Chapter One: Contact

Admiral Kanos peered into the twisted vortex of hyperspace flashing by his observation window with an air of quiet reflection. It had been many years since the Great War. Many years since Emperor Anakin Solo had finally driven the New Republic from the core worlds. Already, the Emperor had rectified most of the New Republic's tampering with historical records, to reveal the truth about that dark period in galactic history.

It still brought a smile to his face, to think of how easy it had been for his master. How the aging Skywalker refused to believe that his beloved nephew had turned against him and his New Republic. It was still incomprehensible, how Skywalker could have been so foolhardy as to follow Solo to Korriban in his attempts to "save" the Emperor.

Now, his spirit was trapped forever on Korriban while Emperor Solo consolidated his control over the galaxy. Fitting end for the hated Skywalker, he mused to himself. If only he could have seen how his beloved New Jedi were destroyed, and how his ridiculous patchwork of independent territories flocked to the Emperor's banner! He almost missed that heady time- this business of suppressing regional conflicts and hunting down New Republic remnants was tedious at best. At least the people of the galaxy finally seemed to be recognizing that only the central authority of the Empire could maintain the peace.

"Admiral, we have arrived at the Kerenos system. It appears your sources were correct- the traitor Athon has marshalled his forces here, along with the last remnants of the Mon Cal armada. We finally have them!"

"This has been a long time in coming, Captain. Launch all fighter squadrons. I assume the flanking groups are in position?"

"Yes Admiral, we have them trapped. Interdiction fields already active."

"Crushed between the hammer and the anvil, Captain. No need for subtlety- fire at will!"

The USS Carolina flashed through the emptiness of space like a falcon in pursuit of its prey, phaser fire erupting from its forward weapons array. Its quarry, a Jem'Hadar cruiser, left a flickering trail of superheated debris behind it as it fled its determined pursuers.

"Their shields are buckling, Captain. They have serious system damage, several hull breaches, and heavy casualties."

"Hail them. Give them one chance to surrender." Captain Trent wasn't sure that there was any point; the Jem'Hadar were not given to surrender. And he wasn't so sure he wanted them to answer, knowing that they had killed Captain Harris and destroyed his ship.

"No answer sir. We have quantum torpedoes locked on."

"Send them to hell then. Fire." Captain Trent growled his orders from behind clenched teeth. The only good Jem'Hadar is a dead Jem'Hadar, Harris was fond of saying.

Four glittering quantum torpedoes hurled themselves from the Carolina's forward torpedo launchers, rapidly closing the distance on the Jem'Hadar cruiser. It was all over, and the Jem'Hadar would be a superheated gas cloud in seconds.

"Captain, they're gone!"

"What? What do you mean "gone"?"

"Some sort of wormhole, Captain. They haven't developed the ability to form transwarp conduits, have they?"

"Damned if I know, but I'm not letting him get away. Is the wormhole still open?"

"Yes sir, it even appears to be stable. It may be a semi-permanent conduit. Should I launch a class one probe to inspect the phenomenon?"

"Do it."

Captain Trent waited anxiously for the results. Every second that passed was another second for the Jem'Hadar cruiser to put space between itself and the wormhole terminus, wherever that was. At least we managed to knock out its warp drive before it pulled its disappearing act!

"Captain, the wormhole appears to be stable. It should be safe for travel. It may actually be a natural phenomenon- it would seem to be statistically improbable to say the least, but the Jem'Hadar may have stumbled upon it accidentally."

"Lucky bastards. Helmsman, move us in there. The Jem'Hadar can't get away from us that easily." Captain Trent felt his stomach churn and his senses reel as the ship seemed to twist for a moment and then accelerate into the wormhole. He didn't recall hearing of any such debilitating side effects associated with the Bajoran wormhole, but the ship seemed to be functioning normally even if its crew was on the verge of vomiting. The trip seemed to be taking hours, but he doubted it had been more than a minute or two before the flickering vortex of the wormhole abruptly transformed itself into the familiar curtain of night.

"Oh my god" Trent breathed. "Where the hell are we?"

The scene that greeted Trent's eyes was one of unbridled carnage. Everywhere he looked, he could see starships, enveloped in storms of energy. Explosions dotted the starry sky, and four ships flared up like exploding suns before his eyes. As he watched, two stricken starships, their backs alive with flame, hurtled suicidally into a much larger starship and exploded harmlessly against its shields.

"Mr. Portugal, tactical evaluation!"

"We have approximately one hundred and twenty thousand sensor contacts sir. Everything from tiny one-man fighters to ships the size of San Francisco. We count roughly two thousand capital ships, ranging from under one kilometer in length to more than twenty kilometers. The rest appear to be fighters."

