The Federation starship U.S.S. Spector drifted sideways through the swirling nebula gases. No lights were visible through its windows and the nacelles of the long, aerodynamic ship were dark. The hull was covered in scorch marks and a section of the saucer was missing, the nebula gases invading the decks within.
The bridge was dim, lit only by the pulsating red glow of the red alert lights. "Status," barked Captain Elizabeth Haskell, looking over her shoulder and brushing a large piece of blond hair off her forehead. She had a large cut on her cheekand blood was streaming down one side of her face.
Lieutenant Abbot at Ops sighed and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Life support was reduced to minimum and the heat on the bridge was rising. "Warp engines are still offline. Twelve of the power relays are down. There's a hull breach on decks 8 through 11...casualty reports are still coming in. Twenty-three crewmen are in critical condition...another eleven are missing and presumed lost in the hull breach."
Haskell shut her eyes briefly, allowing herself a short-lived moment to consider the lives lost before she turned to the helm. "Any sign of our pursuers, Lieutenant?"
Lieutenant Darton took a concise inventory of the readouts from his station. "No, ma'am. I can't see them on sensors. But it's hard to get clear readings in this soup."
"Not like we saw them coming in the first place anyways," commented Commander Friesen, the first officer. "Soup or no soup."
"It's that frozen light hull of theirs," said Darton. "Nothing shows up on sensors until they're right on top of you. And then, WHAM! We're surrounded by Sernaix."
"I'm looking for any disturbance in the nebula," interrupted Ensign Watson from the science station. "Their ships might be able to hide from our sensors, but they can't avoid leaving some kind of a trail."
Captain Haskell rose from her chair and turned to the tactical station, addressing the ensign on duty there. Her chief of security had been killed in a Sernaix attack only a few days before and the young man who replaced him had been forced to learn the ropes on the fly. "Any sign of the other ships, Mr. Wallace?"
He looked up from his readings and shook his head slowly. "No, ma'am."
Haskell paled. There had been five starships on patrol with them. "Nothing?"
Wallace looked back at his readouts. "I'm reading a few stray power signatures...."
"But...the Adelphi was right behind us," said Darton at the helm.
Haskell stared at the swirling blue-grey gases on the viewscreen and remained silent.
"They mustn't have made it to the nebula in time," theorized Abbot.
"What are we going to do?" asked Wallace. "Just sit here and wait for them to come in after us?"
"We can't stay in here indefinitely, Mr. Wallace," said the captain. "I doubt the nebula is as effective a screen to their sensors as it is to ours."
An alarm went off at the helm. "We're not going to have to wait long to find out," said Darton. He swivelled his chair around to face the rest of the bridge crew. "I just got a faint reading on sensors. Three scouts, heading straight for us."
Haskell took her chair. "Abbot, send out a distress signal. Wallace, raise shields and power all weapons."
"Aft shields are down," reported Wallace. "Forward shields at 39 percent. Half of our photon torpedo launchers are down. Phaser banks --"
"Give me whatever you've got, Ensign," ordered Haskell. She gripped the arms of her seat. "Battle stations. If we're going to go down, we're going to go down fighting."
Admiral Nechayev and Admiral Paris stood side by side in Starfleet Headquarters examining the tactical readouts on the screen in front of them. "There doesn't seem to be any kind of pattern at all," observed Paris.
"Our analysts agree with you," replied Nechayev. "The attacks are closer to Earth than any previous offensives, but there's no apparent strategy."
"That means they're not advancing on Earth," observed Admiral Ross as he joined them.
"It would appear not," agreed Paris. "At least, not yet."
"The Sernaix are roaming the quadrant attacking everything they come across," theorized Nechayev.
"I'm inclined to agree," said Ross. "These random attacks are most likely just that. We can't start looking for a reason behind every move the Sernaix make."
"But we can't ignore the possibility that there's more to this than meets the eye," added Paris.
Ross nodded in agreement and handed a PADD to each of the other two admirals. "The latest information. We've lost two more outposts and eight more starships, with another six missing in action."
Admiral Paris examined the information on his PADD and looked back at the tactical display as the new reported engagements appeared on the map. "They've overcome everything we've thrown in their path." He turned to his two companions. "How are we possibly going to stop them?"
Neither of the admirals had an answer and they continued staring grimly at the display before them.
Captain's Log, Stardate 56625.3. With Kes on board, we've left New Ocampa and have set a course for Sycorax's habitat. We should arrive in less than ten hours. The alliance is reporting increases in Sernaix activity all over the quadrant...this new opportunity may have presented itself just in time.
Captain Janeway paced back and forth in front of the windows in the briefing room. "I want those shield enhancements up in the next three hours."
"You'll have them in two," replied B'Elanna.
"Good work." She stopped her pacing and turned to face her staff. "We're going into the heart of Sernaix territory. I want to be prepared." She paused and tapped her fingers against the coffee cup in her hands before she moved back to the table, resting her arms on the back of her chair. "According to Harry, Sycorax islosing control of the Sernaix packs. This means their behavior could be unpredictable."
"It wasn't before?" said Tom. Some of the others snickered, glad for the relief of tension.
"Mr. Paris' sarcasm aside," said Tuvok with his usual detachment, "we must proceed with caution."
"Agreed," chipped in Seven. "Without a leader the Sernaix packs will lose any sense of order."
Kathryn nodded thoughtfully and turned to the briefing's newcomer, who had been surprisingly quiet. "Oz?"
"I think they're absolutely right," concurred the holographic Sernaix, speaking up for the first time since Janeway had begun the meeting. "Without Sycorax to control them, the packs will do one of two things. They will either descend into chaos, attacking anywhere they see fit...."
"Or?" prompted B'Elanna.
"Or the males will become organized and go after specific targets. Earth. Species 8472. The Borg." He looked slowly around the table. "Voyager."
The senior staff glanced warily at each other. "And which of these two options do you believe to be most likely?" asked Tuvok.
