Slowly but surely, the Sernaix War threatens to send the galaxy into a death spiral.
Written by Kira
Edited by Zeke
Produced by SaRa, MaquisKat and Coral
Released 20 Sep 2002
Sycorax took in her expansive view of the galaxy with growing frustration, seething at the scene before her in her observation bubble. The stars and planetary systems were spread out before her like grains of sand on an infinite beach. Surveying the ongoing battles throughout the galaxy, she saw her packs being defeated and driven back, victory after victory going to these insignificant mortals.
At the beginning, when they had left the Phase, she had watched as the packs spread throughout the galaxy, hunting, destroying, and spreading chaos. Now it was they who were being pursued, hunted by these mortals, falling back under their combined force. Apparently she had underestimated them.
The males were becoming restless. They were not accustomed to being defeated or to retreating. In fact, the Sernaix had never before encountered an enemy they could not destroy. The Ayrethans were formidable but that was precisely why they were to be avoided.
She had thought attacking this new race, 8472 the humans called them, would keep the males occupied, give them a new challenge. Instead, it had been a disaster. A mistake. Sycorax did not like making mistakes. And the males did not like being forced to fall back under these new assaults. Something had to be done to control them, and as long as they were being defeated she could not use their lust for destruction to manipulate them. They would soon tire of retreating from an enemy they could not easily overcome, and she would need to find some new target for them. Some way to keep them under control.
She thrived on chaos, craved it but this was different. This was not the intoxicating chaos of her own creation forced upon the helpless, inconsequential worlds around her. This was chaos in her world, her Realm.
For the first time in weeks, perhaps longer, looking at the tactical display on the screen in Stellar Cartography brought a smile to Kathryn Janeway’s lips.
The yellow dots representing Sernaix ships, which not so long ago had dominated the display, overrunning the entire quadrant like a swarm of ants, were now smaller in number and broken into small clusters, surrounded by dots representing Alliance ships. Devore, Krenim, Vidiian, Kazon, Species 8472 the entire quadrant had seemingly been woken from a deep slumber and been roused to fight this new common enemy. Even the Ayrethans had come to their aid when they were needed.
The tide had most definitely turned in their favor. Their alliance, which she had entered with great trepidation, had turned out to be in everyone’s favor. The Sernaix were taking heavy losses and giving ground under the combined strength of the Alliance, and they were falling back. They were on the run. Just the way Kathryn liked it. Playing defense was not her greatest strength although she had certainly had plenty of practice over the past eight and a half years. The best defense was a good offense, as her tennis instructor always used to say.
Her thoughts were drawn back to the business at hand as Kashyk, standing next to her, spoke again. "There are still large contingents of Sernaix ships here, here, and here," he said, indicating the areas in question on the display on the screen.
The Krenim commander, Talat, standing on the other side of Janeway, stepped closer to the screen with his hands clasped behind his back. "We have several ships near that system," he said, pointing at one of the clusters of Sernaix ships.
"You would be severely outnumbered, Commander," observed Tuvok.
Talat set his jaw and continued staring at the screen. "There are Vidiian ships less than fifty light-years away. They could assist us."
"Our ships are needed here," countered Vidiian Captain Lem, indicating a system in the other direction. "We have engaged a large force of Sernaix ships. I’m afraid none can be spared to the system you’re indicating."
"It’s only twenty light-years from the Northwest Passage," observed Captain Janeway. "Species 8472 still has a large contingent of ships there."
An instant silence fell on the room. Janeway and Talat locked eyes, each trying to assess the other and neither backing down.
Several tense seconds passed before the heavy silence was broken.
"I would prefer," said Talat slowly, "to have assistance from the Vidiian ships."
Janeway stared back at him coldly, not giving an inch. "We can’t afford to pull them away."
Their eyes remained locked in silence until Kashyk stepped up next to Talat.
"I think it would be best if we complied with Captain Janeway’s suggestion," he said, his tone deceptively submissive.
Talat leveled his glare at his Devore counterpart. "How do we know we can rely on them?" he growled.
"Species 8472 has just as much reason to want the Sernaix threat contained as you do, Commander," interjected Janeway.
"That’s what you said about the Borg."
Her eyes narrowed. "That was a miscalculation," she said, her voice dangerously low.
One side of Talat’s mouth curled up in a nearly imperceptible sneer. "Let us hope that you haven’t made another miscalculation, Captain." He turned back to the viewscreen. "You may contact Species 8472 and provide them with the coordinates. Our ships will await their arrival."
Captain Janeway kept her eyes on Talat for a few more seconds before she slowly exhaled and glanced at Chakotay. The latter took the hint and took a step towards the tactical display.
"What about the group of Sernaix ships in that sector?" he asked, using the console to enlarge another part of the Delta Quadrant that was swarming with Sernaix ships. "There are small contingents of Devore and Kazon ships, but they’re outnumbered and being driven back. They need reinforcements."
"That’s not very far from the Ayrethan homeworld," observed Lem.
"The question is," said Kashyk with a smirk, "will they assist us if we ask them?"
"Not likely," grumbled one of the other Devore.
"The Ayrethans appear to act of their own volition and on their own schedule," Tuvok observed diplomatically.
"In other words," said Lem with a hint of amusement, "they don’t care."
"On the contrary. I believe if the Sernaix posed a severe threat the Ayrethans would come to our assistance. They have always done so in the past."
"Be that as it may," interjected Janeway, "I don’t think they can be relied upon for every trivial movement that we decide upon. There are Krenim and Devore ships in the next sector; the Sernaix aren’t giving us too much trouble in that area and you should be able to spare enough ships to assist them."
