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"Reading damage to sixteen ships." Data reported. "Twelve of them have lost engine power completely, four more are switching to secondary systems."
"Come about for the lead group." Picard said. The ships huge impulse engines wrenched her around and she dived through the Imperial formation again, scattering more torpedoes before her. This time the Imperials had more warning, and turbolaser bolts spattered their shields as they passed.
"You know, I think their aim is improving." Riker said as they cleared the Star Destroyers.
"Another sixteen ships damaged." Data reported. "Nine seriously."
"The temperature in the quantum torpedo tubes one, two and three is now above the red line. Photon tubes one and three are at six hundred degrees. We've over-stressed a couple of the phaser arrays a little also. We need to cool off." Riker said.
"Tactical plot on view-screen." A schematic of the solar system appeared on the main viewscreen; Sol itself was a solid white blob in the centre of the display, her retinue of planets scattered around. The Imperials had come out of hyperspace in a series of twenty sub-fleets strung in a line stretching from Uranus to Saturn; a javelin of red dots aimed at the Federations very heart. "Helm, come to zero six five mark three eight. Half impulse. Any pursuit?"
"There are nearly twenty fighters attempting to follow us." Data reported.
"How are the aft phasers holding up?"
"Still well below thermal limits sir."
"Warm them up a little." Picard said grimly. Data nodded in understanding and concentrated on his console for a few seconds.
"The fighters are destroyed." He said after a moment.
"Have the USS Venture take our place on the line." Picard said. He thumbed his intercom to shipwide. "All hands, stand down to yellow alert until further notice. Engineering department to commence necessary repairs of all systems, priority on tactical systems. That is all."
"There isn't much you can do about overheating, sir." Riker said. "Short of waiting until the systems cool off. That's going to take a couple of hours."
"We can use the rest." Picard glanced at a time readout and blinked in surprise. Had it really been three hours since he had begun this latest phase of the battle? And twelve whole hours since the Empire had come through the Portal.
"What do you think?" He asked Riker. The first officer gazed at the screen, crowded with representations of Imperial ships.
"They're re-deploying." He said. "Getting ready to hit Saturn or Uranus."
Picard nodded agreement. "Saturn's the most heavily populated." He said. "And the outer system defences are co-ordinated from Titan."
"There's a Spacedock facility in orbit around Saturn." Riker said. "And a defence system not far short of the Mars Perimeter. That's a tough target."
"Imperial weapons rely on laser-blasting their targets." Picard said. "The navigational deflectors on a Starship are immune to lasers-"
"But combat shields aren't." Riker finished gloomily. "And a space station doesn't have nav. deflectors. So what do we do?"
"As best we can, number one." Picard said grimly. "Mister Data, order the fleet to prepare for re-deployment. We're going to break off and form a defensive perimeter between the Imperial fleet and Saturn."
Troi winced and tried to shield her eyes as the door clanged open, admitting a shaft of light into the room; almost instantly the source was eclipsed by three large men entering. The door clanged shut behind them as she turned in her chair.
She blinked rapidly as her eyes became accustomed to the dark again. Two of the men where Imperial soldiers, clad in the white body armour they seemed to like so much. The other presented a very different image; short and thin, he was wearing a nondescript grey outfit that might have been a uniform, or might equally have been formal civilian garb for all she knew. He strode to the plain metal desk at one end of the room and sat down behind it, ignoring her completely as he put a briefcase on the desk and opened it.
Troi gauged the emotional content of the room. One of the soldiers was radiating nerves, mixed with a strong desire to be elsewhere. The other was coolly indifferent; he had been through this scene many times before, she judged, and was just going through the motions. The other was a different matter. Despite his apparent indifference as he checked through the contents of his case, he was intensely focused on her - almost to the exclusion of anything else. His mind was filled with curiosity and hate laced together with a thread of near-constant anger. She winced again under the weight of it; it was almost a pale imitation of Lord Vader.
The she heard her mothers voice, quite clearly. Sit up straight, little one! A holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx does not slouch in her chair!
She pulled herself upright, smiling at the memory. "Are you in charge here?" She asked the man politely.
He didn't so much as twitch, but she felt a stab of anger from him. He continued to sort through his case for a few moments before looking up.
"Sorry to keep you." He said. His voice was remarkably soft, almost pleasant considering what lay underneath. "Must check the little details, I'm sure you understand?"
"Of course." She nodded as if she knew what he was talking about. "You can't leave these things to others. What is your name?"