Oz considered for a moment. "The first." He smirked. "Sernaix packs are not known for their organizational skills. Until now that's been the role of the Management Cadre."
"We'll have to be on our toes," said Janeway, taking her seat again.
"Most definitely," agreed Oz.
"The only thing we have to do is get to the Habitat," she continued. "The rest will be up to Kes."
Tom raised an eyebrow. "So...all we have to do is fly deep into enemy territory, avoid their more powerful ships that will probably outnumber us about ten to one if not a hundred to one, land on Sycorax's doorstep, and hope that Kes can do whatever it is she does before we get blown out of the sky." The rest of the staff stared back at him, unamused. Tom looked around the table, then shrugged. "Just checking."
The captain smirked and looked slowly around the table. "Anything else?" When there was silence, she leaned forward, her eyes shining with confidence. "I have every faith that we can do this. The fate of the entire quadrant, the entire galaxy, could rest right here," she said, tapping the table with her finger. She met the steady gaze of each of her officers in turn. "And I can't think of any way I'd rather have it." She smiled slightly. "Dismissed."
As the staff began to file out, Tom watched Harry leave with a frown. His friend had been unusually quiet and withdrawn during the meeting, and had only spoken when directly addressed. As Harry disappeared out the door, Tom glanced to his left and saw that Seven was also watching him leave with concern. She noticed Tom's scrutiny after a few seconds and turned to him with a raised eyebrow, conveying quite clearly that she was as mystified by Harry's silent mood as he was.
In a remote corner of the Alpha Quadrant, a small patrol ship smashed violently into the surface of the single moon of the planet Kesprytt. The shadow covering the dark cratered surface of the moon was illuminated briefly by the immense fireball, but the moon became dark again as the dust and debris slowly settled to the moon's surface, part of the ship's carcass still in flames.
More Prytt patrol ships rounded the moon, firing their feeble weapons at the pair of Sernaix scouts that were attacking their homeworld. The scout ships ignored the annoyance of the small vessels, concentrating their fire on the cities of the planet below them.
A group of ships controlled by the Kes, the other race inhabiting the planet, soon joined the one-sided battle. Their torpedoes, like the Prytt weapons, did not prove enough of a provocation for the scouts to return fire.
An empty area of space in between Kesprytt and the yellow dwarf star at the center of the system was distorted by the formation of a Sernaix slipstream corridor. A trio of scout ships emerged, followed by one of the colossal Sernaix Dreadnoughts.
The Dreadnought began moving towards the centre of the system while the three scouts headed for the planet. Unlike the ships already firing on the planet, they did not consider the patrol ships to be below their attention. They effortlessly destroyed every ship that approached them, leaving a trail of debris in their wake as they moved closer to the planet.
The last of the patrol vessels regrouped, forming a tight ring around the planet in a vain attempt at a last stand. The Sernaix scouts continued their attack, not heeding the desperate attempts of the less advanced race to protect their home.
When there were only thirty or forty ships left around Kesprytt, the scouts stopped firing abruptly. Without warning, all five ships simultaneously spun away from the planet and jumped to slipstream. The Dreadnought ship entered slipstream as well just as its weapons succeeded in destroying the yellow dwarf star. There was a blinding flash of light before the shockwave from the star's destruction began expanding at unimaginable speeds. It raced towards the outer planets, destroying everything in its path.
The patrol ships didn't have time to react. They barely knew what was happening when the shockwave hit, vaporizing them instantly. The moon was crushed into dust, and the planet was likewise reduced to rubble a fraction of a second later. Within seconds of the star's destruction, what had been the Kesprytt system was now a field of lifeless debris.
The planet Luvel 9 was dying.
Beams of energy tore through it like crumpled paper. The crust shattered in more and more places. Dark blots carved their way into the mantle of the planet, inexorably blasting through to the core.
It was a small planet carrying only a few hundred intelligent beings. This far from its sun, it could only support the hardiest creatures; a cold-blooded reptilian race with primitive technology had lived there, struggling to survive. That struggle was now over.
Under normal circumstances, six Sernaix ships would have taken longer to destroy a planet. But these were no longer normal circumstances.
The Sernaix were enraged, consumed with bloodlust, and this world would not satisfy them for more than a moment. They roared with triumph as the pieces of Luvel 9 flew apart, but they craved more. More! More!
The Luvel system had three more worlds that supported life. The pack set upon the nearest one and prepared to feast again.
Two transwarp conduits opened between the new target planet and its sun. Slowly, relentlessly, two giant cubes emerged, on course to intercept the Sernaix.
The pack rejoiced. Here was a far greater prize -- a target that would fight back. The Sernaix would overcome, but they would need to work for it. This battle would be worth a hundred Luvel 9s. As one, the Sernaix ships spun around to engage the Borg.
Under normal circumstances, six Sernaix ships would have been far more than a match for two Borg cubes. But these were no longer normal circumstances.
Countless Sernaix beams crashed across the cubes' surfaces. The combined energy would have been enough to annihilate an asteroid belt. The ships continued to fire, letting go of all restraint, unleashing all their fury and hate on the newly-arrived enemies.
They fired until their weapon banks were exhausted and needed to recharge. The violence stopped; the star system became dark again and eerily still.
The cubes were still there, unharmed.
And it wasn't until the Sernaix saw the sheen of black on the cubeships' twelve faces that they realized why.
For the first time since their arrival, the Borg now "took notice" of the Sernaix. A message came through on all the ships' speakers. "I am the End. Lower your weapons and surrender yourselves. I will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to my own. Resistance is futile."
And then, finally, the cubes opened fire. Still recharging, the Sernaix desperately swept through all the evasive maneuvers they knew, but they all began to take massive damage. One found its engines about to overload; despairing for their lost immortality, the crew still knew the best way to give it up. They turned to face the nearest Borg vessel and rammed forward at full speed. The engine gave off every last bit of energy. The ship's momentum carried it toward the enemy cube, faster and faster --
-- until the ship suddenly froze in place, caught in a tractor beam of incredible strength. On the screen, the crew could now see their five companion vessels likewise ensnared. The battle was over. The enemy was victorious.