Captain Trent let out a long slow whistle. "Hell of a party. Who's winning?"

"It looks like a massacre sir. One group of ships seems to be surrounded by five other groups, which are pounding it from all sides."

"Luckily for us, this isn't our war. What happened to the Jem'Hadar?"

"No sign of it, sir. There's unbelievable interference here. I've got heavy subspace jamming on all frequencies and massive gravitational distortion fields, so the sensors are almost useless. For all we know, they crashed on that planet below."

"Stay close to the wormhole, Lieutenant. Maybe we can pick up that damn Jem'Hadar's trail again, and besides, I'm sure Federation HQ will want as much data as possible on this new civilization we've encountered, whoever they are. Do you have any idea where we are yet?"

"Sir, we've left the Milky Way galaxy. It looks like we're on the other side of the known universe. We're definitely not in Kansas anymore."

Trent managed a wry smile. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Can you determine anything about those warships?"

"Other than their sheer size and numbers, not much. They're using an unknown power source, and I don't read any sort of warp signature at all. They seem to be using various types of high-powered directed-energy weapons, and I'm picking up a lot of thermonuclear explosions out there, probably from torpedoes of some sort."

"Captain, I must voice my strongest objections to staying here. Whoever these people are, they are clearly dangerous and hostile, and the longer we stay here the higher the likelihood is that someone will notice us." Commander Chang was growing visibly agitated.

"Your objection is noted, Commander. But we have standing orders to investigate all new life forms and civilizations, and this definitely qualifies, does it not? Just keep us close to that wormhole. Mr. Portugal, can you scan anything on that planet below?"

"The planet is massively industrialized, Captain. Roughly two hundred billion inhabitants, and they appear to have an almost impenetrable deflector shield operating, which protects the entire planet. We could ram that shield at full impulse and not make a dent, Captain."

"Must be a pretty damned important planet- this is one hell of a firefight."

"Captain, we have a new sensor contact! It came out of nowhere ... it's big ... it's some sort of huge spherical ship, roughly nine hundred kilometers in diameter! It's approaching the planet ... I'm picking up a massive power surge ..."

As Captain Trent watched in disbelief, a series of enormous green energy beams shot forth from the vessel's weapons array. They converged on a single point which seemed to build for a moment, seething with raw energy. He watched in an almost hypnotic trance as the roiling, seething energies suddenly formed into a beam, and lanced out at the planet below. Horror was quickly followed by reaction.

"Helmsman, get us out of here!"

The USS Carolina lurched and turned away from the doomed planet of Kerenos IV. As the Death Star's blast pumped an ungodly amount of energy into Kerenos IV's core, 200 billion lives were extinguished in one screaming instant of terror. The stupendous explosion hurled the mass of the planet outwards like shrapnel from a monstrous bomb.

The Carolina was buffeted like a leaf in a hurricane. Countless pieces of planetary debris battered her shields, and Captain Trent had a vague sensation of warmth on his back as he was thrown from his chair. He staggered to his feet and turned to see the rear of the bridge enveloped in flames, with crewmen running and shouting in what seemed to be slow motion. He saw two crewmen running toward him as if to tackle him and thought to ask himself why.

"Captain, don't move!" He could feel strong hands on his arms and legs, picking him up and laying him on his side. His back was going numb, and he could vaguely feel his jacket being removed. As he lost consciousness, he could see that his jacket was soaked in blood.

Commander Chang looked down at his captain. "Is he going to live?" He wanted his own command, but not this way.

"He'll make it Commander. I hope."

"Damn it, we're going to do what we should have done when we first came to this place. We're getting out of here, if we still can. Damage report!" Commander Chang barked.

"We've lost main power and shields are down, but antimatter containment is holding and we still have auxiliary power. We can still limp back to the wormhole under impulse power, Commander."

"Take us out of here, helmsman. If the Jem'Hadar are still alive, I can't think of a better fate for them than to be trapped in this place."

The crippled starship began to turn. Without warning, the ship stopped as if in the grip of an invisible fist, and began to move backwards.

"Helmsman, what's happening?"

"We're caught in a tractor beam, Commander. It's originating from that giant spherical ship."

"Can you break free?"

"I'm applying all the power I can, sir. We're not going anywhere."

Damn you, Captain Trent! "All hands abandon ship. Repeat, all hands abandon ship! Computer, this is Commander Chang, acting Captain. Initiate auto-destruct sequence, two minute timer. At least I can make sure they won't get the Carolina ... "

Chapter Two