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Written by: John S. Warrick
Edited by: Martin Osterman [removed]








    Picard still could not believe it had happened. The Enterprise had been following a pre-ordained path through the Sigma Foxtrot Sector. Captain Riker was on duty.  Picard had been bored, and had chosen to go to inspect the shuttle bay. He had sat for a moment in the Galilleo - the craft which had brought him aboard the Enterprise when he had first taken command.  The moment he sat down in the pilot's chair, all hell had broken loose. A titanic shock had shaken the Enterprise. As decompression alarms bellowed and the very fabric of the ship groaned, the shuttle automatically sealed. One last, enigmatic transmission from Captain Riker at the Conn - "My God! Look at the size of that thing!" With a roar, the shuttle-bay doors were flung open, and his shuttle was torn from it's mountings and thrown into the black void of space. When the Sarasota discovered his shuttle drifting, no power to engines, and only minimal power to life support, Picard was relieved, yet apprehensive. After relaying his story to Admiral Nechyaev, Picard began to get the feeling that his career might be over. Now, sitting in the brig, he knew with cold certainty that it was over.

"Oh, not yet, Picard. That would make my life terribly boring, and we wouldn't want that, would we?" Picard glowered at the voice, but calmed himself. Anger never did any good.

"Q," he acknowledged in a tight voice. "So formal, Mon Captain? I just thought you'd like to know where your friends are..." Q materialized with his usual flash of light. It took all of Picard's self control not to grab the little runt by the neck and squeeze.

"Amongst Humans, we have a thing called tact" He growled.

"Oh! You thought I was intruding on your grief. Well, you're right. It's wasted, after all." As the last of Picard's tattered pride gave way and he prepared to lunge, Q continued hastily,

"Since they're still alive and in very good health." Picard caught himself, sensing a strand of hope, no matter how fine a strand it might be. Q, sensing a reprieve, continued, "Oh, yes, Mon Captain. The erstwhile and annoying Captain Riker, The dreadful first officer Mr. Crusher, The overly aggressive security chief with the Klingon ancestry, the engineering expert without the eyes and the whole gamut of muddle-headed trainees and their exasperated counselor, that Betazoid woman, what was her name again?" He snapped his fingers, a few times, giving the impression that he was trying to remember a name. "Oh, and a certain Chief Medical Officer, tipped to be the hottest bet for captaincy of the Pasteur when it gets out of its over-run production line. I believe you where quite fond of her."

"Your point?" Picard said coolly, refusing to rise to Q's baiting.

"They went through a singularity left over from one of my earlier experiments. Quite violent, but the ship was intact when it emerged on the other side."

"Which is where?"

"Oh, a long time ago, Picard, in a galaxy far, far away." Q smiled obsequiously.

"So what do I do about it?" Picard felt desperation bite: out of the entire Galaxy? How would he ever get to them?

"You'll need to contact an old friend and find some contacts. You'll need a mercenary team of about four people. Then meet me at these co-ordinates and get ready for the ride of your life."

He tossed Picard a piece of vellum, folded neatly into four. Picard opened it. "This is blank, Q."

"Oh, silly me." A quill pen appeared and scratched out a series of digits.

"Just who is the old friend you recommend I look up?" Picard asked while the pen wrote on the vellum.

"Well, actually, there are two. Right now, in fact, they are not too far from here." Q paused, sensing Picard's nagging question. 'Might as well stop beating around the bush,' Q thought, and then continued, "One is fond of digging, and the other one just seems to like blowing things up, apart or away."

"Vash and Tallera." Picard guessed.

"Bravo. Get to it, Mon Captain." Q gave Picard just long enough to see his mocking grin before he blinked out. Picard sank into deep contemplation. This was going to be difficult.


Riker surveyed the damage report. "How many of those things are out there?" Worf responded in a cool voice. "Sensors report at least twenty five small ships. They're so small they're avoiding our phaser blasts."


"Unknown. Scanners suggest a one-man craft with a pair of Ion Engines and large solar panels to charge their main cannon."

"Shields, Mr. Worf?" Alexander Worf looked more like his father every day, Riker thought.

"Holding, captain. The blasts are not phasers, though. They appear to be actual laser beams, although I can't see how a ship that size could put out a beam with the power figures I read."

"Mr. Crusher, I want a Lorenz somersault with a wide spread of photon torpedoes."

"Aye sir."

The great ship rolled its nose upwards, up and over, sweeping in a tight circle as the torpedo tubes flared time and time again. "Report."

"Fifteen of the small fighter craft are damaged or destroyed. The ten remaining are regrouping." The science officers voice jumped an octave. "Sir! I read a large vessel incoming..." He never finished his sentence. Out of nowhere, blurring from a faded outline to a solid ship, came a vessel that dwarfed the Enterprise. The huge ship had none of the clean lines of a federation ship, none of the aesthetic curves or white, sharp beauty. This ship was a ship of war. "Rebel Alliance Nebulon B Frigate Excelsior hailing unidentified craft. Identify yourself."

From behind the tiny aggressors, a wing of needle like ships swung in, incredibly fast, and in a few seconds, it was all over. Three fighters - their wings split in an X-shape roared close to the Enterprise.

"Attention Excelsior, this is the Federation Starship Enterprise, Captain William T. Riker commanding.  We're peaceful."

The reply was back within moments.  "Acknowledged Enterprise, we're sending a fighter escort."

The three fighters circled around and were joined in a minute by three more, which assumed a spherical formation around the Enterprise. A new voice came over the comm system.

"Attention Enterprise, this is Wedge Antilles, Rouge Squadron. Are you hyperdrive capable?"

"We have a warp drive capability." Riker hedged.

"Never heard of it," came the reply from Wedge.

"It's a long story," Riker said, "but, can you guys give us coordinates for our destination?  We will meet you there."

"No can do, Enterprise. We're under strict orders not to divulge our destination to anyone--we don't know if you're Imperials or neutral, or what.  Stand by while I contact my superiors." Wedge replied.



Picard waited at the shuttle door in silence. When it hissed open, he saluted the officers awaiting him crisply, feeling a bitter sense of loss of it all. "Admiral Picard." The voice threw him, for a moment, but he rapidly placed it.

"Ma'am." he said, formally. The president of the United Federation of Planets inclined her head.

"Picard, I want to talk to you about your request for dismissal from the service."

"I have my reasons, Ma'am."

"I'm sure you think you do. The fact is, Picard, you're the scapegoat for this mess, but that won't last forever. I know if you could have averted this whole catastrophe you would have. When this is over I for one would be glad to see you back in service... there are some who always suggested that Admiralty was a waste of your talents for field command."

"Ma'am. I must leave the fleet immediately. I have to - There are many things that I must deal with here. I am no longer fit for service in this fleet." He unclipped his rank pips and communicator badge and offered them. She stared at them for a long while.

"I know this must gall you, Picard. I can tell..."

"Please, Ma'am..."

"Call me by my proper name, Damn you! We've know each other too long to beat around the bush."

"Luxwana. Please understand that I cannot allow my name to be linked with the fleet any more. I have to leave."

"I know you must feel guilty over Deanna..."

"Luxwana, please just listen. I have received word that it just might be possible that they are still alive. But in order to follow this lead I must be disgraced and dismissed." Luxwana Troi stared at him with sad eyes.

"Deanna was more dear to me than your entire crew was to you. If there is the slimmest chance she might be alive, you must do as you see fit." She turned on her heel and left. Picard looked at the ground for a moment.

"Most impressive, Mon amour." Picard tensed. "Hi honey. You'll never believe who I just ran into."

"I could hazard a guess," Picard said quietly, turning slowly around. Vash was there, hands on hips, looking serious. "There I am, closing the deal of the century, and pow, big flash of light. I'm going to wring the little-"

"Those are such widely held sentiments, my dear, that you'll just have to take a ticket and get in line along with the rest of the galaxy." The mocking laughter put the seal on the arrogance of the voice.

"Q!" they yelled in unison. There was a flash, and Q appeared, dressed in a medieval costume that Picard recognized. "Dashing, isn't it?" Q smiled, giving his Guy of Gisburne outfit a quick brush down with the palm of his hand. "Ah, this brings back memories... You are an extremely tricky woman, Vash, and I am certain I did those Tellarites a big favor by removing you from their presence. Have I mentioned that you've hardly aged a bit? Unlike our dreary companion, whose head has, if its possible, got grayer than ever."

"You've given me more than a few extra gray hairs, Q." Picard said, rubbing his bald head to subvert the joke.

"And in return, Picard, you have given me whole minutes of amusement. I believe Tallera is waiting for you in a little coffee bar to the left of the main exit. You'll need this." He threw Picard a small bottle. Picard read the label and then looked at Q in surprise. "Super glue remover?" he asked. A terrible thought hit him. "See you around, Picard," Q said and popped out. "Come on, Vash. Tallera is in a bit of a sticky situation."


"So you see, Captain Riker, you're in a bit of a sticky situation."
"Thank you for pointing that out." Riker put in drily.

"We are more than willing to tow you in for repairs, but we'd need certain assurances first."

"If I and some of my crew transport over to you as honor hostages, and you place a small unit on our ship, will that suit you?"

"Certainly. I'll be interested to meet you, Captain."

"The same, likewise. Riker out." "Okay, people," Riker began,  "Myself, Mr. Crusher, Mr. Worf and Lieutenant Barclay will beam over. Counselor Troi will receive the visitors.  Understood?" The nods of the heads around him acknowledged that.  With that, the four chosen turned and left in the turbolift for the Transporter Room.

On the bridge of the Excelsior, Captain Ma'Baan was extremely shocked when four people materialized out of thin air. His already wide eyes widened still further. The tall man with the beard stepped forward decisively, one hand extended in greeting. "I'm Captain Riker."

"Pleased to meet you, Captain," Ma'Baan recovered his footing. "If you don't mind, just how did you do that little trick?"

"We have matter transporters." Ma'Baan blinked involuntarily.

"If it were not for the evidence of my own eyes, I would be inclined to call you a liar or a madman."

"Haven't you developed a matter-transferance system?"

"Perhaps we might have, if we had not spent so many years fighting amongst ourselves..."

"Civil Wars?" "Bitter and vicious ones. It is noted by us that your ship is not a ship of war. Although we are puzzled by the wreckage of the TIE fighters : the energy-to-destruct ratio seems ludicrously small. Some predictions even range to 2 : 4. Our own turbolasers cannot get beyond 17 : 6."

"We used Photon Torpedoes."

"How odd. Our own ships carry Proton torpedoes. It appears we have a great deal to discuss, Captain Riker."

The ships in the Enterprise shuttlebay were the same daggerlike vessels that had made such short work of the attacking craft. They had slipped gently between the ripped doors and settled. Three men and three small, stumpy robots were approaching the airlocked door, their faces hidden behind helmet seals and blast shields. The outer door hissed closed and the lock cycled open. "I'm Wedge Antilles, and these are Meko and Tikks. You're Counselor Troi?"

"Yes." Troi acknowledged with a small nod.

"If you don't mind me asking, just who were you Counselor for?" Troi paused, trying to understand Wedge's question.

"I'm a psychiatrist and empath. My job is watching the mental health of the crew."

"Hmm. I figured you were a bit different, but this is going to take some adjusting to..."



Tallera was sitting silently, fuming slightly, when Picard found her. "This is an insult for which you will pay dearly, Picard. Whoever that oaf was who dared to- to-"

"Glue you to your seat, please continue?"

"He had better start watching his back unless he wants a knife in it!"

Picard studied his fingers for a moment. "Is that all?" When Tallera went a very undignified purple he continued quickly, "You've just met Q. He makes a habit out of annoying people for no very good reason. And as for killing him, well, I'm afraid there's rather a backlog of death threats on him at the moment." Tallera smiled coldly. It was not the sort of smile that inspired Picard to rate Q's survival chances very highly if he were ever foolish enough to get within arm's reach of her.

"I need you to do me a favour, Tallera. I need a small team of top mercenaries for some very unusual work. And I need them soon."

Tallera's eyes flickered for a moment as she tallied up past acquaintances. "What sort of team?"

"A general combat one. It may be necessary to take back a starship."

Tallera narrowed her eyes. "I can name two, plus myself, who might be convinced to do it for appropriate cash payments."

"I need four or five." Something in Tallera's face puzzled Picard. "How badly?"

"I'm willing to pay a lot."

"Then I can get you the best shipboard fighter the galaxy has ever known. But you'd better be extremely well provided for or have a hell of a good reason. The Raven doesn't come for just anyone."

Vash raised her eyebrows. "He's still kicking around?"

"Yes." Tallera said, looking mildly annoyed. "I ran across him when I was time jumping with Q, about fifty years ago." "Fifty years? He-"

"He's an immortal, Picard."


The X-Wings, Captain Riker decided, were startlingly beautiful machines. There was a hard edge to them; they had the symmetry and poise of a throwing dagger, the clean, sharp, deadly lines that made them look as though they were moving even sitting still. He wouldn't mind taking one out for a spin sometime. Except, of course, for the minor fact that there wasn't a gun in the place aimed right at his back. He could understand the paranoia, but he wished it would get disposed of. This 'Alliance' had been fighting for years, he understood, and were liable to keep on fighting. He turned to the robot who was following him. There, too, was something different : in this galaxy, robotics was clearly an advanced science, capable of mass producing units. This was a protocol droid, he understood, an aging model called a B-2DI. It was roughly humanoid, but with a polished silver surface.

"So where exactly are we going to go?"

"The orders came in from Counselor Organa-Solo only moments ago, sir. The Princess has taken some considerable interest in your appearance, and has ordered you to be brought to a rendezvous at the soonest opportunity. Once our technicians have finished convincing our network to talk to yours, we shall be on our way to meet the Millennium Falcon."

"How about you fill me in on the history of this place while we're moving along."

"Certainly sir, but I should warn you I'm only an interpreter and not very good at telling stories. Well, not at making them interesting, anyway." Two years ago, the Rebel Alliance scored a crushing blow against the Galactic Empire, with the destruction of both it's latest weapon, the Death Star, and it's heads, the Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, in one blow, at the battle of Endor..."

Over on the Enterprise, Troi was just bringing the tour to an end with the Holodecks. The pilots - the only name she knew was their leader, Wedge - looked around in stunned surprise as she ran the Black Sea program that Worf had introduced to her. Wedge looked around and grinned.

"This is amazing. And you say this is all for recreation?"

"It is occasionally used for training, but more often that's done in a specific gym. Mostly it's here for relaxation."

"Can I program something?"

"Sure : Computer, accept the next voice and allow base-level clearance."

"Hi there. Desert environment, double-suns, canyons formed by wind erosion. A large valley." The simulation began to form.

"A city. Sprawling. Buildings mostly in white, all in early stages of decay." He looked around. "It'd pass for Tatooine." He looked around. "If my eyesight were a little poorer." Troi detected a deep well of memories.

"Is this your homeworld?" she asked. "Not mine. A friend's." A bitter twinge of pain clouded his thoughts. "I wonder where he is right now."

