Chapter Twelve: Revenge

"Know the enemy and know yourself, and you will never be defeated."- Sun Tzu

"You want to recruit me into your military? Surely you can't be serious!" Until now, Picard had been able to follow every one of Kanos' actions, even if he didn't predict them until too late. But this was completely inexplicable. Why would Kanos entrust one of his most powerful warships to a man with whom he had been at war, mere hours earlier? He couldn't understand Kanos the man- his motives and personality were a mystery. But Kanos the soldier had stepped through a series of actions that always made sense, once viewed from the twisted context of a man for whom human life was a mere triviality compared to the need for military victory. However, this recruitment offer took Picard completely by surprise. He found himself ill at ease, not knowing what would happen next. Kanos' cloying smile and poorly faked charm made his skin crawl. He actually preferred Kanos the military conqueror to the smiling and now utterly inscrutable man standing before him.

"I am quite serious, Captain. I want you to take command of that ship. Your unique skills will be very useful to us."

"What if I refuse?"

The counterfeit smile wavered for a moment, and then reappeared. "Captain, please understand that although I am most reluctant to invade Earth, strip mine it, and sell its people into slavery, I will do whatever I need to do in order to satisfy my political masters. Of course, I would prefer to resolve this situation some other way. Wouldn't you?" Kanos' smile reminded Picard of a Ferengi trader.

Picard thought of stalling, conferring with his crew. "Yes, I would. But if I could discuss this with my crew-"

"Captain, I'm afraid we don't have time for delays. I will need your answer immediately."

Picard asked himself what Kanos might ask him to do in his service to the Empire, but with the entire population of Earth effectively held hostage, he knew he really had no choice at all. He let out a sigh of frustration, but consented. "Admiral Kanos, I accept."

Kanos' smile looked almost genuine this time. "Excellent! Your new starship is named Obliterator. You will be taken there on a shuttle and debriefed immediately. You will receive technical training from the Obliterator's support staff and you will receive advisory assistance until we feel that you are ready to assume command. I'm afraid we don't have time for you to say goodbye to your shipmates, but you can send them messages in the future. As soon as you board the ship, it will be returning to the wormhole. You will receive further instructions there."

Picard hesitated, and then decided that he might as well ask. "Admiral Kanos, how will you guarantee that you will keep your word?"

"Your fleet has already surrendered, and most of your ships have already been secured. If I wanted to destroy or devastate Earth, I could do it right now, and you would be unable to stop me. I choose not to. You are being offered a chance to render us services that we would find extremely useful. If you perform your duty well, you can rest assured that you will become too valuable to lose or antagonize. That will be your guarantee."

Picard's expression brightened in a forced show of sincerity. "I see. Well then, I will endeavour not to disappoint you." This entire incident seemed almost unreal to Picard. He came on board the Crimson Blade expecting a grueling diplomatic negotiation, and instead found himself being recruited by the enemy under threat of global holocaust. He turned away soundlessly as his stormtrooper escort led him to the Crimson Blade's shuttle bay.

Kanos' smile slowly drained from his face as he watched Picard walk down the corridor and disappear around the corner. He looked toward Jacen. "Does he suspect?"

Jacen, the Emperor's brother and most feared henchman, spoke in even, confident tones. "He suspects everything but he knows nothing, old friend. My sister will have no difficulty with him."

Kanos smiled, knowing Jaina's track record. "And what of Halsey?"

"Leave him to me."

In less than fifteen minutes, Picard was peering through the window of a Lamba-class shuttle as it lifted off from the Crimson Blade's landing bay. The bay was cavernous- much larger than the shuttlebay of a Federation starship. Of course, since they have no transporters, they must have a huge volume of landing bay traffic, he mused to himself. The shuttle gently banked and twisted as it slipped through space toward the massive Obliterator- balletic movements clearly intended more for the pilot's enjoyment than for any utilitarian purpose. If they had transporters, I would be there already, he thought, but then again, there's an appeal in the old-fashioned way- I so rarely get to see a starship up close, from the outside ...

