Chapter Fifteen: Revelations

"In war, the best policy is to take a state intact, not to ruin it."- Sun Tzu

Riker's hair was tousled, and his face was covered with dirt, but he seemed to be in good spirits. Wind howled around him, and decontamination droids could be seen hovering in the background, from what Picard could see in the small viewer. "Captain, the Imperials are proving very difficult to work with, but we are making progress."

"Very difficult? How so?"

"Well, they're making a lot of demands. A demilitarized zone around the contaminated area. Total control over the operation. A no-fly zone over the entire hemisphere. Control of Spacedock. This is not exactly what I would call a cooperative effort."

Picard was not pleased, but he was not surprised either. "Have they taken any hostile actions?"

"None yet, but the situation remains volatile. Captain, we could probably handle this mess ourselves if they would just give us control of our fleet."

"Yes, I know. But we both know that the Empire has no intention of doing that, so we're going to have to live with this arrangement for the time being. You'll have to keep an eye on them, Number One."


"Keep me informed of any new developments. Picard out." The viewscreen went dark.

Picard was not pleased at the Empire's behaviour, but he was not surprised either. He was still in shock at how easily the Federation had self-destructed in the face of the Empire's terror campaign, seeing but not quite believing the manner in which individual planetary governments scurried to protect their own interests rather than making sacrifices for the greater good.

He wasn't naive enough to believe that he could somehow make things right again, but he knew that the long road back would have to be taken one step at a time. And the first step was to delay an Imperial invasion of Earth for as long as possible. If that meant going along with their plan to wipe out the Borg, then so be it. I certainly won't miss the Borg when they're gone, he thought to himself. At least the Empire is composed of human beings- a human being, no matter how powerful his weapons, can still be understood and dealt with.

Thousands of light years away, Riker stood frozen in front of a dark viewscreen. Or perhaps more accurately, the image of Riker stood frozen in front of the viewscreen. Commander Evleston turned and spoke calmly to the console. "Computer, end program." The ersatz Riker faded away, along with the viewscreen, the wind, and the shattered landscape around him. Evleston walked out of the USS Tanaka's holodeck and into the corridor where the genuine Commander Riker stood flanked by two stormtroopers.

"I must compliment you on the operation of this holodeck of yours. It was actually quite fortunate that you weren't killed. I didn't realize until after we'd captured you that your archived image was so badly out of date. Picard would have seen through that deception quickly. But now, I doubt that he suspects anything. After all, your doppelganger mostly told him the truth, didn't it?"

Riker merely glared at her, maintaining a tight-lipped silence.

"Playing the stoic, eh? I suppose you're still angry about that unfortunate business with your crewman. Very well, be as sullen as you wish. You have your duty, and I have mine." She motioned to one of her officers. "Take him back to the surface."

Back aboard the Obliterator, Jaina had invited Picard to her quarters for dinner after his communication with Riker. She spoke in soft, reassuring tones. "Jean-Luc, you seem pre-occupied. Is something wrong?"

"No! No, nothing's wrong- I was just, ah, contemplating the situation on Earth." He was still trying to determine why she had asked him to dine in her quarters- he had difficulty believing that she actually found him desirable. He felt he was in good condition for his age, but he had no illusions about being the sort of man that one might expect to see in the company of such a woman.

She moved closer to him, and seemed to completely ignore what he had just said. She leaned over the table, arching her back and moving so close that he could feel her breath on his cheek. "Tell me, Jean-Luc. How often do you feel ... lust?"

Picard was taken completely by surprise, and didn't know how to respond. When he spoke, he spoke very slowly. "Jaina ... I'm a little too old for that sort of thing."

Jaina smiled. "No one is ever too old, Jean-Luc. You shouldn't be ashamed of lustful feelings. Do you feel lust for me?"

Picard smiled wryly. "Do I have to answer that?"

"You shouldn't be ashamed of lustful feelings, Jean-Luc. Lust comes from the Dark Side ... the source of all anger and aggression. These feelings make you strong."

Picard felt a tinge of concern. "But anger ... aggression ... they cause violence and war. What about compassion ... understanding ..."

Jaina wore a scornful expression on her face. "What you speak of is weakness, Jean-Luc. Humanity has thrived because of aggression. Conflict makes us grow. It makes us strong. Kanos studied your history- your own race has grown in times of conflict, has it not?"