"Oh, you can call me Corbus. However, enough of the niceties - down to business. I'm afraid you are in a little bit of trouble." She started to speak and he held up his hand. "Oh, nothing to worry about I assure you. But you know how the government is, every little detail must be taken care of."
"Of course." She said.
"Well, we've had time to check on your story and I'm afraid it appears that you don't exist."
"I'm sitting right here."
"Of course." He smiled slightly. Troi got the distinct impression that this was not something he did very often, and never for any good reason. "Yet you and your friend had no citizen cards, a crime in itself; and the lady you met had a forged card, which is worse. Your fingerprints not only do not match anything on file, but they also do not match anything human, or any known alien species."
Troi looked at her fingers automatically; there was no telling what these people considered 'Human', of course. She had never really given much thought to what her jumbled DNA had produced in the way of fingerprints - to say that the Federation was easy going about a persons background was an understatement of epic proportions - but she seemed to remember someone telling her once that she had the fingers of a Betazoid. She wondered if Miles had also been identified as 'alien'.
"So that leaves us with a very interesting set of questions." He leaned forward, his gaze drilling her as if he was trying to burn through to the other side. "Who are you, what species are you, where do you come from, and why where you and your two friends on the Imperial capital world pretending to be innocent citizens?"
"I am Deanna Troi. I live at unit nine sixteen, building one one six eight of the Ingala district." Troi said it for want of any better lie. "There has been some kind of mix-up with my identity card."
"Then do explain how it is that you live in unit nine one six of building one one six eight in the Ingala district when that particular building only has seven hundred and fifty units?"
"You're making a terrible mistake." She said. She could feel the anger flare behind his quiet gaze and fell silent. The man was a powder keg, despite appearances. Lying was only going to provoke him. Of course, refusing to answer would provoke him nearly as much.
"You really maintain that line?" He asked. She dropped her eyes to the floor, said nothing. He must have gestured to the soldiers. She heard them coming and kept still, bracing herself.
They yanked her out of the chair, kicking it away to clatter into the back wall. Corbus came around the desk, holding what looked like a small laser scalpel. "You know," he said conversationally, "I generally prefer to use drugs in a situation like this." He nodded to the soldiers and they began to tear the clothing from her. She tried to struggle, but within moments she stood naked. "However, one never knows how an unknown alien biology will react to a drug. So we must fall back on somewhat more crude methods."
He clicked a switch on the device and a short thread of red light sprang from it. "An interesting gadget." He said, holding it up for her to see. "A distant cousin of the Jedi lightsaber, I believe. I've never actually experienced it myself, but it certainly looks like a very uncomfortable experience for those who encounter it." He waved the thing slowly back and forth before her face, getting gradually closer. One of the soldiers took a handful of hair and held her head still. "Take my word for it, Miss Troi; now would be an excellent time for you to start telling me the truth."
If I get back home again, I owe Jean Luc an apology, she thought to herself as he brought the device closer and closer. All that time we talked about the Cardassians, about what Madred did to him, I and I never really did understand after all. I just wish-
It was the last coherent thought she had for some time; at that point Corbus gently, almost carefully began to cut into her cheek.
Two thousand Imperial Star Destroyers opened fire on the Spacedock, hammering it with countless tens of thousands of turbolaser bolts. Phasers and photon torpedoes lashed out from the station, cutting great swathes through the formation. Federation Starships flitted around the behemoths, lancing through shields and armour with their own weapons. Imperial ships careened out of control, spewing out wreckage as they disintegrated; here and there a Starship lurched as an especially fierce turbolaser barrage caught it square on.
The Memphis finished off a damaged Star Destroyer and turned to lock her weapons onto the ship closest to the Spacedock, falling in alongside another Miranda class who's captain had had the same idea.
"Target the reactor, full spread." Captain Pellman said. Her ship shuddered under the impact of turbolaser bolts; they had been in battle solidly for hours, and the shields had been gradually whittled down to sixty percent. Still more than a match for these things, she thought savagely as she watched the phasers cut into yet another Star Destroyer. Dozens more poured forward to fill the gap, hurling everything they could bring to bear on the beleaguered Spacedock.
"We need more ships here." Lomax cautioned. "Shall I signal the flagship for reinforcements?" Pellman almost smiled at that. Her first officer was a good man, but he hadn't seen all that much combat and this was a hell of a way to gain an education in the difficulties of war.
