Chapter Ten: Onslaught

"Those skilled in the art of war subdue the enemy's army without battle.
They capture his cities without assaulting them,
and overthrow his state without protracted operations."- Sun Tzu

"Admiral, do you see how the wound is cauterized almost completely?" The medic pointed at the blistered, burned crater in President Inyo's chest. Some blood had pooled into the gaping wound, but certainly not the torrent of blood that one would expect. The head wound was no different. Worse yet, six other high-ranking politicians had also been found murdered, all during the same blackout. As a result, the presidential building had been thrust into total chaos, as reporters, dignitaries, and soldiers crammed the building. It was ironic that the only quiet space in the entire building would be the president's office, which had been sealed off to all but the medics and the handful of reporters and Starfleet officers, by order of Halsey himself.

"Yes, it doesn't look like a phaser or disruptor wound. What sort of weapon does this kind of damage?" Halsey asked the medic with the best tone of sincerity that he could muster.

"A plasma discharge would do it, sir."

"Or a plasma weapon." Halsey stepped back from the cold, dead body of the president, and turned to Lieutenant Portugal. "Lieutenant, I asked you here because you were part of the USS Carolina's crew. You came back from Imperial space along with the late Commander Chang, correct?"

"Yes, sir. But Commander Chang's death has not been confirmed. He is missing."

"Yes, of course. My apologies." There was an awkward pause, and then Halsey continued. "Nevertheless, your experiences in Imperial territory make you qualified to answer this question. What is the standard sidearm of an Imperial stormtrooper?"

Portugal nervously cleared his throat, sensing that Halsey was putting on some sort of show. "As far as we can tell, it's some sort of jacketed particle beam weapon, sir. Similar to a plasma rifle. They call them blasters."

Halsey raised his voice, as if challenging anyone in the room to question his next statement. "I see. And would the wounds of the late President Inyo be consistent with the effects of an Imperial blaster rifle?"

Portugal fidgeted slightly, as if he knew that the eyes of the room were fixed on his every movement. "Yes, sir. These injuries are consistent with the effect of an Imperial blaster rifle."

Halsey raised his voice another notch. "And similar injuries were found on all six of the other victims. We can therefore conclude that the Empire somehow found a way to smuggle assassins onto Earth, who were able to induce a temporary power failure in the presidential building and slip past our security forces to assassinate the president and six other members of his staff. Do you feel that is a logical conclusion?"

Portugal could see where this was heading, and he didn't like it. "That is the most obvious conclusion, yes. But it isn't-"

Halsey abruptly cut him off. "It is the only conclusion which fits the facts, Lieutenant Portugal. I have already met with the other senior admirals, and we have decided that it is time to declare a state of emergency. Martial law."

Portugal looked like a caged animal, trying to escape the inevitable. "But sir, you don't have the authority to declare martial law-"

Halsey interrupted him again. "All of the people who do have the authority to declare martial law are dead! If the Empire could do this, think of what else they are doing while we stand here debating the issue! The decision has already been made. Every ship within transmission range is converging on Earth, to defend us against what is sure to be the most dangerous assault that the Earth has ever faced." He turned to the reporters, and spoke in an imperious tone of voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is with no small regret that I take such extreme measures. But this is not the time for idealism- we must face facts. The brave men and women of Starfleet are the only thing that stands between the people of the Earth and utter annihilation. We need your co-operation. This war isn't just happening in isolated outposts, out on the frontier. No, we can no longer pretend that this war is someone else's problem. It has come here, to Earth. We must take steps to defend ourselves, before it is too late."

Imperial vessel detected exiting hyperspace 23 million kilometres from Borg planet 824. Hull configuration: spherical. Diameter: 900 kilometres. Identification tag: Death Star. Primary starship weaponry: compound energy weapon of unknown design, identification tag: superlaser. Estimated yield of primary weapon: in excess of 50,000 times the energy requirement for destroying planet 824. Defensive weaponry: in excess of 1.25 million hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic energy weapons, identification tag: turbolaser turrets. Defensive equipment: energy shield, high-density armour.

