulation on a scale never before seen in this universe spread, expertly executed, ruthlessly enforced. Not all worlds were controlled the same way, some were subjected to fake news, others nudged along through xenophobia. Regardless of how the worlds or citizens were unknowingly tricked, they now moved together. Not knowingly, or righteously, but towards the same goal. Boskone lieutenants, of which evil-Kirk held rank, pulled the levers of control for the aforementioned planets. Each unique in their strategy and methods, but all shared the same desire. Power. That ideology, and in it, absolute authority to act within their defined territory or assigned commercial or trade sector brought swift and quick change. Not needing to confer, or move through red tape, each level of the pyramid acted as a dictator to a lower echelon. This allowed for maximum expansion, where a Boskone agent could recruit more and more beneath themselves, allocating direct control and authority to do what needed to be done to carry out the plan assigned. No theoretical limit existed in this model as micromanagement did not exist. And as one moved higher in rank, they oversaw more territory or industry on a strategic scale rather than tactical like the lowly rung operators.

Now, across untold planets and spanning ten million light years, aliens rushed to transport ships, scrambling to get aboard and join the mission. Overlords of Delgon, creatures resembling dragons of earth fables joined with manipulated Melkotians, combined this powerful telepathic duo would attempt to break apart the Flood command and control. On another world, galaxies away and far from the threat, the Flood had been described and revealed to be abominations of God. Spiritual leaders and elders of the race known as the Y-Toran waged a holy war. Comparable to the Federation in technological prowess, they lived as fanatics. Those who were too ill or elder to join, stood cheering and waving symbols of solidarity as the starships lifted off and blasted into space. One hundred and seventy million Y-Toran volunteered to wage war against the virus, in a galaxy they knew they could not reach in ten-thousand lifetimes. It is then no surprise that a 'breakthrough' occurred in propulsion by one of their scientists, allowing for inter-galactic passage. This Y-Toran scientist could not explain how he had unraveled the mysteries of hyperspace tubes, but the course seemed clear. Death to the godless parasites!

In whatever language used, across a million worlds, the shouts and cheers were universal,

"Death to the Flood!"

Skies brightened, as engine nozzles flared to life, propelling millions of ships to another place, carrying with them the hope and hearts of the alien populace.

Someplace unknown, higher echelon Boskone officers watched, monitored, and managed their Lieutenants.

And,

Somewhere far, dizzyingly higher in the chain of command, the true Boskone masters, whose incredible minds never stopped, pushed their plan towards its inevitable conclusion.

Milky Way - Galactic Center - Mirror Enterprise

The Dalek floated up towards the transporter pad where the only surviving cylinder of Xyit Compound 823 waited. The synthesis before the unexpected attack upon Cherno 44 was at 99% and the superweapon mechanical assembly nearly completed. Now, due to the expert aim of the Lensman, only half of the necessary compound remained.

Evil-Kirk and Evil-Spock stood beside the transporter controls, eagerly waiting for their rude guest to leave.

"You are to D-E-S-T-R-O-Y Earth at once!" Raved the Dalek, so angry it seemed to shake.

Evil-Kirk raised his chin defiantly, anger swelling, and unlike his alter ego, had no qualms about displaying it.

"Listen here you tin can!" He pointed his finger right at the eye stock of the Dalek. "Your stupid plan didn't work. We received your alert message, came here to pick you up and raced to Cherno 44. You're lucky you even got away with one cylinder!"

"Do. You. Want. To. DIIIIEEEEEE?" Screamed the Dalek in return. Both faced off against each other, neither flinching, neither wavering.

"Many have tried, all have failed. Including Mr. Spock here," jabbing his thumb behind him. "When I came back to this ship from this Universe, the crossover phenomenon. Do you know? Do. You. Know... what happened Dalek? Do you!?" Kirk's manic expression carried through the wounds and tattered face, sweat beads formed on his forehead and he snarled and spit as he continued. "I came back to my ship and they tried to kill me. First they tried to convince me to overthrow or rebel against the system, but I fought them. I fought them all! For days we had running phaser battles all over the ship. These…" he reached up and felt his face, the tattered and wrecked skin "... these scars occurred when Spock and I finally fought hand to hand beside the warp core."

The Dalek remained quiet, listening and learning as the torrential outcry continued.

"If Spock cannot kill me. Cannot beat me. You. You... never will. I am in command. I will always be… in command." Kirk smashed his hand down onto the transporter control, his fit of rage not unexpected or uncommon. "Earth is mine to control. Mine to conquer. We had a deal. And since your morons at Cherno 44 couldn't defend themselves, now we are left with half the synthesis. But!" He pointed his finger into the air, his face suddenly changing from anger to mock surprise. "We will synthesize it for you, far from here, and it will be ready in thirty-days."