"Roughly six months ago we started having trouble with the Imperials again. Almost overnight, they began to co-ordinate on a much larger scale, forming a coherent fleet in this area. Five months ago, we discovered that one of the Admirals of the Fleet was unaccounted for. Three months ago, an expedition to this area vanished without trace. And a month ago, Princess Solo's brother, the Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, was in this sector when his X-wing vanished without a trace. While he is not assumed to be dead, given his remarkable survival skills, the chances of finding him are extremely small. And the battle against the Imperials grows harder every day. It seems that the battle of Endor was not as final as we might have wished."

Riker nodded grimly. This galaxy had been torn by war for decades. He had heard the story of the Clone Wars, the Old Republic pitted against the Empire, and of the Rebel alliance and the battles of Yavin and Endor. He had heard the story of the young 'Jedi', Skywalker, and of his friends : the smuggler Han Solo, the pilot Wedge Antilles, and the roguish Lando Calrissian. And of his sister, the current figurehead of the New Republic, Leia Organa. He had never before encountered any group so strained by irreconcilable wars. The Emperor made Hitler look like nothing but a naughty schoolboy. And the coldly related information about Grand Moff Tarkin was enough to make him shudder. The concentration camps had not accrued so many deaths over the course of the entire second world war as Tarkin had ordered in one moment when he commanded that the first Death Star be fired on Alderaan. He would have been inclined to disregard the stories as propaganda, but it was all so believable. He had the feeling that trying to explain the slowly boiling tensions of the Romulan problem and the deteriorating alliance with the Klingons, not to mention the Cardassians and the ever-more-complex beauracracy of the Federation, would be like trying to explain Socrates to a Rock. It wasn't that they were stupid, just that their frame of reference was entirely different. He sighed.

"You've had a more difficult time of it than us, and that's a fact. The only real war we had to contend with was the Eugenics wars, way back in the twentieth century."

"Is your society stable, sir?"

"Not exactly. We don't fight openly, but there's always that threat. And there's always a paper war happening somewhere. And we've met any number of beings and races that could forseeably destroy us if they put their mind to it. Let me tell you about the Borg..."


Picard surveyed his small group. Lansen was a short, wiry fellow with a permanent grin. According to Tallera, he was the best thief in the system. Next to him, Koigot stood, quiet, impassive. A glittering implant lit his temple, revealing the tiny interface jack that connected to his little biocomputer. He was a deadly shot. But the Raven was still more impressive. He stood nearly six inches taller than Picard. Slung at his side was a broadsword of some length. He wore a long black overcoat that was ragged at the bottom, giving him the air of a tattered old bird. He wore a black hat and a mask of black metal with a stylized Raven on it in white. Behind the eyespots, his eyes glowed redly. "I will do this for nothing." He announced, his English slightly tainted with an unidentifiable accent. "Loyalty to comrades, one final stand against the uncaring machine, these are pleasing concepts to me. The Raven bids you welcome, Picard."
"Yeah, same here." Lansen grinned. Koigot merely nodded.

"Now we leave," Tallera said with a look of slight annoyance on her face. She seemed disappointed that The Raven had not charges his usual enormous fees.

"Indeed." came the arrogant voice, and Picard half closed his eyes in desperation. "I thought you didn't like interfering too much with events?"

"I'm not in control here, Picard. Do you know how difficult that was to say? I'm quite shattered by the concept. I'm hurrying you along because I'm so terribly BORED by all this fooling around. You see, the two timelines are beginning to fray, and I rather fear that unless we get your friends back we'll be looking at a full scale Stocastrophe. You really wouldn't want to go through the whole Trelane business again, would you?"

Picard shuddered. Their encounter with Trelane, Q's - appprentice? Pupil? protege? - had been emotionally searing. He had seen Jack Crusher, driven half insane, ripped from another universe and dropped into their own. He had witnessed a Beverly Crusher dying - which Beverly, from an infinite number of possible Beverlies, he could not know, but the sound of her neck breaking as she fell had driven ice into his soul. "You see, Picard, that anomaly was never intended to be permanent. It was a fledgling immortal's first attempt at something really impressive that got quite out of hand. The distortion around it is so great that even Q-continuum physical laws begin to break down. We call it Drift Hysteresis. Darktime. It's a conjunction point between two galaxies that are fundamentally not equipped to be connected. Think of it as the point between a vat of nitroglycerine and a roaring fire. If it opens too widely, the reality bulkheads may fail and a chain reaction might just take us all out in a bang that would make the big one look like a damp firecracker. So let's move, shall we?" Picard clenched his fists. This was going to be interesting to say the least.



Picard looked around his group. They might all be top notch personnel, but he faced the minor problem of getting them to Q's coordinates. "Now all we need is a ship. Unless, Q, you'd care to stop all this fooling around and take us directly? Q grimaced.

"Oh, Picard, whatever gave you the idea that I might make this all easy for you? No. You need a ship."

"Why?" Vash put in. "You didn't need one to take me on our little archaeological whistle-stop tour of the galaxy."

Q grinned smugly. "I'm not half the omnipotent immortal I used to be, my dear." He intoned sarcastically. "I simply can't be bothered to haul you around willy nilly for your personal amusement anymore. I've grown tired of all that. No, you'll need a ship."

Picard closed his eyes. "So in other words, you can't do it."

"Won't, Picard. I won't do it, not I can't do it. It just makes things more interesting."

The Raven spoke. "I have a ship. We will go immediately."

Q rubbed his hands. "Attaboy. Oh, this is going to be more fun than I've had in eons." He began to sing. "Here we are again, happy as can be..."

Tallera shot a glance at Picard. "I really am going to break his neck for him one day."

"But not today, my over-aggressive friend. Not today." Q clapped his hands. "Now, shall we stand around discussing things while the universe goes foom, or shall we flit off and find the excitement?"


Wesley finished checking the readouts on the navigation console. "Where's the rendezvous?" he asked.
Troi looked at Wedge.
"Near Kashyyyk. Han and Leia are en route from Coruscant now."

"Okay." Wes tapped his communicator.

"Bridge to Captain Riker. We have the star maps and our destination."

"Very good, number One. Warp Two." The Enterprise blurred into a starbow and was gone.

"Go to hyperdrive for Kashyyyk. And notify Admiral Ackbar that he needs a new frigate on patrol."

"The Sunfire is already outward bound. All personnel, jump stations. All personnel, jump stations. Orienting for the jump to lightspeed." The Excelsior rotated, aligning her prow with the distant speck of light that was Kashyyyk's main sun. And was gone.

Leia was beginning to get tired of this. "Again?" She said. "It's not my fault. I had that unit overhauled two months ago." "No hyperdrive. Again."

"I think its-Ow!" there was a ringing sound. "Is that the pipe? Or is it the emptiness of your head making all that noise?" "Ha-ha. Chewie, I need a Ditmars-six wrench and a coil of Polygamite monofilament. And if you've got a Mark Nine microcutter, that'd help." Chewie grunted and passed the tools down. "Never should have let Lando near this tub." Han's voice echoed up from the pit of piping.

"I just found a sabacc card down here. I'm willing to bet that half the man-hours I paid for were spent on cards..." Leia groaned and went up to the bridge. It was remotely embarrasing that a Counselor of the New Republic had to rely on a rackety old smuggler's vessel for transport, and she said so.

"I agree most heartily, Princess Leia." C-3P0 piped up from the corner. "Well, sweetheart, I love you too. This rackety old smuggler has patched up the Hyperdrive, so anytime you like we can get going for Kashyyyk." "I'll believe it when I see it," she said with a smile. Han pulled the lever and the stars blurred into starlines. "I beleive it." She said, a little surprised. Han smiled from behind a layer of grease.

"See? This old bird's got a few years left in her yet."


Vash looked at the Ravenflight with a distinctly disapproving air.
"You fly around in that thing? You're braver than I thought." The Raven's expression, thankfully, was hidden behind his mask. Picard examined the ship with a critical eye. It might be old, but a starship captain's eye for detail picked out the overlarge plasma conduits, the additional bulge around the engines. The Ravenflight was a fast ship under the decaying exterior.

"It'll make warp five and at sublight it's the equal of a carrack-class cruiser. It's fast enough for you."

Once they were aboard and the Raven had gone to the bridge, Picard drew Tallera to one side. "Who is the Raven, exactly? I mean his real name, where he comes from."

"No-one knows his real name. He's thought to be the last of a race long since dead, but he's not telling anyone." "And what is this whole Immortality thing?"

"He's as vulnerable as you or I to damage. But as near as anyone can figure, he's been around for at least a hundred years."

"I have a projected lifespan of another two hundred years, Picard. I've been around for more than a millenia. As to my name, as to my race, both long since ceased to have any meaning. Now there is only the Raven. I am what I am and no more." The Raven's voice was very quiet. "I have seen all four Enterprises go about their missions. I have seen Starfleet fight time and time again to survive, to rise above the ghosts of war and find a better peace. Know this : unless they can do so, the human race still may perish at it's own hand. I have seen my own race die, Picard. It is a fate I would wish not even upon my worst enemies."

For a moment, there was silence. "I am the last of my kind. Once, we straddled the galaxy, fearless, indestructible. Now our fire has gone out of the universe. I am all that is left. It is a high and lonely path I tread." Picard looked down. There was such pain in the unearthly voice that it cut him to the bone. "Now, we must go."


The Enterprise slowed as it reached the Kashyyyk system. The lush green planet below looked cool and appetising. Wedge looked at the screen. "Well, here we are. Wookiee Central, the planet with the most dangerous natural hazards this side of the galaxy." "What's a Wookiee?" Wes asked. "Eight-foot humanoid covered head-to-toe in hair. They look pretty fierce, but they're good friends of the Alliance. But that's all academic : we're only waiting for the Falcon. It'll be good to see Han again..."

A few moments later, the Excelsior dropped out of Hyperdrive into the Kashyyyk system. "The Falcon should be here any minute, Sir." Riker's droid companion informed him.
"Is this the same Millennium Falcon that fought at Yavin and Endor?"

"Indeed, sir, At Yavin, Solo rescued Luke Skywalker from attack, and at Endor General Calrissian led the attack on the Second death star in it while General Solo co-ordinated the ground attack. It was also responsible for the evacuation of Princess Leia from Hoth, and before that for her rescue from the first Death Star."

"Quite a history."

"Indeed, sir. General Solo is one of the best known figures of the Alliance after Commander Skywalker and Leia Organa. He is a gambler of some repute : he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in an epic nine-hour game of sabacc."

"Does he play poker?" Riker asked, thinking that he might just have to see how good this Solo was...



Luke did not know how long he had been in this chamber, but his body told him it had been too long. They had begun softening him up already : torture droids had poked him with red hot irons, passed high voltages through him, cut him, bruised him, injected him with drugs that, Jedi mind-training or no, turned reality inside out. They were stretching and compressing time, too, changing the length of the light and dark cycles to disorient him. He had been kept awake for a week by pouding noise and flashing lights, trapped in the dark. His force-sense could find no living being within his reach. The Imperials knew what they were doing. He was isolated from anything that might be useful. His manacles had been welded shut : any grip he could exert on the mechanism of the lock was useless. He knew what they were trying to do. They were slowly, calmly, coldly nudging him towards the Dark Side.

He could hear Yoda's voice so clearly as he thought back. "Fear... Anger... Hatred... of the Dark Side are they." They wanted to make him afraid, to make him hate them. Then he would have taken the first step towards the Dark Side, the first step that could never be taken back. He waited. He could do nothing else.

The Falcon curved around Kashyyyk, burning white in the light of the sun. Wedge waved from the window as it slid effortlessly between the Enterprise and the Excelsior. Troi smiled. There was a charming honesty and openess to the young pilot that she found heart-warming, in a way. After dealing with endless numbers of cagey ambassadors, hostile aliens, and so forth, it was a pleasure to meet someone with such a marvellously uncluttered perspective. He cared for his friends and his ship, and nothing else came into the equation. She stepped to his side and watched.

She was aware that, behind her, the other pilots were relaxing and chatting with the Enterprise crew while Guinan kept the synthehol flowing. Wedge had to be the only person in Ten-forward that didn't have a drink in his hand. "Would you like a drink?" she asked, feeling a little foolish. Good god, she thought suddenly, why am I acting like a nervous schoolgirl?

"I don't know if you have this one. Lando keeps recommending it to everyone. It's a wierd concoction... Ah... I think it's called Hot Chocolate?" Deanna smiled. "Oh, I think we can rustle something up."

On the Bridge of the Excelsior, Riker entered in time to see the Falcon cut across the bow of the Enterprise. He was also just in time to hear Ma'Baan mutter "Show-off" and for the muted laughter that comment drew. He could almost be back on the Enterprise. The sense of Cameraderie was the same, the cheery optimism was identical.

"Hello, Excelsior! Better lay on a landing. Her Royalness doesn't like to be kept waiting." A sound almost exactly like a friendly punch in the arm came over the channel.

"Sorry, your Worshipfulness! Oh, and before you go, Chewie's eager to go planetside if he can-" There was a loud rumbling growl that made Riker jump.

"Ma'Baan to Solo. Tell Chewie he can go planetside if he wants, but we'll need to be ready to pull out on short notice. It seems like our visitors have stirred up a real furore."

Riker coughed quietly. "Excuse me... what was that growl?"

"Chewbacca. He's a wookie with a kind of honour-debt to Solo. He's first mate on the Falcon - and a fine pilot to boot."

"Wookies are the intelligent indiginous race of the planet Kashyyyk below us. They stand between seven and nine feet tall, are erect humanoids, and are completely covered in fur. They excel at close combat, ranged weapons, and-" The droid cut off when Riker waved a hand to shush it. The Falcon was slowly curving gracefully towards the open bay.


Picard surveyed the damage in amazement. The Klingon Bird-of-Prey had been holed in fifteen or sixteen places. Lansen shook his head, biting one corner of his mouth in concentration. "I read residuals in the damage that don't make any sense. Looks like a laser, but It'd have to be huge to put out the power that caused this."
"A laser?" Picard looked at him in confusion. "Lasers are outmoded technology, overly bulky units which-" Lansen cut him off with another shake of his head.

"These read out as being forty-to-sixty times the power of a conventional beam. It looks like they might have rigged some kind of phase/amp-feedback effect, but the Daystrom institute couldn't break that problem when they were working on multi-use armaments for Starfleet... mind you, that was back before they came up with Phasers, so there's been a lot of time for someone to break it. And evidently someone has."

"Even at forty times the power of a lab-standard beam, it shouldn't have done more than clipped the shield...

"I've got another one." Tallera called from the viewscreen. She tapped out a command and the main viewer zoomed in on a small wreck.

"I have never, in all my years, seen a craft like that." Picard said, quietly. The main hull had been drilled clean through with a phaser blast, but the two hexagonal panels to either side were a feature Picard had never seen in his life.