As the shuttle approached the Obliterator, he could fully appraise it for the first time. From a distance, it appeared to be a smooth, gleaming black monolith. But now, as they drew closer, he could see countless tiny imperfections on the hull. The ship filled his view now, but they were still nearly ten kilometres away from it. As they drew even nearer, the hull imperfections came into focus. He could make out surface blisters of various shapes and sizes, windows, antennae, and the unmistakable jutting barrels of gun turrets. He reflected that for the turrets to be visible with the naked eye from this range, they must be huge- perhaps fifty metres wide or more, and he could see hundreds of them at a glance. The shuttle pulled to within 100 metres of the Obliterator's surface and performed a hard turn, skimming the huge ship's surface at blinding speed. The damned pilot is showboating again ... Picard reflected that this would be a lot more enjoyable if he were flying the shuttle rather than riding in it. The shuttle eventually slowed, pirhouetted in space, and gracefully turned into the Obliterator's landing bay. He could see white-armoured stormtroopers standing post at the various entry and exit points of the bay, and in its centre, a lone officer waiting for him.

The shuttle's wings smoothly folded up around its body as it gently set down on the hard, metallic landing bay surface. Picard waited for the ramp to drop down, and walked confidently onto the deck. He was surprised to see that the officer waiting for him, his lone welcoming party, was a woman. She wore no military uniform, but instead was clothed only in a plain black form-fitting bodysuit. She appeared to be in her 30's, with long flowing brown hair and no decorations, jewellery, or weapons apart from some sort of cylindrical baton which hung off her belt. She looked harmless enough, and Picard noted that she was quite attractive for her age, although this was hardly the time to think about such things. Of course, appearances can be deceiving ... Picard debated whether to adopt a friendly or formal posture, and decided upon formality as the safest route. He stood ramrod-straight and announced his arrival. "Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship USS Enterprise. Permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted, Captain Picard. Welcome to the Empire. My name is Jaina." She smiled, but it seemed to take an effort on her part. Picard stole a glance into her eyes and saw a deep well of sadness. She returned his glance in an instant, and in that moment Picard felt almost as though her eyes were burning through him. He blinked, averted his gaze, and tried not to reveal his discomfiture.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Jaina. I was sent here by Admiral Kanos. I assume he left instructions?"

"Yes, he did. But he is not here, is he? The only one you have to satisfy ... is me. We will contact Kanos when we arrive at the wormhole in one hour. Until then, come along. I have much to show you." She walked away and beckoned him to follow.

Less than an hour later, after a brief tour of some of the ship's more interesting areas, Picard walked onto the bridge. Through the panoramic bridge windows he could see the phenomenon of hyperspace clearly for the first time, and he marvelled at the interplay of light and colour. It vaguely resembled the simulations of quantum slipstream drive that he had seen at the Daystrom Institute, but it was intensified dramatically. I wonder if it is an advanced form of quantum slipstream drive, refined over thousands of years ... He tried to think about what effect this technology would have on the balance of power in the galaxy. Civilizations that had previously been separated by a vast gulf requiring many decades to cross, such as the gamma quadrant Dominion and the Federation, would now be virtual neighbours. The ramifications of such a change were momentous, but he had no time to contemplate them. The ship reverted to realspace, and he was stunned by what he saw.

Huge pieces of wreckage floated through space before him, with countless damaged or crippled starships cluttering his view. Some were drifting, unsalvageable hulks, while others were being repaired and still others were limping toward the wormhole. Picard could see the unmistakable wreckage of Borg ships intermingled with the damaged and destroyed Imperial warships. The events of the past few hours crystallized into perfect clarity. Of course! The Borg! They must have already found out about the Empire, and Kanos is on the defensive! It was now obvious to Picard why Kanos wanted his help.

"Are you ready to speak with Kanos now?" Jaina inquired.

Picard nodded yes, and Jaina gestured imperceptibly at a distant control panel. A life-sized hologram of Admiral Kanos soon flickered into being, hovering over the deck. Picard noted cynically that Kanos' hologram was actually larger than life size, and that he had apparently adjusted his hologram to enhance his aura of power and presence. It was an obvious psychological tactic, but it was difficult not to be intimidated by the imposing image. The hologram began to speak. "Ah, Captain. I trust you have arrived at the wormhole, and appraised the situation?"

"Yes, I have. This is what you wanted my help for, isn't it? You want me to help you fight the Borg. Am I correct?"

"Let's just say that I knew you would understand my motives once you saw the situation with your own eyes. Do we have an understanding, then? You have a unique connection to the Borg. You can help us destroy them, and in return, we will agree not to demand war reparations from your world."