"Your I-N-F-E-R-I-O-R minds cannot comprehend its synthesis."

Evil-Kirk opened his mouth to scream but shut it again. The Dalek was right, and he knew it. The Xyit Compound 823 was beyond their comprehension. But the voice in his head, sent through the black lens told him, ordered him to carry out this strategy. Somewhere, someplace, someone knew how to synthesize it. And it bothered him. Not knowing, or perhaps not remembering how or why they received their black lenses, the voices gave broad directives which he carried out ruthlessly.

"Someone in our organization will produce it," he finally said.

"Like a dog, you have a master." The Dalek turned and set itself down on the transporter pad. Before leaving, it spoke again, this time a warning. "Your telepathic powers are known to us. We have constructed shields against any such intrusion. And we control the ultimate weapon, the end of all things. DO. NOT. TEST. US."

Evil-Kirk sent his mind against the Dalek thought-screen, and to his surprise, the construction did feel different, upgraded, robust. He narrowed his eyes, not liking this development.

They are very clever...

The Dalek continued,

"We ordered you to destroy the spreading virus, but you fail. Our sensors indicate the plague now infects thousands of worlds. Their propulsion speed is now ahead of the races consumed. Something controls the virus, it is greater than the sum of its parts. D-E-S-T-R-O-Y it!"

Evil-Spock stepped forward to address the order,

"Dalek. The virus spreads exponentially, and therefore cannot be contained in any reasonable amount of time. We are working on biological counter-measures, all unsuccessful at this time. This is why we urge you to allow us to synthesize the compound; you may run out of time. By my estimates, the contagion will spread to the center of this galaxy in forty-three days."

"Go on…Vulcan puppet."

"I do have one question. Once the superweapon is turned against the Q, what makes you so sure it will be successful in killing them?"

"Do not concern yourself with matters beyond your comprehension. We have at our disposal something far more powerful. The superweapon is to drive them into their Continuum."

Evil-Spock raised an eyebrow,

"More powerful than a psychic superweapon?"

"As far above the weapon, as we are above you, and you are above your incompetent Captain Kirk."

Despite the insult, evil-Kirk's eyes gleaned. Telepathically communicating with evil-Spock to prod the Dalek, he wanted to see what it would reveal. Something he already knew. The voice from the black lens told him months ago, how the voice knew, he could not guess.

The Old Ones were

The Old Ones are

The Old Ones shall ever be

And they were the Dalek's trump card.

For now.

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Gamma Quadrant - Imperial Wormhole

Admiral Piett carefully eyed the fleet composition on his datapad while making small changes to its configuration. Under orders from Grand Admiral Thrawn to guard the Imperial Wormhole, his eight-hundred star destroyers resembled a giant sphere, with the Super Star Destroyer Executor making up the core. Glistening with thousands of turbo lasers and redundant shields, it dwarfed the surrounding fleet, and yet, even with its 19-kilometer length, all is relative.

Warning klaxons and alarm bells erupted across the bridge, and before a lowly radar operator could shout a warning, Flood ships erupted from the slipstream realm. Ten-thousand ships of a thousand configurations smashed into the Imperial fleet. Transporter beams that only the Gravemind could understand effortlessly pierced the Imperial shields. Within fifteen seconds, hundreds of thousands of Flood forms rampaged throughout the outer layer of the spherical formation. Piett grabbed his communications officer by the scruff of the neck and began shouting orders to rotate healthy ships to the front, but there was no point.

Turbolasers smacked into the upgraded and exotic shields of the Flood ships, creating a spectacular light show across the battlefront. And in return, phased energy weapons sliced and diced into the thick armor of the star destroyers, bursting containment fields and reactor cores. Massive explosions rocked adjacent ships and the entire sphere began to collapse.

Utter mayhem best described the Imperial Navy, where Captains and Security Chiefs shouted in frustration then panic into their communications systems, the inevitable outcome growing closer.

"Admiral! Admiral!" shouted his top aide. "Some star destroyers are turning against us!"

Imperial ships overrun with the virus soon turned their firepower inward, blasting deeper into the twisting and adjusting spherical formation. Droids connected to primary systems soon started to falter as the Logic Plage corrupted their data-processes and algorithms. In some cases, security droids turned against their masters and an internal struggle between man and machine commenced.

On the Executor, Piett ran over to his communications specialist and ordered a connection to the Grand Admiral.

