Chapter Nine: Betrayal

"A victorious army wins its victories before battle.
An army destined for failure fights in the hope of victory."- Sun Tzu

"Transport the ambassador directly onto the bridge. I want some answers." Picard ordered. The Romulan shuttlecraft in the main viewer had been positively identified as the ambassador's personal ship, and he was in no mood to obey the ambassador's instructions to let him go. Ever since the Enterprise had finally gotten its warp drive on line, they had been heading back to Earth. Detecting the ambassador's ship on their long-range sensors was the first stroke of good luck in weeks. Intercepting it was child's play.

Ambassador Tu'rohn materialized on the bridge in seconds, and he was none too pleased. "What do you want, Picard? I have more important things to do than waste my time talking to you." he snarled.

"I want answers, Tu'rohn. I want to know why the Romulans attacked the Empire. I want to know what you were told, and who told you. I know you had help from within the Federation, and I want names. Your ship is being tractored into one of our shuttle bays and you will be permitted to leave as soon as you give me the information I ask for."

The ambassador folded his arms and smiled at Picard, with that same smug, arrogant smile that all Romulans seemed to be born with. "It appears I have something you need, Captain. Therefore, it is not I who will obey your wishes. It is you will obey my wishes."

Picard was furious. "You are in no position to make demands, Ambassador! You are in custody, and your forces violated the Neutral Zone. I can keep you here as long as I wish. You can answer my questions, or you can think about it in the brig."

That smug smile again. "And I can keep my silence as long as I wish. If you will not release me, then you will take me to Romulus. I will reveal nothing until I see my home world again."

Comprehension slowly dawned on Picard. "Ambassador ... you're hiding something, aren't you? You need to see Romulus. The communications network is down. We can't communicate with Romulus, and you can't either, can you? You're afraid. You're afraid that the Galactic Empire has already attacked Romulus, and you need to return so you can see what's happening. It appears that the ball is back in your court, Ambassador. You need to see Romulus, so you need to tell us what we want to know." Picard derived some satisfaction from seeing the smile drain from Tu'rohn's face.

"It appears we need one another, Captain. But I will tell you nothing until I see Romulus. My conditions are not negotiable."

Admiral Halsey looked around the darkened room at the collection of faces. He saw fatigue in their expressions, mixed with frustration, anger, and in some cases, fear. He saw both supporters and rivals, but they all shared one thing in common: they were dedicated soldiers, who knew that the survival of the Federation might hinge upon their actions. "Gentlemen, we are losing this war."

A low murmur spread through the room, but there was no shortage of opinions. "Admiral, with all due respect, the relay net is under constant attack. Our ships have been dropping emergency relays as fast as they can, but the relays are destroyed as soon as they go online. We only get scraps of information between relay-net blackouts. In light of this fact, how can you possibly know how the war is going?"

Admiral Halsey stood, planted his hands on the podium, and affixed a steely-eyed glare upon his audience. "Yes, the relay net is down. Yes, we only get the occasional burst of communications. But that fact doesn't keep me from learning how bad the situation is. No, in fact, that fact tells me how bad the situation is." He stepped back from the podium and keyed a remote control. A hologram shimmered into view over the large conference table, depicting the Federation's territory.

"Gentlemen, our forces have engaged the enemy on at least four separate occasions that we know of. In each case, our forces were completely routed, with heavy losses in manpower and equipment. Commodore Lane is the highest ranking officer to have survived combat with the Imperial fleet. Would you care to brief the group on the incident, Commodore Lane?"

Commodore Lane looked furtively around the room as if he hoped Halsey was talking to someone else, and then stood up. He took slow, deliberate steps as he walked toward the podium. Halsey had activated a large viewscreen, upon which video images from the battle were already being displayed. He cleared his throat and began. "My group was reinforcing the defensive fleet at Tarsus Three when a large group of Imperial warships appeared. They dropped out of hyperspace almost on top of us, with no warning. They came with more than a thousand ships, against fifty. We lost Starbase 74 almost immediately, and when we tried to mount a counter-attack, we took such heavy losses that I had to call a strategic retreat. The Imperials brought in interdictor cruisers and a lot of my ships never made it out."

He stopped and looked around the room, as if expecting sympathy. He saw none, and continued. "We did inflict casualties upon the enemy, but they attacked in overwhelming numbers. If we could engage them on equal footing, I believe that we have learned enough to develop effective tactics. They are not invincible."