"Mister Lomax," she said as gently as she could, "we are the reinforcements."
More Star Destroyers exploded before them. Pellman shook her head as the helmsman dodged the cloud of debris and tugged the ship around to line up on another group of targets. She was no newcomer to combat herself, but she had never seen anything like this level of destructiveness. Ships where dying by the hundred out there, the vast majority of them enemy ships, but they simply didn't seem to care. The Imperials sent in huge numbers, and when an attack started to falter they sent in overwhelming numbers, then more still if that didn't work.
And the shame of it was that it was working. Even the Mirandas' where killing five for every one lost, and the larger ships where doing four or five times that, but it simply wasn't enough.
As if to emphasise the point, the Memphis lurched suddenly and began to loose speed.
"Report." She snapped.
"We've lost one of the power transfer conduits." Lomax said instantly. "Structural rupture. Main power is down to fifty percent, shields and manoeuvring are compromised."
"Photon torpedoes are fine. Phasers are on fifty percent - full power is available if you're willing to loose extra speed or shields for it."
The first rule is not to get shot at if you can avoid it. "I think not. Divert phaser power to the engines. Pull us off to beyond plasma-laser range and continue to engage the enemy with photon torpedoes. Repair time?"
"Three to six hours." The ship rocked again, and again. "Incoming fire has intensified." Lomax said. "Is continuing to intensify."
"They know we're crippled." She said with a nod. "Fastest way out of here, helm. Signal the flagship that we're hurt and inform them of our intentions." The Memphis ducked under a formation of Star Destroyers and hauled herself out towards the edge of the battle zone.
"Sir!" The navigator almost shouted, his voice loaded with shock. Pellman knew instantly what he was about to say. "The Spacedock! It's-"
"On screen." She ordered.
The image flicked around to show the huge structure hanging in space with Saturn all but filling the background. An amazing sight, one that tourists regularly travelled from Earth to see. Today it looked a lot more spectacular, and for all the wrong reasons; literally millions of turbolaser bolts where pouring into the stations shields - shields which had none of a navigational deflectors laser-reflecting ability. She needed no instruments to see that the shields where weakened - the softly glowing bubble of light was visibly wavering under the onslaught, flickering and gradually collapsing inwards.
In an instant the last vestiges of the shields where gone. The turbolasers began to smash into the huge structure itself. Although heavily armoured by the standards of the hundred and thirty year old Miranda design, the Spacedocks where not up to modern Starship standards; sections of the stations surface began to buckle and collapse almost instantly. As she watched, horrified, the entire upper section of the station began to shear away from the rest. Imperial gunners, finally presented with a very large and stationary target, poured all their fire on this section.
Deep inside the Spacedock a computer analysed the situation and found it hopeless. It consulted its twin sisters and they quickly voted on the best course of action; it was unanimous. The huge matter/antimatter reactor was ordered to perform an emergency shutdown and ejection sequence, which it did without any significant problems. The computers also ordered the eighty antimatter pods to shut eject themselves, and it was here that things went wrong.
An Imperial gunner, noting that the group of rectangular panels on the hull made a good aiming point, focused his targeting system on them and let loose a volley of fire. Most of his rounds went wide, but he walked the last few onto one of the panels before his weapon overheated.
One such bolt detonated directly above an antimatter pod. The pod itself was relatively undamaged by the explosion, but one edge of the panel was partially melted and distorted by the impact. The hatch instantly wedged itself tightly shut.
Seventy nine of the eighty pods ejected safely. The remaining pod moved just far enough to disconnect itself from its power supplies before it became jammed. The containment field instantly began to degrade - the supervising computers analysed the situation and sounded an emergency evacuation order, a decision which saved the lives of those three people who happened to be working inside the stations lifeboats and so had sufficient time to escape before the pod breached.
The explosion blasted the lower section of the station, already torn from the docking section, clean in two. The lower of the sections was thrown off into space, providing a new target for the Imperials. The upper section was sent spinning into the docking area. On impact both hulls shattered in at least a thousand places, pouring a hurricane of breathing out through the remnants of the hull. Turbolasers continued to pour into the wreckage for several minutes, further reducing it to rubble.
On the Enterprise, Data watched the Spacedock disintegrate with clenched fists. "Bastards." He muttered.
"Sir," Riker said. "We've got reports coming in from the fleet reporting weapon overheating, low torpedo stocks, a few with battle damage and casualties. Fighting effectiveness is down nearly twenty percent."