"I'm getting some figures on it. Only big enough for one person. Those panels are solar cells of a kind. Engines - I read plasma around the debris, consistent with Ion engines. I can't tell you anything about armament, but I'd bet you any money those tubes under the window are laser nozzles." Lansen nodded, pleased with his readings, and shut the display off. "Multiple attackers, small, fast craft. The Enterprise phaser locks weren't configured for small craft. There's no reason to suppose that Klingon locks were any different." Picard could see it. The Bird-of-Prey would have been like a bear under attack from a cloud of hawks. That they didn't do a lot of damage would be irrelevant : they would have simply kept on pecking and dodging, pecking and dodging...

"Send an immediate message to Starfleet Command, flagged urgent. Inform them and tell them to contact Lieutenant Commander Data and Klingon Emmissary Worf immediately. And transmit to the Klingon High Command at the same time. Keep it short : 'unknown attackers on the loose, prepare phaser locks for multiple, small, fast targets.'" Picard nodded to himself.

Vash smiled, slightly. "I'll, er... make it so." Picard shot her a look.

"It looks like Q's anomaly is a two-way door..." The Raven said, grimly.



Riker ran his hands over his uniform once more. It was already perfectly straight, but if he didn't do something soon he was going to start fidgetting. It had to be the tensions in the place getting to him : he'd dealt with dozens of ambassadors, dignitaries, even planetary royalty, before, so it couldn't be the approaching meeting with the Princess. At one side of him, Worf stood - already towering over Riker's not-insubstantial frame. On the other, Wes Crusher was looking more mature than ever before. There was a thin scar running down one cheek that he refused to discuss, and StarFleet records hedged at an accident on Colony Alpha during advanced training. Whatever was behind that incident, Wes wasn't talking about it, but he'd changed over the advanced course... Some of his optimism and cheerfulness was gone, and replacing it was a tough edge that reminded Riker a little of himself. Barclay was still talking animatedly with one of the Excelsior crew about his recent performance in Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard' as Petya Trofimov. There was another person who had changed a lot. His confidence had increased in leaps and bounds, and he'd become a thoroughly respectable actor. Beverly was even talking about trying him in some Shakespeare. Those little digressions had kept him diverted for long enough for the walk from he landing bay to the bridge.

The door to the bridge slid open. "I can't believe you can't get a better sensor package for that thing!" came a female voice. "Listen, sweetheart, since Lando knocked the main array off for me I've had no end of problems. I'm not about to try a tricky landing just for your entertainment. You don't like climbing? Next time, We'll book a shuttle. Oh, Hi, Ma'Baan. And you must be the new guys."

"Captain William T. Riker of the Federation Starship Enterprise. You must be General Solo."

"Skip the General. I stand down my commision in a month's time-"

"Not if Ackbar has anything to say about it you don't." The woman interrupted.

"And you must be Princess Leia Organa."

"Yes. If certain grubby pirates would go get cleaned up, the diplomats here can deal with the real business."


Data angled his head slightly to one side, a physical mannerism that he found often encouraged humans to continue. And this was VERY interesting.
"...I am of course no longer your commanding officer, but I hope I am still your friend. Can you produce me any theories, Data?"

Data paused, assembling the known facts in a logic field and applying a series of matrix filters. "Extrapolations from current data are what could be termed "Sketchy" at best, Jean-Luc. However, eliminating all possibilities of less than fifty percent, I believe that the hypothesis that the anomaly is a two-directional gate are unlikely. Anomalies are usually single-acting introverters which apply a focussed but variable distortion to the spacetime continuum, not a fixed tunnel sustained in another set of dimensions. I do have records, however, of a tunnel between two universes, under Starfleet coding KIRK-ENT-5-1-LAZARUS-INCIDENT. The Enterprise encountered a humanoid who was given the name "Lazarus". He was eventually revealed to be two beings from seperate universes. The two Lazaruses were sealed in a corridor between the universes, which was apparently generated-"

"Thank you, Data. It is possible that Q's inference of 'A long time ago in a galaxy far away' might be his typically roundabout way of explaining the concept of an entirely seperate universe. In the meantime, what action do you feel is appropriate?"

"Your decision to notify Worf is most intelligent, Captain. Worf is both a trusted member of the Klingons' Greater Council, and also a friend who can be trusted to accurately convey your message in appropriate terms. I myself am aboard the U.S.S. Lyman en route to station Deep Space Nine for a conference on new developments in robotics, a radical new 'Fuzzy Logic' chip which may in due course allow a more human response from machines-"

"Your point, Data?" Picard smiled slightly. "I will be in an appropriate position to meet with Worf aboard his personal flagship and arrange an outing to the co-ordinates for further examination of the evidence."

"Very Good, Data. It's been good to see you again."

"I have found it stimulating to interact with you once more also."

"Good Luck, Data." Picard closed the connection. "And good hunting." He turned to the crew assembled on the bridge of the Ravenflight. "That ties up this end of the situation for now. All we need is Q."

"It's such a delight to hear you say that, Picard. It seems that in your old age you are finally coming to appreciate me."

Picard knew better than to rise to Q's baiting. "Well, Q?" "The anomaly is invisible to your instruments, Picard. To get through the Drift Hysteresis alive, you'll have to do exactly as I say." Picard drew himself up. "Very well." "Second star to the right. And straight on until my warning..."


The Imperial Star Destroyer Indefatigable was cruising through the night, her running lights blinking in solemn unison along her 1600-meter length. A vast, triangular sliver of metal, a city in space, she sailed serenely onward. Her occupants were not so serene.
"Admiral, how much longer must we tolerate that... abomination amongst our crew!" The Admiral turned one baleful eye on the young Captain. The man was quivering, but whether with anger or fear he could not tell.

"Hesk will continue to be a part of the operations of my strikeforce until I wish it otherwise. He is a valuable addition to our force and as such-"

The door hissed open and a nightmare entered. Hesk was utterly black. Faint gleams of light marked the surface ocasionally, but most of the light falling on Hesk simply vanished into him. The only features in his face were a thin-lipped mouthful of needle fangs, and a pair of slitted eyes that glowed with molten fire.

"Captain Ungari. I will not be referred to as an abomination." His voice was rich, melodius, as sticky as tar. Without warning Hesk seized the captain's hair with one hand and tipped his head back. "Sweet kiss of nightfall, the moon's embrace, doth light its softness on thy face" Hesk said poetically, and ripped the captain's throat out. He spat the torn flesh onto the desk in front of Raust and let the gurgling Captain slump to the deck. Raust watched Hesk with his one good eye for a moment. "Your powers as an enforcer of discipline are in no question," Raust said eventually, "But you will execute only upon my command.

Hesk crouched to all fours by the corpse. "Forgive me, for I am a worm." He said, his voice full of scorn. He lapped at the spreading pool of hot red and straightened, looking like a pleased cat. He sat down. "I require sustenance, Admiral. And regardless of your feeble sacrifices to my powers I will still require fresh blood on every possible occasion. I am Vader to your Emperor."

Raust's one eye gleamed horribly in the dark. "Do not mention that name." he said, his voice on the sharp edge of anger. Raust was only human from the waist up, and then only barely so. His legs and lower torso had been crushed. One arm had been ripped from the shoulder by the natives of the planet his shattered nav unit had dropped him on. He had lost the eye to the attack of a predatory bird only moments later. When the imperial troops, evacuating the failure at Endor, had found him hours later, he was more dead than alive. Now, he was seated in a powerchair that maintained his vital functions, his one remaining arm spliced into a neural cradle that converted his nerve signals into motor control. A bionic implant eye glinted dully in the empty socket. His skin was sagging, half-melted by the tremendous blast of fire that had destroyed his lower body and cauterised the wound so effectively, and darkly spotted with age.

Despite all this, he still had the tactical brain that had made him first in his year, every year, through his Officer Training. He had flown TIE Fighters and Assault Gunboats during his time as a junior, and he had commanded or been high in the command structure of most ships from a Frigate through to a Super Star Destroyer. The Executioner, to be exact. He had been third in command - the only high-ranking survivor of the catastrophe. And the reports of Vader's treachery had seared him to the bone. Hesk found it all rather amusing.

Alive, the Emperor had been a sadistic and cruel man, a foul perverted mass of undead flesh- no, he had been a hero and saviour of their race in a time of darkest need- He had slaughtered millions - he was the devil - he was God - Hesk's mind threatened to overload on him. His attacks were getting worse. But his face betrayed not one flicker of his confusion. He was Hesk, the Warlock, and no-one else. He repeated the statement to himself, a mantra of identity. He would stay sane. He would. Raust watched him silently.

"We are coming up on the position our patrol last reported in from. They had encountered a strange vessel and were endeavouring to destroy it. Their last transmission was something garbled about X-wings and then they ceased to send. If the Rebels have developed a new craft it may be dangerous to us. So we are going in force."

A buzzer sounded. "We're coming up on the system."

He opened a connection and spoke to the brige crew. "Order the crews to their fighters. Interceptors to deploy first with Assault Gunboat support, employing Ki's Wedge for maximum coverage. Raust out."

Leia looked across the table at Riker. "Well," she said, "That would seem to cover it. As the official representative of the New Republic, I hereby welcome you and your crew into the Alliance. You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Riker."

"Call me Will. You're not such a poor negotiator yourself, Princess Solo."

"If we're to be allies, you might as well call me Leia. Everyone else does."

"Very well. Leia." "There's only one more thing, really. I don't suppose you came across an X-Wing while you were out there?"

Riker shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid not. That would be Commander Skywalker, am I right?"

"He's been missing so long... Even Threepio has started to whinge about missing Artoo."

A comm unit bleeped. "Princess! You've got to get off the Excelsior fast. The Sunfire is under attack - we're needed -"

"Riker to Enterprise, prepare to beam back all crew members on my mark." Riker snapped into his communicator.

"Can you get me clear as well?" Leia asked quickly. Riker nodded. Wes Crusher and Alexander Worf came through the doors a second later. Barclay was only a moment behind. Leia turned on her commlink. "Han, Chewie, get the Falcon clear. I'll rendezvous in a while." "Enterprise : Five to beam up. Energize!" The sparkling of the Transporter effect took them clear.

They materialized in Transporter room three. "Wes, Worf, with me. Barclay, get down to engineering. Leia - would you like to have a look at the bridge?" As he marched down the corridor he tapped his comm badge. "Riker to LaForge. Geordi, how are your repairs on the shuttle-bay doors going?" The voice had the slightly muffled tone of an enclosure suit. "We're still working on it, Captain. We should be done in two hours." "Very good, Riker out. Bridge! Open a Channel to the Millennium Falcon for me and get General Solo."

The battle, one-sided as it was, raged still. Nimble X-wings sliced through TIE squadrons, lasers blazing, eyes locked onto crosshairs. But the slower Frigate was taking a pounding as green bolts ravaged the hull. Quoroth, Blue Leader, slammed a dodging Interceptor with his cannons and called to his squadron. "Blue Group!! Somebody tell me what the Hell that Star Destroyer is doing!" "He's just sitting there! He could have us creamed, but he's just sitting there!" On the Bridge of the Indefatigable, Raust's dry, leathery voice gave that statement the lie direct. It had taken Raust a year to perfect his weapon. Over fifteen additional Plasma ring reactors had had to be installed to power the titanic beam. "Fire." he said, evenly.

Along the hull of the Indefatigable, energy crackled, sparks a quarter of a kilometer long building towards the nose of the ship. At the nose, the huge projector lit up with an infernal glow. And a bolt of something barely tangible chewed apart the Frigate. Quoroth screamed. He couldn't help himself. He had never seen firepower of that magnitude. A TIE fighter came in on his tail as he stared in shock, and blew him apart. The thin slit in the scar tissue where Raust's mouth should be curled slightly at the edges. The replay, slowed by a thousand times, showed the first impact of the beam. The slender central section snapped clean through as the Helix of pure force sheared through the metal. The Tractor/pressor helix could rip a hole through a ship, on on a wider setting, carve up piecemeal anything in a wide-apeture cone of destruction.

Deep in the bowels of the Indefatigable, Luke threw back his head in despair. He had heard the throbbing generators and seen the flickering lights, and a second later he had felt the tremor in the Force as the Sunfire died. He understood the pain Ben had felt when he had sensed the destruction of Alderaan. The crew of a Frigate was small, but it was closer... and he knew it had been out looking for him. He struggled to keep calm. He was standing at the edge of the Dark Side, anger calling to him across the divide. He forced himself back from the mental precipice, using every remaining ounce of his Jedi training. He would not break. But the darkness mocked him and doubt seared his soul.


Part VII - Into the Fray

In his chamber, Hesk clutched his head and tried to keep his mind from shattering. The duality in his nature was killing him. The gestalt mind was like an emulsion of water and oil : it kept seperating into two mutually incompatable halves. To make matters worse, the mindframe changes were interfering with his somatic stability : his body was restructuring itself in accordance with the predominant mindframe. The blood he/they had consumed was making his badly-defined human stomach heave. Once, it had known... they both had known... what and who they were. Now, their mindframes had become so entangled, neither really knew what was it's own memory and what belonged to the other.

Hesk's humaniform lost definition as the dark One gained a measure of control. The white One's somatology began to receed, and the gestalt focussed fiercely on retaining its integrity. Finally, the semi-molten darkness reformed, adopting the familiar, smoothed shape. The Gestalt forced open the boundaries of its mind and soared outward, searching. There were some unpleasantly familiar sensations... not current, but some kind of portent for the future... A feeling that made the dark One itch... From some godforsaken part of the creature's gestalt conciousness, a single letter formed. No. Not a letter. A name. The sensations... a figure from future or past, a vision into the streams of time... the arrogant laughter, the sneer of derision...


Q was coming.

Hesk's face remained calm, but both his minds were screaming.


On the bridge of the Ravenflight, Picard touched the aft thrusters. There was a subtle rumble in the fabric of the ship and Picard looked around. What he saw made him jump.
Q was on his knees, fists clenched. His face was contorted and his eyes blazed. For a moment, Picard thought the look was anger, but then he realised what it was. Q was in pain. Even as the thought entered his mind he was struck with how empty a statement that was. Q looked like he was dying. Every muscle was strained, bloodless lips framing sharp white teeth, half-closed lids revealing terrified eyes.
Then the world went white and they vanished.

Picard felt the light pass clean through him, so bright and blinding that it seemed like a physical blow. He turned. The Ravenflight was glowing, every faded colour blazing bright white. His companions seemed like shadows of ordinary white against the tide of impossible brightness. Their outlines seemed speed-blurred, and Picard found himself forced into speech. "What is this?" Q sniggered. It was not a pleasant sound. When picard looked at him, he knew something was wrong.
Q's eyes were filled with insane fire. His laughter was that of cracked lunacy.

 Picard closed his eyes and prayed.


The Enterprise was on Red alert as it warped out of Kashyyyk. The Falcon was aboard, and Solo had snapped orders to the helm once onboard. "Coruscant, at your best speed." The Enterprise was at Warp six, and when General Solo had been told exactly how fast that was, he had raised an eyebrow. "That's pretty impressive. The Falcon will make Point Five in hyperspace : that's a logarythmic scale with a theoretical maximum of one. It equates to about 17 cee in normal space."
"Our ETA is about nine hours. Do you need anything?"