As she pressed her thumb against a button on the LCARS display on the console, the image on the screen in front of them pulled back, again showing a view that encompassed most of the Delta Quadrant. The captain reached for the controls to manipulate the display again, but before she was able to key in the sequence Chakotay laid his hand over hers. She looked up and saw him leaning over her shoulder.
"Kathryn," he said in a low voice that wouldn’t carry farther than her ears, "It’s late." She opened her mouth to protest but he continued with a hint of a smile: "You’re not going to win this war tonight. And you’ll think better after a good night’s sleep."
They stared at each other, each reading the other like a book. A hundred times, a thousand times, they had been over the same territory. Chakotay knew that he had won—or rather, that she had decided to give up—when he saw the amused spark in her eyes.
She turned back to the assembled members of the alliance. "Gentlemen, why don’t we pick this up tomorrow? We can make these deployments right away and decide the remainder when we’re all rested and refreshed."
There was a general murmur of agreement and they began to file out. Tuvok glanced at the captain to see if she wanted him to remain, but she waved him off and he left as well.
She watched the doors slide closed behind the last person as they left the room. When she glanced over at Chakotay she noticed him smiling at her. "What?"
The smile widened. "I love watching you in your element, that’s all."
She smiled as well. "Oh? And what element is that?"
"Being in command. Taking charge. Resolving disputes. Making this alliance work. It’s what you were born to do."
She turned back to the tactical display. "We can win this, Chakotay. The scales are finally tipping in our favor. But ."
"But is it enough?" he finished.
She sighed heavily as she observed the screen in front of her. "I wish I knew."
Miral stretched her arms towards her stuffed targ on the floor across from her, well out of her reach. She extended her small limbs as far as they could stretch, then wiggled her fingers in the direction of the toy. The stuffed animal, oblivious to her efforts, didn’t move from its position. "Up!" she demanded, flinging her arms in the air.
She wrinkled her nose when Toby remained motionless and stretched her arms towards it once more. "Up!" she commanded again. The toy remained where it was.
Her lower lip began to tremble and she turned around to look at Tom, her eyes brimming with tears. She pointed towards the panda. "Toby woan go up?" she asked in a small voice.
Tom sighed and rose from his chair, retrieving the toy. He brought it to her outstretched arms and sat down on the floor next to her. Miral squeezed Toby tightly to her chest, but then looked back up at her father with the same plaintive look in her eyes.
He sighed again and gently stroked his daughter’s back. "I know, peanut."
"She doesn’t understand, does she?"
He was startled by B’Elanna’s voice coming from behind him and turned around to see her standing in the doorway.
He looked back at Miral. "How could she? It must be like losing an arm or a leg. She doesn’t understand why it’s gone."
B’Elanna moved away from the doorway and sat next to Tom on the floor, gently stroking his shoulder. "It’s for the best."
He sighed. "Best for her or best for us?"
"She’ll live a normal life this way."
"What if she wasn’t meant to have a normal life? She had this talent, this ability, this amazing gift and we’ve taken that away from her."
B’Elanna’s voice took on a hard edge. "She wasn’t meant to have it in the first place. She didn’t have a choice in the matter."
"And we didn’t give her one either."
"She’s not even two, Tom. We’re her parents—we’re supposed to make these decisions for her in her best interests."
"There’s a difference between making a decision in her best interests and and playing God with her life."
She pulled away from him slightly. "Is that what you think we did?"
Tom reached over and brushed a stray strand of dark hair out of Miral’s face as she played contentedly with her panda. "I don’t know. This was a part of her. Just like her hair. Or her eyes. Or her smile."
"It wouldn’t have been a part of her at all if Harry and I hadn’t been kidnapped in the first place," returned B’Elanna.
Tom sighed heavily.
She reached over and took his chin gently in her hand, turning him to face her. "Tom. We’ve been having this discussion about changing Miral since even before she was born but can you honestly tell me you don’t think that she’ll be better off this way? That it wouldn’t have been hard for her?" Her voice began to waver as the stress of having to deal with her daughter’s abilities over the past few months came to the surface. "That we didn’t make the right choice?"
Tom pulled her towards him, wrapping his arms around her. "Of course not," he said softly.
She threw her arms around his neck and clutched him tightly, tears stinging her eyes.
"I guess I’m just disappointed my daughter doesn’t have super powers," quipped Tom after a short silence.
B’Elanna laughed through her tears and pulled away from him to watch Miral as she happily amused herself with her toy, innocent delight playing across her face.
"It’s for the best, Tom."
He reached over and swept Miral into his arms, smiling as she squealed in delight.
"I know," he said, holding his daughter close. "I know."
"This is preposterous! How can we sit here and do nothing while the Sernaix destroy our vessels?"
Chairman Koval tr’Doowrom of the Tal Shiar ignored the outburst of Radaik tr’Annhwi and kept his gaze fixed on the landscape outside the window.
Radaik was undeterred by his superior’s impassiveness. "Ten of our Warbirds were destroyed near the Neutral Zone, and yet you used your influence with the military so that they would send no reinforcements. Why should we not fight the Sernaix?"
Koval remained motionless in front of the window.
Xor tr’Sharien leaned forward with his hands clasped in front of him. "More could be done, Chairman. Much more."
Koval turned around from the window, one side of his mouth turning up in a knowing smirk. "Why fight a more powerful enemy when you can make them your ally?"
The others looked at each other warily. "You would send more of our people to their death attempting to negotiate an alliance with the Sernaix?" demanded Radaik.
Koval’s eyes narrowed. "I would if I thought it were in the best interests of the Empire but it will not be necessary."
"Then what?" asked Nemek tr’Valorem, one of the younger members of the Tal Shiar hierarchy. "We have not received any word from the Section 31 operative."
Koval smiled and finally took his seat. "Admiral Warhol will cooperate with us."