Picard heard Q's mocking words ringing in his ears, cackling about how humanity had to return to a brutal process of Darwinian selection if it was to evolve. Q had hinted that the Empire would somehow force humanity into this process, but he didn't want to believe in Q's precognition. Q's predictions had been wrong before. "Conflict can spur development, but it's not worth the cost. Anger, aggression, conflict ... they lead to hatred and fear. Hatred and fear can only lead to pain and suffering."

"Oh, Jean-Luc. No one ever won a war without anger and aggression. Would you rather be a victim?"

Picard started to agree with her, but stopped in mid-sentence and after a brief moment of confusion, managed to clear his mind. "No, I don't want to be a victim. But I would rather be a victim than a tyrant."

Jaina sighed and began speaking slowly, and quietly. "That's what I used to believe. When my mother and father died, I wept all night. Anakin wanted to hunt down the killers and take revenge on them, but Jacen and I opposed him. When he went away to hunt them down, we followed."

Picard had a feeling how this would end, but couldn't help asking anyway. "Did you find them?"

"Yes. We found them, and captured them. Anakin wanted to kill them all, and we tried to stop him."

"And did you?"

"Barely. We had to stand in his way to save them, and that's when it happened."

"That's when what happened?"

"One of them held out his hands and asked us to take him into custody."

Picard couldn't see the significance of this. "And why was this so important?"

"You weren't there. You didn't see the look on his face. He was sneering at us. He knew we wouldn't kill him, and he had friends in the Republic who would help him."

Picard tried to imagine how he would react in the same situation. "What happened next?"

"Anakin went berserk. He killed them all, one at a time. Jacen and I just stood there and watched him."

"You didn't participate."

"No. But I watched them die, one at a time. I could see the fear in their eyes. Have you ever seen the look in a man's eyes when he knows he's going to die, Jean-Luc?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. It's not something I care to see more than I have to."

"I saw that look in the eyes of a dozen men that day. And ... " she paused and locked eyes with Picard, "I enjoyed it."

Picard hesitated, and then decided he might as well share confidences. "Jaina, I understand how you feel. I've wanted revenge against the Borg for a long time, and I have felt pleasure at killing them. But I'm not proud of it. You shouldn't be proud of it either."

"No? If you eventually manage to destroy the Borg, you won't be proud of what you've done?" She locked eyes with Picard again, reached out, and took his hand in hers. "You will be glad when they've been defeated, and you will be proud of what you've done."

Her touch was electrifying. Picard's jumbled thoughts suddenly became crystal clear. "Yes, of course. I will be glad when they've been defeated, and I will be proud of what I've done."

"It is your hatred that will give you the strength you need."

"It is my hatred that will give me the strength I need."

Jaina smiled. "Now, Jean-Luc. Now you begin to see, don't you? Anger and aggression make you strong." She leaned across the table and gripped his hand tightly. "Lust makes you strong" she whispered, arching her back seductively.

Picard's reeled. All of the forbidden impulses and thoughts of the past few days returned now, intensified a hundredfold. His vision seemed to narrow so that she was all he could see- the rest of the room seemed to dissolve away into a fog in his mind. He began to feel feverish, as if his blood was boiling, and it was almost as if his conscious self were being submerged beneath his base instincts. Like an animal, he uncoiled from his seat, leapt upon her, threw her to the ground, and forced himself upon her.

Admiral Kanos sat in his quarters and brooded. Jacen's recent behaviour had been disturbingly out of character, and he was trying to decide whether Jacen had really changed, or whether the man he had known for all those years was a mere facade.

A mocking voice interrupted his thoughts. "It's so hard deciding what to do, isn't it?"

Kanos recognized the voice instantly and groaned to himself. He rubbed his temples wearily and turned to face the intruder. "I'm not in the mood for games right now, Q."

"That's unfortunate, but unlike you, I am in the mood for games. Why don't we play a little game called Insurrection? You were having second thoughts about your allegiances, weren't you?"

Kanos jumped angrily to his feet. "Never! The Emperor has forged order out of chaos. I have never questioned my loyalty to the Emperor."

Q's expression was one of mock surprise. "Oh no? Well, what about your little discussion with your old friend Jacen?"

Kanos sat back down and turned away to face his desk again. "That's none of your business, Q."