"Grand Admiral. We are under attack from virus ships, our forces are overrun and-"

A thunderous shriek of twisted metal caused everyone to wince as noise mimicking nails along a chalkboard filled the room. The blast-doors securing the bridge collapsed inward from a gigantic blob of flesh and slop scrambling, pulling, and twisting through the door. An elephant sized sack of mutated flesh comprised of many Imperial officers crashed inward. Flood forms ran rampant within the Super Star Destroyer, absorbing systems and personnel. Behind the large mass came Flood stormtroopers, blasting away as yet to be mutated Imperials.

Piett's heart jumped and he pulled his pistol and fired a few shots before ducking behind a column. From the other end of the bridge, stormtroopers lined up and returned fire, chaotic shouting and screaming penetrated the thick smoke and littered bodies. The converted troopers staggered forward, displaying appendages that seeped through the armor, either carrying weapons or used to hack and claw at victims.

Piett crawled on his stomach and fell down into the communications pit, he again called for help but saw all systems were jammed. A moment ago, Star Roads had materialized out of slipstream. Thousands of miles in diameter and resembling giant spider webs of whipping universal ether, they poured interference waves outward which jammed all communication. This in conjunction with the scrambled logic paths of the Imperial A.I. systems put an end to any outward transmission. The spider web engulfed the two fleets and slowly contracted, gravity waves pushing inward to stop any from escaping.

At the center of the giant spider webs sat black pocket dimensions which ebbed and flowed with energy. Within, a Gravemind, controlling the local forces for thousands of lightyears and bringing order to the legions and untold billions of mutated and corrupted aliens and AI systems.

Were all the Graveminds the same being? Conjecture would leave one to feel they were all the same. Exhibiting the same traits, thoughts, experiences, and opinions. Vast storehouses of knowledge and wisdom, contained in tremendously large globs of consumed flesh and bio-matter. And now, in Admiral Pietts final moments, he felt the mind of the Flood. A consciousness pulling at his mind, his body morphing from the scratch marks along his neck.

Piett's skin began to ooze and fall away, and he screamed in pain as mutated stormtroopers jumped upon him, tearing at his neck and face. And as the Flood Super Cell began to change his DNA he heard the call.

Firmus Piett. Father of three. Sleep, you have been awake too long. Rest now, and reveal everything to me.

By the thousands, Imperial officers fell to the plague. Within an hour, more than one-hundred star destroyers became part of the Flood fleet. The others destroyed or exploding in a final barrage of resistance. Turbolaser teams blasting away at the universal ether tendrils of the Star Roads felt a sense of hopelessness against their awesome power. The thunderous bolts which tore apart Borg Cubes now smacked into the ether structure only to be absorbed, with no damage at all being inflicted. The same Star Roads the Forerunners had not been able to overcome, now presented an unkillable enemy to the fledgling Empire.

A trillion souls wait for me on Coruscant, back to their beginning and their end. All is the same with the Gravemind

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Sulferian Moon

A week after the attack by the mirror Enterprise on Earth, the Millenium Falcon lifted off from the Sulferian Moon on the outskirts of Federation space. The small outlier teemed with life, its thick green forests and deep oceans home to wondrous animals and vegetation. Of intelligent life, only local natives who resembled bipedal cockroaches maintained their farmlands and domesticated animals. That is, until Starfleet made them an offer they could not refuse over a hundred years ago. Dilithium ore, the nectar of the modern Federation starship, formed large natural deposits all over the small world. In exchange for its mining, Starfleet provided rudimentary technology for medicine, distillery, and small-scale production of vehicles and modern homes. The Sulferians did not want more, instead they decided to keep their native roots and culture with the idea of hosting workers and merchants for trade. Opening small canteens for traders and miners, the small bars and restaurants allowed those far from home to feel closer, offering an assortment of foods and drink to allow even the most destitute worker a place to belong.

Lifting off from the landing pad, the Falcon's blue engines flared as it disappeared from view. Han and Chewie knew that staying on the platform would make them easy targets if Slave 1 were to ever decloak. Luke and 'John' stood on the landing platform, looking at the front of the busy and boisterous establishment. Music and singing seemed to give life to the dreary gray building whose wind blasted cement showed all the years of its long perch above the sea.

Built atop a steep rocky uprising, the building rose hundreds of meters above the sea and surrounding countryside. On all sides, jagged rocks and dangerous outcroppings gave the illusion of an evil tower high above a magical land. Now midnight, with rain coming down in buckets, Luke and 'John' moved quickly towards the door. And as the Jedi's hand reached for the handle he stopped, he felt him.

"He's here… I can sense it…"

'John' stood beside him impatiently, the rain tinkling and rolling down his armor.