"We're all kind of fifth wheels around here until we arrive. We've got to get to Ackbar and find out what in the hell is going on."

Riker considered for a moment. "If you'll give me some information, we can set up a tactical tank on a holodeck."

"A what?"

"A reduced map of the systems involved with all the known forces displayed. It's a new control technique we're trying out for large battles : it enables us to fight flexibly as a controlled fleet rather than a mob."

"You guys having Imperial problems?"

Riker shrugged. "The Klingon alliance is in the balance, the Romulans are being quiet - which means they're planning something - the Ferengi have tripled their prices into Gamma Quadrant because of the Sispaari conflict, the Cardassians are pushing for extradition of politican prisoners to the extent of covert raiding... At least here you've only got one set of enemies to keep an eye on."

Han gave one of his mournful smiles. "Yeah. But there's a lot of places to hide." He fell silent, and Riker realised he was thinking of Commander Skywalker. By all accounts the two were close.

"Come on," Han said, shaking himself out of his reverie. "Let's see this tactics setup."

They made their way down to the holodeck, and were surprised to meet Alexander Worf and one of the X-wing pilots coming out of Holodeck Six. Worf stood to attention. He lacked his father's beard, but the family resemblance was clear. His eyes burned with the same determination. "Captain."

"Mr. Worf, as you were. Trying out a new program, Mr. Worf?" Riker asked.

"Yes, sir.  The program marked Incom Space Superiority Fighter."

"Incom..." Riker began, wondering what that was.

"The X-wing, Captain. It is supremely manueverable, well armed... a true warrior's craft." Riker smiled. So like his father.

"I'll keep it in mind." He tapped the door control. The holodeck sealed.

"Access file Tactank. Ignore subfiles. Prepare to download information from temporary storage."

A cubic tank, some fifteen feet in each dimension, appeared in the center of the room. The space within could be scaled, rotated, zoomed, weighted for individaul force's strength and effectiveness indexes, and even made to run potential engagement strategies as accelerated time simulations at any level from individual starships to full scale galactic war. Solo looked at the display and nodded.

"We ought to get the others here. Leia, Chewie... the Rogue squadron pilots. We have this saying : two heads are-" "Better than one." Solo grinned. "Ain't we got fun now," he said. Riker smiled back and tapped his communicator badge. "All New Republic personnel, report to Holodeck 3."
The Excelsior came out of Hyperspace alert and ready. Ma'Baan's wide-spectrum sight saw the wreckage almost as the scanning officer reported in. "Scan the wreckage for energy residuals. I want to know what happened hear. Get Patrol wings out there and have all crews stand ready. And get us alligned for the jump out. I want all hands prepared for emergency withdrawal. Go." The crew rolled smoothly into action.

The cloaked Imperial probe droid noted the polished moves. Distant, the Indefatigable received its report.

Raust studied the reports with interest. "Interesting." Hesk snarled. "We cower here like insects when we ride the shoulders of a giant."

Raust turned the baleful glare of his eye on Hesk. "You are a fool. You would have us leap to battle against a fly purely to prove your own ferocity." Hesk froze. The gestalt mind raged.

"You," he hissed, "are a coward. You hold the most destructive power in the universe and you refuse to bring it to bear on those feeble mortals-"

"SILENCE!" Raust's implant eye flared. A targetting spot nestled warmly on Hesk's forehead. It was not known how many weapons were built into the powerchair, but no one doubted that there were many. "The Emperor held the most destructive power in the universe. When the betrayal came, it could not save him. Power is a fool's trinket : skill is the stroke of the master."

Hesk spat on the floor. Raust leaned just slightly forward. "Learn this lesson, abomination." His voice was as black as midnight and threaded with steel. "When a strong man gaurds his house, he controls it... until a stronger man comes. Then the weaker of the two is broken and bound and the stronger free to take of what he will. The Emperor trusted too greatly in his own abilities, at the end. He underestimated an enemy, and overestimated the loyalty of the accursed Vader. I will walk as the cautious cat until the moment to pounce is right." His eyes held the glow of infernal light. "And then all will know that the Empire has returned."

Luke could feel something. Out at the fringes of his force sense, there was... a thin edge of a mental screech, something unlike anything he had felt before. A God is dying, he thought. His head Sagged. His legs had been broken with a metal bar, but he closed off the pain and the sight of the twisted flesh. In his mind a light was burning. "Ben..." he said. "No." came the answer. In his minds eye, a figure formed. He wore an unfamiliar uniform, and his face looked tired... but with a cold arrogance that gave him a sense of nobility. "Hold to the light, boy. Cling to it. We are on our way." "Who are you?" Luke called out in his mind. "I am the cat that walks by himself, and all times and all places are the same to me. I am Q." The face seemed almost to smile. "Stay with the light. Stay with the light." He faded.
For the first time in an eternity of pain, Luke dared to hope.


Trek Wars Part VIII - Birds of Prey

Data was running three simultaneous data inputs - one to each eye and the third audio only to his ear - when the communicator bleeped for his attention. He tapped the badge and the communicator opened the channel.

"This is Captain Hagmar. We're coming up on DS9, ETA about twelve minutes."

"Thank you, Captain. If you could inform my other staff for me. I am rather preoccupied at present."

"Ah-" the Captain cleared his throat "There's another small matter concerning one of your staff." Data turned down the input rate on his audio channel to better focus on the problem. "Proceed?.

"It's the Bajoran. She slugged two ensigns, a leiutenant, a commander, and, ah, myself in a little fracas about an hour ago." The Captain rubbed his jaw gently.

"Lieutenant (J.G.) Ro?" 'No-one', the Captain thought, 'but Data could pronounce brackets in a sentence.'

"What was the cause?"

"As I understand it, one of the ensigns tried to hit on her."

"She was struck first?" "No, he, ah, tried to romance her. She booted him in the... reproductive system. His friend tried to intervene and got a black eye and a bloody nose for his trouble. After that it all kind of escalated."

"I see. What is your opinion of these events?"

"My opinion is she's got a great uppercut and a mean right hook and I wouldn't like to meet her in a darkened sub-corridor. But she's on your staff, technically it's your jurisdiction."

"If you would send her to my quarters?"

"I'll get her released from the Brig and send her down." Data unhooked the inputs and dedicated the maximum possible runtime to the problem. Lieutenant Ro was proving to be more troubling by the day.


The Excelsior completed it's sensor sweep. Ma'Baan double-timed across the bridge to the console and leant over to examine the screen. With iritation, he dropped one pair his internal eyelids against the strong UV light of the screen. "The Sunfire is so much diced scrap, sir. We read plenty of TIE fighter cannon strikes, but nothing big enough to reduce a modified Frigate to..." he paused, lost for words. "That. In fact, we read nothing at all. It's like something physically mangled it. Scrunched it up like wet paper."
"Get the X-wings back on board and give me as much deep sensor scanning of the surrounding space as you can. We're looking for a cloaked probe of some sort. Watch all the frequencies for transmissions, even just bursts. Order the crew to jump stations and divert all power to shields. Just keep the dorsal turret arrays ready and a couple of proton torpedoes hot."

"Got it, sir. Should I transmit a signal to Coruscant-"

"Do I look like a Nerf-herder to you? This is way too hot to trust to anything bar word of mouth. How about the black boxes?"

"The dorsal one's been found, slit neatly in two. They're bringing it in anyway, in case the techs can retreive anything. The bridge one is missing, presumed destroyed, and the tail one's intact but, according to the readings, utterly demagnetised. All the storage, even the core half-stack unit that's supposed to survive even if you drop it from the ionosphere."

"I think it would be something of an understatement to say that things are taking a distinctly nasty turn..."

"Sir! I'm reading-" The sensor lieutenant never finished his sentence. Ma'Baan saw it. It was a raw hole in space, as if something had punched through from the other side. To his sight, the rent blazed with colours : whirling, cavorting, spilling ice-cold blues and fiery reds through the divide. Something was straining through the hole, a ship of unfamiliar design.

"Jump to lightspeed! NOW! Magog and Rietzche save us all, go NOW!!!" The first officer howled, and the navigator threw the lever. The stars blurred.


Picard looked up, slowly, barely daring to believe they might be back in normal space. He looked for Q. Q was immaculate, draped relaxedly across a velvet chaise longue that had definintely not been on the bridge when they entered... whatever it was. "Q?" Picard enquired, his voice betraying the tension. "And the rest is silence." Q said, his voice almost serious. "Are you alright?"
"What a ridiculous question. I'm immortal, Picard, I don't catch head colds or break bones or whatever it is you squishy lumps of protoplasm do."

"A simple yes would have done very adequately. Perhaps you'd care to get out of the chair and tell me what comes next?" Q beckonned Picard over to the chair. Picard, feeling irritated by this game, walked over to Q and crouched to bring their faces to eye level.

"Mon Capitaine, I... can't seem to move my legs." Q whispered.

"Q, this is no time to play games."

"You want to play games? Get the chessboard out. I can't feel or move my legs. My materialisation is all out of sync because of the exposure to Darktime... This, for example, was supposed to be leather and I was supposed to be sitting in it, not sprawling across it. I'll sort myself out given time, but until then I suggest you occupy yourself with checking the others. Time is not exactly in plentiful supply, around here."

Picard sighed and reached to tap his communicator. Damn. His subconcious was still firmly tuned to Starfleet methods. No communicator badges on this ship. He walked purposefully through to the larger room : larger, in that one person could pace back and forth if no-one else was in there. The whole internal layout of the ship puzzled him : this had certainly never been built at the Martian shipyards, nor any other Starfleet site. It was a compact ship, a halfway house between a shuttle and a small cargo freighter. Everything, to his Starfleet-trained eye, seemed wrong, somehow. He killed that train of thought as he entered the large room and busied himself. "Is anybody seriously injured?"

"I feel like someone kicked me in the ribs, from the inside. But it's passing, and there doesn't seem to be any internal bleeding." Lansen spoke up, his perpetual grin a little faded.

"I'm fine." Koigot said, and returned to silent introspection.

"Nothing here." Vash said cheerily.

Tallera simply nodded.

"I'm... alright, Picard." The Raven's voice was a little disoriented.

"Are you sure?" Picard asked, concerned by the odd lilt. It was almost as though he were drunk : the tone was slurred, and his balance was off.

"I have to talk to Q." The Raven said. He stalked out at speed, his disorientation seemingly gone in a flash. Picard looked around the others. Vash shrugged. With a small sigh, Picard turned and headed back toward the bridge.

The door to the bridge was still open when Picard arrived. From the corridor, he caught just a snippet of the conversation.

"Why did you bring me here?"

"Oh, stop being such a baby : I though you were meant to be a mighty warrior?"

"The Force is with me... Picard! Show yourself!" Picard stepped onto the bridge. The Raven was looming menacingly over Q, his eyes glowing brightly through the slits in his mask.

"Let him be, Raven. Tell me what you were talking about."

"I want to know where we are," Picard said bluntly.

"Q hasn't seen fit to tell me that yet. And I know from experience that he's as stubborn as a mule, so I shouldn't bother with him." The Raven continued to stare at Q.

"I'm quite capable of taking care of myself, Picard." Q said, sarcastically. With a flurry of motion, he kicked the Raven halfway across the bridge. The Raven somersaulted neatly and landed on his feet. One hand went to his belt, and Picard saw for a fleeting second that the hand strayed to a tubular device hooked on his belt rather than to the sword slung at his side. But then the Raven growled, and lowered his hand. Q stretched langourously and got to his feet. "Well, that would appear to be that. Shall we continue?"


The Enterprise came out of warp and inserted herself neatly into Coruscant orbit. Almost immediately, the hail came from the surface. "This is Mon Mothma. I want to speak to Leia Organa immediately."
"This is Captain Riker of the Enterprise. We'll put you through." Under his breath, he murmured to Troi, "I feel like a secretary." Out loud, he continued, "Computer, location of Princess Leia Organa."

"Princess Leia Organa is in Turbolift A/7C, en route to the Bridge."

"She'll be here directly, Mon Mothma." Riker said, brusquely. As if on cue, the turbolift doors swished open and Princess Leia and Han Solo stepped out. "Mon Mothma's on the line for you."

"Mon Mothma."

"Leia. Report, please." "We're all fine. I've extended an official New Republic membership to the crew of the Enterprise. And incidnetally, this ship is amazing. The techs would go wild for some of the things the Enterprise can do. Matter Transporters, Food replicators... on amenities they're way ahead of us." "What about Luke?"

"Nothing, I'm afraid. They're newcomers : I'll explain as soon as we can get into a one-to-one conference. But essentially, they're okay in my book."

"Your official Jedi book?"

"From what Luke's taught me, they check out A-1." She turned to Riker. "Can you and a few aides transport down with me to the surface?"

"I'd be glad to. Counselor Troi, lieutenant Worf, come with me. Mr. Crusher, you have the Conn." Wes nodded, his face set in a grim expression. What had happened to him, Riker wondered. The Traveller had nigh-on ordered him to return to Starfleet : had that rejection soured him? Or was it the "incident" so obliquely referred to in his Academy files? Certainly, his posting to the Enterprise had been mostly secured by the combined influences of Admiral Picard and the one man that everybody at Starfleet respected : Boothby, the Groundsman at the Academy. He shook such thoughts from his head and entered the Turbolift. "Transporter Room." he told the lift, and the doors closed. The lift began to descend and he began to brace himself for the forthcoming meeting with Mon Mothma.


Data had spoken at length with Lieutenant Ro, at such length that they had docked at DS9 before he was finished. He was going to have to configure a whole new subroutine for the "Relationships" program, dealing with unwanted advances. Emotions continued to fascinate him : lately, he had become particularly interested in the language of emotions : namely, profanity. The human race alone had developed more offensive terms than seemed reasonable. When you started to examine the profanity of the Tellarite race, though, you realised what a truly inventive species could do. They had over forty-six thousand "swear words" for dealing with business transactions alone. He took down his central network for a few hundredths of a second - the android equivalent of closing your eyes and sighing - and then returned to the problem. "I am beginning to understand your reasons for striking the Ensigns, but your actions against the higher officers puzzle me. Particularly your attack on the captain."
"I didn't know he was the Captain. He wasn't in uniform."

Data accessed his "stern" physiology file at level 2. "I took you for this job at the recommendation of Counselor Troi. I trust you will not render her faith in you unsupportable. That is all." he reverted to standard pattern. "Now, we must disembark."

Deep Space Nine was an intruiging place, Data decided. The Cardassian Architecture, while obviously more functional than decorative, had a particular style to it that would bear more intense scrutiny at a later date. He spotted O'Brien immediately. "Data! Welcome to DS9. I got Sisko to let me greet you, so we can talk about things while we go to his office. How are you?"

"My physical condition is highly satisfactory, Miles. How are you? And Keiko and your daughter?"

"We're all fine, but there's some bad things going on in general. Gul Dukat is in conference with Sisko at the moment : something about new security arrangements..."

As they drew closer to Sisko's office, angry voices could be heard. "...absolutely not! They're Federation citizens, they have a right to be on this station..."