Q vanished and reappeared as a tiny blue hologram floating over Kanos' desk. "Oh, but I consider everything my business! It's one of the privileges of being omnipotent, you know." He lowered his voice. "You don't have to worry, Kanos. I give you my word- I can promise you that Jacen will not detect anything we say here, telepathically or otherwise."

Kanos began to laugh. "Your word! Since when-"

Q interrupted him. "I like my privacy as much as you do, my friend. Trust me when I say that no one can hear us." The hologram vanished, and Q reappeared in physical form behind Kanos' back. He waited for Kanos to turn and face him again, and resumed speaking. "I overheard your little conversation with Jacen in the cargo bay- you aren't enamoured of his latest scheme, are you?"

Kanos sighed. "I see you will stay here and annoy me until I tell you what you want to hear. All right, I don't agree with the covert abduction of a thousand children. There- are you happy now?"

Q laughed. "You don't agree with kidnapping? How laughable! You can calmly order the destruction of an entire world, with billions of people living on it, yet you feel moral qualms about kidnapping a few thousand sentients? Your sense of morality is incomprehensible!"

Kanos felt the anger rise in him again. "The destruction of an enemy world, in a time of open warfare, is a legitimate military action. The clandestine kidnapping of children is not. It isn't the numbers- it's the principle."

Q threw up his hands in mock despair. "You humans have such a warped set of principles ... you're almost as bad as Picard!"

Kanos stiffened. "You know Picard? How long-"

"That's none of your business, mon ami. Let us return to the issue at hand, shall we? You don't agree with Jacen's little project. What do you intend to do about it? Kill him? Reject the Empire and join the Rebellion? Expose his actions?"

Kanos' expression was grim. "I made my objections known, and that is all I can do. I have a sworn duty to the Emperor, and to the Empire. If this is the Emperor's wish, then I must obey, in spite of any objections I may have. Now please leave. There is nothing more for you to learn here."

Q sneered at him contemptuously. "The Emperor's wish- how ridiculous! You actually treat your precious Emperor as if he's a god! Guessing his intentions and wishes based on the testimony of special anointed messengers like your friend Jacen ..."

"The Emperor is not some religious fantasy, Q. I have seen him myself. And Jacen is his brother. He speaks for the Emperor, and he ..." Kanos paused in mid-sentence, as if he had just experienced a revelation.

Q wore a smug, self-satisfied smile on his face. "Ah, I see that an actual thought has invaded that insignificant brain of yours." He touched his finger to his forehead. "Remember to think, Kanos. Don't take your situation at face value." He vanished into thin air.

Picard awoke with a start, dreading the coming day. He knew he would have to face Jaina, and he had no idea what he would say to her. After he had attacked her, she had nothing to say except for the lone word "leave". He left in silence, not knowing what he could possibly say. Now, he had to live with what he'd done.

It had occured to him that he shouldn't be too sympathetic towards her. She was part of the same Empire that had destroyed the Romulan homeworlds of Romulus and Remus. The Empire that had declared war on the Federation, and used a combination of terror tactics, political pressure, and naked force to cause its disbandment. The same Empire that now held Earth in a stranglehold, and him along with it. She probably stood on the bridge of the Obliterator as it destroyed Earth's moon, killing millions of people. He was sure that she and the others had something unpleasant planned for Earth once the Borg were out of the way, and he knew that he would have to try and stop her.

Furthermore, there were some things about the previous evening that didn't make any sense. She had powerful telekinetic abilities- he had seen what she had done to the Borg and he knew that she could have stopped him or killed him easily. So why didn't she? Perhaps she was afraid she might accidentally kill me, he thought to himself. No, he reprimanded himself. I won't shift the blame. The crime was mine. He tried to remind himself that she was the enemy, but it didn't seem to assuage his sense of guilt at all.

He arrived on the bridge half an hour later, and saw Jaina talking to one of the tactical officers. He thought of slinking away to a corner of the bridge, but decided that it would be best to get this issue out of the way immediately. He waited until she was done, and then walked up to her. She turned to face him. Her clear eyes locked on his, but she said nothing.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Ahem ... Jaina, I must apologize for my ... deplorable conduct last night." He straightened his uniform and stood stiffly at attention. "I am prepared to accept whatever punishment your justice system requires."