Energy transient detected in Imperial vessel. Superlaser discharging. Impact on planet 824 in 79 seconds. 23 vessels redirected to intercept Imperial vessel. Intercept in 153 seconds.

Planetary transmission active. We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Imperial superlaser impact on planet 824 in 1 sec-


Planet 824 destroyed. 23 vessels approaching Imperial vessel. Weapons range in 47 seconds.


15 of 23 vessels within weapons range of Imperial vessel. Transmission active. We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Imperial vessel firing 377,850 hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic energy weapons. Primary target acqui-


Vessel 1 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 2 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 3 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 4 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 5 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 6 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 7 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 8 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 9 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 10 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 11 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 12 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 13 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 14 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 15 of 23 destroyed.

15 of 23 vessels destroyed. Remaining 8 of 23 vessels within weapons range of Imperial vessel. Transmission active. We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Imperial vessel firing 287,450 hybrid particle beam/electroomagnetic energy weapons. Primary tar-


Vessel 16 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 17 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 18 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 19 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 20 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 21 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 22 of 23 destroyed.
Vessel 23 of 23 destroyed.

All planet 824 facilities and defensive vessels destroyed. Total losses since initiation of hostilities with Galactic Empire: 21 planets, 856 vessels. 163.24 billion Borg. Redirect all available vessels to attack on Imperial power base. All other priorities rescinded. Assimilate Imperial forces. Priority level 10.00.

"We are entering the solar system, Captain. I am detecting more than eight hundred starships in orbit around Earth, not including fighters."

Picard was aghast. "That's almost everything we have. How could Halsey pull together so many ships, with long-range communications down? Especially after our losses in the Dominion War ..."

Riker leaned forward. "He must have called in ships from all the nearby sectors. Used emergency buoys and temporary relays to send the call out as far as he could. He must be hoping to hit them with more starships than they expect to see."

"Yes, Number One. But how many star systems did he leave defenseless, so that he could build this fleet? How many Federation citizens are looking up into the sky tonight and wondering why Starfleet has abandoned them?" Picard's disgust with Halsey was obvious.

"Did he have any alternative?"

"There are always alternatives, Number One. I'm going to beam over to the USS Tanaka, to speak with Halsey in person. Number One, you have the bridge." Picard strode into the turbolift, and within minutes, he was materializing in the transporter room of the USS Tanaka. The Tanaka's transporter operator stood stiffly at attention and greeted the unexpected visitor with an expression of surprise followed by recognition.

"Captain Picard? I didn't realize you were coming onboard."

Picard didn't have time to explain himself to the ensign, so he merely smiled and raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. "Well then, someone must have forgotten to inform you! Carry on, ensign." He quickly strode down the hallway toward his meeting with Halsey.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Riker was no longer on the bridge. Instead, he was standing in Ambassador Tu'rohn's quarters. With a sinking feeling in his heart, he looked down at Tu'rohn's grey, lifeless body. The dead man lay peacefully in his bed, clutching a portrait of his wife and children.

"How did he do it, Doctor?"

"He had a subdermal implant in his neck which released an unidentified toxin into his bloodstream. I'm not sure how he activated it, but it was very effective. Death occurred in seconds."

Troi chimed in. "Once he came to accept that Romulus had been destroyed, he decided that the blame fell entirely on his own shoulders. He was convinced that if he had not co-operated with Halsey, the entire war could have been averted and Romulus and all of its inhabitants would never have been destroyed."

Riker looked down upon the body of Tu'rohn with a newfound measure of sympathy. "My god ... I've been so wrapped up in our own problems that I hadn't even thought about the ambassador. Such a terrible burden."

Data injected a note of practicality. "This will have severe repercussions on our case against Halsey."

"Yes, very severe. We've lost our only witness, and Counsellor Troi's conversations are protected, and therefore inadmissible." Without a witness, Riker knew that it would be impossible to lay charges against Halsey. As a result, it would be impossible to remove Halsey from command and more importantly, it would be impossible to convince the Imperials that the Romulan attack was not sanctioned by the Federation government. His hopes of an eleventh hour diplomatic resolution dimmed almost to nothingness.