"The recent rise in Bajoran terrorist activity forces this move, Sisko. If you expect us to attend the diplomatic conference here, we insist all Bajorans are removed from the station first. Only under those conditions will we attend. Otherwise, you can - frankly - forget it."

"I will not be party to the wholesale removal of every Bajoran on this station. I will not condone such blatant racism-"

"And we will not expose our personnel to risk, Sisko. Starfleet Command has authorized this : I challenge you to take it up with them." There was a moment's silence.

"Gul Dukat, I hereby... acceed to your request, although I note for the record that I personally object to this on the grounds that it is discrimination of the worst kind. I'll begin clearing the station at mid-day tomorrow. Now, if you'll excuse me?" Gul Dukat walked out, past Data and O'Brien. His face bore a look of tightly contained victory. O'Brien watched him go with a sour face. Then he knocked quietly on Sisko's door. "Commander Data to see you, sir."

"Come in. Welcome to Deep Space Nine, Commander Data. I want to talk to you about your withdrawal from the conference. Excuse me for a moment, won't you?" He tapped the communicator. "Major Kira to my office in ten minutes, please." he tapped it again to close the channel, and turned to Data with an expectant look.

"I have received a communication from an old friend who wishes me to investigate a disturbance. I intend to leave my staff here to take notes on the conference for me."

"If it's reason enough for you, then it's reason enough for me. But a lot of those who are attending were wanting to see you there. I only point it out because they might be dissapointed if you don't attend."

"I feel that this request takes precedence..."

A short, intense woman burst into the office. "What does Dukat want?"

"Major, I'm in conference-"

"I don't care. What does Dukat want?"

Sisko put his hands to his face and sighed. "He wants all Bajorans off the station by the date of the conference. And he's got Starfleet backing on it."

"That's ridiculous. Even if you clear out the Bajorans, they could hire an assasin or set a bomb to get him-"

"I know. It seems to be just a guesture, a little statement that he means business. He doesn't care about the threat : he just wants to flex a little political muscle, show his dislike as blatantly as possible."

"So we have to put up with it?"

"I'm afraid we don't have a choice. This isn't some trade conference : this might just stop all out war. And all out war could well mean Bajor goes back to the Cardassians : Our fleet is stretched to the thinnest its ever been." Data raised a hand.

"Excuse me, Major. There is a Bajoran among my staff : the Conference is expected to last some time, is it not?"

"That's what Starfleet's hoping. We've got scientists from all over coming to this conference, pushing the non-combatant nature of it and gambling on the old adage about never destroying what you might need to get what you want. Namely, the Cardies won't blow a whole station away to secure the place. Besides, the Hood is on station, ten minutes maximum warp away. First sign of trouble, we evacuate the whole station excepting the weaponry officers and their crews. And me."

"I may have to reassign Ensign Ro to my personal detail in order to clear this situation. May I use your communicator?"

"Go right ahead."

Data tapped the comm panel into life and entered his request. Behind him, he could hear Sisko and Major Kira arguing. He finished submitting his request, and turned around. "Major Kira?"

"What is it?"

"My Starfleet files on you mention a background with a Bajoran terrorist group."

"What about it?"

"Do you have personal experience of Guerilla fighting?"

"A little."

"Then I have a proposition for you. I have received a comminication regarding raider activity in the Sigma Foxtrot sector. You must depart this station before the conference. I am willing to offer you a consultant post aboard a vessel on a mission to that sector."

"I'm flattered, but it doesn't do anything to help the situation with Bajor, now Does it?"

"It could. As I am sure you are aware, the Sigma Foxtrot sector is innocuous enough alone : but it does connect on two neutral territories which, in turn, connect on to hostile space. If either of these sworn neutrals is aiding the Cardassians, it would constitute an illegal act under treaty stipulations. Thereby forcing the Cardassians to either retreat or surrender."

"I'll think it over." She left, obviously in deep thought.

"I believe I have just 'lied'." said Data, at length. "My CPU is in a considerable loop."

"I thought you couldn't lie?" Sisko said, interested despite himself.

"I cannot deliver false information knowingly. The Cardassian possibility is one of the options regarding the origin of the raiders. It has a possibility of two point zero six eight times ten to the power of minus fifty-seven to one. Would that not constitute a 'lie'?"

"Not in my book." The Comm bleeped.

"Commander Sisko! I've just hauled in a couple of Mantynes on drunk and disorderly charges. They're insisting they talk to you. They claim they are delegates for the conference." "I'll be there as soon as I can, Odo." Sisko said, and tapped the comm offline. He had barely opened his mouth when the comm bleeped again. "Commander, there's a disturbance on Pylon Two. Two captains are bitching about whose cargo is whose : they demand to speak to you..."

"I'm sorry, Commander Data, you'll have to excuse me."

"Of course, Commander Sisko. I will make preparations-" Sisko's communicator bleeped loudly, two high-pitched wails. He tapped it.

"Commander, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey just decloaked half an A.U. out from the station! They're hailing-" The Desk Comm lit up, and Data and Sisko moved round to view the screen. An imperious Klingon face stared back at them. "This is Captain Worf of the Klingon Scout vessel Heart Of Fury. I was told I could find Commander Data here?"


The main battle room at Coruscant was in full swing. A dozen techs were wrestling with a Radar display, while the operators dodged around them, frantically punching buttons. Admiral Ackbar was issuing sharp commands to the rushing teams. At the head of the room stood Mon Mothma, cooly commanding, every inch the confident leader. She dismissed the determined-looking man in combat leathers - Commander Katharn, of Special Forces, Leia thought, but the man was already leaving and she had other things to contend with - and turned to greet them. "Mon Mothma, may I introduce Captain William Riker, Counselor Deanna Troi, and Security Chief Alexander Rhozhenko Worf, all of the Starship Enterprise." Mon Mothma accepted their extended hands, not rushing, nor wasting a moment.
"I would dearly love to become better acquainted, but the situation sadly does not allow." She indicated the large display before them. "At our last count, there are over a hundred Imperial ships of Capital Class or greater still unnacounted for, and that figure is a conservative estimate. We believed for a while that we had failed to account for a Grand Admiral, a mistake which would have weighed heavily, but the log entries concerned are... ambiguous at best, and the twelve named have been accounted for. Our friends in Special Forces infiltrated an Imperial Dreadnought and has just delivered me this." She tapped a control on the panel, and the display showed a slightly overweight man in what, for a human, would have passed for his mid thirties. "This is Admiral Raust. He was supposedly aboard the Executioner at Endor, but it looks like he survived that, which give you some idea of his resourcefulness. He has distributed a call to arms over the Imperial Network, ammounting in effect to a declaration of War against the New Republic. His files in the palace archives indicate that he was inclined to be over-cautious and fight battles from a self-preservationist viewpoint. Evidently something has spurred him on. It may be that he has some new weapon, or it may be-" Deanna felt a wave of emotion wash over the woman, a wave of bitter grief and pain that did not show itself in Mon Mothma's fine-sculpted face "-that they hold Commander Skywalker. Or another factor entirely may enter the equation." A comm officer leapt to his feet and hurried towards them.

"Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar sir, the Excelsior just jumped in. The Sunfire has been destroyed. And they report a... rip in space from which something was emerging." "Order the Fleet to standby." Ackbar said, his voice carrying clearly across the stunned room. "Prepare for war."


Part IX-Height And Depth And Eternal Stars

The vast assembly hall was barely half-filled. The Republic fleet, Wedge had explained to Riker, was stretched to its very limits just trying to hold the fragile alliance together : and the Republic Shipyards were desperately low on vital supplies. Leia and General Solo were standing with them, pointing out key figures in the bustle. Riker noticed a dark-skinned man with a dazzling smile approaching from behind. The man put a finger to his lips and then jumped on Han. Han went crashing to the floor and the two men rolled there, wrestling with each other. Riker stepped forwards to intervene, but Leia laid a hand on his arm and shook her head, smiling. "Lando, you stinking son of a space flea, what the hell are you doing here!"

"I might ask you the same, oh disreputable one. I thought you intended to retire from all of this."

"I keep meaning to, but..." he glanced briefly at Leia, "There are a couple of things that just keep me hanging around." Leia blushed faintly. Lando flashed her a hundred-watt smile and took her hand.

"Princess," he said with easy grace, and kissed it. "Same old rogue. Don't you ever change?"

"I am as eternal as your beauty, Leia. But, sadly, business matters call. I've had an idea that might solve your metal problems. You're mostly short on Hfredium, aren't you?"

"That's the big bottleneck, yes."

"I've found a rich site. I fully expect to be able to extract a thousand tons a day."

"That is rich. What's the catch."

"It's N'Klon."

"It can't be mined. It's in close orbit around a primary star, for crying out loud : you can boil transparisteel on the day side."

"I've had a few thoughts on that. If you'd care to look them over, perhaps pass them on to interested parties that, shall we say, might not be so interested if I went personally?"

"Ackbar doesn't blame you for resigning your commission, Lando. He just feels sorry to loose one of his 'Invincibles'."

"Anyway, I have to flit. The Lady Luck is warming up and I'm due at the Makos reclamation facility in ten hours." He flashed another smile at them all, shook hands briefly with Han and Riker, kissed Leia's hand again, and was gone.

"That man," Leia said, smiling a little, "is an even bigger rogue than you." Han looked a little worried about that.

"I may surprise you yet, Princess."

"You do that, Han. You do that."Leia smiled, lasciviously.


The entire of Picard's little band was crammed onto the flight deck. The Raven stood in the far corner, brooding and silent. Koigot was flicking his modified Type II phaser in and out of its holster with practised ease, the implant glittering at his temple. Lansen was flexing his fingers, making fists and then releasing them. Tallera was just sitting there, her eyes smouldering. Vash was leaning on a console, idly stroking her hair into place. Picard wanted to be pacing, but the others took up all the available space. There was a flash, and Q appeared. "Very well. The time has come, I feel, for a little talk. Vash. How do you feel?" Vash looked as though she'd been expecting that question.
"It's almost exactly how you described it." The Raven stared at her.

"You're a-" he began, but Q raised a finger to his lips.

"All in good time. Now, since our masked friend would probably have told you this sooner or later, we are in his galaxy. He came to ours a long, long time ago, fleeing a persecution that made Hitler's purges look positively civilised. But now we have a rather more devious need in mind. Somewhere out there is a battleship. Aboard that ship is a person of vital importance. We will need all Koigot's accuracy, all Lansen's skills, all Tallera's experience, all Vash's special abilities, all The Raven's training, and all Picard's high-vaunted intelligence to get him. I have to take a little trip elsewhere. Au Revoir!"

"How will we know who this person is?" Picard shouted. "I should imagine that Vash or the Raven will be able to find him. Now cease bothering me." He vanished.

Across space he flew, darting like an arrow towards the beacon of Skywalker's mind. They had broken his legs again today. They were running out of things to do to him that weren't lethal. He felt the mental light of his mysterious visitor approaching. There was a flash, and a curly-haired man in an unfamiliar uniform appeared. "Hello, Luke." he said, smiling.

"Q?" asked Luke, wondering wether they were feeding him some new hallucinogenic. Neither Ben nor Yoda had ever mentioned the ability to appear at will.

"You dissapoint me, young Skywalker. I am far more than a Jedi. And, indeed, less than a Jedi as well. I never had your training... but then again, I never needed it. That's just the way the universe expands, I suppose."

"Can you free me?" Q shook his head.

"This is a complex machine I'm manipulating here. I'm trying to turn it off without damaging it or ripping my hand off - metaphorically speaking - between the various moving parts. I love playing games like this : it's so beautifully complicated. Too many key players, too many subtle shifts. This is realy going to give me a good, old fashioned workout. I've got to go. But be of good cheer, Skywalker. Help is on its way." He vanished.

Across space he screamed, revelling in the power flowing through him. The exposure to darktime had done more than mess up his materialisation : it had very nearly killed him. But, here... He looped-the-loop around a cooling supernova out of sheer exhileration. Back to the roots, back to the start. Nearest the bone is where life is sweetest. Another thought spurred him on. A short passage from Sliin's "The Death of Marhata". "And as he watched, all was laid waste : The petty scribblings of mortal man, And the mighty works of God, And Height, And Depth, And Eternal Stars, were scattered to ash before the void. And the rest is Silence." The Organians had a touch with epics and poems that Q admired. The Death of Marhata had always been his favourite. In a flash of light, he arrived.

"Q!" came the cry, as expected.

"Well, well, well. Captain Riker! Almost mildly entertaining to see you again."

"I might have guessed you'd be bothering us before long."

"Oh, believe me, if I had a choice in the matter I wouldn't ever go near this grotty little universe again, but events seem to be conspiring against me. Which is unpleasant, to say the least." Leia was watching him.

"Who are you?"

"Ah, the delectable Princess." Q bowed. "I'll let Captain Riker here do the honours."

"This is Q, a member of the Q continuum. A galactic-sized pain in the neck, and as arrogant as they come."

"Oh, the pain. You cut me to the quick with these accusations, you know. I'm just a dabbler in arrogance. You should meet Mogen if you think I'm bad." He smiled, coldly.

"You're-" Leia began.

"Oh, spare me. Yes, I'm a Jedi of sorts. All sorts, actually. I've got some important news for you all, concerning missing loved ones. Ex-Admiral Picard, after a number of misadventures too tedious to relate, is freshly arrived and - sad to relate - as dull as ever. Commander Skywalker is neither fit, nor well, but he is still alive. Cancel your red alert, if you would : I'm getting a headache." Ackbar tapped a pair of buttons, and the klaxon ceased. "Now, If we'd all get ourselves in a co-operative frame of mind, I've a few orders to give."

"You are not in a postion to give orders." Ackbar said, quietly.

"You, on the other hand, are not in a position conducive to good health." Ackbar shot upwards, stopping inches short of the ceiling. "I can lower you, or drop you. Which would you prefer?" Q asked, calmly.

"Enough of this. Q, bring him down." It was Mon Mothma's tones that echoed across the chamber. Q smiled.

"Certainly." Ackbar floated back down to the ground. "Now. Are we in a co-operative frame of mind yet?"


The Heart Of Fury was the cleanest Klingon ship data had ever seen. Worf noticed his rapid survey of the room. "I seem to have developed a most irritating habit of cleanliness during my time at Starfleet." He said, almost smiling.
Data nodded agreement. "This is Lieutenant Ro, who you may remember." Worf nodded his shaggy head. "And this is Major Kira, an expert in guerilla tactics." Worf extended his hand and shook hers. "We should leave now. If it were done, then t'were well it were done quickly." "Macbeth, I think." Ro said.

"It loses a great deal in translation, but the Klingon Play is one of our greatest works. If you would do me the honour, Commander Data, of taking the sensor station?" "Of course."

"Warp seven for the Sigma Foxtrot sector." The Bird of Prey leaped away from Deep Space Nine.


Trek Wars Part X-Redemption

Riker ran his hands through his hair and sighed. "Evaluation, inferences and conclusions. And Coffee would be good." There was a small chuckle at the comment. They all knew how he felt. "Deanna?"