Her face betrayed no emotions that he could read. "We still need your help, so there will be no punishment. If it is redemption you seek, then just make sure you do your job. Destroy the Borg for me, Jean-Luc."

Picard opened his mouth to speak, but something in her eyes told him that it would be best to remain silent. He closed his mouth soundlessly, averted his gaze, and walked over to the navigation area. He found himself infused with a renewed desire to crush the Borg, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong.

He felt as if he were being manipulated- as if there were something wrong with Jaina's instructions, no matter how eminently reasonable they seemed to be. What is happening to my mind? The question swirled in his brain for one second, perhaps two. Then, as quickly as it had come, it seemed to vanish into a haze. He shook off his confusion and refocused himself on the task at hand, his momentary disquiet forgotten.

He marched to the navigation area and gave his next order. "There is an extremely large Borg facility located at these co-ordinates" he said, keying in numbers. "Kerenos Station Two needs reinforcements, so send all of the ships in the fleet there, except us."

"Yes sir. And what heading should I set for us, sir?

"Set course for the indicated co-ordinates. Program the jump so that we drop out of hyperspace one light-year short. We're going to pay a visit to one of their largest installations. Countless interconnected structures, strung across space in a latticework of alloy. Trillions of drones. And because it's so loosely assembled, it's not a suitable target for the Death Star." Picard explained.

"Yes sir. Course laid in, sir." There was an uncomfortable silence, and the young officer asked the inevitable question. "Sir, if I may be so bold ..."


"Is it wise to attack such a large facility with one ship? Even an Eclipse class Star Destroyer?"

"Not really. But I have an idea."

The junior officer cast his gaze in Jaina's direction, and she nodded her head to affirm the order. The rest of the fleet began to break up and maneuver in preparation for the jump back to Kerenos Station 2, the Imperial name for the new ring station being constructed at the near end of the wormhole. The Obliterator, still showing the scars earned during its Borg incursion, separated from the rest of the ships and pointed its massive bow toward a point deep in the Delta Quadrant.

Aboard the Obliterator's bridge, Captain Picard straightened his uniform and gave the order. "Engage."

The mighty vessel's monstrous engines flared brilliantly, and the stars seemed to elongate as it leapt forward into hyperspace. It disappeared from view almost instantly, as if it had never been.

On Earth, eight stormtroopers had entered the holding cell in which Riker and roughly thirty other crewmen were being held. They entered in pairs, moving carefully and keeping their weapons trained on the Federation crewmen.

"We've come to question your droid. Is that it?" the stormtrooper barked, pointing at Data while speaking to Riker.

Data stood up stiffly. "I am quite capable of speaking for myself. My name is Data."

The stormtrooper turned to look at Data, his expression hidden beneath the permanent grimace etched onto the face of his helmet. "You're the droid?"


"Come with us. We have orders to take you to the tech labs for analysis."

Data walked stiffly toward them, imitating the stilted, marionette-like gait of the protocol droids he'd seen when he was brought in. They flanked him and began walking toward the door of the cell. But before they got there, Data dropped the pretense and stunned them by punching one stormtrooper in the head while kicking another stormtrooper in the chest. He held nothing back- both troopers were killed by the impacts, and in a swift, fluid motion Data rolled to his right, picked up his first victim's blaster rifle before it hit the floor, and began firing.

His shots were devastatingly precise, striking and killing three stormtroopers before they could return fire. Three more shots finished off the remaining men, but not before they had fired wildly in return. They missed, but their wild shots killed an unfortunate ensign in the corner of the cell. Data had no time to express regret, because there were two troopers stationed outside the door and they had to be neutralized. In one fluid motion, he dove to the floor and into a roll, picking up another blaster as he moved. He exploded out of the roll and burst toward the door.

"What the hell is going-" one of the sentries shouted, only to see Data burst headfirst out the door but at knee level, holding a blaster in each hand. He fired both guns simultaneously, one shot to his left and one shot to his right. The two sentries, stunned by the ferocity and speed of his attack, never had a chance.

Riker and several of the other crewmen quickly picked up whatever discarded blaster rifles they could find, and joined Data at the door. He stopped for a moment to admire Data's handiwork. "Good work, Data. Remind me never to get on your bad side."

Data looked back at him quizzically. "Bad side? Commander, I have no bad side. Both my left and right sides were manufactured to within a tolerance of plus or minus-" he trailed off when he saw some of the others grinning at him. "Ah. That was a figure of speech?"