"We have no assurance of that," said Radaik. "He may already have informed Section 31 of his interrogation."
"He won’t do that. Section 31 will consider him compromised the instant he mentions our involvement."
"Even if they know he’s been compromised he could still provide them with information," interjected Xor.
Koval shook his head. "Warhol will cooperate with us."
Nemek stared incredulously at the chairman. "You would trust a Federation intelligence operative?"
"I didn’t say I trusted him, Nemek," said Koval scornfully. "I said he would cooperate with us. "
"And you haven’t give us any reason to feel the same," said Radaik. He spread his hands and smiled condescendingly. "If you would care to explain why you have chosen to let the fate of the Empire rest in the hands of our enemies, then perhaps we would be more understanding."
Koval seethed at the insubordination. "I do not need to explain myself to you. All you need to know is that I have ways of influencing Admiral Warhol."
"Torturing him does not guarantee he will cooperate with us afterwards," pointed out Radaik.
"I have other contacts who are interested in seeing our alliance go through. We will be included in Section 31’s alliance with the Sernaix." He smiled to himself, ignoring the doubtful expressions of the others around the table. "And when we are, we can make certain that we master this frozen light technology before they do."
Koval’s confidence was anything but contagious and the other Romulans glanced around the table warily at each other. If the chairman continued this irrational behavior, something would need to be done.
Admiral Warhol’s footsteps echoed down the empty corridor of the nameless, windowless building as he made his way towards his destination. The rhythm of the echoes helped order his racing thoughts and prepare himself for the meeting. He had to be calm, he had to be focused he had to be in control. One false step, one mistake the damage to himself and his position could be irreparable. Or even fatal.
As he neared the double doors that led to the conference room, he could already hear raised voices. Apparently the debate had already begun.
"There’s no proof that they’re aware of any of this," someone was saying as the doors slid open and Warhol stepped into the room.
"We can’t afford to take that kind of risk!" came the rebuttal.
Warhol ignored the debate as he took his seat. He would make his opinion known soon enough once the meeting began.
"This business is all about risk, gentlemen," boomed the voice of Mr. West from the other side of the room as he entered from another door. His commanding tone brought an instant silence to the room, and those who had been standing quickly took their seats.
"However," continued West, "Risk isn’t always justified." He turned to Collins and Kelley. "Do we have any idea how much Sycorax knows?"
"It’s impossible to know for sure," said Collins. "She keeps up a good poker face, but there may be a lot she doesn’t tell us."
"She probably suspects us," said West thoughtfully. "Sycorax is anything but stupid. She knows we’re only in this to protect our own interests. The interests of the Federation."
"The question," interjected Brock, "is whether she will act on that suspicion."
"And whether or not we can afford to risk that she will," added Kelley.
"What about Species 8472?" asked Warhol. "Do we know what happened?"
"She hasn’t provided us with any further information since our last communication," said West.
"At least we know she took the bait," said Seagal. "No matter the outcome, it’s one less threat to the Federation."
"Precisely." West looked around the table. "Is there anything else we need to consider?"
"What about the Romulans?" asked Brock.
Warhol had to restrain himself from turning on Brock and demanding to know why he brought up the Romulans. "What?" he asked, his voice deceptively calm.
Brock frowned at the Admiral’s question. "The Tal Shiar is being far more docile towards the Sernaix than we predicted. Our latest intelligence indicates that over a dozen Warbirds were destroyed near the Neutral Zone, but the Tal Shiar seems to be holding back. They’re staying close to home, playing defense."
"What’s so strange about that?" asked Seagal, frowning.
"Maybe nothing," said Brock. He glanced around the table. "Unless they know something we don’t. The Tal Shiar must have its reasons for not taking on the Sernaix."
Warhol’s eyes narrowed as he assessed the man beside him, trying to determine whether or not there was more to his comment than met the eye.
"We’ll worry about the Romulans later," interrupted West. Warhol glanced towards the head of the table and noticed the careful scrutiny directed at him. "Koval will cooperate with us if he knows what’s good for him."
"And if he doesn’t?" asked Brock.
West replied without taking his eyes off Warhol. "If he’s a risk he’ll be dealt with."
Warhol returned the stare without blinking, understanding very clearly the underlying threat. You don’t spend half your career in intelligence without learning how not to sweat under pressure, thought Warhol. West might suspect there was more going on than Warhol was telling, but he certainly couldn’t prove it. Not that he needed to prove it but Warhol was sure he hadn’t given West enough to make him act on his suspicions.
When the Admiral didn’t react, West turned his attention back to the group. "Enough with the Romulans. We have to come to a decision about Sycorax."
Brock leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "There are too many unknowns. The Borg, Species 8472, the Tal Shiar, the Obsidian Order—"
"And Janeway," interrupted Warhol.
"And Janeway," agreed Brock. "Until we have more information we can’t risk being exposed."
"Agreed," said West. "We’ll keep playing Sycorax’s little game for now. Which means we’ll have to give her something she wants."
"And we all know what she wants," said Seagal.
West acknowledged this with a nod and turned to Brock and Kelley. "Mr. Brock Mr. Kelley Arrange a meeting with the Adimha. You know what to do."
Fifty-eight point six percent.
Ankin Rotor listened to the crescendo in his mind. He could feel the number increase. He was encompassing drones at an average rate of three per minute.
Rotor raised his arm and felt thousands of Borg instantly do the same. He could see through all their eyes at once. He could impersonate any of them so perfectly he would never be found out.
The Sernaix technology had been the key. When he had assimilated it, Rotor had discovered a way to expand his operating radius. He no longer had to personally intercept each cube to encompass it—he could send other cubes to do that for him. His rate of power increase had risen exponentially. It was not enough. But soon very soon it would be.