Halsey stood up, walked toward the podium, and motioned for Commodore Lane to step aside. "Thank you, Commodore. That will be all."

"Sir, my staff has developed several tactical plans for a possible future engagement under numerically even conditions. I would like to brief the group-"

Halsey abruptly interrupted him. "That's all well and good, Commodore, but what makes you think we will ever engage them on equal terms? You treat them as a conventional enemy, like the Klingons or the Romulans. But these are not Klingons or Romulans. Their hyperdrive technology gives them an advantage that we simply cannot overcome." He turned toward the audience. "The Empire can keep fully half of its alpha quadrant forces in a single large group, which can conduct hit and fade operations at will, anywhere in our territory. As any pilot knows, when you have a speed advantage you have the luxury of engaging the enemy only when you have the advantage. Unlike us, they don't need to disperse their forces- they have superior speed, and no planetary assets to protect. We don't have the speed to intercept them with a large force of our own, so we spread our forces around in a futile effort to whittle away at his large fleet whenever it drops out of hyperspace. That is why we are losing this war."

The room was silent, as the officers in attendance pondered their situation. Commodore Lane spoke up. "I presume you have a plan? Or are you suggesting that we surrender?"

"The Federation will never surrender, Commodore. We are losing because we don't have the technology to intercept his ships. However, there are old-fashioned methods we can still use." He flashed his pointer toward the viewscreen, highlighting a dozen star systems in order. "He has made massive, destructive strikes in these systems. Therefore, he is attempting to draw our forces away. Those systems are roughly equidistant from Earth, to within a tolerance of plus or minus 10 light years. I therefore suspect that he is planning to attack Earth in the near future."

Lane looked disgusted. "Admiral Halsey, with all due respect, that is obvious. We have known about the probability of a large strike on Earth for some time. What do you suggest we do about it?"

"I suggest we collect every available ship to make a stand here. The Empire's forces will come sooner or later, and we should be ready. Without every single ship at our disposal, we can't hope to stand up to his forces."

A chorus of criticism greeted Halsey, as he knew it would. Admiral Shimizu voiced the most obvious complaint. "What makes you think we will be able to collect every ship? It would mean leaving dozens of systems totally defenseless, and the president would never agree to it."

Halsey's expression hardened into stone. "I agree. Something must be done about the president's position on this matter. The future of the entire Federation is at stake, and that is more important than any one man."

Drone number 15 of 35 on-line. Species: human. Point of origin: Earth, Federation sector 001. Gender: Male. Height: 1.7 metres. Obsolete identification tag: Chang. Obsolete occupational descriptor: Federation officer. Obsolete hierarchal command structure locator tag: Commander.

Analyzing neural network data storage contents for drone 15 of 35. Analyzing. Sorting. Collating. Data mining operation commenced. Level 12 species identification data identified. Federation designator: Galactic Empire. Allocate species identification number: 16852. Category: bipedal humanoid. Point of origin: beyond the borders of this galaxy. Known assets: more than 12 million star systems located in distant galaxy.

Identify potentially useful technologies: High energy hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic energy weapons, descriptor name: turbolasers. Electromechanical control system disruption weapons, descriptor name: ion cannons. Extreme high-velocity transdimensional superluminal propulsion system, descriptor name: hyperdrive. Extreme high-density power generation technology, descriptor name: hypermatter. Mass-manufactured sentient artificial life forms, descriptor name: droids. Techniques for advanced telepathic manipulation of matter and energy, descriptor name: the Force.

Species 16852 added to target species database. Identify species 16852 resources and current locations. Optimize flight paths. No transwarp conduits have been constructed in that quadrant. 5 Borg vessels can reach target system in 8 days at maximum transwarp speed. Assimilate with 8.93 priority level.

Ambassador Tu'rohn stepped out of the turbolift, expecting to see Romulus on the bridge viewscreen. Picard turned to speak. "Ambassador, it appears that our navigational database has suffered some corruption due to our battle damage. We should be approaching Romulus right now, but as you can see, we appear to be in an asteroid field. Stellar cartrography is currently attempting to get a fix on our location."

Data turned to speak, with a look of concern on his face. "Captain, we have already completed the navigational realignment and we appear to be in the correct location. The asteroids in front of us are merely the slowest moving pieces of a large expanding debris field, which is spreading rapidly outward from the former location of Romulus. The mass of the debris field is appropriate for a class M planet, sir."