"Should we contact the Captain?" Crusher asked.

"Not over an open channel, Doctor. He'll have to find out when he returns."

Aboard the USS Tanaka, Halsey reponded to the chime from the door of his ready room. "Enter." He looked up with an expression of mild surprise to see Picard walking through the door. "Ah, my good Captain. Glad to see the Enteprise in one piece! My compliments to your chief engineer. I hope your valiant crew will fight bravely in the coming battle."

"I have every confidence in my crew, Admiral. But the Enterprise is still too heavily damaged for combat. In any case, that is not why I am here. I am here because I want to know what happened to the President."

"Haven't you heard? He was murdered by an Imperial assassin. The situation is far worse than we had feared, Captain. The Imperials have infiltrated our organization to the point that they can put assassins in our highest government offices and murder our leaders at will. I took control of Starfleet, and declared a state of martial law to deal with the crisis. It was only the first step-"

"Martial law! Do you seriously think that such an extreme measure was necessary?" Picard was utterly dumbfounded.

"Captain, I'm afraid you don't realize how bad the situation is. Martial law wasn't just necessary, it was long overdue! You have been isolated, and thanks to the destruction of the subspace relay network, you have been incommunicado. What you may not know is that the enemy is attacking colonies all over our territory. Our forces are outnumbered by a huge margin in every battle, and the Romulans appear to be too involved with their own problems to help."

Picard suddenly realized that Halsey didn't know what had happened to Romulus. "Admiral, the Romulans aren't helping because they have been erased as a political and military entity in the alpha quadrant. The Empire destroyed Romulus, and they are helping the Klingons conquer the Romulan Empire. Not only can you not count on the Romulans for assistance, but you can forget about the Klingons as well. They are now Imperial allies."

Halsey stared at Picard for a moment, seeming to contemplate this latest bombshell. Then he lowered his voice, and leaned closer. "Picard, this isn't good. The situation is even worse than you may have imagined. Some of the colonies have broken away from the Federation, citing fears of Imperial reprisals and announcing that they've signed non-aggression treaties with the Empire. In fact, even Vulcan has officially announced its neutrality in this conflict!"

Picard's jaw set. "Admiral, since you left Vulcan defenseless in order to assemble this huge concentration of ships," he said, gesturing at the vast fleet in the viewscreen, "I can certainly understand their decision! The Empire might bombard their planet or worse yet, destroy it completely if they remain a full Federation member. But if they declare neutrality, they won't have to worry about Imperial reprisals. And they know that we would never punish them for leaving. So it is an eminently logical decision regardless of how this war turns out, isn't it? I wonder how many other member systems are mulling the same decision." He paused briefly, and continued in a darker tone. "This never would have happened if this situation had been handled properly from the start."

Halsey's expression hardened. "Picard, if you've got something to say, then say it."

Picard almost growled his response. "I am trying to say that you have spent every effort to win the war, without giving any thought to winning the peace! Let's suppose that through some miracle, you actually win this battle. Then what? The Empire will simply send more ships. More men. More deaths, Admiral! They can outlast you, and they will continue bombarding and threatening star system after star system into submission. One by one, more Federation systems will secede until there is no Federation left to fight for!" He paused, expecting Halsey to interject something, but Halsey merely sat there fuming. Picard continued. "You have no right to continue plunging us deeper and deeper into this war. You were never elected to your position, and you have illegally seized control of the government."

Halsey said nothing for a long time. He continued staring at Picard as the icy silence lengthened, until he eventually spoke in a quiet, deliberate tone of voice. "Captain Picard, this is hardly the time to debate legal technicalities. We are on the brink of the most important battle in the history of humanity. We need your help in the coming battle Picard. We don't need a controversy. You are dismissed."

Picard stood his ground, and raised his voice. "The coming battle shouldn't be happening at all, Admiral! I know about the sensor-net relays. I know about how you sent all of our classified intelligence data to the Romulans on a coded subspace frequency. You betrayed the Federation and dragged us into a war that should never have started!"