For the second time, Kelley found himself in the dark, imposing meeting chamber in Sycorax’s habitat. The silence was oppressive, and the chamber was hot. The air around him seemed to be pressing against his skin.
Kelley’s eyes darted back and forth, searching the darkness around him. He hadn’t thought it was possible, but he was even more nervous at this meeting than he had been at the last. A bead of sweat slowly rolled down his forehead, and he wiped it away with the back of his arm.
Brock could hear his counterpart’s heavy breathing in the dark. He elbowed Kelley firmly in the ribs. "What are you, a cadet?" hissed Brock. "Calm. Down."
"Did Adimh Jal say why he wanted to speak with you?"
Adimh Nakat laughed at his Zvir’s comment. "Adimh Jal never says what he wants. He just expects the rest of us to show up. Which we always do."
The Zvir frowned at Nakat’s ridicule but said nothing.
Nakat shifted his bodyfield to allow him to merge with Adimh Jal, tens of thousands of lightyears away in the Delta Quadrant. The holographic environment around him shifted and transformed into a rocky precipice overlooking a vast desert.
There were already almost a dozen other Adimhs linked to Jal, sitting in a large circle near the edge of the precipice. "What is this about?" demanded Adimh Levek. "Our packs could be hunting right now."
"Hunting?" scoffed Nakat as he joined the group. "It has been many months since my pack has experienced the thrill of a worthy battle."
"Your pack is not alone in that," said Jal. "Which is why I summoned all of you here." He looked around smugly at the gathered Adimhs, amused at their displeased and annoyed expressions. "It’s time we took the hunt into our own hands."
Kelley took a deep breath. His eyes were gradually adapting to the darkness, becoming sensitive enough to detect the limited number of photons traveling around the room. He could actually see Brock standing beside him, which put him a little more at ease.
"The packs are getting restless," came the rumbling voice of Sycorax, startling them. "I hope you have brought me something to help that situation."
Both men turned around slowly, but as usual Sycorax did not deign to actually appear before them and they were reduced to talking to the empty blackness around them.
"We have," said Brock.
"Good. The packs thirst for battle."
"Species 8472 didn’t prove a worthy adversary?" Brock asked carefully.
It was amusing watching the humans trying to be subtle, Sycorax thought. She wondered whether her heavy losses at the hands of Species 8472 had been intended by Section 31 but, as she didn’t plan to share that information, she would never know. "The packs in your part of the galaxy do not have the opportunity to fight this new enemy. They are becoming eager for combat."
Brock’s eyes narrowed. She had evaded the question, but he decided it was best not to push the issue. "That’s why we’re here."
"The Management Cadre has overstepped its bounds," growled Adimh Vrel. "We should be able to decide for ourselves how to fight our enemies."
"If we had been allowed to make our own preparations, this new enemy would be vanquished," said Adimh Jivrad.
"If we had been allowed to destroy the Federation immediately after we left the Phase, we would have been able to take on this new challenge at our peak," said Adimh Drevk. "Facing these aliens after we had defeated these other primitive species would have been "
"Intoxicating," finished Jivrad.
"Instead," agreed Adimh Vrel, "she has us spread out across this galaxy and gives our enemies time to oppose us. When the Enemy ship first entered the Phase, its weapons were harmless, its technology primitive. These delays have allowed them to use our own technology against us."
"At least you are permitted to attack whatever targets you desire," countered Adimh Nakat. "In our part of space, we are only allowed to attack those planets they allow us to."
"We could have conquered that quadrant in a matter of days," agreed Adimh Levek. "Instead, the Adimha wastes time playing games with the mortals."
Brock held out a palm-sized holographic projector and pressed his thumb into one side of it. A large vertical display was projected from the small device and began rotating. On the display was a grid overlaying a map of the sectors surrounding Earth.
"We’ve compiled a new list of several targets close to Earth," explained Brock. He pressed another button on the projector and several locations on the grid were illuminated.
Sycorax smiled to herself as she took in the new pursuits for her packs. She remained silent for several minutes, however, leaving the humans in suspense.
"You have provided tactical data?" she asked finally.
Brock grinned. "Of course." With another command, a second projection appeared superimposed over the grid. Images of planets and starbases appeared with scrolling data along the side. "We hope these will be sufficient."
Sycorax amused herself by making them wait again before she replied. "They should provide the necessary distraction."
"We were promised bloodshed," snarled Nakat.
"We were promised plunder," agreed Jivrad.
"And what have we been given?" asked Jal.
"Small, insignificant conquests," growled Vrel.
"No devastation. No hunt," agreed Drevk.
Jal straightened to his full impressive height and looked around at the gathered Sernaix commanders. "If we want what was promised to us, we must take it ourselves."
The other Adimhs looked at him and silence fell.
"The Adimha has lost her stomach for battle," said Jal. "She has allied herself with the Enemy. She has become weak."
Sycorax almost laughed. These pitiful humans were so predictable. She relished the power she had over them one of the few factors over which she still had complete command. These insignificant puppets would be under her control until she had no further use for them.
Kelley shifted uncomfortably. Did Sycorax actually believe them, or was she just toying with them, leading them into some sort of trap? He glanced nervously over at Brock, and relaxed slightly when he saw the confidence in the other man’s expression.
Brock tried to conceal his smile. He hadn’t really expected Sycorax to trust them, but amazingly she had. For the first time in her presence, Brock felt as though he had the upper hand. All was going according to plan. "Then we have a deal?" he asked, his voice echoing off the walls.
There was a short pause before the voice of Sycorax rumbled through the chamber. "We have a deal."
"Then we’re agreed?" asked Adimh Jal.
Adimh Vrel glanced at his counterparts, then turned back to Jal and spoke for them all. "We’re agreed."
"Burning the midnight oil?"