"They are suspicious, of course - as we would be if someone told us a similar story. The appearance of Q notched us some points, though : Evidently these 'Jedi' have considerable social standing. To be more specific, they were 'the gaurdians of Peace and Justice in the Old Republic.', according to Leia."

"Any sense of subterfuge, or similar?"

"None. They are extremely keen to find new allies : after so many years of war, they're reluctant to trust in strangers, but at the same time they want to be able to trust, to let go the old prejudices. In general, they seem to be forward thinking, open-minded, and they have a team spirit of quite phenomenal proportions. I'd trust them."

"Alexander, Tactical analysis."

"Starfleet has always based its tactics on Naval thinking : it builds starships like the ancient destroyers and cruisers of the ocean-going fleets. Here, the tactics are based on Airborne conflict. The mind-frame is that of the old earth or Klingon 'Fighter Pilots' : Starfleet thinks in terms of vast, powerful ships, the Repubic thinks in terms of small, fast, manouverable craft. To be honest, I think they have a point : the Incom T-65, the "X-Wing", is a case in point. The larger, 'capital' ships are built like naval cruisers, however, with craft like the Frigates falling somewhere in-between. Most of the battles are fought between fighter craft, with the larger ships either firing from a distance, sacrificing accuracy for safety, or being attacked by waves of fighters. They can't conceive of two large ships battling it out : they're too valuable to risk. The battles become shifted to a personal level, each pilot or gunnery officer operating more-or-less freely within certain parameters determined by their tacticians. They have a saying : 'If you see it, hit it.' In other words, if you have a chance to take out an enemy fighter, do so."

"Sounds chaotic."

"With due respect, sir, I would be hard pressed to think of any battle that has not been chaotic in one sense or another."

"Point taken. So. In general, we are an oddity in their tactical mind-set."

"Yes. Although our armaments are superior to theirs in accuracy, and our manouverability is perhaps greater than a ship of comprable size."

"My feelings are, a good night's sleep would be a big tactical asset."

There were murmurs of heartfelt agreement. "We'll reconvene here tomorrow at 0800, unless the situation changes radically during the night. Mr. Crusher, If you're rested, then you have the conn."

Wes nodded, face as grim as ever. "If you have a moment, though," Riker paused for a moment then continued,"I'd like to speak to you alone. Dismissed."


Laren sat in her sparse room and thought, long and hard. Her time with the Maquis had been a disastrous mistake. They'd had a vision of sorts, a sense of honor, when she'd joined. But as time passed and the Cardassians grew more and more a distant enemy, as the rest of Bajor began to put its pain behind it and move on, the Maquis had grown increasingly fanatical. While politicians pushed for rebuilding and closer ties with the Federation, the Maquis became more bitter. Eventually, she had fled their company, and, with the sad knowledge that she could never again be a true part of Bajoran Society, gone begging to starfleet. Admiral Picard had personally sponsored her re-application to the academy, against heavy flak from those who remembered her all too well. She'd made it to Lieutenant, albeit Junior Grade, and thought she could leave it all behind. But every time someone came on to her, like that ensign on their transport, she would lash out. Deanna had diagnosed it in her, before she re-applied : Fear of placing emotional trust in anyone other than herself. The door chime sounded, a more aggressive note than the Federation's polite bleep. She said "Come!", then had to get up to operate the control. No voice control on this ship. It was the other Bajoran, the woman who'd joined them on DS9. Kira Nerys.
"May I come in?" Kira asked. Ro nodded, curtly.

For a moment, Kira regarded her. "I think you think you need to be alone with your thoughts." Ro nodded again, her face carefully neutral. "I think you're wrong. You know, I used to be pretty active in the Maquis myself." "I don't want to talk about that." "Oh? Well, that's life, I suppose. We all have to talk about unpleasant things. We all have to live with bad decisions, We all have to face the fact that everything changes with time... for the worse, as well as for the better." Ro motioned her in with a wave of her hand. "I don't want to stay long. We're going to be coming up on the sector, soon. I just wanted to say, well, any time you want to talk to someone in the same situation, you know my name."

Ro sighed. "Your situation-"

"Don't make assumptions," Kira said, and there was a hard edge to her words. She softened her voice a little. "A few months ago, we had to stop a bomber on DS9. He wasn't just hitting Cardassians - ordinary people were getting hurt, even killed. And then we found out he was working with the Cardassians, just to stir up anger in Starfleet. The bomber was one of my oldest friends, my mentor and teacher. Having to betray him was a painful thing... but it was the right thing." She brushed at her uniform, and turned to leave. "Kira..." Ro said, her voice uncertain. Kira stood, waiting. "Thanks." "Call me Nerys." Kira said with a small smile.


"Mr. Crusher... Wes. This is entirely off the record. You've... changed a lot, since our last tour together. You're sharper, more professional... and colder"
"Captain, I don't want to discuss this-"

"Dammit, Wes, this isn't Captain Riker talking to you, this is Will. I want to know, as a friend. What happened to the Wes Crusher I used to know?"

Wes' shoulders slumped. "You probably know the Traveller told me to go back to Starfleet. He said I needed the change. Quoted Dune, in fact : 'Change stirs something inside, wakes a part of us that is normally asleep. The Sleeper must awaken.' So I did as I was told. I spent a lot of time talking with Boothby, with Admiral Picard when he was on Earth. But I just didn't feel the same. I didn't belong, anywhere. I hadn't belonged in Starfleet since the... incident. But it was worse than that. Everything seemed old, and tired, and not a part of the world I used to know. It was like all the colour had drained out of the universe. I drifted from one meaningless relationship to another, I did as little work as possible. Then I ran into Robin again. She was doing an advanced course with some of the same modules as me. We... spent a lot of time together. For a while, I felt like I had some meaning back in my life." He fell silent.

"What happened next?" Prompted Will quietly.

"We were doing that test on the Moonbase - you know, where one of the Cadets is supposed to be an agent, and you have to defend yourself? Everyone is so suspicious of each other they fight it out, without any need for intervention. Robin and I worked together, because we knew we could trust each other. But..." He paused. "A maintenance sweep had missed a damaged catwalk. I went over it first, and she followed... Half way across, the whole section she was on sheared off and fell, taking her with it. I dived for her, ripped my cheek open on a torn strut..." a finger traced the scar, almost in reflex. "She didn't die. Gravity wasn't strong enough. But her back was broken in two places. She didn't blame me. Not even through the hours of regen therapy, not even when she fell again and again trying to walk, not ever. But I blamed myself. And I promised myself that I'd never put myself in a position where I could hurt someone that badly again."

Will nodded. "Wes, I don't know what to say... except that there are times when you're stuck between the Devil and cold black vacuum, and then you've got to risk it. Theres a good line from an old film. 'You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the Street, or sticking your face in a fan.' No one's perfect. Look at Picard, or myself. We've lost so many people in our commands. But, we still surge on in life. You need to put the past behind you. It wasn't your fault that Robin fell from the catwalk. You just said so yourself"

Riker paused and watched Wes for a moment before continuing. "Bad things happen sometimes. It is the mark of a great man when he can see those bad times, and realize that not all of them aren't his fault. Just keep surging forward, do it like Robin did. Take life one step at a time, instead of big bounds. Trust me. Remember the ancient Alaskan saying. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

That brought a small smile to Wes' face, and for a second, Riker saw a flash of the old Wes. "Point taken, Captain. I'll think it through."

"Wes... Don't think you have to carry the whole burden. Deanna will always be there if you want a pro, but if you just want to talk... follow the sound of the trombone."

That really did make Wes smile. "I'll listen for the bum notes. Now, I think I'm due on the bridge."


Hesk was sitting cross-legged in his room, fighting with himself, when there was a flash of light. "Well, well, well. What do we have here?" came the familiar voice. "Q," acknowledged Hesk. He shifted his position slightly.
Q sighed. "Now I know why I was so keen to get rid of you. Always agressive, aren't you?"

"Of course. One of the finer traits the Continuum saw to it that I got."

"You remember, then?" "Oh, yes. Very, very clearly, now." Hesk's eyes flared as he said that.

"You SON OF A BITCH!" He uncurled into a leap.

Q stopped him in midair with a guesture. "Not a good move. You've learned nothing since we abandoned you. I just came to tell you... I'm here to correct a few mistakes. And you, my sticky friend, are number one on my to-do list." He leaned closer to Hesk's contorted face. "If I were you, and thank the continuum I'm not, I'd be watching my back every moment of the day and night."

Through some supreme effort  Hesk forced words through his immobile throat. "I'll have your steaming corpse at my feet next time, Q."

Q smiled. "My friend, you are already dead. I've seen you killed. What I'm going to do will be much worse. Much, much worse." He raised two fingers to his temple, saluted casually. "Be seeing you." He vanished, and Hesk fell to the deck. But Q's mocking laughter echoed through the chamber.

There came a signal at the door. "Admiral Raust wants to-" Hesk tore the man's stomach out and left him choking blood on the floor. He began to walk towards Raust's quarters. A young ensign was a little slow in getting out of his way, and Hesk ripped his terrifed face off for him. He glowered at the others in the corridor, and dived into them with a scream of anger. By the time he reached Raust's quarters, he was coated in blood. He practically ripped the door off its tracks as he entered. "What!" he screamed, flecks of blood flying from his lips.

Raust turned the baleful glow of his bionic eye on Hesk. "Look at this." He pointed at the screen. On it the blue-red tear in the void showed. The Ravenflight appeared. "If you examine this ship, you'll notice some interesting things about it." Hesk glowered. "It's an Old Republic ship. Substantially altered, but I'd know those lines anywhere. That, there on the screen, is a Koenyessar Maktor IV. More commonly known as the Starsword." Hesk shrugged. "That line was built specifically for use by one particular group of people." He paused, for effect. "The Jedi."


 Part XI-Unto the Breech

    The lighting on the bridge was subdued, and the redly glowing light indicated silent running. They were cloaked, preparing for entry to the Sigma Foxtrot sector. Worf issued a few rapid commands in Klingon, then turned to Data and his party. "We've got very little to start with beyond Admiral-" He stopped. "Beyond Picard's co-ordinates. And your knowledge." He turned on the main viewscreen, showing a three dimensional map of the local sectors. "So, Mr. Data, If you would give me your analysis?"

"The information I received from Jean-Luc was what might be termed 'Sketchy'. In essence, the information does not correspond to any known craft, nor to the particular design ideas of any known race. I would suggest we continue to the site of the destroyed craft and examine it there. Major Kira? Lieutenant Ro? Do you have anything to add?"

"If I were new to this sector... which most of the indicators would seem to suggest... then I'd stay very much where I was. Staying where you are means you get familiar with the locale, and you don't risk running into an angry neighbour in unfamiliar territory. It's a different matter entirely if they know this area well : but for a group trapped behind enemy lines, in uncertain territory, staying where you are is the smartest thing you can do. It's not a good thing, but it's your best option." Ro said, quietly.

Kira nodded. "I go with that."

"There is one more point. We do not know whether these ships have the technology to penetrate the cloaking field. How much energy can we direct to battle systems before the Cloak becomes inactive?" Data asked.

"With minimal life support and artificial gravity, we can be battle ready about sixty seconds after dropping the field. Remember, though, that we can always turn and run." Data tipped his head to one side, and one of the Klingons on the bridge choked. "I have learnt that discretion is the better part of valour, and that to live to fight another day is better than to die in a futile battle. Besides, we can then repower the weapons and be ready for them in a moment. It would be a great thing to die in battle for the Empire... but it would be a greater thing to win that battle." There were small murmurs of agreement from some of the Klingons, although one or two rumbled their disapproval. Worf turned his glare on them and they fell silent. Worf took the command chair. "Helm, are we ready?"

The helmsman acknowledged their course with a low growl in Klingon.  "Well, then," Worf began, "Engage."  As the ship sped off faster than the speed of light, Data thought he saw a faint smile cross the lips of the determined Klingon Captain.

Picard was just debating what to do in his head when Koigot called. "Got it. Slight subspace distortion off the port bow, range point one A.U. Weapons lock laid in."

"See if you can just cripple it. It might tell us something."

"Okay." He tapped the panel, and a red-orange beam flared from above the cockpit. The beam struck something, and for a second, a multi-appendaged metal lump showed up, spiralling helplessly. A split second later, it blew up. "I didn't hit it that hard... must have had a self destruct." Koigot said.

"Definitely not any known design." Lansen said from the sensor console. "It was an Imperial probe droid." The Raven said, his voice a ghostly whisper.

Tallera turned on him. "Time for total truth between us." She said, using the Vulcan phrase. "You already know that this is my galaxy. I was... I still am, a Jedi Knight. The Jedi were the binding force of the Republic, a force for peace and justice whose power came from the Force."

"That's what you meant when you were talking to Q." Picard said, as the memory came back to him. "You said 'The Force is with me.' I assumed you meant that we would side with you..."

"The Force is a field that surronds all life. It binds us together, it flows about us and through us... it partially controls our destiny, but we can shape our destiny with its use. But as there is Good and Evil, so there are two sides to the force. One of our own, a young Jedi called Annakin Skywalker, came into the employ of Senator Palpatine. Palpatine gathered an army and took the Republic by force, forming an Empire. Under the direction of Skywalker, we were systematically hunted down. He himself cornered me on Vokos. There was a duel fit for epics. I won, but only barely. I flung him into a pit of Lava, and knew that I was doomed. I had acted in anger, forsaken my Jedi training. I had begun the journey to the Dark Side. I fled. Later, I heard that Skywalker had crawled from the pit, more dead than alive, and become a machine-man obsessed with vengeance. He became Darth Vader, taking his name from the prophesy of destruction in the Jedi Book. There was no hope remaining. I took myself into deep space : this very sector. I had planned to space myself in penance, but something caught my ship and hurled me through the void. And, unbelievably, I found myself without the Force. In your galaxy, a great evil hides... I believe Captain Kirk encountered it, on the Enterprise-A. It is contained by a barrier of energy. That barrier drains the Force from the galaxy, to contain the evil within. So, I found myself alone, lost, and half-blinded without my Force Sense. But I realised that without the Force, I could not hear and need not heed the call of the Dark Side. And so I settled, content to live out my time here, to leave behind the wars of my home."

"Why did you let us convince you to return?"

"One of your playwrights expressed it well. 'I could be bound in a nutshell, and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.'"

"Hamlet." Said Picard, nodding. "I am preoccupied as he. 'To be or not to be. Wether 'tis nobler in the mind to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them... To sleep, perchance to dream... aye, there's the rub. For what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.'"

Tallera snorted. "I cannot understand your people's ability for procrastination. We sit here waiting for something to happen-" "Ah, she's proably right." Said Lansen from the Sensor station. "I read something incoming-" There should have been a noise of some sort. But in space, all is silent. So, quietly, without fuss, a huge ship appeared above them, incomprehensibly vast. The Ravenflight shook.

"They've got a tractor lock!" Lansen yelled, and his face was one of terror.