Halsey's skin turned a dark shade of red, and the veins stood out on his forehead. "Captain, you are dismissed! You will obey my orders and return to the Enterprise, or I will relieve you of command. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Admiral. Perfectly clear." Picard was furious but he knew better than to risk a direct confrontation before he had any hard evidence. He toyed with the idea of mentioning Tu'rohn, but Tu'rohn hadn't said a word since leaving Romulus. He had remained in a semi-catatonic state, staring at pictures of his family. Picard tried to imagine what it would do to a man's psyche, to witness the total destruction of his homeworld and all of the billions of people living on it, and decided that Tu'rohn probably wasn't over-reacting at all. Nevertheless, I'll have to convince him to talk now, so that I can bring charges against Halsey before the Imperials attack. He turned to walk to the turbolift, knowing what he had to do. Everything hinges on Tu'rohn, he thought to himself ...

Aboard the Crimson Blade, at the Gate System, Admiral Kanos contemplated his options. "Captain, how many ships did we lose this time?"

Daron responded with a slight edge of trepidation in his voice. "Sir, we destroyed all of the attackers in the last wave of Borg cubes, but we lost eighty seven of our own ships. They seem to have adapted their weapons and shields to be more effective than we expected. If this keeps up, our losses will become a great source of embarrassment to the Emperor."

"I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised- the Borg are known for their ability to quickly adapt to new threats. Is the Death Star on schedule?"

"Yes, sir. Twenty one planetary targets eliminated so far, along with all of their defense fleets. It's amazing- the Borg keep coming, and refuse all attempts at negotiation, even though we have destroyed twenty one of their planets! Surely any civilized sentient race would have to consider surrender after such losses."

"The Borg are unlike any other oppponent we have faced, Captain. They don't shrink from losses, and are unresponsive to negotiation. They have kept coming, and they will keep coming, until they are all exterminated. That is the cost of doing business in this galaxy- we must eliminate the Borg." He sighed heavily, and continued. "We always expected this to happen, but not so soon. The Borg somehow learned of our existence sooner than we expected them to. We expected to have the Galaxy Gun and World Devastators recommissioned before encountering the Borg, but it looks like we'll have to destroy them without the extra firepower."

"Yes sir, but what about our rate of losses?"

"I don't expect our rate of losses to get any worse than they already are, Captain. The Borg's shields and weapons may be more effective than we expected, but they have shown an utter lack of tactical inventiveness. It's almost comical, isn't it? In every single battle, they make that ridiculous speech of theirs, they form up into a group, and they move in a straight line toward the heart of our forces. They ignore flanking maneuvers, they ignore damage, and they move mindlessly forward in a straight line until they are destroyed. The only reason they are even remotely dangerous is their lack of individuality. They don't play, they don't marry, they don't relax, they don't study philosophy or create art, nor do they take vacations or fight amongst themselves. Each and every Borg drone's existence is an unbroken stream of military or industrial activities. I don't know whether to find that fearsome or laughable."

"Perhaps both, sir." Daron didn't know what to make of the Borg. He found their apparent stupidity amusing but he was deeply unsettled by their apparently complete lack of fear, and their relentless nature.

"Yes, perhaps." Kanos was confident in the Empire's eventual victory over the Borg, especially with the aid of the Death Star, but they would take unacceptable losses in manpower and equipment. They might even have to request heavy reinforcements from Imperial space, and the Emperor would undoubtedly be displeased with his performance. He would be removed from command, and he knew perfectly well that there was no comfortable retirement home for Imperial officers found guilty of incompetence. Rightly so, Kanos reminded himself. I should have had a contingency plan for the premature appearance of the Borg. My mistake may cost a great many lives. But there was no point dwelling upon mistakes. Instead, he would have to find ways to deal with the problem at hand. He reviewed his options, and decided upon a plan. "Captain, we need to accelerate our campaign against the Federation. Contact Tharde aboard the Death Star and inform him that he is to return for an attack on Earth in two days."

Captain Daron didn't want to question Kanos more than he had to, but this time he was sure the Admiral had made a mistake. "Sir, with the continual Borg attacks, is this a good time to accelerate our campaign against Earth?"