Picard grimaced. "Admiral, I am flattered but I think you overestimate my capabilities. What difference would I make in your war against the Borg? I have some knowledge of their technology and tactics, but judging by the size and scope of these battles, your men actually have more experience fighting the Borg than I do."

Kanos folded his arms. "My men know the Borg only from combat. On the other hand, you know them from within. And more importantly ..." he paused for effect, "you can still hear them, can't you?"

"Excuse me?"

"Don't be coy, Captain. You can hear their song. You were assimilated into their collective, in a position of some importance. You were retrieved from their organization and mostly repaired, but you still have their cybernetic devices implanted in your brain, don't you?" He paused for a moment, as if expecting Picard to deny it. Picard said nothing, so he continued. "You underestimate the effectiveness of Klingon intelligence sources, Captain. I know all about your mysterious intuitions in combat with the Borg. In their latest attack on Earth, you knew precisely where to hit them for maximum effect. You even knew they were going to attack, before you were told. Am I correct?"

"Yes, my experiences allowed me to predict-"

Kanos waved his hand imperiously and interrupted Picard in mid-sentence. "Don't lie to me, Picard. I don't have time for games. It was more than simple experience that told you where to hit the Borg ship in your last encounter with them. It was more than simple experience that told you they were coming. It was your direct connection to the Borg Collective, wasn't it? You were once part of their collective, and some small part of you still is. You can hear their thoughts, predict their plans, and sense their weaknesses. I am unlike your Starfleet superiors. You don't need to assuage any neurotic fears by cloaking the facts, Captain. You are still connected to the Borg Collective, aren't you?"

Connected! Picard had never thought of his remaining implants, or his ability to intercept and interpret Borg communications, in such terms before. Certainly, the notion that he was still partially connected to the Collective was abhorrent. But he knew in his heart that Kanos was right. He had never entirely escaped the Borg, despite his best efforts. He looked up at the hologram of Kanos and muttered quietly "Yes, I am still connected to the Borg Collective."

Kanos smiled. "As I expected, Captain. Now that we've resolved that issue, you can see why I value your services. In battle, you can potentially aid our forces greatly, better than any normal, unmodified human. This is a noble cause, Captain. We are ridding your galaxy of a repugnant abomination. You should be pleased to have the opportunity to help us."

Won't I be replacing one abomination with another? Picard asked himself. He had thought long and hard about what he had gotten himself into. Kanos would undoubtedly keep his word as long as he needed help with the Borg, but once the Borg had been destroyed, if such a thing were even possible, Kanos would undoubtedly discard Picard, and his promises. He resolved to help the Empire, but if victory were to actually become achievable, he would have to find some way to prolong the conflict long enough to find some way to thwart Kanos' plans. He smiled bravely at the hologram. "I have no love of the Borg, Admiral Kanos. I will do whatever I can to help you destroy them, as per our agreement." Kanos nodded, and his hologram shimmered, then vanished.

Jaina sidled up to Picard and whispered in his ear. "Captain, the Borg will attack again soon. I hope Kanos did not overestimate you." She paused for a moment, and then moved closer. "You will be able to satisfy my expectations, won't you?" He could feel her hot breath on his neck, and he suddenly felt an overpowering desire for her. It made no sense- he felt no emotional attraction to this woman whatsoever, yet he longed to feel the touch of her skin. He tried to force himself to back away, to avoid sending inappropriate signals. But instead of backing away, he found himself turning toward her face, inches from his, and looking into her eyes. He intended to say nothing, but he felt himself smiling and heard himself saying "Of course, Jaina. I would never want to disappoint you." He couldn't believe these words were coming from him. What am I saying? It was as if he was no longer in control of his own actions.

She smiled back at him, and turned to leave. Picard stood rooted in place, watching her walk away. She looked back at him, winked, and disappeared around a bend in the corridor. Several lower-ranked officers immediately accosted him and tried to escort him to a training centre, but he found himself wishing that Jaina was still with him.

Out of Picard's sight, Jaina leaned against a corridor wall to rest. He is stronger than I expected, she thought to herself, but he can be manipulated. All men can ...

Aboard the Crimson Blade, Kanos was just starting to relax after a tense day. His mood was starting to improve, until he heard a familiar voice behind him.