"That's a Star Destroyer." Said the Raven, calmly. "Quickly now. Nothing but fast and sure moves will save us." Silently, the others followed him.


 Wes watched the activity outside the Enterprise. A pair of modified frigates were forming up with a calamari cruiser. A flock of smaller ships were flitting between the hulks : some repair tugs, some fighters... The size of the New Republic force was just beginning to dawn on Wes. A frigate broke off from main group and began to manouever, coming alongside. "They're hailing, sir," the young ensign said at tactical. Wes nodded.
"Commander Crusher here."

"Captain Ma'Baan here. Is Captain Riker indisposed?" "He's getting some sleep," Wes responded to the hail.

"Wise man. I'd like to follow his example. We're expecting to be ready to jump out in about five hours. Ackbar wants to load Rogue Squadron aboard your vessel and send you through as an exploratory party. Your sensors are better than ours, at any rate. One thing though : your 'Warp Drive'. Does it work from inside the gravity well of a planet?"

"On a Sol-type planet, like Coruscant, It's dangerous to get closer than the very top layer of the atmosphere, but beyond that we can work perfectly safely."

"The Imperials may have Interdictor craft out. They project a cone of pseudo-gravity that can pull a heavy cruiser out of hyperspace in a split second. I've got Ackbar to send you converted copies of the training files to lock into your computer. You'll be able to identify them through the sensors, that way."

"Thank you."

"Ma'Baan out." The singal cut off.

The Indefatigable hung against the stars, waiting. Other craft were inbound : two Interdictors, A multitude of Corellian Corvettes, even one or two Star Destroyers. The tractor-pressor helix was being frantically tuned, trying to make it take higher loads for longer, replacing the switches that had burned clean through when they fired on the Sunfire. And all this had to be done whilst maintaining the secure bubble around Skywalker. Raust opened a channel. "Are you at the craft yet, Hesk?"

"Positive. There are some letters on the side, but they're not Basic..." (I know... I should know how to read this... Why won't my mind work?) "We're waiting for scanner teams to arrive." (They're there, I know it, but I can't feel them, I can't touch them... is this madness? Is this what it's like to be blinded?) "Hesk out." (I'm so very sure I should know who I am... And who is Q?) That thought galvanised him. (Q. Q. I will tear you limb from limb, Q. I know you of old, whoever I am. And I have a great deal to pay you back for. If only I could remember what it was...) There was a noise, and Hesk looked up. Towering over him was a ragged figure with tattered wings. He was standing on the rim of the ship. Two stormtroopers brought their weapons to bear, and he somersaulted neatly out of the way. Something in Hesk's head shouted, 'Jedi!'. The tattered figure landed between the two troopers, who shot each other as he sprang clear again. Something hit Hesk, burning across his side. Another bolt chewed the decking. "Fall back!" he yelled. But something was going on in his mind as he stared at the determined face behind the gun, the face of an ageing man with eyes that burned. (I know this face,) his memory prompted. (From a vision of the past... or the future... I know this man.) (Picard.)


 Part XII-Into the Darkness

Hesk and his squad had fallen back to the cover of the door. The crew of the captured ship were moving through the bay with the ease of professionals. Already, Hesk's force were less than half their original number, and the steely-eyed man with the glittering implant at his temple was felling more and more. "Seal the Blast Doors!" Hesk howled. (Picard. Q. The two are of the one. They are together.) The doors slammed shut. "Get reinforcements deployed on every exit, above as well." (Riker.) (Who is Riker?) (Yar.) (Who is Yar?) (Picard. Q. Riker. Yar. They are all... all... Nothing but names. I know them, and I do not know them. I have not ever met them, but I have and I will and I won't and I've never seen them and I haven't and yet at the same time I have and I will and why does my head pound so?)

In the bay, Lansen was running a critical eye over the ceiling. "There." He said, and Koigot and Picard blew open the section. The Raven hurled himself upward, seeming almost to fly. Tallera fired a grapple and swarmed up the rope, eyes blazing. The others followed. The Raven was already at the blast door. He drew the tubelike device from his belt and- There was a snap, and a hissing hum- and the lightsaber sprang into life. With two economical swipes, he slashed the blast door open. Lansen grinned. "Hardly subtle," he said, "But a damn sight faster than picking the lock."

They met the stormtroopers half-way, and in seconds a vicious firefight was blazing. In the midst of it stood the Raven, his glowing blade a blur as shots slammed off it. He went through the squad of troopers like a whirlwind, his redly glowing eyeslits burning with unholy fire. He was chanting in a language Picard had never heard, bellowing his battle cry, a bloody-handed god walking amongst them. In less than a minute, it was all over.


The Heart of Fury shuddered. The weapons console showered sparks, and the officer fell backwards, twitching. "Shields collapsing!" Howled the klingon at the console. "GET US OUT OF HERE!" Worf Bellowed, and Data's hands fairly flew across the console. The Bird of Prey dived, corkscrewed, and blasted clear. "Warp Engines damaged." Data reported calmly. "Containment Breach imminent."
"Shut Down!" Worf snapped.
"Field holding." Data replied.

"Full power to the weapons. Get those shields back online. Major, set your terminal for fire control and SOMEDBODY CLEAR THIS SMOKE!" Worf yelled.

"They're here!" Ro called from the sensor station, and the battle raged once more. The TIE Fighters dived and dodged, pinwheeling across the stars in deadly arcs, lasers blazing. "Rear shields at fifty percent and falling!" Kira was wrestling with her console, her fingers flying. A TIE Fighter caught a disruptor blast and spun out of control, taking another with it. "We've got fifteen ships left-" The Heart of Fury shuddered once more. "Rear shields down to ten percent and still falling! Fore shields at twenty five percent!" "The doubled-hulled ones are firing some kind of missile. Concentrate your fire on them!" Ro yelled. Data's hands blurred, and Kira jumped. Data was running helm and fire control both, one hand and one eye for each. The two double-hulled craft were caught by a disruptor blasts. "Thirteen left." "My lucky number." growled Worf. "Keep Firing!"


The Lieutenant at the Indefatigable's Sensor station slammed the Red Alert Button. "Incoming Craft!"
"Get the Interdictors into position. Try to keep them distant." Raust replied. The battle was joined.

The Enterprise blasted out of the stars, her nacelles pulsing almost white. Riker stared at the scene. "Dear God..." Through the viewport, a dozen Star Destroyers were manouvering, and swarms of smaller craft boiled out of them like angry insects. "Launch Rogue Squadron. Alexander... Hit anything you can."

"Sensors show three Imperial Star Destroyers, Two Interdictor-class Star Destroyers, Twelve Frigates, Forty-three Corellian Corvettes, and vast numbers of Tie Fighters. I am recieving heavy transmission levels from the Star Destroyer in the center of the fleet."

"That's their command ship. Hit it with whatever you can bring to bear." The photon torpedo launchers flared five times.


The Indefatigable shook. Deep in the bowels of the gargantuan craft, Picard steadied himself. "Something just hit us, and hard. I think we've managed to put ourselves on the primary target for an assault." Koigot sprayed fire across the advancing troopers. "Stow it, Picard." He said, with a grimly determined smile.
All of the team opened fire at once, spitting blue-white light at the troopers. Koigot's beam died, and the powerpack spat out. He slapped in a new one in a moment and added his beam once more to the inferno. Hesk arrived, like a spectre of death. The Raven saw him and charged.


The last TIE Fighter burst open before one of Data's pin-point accurate disruptor blasts. Worf breathed a sigh. "Cancel Red Alert. How badly damaged are we?"
"The Warp core has been stabilized." Data reported. "It will hold for speeds no greater than Warp Two." "The Cloaking field has been destroyed when they fired an Ion Pulse. Infra-Red reports three small fires on Decks 3,5 and 8 all being contained. Shield generator damage at 12%, Structural damage negligible, Core systems operating at 97%."

The Klingon at the engineering station reported. Data heard his soto voce comment : "You hear me, Fury? Hold together." Worf relaxed visibly. "Is that it?"

"Not by a long shot." Ro reported. "We've got new company."

"Red Alert." Worf said, sounding tired. "Once more unto the breech." The Modified Frigate bore down on them, turbolasers blazing.


The Raven and Hesk were mere inches apart when time froze. Q smiled at Hesk's immobile face. The action was purely mental, but purely for effect, he passed his hands across Hesk's eyes and snapped his fingers in front of his face. Hesk dissolved. In his place, two entities formed. The Gestalt conciousness shattered like glass, forming for each nothing more than a scattered handful of memories. The Dark One was a formless blob of black liquid, fluid like oil, sticky like tar. "I've taken everything that makes you what you are." Q said, lightly. "I've taken all your precious memories, all the perception of the future that you're so proud of. Since we shed you here, before moving on to pastures new, you have been a continual thorn in the Continuum's side. And now, you will not even know that. You will be a concentration of evil, without knowledge, without form, a worthless skin of evil. But I will give you your old name back." He leaned closer to the shapeless mass, lowered his voice. "Armus." With a thought, he hurled the thing from him, across the light-years and the twisting pathways of time, to a planet in the far-distant galaxy that would, in the Armus' future, see the demise of Tasha Yar.
"C'est la vie." Commented Q, feeling almost mournful. He turned to the remaining part : the part that held the name of Hesk. "Hmmm." He considered the albino skin, the malformed face, and shook his head. "It'll have to go." He said, in the manner of an artist considering a finished piece. Not that the real Hesk was, in any respect, finished. The clone of Annakin Skywalker, made in an attempt to replace the badly-injured Skywalker who had crawled from the lava pit, had failed abysmally, producing a thing that had been of no use to the Emperor. It had been cast aside, drifting, until it had encountered the creature shaped from the negative outpourings of a race of naescent immortals. The two had become one, a creature uncertain of mind but possessed of incredible anger and power. Q florished his hand and the thing took on the form of the Gestalt once more. "Nice." he commented to himself. He produced a quick double of his current form, who patted him on the back before fading out. "A good bit of work." He sighed. "Oh well," he commented to no-one in particular, "I suppose I'd better let events follow their natural course."

Time resumed its steady passage. The two met, like giants clashing. Hesk did not know what had happened to him, but he knew an enemy when he saw one. He dodged the lightsaber with incredible skill and wrenched a tube from his belt. The green blade sprang into being. The Raven stood, lightly balanced on his toes. "Let us see if you know how to use that, abomination." he said, evenly. Hesk showed his teeth. "Deeds, not words." The Raven considered. "So be it." The blades clashed. Sparks filled the air.

Picard turned to his team. "Vash. Can you find this person we're supposed to look for?" Vash grinned, tightly. "I've been waiting for you to ask that." She closed her eyes, stretching out with her mind. "I've got them. Back this way." "I'll cover you." Koigot said, impassive. Picard Nodded. They set off at a run.

More stormtroopers rounded the corner. The sight of the duelling figure threw them for long enough for Koigot to slice them in two.

In space, Wedge and the rest of Rogue Squadron held the line. The X-wings dodged nimbly, tracing lines of orange fire across the hordes of Tie fighters. Space was thick with them. "Enterprise here. We read some heavy modifications on the Star Destroyer in the center of their fleet." Wedge corkscrewed and fired, blasting clean through a wing of Interceptors. "Got you. Keep an eye out." A bleep sounded in his helmet. "Here come the Cavalry!" he whooped. The New Republic Fleet was arriving.

The Heart of Fury groaned. "Shields down!" yelled the first officer. "Photon torpedoes aft!" Data ignored the failure of the lock-on program and fired. The first torpedo knocked down what was left of the shields. The second, by chance only, struck the engines. For a second, explosions racked the engineering module of the scout frigate. Then one explosion ruptured the reactor containment vessel. The Frigate blew apart in a spectacular shower of pyrotechnics. "Hold tight!" Ro yelled, and the explosion caught the Heart of Fury, tossing it like a leaf in a gale.

Luke could sense them coming, now. A warrior, a thief, a man of command, and... a jedi? He reached out his mind, touching the stormtroopers with confusion, muddling their sense of direction.

Tallera was watching like a hawk. "I don't like this, Picard. It's too quiet. They're planning something." "Silence, please. The maestro is in concert." Lansen said. The lock on the door was completely unfamiliar to him, but a lock was a lock wherever it came from...

On the bridge, Raust watched the deploying Republic fleet. "Ackbar's stamp is on this. Watch the Mon Calamari. Order the main gun charged and re-deploy the fighters. As soon as you identify the command ship, target it and fire."


Hesk and the Raven slashed, stabbed, circled. Koigot's phaser was still playing merry hell with the troopers foolish enough to enter his line of fire. The impasse held. Hesk found himself winning. His opponent was faltering, falling back. He hissed through his teeth. "Do you know the expression, 'To bate an ace'?" The Raven enquired, and a horrible doubt entered Hesk's mind.
"To conceed an early advantage to an oponent in order to ensure his eventual destruction." The Raven finished, deflecting a swipe. He somersaulted backwards. Hesk watched him, wary of some new trick. The Raven shut down the lightsaber. Hesk sneered in victory. "Now, you die!" he crowed, and he lunged. The Raven threw up his hands and dark lightning crackled. The wicked fingers of force-driven electricity tore into him, into his soul. The Raven's eyes burned like fire.

Hesk clawed at empty air and screamed as the Raven's fearsome power raged through his system. Here was power driven beyond all care for self, beyond control, power driven by a bitterness and hatred so deep that not even Hesk, the embodiment of evil, could encompass it. Hesk fell to his knees, sparks arcing to the decking. For a moment, the Raven held back. Hesk, his body shaking as though possessed, forced his head up. "Do you not even have the strength to finish what you began?" he spat. "The journey is complete." The Raven said, his voice filled with pain. He sent forth the force-lightning once more, and Hesk died.

From the decking, He picked up Hesk's fallen Lightsaber. The Dark Side held him, now, a prison from which death would be his only escape. But here... this weapon had been crafted and wielded by a Jedi of a subtle new mastery, a Jedi of greater scope than any he had seen in his long life. To his force sense, it glowed with the power of freedom and justice. Not even Hesk's evil had tainted it. He threw it to Koigot. "This belongs to the person Q would have you rescue. Return it to them." Koigot looked at him questioningly. "It is a high and lonely path I tread. I cannot walk this road : nor can I turn back. It ends here." He sighed, and the huge figure seemed smaller, as if broken by the weight it carried. "But if I am to die, it might as well be a glorious death. Remember my name. Tell the others I bid them the last farewell." He turned on his heel and began his journey to the heart of the storm.