Startled from her concentration, Captain Janeway jumped and turned around in her chair. Looking over the railing, she saw Chakotay standing on the lower floor, illuminated by the flickering lights around him. She chuckled and laid a hand on her chest. "You startled me," she told him, rising from her chair and moving over to lean against the railing.
"Sorry." He held up a coffee pot that he was carrying in his left hand. "Fresh from the mess hall."
Her face lit up with a toothy smile and she held up her worn silver mug, long since empty. "You read my mind. Come on up."
He climbed the stairs in the recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop with the pot in one hand and his own coffee cup in the other. He filled her cup with the steaming brown liquid, then poured himself a mug as well. She wrapped her fingers around the metal as the heat from the coffee began to seep through, and turned back to the tactical display projected on one wall, the technology strikingly out of place among the model helicopters, parachutes and other Renaissance artifacts.
Standing behind her, Chakotay looked at the display, then down at Kathryn as her brow furrowed in concentration. "Does staring at it really make a difference?"
She sighed. "I keep hoping that something will just jump out at me. Some way to finally end all this."
"A magic solution?" he chuckled.
She looked at him over her shoulder and playfully slapped him on the arm. "Don’t laugh. Sometimes solutions do just appear out of nowhere. Remember when we first encountered the Northwest Passage?"
Chakotay frowned. "How could I forget?"
"That plan was born right here, staring at shadows on the wall. So don’t knock staring at a tactical display." She sighed and turned back to the projection, tapping her fingers on the coffee cup. "So far it’s not working."
Withholding a comment on the success of the plan she was referring to, he sat down on the old Renaissance couch opposite the display and gently pulled her into a sitting position next to him. "We’re still far better off than we were a few weeks or months ago."
"I suppose," she conceded. "But right now we’re only holding our own. We’re going to need a lot more to be able to actually defeat the Sernaix."
"Maybe the Ayrethans—"
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "I’m tired of waiting for them to show up at the last possible second. They’re so impossible to deal with, so ."
"Evasive?" he offered.
"They could be our best chance of winning this."
She exhaled heavily. "Then we’re all in a lot of trouble."
He reached up with one hand and massaged her shoulder. She pulled her feet up underneath her on the couch and leaned back against him.
"It makes you wonder," she said softly after a few seconds.
She stared thoughtfully at the image projected in front of them. "If our alliance needed help from both Species 8472 and the Ayrethans to turn the tide what have the Sernaix done to the Alpha Quadrant?"
"They have the entire Federation to stand against them. Not to mention the Klingons, the Romulans ."
She tapped her fingers against the side of her coffee mug. "I have a bad feeling about it." She smiled and reached back to place her hand against the side of his face, looking over her shoulder at him. "Maybe I’m just worrying for nothing."
He put his hand over top of hers. "You’ve had a lot to deal with recently."
She snorted. "That’s putting it mildly." There was a heavy silence for a few seconds before she sighed. "How is it going to end, Chakotay? Is it ever going to end?" Her eyes darted back and forth as she examined the display, desperately seeking a solution. "There has to be something, some way ." Her voice trailed off.
"You’ll figure it out, Kathryn. You always do."
She sighed again, fixated by the countless multicolored dots on the tactical display before her. "I hope you’re right. For all our sakes."
Sycorax watched the Federation ship move away from her habitat, then connected to the Realm with a wave of her hand. She could see the bridges of Sernaix ships from all over the galaxy. The Adimhs were all muttering to each other, and the noise of their discontent filled the Realm.
"It is time for more destruction!" she said, her voice booming throughout the Realm.
Some of the Adimhs cheered, but many remained silent and waited for her to continue.
With another wave of her hand she pulled up a holographic map of the Alpha Quadrant. The targets designated by Section 31 glowed red. Above that projection, images of the systems and outposts in question appeared in sequence.
"These," she bellowed, "are your targets! Your next conquests! Go forth and destroy!"
There were still shouts of approval, but fewer than before. The murmur of discontented grumbling started to rise in volume.
"These targets are not worthy of our packs!" shouted one of the Adimhs.
"We should attack their home planet!" yelled another. "Destroy the enemy!"
"In time," Sycorax assured them. "In time, we will destroy the enemy."
"No!" insisted another Adimh. "We should destroy them now! No more delays!" The Realm echoed with shouts of agreement.
"Silence!" bellowed Sycorax.
"For months we have avoided the enemy, attacked petty and insignificant targets!" yelled another one of the Adimhs. "It is time to strike at the heart of their territory! Bring devastation to their home planet!" The roar from the gathered Adimhs was even louder this time.
Sycorax tried to control her unease. The males had never shown this level of insubordination before—she had always been able to control and intimidate them effortlessly. "Let the enemy suffer as we destroy their galaxy!" she yelled. For the first time, her booming voice failed to overcome the noise in the Realm. Some of the Adihms, however, obviously heard her.
"Let them suffer now!" yelled one. This time the roar was thunderous.
"Silence!" yelled Sycorax again. Her voice had started to lose its dominating edge as the Adimhs became more rebellious.
"Enough with these alliances with the mortals!" bellowed one Adimh. Shouts of concurrence reverberated across the Realm.
"Enough with these petty battles!" shouted another. "They are not worthy of the Sernaix!"
Adimh Jal looked around, highly pleased with himself, and decided to make his voice heard. "Enough," he yelled, "with the Management Cadre!"
Sycorax turned to him, fury blazing in her eyes. In the few seconds it took for her to decide what to do with this unacceptable and horrifying behavior, she realized it was too late as the deafening roar of consenting cheers filled the Realm. As the roar grew to a thunderous chaos of noise, Sycorax looked around and was unable to hide her horror. She disconnected from the Realm, fearing that if she stayed her hold on them would weaken still further.