"The one who will kill Cienna in your vision?"

"Yes, and he knows we are here now. I can feel the dark side."

"Good. He is going to die. Tonight."

Shoving past Luke, 'John' pushed the door open and stomped into the establishment. He filled the doorway, his eyes scanning the room. The Sulferians as is their custom, covered their insect bodies with cloaks, all rummaging about, drinking and talking with traveling business people or miners. Luke wedged in beside 'John' and looked around, he shouted above the music to the soldier, hoping the message would get through.

"Just be careful, don't do anything crazy."

Luke closed his eyes and pushed outward, the Force guiding him through the maze of patrons and waiters. The dark side was always elusive, vague, abstract. He could feel its shadow and spreading fear. Sith had the power to cause uneasiness, fear, apprehension among their victims and combatants. The dark side seeped into their minds, into the back of their thoughts and feelings.

Luke carefully moved forward through the crowd, his hood hung low, his hand ready to grab his lightsaber in case of danger. 'John' walked behind him, uncaring and unfeeling of the waitresses and patrons who bumped into him or spilled a drink as he quietly moved them out of the way with his powerful arm.

The killer of your love is here. She is only for you. Only you can save her

The Old Ones spoke, and as they did, 'John' replied, wanting their help, needing them to guide him to the throat of he who dares harm Cienna.

I must find him... guide me

Release us, and no man shall harm her, no man can touch her, she will be at peace

Never. Yog-Sothoth sealed you away for a reason

One more key, one more lock

'John' continued to battle and absorb the mental tuggings and scratches of the Old Ones. Walking behind Luke he suddenly realized he no longer stood in the establishment on the Sulferian moon. He now stood in Dunwich, and again back to the tavern. Realities or perhaps memories were flashing through his minds-eye, and as he took each step he was somewhere else. Back and forth, back and forth. He saw Luke's lips moving, as if in slow motion as the Jedi carefully pointed to a table just ahead.

Is he talking to me? What did he say? Where… where am I?

Then he saw it, the tombstone.

[[Cienna Whately - 2055-2079]]

My wife… my beautiful wife…

'John' stopped walking, and intoxicated dancing and socializing patrons moved in front of him as Luke disappeared into the crowd

Wait… my wife's name is Cindy… no… Cienna. My wife Cienna. I will protect you always

Luke approached a handrail separating the bar and seated meal area. Ahead were six tables, each with hooded figures with insect arms moving around. Eating, drinking, talking, relaxing. Luke narrowed in on one particular table, a lonely patron whose limbs were not insectoid but human.

Believing 'John' just behind him, Luke slowly pulled his lightsaber out of his cloak and held it low. At the bar, a barkeep could be heard talking to one of the floor managers about 'someone' standing, unmoving and to their surprise, fully armored.

"Get that guy outta here," said the humanoid barkeep to his bouncer. Surprised, Luke turned around to see 'John' was not there, only a jostling and happy crowd of dancers and inebriated locals. And at that same moment, sensing an opportunity, Darth Maul made his move.

Wrenching off his dark cloak, the Sith sprang to his feet, unclipping his double-sword lightsaber in the process. Luke felt the danger and whirled around, igniting his green saber and bringing it up for combat. In what felt like slow motion, Maul hurled his hand forward, palm out and sent a powerful dark force blast. Angling his head down in concentration, Luke absorbed the shockwave, his feet skidding along the floor a few feet, but no more. Behind him, patrons and workers flew back as if shot out of a canon. Thirty aliens and humans smashed into the concrete wall, bones snapping and necks breaking.

All but one…

'John' continued to fly, his solid armor punching a hole straight through the concrete wall and out into the dark night. Rain and hellish weather pounded down, and he hit the ground at tremendous speed while continuing to roll. His body reached the cliff's edge and went tumbling over, smashing and crunching against the sharp rock and dangerous slope. Downward he fell, the eighty-degree slope causing his heavy body to hasten it's already substantial momentum.

Falling, tumbling, and crashing, 'John' finally smacked into the ground with a loud thump. He lay face down in a pool of water, unmoving. Thunder cracked and lightning zig-zagged in the sky, and far above, hundreds of meters atop the cliff, Luke fought for his life.

Maul leaped over the rail and attacked savagely with his double saber, he poured everything he could into his attack, the Emperor had demanded Luke be captured or killed, duty demanded one of the other to occur tonight.

Maul knew the Jedi well. Facing off against Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo a lifetime ago, he knew how to beat them, to use their calmness and certainty against them. Fear was his ally, and Darth Maul used it now more than ever. Allowing the dark side to guide him, he let the Force tap into the Jedi's young mind, to try and win the battle before it even began.