Part XII-Morituri Te Salutant

Worf hauled himself to his feet. The bridge was a smoking ruin of twisted metal and tangled wiring. Data extracted himself from under a collapsed girder and went to work on his console, jury-rigging the wiring with all the speed his system could muster. "Sound off." Worf croaked from smoke-clouded lungs. "Ro. I'm okay." "Kira. My leg is pinned." "Kha'Ghal. Fit for duty." "Chak. Fit for duty." There was a moment of silence. Worf bowed his head. "In death, you honour our lives. You have not fed the hungry mouth of War in vain. We will remember your names." Chak and Kha'Ghal saluted solemnly. "Data. Report." "Warp engines at 98% damage. Warp core breach probable in 11.49 hours. Impulse engines at 56% damage. All port and forward thrusters destroyed. Disruptors destroyed. Sensors at 72% damage. Life support failure in fourteen hours. Reactor at 61% damage. Hull Breaches reported on Decks 2,3,5,6 and 8. Structural integrity field at 5%, with major gaps around decks 1,2,4,5 and 9. Primary and backup communication systems inoperative, probable hardware failure. Transporters are working, though one pad is inoperable. Flight control systems at 91% damage, with no manual control. We are adrift and gaining velocity." "And the bad news?" Kira said, grimacing through the pain. Data turned from the console. "Overall survival prospects are-"

"Never tell me the odds." Kira said through clenched teeth.

 Lansen was muttering to himself as he sorted through the wiring. "Can we just burn our way in?" Tallera asked, impatiently. "Depends how many pieces you plan on being in. There are explosives all over this area. No, not that one, it's never the negative lead, got to be a T-1 loop in this thing somewhere..." he resumed his quiet monologue. Footsteps echoed through the corridor and Tallera and Picard assumed defensive positions. "It's Koigot." Vash said. "He's alone." "Got you, you little-" Lansen joined two wires and touched a third to the connection. The lights flickered. Lansen looked up. "That wasn't me..." he said, defensively The door slid open.

Tallera was the first through. "Great space..." She swore, quietly. A broken thing hung on the wall. It raised its eyes and managed a crooked smile.

"Luke Skywalker..." he managed. "We'll get you out of here." Picard said decisively. "You must be Q's rescue party." Luke said, forcing the words past his swollen tongue and cracked lips. Picard raised an eyebrow, but set to work. Koigot arrived at a run. "The Raven's split off to do his own thing. He told me to bid you the last farewell." The words lit a beacon in Luke's mind. "The Raven is a jedi?"

"Yeah. You should have seen it. He threw these lightning bolts. It was... scary." Tallera, working carefully with her phaser on Luke's manacles, snorted.

"You, scared? Must have been terrifying." "Listen..." Luke managed. "The lights... They're charging the main gun. We have to warn the others."

"He gave me this, as well." Koigot held out the lightsaber. Picard took it, considered it, and turned it on. (Just like a feint in fencing. Flick it through fast and clean.) He whipped the glowing blade through Luke's manacles in a blur of motion.

Luke smiled. "Pretty good." "Vash, Lansen, help him. Form up : we'll see if we can get back to the Ravenflight."


 "The command ship is redirecting a huge ammount of power to storage cells. I read new power sources coming on line." Wes reported, crisply. "Look at the fighters. They're cleaning out an area. And she's swinging to bring her nose to bear on Ackbar's flagship. We've got problems."
"TIE Bombers closing off the port bow!" Alexander's hands danced on the console. The phasers flared. "Good shot." Riker nodded.

 The Raven strode through the corridors, His heart cold and his mind churning. (The way of the dark side is that of a snowball rolling down a hill. What begins as a tiny snowflake becomes an avalanche too great to stop. All I can do is direct it where it will do least harm, or perhaps some small good. Here.) He hit the door control. The officer went for his gun and fell, blue sparks crawling over his skin. The Raven threw his mighty powers at the consoles. Insulation and casing disintegrated, flaring into flame in its haste to depart, and metal sparked and ran.

 On the bridge, the cry went up. "Shields failing!" "Backups." Raust responded, calmly. "The main gun is taking too much of the charge! They'll be down for two minutes!" "Deploy the other cruisers for defensive coverage. Hold position."

"The command ship's shields are weakening. The fleet is redeploying to protect it." Wes reported. "Let's give them a real oddity in their tactical mind set, shall we?" Riker remarked, almost pleasantly. "Full ahead."

On the Indefatigable, Luke raised his head. "They're panicking on the bridge. The shields are failing." A blaster bolt ricocheted off the wall and she ducked. "We're pinned down." Koigot reported. "There's no way we can get to the bay." Lansen's grin was utterly gone.

"Ave Picard." he said, grimly. "Morituri te salutant."

"We have to call for help, somehow." "My kingdom for a communicator." Tallera snapped.

Vash closed her eyes and stretched out. (The mind, Vash, is a strange and wonderful thing... it envisions impossibilities, it breaks down barriers, it can open the whole universe to you. Stretch out with it. Stretch out with your feelings.) Out into space she hurled her Q-trained mind, seeking a familiar spark.


Deanna jumped. (Trapped. Need help. Get us out of here.) (Vash?) her mind responded, even as she leapt to her feet. (We're on a Star Destroyer. Their shields are going and they're charging some sort of weapon-) "Vash is out there. On the Command ship." She said, while her mind fairly burned with the power of the message she sent. (The Admiral?) (Here.) "Admiral Picard's with her-"
"Mr. Crusher, we've got to punch through that cordon somehow!" "Republic fleet, this is Enterprise. Direct anything you can bring to bear on our next target : We're going in." The weapons of the Enterprise blazed as she screamed forward.


 Raust stared at the white ship tearing across space. "Emperor's teeth!" swore one of the console ops. They couldn't be doing this. It ran contrary to every tactical ploy Raust had ever studied, to everything the republic knew of tactics. Even at Endor, Calrissian's desperate gambit had been an attempt to escape the fearsome firepower of the Death Star, not a headlong charge into enemy territory. "Concentrate fire on that ship."


Koigot's beam died on him and he pushed home his last powerpack. "The Enterprise is on its way." Vash reported. (We're still here, Deanna.) Her mind encompassed the vast Destroyer, locating them in space, converting mental image to solid co-ordinates.

The Heart of Fury trembled. Data applied himself to the beam pinning Kira and lifted it aside as though it were made of paper. Kira groaned. Data flicked through his physiology files and indentified emergency procedure. He tore a thin strip from his uniform top and looped it arround Kira's leg. "This will hurt a little." He slipped a short length of broken strut through the loop and tightened the tourniquet. "Hold this." He told Ro, and strode to the sensor console. "What's happening, Data?" Worf asked.
"Uncertain. Sensors, even in their damaged state, cannot detect anything out of the ordinary. But we are accelerating towards something : a mass that does not register." The decking bucked beneath them and Kira moaned softly. "I hypothesise that we are drifting toward Q's timespace distortion-" The world went white.


The Enterprise broadsided a Frigate as it tore past, sending flaming debris flying. Ackbar watched. "Give them all the support we can. Keep the defensive line occupied." The orders flew across space, and the republic fleet advanced.

 Raust stared in confusion at the fleet. Here were tactics that eluded him, subtleties that had to be wrenched from their hiding places rather than appearing so obvious to him. Desperation was a greater innovator than necessity in the heat of battle. The white craft punched through the cordon. "Shield Status." "Capacitors charging. Another forty-five seconds." "All gunnery crews, target that ship. How long until the main gun is ready?" "Twenty seconds." The door to the bridge exploded inwards. The Raven stood silhouetted in the doorway.
"Vengeance." He said, simply, and all hell broke loose. Raust screamed for Hesk in blind terror, but the Raven's lightning arced wildly across circuits, showering incandescent fire across the vast chamber. After an infinite moment, the cataclysm came to an end. Raust's chair was damaged. His breathing came hard, each gasp torn from the smoky air by sheer will. The Raven considered the devastation. "What then remains, but that we should cry, Not to be born, or being born, to die?" He lifted his hands to his mask and unclipped it, letting it fall. His eyes still lit with red, but Raust saw, just for a second, the glitter of tears. "And so it ends." The Raven turned his power inwards, and died.

Raust wheezed, but his implant eye blazed. He forced the powerchair forwards, to the fire control station. If he was going to die, it would be in one final act of retribution. He threw open every circuit, brought every power source to his station, and swung the nose to bear on the closing fleet.

Koigot's beam failed and he ducked a laser blast. Picard flashed a burst across the advancing troopers, ignoring the insistent bleeping of the low-power light. Tallera turned on Vash. "Where the hell is -" Light enfolded them and the world sparkled away.

They crouched on the transporter pad, unwilling to believe it. "Admiral." The transporter chief nodded with a small smile. The floor shuddered.

 Riker clenched his fists. "Get the shields back up!" he roared. Wes looked up from the sensor station. "We've got heavy subspace radiation across the whole spectrum -" A sadly battered Bird of Prey burst through the rift.

On the bridge of the Heart of Fury, Data saw the Enterprise and tapped his comm badge. "Data to  Enterprise. Requesting emergency beamout-"

A proton torpedo slammed into the hull of the Enterprise. "We're losing power to primary systems!" Geordi reported from engineering. "They hit a main junction point!"

"Data, we're losing power. You'll have to beam over to us. Alexander, wide spread of phaser bursts, now!"

Data assessed the situation. Before he could speak, Worf spoke. "I will stay. We can only beam five. Remember my name." Data lifted Kira effortlessly and ran to the transporter, Ro and the two Klingon officers on his heels. Worf stared at the huge grey craft before them, and smiled as the computer slurred the countdown to warp core breach. "In Death, I honour your lives. I will not feed the hungry mouth of War in vain..."

Data materialised on the pad and lowered Kira abruptly to the deck. He leapt to the console and blurred his hands over the controls. Over fifteen of the decks, lighting failed. Worf stared down at himself as the sparkles took him away.

On the bridge of the Indefatigable, Raust closed the contact to the main gun. He choked blood, and the light in his implant died. Over the surface of the Indefatigable, sparks arced.

"Get us the hell out of here!" The Enterprise leapt clear, her impulse engines blazing like the stars themselves.

The Bird of Prey exploded. Antimatter spewed, and the tattered wreck of the Heart of Fury became the heart of a fireball, a blast propogated at the speed of light. The explosion raged against the unresisting texture of the void and the relatively insignificant mass of one Imperial Star Destroyer. The nose of the craft swung wide, and the helix of pure force tore through the cordon of Imperial craft like a chainsaw. Plasma fire erupted from ruptured reactors, shattering those unaffected by the beam itself. Within seconds, the Imperial fleet was decimated, and space itself boiled with the ferocity of the explosion.

Out of the fire blasted the Enterprise, her hull charred and pitted, but her running lights and warp nacelles burning bright and defiant.

In the transporter room, Worf looked at Data almost angrily. "You have denied me a glorious death." Data considered. "Yes. In order that you may go on to greater glories." Worf's face split in a grin, and he roared with laughter.

Luke was still weak, despite the best care the Enterprise and the Republic could offer, but he took his accustomed place at the council table for the meeting.

"You could stay with us, you know. The clean-up from that battle won't be easy, and we could use more people like you." Leia said. Picard shook his head. "Q is adamant that we return to our place tomorrow at latest. He's off doing things on his own at the moment, but he'll come back. He always does." "But we'll throw you a party for tonight," Han said with a lopsided grin. "Sounds good." Lansen piped up, and the others smiled. "We'll see you in the main hall in four hours. Until then." Mon Mothma concluded.

Picard fiddled with his uniform. After so long out of Regulation clothing, it felt vaguely strange. His little team of Mercenaries formed a knot of colour amid the Starfleet uniforms : Tallera in black combat leathers, looking somehow relaxed and alert at the same time, Koigot in a metallic blue tunic and loose trousers, Lansen beaming happily in a colourful silk jacket that made him look like a harlequin, and Vash resplendant in a floor-length red dress that she had borrowed from Deanna. He came to attention as the doors ground open, and had to clench his jaw to stop it dropping. It looked like the entire Republic had turned out to see them. Stirring music began from the orchestra seated to one side of the chamber, but even their huge numbers did not make a dent in the total of people in the room. He summoned his reserves of dignity and struck out, striding in time to the music, along the huge concourse to the distant dais where Mon Mothma, Leia, Luke, and all the others stood. The others fell into step with him faultlessly, heads up, eyes bright.

The music reached a crescendo as they began to mount the steps, stirring the blood in Picard's veins. He normally detested Martial music, but this was something else. As they came closer to Mon Mothma, the music fell in volume, dropping into the background. Mon Mothma tipped her head upwards. "For their Deeds at the Battle Of The Rift, and for the rescue of Commander Skywalker from Imperial captivity, The New Republic honours the crew of the Enterprise with this token of our appreciation." She placed a golden medallion around the necks of Picard, Riker, and Worf. They turned together to face out across the vast hall as the music rose once more. The applause almost drowned it out.

Han climbed the steps, with Guinan at his side. "Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a little announcement to make!" Han grinned. The two glanced at one another, and then cried in unison, "The Bar is Open!" The revelries began.

Across the great hall, dancers whirled, but here and there, people stood alone. Picard was sipping a cup of Earl Grey that Guinan had provided for him in passing when Luke stepped to his side. "I don't know if this will work where you are going, but I thought you might like to have it. I made one up especially." Picard took the lightsaber from Luke. "I don't know how to thank you-" Picard began "This is my thank-you, for what you did for me." He extended his hand, and the two men shook. Luke raised one hand in a casual salute, then turned and moved away into the crowd. Picard considered the Lightsaber. It would make a damned fine momento of this little outing.

"A new toy?" remarked an amused voice from behind him. "Can I play?" He turned round, and found Vash standing there. For the second time that evening, he had trouble keeping his mouth closed. She smiled, and offered him her arm.

"Shall we?" Picard put his cup down neatly and bowed from the waist. "I would be delighted." They danced.

Troi was beseiged with ardent suitors, but she spotted Wedge chatting with Meko and Tikks and walked over. "Might I have the next dance?" She enquired, a misceivous sparkle to her eyes. "Ah... uh, sure... I mean, if you're free... why not?" He took her hand, and led gracefully into the steps of the dance.

Han was chatting with Leia when Riker approached. Han flashed him a rakish smile, and Riker replied in kind. "They say you're pretty good at cards." Riker said. "I hear the same thing about you." Han replied. "Do you know how to play poker?"

Q watched from the rafters, draped across the beam looking down. He became aware of a prescence and sat up. The Raven appeared, outlined in blue light. Below, on the dancefloor, Luke looked up and smiled. "Have a seat." Q said, almost smiling. The Raven shook his head. "I've come to give you my thanks, Q." Q shrugged. "I did very little, really." The Raven smiled. "You freed me from my nightmares, Q. That alone would have been enough." He tipped his head on one side, as if listening to a distant voice, and sighed. "I must go."

"I know the feeling." Q said, ruefully. "Whenever something goes wrong at home, it's always 'Fetch Q', 'Where's Q?', 'Get Q : He'll know what to do.' But I would have us part as friends." The Raven nodded, waved in farewell, and faded out. "Just don't tell Picard." Q said, slightly grumpily. "I don't want to lose my image."

From high above, he watched the revelries. Riker and Solo were staring, poker-faced, at each other as they played. Republic and Starfleet personnel mingled, chatting with the manner of old friends. "Ain't life grand." He said. Far below, Picard and Vash were dancing far too slowly for the music. It even looked like they were kissing, but of course, that was silly. Still, he grinned. "And here's to love. Let the band play on!"


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