"Captain, this isn't just a good time to accelerate our campaign against Earth- it is the ideal time." With that enigmatic statement, Kanos turned and walked off the bridge.

"Just for once, I wish he would let me in on his little schemes ..." Daron muttered beneath his breath. But frustrated or not, he never questioned Admiral Kanos' orders. He began to apply himself to the task of organizing the attack on Earth.

"Admiral! Imperial fleet dropping out of hyperspace eighteen million kilometres from our position!" Lieutenant Portugal barked.

"Size and composition?" Halsey inquired.

"Roughly three hundred Star Destroyers and two hundred other assorted vessels including an Executor-class command vessel and an Eclipse-class battleship. They are launching fighters and approaching at high sublight speed, in a single group. They'll power up their interdictor fields in approximately one minute."

So it begins, Halsey thought to himself. "Red alert! Inform the fleet that they are to execute tactical maneuver Foxtrot Tango Three on my mark." Only five hundred ships- we actually outnumber them! But those two big battlewagons alone count for hundreds of ships apiece ...

"Yes, sir. Informing the fleet." The vast Federation fleet formed into a cohesive group and hurtled toward what would be the most critical battle in Federation history. Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred, Portugal thought to himself. Give or take a couple of hundred ... he was interrupted in his thoughts by a message coming through. "Sir, they are hailing us, demanding that we surrender and hand over Captain Picard to them."

The first demand didn't surprise Halsey, but the second one did. "Picard? What would they want with Picard?" He thought about it for a few seconds, and then shrugged. "It doesn't matter- let them eat static, Lieutenant."

"Sir, someone else is trying to contact the Imperial fleet. It's the Enterprise. They're transmitting from inside Spacedock."

Halsey's anger flared as he realized what Picard was doing. He had been quietly pleased that the heavily damaged Enterprise was still being repaired when the Imperial fleet arrived, and it hadn't occurred to him that Picard would be brash enough to try and circumvent his authority. "Damn that Picard. Kanos wants to buy time, and Picard wants to help him! Can we jam his transmission?"

"Not without transmitting so much subspace energy that our ECM will be useless. We'll be the biggest target in the solar system."

"All right, forget that. I've got a better idea." Halsey grumbled. "Open a channel to Admiral Shimizu in Earth Spacedock."

Aboard the Enterprise, Data turned to Picard with a glum expression on his face. "Captain, we have lost communications with the Crimson Blade. We are being jammed locally, by the spacedock transmitters. They are far more powerful than our own communications system."

"Damn! Mister Data, how long before we can get the impulse engines on line?"

"The system is currently in a non-operational state. An emergency cold-start will take at least three minutes, sir."

"Do it." Picard ordered sharply. We've got to get clear of Spacedock so that we can communicate with Kanos before Halsey squanders our only chance!

Aboard the USS Tanaka, Halsey smiled with satisfaction as the Enterprise's transmission was obliterated by spacedock's powerful transmitters. The Imperial ships grew ever larger in his viewscreen, and he leaned forward in his seat. "Wait for it ... wait for it ... NOW!" In a complex ballet of movement, the fleet broke up into a huge, preprogrammed starburst pattern. Hundreds of ships streaked past the Imperial warships on all sides, and executed pre-programmed, sweeping turns. They rushed toward the Imperial fleet from various angles, and dropped out of warp just inside weapons range. The Imperial fleet found itself completely surrounded by the Federation ships, which began pouring phaser and photon torpedo fire into the trapped group. The Imperial ships returned fire immediately, and the darkness of space was illuminated by the unleashed energies of countless weapons of mass destruction.

Halsey's charge

On the vast and eerily tranquil bridge of the Crimson Blade, Kanos watched the unfolding chaos and smiled. "Very good! Very good, indeed. They may prove to be worthy adversaries after all ... Captain, all ahead flank! Concentrate fire on the ships in front of us, and order the escort vessels to deal with the surrounding enemy ships. And get those damned interdiction fields up!"

"Admiral, their fleet is weakly arrayed to starboard. If we make a course correction-"

"We will be allowing the enemy to control where we move. I doubt that his uneven fleet deployment was an accident, Captain. I repeat, all ahead flank. Never let your enemy control your actions. Now, let's see what his next trick is."