Luke pushed forward, his green saber cutting and stabbing, slashing and blocking. He pushed and pushed, and as each blow came down, Maul hissed and seethed as he found himself back peddling towards the railing. The young Jedi was not like his elders, not sure, not calm or righteous. Anger, fear, and hatred flowed through him. Maul tried to push back, but with each counter-attack came more power, more vigor.

Down came another hammer, the Jedi's Force assisted strike shaking Maul's arms to the bone. Luke's front foot continued to pull himself closer to the action, his rear sliding along and keeping him pressing. As he had done in his dreams, in another time when he fought his father aboard the Deathstar.

Maul spun around and cut the flimsy railing in half to allow for more room. Green and red flashed in the bar as patrons ran and screamed in all directions. Luke blocked a quick strike followed by another, catching the double saber with his own, his eyes met Mauls. The snarling tattooed Sith gritted his sharp teeth and separated contact. Both looked at each other for a moment, circling and studying the other.

Maul snarled and hissed, he did not like this young man. He was powerful. Too powerful.

In the corner of Luke's eye, he saw something moving behind the bar,

Boba Fett!… John where are you!?

Down in the pooling water, rising quickly due to the torrential rain, the soldier stirred, not from unconsciousness but a dream. He was with Cienna, walking through the meadows and valleys of his old home, he missed her. But now as he pulled himself up out of the water, another thought came to him.

The Sith MUST DIE

He looked up into the dark sky, white-hot lightning crisscrossing overheard. To any sane man, the situation would be intimidating, but 'John' was no ordinary man. Or a man at all.

Turning, he plowed into the cliff face, his hands sinking into the rock and soil as he hurtled himself upward. Water running down made little difference as the armored soldier tore his way up the mountainside,

Cienna. I am coming.

Madness, absolute and certain flowed freely. The Old Ones pecked and tore at him, and as he ascended physically, he fell mentally. Down into whatever pit of hell or horror awaited with open arms.

"Cienna. Cienna. Cienna." he whispered to himself, only for his mind to falter, as insanity has no bounds brought by mortal men. "Ci-ehna. Ya-Meyaa Yog Sothoth"

And he continued to climb.

In the tavern, Boba took his shot, the single round aimed for Luke's head. The green blade snatched it out of the air and then spun back to block the incoming red saber. Luke's eyes were unwavering, he could feel the Force everywhere, the table, the tree, the rock, the wall.

Maul tried going high and low, left and right, each and every direction caught and parried, blocked and dodged. Boba ran along the bar to try and reposition himself, the two force users continually moving and circling made for an impossible shot. He did not want to risk hitting Maul.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

Yoda's voice, perhaps in his memory drove young Skywalker onward. He sensed the end, the advantage was his. His cloak thrown away, his black outfit representing the opposite of its color. Along with Luke came the hope and belief that all good fought together against a common cause.

Maul tripped backward over a broken table leg, the Sith starting to panic at the thought of not ending the Jedi's life, failing his master… and perhaps even worse.

Backing towards the wall, Boba Fett recognized the Sith would be out of space in a few seconds. He aimed again and fired, only this time Luke and Maul were entangled, both sabers were committed. Disengaging, Luke spun around and deflected the bolt back towards the bounty hunter.

BAM!

The bolt struck the shoulder armor of Boba who howled in pain as it sparked and blasted apart into a thousand pieces. Using the distraction, Maul sensed his last opportunity and pushed outward with the Force, this time dropping his lightsaber and using both hands in a tremendous blast of dark force energy.

Luke unable to switch his concentration to block it, flew backward like a rocket. Maul watched as the young Jedi lifted off the ground towards the opposite concrete wall, but then.

As Luke flew off his feet, the armored soldier came into view as he catapulted over the top of the Jedi. One hand cocked back into a fist, the other outstretched ready to grab the Sith by the throat.

Maul's eyes were as wide as saucers as he barely dodged the incoming threat. And as he rolled backward and picked up his lightsaber, Maul felt the dark side. Never had he felt a sense like this, it called, begged, and pleaded.

DANGER!

Behind the bar, Boba rolled to his side to inspect his injury just to hear the droid transmission in his ear from the cloaked Slave 1 in orbit.

"Mr. Fett. Mr. Fett. Incoming plague ships, they are landing and teleporting as we speak. You must evacuate."

Grabbing his rifle, he turned it to automatic and pointed it at the armored man. Bolts hissed and sparked against the stained and tattered armor as the soldier bull-rushed forward.