"We've done all we can here for the moment." Picard responded. "Order the fleet to disengage and clear them to use warp speed within the system - warp four limit. We'll pull off to Jupiter for now and give them the next move."
Troi came around gradually. Her first conscious thought was that she was intensely cold. The floor underneath her was hard and smooth - sheet metal of some kind. She started to turn and sit up.
The pain seemed to come from everywhere at once. She slumped back to the floor, curling up again as if to provide some protection. She heard herself crying out almost as an afterthought, felt the wounds on her face threatening to open again.
The memories of the last day came flooding back then. She opened her eyes for the first time and found herself alone in the darkened room. Hesitantly she touched a hand to her face; it came away stained with red.
The door opened and Corbus entered, soldiers in tow.
"Well, hello!" He said with apparent cheeriness. "And how are we feeling today?" The emotions behind his smile made her want to start screaming again.
"I·" She trailed off, uncertain what to say.
"Any more co-operative?" He continued as he sat down at his table and opened his suitcase. He removed the energy-knife and began toying with it idly.
"Please," she moaned, aware that her voice was quivering and quite unable to do anything about it. "Please don't· please."
"Well, first things first. We can't very well have you lying down there on the floor now, can we?" He gestured to the soldiers and they hauled her up. She screamed again as they dropped her into the chair; it felt like something inside her stomach had torn open.
"Please," she muttered again, knowing it was useless but too desperate to do anything else. "Please."
"Miss Troi, if that really is your name, try to understand this. My superiors demand the answers to their questions. They're absolutely determined to extract those answers - they don't care if it takes a week, a month or a year. Now you can just tell me those answers right now and this will all be over. Oh, I won't tell you you'll be free to go of course - I despise lies, honestly I do. But tell us what you know and I guarantee you that you will be much more comfortable. The Empire can be very generous with those who prove co-operative, I assure you."
"Please." She began to rock back and forth, unable to do anything but repeat that single word over and over. "Please·" something trickled down her face - she couldn't tell if it was a tear or blood.
"What species are you?" Corbus asked. "It's such a simple question, isn't it? Such a little thing. Telling me would be so simple, so easy compared to the alternative. Don't you see that?" He activated the knife.
"Oh dear," Corbus sighed as he stood up and came around the desk. "I honestly cannot see why you persist in this stubbornness." The soldiers dragged Troi to her feet. He took a handful of hair and lifted her head, putting his nose barely a centimetre from hers. His eyes drilled into her own. "Can such an insignificant piece of information really be worth the price you're paying to withhold it?" He brought the knife up, holding the point directly above her left eye. "Please Deanna, please don't make this all so hard. Just whisper it to me and this all stops."
"B- B- Beta· z- z- zoid." She stuttered, tears running freely down her face now. "I'm· a Betazoid."
Corbus deactivated the knife and dropped it in a pocket. He waved the soldiers off and took her in his arms, lowering her gently into the chair. "Some clothes." He said, and one of the soldiers left the room. Corbus knelt beside her, cradling her in his arms almost as a lover would. "There there," he murmured into her ear. "That wasn't so hard, was it? Really, you haven't betrayed any great secret have you?"
The soldier returned with a bundle of clothes. Corbus drew a loose cloak over Trois' shoulders and smiled at her. "There, isn't that better? You'll soon warm up again, trust me."
Troi nodded uncertainly as she huddled within the soft cloth, her mind whirling. She could feel his elation clearly - he thought he had scored an important victory here. Her own mind was as numb and cold to her as her body. Traitor, she thought bleakly. Talked under interrogation. Failed.
"We'll soon see about some food, maybe a little medical treatment for those cuts - it's so easy to get carried away with these affairs, honestly you wouldn't credit it."
Not strong enough. But it was such a little thing!
"Now then," Corbus said, stepping back. "Before the food arrives, let's talk a little more. Where exactly does a 'Betazoid' come from? I've never heard the word - of course I'm no expert in alien cultures."
Troi sat stone-still, saying nothing.
"Oh dear, we haven't gone all close-mouthed again have we?" Corbus pulled the little device from his pocket again. "Such a shame." He activated the energy knife and turned to the soldiers. "Let's try something a little different this time-"
"The Portal." Deanna said suddenly, her eyes fixed on the glowing blade. Something deep inside screamed at her; shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP! "Came through the Portal."
Corbus turned the knife off and knelt down again, his smile re-appearing.