Green light shimmered all through the ship, then faded, taking the crew with it. Their mortal lifespans would be extended for as long as their energy was needed.
A second wave of green removed all useful technology from the ships. Their warp cores and damaged systems remained where they were.
The two cubes flashed into the reopened transwarp conduits just before six warp explosions rocked the star system. Debris rained down on the inhabited world the Sernaix had targeted. Warp pressure waves pushed Luvel 1 into a tighter orbit that would eventually spiral it into the sun.
The death of one star system was complete. The death of the galaxy had barely begun.
The warbling notes from Harry Kim's saxophone abruptly changed into a high-pitched squeal. Harry sighed and lowered the instrument. "Computer, pause playback." The percussion that had been accompanying him stopped.
He took a deep breath and reset his fingers on the saxophone keys. "Resume playback." The beat started again, and Harry took a deep breath and brought the mouthpiece towards his lips. Just as he was about to exhale and start the piece, the chime to his quarters sounded.
"Computer, pause playback," he grumbled. "Come in."
The doors to his quarters slid open and Tom entered. "Should have stuck with the clarinet, Harry. I bet they can hear that excuse for jazz two decks up."
Harry glared at his friend and set down the saxophone. "Thanks, Tom."
"Anytime." Tom looked around the empty quarters. "B'Elanna said she and Seven were going to be working with Oz in Engineering. I figured you might be up for some company."
"Not if you're going to stand there insulting my musical talent," muttered Harry.
Tom chuckled, then took a seat across from his friend and became serious. "Actually, I thought you might be a bit nervous."
Harry looked at him suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
"Come on, Harry. We're on our way to Sycorax's habitat. Your last stay there wasn't exactly a visit to Risa." When Harry remained silent, he added: "I can't imagine you're looking forward to going back."
He bristled. "What do you think I should do about it? Threaten to resign if the Captain doesn't change her mind?"
The comment stung, and it showed. Tom sat back slightly and his lips parted, but nothing came out as he was at a loss for words. Harry immediately wished he hadn't said it. "Tom, I --"
Tom held up his hand to stop him. "It's okay. I know you probably don't approve of what I did...you probably think I quit when the going got tough. But there's a difference between the going getting tough and the going getting suicidal. I still think it was a mistake to try and make an alliance with the Borg."
"You don't think this is a mistake too?" asked Harry warily. "Flying into the heart of Sernaix territory?"
"You've got more knowledge of the Sernaix than everyone on board this ship put together," returned Tom. "You tell me."
Harry rose from his chair and began pacing around the room. "You don't know what it's like there," he said finally. "What she's capable of."
"You're right. I don't."
Harry stopped pacing and turned to his friend. "It's risky, I can tell you that. Something's gone wrong, really wrong, in the Realm. The packs are out of control...and there's no telling what Sycorax will do when she's desperate." He took a deep breath. "I can feel..." He paused, at a loss for words. "I don't know how to explain it. I can feel...chaos. Disorder. Rebellion."
"In the Realm?"
Harry nodded. "I can't explain it. It's like a hunch, except I know I'm right. The Sernaix are more dangerous now than they ever were before." Tom stared back at him in silence. "It's risky," he repeated quietly after a few seconds.
Tom leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "Look...I know I'm just about the last person who should be saying this after...well, after the Borg...but in my mind, this is different. I think the Captain is right about Kes. This is a risk...but it's one that could end this war. Right here, right now." He watched Harry for a few seconds, then stood. "Miral could grow up in a galaxy where the people aren't trying to destroy each other. And that's worth the risk."
When Harry remained contemplative and said nothing, Tom sighed and started for the door. He made it a few steps down the corridor when Harry's voice stopped him.
"Sounds like a job for Captain Proton."
Tom laughed and turned around to see Harry standing at the door to his quarters. "Wouldn't be an adventure without Buster Kincaid," he replied.
Harry smirked to himself. "Good. I was hoping you'd come along."
By the time Tom's shocked look faded, Harry had already closed the doors and stepped back inside his quarters.
"I hope you and your colleagues realize what your captain is getting us into."
Seven of Nine responded to Oz without taking her eyes from her work. "I have full confidence in Captain Janeway's plan. And, if I'm not mistaken, you are a member of this crew. She is therefore your captain as well."
"Fair enough," chuckled Oz before he became serious. "Sycorax's habitat has quite possibly the greatest defensive capabilities ever conceived by the Sernaix. Do you really think that one ship can overcome that?"
Seven stopped her work and turned to Oz, her expression thoughtful. "In five and a half years, I have learned that despite the odds, Captain Janeway tends to prevail."
"A streak that has to end eventually," he returned.
She raised an eyebrow. "I believe her plan is sound."
"I'd share your confidence if I thought Captain Janeway knew what she was getting into."
Seven narrowed her gaze. Oz was notorious for not volunteering information. "Explain."
"All she knows is that Sycorax has summoned the Sernaix goddess. She doesn't know why or how, yet she believes she can use this to manipulate Sycorax."
"Do you know why Sycorax has summoned this goddess?" asked Seven pointedly.
"I have some idea."
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Would you care to share this idea?"
"Sycorax wants what she's always wanted. What every Adimha wants."
Seven decided to play along instead of trying to get a straight answer out of the hologram. "Power."
"Precisely," said Oz, delighted. "It's her driving force."
"Sycorax will attempt to manipulate Kes into serving her?" guessed Seven.
"I don't know," admitted Oz. "But it won't be long before we find out. We'll just have to wait and see if your capt--" He caught himself and chuckled. "If Captain Janeway's gamble will pay off."
Seven scrutinized him, trying to determine if he was telling her everything. When it became obvious he was unwilling or unable to offer anything more information, she returned to her work.
Senator Tomak tr'Valkris glanced warily in both directions down the deserted streets of the Romulan capital before he stepped into the darkened alley. Once he was within the protective shadows, he carefully slid back his hood, revealing his face.