The packs had always been completely under her control how could things have gotten so out of hand without her knowledge? There was one way she could control them, make them obey her. But that was a last resort
The double doors parted in front of Mr. West as he entered the conference room with quick steps.
"Put them onscreen," he ordered as he strode towards the table. Brock appeared on the monitor, transmitting from the U.S.S. Wellings as it left the habitat. "Report," barked West, not bothering to take his seat.
"She accepted the deal," Brock informed him.
"Did you manage to get any more information out of her?"
Brock’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly in defeat. "No, sir. She was evasive, as usual."
"No indications about Species 8472 or the Borg?"
West frowned and leaned forward on the table, deep in thought. After a few seconds he shook his head slightly as if dismissing an idea, then looked back up at the screen. "But she accepted our terms?"
"Good. West out."
The screen went blank, and West turned to Seagal on his left. "Monitor the selected targets. I want to know as soon as she makes her move."
West looked back at the reflection of the conference room in the blank screen on the opposite wall. "Let me know if the Sernaix deviate in the slightest from our agreement."
Seagal nodded and left the room. West remained, lost in thought.
Federation Starbase 21 traveled effortlessly through the vacuum of space, propelled by its own momentum as the gravity of the gas giant below it pulled the station along a never ending trajectory.
As the starbase slowly continued on its path, the yellow dwarf star at the center of the system gradually came into view and the shadow of the planet on the starbase was slowly driven away by the light from the sun.
Just as the last of the shadow thrown by the planet disappeared, a new shadow emerged on the gray plating of the structure as something moved into the space between the starbase and the sun. This new silhouette was soon joined by many more, their outlines enlarging as they moved closer.
The seven Sernaix ships swept past the planet and moved closer to the starbase, allowing light from the dwarf to reach the station again.
They started with the starships. The U.S.S. Hathaway was destroyed in three shots before it was even able to undock, the nearness of the explosion causing damage to the starbase. Part of the Hathaway‘s saucer section hung limply from the docking port, loose cables dangling from the edges of the sheared hull plating. The Sernaix moved on to the remaining starships, but some of them had now had time to undock and were able to maneuver and fight back.
A pair of Defiant-class ships, the Colorado and the Syracuse, came at one of the Sernaix vessels from opposite sides, strafing the hull with torpedoes that were absorbed harmlessly by the photonium. A retaliatory shot from the Sernaix vessel pierced one side of the hull of the Syracuse, instantly vaporizing nearly a third of the ship. The following shot struck the warp core and the vessel exploded from the inside, sending debris in every direction. The Colorado pulled away, but a Sernaix ship moved into its path and destroyed it with a single shot.
The Crazy Horse, one of the old Excelsior-class vessels, already heavily damaged and missing a nacelle, turned sluggishly towards the Sernaix ship that was pounding it mercilessly. Its impulse engines slowly powered up, pushed beyond their limit, and propelled the ship forward. The Sernaix realized too late what their enemy’s intention was, and they were able to do little more than watch with horror as the old Federation vessel rammed them with all the momentum it had been able to build up. The Crazy Horse exploded violently, and the Sernaix hull, unable to absorb that much energy, rippled from the shockwave before the entire ship disintegrated.
The destruction of one of the attacking vessels wasn’t enough. Within five minutes all thirteen starships that had been docked were reduced to floating debris and the ring of Sernaix ships slowly closed in on the starbase.
The phaser arrays and the few torpedo launchers were not able to slow down the Sernaix attack in the slightest. All seven ships opened fire simultaneously in a devastating rain of explosive power. Section after section of the starbase was destroyed by the explosions or vaporized instantly.
The attack was brief. After only a few minutes one of the Sernaix shots made contact with the main power reactor at the center of the station, and the powerful shockwave created by the resulting explosion ballooned outwards through the starbase, destroying everything in its path.
The six Sernaix ships circled the devastation before they slowly moved off in search of more destruction, as the massive field of debris that had been Starbase 21 was slowly pulled towards the gas giant below.
Admiral Paris’ aide struggled to keep up with his superior as they made their way through Starfleet Headquarters. "Admiral Hayes said they received the distress signal at 0837 hours," he said, handing the Admiral a PADD.
Paris grunted and examined the information. "They lost contact."
"How many starships did we have stationed there?"
"I don’t know, sir. At least six."
The aide glanced down at his PADD. "They estimate at least 3,500."
"Do we have any ships nearby?"
"I don’t know, sir."
Paris nodded as they reached the turbolift. "Level four," he ordered as the doors closed. "Did Admiral Hayes say if there had been any other Sernaix activity?"
"I, uh, don’t know, sir. He didn’t mention it. He just said for you to join him immediately."
"Hm." Paris tapped the PADD against the palm of his hand. "This could mean another Sernaix offensive."
The turbolift stopped; Paris stepped out and continued down the corridor, his aide still struggling to keep up with him.
As soon as they stepped through the doors into the briefing room, Paris saw that he wasn’t the first to arrive. The room was already full of members of Starfleet Command.
"Owen," Admiral Hayes greeted him, standing up from the tactical display he was examining. "As you can see, we’ve got a bit of a situation."
Paris’ face clouded over. "More than Starbase 21?"
"I’m afraid so." Hayes looked around the room for a few minutes, taking stock of who was present. "We can’t afford to wait any longer. We should begin."
The Admirals took their seats around the oval conference table, and Hayes nodded to Admiral Nechayev.
"At 0837 hours this morning," she began, "the U.S.S. Magellan detected a distress call from Starbase 21. They attempted to respond but lost all contact at 0841 hours. The Magellan was just under a lightyear away and set a course we lost contact at 0903 hours."
There was a heavy silence around the table as they all realized the implications.