The Ambassador's knees buckled, and he sank to the deck. "Romulus ... no ... it can't be true ... no ... check your position again! Check your position again ... it can't be true ..." his voice trailed off to silence. Tears welled in his eyes, and Troi rushed to his side.

Picard was in shock. "The Empire destroyed the entire planet ... this means they were able to send the Death Star through the wormhole. The Death Star is already in the alpha quadrant ..." The implications of this fact were horrifying. A stifling silence settled over the bridge.

More than a minute passed as the bridge crew pondered the enormity of what had just happened, when Picard finally collected himself. "Mister Data, how long ago did this happen?"

"Captain, based on the average velocity and range of the debris, I estimate that Romulus was destroyed approximately twelve hours ago. I have also detected debris which may be the wreckage of Romulan starships. There may have been a battle, or perhaps the Romulan ships were destroyed along with the planet."

Worf sounded an alarm. "Captain, several warships are decloaking!"

"Shields up!" Picard instinctively ordered. He knew the Imperials had cloaking technology but he hadn't considered the possibility that they were lying in wait. Damned fool- I should have anticipated this, he cursed to himself.

The sensors quickly located the decloaking ships and the viewscreen displayed them. Several of the crew gasped in shock. Worf looked dumbfounded, but calmly and professionally identified the ships. "Captain, I am detecting four Negh'var-class heavy carriers, twenty three Vor'cha-class attack cruisers, sixty four B'rel-class birds of prey ... and four Imperial Star Destroyers."

"Klingons and Imperials together! But how ... " Picard looked back at the Romulan ambassador, but he appeared to be in a state of shock, and would probably be unable to answer questions. He decided that he would have to deal with this situation without the ambassador's help. "Hail them, Mister Data."

"Yes, sir. Hailing."

Chancellor Gowron's face quickly appeared on the viewscreen. "Hail and well met, Picard! For the Romulans, today was a good day ... to die!" He threw his head back and laughed, and the rest of his bridge crew quickly joined in the raucous laughter. When the laughter finally died down, Gowron turned back to Picard and smiled. "Picard, I regret to inform you that you are illegally trespassing in Klingon territory. I suggest that you leave now, or be destroyed."

Picard could not believe his ears. "Chancellor Gowron, why would you ally yourselves with the Empire against the Federation? Don't you see that if they conquer us, you will be their next target?"

Gowron sneered. "Is that a plea for help? I will not be deceived, Picard. The Empire has assured us that they are not interested in our territory, and as a gesture of good will, they gave us the Romulan Empire and they have placed several of their starships under my command. They only seek to avenge their honour, Captain. Honour is something that we Klingons understand perfectly. I thought you understood this, Picard. But by the cowardly actions of your Federation, I see that I was mistaken."

Picard took a deep breath, realizing the importance of convincing Gowron to see reason. "Chancellor, the Empire clearly intends to conquer this entire galaxy. By allying yourselves with them, you are playing directly into their hands!"

The sneer had not left Gowron's face. "I do not listen to the words of cowards who conspire with the Romulans to attack defenseless women and children. The Galactic Empire and the Klingon Empire have a mutual agreement. We will take the Romulan Empire and the Dominion, and they will take the Federation. They gave us ships and helped us crush the Romulan and Cardassian leaderships, and we gave them information. Technical specifications of Federation starships. Location of Federation shipyards and starbases. Your Federation will be destroyed, Picard. And if you don't leave in ten seconds, you will be destroyed as well."

Gowron's image vanished from the viewscreen. Worf reported quickly. "Captain, they are powering up their weapons."

"Hail them, Mister Data."

Data hailed. "They are not responding, Captain."

Damn. "Set course for Earth, Mister Data. Maximum warp. Engage." The Enterprise swung on its axis, and the stars elongated in the viewscreen as the ship outraced laggardly photons and disappeared. In its wake, Gowron returned to the task of conquering the Romulan Star Empire. Decades of betrayal and treachery were piled upon the altar of Gowron's hatred for the Romulans, and it was time for an accounting.

1 Imperial vessel identified by vessel 1 of 5. Identification tag: Imperial Star Destroyer. Current status: fully functional. Imperial vessel is destroying a Federation subspace relay station. Approach to weapons range.