"Do go on." He said pleasantly.
Leia woke as the cell door slid open. Two Stormtroopers pushed Troi through the door; she collapsed to the floor instantly.
"Get her on the bed." Leia said. She winced as they pulled Deanna up and she got her first good look at her face.
"Good day to you." Corbus said as he stepped through the door. "Chief O'Brien, isn't it?"
O'Brien looked from the man to the open door, saying nothing. Three of them, two armed and in body armour. Who knows how many more outside that door. No chance.
"And how are you enjoying your stay in our galaxy? Not what you're used to, I gather."
O'Brien stiffened and glanced at Troi's inert form. Oh no, please· please, anything but that.
Corbus removed a photograph from his pocket and held it up. Leia recognised it as a shot of herself taken while she had been held on the Death Star. "And Princess Leia, no less," he said with a smile. "I am so honoured to be in the presence of royalty - and a leader of the Rebellion to boot! A secret meeting between the Rebellion and the Federation, held on Coruscant itself - what are we to think of such a thing?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Leia said in genuine confusion. "What Federation?"
"Oh come now, Princess! The 'Counsellor' here has told me all about her little jaunt through the portal. I must confess, I am disappointed with you. Of course you and the Emperor have your little differences concerning the running of the galaxy, but I never thought that you and your kind would stoop so low as to align yourselves with a group of aliens intent on destroying us all. Treason not only against the state but against Humanity itself. Still, I suppose nothing should about the Rebellion should surprise us any more."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, play your little games for now Princess, by all means. The Counsellor here tried and look what it got her. I understand you held up quite well on the Death Star, but I always did enjoy a good challenge." He rubbed his hands together and nodded to the guards, who backed out of the cell. "This has been such a productive day, I can't begin to tell you how gratified I am that you're all here. I have some business to attend to now, but don't fret Princess; I'll be seeing you shortly." With that he turned and left.
"Okay·" Robertson said, half to himself. On the screen another red dot exited the cell and began to move down the hallway. "That's the last of those three gone. Now, we have one Human and one half Human, half Betazoid in the cell with one alien."
"And that particular alien has been in the cell the whole time?" Jadzia asked.
"Ever since they arrived. I'd say it's pretty certain she's a prisoner."
Jadzia grimaced. "It doesn't look like we're going to get a clear chance to get our people on their own." She said, thinking furiously. "We've been out of contact for hours, they've had their sub-dermal implants removed - I'm not prepared to leave them down there any longer. Dax to security; have a detail report to the transporter room immediately - out. Dax to transporter room; there are currently three life forms at the site we've been monitoring. Beam them all up. I'm on my way down there now."
Leia tore another strip of cloth from her jacket and bandaged one of Trois wounds. The woman moaned feebly and struggled to turn over.
"Shhh." Leia hushed her. "It's okay now, it's over. Nobody's going to hurt you." For now, she added mentally. She remembered her time on the Death Star only too well; the Imperials would give Troi time to gather just enough strength to be ready for another interrogation.
There was nothing more she could do for her. Leia crossed to the bunk and sat next to O'Brien.
"It'll be me next." She said tonelessly. "They always work on the women first - some men will tell them what they want to know to stop it."
"The Cardassians work the same way." Miles said it without thinking, then instantly cursed himself mentally.
"What's a Cardassian?" Leia asked curiously.
"Oh, they're a species from out near the Rim." He replied, inventing as he went along. "Too insignificant for the Empire to bother with, but they've been known to hijack the odd freighter now and again. They got me a while back."
"Never heard of them." Leia said. "You know, I think-"
She broke off as a most peculiar sensation overcame her. It started as a tingling all over her skin; within an instant it spread to every part of her body. A thousand dancing white fireflies filled her vision, accompanied by a peculiar high pitched humming noise.
"About bloody time." She heard Miles mutter, his voice filled with relief. She turned to see him encased in the same swirl of coloured lights. She started to open her mouth to say something - the Force alone knew what - when the entire room faded from view.
For what felt like the longest time she hung there in nothingness. Then the real world faded back in again. The fireflies dwindled and vanished, as did the strange crawly sensation and the noise.
Real world? She thought in something approaching shock. I sincerely doubt it.
Instead of the bare cell she had been in a moment before, Leia was standing in a control room or computer centre of some kind. A large console occupied the centre of the room, which was about the same size as the cell. Screens filled with various text and graphics dotted the walls, blinking and beeping softly to themselves.