"Did they report engaging the Sernaix?" asked Admiral Ross.
"We think they tried," responded Hayes, "but they didn’t have time."
"What are our fleet deployments in that sector?" asked Paris.
"The Lexington and the Endeavor are just over five lightyears away. The Enterprise is in the next sector. We’ve ordered them to set a course to investigate as well."
"Would it be wise to send them?" asked Admiral Warhol. "They might not fare any better."
"We can’t ignore the possibility that there are survivors," said Ross.
Warhol was about to reply when the monitor at one end of the room came to life and a Starfleet commander appeared on the screen. "What is it, Grayson?" Hayes asked his officer.
"Sir, the Exeter just intercepted a distress signal from the U.S.S. Carolina."
"Put it onscreen."
Captain Peterson of the U.S.S. Carolina appeared on the screen. The bridge behind him was dark, lit only by the pulsing red glare thrown by the red alert lights. "This is the U.S.S. Carolina to any vessels within range." Peterson ducked as his ship shuddered violently underneath him and a shower of sparks shot into view on the monitor. "We’re in orbit of Rubicun III and are under attack by three Sernaix ships. They’re attacking the planet and—"
"Captain!" interrupted a voice in the background.
Peterson looked to the side and his eyes widened in horror. "My God ."
"I’m detecting four more Sern no, nine more!" continued the voice in the background.
"Power torpedoes and prepare to—"
The transmission dissolved into a sudden burst of static and then the monitor went blank.
There was a heavy silence around the table for a few moments as the admirals kept their eyes fixed on the vacant screen in front of them.
Hayes was the first one to pull himself back to the meeting. "It would seem then that—"
Commander Grayson interrupted them again on the monitor. "Sir? Three of our Fleet deployments have just reported engaging the Sernaix."
"Send all the reinforcements we can manage."
"And get me tactical data on these latest engagements."
"Yes, sir. It’s coming in now—I’ll put it through."
As the monitor went blank again, Paris spoke up, finishing Hayes’ earlier statement. "The Sernaix are making a new offensive."
Hayes nodded in agreement. "The question is, can we hold them off?"
The monitor at the end of the room lit up with a tactical display of the Alpha Quadrant. Red flashing indicators marked the latest reported attacks.
"That’s closer to Earth than any of the previous attacks," said Paris solemnly.
While the rest of the admirals stared in horror at the display, Admiral Warhol narrowed his gaze. He shook his head slightly and brought himself back to the conversation as Admiral Nechayev spoke: "I recommend that we recall all ships within range back to Earth and set up a defense perimeter."
"That would leave the surrounding sectors vulnerable to attack," pointed out Ross.
"You’d prefer to leave Earth vulnerable, Admiral?" she countered.
"Of course not," he retorted, "but there’s got to be something less drastic."
"We’ll recall all ships not already part of the defense perimeter to Earth," said Hayes. "We can’t leave the surrounding sectors undefended."
"Agreed," said Ross.
"Agreed," said Nechayev, reluctantly.
Hayes nodded. "Good. Inform the fleet."
As the rest of those present rose and began to leave, Admiral Paris kept his gaze fixed on the tactical display. Another red indicator appeared. And another. And another. His brow furrowed in concern. If the Sernaix were devastating the Alpha Quadrant, where so many advanced races with so many resources were cooperating to oppose them, then what was happening elsewhere in the galaxy?
And if Voyager was still out there somewhere what chance did a single ship have?
Mr. West’s eyes blazed as he examined the shifting tactical display on the monitor in front of him. "What the devil is she doing?" he demanded. Seagal, standing beside him, crossed his arms but wisely said nothing.
The doors at the other end of the room opened and Warhol entered. "Some deal you made," he snapped. "I just came from a meeting at Headquarters. The Sernaix are attacking unapproved targets."
"We know," West snapped back.
"We’re monitoring the situation," added Seagal.
"Monitoring?" repeated Warhol incredulously. "They’re getting dangerously close to Earth. This can’t continue."
"Agreed," said West. He turned to Seagal. "Get me Sycorax."
Seagal raised an eyebrow. "You know she dislikes it when we—"
"Now," said West coldly.
Seagal made no reply and moved immediately over to the comm panel as West returned his smouldering gaze to the tactical display of the quadrant.
"What?" demanded Sycorax of the Habitat Mind.
"West is trying to contact you. He refuses to wait."
Toying with Section 31 no longer appealed to her, but she had to keep them from turning against her for now, at least. At this point, she had nothing to lose by preserving the alliance, especially since she was currently unable to hold up her end of their deal. "Very well."
A holographic projection of Mr. West appeared in front of her. "Adimha," he greeted her. She immediately noticed that he sounded more cautious than usual.
"I hope for your sake that this is important. I have urgent business to deal with."
West frowned. "I thought we had an understanding. Your packs are attacking locations not on our list of approved targets."
Sycorax had no intention of telling Section 31 her weakness. "I am aware of this. The packs were overeager in their attacks."
"Rubicun III was nowhere near the approved targets," he countered.
"A misunderstanding." She was sure the underlying threat in her tone was clear West would have no idea she couldn’t carry out the implied threat. She was almost amused by watching him trying to determine if she was lying.
"Of course," he said finally.
Reaching the end of her patience, Sycorax made the projection vanish with a wave of her hand and returned to her thoughts. If she couldn’t find some way to bring the packs under control soon, she would have to take drastic measures.
Mr. West glared at the blank screen in front of him for a long few seconds before he looked up at Seagal and Warhol, standing on the other side of the desk. "She’s lying," he stated firmly.
"Of course she’s lying," spat Warhol.
"If she’s decided to break our deal," said Seagal, "Why would she keep up the pretense? If she’s decided we’re no longer of any use to her, why play along?"