"Feeling rather pleased with yourself, aren't you?"

Kanos spun his seat around, with an irritated look on his face. "What do you want now, Q?"

"I just wanted to drop in and say hello. I also wanted to warn you. I've dealt with these people before, Kanos. They will give you more trouble than you expect. They are more dangerous than they seem."

Kanos didn't like Q but he was not above asking for advice if Q was willing to give it. This irritating being had dropped in on him periodically for years now, and he had demonstrated his power enough times that Kanos took him quite seriously. But he had never allowed himself to help or hurt the Empire- he seemed to prefer the role of court jester. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask. "In what way are they dangerous to me?"

Q pursed his lips unapprovingly. "Oh dear, you aren't asking me for advice, are you? Are you worried?"

"I am curious. You brought it up."

"Hmm ... I did, didn't I? Well, I'm afraid I can't give away too many secrets. That would spoil all the fun, wouldn't it? And I do so love entertainment ..."

Kanos was growing impatient again. "Q, if you have nothing useful to say, then leave."

Q threw his hands up in mock despair. "You try to drop in on someone, to give them some friendly advice, and what does he do? He asks you to leave! The ingratitude ..." he clasped his hands over his chest in mock pain, "it just breaks my heart."

"Q, I don't have time to play games with you. You obviously want to say something, but you apparently intend to put me through some sort of ridiculous verbal obstacle course before I can hear it! Well, I don't have time for games. I have duties which demand my attention. Duties to my Emperor. Say your piece, or leave me to my work."

"Oh, yes. Your duties to your precious Emperor. Your all-important job. You lead an empty life, Kanos. You have spent most of your insignificant life studying military strategy. Weapons systems. The history of war. All so you can present an unending string of victories to your superiors. All so that you can bask in their praise, so that you can receive that pat on the back and a hearty Well Done! Even your studies of history and philosophy are only a means to an end- tools with which you hope to gain an edge over your enemies, so that you can win more victories, more accolades. And for what? You have no wife. No children. When you are gone, the only legacy you will leave behind is a footnote in the history books. Buried and forgotten."

Kanos was quickly becoming infuriated with Q's endlessly mocking tone. "I seek no legacy, Q. I do not share your vanity or narcicissm. I proudly serve the Emperor."

Q laughed. "Spoken like a true robot! Do you seriously-"

Kanos interrupted him. "I've had enough of this, Q. Get off my ship."

Q's expression became deadly serious. "My my, aren't we touchy! I'll leave, Kanos. But first, I feel I ought to tell you that it is tempting to destroy them. We ourselves have come close to destroying them before. But there are sparks of life amidst the masses of mediocrity on that small blue planet. They can't resist you through sheer force of arms, but not every threat is a weapon or starship."

Kanos leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. "I've heard this before. The pen is mightier than the sword. Is that all you came to say?"

"No it isn't, my overconfident friend. I also came to say that the resemblance between Imperial humans and Federation humans is more than skin deep. Think about it." He snapped his fingers, and with a flash of light, vanished.

Kanos stared at the spot where Q had been for a long moment, and then settled back into his chair. Should he have simply destroyed Earth? Would the Earthers prove to be a thorn in his side? He had no way of knowing. All he did know was that Q seemed to be fond of the Earthers for some reason, and the Earthers seemed to be perfectly stock humans in every respect. Something about Q's mannerism suggested that there was some sort of link between the Earth humans and the Empire's humans. Could we both have originated from the same stock? Are they our distant descendants? He shrugged off such concerns. Whatever they were, they would be bent to the Emperor's will. This entire galaxy would be bent to the Emperor's will, and he would be able to return home in triumph. Again.

"Incoming ships will be in range in ten seconds!" a crewman barked. Picard would have appreciated more time to learn the Imperial control systems and their unfamiliar positional addressing schemes. But he would not have that time- he could sense their approach almost as soon as his training session began. He was hardly prepared to command an alien starship, but he didn't appear to have much choice. It will have to be trial by fire, he thought to himself.