Leia looked down. She was standing on a circular platform of some kind, split into glowing sections. She found O'Brien standing beside her and Troi lying on the floor behind.
"Captain." O'Brien said, stepping off the platform and gesturing towards Troi. "We need Doctor Bashir here fast."
It was the first time Leia realised that anybody else was in the room. Four Humanoids where clustered behind the console. All wore near-identical uniforms - a woman in blue and three men in yellow. Two of those where pointing some kind of hand-held devices at the three prisoners.
Altogether it was by far the biggest jolt in a day full of them, but Leia had been a member of the Rebellion for long enough to have developed certain instincts, and these cut in now.
One, she told herself, we're not in the cell anymore. How and why can wait. Two, if O'Brien wasn't expecting this, he's at least not a bit fazed by it. Three, those things they're pointing our way - people don't hold scanners like that; those things are weapons. Four, they're not pointing them at us, they're pointing them at me.
And five - that feeling is stronger right now than it has ever been. It's like none of this is real, none of it is actually here.
"Medical emergency in the transporter room." The woman in blue said, apparently into the air. Hidden communications device, Leia thought. Miles called her captain... captain of what?
"You're the captain of this ship?" Leia asked. She kept her voice just as calm and level as she could manage it.
"That's right. The name's Jadzia Dax. I can't answer any more of your questions right now. If you follow these two men, they'll take you to somewhere safe where you can rest."
"Safe for me, or for you?" Leia asked. The woman smiled at that - a nice smile, if that meant anything.
"Hopefully both." She said. "Now if you wouldn't mind..."
Leia followed one of the men out of the room; the other trailed behind. Both kept their hands on the now-holstered weapons. They led her down several hundred feet of corridor before stopping in front of a door which slid obligingly open.
"In here please." The taller one said. The door slid shut behind her; Leia had the feeling that it wouldn't open as easily for her as it had for them. There was a high pitched fizzle and fireflies danced briefly over the inside of the door.
Like a force field, she thought. Used to block a door? These people must have a lot power to waste.
The room was tiny; two bunks took up half of it. A small alcove of some kind was in the far wall. Other than that there was nothing. Leia sighed in resignation and sat down to wait.
"So what happened?" Dax asked finally.
"Can't this wait?" Bashir huffed as he waved the dermal regenerator over the last of the cuts.
"No." Both women replied simultaneously.
"We bumped into a local - literally." Troi said. "Got tangled up with a soldier and taken in for questioning. They put us in a cell together. I was taken out for questioning first - you can see the results." She hesitated for a long moment. "I· talked under the interrogation."
"What did you tell them?" Dax asked, leaning forward.
"I'm not· not entirely sure." Troi closed her eyes for a moment. "I told them about the Portal, that I came from the other side. That I was here to find out about the Empire. I think I told them about the Federation, what it is and what it stands for. I didn't tell them about the Defiant.
"You're sure about that?" Dax demanded.
"I see. Can you excuse us a moment? Julian, outside."
Once outside the sickbay she turned on the doctor. "I want her relieved from this mission."
"Why? How can you ask me that! They had her down there for barely a day, and she told them everything!"
"Captain, so far as I know the only Starfleet regulation to even vaguely address the issue of revealing information to the enemy under torture is regulation fifty one, and all that says is that any information possessed by a captured officer should be considered compromised."
"You can't believe telling the Empire about the Federation was the correct decision!"
"I can't make that judgement, sir." He said stiffly. "And with all due respect, neither can you unless you went through that interrogation."
"I want her relieved." Dax said stubbornly.
"On what grounds, sir?"
"How about treason?"
"Don't be ridiculous!"
Dax hesitated. "Alright· maybe that's too strong a word. But you saw her in there, she's just back from a torture session. She can't be medically fit to resume her duties."
"In my judgement she is suffering from psychological trauma as a result of her injuries. But, I see no evidence that that trauma is overwhelming her, or threatening her ability to make command decisions. In fact she seems remarkably calm and rational about the whole thing."
"Doesn't that tell you that something is wrong here?" Dax demanded.
"Captain, it is my duty to make medical diagnoses on this ship - not yours. For the record, it is my expert opinion that Commander Troi, although recovering from a recent traumatic experience, is medically capable of discharging her duty satisfactorily. If she begins to show signs of· irrationality or poor decision making I will revise that diagnosis, but until that happens she is still in command of this mission so far as I am concerned. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a patient waiting sir."