Aboard the USS Tanaka, Admiral Halsey was about to demonstrate his next trick. The ship shuddered from a turbolaser blast, and he barked out a critical order. "Activate phase cloak!" The Tanaka shimmered, and then vanished, much to the astonishment of Imperial gunnery crews. But a phase-cloaked ship is still affected by gravity, and still produces gravity. The gunners quickly realized they were dealing with a cloaked ship, and after switching to focus scanning they picked up the trail and fired. A series of turbolaser blasts hurtled toward the invisible USS Tanaka, and Halsey recoiled in horror as the entire bridge blazed with a blinding green light. At first, he thought the cloak had failed, and that he was dying. But the light faded, and he realized that the cloak had worked perfectly. A monstrous heavy turbolaser bolt had just passed through his body, and he was still alive! Dozens of bolts passed through the ship from various angles, all without effect. He began to laugh. "If only we had time to install these cloaks on all our ships!" The President never even would have allowed us to take this prototype out of storage, he thought to himself.

Aboard the Crimson Blade, Kanos wasn't laughing. "You're telling me that you can still track it but your shots pass harmlessly through the ship? Is it firing back?"

"No, sir."

"Then it must not be able to fire while cloaked. This must be the phase-cloak that we learned about. If he fires, his weapons will pass through us just as harmlessly as our weapons pass through him. I don't know what our enemy hopes to accomplish with it- if he can't shoot at us and we can't shoot at him, it's a bit of a stalemate, isn't it? Perhaps he just wants a safe platform from which to command his fleet. Ignore him until he de-cloaks."

Halsey was indeed commanding his fleet from his safe vantage point. Moving easily through the battle, he had the luxury of being able to observe combat from every angle without the risk of destruction. He watched with satisfaction as three Galaxy class ships hammered the engine cluster of a dreadnaught with a huge simultaneous phaser and photon torpedo barrage, sending the dreadnaught spiralling out of control with flames pouring out of its breached hull. He watched with frustration as two Miranda class ships foolishly flew in a straight line right through the firing arc of a Star Destroyer's heavy guns, and cringed as the Star Destroyer opened fire with the huge, rarely-used turrets. In a single moment, the Mirandas were both blasted into clouds of duranium shrapnel and superheated vapour. He shouted into his communicator. "All ships, remember the briefings! Stay away from the topside heavy turrets! I repeat, stay away from the topside heavy turrets!" Of course, he knew that it was a much easier order to issue than obey, with the confusion of battle and the jumbled mass of ships. But he continued issuing orders, redirecting ships, exhorting his men. And so the battle raged on.

Aboard the Crimson Blade, Kanos didn't like the way the battle was going. "Captain, the Federation vessels are moving much too easily through our fleet. Increase interdiction fields to maximum strength, and put full power to all subspace jammers and distortion field generators."

Aboard the Tanaka, Halsey felt the ship sickeningly lurch, first to port and then to starboard, before the inertial dampers compensated for the outside influence. "Lieutenant Portugal, what the devil is going on?"

"Sir, the Imperial ships are generating high energy subspace distortion fields. We can't form a stable warp field, and it's also affecting our maneuverability and sensors. However, when I was aboard the Rebel spacecraft I learned that these jammers and distortion fields also affect their own maneuverability and sensors. Their fighters are slowing down and losing maneuverabilty, just like we are. It's like fighting in mud."

"A situation which favours brute force over finesse, thus giving them an advantage." Halsey muttered to no one in particular. He stared at the viewscreen, almost hypnotized by the interplay of violence. The flaming wreckage of Imperial and Federation ships floated through space before him, as the battle took its toll on Federation and Imperial ships alike. He watched an entire squadron of TIE Defenders launch its torpedoes into the starboard warp nacelle of an Excelsior class ship, which obliterated the fighters with a proximity-burst spread of photon torpedoes just as its nacelle disintegrated into a billowing cloud of alloy and plasma. He turned his gaze elsewhere, to see a Victory class Star Destroyer explode like a dying sun under a merciless barrage of quantum torpedoes. He reflexively cowered as a Peregrine fighter flew directly through the phased bridge of his ship, pursued by an Imperial Skipray gunboat, and regrouped just in time to see a crippled Sovereign class starship hurling itself suicidally against the seemingly impenetrable shields of the enormous Eclipse-class Star Destroyer.