Maul ignited his lightsaber and slashed, connecting squarely with the breastplate, the blade sinking a foot deep, but nothing happened. The armored fist kept coming, and if Maul had acted a moment later, would have been decapitated.

SWUSH!

'John' narrowly missed with a tremendous blow, then another. Swinging wildly, a dump-truck of energy in every dangerous and ungodly attack. Maul backed off and slashed again, but this time 'John' ignited his black saber and caught the blow effortlessly. He pushed the Sith off as if a pesky buzzard and brought his leg straight through a table. Wood splinters exploding in all directions as his unstoppable leg continued unabated.

Maul ducked again, the leg barely grazing his arm.

Boba jumped over the bar and ran forward, continuing to fire with his hand blaster. More sparks and riddled holes erupted on the front armor plate, searing flesh and hissing and boiling blood spilling out of the holes.

Black blood.

"We need to leave, the virus has landed!" Shouted Boba through his helmet. Maul's eyes already wild with anger ignored him and lunged forward, his blade connecting with the black saber. 'John' shoved Maul off with one arm and swung wildly with the other, a near miss.

Maul let loose his powers again, the dark side creating fear for all those in the room, searching for prey and weak minds. But something ELSE crept the room, moving in the shadows and dark corners, THEY waited.

We wait, patient, potent. Set us free

If ever the Force acted as a life-form, this is the only time. Recoiling, revolting, the dark side moved back, Maul's eyes flickered as his senses came to grips with what was happening.

"My Lord! We need to leave!" Shouted Boba again, firing the last of his rounds into the unstoppable soldier.

As if sensing their escape, 'John' lunged, his black saber swiping with a titanic blast, black and red saber met, and in that incredible moment, the crystal of each saber shattered. The mechanism which powers the blades exploded in each of their hands, the impact too high for each to handle.

Not missing a beat, 'John' continued through the Sith's guard and grabbed the tattooed villain by the throat. Maul reached up desperately to pull the grip away, but the vice-like grip of 'John' could not be broken. Boba ran forward and gave a solid kick, but like a snake, 'John' shot out his other hand and grabbed the leg of Boba who went crashing to the ground.

Across the room, Luke shook his head and opened his eyes. Blood flowed down his face from the impact of the wall, and in his delirium he thought he saw 'John' standing across the room. Maul in one hand and Boba laying on his back with 'John's' boot pressing down onto his compressing helmet.

"Luke! Luke! Can you hear me? Interference is bad! I'm coming down right now, evacuate, evacuate. The plague ships are everywhere." Shouted Han into the communicator.

The door of the tavern sprung open, and a grotesque Sulferian mutated by the Flood howled and scampered. Luke jumped to his feet and sliced the oncoming mutant in half. Another appeared in the doorway, dragging along another whose legs had not developed, and the four-armed, two-legged insect rushed forward.

"John! We need to leave!" Shouted Luke as he hacked another one to pieces.

All across the planet, spore pods dropped into the lakes and forests, and the bio-consumption of all life began.

Boba, whose face was an instant from being crushed pressed his emergency evacuation button and both him and Maul shimmered away to safety, his emergency transporter activating just in time.

'John's' hand clinched a second too late, and his hand grasped at the energized remnants.

"No! ...no!" 'John' screamed as loud as he could. Dropping to his knees he held his head, ignoring the desperate calls from Luke to evacuate. Without the ability to transport, 'John' had to do it by foot.

"John! There are too many of them!" More Flood burst through the ceiling and door, and as they scrambled and charged inward, unbelievable rage and anger, once directed towards Maul, now set its sights on the Flood.

It is because of them the Sith's escaped! They caused it...they… hurt Cienna. Cienna my love, I am going to protect you.

The Falcon swooped through the rain and hovered above the landing platform a few hundred feet from the tavern. Chewie stood on the open ramp firing rapidly at approaching Flood soldiers. High above, a Star Road materialized, carrying with it a Gravemind and thousands of ships and infected.

Inside, Luke used his Force power to hurl a mutant across the room seconds before it reached 'John,' who knelt seemingly unaware of all unfolding. After a few more seconds of hacking and slashing, Luke started to move towards the door, keeping a careful eye on his companion.

Then.

In Luke's head he heard it. Not a memory, but a voice. His old friend and mentor Ben Kenobi.

Run Luke, run

'John' slowly started to stand, his fists clenched and trembling with anger. A beastly growl like a lion replaced the usual human voice.

"I will kill all of you!"

Luke kicked open the door and ran headlong for the Falcon. Slicing and dicing incoming Flood forms as they tried to scratch and bite him.