"You sneak around like an old woman, Tomak."
The senator whirled around, startled. He relaxed and exhaled deeply when Koval tr'Doowrom stepped out of the darkness and moved towards him. "I must be cautious, Chairman. If I was discovered...."
"...then the Tal Shiar would deal with the situation," said Koval calmly.
"That is easy for you to say. If the Proconsul or the Senate knew of my involvement with the Tal Shiar my life could be in danger."
"These are dangerous times."
Tomak appraised the leader of the Tal Shiar warily. "Indeed they are." When Koval said nothing more, the senator glanced up and down the alley again before he continued. "What do you want from me?"
"My contacts in the military are becoming unreliable. They can no longer be trusted. I need you to make sure that the government does not engage the Sernaix."
"But why? We have already lost several of our ships. The casualties are mounting and yet --"
"Do not concern yourself with that," snapped Koval, his temper showing briefly. "I have my reasons."
Tomak's curiosity was peaked. "You have information?"
"I have...contacts," said Koval mysteriously. "Powerful contacts."
Tomak considered this. "That's good to hear, Chairman...but what will happen in the meantime? Must the ships defending our borders continue to fight hopelessly outnumbered?"
Koval narrowed his gaze. "As I already told you, that is not your concern. The Tal Shiar will see to it that the Empire does not fall."
The senator remained silent, but was obviously not satisfied. "Very well," he said at last. "I will ensure that..." He noticed Koval was no longer looking at him. "Chairman?"
Koval ignored his companion, staring intently at the roof of one of the buildings that bordered the alley. He saw a flash of movement and, realizing what it meant, quickly took cover against the wall.
Tomak only had time to open his mouth to question Koval's odd behavior before the charge thrown from the roof above struck the ground and detonated, killing him instantly.
Koval slowly pushed himself off the ground, shaking his head to clear his blurred vision. He could feel blood slowly running down his face from a cut on his forehead, and it felt as though his arm might be broken, but he was otherwise unharmed.
Reaching into the folds of his robe, he withdrew his disruptor and turned his furious gaze towards the roof of the building where he had seen the assassins, but they were gone. Still, it was not wise for him to remain. His attackers could still be in the area, waiting to finish the job. He only glanced once at the body of Tomak before he turned around and left.
As he moved quickly down the alley, limping slightly, his expression grew furious. It appeared that he could no longer trust anyone. Not even the members of his own organization....
Sycorax was only familiar with the word as she applied it to the worlds where her packs brought destruction and chaos. She had never had to consider applying it to herself...but if there was one time it was appropriate, this was it. None of the packs would obey her. All her power over them was gone.
Anarchy had overtaken the Realm -- the packs were roaming the galaxy seeking destruction, moving aimlessly and attacking everything that came in their path. All her plans, all her power...it had all slipped through her fingers. Her alliance with Section 31, something she had considered a diversion, was now proving to be a costly mistake. And her final bid for power by summoning the goddess had come to nothing.
She pulled herself away from her thoughts when a ship was detected approaching the habitat. Her panic evaporated and was replaced with fury towards the intruder. "Voyager," she hissed.
They had disrupted the Phase, allied themselves with the Abomination, stolen Sernaix technology, rescued the Touched One from her clutches and rallied the Delta Quadrant against her packs...and now they would pay.
"Arm all weapons!" she barked to the Habitat Mind. Her rage intensified as she watched Voyager move closer. "Destroy them."
"They are firing!" reported Tuvok. The Habitat weapons connected with the shields a second later, shaking every bulkhead and throwing most of the bridge crew off balance.
"Stay on course, Mr. Paris," ordered the Captain over the noise.
"Shields at sixty-four percent," reported Tuvok. They were hit by another volley and the floor shuddered underneath their feet. "Forty-nine percent."
"We can't take much more of this!" yelled Tom over the noise.
Captain Janeway was thrown sideways in her seat as another Sernaix shot hit home. Once she recovered her balance, she got to her feet and turned to Ops. "Open a channel."
The captain turned to face the viewscreen, gripping the railing as Voyager rocked underneath her. "This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager," she said, the firmness of her voice not betraying their grim situation. "Break off your attack."
The viewscreen remained blank and the only sound was the rhythmic pounding of the Habitat's weapons against Voyager's shields.
"Stand down your weapons," repeated the Captain. She turned to look at Kes. "Scan our ship. You'll see that we have something that --"
Captain Janeway never finished her sentence as she and Kes abruptly disappeared in the green swirl of a Sernaix transporter beam.
Chakotay turned to Tuvok. The Vulcan gave his report before Chakotay had a chance to ask. "They have been transported to the Habitat."
"Can you get a lock on them?" demanded Chakotay, turning to Ops.
"Negative," reported Harry.
"Keep trying," snapped the first officer.
Harry turned to his console without replying. A heavy silence fell on the bridge as they slowly realized that matters were out of their hands.
As the green haze of the transporter beam faded, Captain Janeway found herself in a large spherical chamber. The Habitat, she thought quickly, her mind racing.
Kathryn turned to her left to see Kes standing next to her. "Kes. Are you all right?"
The Ocampan nodded, then looked up towards the roof of the chamber. "She's here."
"You," bellowed Sycorax, her voice echoing around the chamber, "are the goddess?"
Kes glanced at Captain Janeway. "I'm what your people consider a god, yes."
They could hear the satisfaction in Sycorax's voice as she spoke again. "I have been waiting for you."
Janeway's eyes blazed. "Break off your attack!" she demanded of the vacant walls. "Leave my ship alone!"
"Why should I?" Sycorax challenged her.
"Because we won't give you any more information until you hold your fire."
There was a long pause. The first sound in the room was Kes exhaling deeply. "They're safe," she said.
"I've spared your vessel," echoed the voice of the Adimha. "Now give me the power of the goddess!"
"We can't do that," said Janeway calmly. "I've seen the destruction you and your packs are capable of. And I know what the power of the Caretaker can do."