Transmission active. We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. Your existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Primary target acquired. Align beam array 3 to target. Fire. 41% damage to Imperial vessel's shields. Imperial vessel returning fire with hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic radiation weapons. Damage to 18% of superstructure. Auto-repair systems on-line. Weapon characteristics identified. Attempting to adapt shielding to compensate.

Primary target re-acquired. Align beam array 4 to target. Fire. 47% damage to Imperial vessel's shields. Imperial vessel returning fire with hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic radiation weapons. Damage to 6% of superstructure. Adaptation successful.

Unable to re-acquire primary target. Imperial vessel engaged hyperdrive propulsion system. Assemble 1 of 5 through 5 of 5 into formation and continue to Imperial power base, Federation designator: Gate System.

President Inyo looked up with alarm. There hadn't been a power blackout in the presidential building in years. Not since Admiral Leyton attempted to seize control of the government ...

He activated his communications console. "Security, this is the President. I need extra security personnel in my office. Security, are you there? Security, do you copy?" He pounded the console, and realized that the blackout had probably rendered communications inoperative. He began shouting. "Security! Get in here!" The two guards posted outside his office did not respond.

The hair stood up on the back of his neck, as visions of a bloody coup entered his mind. He fumbled in the dark, to find the phaser pistol that he kept in his desk. He gripped its smooth, contoured handgrip in his hand and moved cautiously toward the door. What happened to the guards? The door did not respond to his approach, and he slowly pried the door open.

He crouched to present the smallest possible target and stuck his head through the gap, into the hall. His blood ran cold when he saw the two guards in the dim emergency lighting, dead on the floor. He stepped back from the door, and as he did so, he could hear his heart beating and feel the pounding of his pulse in his temples. In the silence, his ragged breathing seemed thunderously loud. Sweat glistened on his skin, and the phaser's smooth handle was starting to get slippery in his grip. He kept his eyes fixed unwaveringly on the door, waiting for the inevitable assassination attempt.

He tried to still his breathing, but an instinct, a sixth sense, warned him that he was not alone in the room. He spun around and saw a figure stepping in from the balcony. With the fastest reaction he could muster, perhaps the fastest reactions of his life, he brought his phaser up and fired. But he was a civilian, and had never fired a weapon before in his life. The beam missed by more than a metre.

In contrast, the assassin was an expert marksman. With cool, military precision, he dropped to a three-point stance and fired his weapon. An iridescent red bolt of energy sizzled through the air and struck the president squarely in the chest, blasting a hole in his body and knocking him to the floor with a dull thud. The assassin calmly walked to the president's prone form and kicked the phaser out of his hand. He knelt at the president's side, and could see that the president was unconscious. Blood oozed and bubbled from the chest wound, but incredibly, he was still alive. The assassin pressed the muzzle of his weapon against the president's forehead, and pulled the trigger.

2417 Imperial vessels identified by vessel 1 of 5. Approach to weapons range.

Transmission active. We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. Your existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Primary target acquired. Identification tag: Imperial Star Destroyer. Align beam array 5 to target. Fire. 48% damage to Imperial vessel's shields. 45 Imperial vessels returning fire with hybrid particle beam/electromagnetic radiation weapons. Damage to 82% of superstructure. Auto-repair systems on-line. Primary power system-


Monitor switch to vessel 2 of 5. Vessel 1 of 5 destroyed. Primary target acquired. Align beam-


Monitor switch to vessel 3 of 5. Vessel 2 of 5 destroyed. Primary target acquired. Align beam array 1 to target. Fire. Imperial vessel's shields collapsed. 57 Imperial vessels returning-


Monitor switch to vessel 4 of 5. Vessel 3 of 5 destroyed. Primary target acquired. Align beam array 6 to target. Fire. Damage to Imperial vessel's superstructure. 62 Imperial vessels returning fire. Damage to-


Monitor switch to vessel 5 of 5. Vessel 4 of 5 destroyed. Primary target acquired. Align beam array 6 to target. Fire. Imperial vessel destroyed. 49 Imperial vessels returning fire. Damage to 93% of super-


5 vessels destroyed. Species 16852 technological capabilities in excess of predicted level. Initiate analysis of predictive algorithms to isolate error. Optimize flight paths. Divert 475 vessels to known power base. Assimilate with 9.89 priority level.

Chapter Ten