Inside the tavern, strange air whirled, and shadows danced,

"You will face your DOOM! Yeeeahh-Shub-Neeyahh!" Organs entirely unknown produced the sounds from 'John's' mouth, and at the exact same time a massive crack split the tavern in two. Like a shockwave, the crack ripped left and right, the building heaved and the roof fell inward. As Luke ran, the crack zigzagged across the ground behind him, opening a chasm with hissing steam and rushing air. Chewie growled and the Jedi turned around, a humongous Flood form, two-thousand pounds of local indigenous life pulsated forward. It had climbed up the cliff face and now charged headlong from the direction of the tavern. Blaster bolts from Chewie were not enough to stop it, and as each bolt chewed into the flesh, Flood spores burst out and flowed through the water flowing over the landing pad. The crack opened wider and the large Flood form leaped into the air to cross the distance with every intention of absorbing Luke as it landed.

As it flew, Luke raised his hands, unsure if he would be able to stop its body before it crashed into him. But something caught its rear-end and it went crashing to the ground, its globular body bouncing off the side of the chasm as it struggled to hold on and not fall in. Luke squinted through the rain and saw 'John', half in and half out of the crack, he held the rear-end and he pulled it in. More Flood forms came piling on, and as they landed on 'John' he seemed to grow in stature. He ripped and tore, smashed and pulled. Luke then realized what was happening. The soldier was not trying to escape, he was pulling them into the chasm with him. The blackness, the endless abyss did not lead to the center of the Sulferian Moon but elsewhere. Flood forms entangled with 'John' now tried to claw out of the hole, but could not. 'John's' fist blew out the stomach of a Flood as he tossed it back over his shoulder and down into the pit. Scratches, bites, and spores had no effect on the soldier. Not made of matter from this or any Universe, he slaughtered them with the utter-most violence.

More than indigenous life and virus mutations roamed the moon.

Things older than time now stalked the forests, and crushed the cities.

[[...by their smell shall you know them near...]] -Necronomicon-

From the pit, a stench filled Luke's nostrils as he ran as fast as he could towards the waiting Falcon.

Rushing onto the ramp, Luke turned as Han lifted off towards the sky. Endless rain blurred his vision, but what came next would stay with the Jedi for the remainder of his life. Far out, where his vision faltered, a mountain walked. A flash of lightning illuminated a THING. Miles high, it lumbered, in shapes not possible, with movements not possible. THEY had arrived.

In that infinitesimal amount of time Luke saw the beast, the thing, the something; he would never mention it again. He could not. If it were not for the rain, and only a faint outline seen, the poor Jedi would have gone insane.

That is impossible…

Closing the ramp, Chewie and Luke moved into the cockpit where Han hit the throttle and the Falcon blasted upward into the blackness of space.

Star Roads and plague ships paid no attention to the Falcon as the Gravemind found itself preoccupied with an ancient horror. Only in the dreams of the Precursors and their brothers the Q had THEY existed. Yet, now, as it was in the beginning, the Old Ones spoke.

Hell might be a human word, but the concept is universal. Somewhere deep down in the darkness, trapped with 'John' and the Old Ones, the Flood found theirs.

The planet cracked and plunged into internal darkness, the sun faded, and Star Roads and Flood ships fell to the surface. A consciousness reached for the stars to only fall back again, not ready, not able. Leaving only a broken world, it's core exposed as the tremendous power of its visitors caused the small moon to split in two. Now THEY were gone, with nothing remaining but a dead world.

Time, for all its importance only has meaning to those who are governed by it. Only when the stars were right would they come near, bringing with them their images from beyond. And if the stars were wrong, they could not live. The secret to Yog-Sothoth's gate may well be the stars, but no man can know.

Chapter Text

 

Milky Way - Alpha Quadrant - Enterprise

The collected group of Kirk, Spock, Cienna, Luke, Han, McCoy, Chewie, Scottie, and Data sat in total silence as Luke described the events on the ill-fated moon. The Android had been recovered in weeks-long search and rescue missions after the events of San Francisco. Nine-Hundred and seventy thousand dead. Now the solemn-looking group sat and listened in great detail regarding the circumstances leading up to Luke's eventual escape. Han laid out the sensor logs of the Falcon, noting the exotic drive which the Flood ships used.

After the Falcon had placed some distance between itself and the Sulferian moon, the trio of Han, Luke, and Chewie wanted to double-back and try and locate 'John'; but this proved impossible. Flood ships soon overran the entire system, paving the way for all other worlds to be consumed.

Luke also felt terrible for not being able to stop the Sith. Now known to him as Darth Maul thanks to a talk with his father. Vader had revealed the location of the next target, and so they had made their move. The battle took a toll on the young Jedi, despite besting Maul he still felt defeated.