"You will give me the power of the goddess or I will take it by force!" yelled Sycorax, her voice reverberating with rage.
"If you could do that," countered Janeway, "you already would have."
"I could destroy your vessel with a single command," she hissed back furiously. "I could lay your entire quadrant, your entire galaxy to waste. I could reduce your Federation to ashes."
Janeway was unmoved. "Threats won't get you anywhere, Sycorax."
"End this," said Kes. "Stop your packs. Bring an end to this destruction."
"You are insignificant mortals!" she snarled back. "You have no concept of the power I have...and the power I could have. It is beyond your comprehension!"
"It's over, Sycorax," said Janeway firmly. "Call off your packs."
There was silence. After a few seconds, Kes' eyes widened. "She can't," she said softly. When the captain turned to her with a questioning expression, she continued: "Harry was right. She's lost control of the packs. They won't listen to her anymore."
"The males have become irrational!" spat Sycorax. "They have given in to chaos and disorder."
Janeway's eyes widened as realization dawned. "That's why you want the Caretaker's power. To regain control of the packs." Sycorax did not answer. The captain turned to her companion. "Kes -- can you contact the Realm?"
Kes frowned. "I'm not sure."
"Try." Janeway rested her hand on Kes' shoulder. "If Sycorax can use the Caretaker's power to stop the packs...maybe we can do the same."
Lieutenant Commander Tess Allenby slowly pushed herself off the floor of the U.S.S. Sutherland, wincing as the muscles in her dislocated shoulder were further strained.
"Evasive maneuvers! Beta sequence!" she yelled over the noise on the bridge, trying to avert her eyes from her captain lying lifeless on the floor nearby.
"Aye, sir!" yelled the helmsman.
The Sernaix had come out of nowhere. The captain had been killed in the first volley, forcing his first officer to assume command. The ship was badly damaged -- Allenby didn't know how much longer they could hold out.
"Have we got any torpedoes left?" she asked, turning around in the captain's chair.
"Only f...." The tactical officer's voice trailed off and he frowned.
"What is it?" demanded Allenby.
He looked up slowly from his display, an expression of disbelief on his face. "They've stopped."
She stared back at him incredulously. "What?"
"They've stopped. They're just...sitting there. Dead in space."
"Put them onscreen." Allenby turned back to the front of the bridge as the image of two Sernaix ships appeared. As her tactical officer said, they were sitting motionless in space, not making any sort of aggressive moves.
"We should take them out while we can," said her helmsman as she turned around. "Maybe --"
Allenby shook her head, cutting the young ensign off. "Never question your good fortune if you want it to stay that way, Ensign. Take us out of here, maximum warp."
The group of admirals stared at the woman on the monitor in front of them in amazement. "They've...stopped?" said Admiral Ross finally. "Why? How?"
"We don't know sir," replied Captain Haskell. Through the static in the transmission they could see that the bridge behind her was badly damaged, but Haskell's voice was clear and confident. "The three scouts that attacked us and destroyed the rest of the ships on our patrol just stopped dead for no reason."
"Did their ships suffer some kind of malfunction?" asked Admiral Paris.
"We don't know, sir. We're not getting any readings that would indicate a power failure. Then again, we're not getting many readings at all. If we didn't know they were there we wouldn't be able to see them."
"What's the status of your ship, Captain?" asked Admiral Nechayev.
Haskell's face clouded over. "We've taken heavy casualties, Admiral. Another two minutes and I wouldn't be talking to you." She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. "But we're in one piece. What are our orders? Should we attack these Sernaix ships?"
"Negative," said Ross. "Not until we know more. They may still have full offensive and defensive capabilities."
"Get your ship to safety, Captain," said Paris. "We'll get to the bottom of this from here."
"Understood. Haskell out."
One of Admiral Nechayev's aides handed her a PADD. "Whatever that was, it wasn't an isolated incident," said Nechayev as she perused the information. "We're getting similar reports from all over the quadrant."
The image of Haskell had been replaced by a tactical display of the Alpha Quadrant. "Whatever the reason behind the Sernaix offensive," said Paris slowly, "It would seem to have stopped."
Kes slowly opened her eyes as she inhaled deeply. "It's done," she said, her voice unnaturally calm.
"They obeyed you?" asked Captain Janeway.
"Yes. The packs have stopped their attacks." She looked up and met Captain Janeway's gaze with a reassuring smile. "It's over, Captain."
Janeway exhaled, a breath she felt like she had been holding for months. She turned back to the empty room around them. "You heard her, Sycorax -- it's over. You have nothing to gain by hiding."
There was a short silence before the massive form slowly shimmered into existence before them. Captain Janeway was unable to hide her shock as the enormous bulky figure of Sycorax approached them, her body supported by a large anti-gravity harness.
"You!" hissed Sycorax furiously as she locked eyes with Captain Janeway. "You are the one who has destroyed everything! We could have had power...we could have dominated the galaxy!"
"I've seen what your packs have done to this galaxy in the name of power," returned Janeway, not flinching under Sycorax's withering gaze. "You would have wiped out every civilization, every living thing."
"The Enemy deserves to be destroyed!" spat Sycorax.
"Why do you call them the enemy?" asked Kes.
Kes seemed to have a calming effect on the Adimha. "Ages ago, when the Sernaix were first trapped in the Phase, the Enemy prevented our escape. They kept us from the freedom and power that was rightfully ours. Forced our packs to be contented with the pitiful amusement that could be found in the Phase."
The captain's expression darkened. "So because of this," she said, her voice strained, "you decided to wipe out our entire galaxy?"
"The packs secured our domination of the Phase long ago," spat Sycorax. "A larger diversion was needed. Your galaxy provided that."
"A diversion?" repeated the captain incredulously. "That's all this war is to you, isn't it? A diversion."
"No," Sycorax corrected her. "The war we waged on your galaxy was merely another step towards greater power." Her mouth twisted into a cruel smile. "Toying with your Section 31 was my diversion."