Riker hoped this wouldn't be the last time the crew shared a laugh at Data's expense. "I'll explain it later. Did they manage to sound any alarms?"

"It does not appear that they did, Commander. I believe they were taken off guard by the speed of my attack. It is my opinion that they were not adequately briefed by their superiors, sir."

Riker finally cracked a smile, for the first time since he'd watched Barclay die. "Too bad for their superiors. Did you map out this building when you were being brought in? Which way to the nearest ship?"

"I tried to observe as much as I could, but I could only see a small portion of the building. I believe our highest probability for success will be if we head in this direction" Data said, pointing down the hallway to his right. "We should hurry. We have no way of knowing how often these men are supposed to check in, or how long it will be before someone comes along to investigate."

"Agreed. We've got all ten weapons and they seem to be intact. Everybody, familiarize yourselves with these weapons quickly. We don't have a lot of time." While the crew studied the weapons, he thought about the situation and had an idea.

"We'll never be able to fight our way out of here. Check those armour suits for damage" he ordered. "Maybe we can salvage a few complete suits and try to sneak out of here."

"Excellent suggestion, sir" Data agreed. They managed to mix and match parts from the ten dead troopers to assemble six acceptable uniforms, and donned them quickly. Riker, Data, and four ensigns agreed to wear the armour, and pretend to escort the others to a shuttle. Thus attired, the entire group moved out into the hall and toward the hangar.

The "prisoners" did their best to look weary and downtrodden as they marched through the hall with their hands in unlocked but very real binders, and the six "stormtroopers" did their best to act in as brutal and unfeeling a manner as possible. Harsh language and violent shoves helped complete the image, and Riker breathed a sigh of relief when they passed a group of black-helmeted soldiers without incident. They passed a few more groups before they finally arrived in the hangar, where an officer stopped them.

"Halt!" he ordered. "Where are you taking these prisoners?"

Riker tensed inside the suit of armour, grateful for the fact that it helped hide his uncertainty. "We have orders to take them to Commander Evleston's ship for interrogation" he ad-libbed.

"There are no shuttles scheduled to depart." the man quickly retorted.

That's it- time to think on your feet! "Wonderful. Are you telling me that the scheduling was fouled up again? How are we supposed to do our jobs when you flyboys can't even figure out your own flight schedules?" He gesticulated wildly and tried to make a grand show of his frustration, stomping his boots on the floor for emphasis. Some of the other quick-thinking "stormtroopers" behind him joined in the act by throwing their hands up in mock disgust.

The officer was clearly irritated by Riker's tone, but also somewhat disarmed. "You've got quite an attitude ... for a grunt. Have you got a problem with us flyboys?" he sneered, bringing his face close to Riker's helmeted visage. He got no response except for the cold, emotionless stare of the stormtrooper helmet, and seemed to wilt a little bit. "All right, I'll check in and see if I can confirm the orders."

He started to activate his comlink, but Riker quickly put his hand over the comlink and interrupted him. "Listen friend, I'm sorry about that flyboy crack. Just let us know which ship is prepped and ready, and we'll just board the ship and wait for the confirmation, all right?"

The man sighed. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you into the hangar until I have confirmation and a departure clearance. For what it's worth, the only ship ready to leave is that assault gunship over there" he said, pointing toward a large, gleaming winged craft about 100 metres away. "But it's assigned to patrol duty, and you'll probably have to wait until we can get a regular shuttle prepped. Now, what's your operating number?"

Riker panicked and tried to think if he'd heard any stormtroopers mentioning their operating numbers. He couldn't recall hearing any numbers, so he simply invented one. "Ah, my operating number is 42856." he said, cringing inwardly.

"42856? What kind of number ... oh wait, OK, you're on file. I'll check your orders." the man said, backing slightly away from Riker and the others.

Riker watched the man like a hawk as he slowly backed away, and he had the distinct feeling that his cover was blown. The officer kept backing away from them, and Riker's suspicion changed to certainty. He drew his blaster as quickly as he could, and brought it to bear on the man before he could react. "Put down that communicator and step out of the way." he said.

The officer dropped the comlink and slowly stepped out of the way, but Riker didn't realize that the man had quietly set his comlink on "send", and it had been broadcasting on an open channel. An alarm sounded through the building, warning of an intruder alert in the hangar bay. Within seconds, guards and stormtroopers throughout the hangar bay began to converge on Riker's position, and he heard shouts from behind.