Time to issue my first command. "All batteries, fire at will as soon as the enemy ships are in range. Heavy guns on maximum setting." The cubes were fast approaching, and their approach vectors were displayed before him. Now that he could see their movements and hear their thoughts, he finally understood why Kanos had never taken the Obliterator as his personal flagship. Its superlaser and its reinforced shields and armour made it the most dangerous warship in the fleet, but these attributes also made it the biggest target. Borg cubes virtually ignored lesser Imperial warships, which mercilessly pounded them as they passed by. They were clearly planning to attack the Obliterator as their top priority. Or assimilate it, he thought to himself.

His concerns eased somewhat as the cubes approached. The Obliterator's guns spoke, and the coruscating green energy blasts slammed into the Borg ships with an impact that caught him by surprise. He belatedly realized why the Imperials had used their heavy guns so sparingly during the battle against Starfleet. They were so ponderous and inaccurate that only huge, similarly ponderous targets would be easily hit. Huge, ponderous targets like Borg cubes, he thought to himself. Each direct hit caused so much damage he could feel the reaction in the Borg. He could hear them again, and he knew what to do.

"Target heavy guns on the indicated co-ordinates as I enter them. Fire at will!" Picard barked. In the heat of battle, he was relieved to find that he could recall some of the flash-training. He couldn't recall all of it, but he could recall enough to punch in co-ordinates. Enough to destroy the Borg ... He entered co-ordinates into the system as quickly as he could, and he watched with satisfaction as huge green blasts of energy leapt away from his vessel. Borg ship after Borg ship flared up and blew apart, one by one, as he continued to feed crucial co-ordinates to the gunners. They were true to their nature, and continued to attack. Let them come, he thought to himself. This time, I will make them pay ...

"Helm to 30 degrees mark 15!" Picard suddenly ordered. The city-sized Obliterator slowly changed its heading, just as a group of 50 Borg cubes regrouped into a flying wedge formation in the distance. "Fire superlaser on my mark, ten percent power, at the centre cube ... Now!" he barked. He had seen the Obliterator's fearsome superlaser in action before, but this time he was wielding it rather than fighting it. The fifteen kilometre long buildup of energy surged to a crescendo and burst forth from its bow, lancing out to touch the cube vessel in the centre of the formation. The titanic explosion obliterated every ship in the formation immediately, breaking the spine of the Borg attack. It can be useful to know what they'll do next ... he thought to himself.

The surviving Borg ships bravely continued to attack, if bravery can be attributed to Borg drones, but Picard easily outmaneuvered them. He watched the last cube as it was blasted into a green smear, and let out a sigh of relief. He sat back in his chair, and reflected that this was a bittersweet victory if there ever was one. He had wanted to inflict heavy losses on the Borg for years, to repay them for what they had done to the Federation ... and to him. But it was hardly satisfying to win a victory while under the control of a conqueror who had dismantled the Federation. He began to brood over his future.

Jaina's soothing voice cut into his haze. "You performed wonderfully, Captain. I am pleased."

"Thank you, Jaina." Picard could feel a hot flush in his cheeks, and the inexplicable stirrings of lust returned. I'm too old for this sort of thing, he reminded himself. But his pulse quickened in spite of his resistance.

"You took revenge on the Borg today. Your revenge gave you pleasure, did it not?" she whispered.

"Pleasure ... no, revenge is a base instinct. Humanity has evolved ... beyond ... such ... such things." Picard stammered. He was having difficulty thinking clearly.

"When the Borg attacked, I could sense fear and anger from you. When you destroyed them, you felt ... pleasure. Didn't you?" she cooed. "Why hide from your true feelings? Have you evolved beyond the truth? Admit it. You hate them. You enjoy killing them."

"When I killed the Borg ... I felt ... I felt ..."

"Pleasure, Picard. You felt pleasure." her voice, silky smooth, seemed to echo in his mind.

He opened his mouth, intending to deny her. Instead, he heard himself speaking, as if from a distance. "Yes. I felt pleasure."

Her hand brushed his cheek, and she moved closer. He could almost feel an electric tingle pass through him. He didn't know why, but he wanted her. He wanted to please her. He could feel her hot breath in his ear. She whispered to him huskily. "You hate them, don't you?"

Picard hesitated. "Hate is a primitive ... destructive ..."

She whispered in his ear again. "They have given you reason to hate them. Your hate will give you the strength you need. Don't hold back, Jean-Luc. I know it's true. You know it's true. You hate them."

She only wants the truth. Is that so much to ask? His resistance faltered. "Yes, Jaina ... I hate them."

Chapter 13

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