"Dismissed doctor. And I hope you're right, because it could meant the death of us all if you're not."
Picard awoke suddenly and sat up, surprised to find himself lying on a couch in his ready room.
"Computer, what time is it?" He asked.
"Nineteen fifty two hours."
He felt a momentary flash of annoyance - he had intended to catch a half hour nap, but instead had slept for nearly seven hours. Somebody should have woken me, he thought. Riker probably told them to let me sleep. Well, I probably needed it. Disengaging the fleet from the furball that had developed after the destruction of the Saturn Spacedock had been a longer and trickier task than he had appreciated - three hours of constantly juggling over a hundred ships. He had lost track of how long it had been since he last slept - a bad sign, as Crusher had told him more than once. On the way to Jupiter he had began to grow steadily foggier, to the point where he was having to re-read reports several times. He had decided that enough was enough at that point.
He rinsed his face off at the sink and went onto the bridge to find Riker in the captains chair. "Report."
"We're in Jupiter orbit," Riker said. "The fleet is in an arrow formation, all ships on standard mode to facilitate repairs. The next round of status reports are due in fifteen minutes."
"Heading this way." Riker said. "But we have a good eight hours before they arrive, so I wanted to give everybody a chance to rest up as much as possible." Including you, his eyes said. Picard nodded his agreement and Riker looked relieved. "I've ordered all civilian ships to load up on as many civilians as possible and head for Earth; I've asked the fleet units to make preparations to do the same, in case we need to pull out."
"A wise move. I doubt we can hold the planet for long." Picard said with a sigh. "I'm going to check some things out in my ready room. Data, you have the conn. Send the status reports in to me as they arrive."
"Sir-" Riker began.
"No you may not retain the conn, Commander. You need rest as much as I do - report to your quarters for at least the next three hours. Don't worry, I'll make sure you don't miss anything exciting."
After Riker had left - reluctantly - to head for his quarters Picard went to his ready room and began going through the action reports. He was looking for· he didn't know what. There's something here, he thought. Something I can use - I'm sure of it. But what?
They use large numbers. How can we turn that against them? Judo principles? Turn brute force against itself. But how?
He called up a holographic projection of the current tactical situation. The Imperial fleet was heading for Jupiter at low sublight - low for a Federation ship, anyway. He stared at the graphic intently, trying to sense the patterns the ships where in, searching for aberrations in the enemy fleet.
He zoomed the display in on the Imperial fleet. One ship hung near the back of the formation, surrounded by several concentric rings of others - at least a thousand in all.
Vader's ship, of course. Perhaps a massed attack on him, directly? What does an Imperial fleet do when it's decapitated? A Federation fleet would continue with the mission - there isn't a captain in Starfleet that I wouldn't trust to handle a fleet battle at least competently. Do the Imperials have that kind of quality in their officer corps? Somehow he doubted it.
But a thousand ships. Probably the strongest and best crewed as well - save the front lines for the cannon fodder. I'd loose half my force at least, and whatever the Imperials did afterwards, I'm sure it would be violent.
A beep informed him that the status reports had been downloaded into his computer. Picard glanced through them for a while before returning to the tactical plot.
We can't decapitate; if there's any hope of a settlement at any stage, it will have to be negotiated through Vader. I need to keep him alive, at least for now. Reluctantly he turned his attention to the rest of the fleet. He began rotating the display, searching for weak spots in the formations they had used. After an hour he had found nothing useful.
In desperation he backed the display up to the moment the Empire had come through the Portal - a swarm of red replacing the single glowing blue of the Defiant. He watched them for a while, then fast-forwarded the display to see the first battle within the solar system itself.
What? What on Earth· "Computer, repeat the last five hours worth of footage at five thousand times normal speed." He watched the patterns shift and change again. "Repeat, continual loop." He said. The display began flickering over and over, repeating the same pattern.
Picard watched it perhaps a dozen times before zooming in on a specific section. He sat back, his mind whirling.
Okay· does this mean what it seems to mean? Is there any other interpretation?
He couldn't think of one.
It might work. But there's a lot of details that need to be worked out· and we can't do it at Jupiter, we don't have the time to set it up.
He thumbed the intercom. "Picard to Data."
"Inform the planetary authorities that we are ordering an evacuation. Put Doctor Crusher in charge of the operation - she can put civilians on the Starships so long as it doesn't interfere with their combat status."