"Oh hell" he swore to himself. He shot the man point-blank, and watched him fall lifeless to the deck with a burning, sizzling hole in his chest. "Go, go, go!" he shouted. His crew dropped their pretenses, threw off the unlocked binders, and sprinted for the gunship. Those with guns fired wildly, and those without simply ran for their lives. Red blaster bolts criss-crossed the hangar, striking bulkheads, floor plates ... and human flesh.

Data was well out in front, methodically picking off enemy soldiers at long range with his superior reflexes and accuracy. He did his best to clear a path for the crew, but there were simply too many targets, and too much return fire. Thirty crewmen became twenty five, and twenty five became twenty. Riker's breathing became ragged as he ran, and more men fell by the wayside. He finally made it to the gunship, and stumbled into the craft while five men formed up around the boarding ramp and tried to lay down suppression fire. Blaster bolts slammed into the ship's hull from all directions, throwing off smoke and sparks where they hit.

"Data, I hope you're a fast learn-" he stopped in mid sentence. The ship's pilot, bloodied and beaten, was being held by Worf while Data pored over the controls. Maybe we don't have to figure out how to fly this thing after all! "Get us off the ground or you're a dead man" he barked at the pilot. One of the men at the boarding ramp screamed in agony from a blaster hit to the abdomen, punctuating the urgency of the situation.

The pilot was uncooperative. "Well, I guess that means you'll have to shoot me."

Riker heard another scream from the direction of the boarding ramp, followed by a sickening thump. He jammed the blaster muzzle into the man's forehead, and repeated his demand. "This is no game. Help us or die."

The man was unmoved. "Then I'll die. And so will you."

Riker's trigger finger tensed and he almost killed the man right there, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "Damn it! Data, can you figure out those controls?" A rapid-fire sequence of blaster bolts laced their way across the cockpit window, causing the transparisteel canopy to darken momentarily. Yet another defender cried out from a fatal blaster wound. Five more men ran down to help.

Data was working quickly. "I studied the language files brought back by Commander Chang. I believe these switches should activate the antigravity lift system." He flipped a bank of switches, and a low thrumming sound immediately began in the back of the ship. The captured pilot looked rather disheartened, and Riker allowed himself the luxury of a triumphant sneer.

However, there was little time for celebration, as he could see Imperial reinforcements arriving through the cockpit canopy. It seemed as if there were stormtroopers behind every conceivable piece of cover in sight, and perhaps there were. More screams could be heard from the direction of the boarding ramp, and the volume of defensive suppression fire began to drop off. Groups of stormtroopers broke from cover and began to advance toward the ship. Riker saw them and knew that if Data didn't get them off the ground in the next minute, there would be no escape today. "Data, we don't have a lot of time!" he shouted.

"I am trying, Commander. I believe these controls should put the ship into automatic hover mode." He pressed a series of buttons and switches, and the ship began to lift off the ground. Two men backed up the boarding ramp, firing as they moved, and Data closed the ramp. Only two men! Riker cringed inwardly. Eight out of ten defenders had bought precious time with their lives.

Data punched a few more buttons, and a brief luminescent flash outside the ship signalled the activation of its shields. Riker was gratified to see blaster bolts being reflected harmlessly away. The gunship now floated two metres above the ground, its shields easily deflecting blaster fire.

"Data, can you arm the weapons systems? Let's burn this place to the ground."

"Commander, that may not be wise. We don't know how many other Federation prisoners are being held in this building. Also, the Imperials are undoubtedly calling in much heavier weaponry as we speak. If we don't leave immediately, we may not be able to leave at all."

"Point taken. Can you figure out how to fly this thing?"

"I can try." Data's fingers flew over the controls, and the ship lurched forward. It almost careened into the hangar bay walls before Data regained control of the ship, and then it clumsily left the hangar and began its ascent.

As the gunship climbed into the sky, Riker caught his breath. "Now what?" he muttered. A pair of Victory class Star Destroyers, each nearly a kilometre long, hovered above the ground at an altitude of less than five kilometres. Green turbolaser fire lanced out from the two ships toward the lone gunship, which was rocked violently by a series of near-misses.