Janeway instantly tensed. "What do you mean?"
Sycorax laughed, her malicious tones echoing around the chamber. "You pitiful fools...you aren't even aware that your own people have turned against you."
It took a few seconds for the full implications of the statement to sink in. The captain's eyes widened before her face was overcome with an expression of rage. "Section 31," she hissed dangerously. "They fed us to the wolves."
"Our alliance was mutually beneficial," said Sycorax smugly. "Isn't that what your Federation is based on?"
"They condemned thousands of Federation citizens to death," retorted Janeway, disgusted. "I knew Section 31 was despicable, but this...this goes beyond anything I would have imagined."
"I don't understand," said Kes. "Why would they betray the Federation?"
The captain's mouth tightened into a thin line and her eyes blazed. "That's exactly what I'd like to know."
The lines on Mr. West's forehead deepened as he examined the information before him, his eyes darting back and forth as he processed the data and formulated plans. "I don't understand," said Mr. Seagal next to him. "They just stopped?"
Admiral Warhol nodded. "Every Sernaix ship within sensor range is sitting dead in space."
"What," said West slowly, leaning towards the display, "is she up to?"
"Maybe she's finally decided to break off our alliance," suggested Seagal.
"If that's the case, why would they stop attacking us?" asked Warhol.
Silence fell as the three men considered the situation. "The quiet before the storm," said West after a moment.
Seagal and Warhol glanced at each other, puzzled. "Sir?" said Seagal.
West stepped away from the screen abruptly and turned to the two men. "Sycorax may be pulling back her packs to prepare for a final attack on Sector zero-zero-one." He paused and took a deep breath, then scrutinized his companions. "Inform the others. We should prepare for the worst."
Chakotay paced impatiently back and forth on the bridge. "Chakotay to Engineering. Harry, what's your status?"
We're working on it, replied Harry over the comm. Oz is close to making contact with the Habitat mind and disabling the dampening field.
"Acknowledged," said Chakotay with a heavy sigh. "Keep me posted." He stopped his pacing and turned to the viewscreen. "I want to know what the hell is going on over there."
"Commander," said Tuvok, looking up from his console, "I am detecting a slipstream conduit forming five hundred kilometers to port."
Chakotay turned to face the Vulcan. "Sernaix?"
The security chief frowned. "It does not appear to be."
Seven, standing at her usual station behind the command chairs, tensed. "Borg?" she asked.
"Uncertain," said Tuvok.
Chakotay's expression became grim. "Lock weapons on the conduit. Whoever it is, they're probably not on our side. Harry - have you made any progress?"
Oz has accessed the Habitat and neutralized the dampening field, reported Harry over the comm. B'Elanna's got a transporter lock if we need to get them out of there.
Chakotay nodded. "Good work. Chakotay to Janeway."
He sighed with relief when Kathryn's voice came over the comm. Janeway here.
"Good to hear your voice," he said. "Is everything all right over there?"
Kes and I have the situation under control.
"We're detecting a slipstream conduit forming near the Habitat."
He could instantly hear the added tension in her voice. Sernaix?
"We can't --"
Tom interrupted him from the helm. "There's a ship coming out," he reported.
"On screen," he ordered.
They all immediately recognized the large ship as it slowly emerged from the conduit. There was silence on the bridge until Captain Janeway's voice over the comm brought them out of their surprise. Chakotay, what's going on?
Chakotay responded without taking his eyes off the viewscreen. "We have company."
Captain Janeway was about to reply when the swirl of a transporter beam next to her caught her attention. When the greenish glow cleared, her eyes widened at the familiar figure before her. "Speaker Mateth."
The Ayrethan nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Captain Janeway. You have our admiration and gratitude."
Kathryn cocked one eyebrow. "I'm sorry?"
"You have reached the end of your path."
The eyebrow climbed higher. "What path is that?"
Mateth spread his hands. "The task that was before you. Defeating the Sernaix."
"I don't understand."
Mateth smiled and spoke with an openness uncharacteristic of his species. "When we first encountered your ship in the Phase, we realized that you, Kathryn Janeway, could be the key -- the one who could stop the Sernaix. We dissolved the Phase and released the Sernaix into your galaxy in the belief that you would succeed."
"You...." Janeway's eyes widened as she realized the implications. "You were the ones who released the Sernaix?"
"In order for them to be defeated," explained Mateth patiently, "they had to be released."
The captain's voice dropped an octave as she regarded the Ayrethan. "Then this war," she said slowly, "is because of you? Who gave you the right to --"
"It is our destiny," interrupted Mateth. "Our design. Our reason for being."
Janeway's eyes widened and she nodded slowly, remembering what Harry had told her. "The Caretaker. He realized his mistake with the Sernaix and gave your people enough technology to be able to control them."
Mateth regarded Captain Janeway with a smile. "Not merely technology. The one you call Caretaker enlightened us many ages ago."
"Enlightened you?" repeated Kes.
"At one time," he continued, "our species was very much like yours, Captain. Before the Nacene... enhanced us."
"The god," snarled Sycorax suddenly, "betrayed us! Betrayed the goddess! He created the Enemy as our captors and imprisoned us in the Phase!"
"It was not intended to be a prison," replied the Ayrethan. "It was supposed to be temporary, until your people were able to peacefully coexist with the rest of the galaxy."
"The goddess created us to be superior to the rest of the galaxy! The god robbed us of the power that was rightfully ours!"
Captain Janeway interrupted suddenly as a realization hit her. "Our species was very much like yours," she whispered. When Mateth didn't answer, she continued, the words tumbling out of her mouth as her mind worked furiously with this new information. "The 'enemy' the Sernaix keep referring to... it's you. Your species used to appear humanoid until the Caretaker altered you... that's why the Sernaix mistook us for their enemy."
"We were not their enemy," said Mateth, not contradicting the rest of her statement. "We were their guardians. Their teachers."
"From what I've seen," replied Janeway, "you didn't teach them very well."