"Have all senior officers report to the conference room, with the exception of the Doctor Crusher."
It was two hours before they came for her. The same two soldiers - Leia was wondering by now if they might be Stormtroopers in some kind of new 'prison guard' uniform - took her through a maze of corridors before leading her into what looked like some kind of canteen area.
Jadzia Dax sat at the head of the table. Troi and O'Brien sat beside her - Leia was unsurprised to see that both were now clad in similar uniforms. What did surprise her was that the wounds that had crisscrossed Trois face where gone - completely healed, without any trace of a scar.
The Empire can't do that, she thought. Not in just a few hours.
Several others sat around the table, also wearing the same uniform. The soldiers indicated that Leia should sit at the foot of the table.
"I'm afraid you've put us in a rather awkward position." Troi started. "In order to recover chief O'Brien and myself, captain Dax was forced to bring you aboard also."
"Not a problem at all." Leia said instantly. "Just drop me off somewhere on Coruscant and I can make my own way from there."
Troi smiled. "I'd like nothing better, but it's a bit more complicated than that." She hesitated. "You see, what that Imperial officer said about us was perfectly true. O'Brien and I, Dax, all those here, are not from this galaxy. In fact we come from a galaxy that is hundreds of millions of light years away in space, and millions of years in time."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"It's perfectly true. We represent an organisation called the United Federation of Planets. It's a group of about one hundred and fifty worlds occupying a galaxy we call the Milky Way. A couple of weeks ago a Federation vessel encountered an anomaly - an abnormality in space. The ship was thrown through this anomaly and ended up here. It was attacked by an Imperial fleet, but made it back safely. This ship was sent to investigate the Empire in order to determine what kind of a threat they post to us."
Attacked by an Imperial fleet, but made it back safely. One ship. If that's true, what kind of power must these people have? "And you can prove this, of course." Leia said.
"We have the logs of the original incursion and our own logs - both include visual records of what happened. You're welcome to view them."
"Recordings can be faked."
"Yes they can, as can almost any other evidence if you put enough time and effort into it."
"If you really are from some other galaxy, why not just let me off on Coruscant? What difference would it make to you?"
"Well, that Imperial officer called you a 'Rebel leader'. Your news media is full of references to the 'evils' of the rebellion. Given the kind of ethical standards the Empire seems to have, I thought that it might be worth getting to know a leader of the rebellion."
Leia shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Do they have telepaths in the Empire?" Troi asked.
"Telepaths? What does that mean?" Leia asked curiously, knowing she had given the answer by her question.
"Where we come from there are many different species. Many of them have the ability to sense the thoughts or emotions of others. I am half human and half Betazoid, which means I have some telepathic ability. I can sense the emotions of others, and I can tell when a person is lying to me."
"You mean, you use the Force?" Leia asked, confused again. Luke had told her that Force users had the ability to sense the thoughts of weak-minded people.
"The Force?" Now it was Troi's turn to be puzzled. "What's that?"
The question and the expression behind it was so genuine and honest that Leia believed it instantly. She's never heard of the Force. That's not exactly impossible - Luke hadn't heard of it, his uncle kept him away from anything close to that. But an Imperial agent would know.
"It's an... ability some people have." Leia said finally. "I'm not all that sure how it works but it can do those kinds of things."
"Perhaps a different word for the same thing." Troi mused. "In any case; I can tell when a person is lying to me. Which means that I know that you are a leader in the rebellion - and a Princess to boot, from what Chief O'Brien tells me. You should have told us that," she added with a grin. "There's a certain protocol to be observed for royalty on Federation Starships."
"I'm not big on protocol." Leia said absently. Her mind was racing. It would be easy to arrange that incident on the street. Torturing Troi would help get my sympathies, make me part of the group. This whole thing could be a set-up.
But why do I feel like ants are crawling around the inside of my head every time I so much as look at anybody here? There's something about these people· something almost missing. Every time I look at one of them I feel-
Nothing, she thought suddenly. The realisation his her like a physical shock. Absolutely nothing. It's like looking at somebody who isn't really there. I have good instincts about people, always have had - I can sense whether a person is honest, tell when they are lying to me. Most of the time, anyway. But with these people, it's like looking at a hole in the universe.
They aren't Imperial agents. I don't know how I know it, but I'm sure.
"Show me those logs." She said finally. "Then we'll talk."
|Copyright Graham Kennedy||Page views : 74,822||Last updated : 1 Jan 1970|