Data's piloting skills were steadily improving, and he immediately banked away from the two looming vessels. He managed to activate the ion drive, and the small craft's engines flared brilliantly as it climbed rapidly out of the planet's gravity well and toward open space.

Riker was about to congratulate Data on his piloting skills, but his smile faded when he saw more warships in their path. "This doesn't get any easier, does it?"

"No, sir. But we are clear of the planet's atmosphere, and we can activate our hyperdrive."

"Jump blind? I thought you said this hyperdrive technology was dangerous if you jumped without calculating a safe path."

"Commander, I believe that a short jump may be safer than remaining here, even without calculations." The gunship was thrown violently off course by a turbolaser hit, as if to punctuate Data's words.

Riker struggled back to his feet. "I see your point. Activate the hyperdrive."

"Yes, sir." Data reached out and pulled the lever to activate the hyperdrive. The stars elongated into streaks of light, and the gunship crossed the threshold into the tachyonic realm of hyperspace. He waited 10 seconds, pulled the ship back into realspace, changed course, and then pushed it into another 10 second microjump. As soon as the ship re-entered realspace, he powered down most of the ship's systems.

"Rigged for silent running, sir. We are now five light-years from Earth. We can receive subspace communications from Earth, but the Imperials will be able to get a fix on our location if we send any transmissions of our own."

"Good work, Data. It might be best to listen in for a while. See if you can pick up any friendly signals. We've got to find out if they know what's happening in the contaminated zone."

"Yes, sir. It will take a few moments to determine how to operate the communications systems, and I will need to configure them to scan for Federation signals." Twenty minutes later and without any help from the captured Imperial pilot, Data had learned enough to accomplish his goals. He quickly scanned through multiple frequencies, finally locating one based on Federation protocols rather than Imperial protocols. "I have a Federation signal, Commander. It seems to be originating from the Paris transmitters."

"Let's see it." Data brought up the signal, and it was Admiral Shimizu. She wore her Starfleet uniform, but on the wall behind her was the familiar Federation logo side by side with an unfamiliar, burnished-metal logo.

She was in mid-sentence. "and we must stress that despite today's terrorist attack on an Imperial base, the provisional government is committed to maintaining the peace. As we go through the process of negotiating the peaceful sharing of power with our Imperial partners, we must remember that there will be those who heedlessly risk the lives of their fellow citizens in pointless acts of wanton destruction and murder. Make no mistake. We will find any such offenders and turn them over to the Empire for appropriate justice. There is nowhere for terrorists to hide. I repeat-"

"Turn it off" Riker ordered. The cabin of the gunship was silent for a long time, save for the snickering of the Imperial pilot. "Shut up!" Riker shouted. "Is this how you operate? Create an environmental disaster and then quietly take over the planet while you pretend to help clean it up?"

"Why don't you ask Kanos when you see him? I'm sure you'll all be captured soon."

Worf growled. "Sir, let me interrogate him. I will extract the necessary information."

Riker shook his head. "No. We won't stoop to their level" he said, glancing meaningfully at the pilot. He turned to Data. "It must be some kind of trick. Provisional government? Peaceful sharing of power? I can't believe our own people would become collaborators so easily."

"Actually, there are historical precedents in your planet's history to support this. In your twentieth century, the so-called Nazi regime conquered the nation-state known as France, with minimal combat. The French people surrendered out of self-interest and the fear that a war would devastate their nation, and after the surrender, most of their population either collaborated with the invaders or remained neutral. Again, out of self-interest and fear."

"Better to live on our knees than die on our feet, eh?"

"Sir, if you don't mind an observation, I have studied Earth history and concluded that throughout that history, courageous sentiments have been more plentiful than courageous actions. And from the point of view of individual collaborators, it is logical. They put themselves in a position to gain from the new regime."

Riker nodded in grim agreement. "All right, so what do we do now? We don't have any allies on Earth. At least, none that are out in the open."

Data agreed. "Logically, if we cannot get assistance from Earth, we must get assistance elsewhere."

"Agreed. Let's see if we can study this ship's computer systems and determine how to make a controlled hyperspace jump."

"I believe it will be possible. But what course should we set?"

"Well, unless anyone's got a better idea, I think we should try to find Captain Picard. They've gone to a lot of trouble to hide the truth from him, and I think it's time he found out the truth."

Chapter 16