"The Nacene underestimated the task of rehabilitating the Sernaix. He instructed us that we were to dissolve the phase when the Sernaix were ready to join the remainder of the galaxy... but then he never returned to assist us."
"He deserted you," spat Sycorax, "just as he deserted the goddess! He was jealous of us, her creation, and he trapped us in the Phase to spite her!"
"It was not to spite you," Mateth said calmly. "He realized his mistake in giving you technology and attempted to rectify it by protecting the remainder of the galaxy from your people."
"Lies," she hissed. "All lies!"
They ignored her and Mateth continued: "We realized that the task was beyond what we were capable of alone...we were able to contain the Sernaix, but no more. So we waited." Mateth smiled and spread his hands. "And then you, Captain Janeway, arrived in the Phase and we realized your potential. You were the key to finally defeating the Sernaix."
"All that time... and you didn't even try to help them?" asked Kes.
Captain Janeway rested her hands on her hips and shook her head slowly, answering in place of Mateth. "You did what you've been doing all along. You sat back and waited until the situation got so desperate you had no choice but to intervene."
Mateth bristled. "Captain, it is not your place to judge the actions of my people when --"
"The hell it's not," she interrupted. "The actions of your people have had repercussions for the entire galaxy. Your irresponsibility and apathy have led to the deaths of who knows how many innocent people."
"We contained the Sernaix for a hundred millennia," replied Mateth. "We protected the galaxy."
Captain Janeway was about to reply, but Kes stepped up to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. "What's done is done," she said quietly. She looked at Mateth. "And we have more important issues to deal with."
The captain nodded her agreement. "Such as what to do with the Sernaix now."
"Perhaps," said Kes, "we should follow the Caretaker's original plan."
"What do you mean?" asked Mateth.
"The Caretaker believed that the Ayrethans were capable of rehabilitating the Sernaix. He must have had a reason for that." Kes regarded the Ayrethan as a smile spread across her face. "Maybe you just needed a little help."
Captain Janeway's interest was instantly caught. "What are you suggesting?"
Kes turned to face the captain, her eyes shining with enthusiasm. "Don't you see? I can help the Ayrethans and the Sernaix the way the Caretaker should have long ago." When the captain didn't answer right away, Kes continued: "It's the only way this can end, Captain. It will never be over otherwise."
Janeway scrutinized her. "You're right. It won't." She turned to Mateth. "Are you and your people finally prepared to do what the Caretaker intended?"
Mateth nodded. "With the assistance of one who has the power of the Nacene, I believe we will succeed."
"We will not be controlled by you!" snapped Sycorax.
"You're not in a position to negotiate," Janeway told her coldly. "Your packs aren't listening to you any more. They're under Kes' control. And by now, Voyager has taken control of your Habitat."
"Impossible! There is no way you could...." The rolls of flesh around her face shifted as her eyes widened in horror. "The Abomination!"
"He prefers the name Oz," said Janeway with a self-satisfied smirk. Sycorax was too furious to reply, so she continued: "You don't have a choice. Kes is right -- there's only one way this can end. Your people need their help to be able to coexist with our galaxy."
Sycorax appeared ready to object again, but Kes stepped forward. "Your people worship your goddess," she said. "I have the same powers she had. Your packs will follow me, with or without you. It's your decision."
The Adimha stared malevolently at them for several long seconds. "Very well," she said at last.
Kes and Captain Janeway sighed in relief before Kes turned to Mateth. "Will your ships assist in gathering the wandering Sernaix packs?"
She nodded. "Good. I'll remain on your vessel." She paused as something occurred to her. "What about Sycorax?"
There was a short silence. Captain Janeway's eyes lit up as a plan began to form in her mind. "Leave Sycorax to me."
Oz stood up from the console in Engineering and turned to his companions with a smug smile. "I've accessed Sycorax's entire database." B'Elanna, Harry and Seven all stood up from the console they were working at and looked at Oz in stunned silence. The holographic Sernaix chuckled. "I take it that you don't care to see what I've downloaded."
That snapped them out of their reverie and they joined Oz at his station. "Look at this," said B'Elanna in awe, taking Oz's place and scrolling through the database. "There's schematics, tactical data, sensor logs..."
"Try opening one of the files," suggested Harry.
B'Elanna complied and a series of jumbled alien symbols ran across the screen. "The data appears to be encrypted," observed Seven.
"Here," said B'Elanna, "let me try running it though our decryption algorithms."
"I'm afraid that won't do you much good," observed Oz. The other three officers turned to look at him. Oz waited patiently until he had their full attention to continue: "They're Sernaix encryptions. I doubt anything in your database will be of much help."
When it appeared that he wasn't going to offer any further information, B'Elanna gave an exasperated sigh. "And what would you suggest?"
The holographic Sernaix grinned smugly. "Allow me."
B'Elanna glanced at Seven and Harry and rolled her eyes before she stepped aside. Oz approached the control panel and within seconds the random symbols began to arrange themselves on the screen, revealing accessible data. "Well," said Oz, his voice filled with satisfaction, "that's a start."
"What are we waiting for?" said Harry. "Let's see what we've got."
At the touch of a button, images began to appear in rapid sequence on the screen. Seven frowned. "These appear to be Starfleet personnel files."
"I don't understand," said B'Elanna. "Why would Sycorax have...." Their eyes widened uniformly widened in shock as more and more information appeared on the screen.
Seven, Harry, and B'Elanna all looked at each other, then back at the screen as the data continued to flow. "What is it?" asked Oz.
Harry took a deep breath and answered Oz without taking his eyes off the display before him. "I think the captain needs to see this."
Captain Janeway smiled sadly as she once again followed Kes into the transporter room. They had come full circle now... her protégé was once again leaving to pursue greater things, to become something more than she was. The pain that had been in her expression during their unpleasant encounter years ago was gone. Kes was the same person they all remembered, yet at the same time she was so much more.
"You have a long road ahead of you, Kes," she said with a fond smile as the Ocampan stepped up onto the transporter pad. "The rehabilitation of the Sernaix is no small task."