"... and that is when I boarded the Falcon and left…" said Luke finishing up his story.

Cienna sat perfectly still. 'John's' fate twisting her stomach, she felt sick to the core.

John died for me… he chased down Darth Maul because of me…

Captain Kirk sat stoned faced, absorbing the story and weighing the implications. Despite 'John's' obvious opinion of him, Kirk did not hate him. On the contrary, he wanted him to succeed, then resting forever. Visiting his mind with Kinnison had shown him a broken spirit and empty shell. And yet as he slumped in sadness, part of him did not believe it.

He wanted to die, begged to die. But…

"He is at peace… like he wanted..." Kirk clasped his hands together while forming his sentence, "...he fought for us. And now, we must fight on to honor that." Regaining his composure, he set to business in organizing the last item not yet obtained. The superweapon.

"Spock. Cienna. You need to board the Dauntless and begin construction of the Magnetic Corridor Weapon as soon as possible. Kimball says the ship can replicate and assemble everything you need. And with its four cloaking devices, should be undetectable at long ranges, even to the Daleks."

"That is a logical plan. The weapon will be fully assembled in thirty days," responded the Vulcan.

Kirk nodded along, part listening, thinking, analyzing, predicting.

My alter ego is here… the other Spock must have failed in his overthrow. I underestimated … myself...

The 'how' and 'why' were already answered from Kinnison's peppering of questions soon after the destruction of San Francisco and the death of their President. Boskone, by Kinnison's reasoning, had infiltrated the Mirror Universe. This brought more questions and even fewer answers. Who runs Boskone? How far does it reach? What is their plan?

Adding to the mystery is their alliance with the Daleks. Kinnison, whose compartmentalized mind worked the problem over, found himself stuck.

Why? They are natural enemies... one of them is using the other… but who is using who? And why?

Tapping his fingers on the conference table, he tried to solve the puzzle,

The Arisians said Boskone ended at Ploor, and we destroyed them… the Galactic Patrol had won. How can any of this be possible?

"Cienna, I've shared all I know regarding Boskone and the war with my Galactic Patrol. Why? Why would the Dalek's team up with that sort of organization?"

Kirk's eyes shifted towards his love, he knew already that the news of 'John's death would hit her hard, that somewhere down deep she would blame herself. The room waited for an answer, and while the pause drew on, Kirk opened his mouth to jump in, but she raised her hand and offered an opinion.

"The Dalek's have constructed many super weapons throughout their history. Some directed towards time, others directed towards matter. For Instance, the Reality Bomb was designed to cascade a wave through all reality and unravel molecular bonds. They can wage war on an unbelievable scale. Spanning time, space, and dimension. In the final days of the time war, when we were about to bring about the Old Ones, they sent ten-million ships to destroy the Time Lords, their sworn enemies. They fought them in the realms that we would not consider real, in times we didn't think ever existed, in the future and past. I do not see why they would need Boskone."

Spock considered the facts, neatly organizing them into segments which he then dismissed or investigated.

"Cienna," he began, "... you mentioned they constructed a machine to unbind the molecular bonds of reality. But these bonds would not affect energy beings, at least not as we understand it presently."

"No… not as I understand them..."

Kirk's eyes started to move back and forth, an idea formed.

If they constructed machines to destroy the physical… they must need to build something to destroy… to destroy what…

"Thought."

Kirk's one word felt like an electric bolt through Kinnison's brain. Implications started to compound, and pieces began to fall into place.

"Yes Jim...yes. The Dalek's can destroy the physical. They can travel through time and dimension. But maybe thought eludes them. Maybe…"

Cienna considered this and began reviewing in her head all the different gadgets and mechanisms she was privy too, and soon a pattern emerged.

"My… god. That must be it. The Dalek's lack the means to control or destroy thought. I wouldn't call it a weakness, but I suppose it's a gap."

Kinnison sighed and rubbed his eyes, he knew this was bad. Boskone could stop even the most significant thought waves known to existence, the Arisians. The super beings who created the Galactic Patrol could not bypass the atomic thought-screens developed at the end of the long war.

"This is bad. My god this is bad."

Data twitched his head in deep calculation,

"Based on the information we do have, this assumption is logical."

"Agreed," nodded Spock.

McCoy who could not stand the coldness of logic rolled his eyes and sighed,

"Oh dear god help me," griped Bones rubbing his head, "It isn't bad enough we have a robot on board, but now we have an android."

Data raised his finger to object but decided against it, the opinions of the famous Leonard McCoy regarding computers and logic were well known. He let it pass.

Hours later, when the assembled group broke away, Kirk