Aboard the Enterprise, trapped in spacedock millions of kilometers away, Picard could only listen to the communications chatter in impotent frustration. He could hear captains ordering their crews to abandon ship, helmsmen announcing that they were going to ramming speed, the sound of explosions and screams. Where are those engines? If the Imperial fleet breaks through, we'll be a sitting duck, he thought to himself. He started pacing again, when he felt an unmistakable vibration in the deckplates beneath his feet. A ship's captain knows his vessel as intimately as he knows himself, and the subtle vibration was as clear as if the message had been displayed in giant glowing letters on the bridge viewscreen. The impulse engines are on line!

"Excellent. Mister Data, release the pod."

"Pod released, Captain." A specially modified antimatter containment pod shot away from the side of the ship, and its containment field, marginally stable, collapsed within seconds. The explosion triggered alarms all throughout the cavernous spacedock facility, and Data immediately opened a channel. "Containment field strength dropping. One pod ejected due to instability. Cascade failure imminent. Request spacedock door release under emergency procedure number one seven three." A containment failure inside spacedock would be disastrous, so the men and women operating the door controls obeyed their training and began opening the doors, without question and without hesitation.

Admiral Shimizu ran to the control room and demanded to know what was happening. She looked out the window and saw the Enterprise moving toward the doors, and realized what was happening. "No, close the doors! It's a trick!" she shouted.

"Sir, we have an emergency-" the ensign began to protest, but Shimizu pushed past him and aborted the door release. The massive doors slowed, stopped, and then reversed direction.

"Captain, the doors are closing."

"Shimizu reacted quickly. Raise shields and squeeze us through, Mister Data. Full impulse!" The Enterprise's impulse engines flared brightly, and the ship twisted sideways as it leapt toward the doors. The opening was not quite wide enough for the ship to fit through, in spite of Data's expert piloting. He knew it, and split seconds later, so did everyone else on the bridge. The Enterprise's shields struck the doors and the Picard was thrown off his feet, but the ship's powerful engines forced it through. With a trail of twisted and shattered pieces of the spacedock door behind it, the Enterprise escaped into the emptiness of space.

Once outside the confines of spacedock, they finally got a clear visual of the battle. Only now did Picard realize the gravity of the situation, as he saw the massive bulk of an Eclipse-class Star Destroyer in the centre of the Imperial fleet. Good lord, they're just toying with us ... that Eclipse could have fired its superlaser as soon as they came out of hyperspace. What is Kanos waiting for? He tore his eyes away from the intimidating sight of the primed Imperial weapon of mass destruction long enough to order the Enterprise to head straight for the battle at full impulse, and hoped that they would get there before Kanos decided to use his trump card.

All he could do now was wait, until the Enterprise reached the magic point where the ratio of its distance to spacedock and its distance to the Crimson Blade was such that they would be able to burn through the jamming. They were almost there when he heard the voice of Geordi Laforge. "Captain, I've broken through the encryption on the Romulan shuttle's main computer. We have access to all of Tu'rohn's personal logs," he paused for effect, "including his communications with Admiral Halsey. Captain, I think we've got what we need."

"Well done, Mister Laforge! Well done!" Picard turned to Riker. "Well, Number One. It looks like we finally have something to sell. Let's just hope that Kanos is still willing to negotiate. Once we can show that Halsey acted without the approval of the Federation government ..." his words trailed off when the unmistakable bulk of the Death Star appeared on the viewscreen. Visions of the shattered remains of Romulus flashed through his mind.

Data began reporting information in a rapid fire staccato flood of words. "There is a massive vessel appearing out of hyperspace. Configuration is spherical. Diameter is nine hundred kilometres. Range is 3 million kilometres. Power surge in central reactor. Energy spike ..." He turned to face Picard. "Captain, the Death Star is about to fire."

Chapter Eleven