Kes nodded solemnly. "I'm sure with the assistance of Mateth and his people, we'll succeed."
"I'm sure you will."
"And keeping Sycorax in hand won't be a small task either." Kes' expression became serious. "Be careful, Captain."
"Oz has helped B'Elanna and her team with Sycorax's...accommodation," Captain Janeway assured her. "We'll be able to keep a handle on her long enough for what we need."
Kes nodded. "I hope your plan is successful."
"So do I." She regarded the other woman fondly for a few seconds. "Take care, Kes."
Kes smiled, her elfin eyes shining with tears, and stepped down off the transporter pad to embrace the captain. "Take care, Captain. And thank you for everything."
Kathryn returned the embrace, wondering if it would be their last. The two women separated after a moment, and Kes took her position on the transporter pad. Captain Janeway took the controls herself and initiated the transport, watching until the last of the beam dissipated. She stared at the empty space until the doors to the transporter room opened and Chakotay entered. "Harry and the others need to see you in Engineering," he said.
Taking a deep breath, Captain Janeway steeled herself and when she turned to face him, her captain's mask was firmly in place. She stepped down from the transporter controls to stand opposite him. "Let's go."
There was silence as the series of images and data appeared in rhythmic sequence on the monitor. Captain Janeway stood with one hand over her mouth, her expression grim and contemplative. "How many have you found?" she asked after a few minutes.
"We're still decoding the data Oz downloaded," said Harry, "but so far we've found over a hundred files of Starfleet officers working for Section 31."
"It appears their involvement was more extensive than our previous investigation suggested," said Seven.
"Their tentacles stretch farther than any of us expected," said Chakotay. The captain didn't answer as she reached forward and paused the cycle of images. She stared at the file on Commander Barton in silence.
Harry glanced at B'Elanna and Seven. "Funny you should mention that." He stepped over to the console and called up a new file. The image of Commander Barton was replaced with another familiar face.
Captain Janeway's eyes widened. "Admiral Warhol," she hissed.
Chakotay shook his head in disbelief. "He was working with them all along."
They were silent again until B'Elanna spoke up. "What are we going to do?"
The captain's eyes narrowed in determination. "We need information first. Seven, you and Oz keep working on decoding the data from the Habitat. We need to know who we can trust... or, more specifically, who we can't."
"Then what?" asked Harry.
"And then, Mr. Kim," she said, her mouth curling into a confident smile, "we're going to beat Section 31 at their own game."
Director Ankin Rotor examined the star map in his central strategy chamber and smiled. The mission was proceeding better than he had ever dreamt.
The "collective" he had built was growing larger every time unit. Sixty-one percent of the Constructive was under his direct control, and the rest trusted him and followed his orders to the letter. More important, Rotor's battle with Sernaix technology had finally been the success he'd known it would be. With their technology and an increasing number of their citizens assimilated, at his command, Rotor was stronger than ever.
"I'm not doing it for myself, you know," he commented. "It's never been about me. I have more important things in mind than my own personal power."
Pavriqur gave no answer. Rotor hadn't expected him to. The old Sulorian was so full of bitterness now that he rarely spoke.
"You should be grateful," Rotor continued. "I could have killed you, but I let you live. I could have made you my first... addition, but I left your mind free. You're the only being on this ship whose energy I'm allowing to go to waste. You know you're powerless to stop me. Why not give up this resistance of yours and enjoy what we're doing?
"I'm building a new empire," said the Director, "right from this room. From this mind. There's never been a civilization like it. Isn't that what you wanted to do? The Constructive was all about striking out on our own, making our personal visions reality. I seem to recall the phrase 'build a new galaxy on the ruins of the old' or some such. I'm doing that. You're here. Just settle back and watch your dream come true."
Pavriqur spat in Rotor's face.
"Good shot," said the younger Sulorian. As he spoke, his face began to glow with heat, and the alien saliva evaporated in moments. "You weren't always like this. You taught me everything I know, beyond the lessons of Rwathorn Qum. You taught me the role of a leader and the role of an assistant. We may have switched places, but that wisdom still holds true. It's your duty now to watch me, learn what you can, and incorporate those lessons into your own behaviour so that, if necessary, you can lead for yourself."
Pavriqur said nothing.
"It won't be necessary, of course," added Rotor with a smile. "There won't be anyone left to lead after I die. You couldn't have foreseen that when you were teaching me; you thought Qum's dream of a proper end to the universe was insane. For a while, just a while, you had me believing the same. But everything turned out right in the end."
Rotor chuckled. "I wish Axum were here to see this. I wish I hadn't had to kill him before I was ready to begin encompassing drones. I would have loved for him to be the first. After what he did to my mind, it would have been only fair, don't you think? Ah well. Our greatest enemy may be gone, but we have others."
A screen flickered on as Rotor spoke and images appeared one after another. Sycorax. A fleet of bioships. Kathryn Janeway. Korok. An asteroid. A gas giant. A Romulan dignitary. A Starfleet admiral. Mateth.
"I find it helps to visualize my thoughts," Rotor explained to Pavriqur. "An image in front of you can seem clearer than an image in your mind, even if they both carry the same information." He paused. "Hmm."
Pavriqur turned away. With a thought, Rotor triggered a force field; the captive sighed and turned back.
"Don't be in such a hurry to leave," said the Director. "I don't want you to miss my big thought. This could be the pivot point, you know. It seems an image I picked from a certain human's mind has been simmering below the surface for some time and has chosen now to emerge."
On the screen, a Federation starship cloaked and went to warp.
"It's come together now. My plan to consume this galaxy is finally ready to enter the final stage. The Sernaix technology, the information from my drones, Voyager's database -- I had all the pieces, I just needed this last one to put the puzzle together. And the picture is beautiful to behold. Can you see it?"
Pavriqur looked up and met Rotor's gaze. Hatred blazed from his eyes.
The Director simply smiled. "Buckle up, old friend. The end is about to begin."