"Just to toy with us?" suggested Warhol.
"She’s certainly capable of it." West rose from his chair. He strode over to the tactical display and crossed his arms as he observed the latest reports on Sernaix activity around the quadrant. Finally he turned around. "It’s entirely possible that Sycorax has decided we’re no longer useful to her," he said slowly. "But we can’t afford to act on that kind of speculation. We’ll maintain appearances until we get definite proof Sycorax has double-crossed us or until we decide it’s over."
Sycorax could feel the last of her control slipping away. The chaos was still spreading among the packs, into the Realm this had to be stopped.
She had no other choice.
It was time.
Harry Kim frowned at the monitor in front of him as the flowing lines of data seemed to become distorted. It took a few seconds for him to realize that it was his vision and not the display that was spinning. He reached for the edge of the console and gripped it, hard.
Seven, working beside him, immediately noticed something was wrong. "Harry?"
He managed to maintain his balance, but couldn’t get his lips to form any words. Everything began to grow dim and he felt as though he was being drawn somewhere. The room around him seemed to fall slowly out from under him. It was a strange sensation it reminded of him of his zero-G training in the Atlantic.
He could sense he was being pulled somewhere, but everything was still foggy and he couldn’t make anything out. His thoughts felt sluggish; it was hard for him to think at all.
Slowly, he became aware of another presence. A very large presence. The Realm, he thought suddenly. Sycorax.
As his thoughts began to clear he became conscious of everything around him. He was in the Realm, but nobody was aware of his presence. He could sense everything, see everything. He was everywhere.
Something was still pulling him he could feel that something important was happening. He had to find out what it was.
He became aware of Sycorax. She was frustrated losing control. And she wanted something. She was calling for something. Or someone, he thought. Me?
It took him a few seconds to realize that he was mistaken. He wasn’t the one that Sycorax wanted at all .
The Doctor’s face relaxed somewhat as he continued scanning Harry with a tricorder. "I think he’s coming to." Seven sighed with relief, and a few seconds later Harry’s eyes slowly opened.
"Lieutenant?" said the EMH. "Can you hear me?"
Harry slowly raised a hand to his forehead as Seven and the Doctor helped him sit up on the biobed in Sickbay. "Ohhh," he groaned. "My head."
"I ." Everything came back in a rush. "I have to go see the captain," he insisted, jumping off the biobed. He wavered, still groggy, and would have fallen if Seven hadn’t steadied him by the shoulders.
The Doctor frowned. "Lieutenant, I want to examine you further."
Harry used Seven to keep himself on his feet, shaking his head resolutely as his mind became clear. "No," he insisted. "I need to see the captain."
Both Seven and the Doctor appeared ready to object again, but Harry’s expression was determined, so they merely cast a worried glance at each other and allowed him to lead them out the door.
Captain Janeway looked at him in silence, the slight twitch in one of her eyebrows the only outward sign of her surprise. She kept her gaze leveled at Harry for a few more seconds, glanced briefly at Chakotay, then turned back to Harry. "Suspiria?" she repeated, as if to confirm that she had heard him correctly.
"The female Caretaker?" added Chakotay in the same tone.
"Yes, sir. She’s the Sernaix’s god. Sycorax is trying to summon her."
"Do you know why?"
"She’s losing control of the packs. She thinks Suspiria will be able to stop them."
Captain Janeway slowly rose from her desk and made her way over to the ready room windows, staring out at the familiar stars of the Delta Quadrant. "Has Suspiria responded to this summons?" she asked after a few seconds.
"No, ma’am. And she won’t."
Janeway turned around to face him. "Oh?"
She looked at Chakotay, and when their eyes met she saw that he was as surprised as she was. "Gone?" she repeated. "How do you know?"
"I just know. She’s gone."
Chakotay turned to Harry. "If Sycorax is losing control of the packs ."
" there will be nothing to stop them from destroying everything in their path," said Harry, his expression grim.
Suddenly, Captain Janeway stopped pacing. Her eyes lit up. "Maybe we should give Sycorax what she wants."
Chakotay frowned. "Kathryn?"
She crossed the ready room with quick steps and strode onto the bridge; the two men followed her. "Tom," she said as she approached the helm, "set a course for New Ocampa."
Tom looked at her, then at Chakotay, then at Harry, knowing that he was missing something. "Yes, ma’am," he responded after a few seconds, turning back to his console with a puzzled expression.
Janeway rested her hands on her hips as she watched the transwarp corridor forming on the viewscreen in front of her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Chakotay and Harry still standing near the edge of the bridge and turned to them, amused at their mystified expressions. "Mr. Kim," she said, one side of her mouth curling up in a smile, "you may have just given us the advantage we need."
The transwarp corridor slowly unfolded near the edge of the binary system in a dazzling display of colours, finally bursting open as Voyager returned to normal space and moved towards the fourth planet that orbited the twin stars.
Captain Janeway rose gracefully from her seat and stepped forward to the middle of the bridge, watching the arid terrain of New Ocampa grow larger on the viewscreen. "Put us into a synchronous orbit, Mr. Paris," she ordered as they drew closer.
The captain turned and started for the turbolift. "Chakotay, Tuvok, Harry, you’re with me. Tom, you have the bridge." The three men fell in step behind her and followed her into the turbolift. "Deck four," she ordered as soon as the doors slid shut.
The gentle hum of the turbolift was the only sound for several decks. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Chakotay quietly.
Janeway turned to him. "Hm?"
Harry glanced at Tuvok, who was staring ahead at the wall, seemingly oblivious to their conversation. Probably a good plan, thought Harry. He looked down at the floor and tried to merge into the back wall of the turbolift.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" repeated Chakotay.
"This could be the opportunity we’ve been waiting for, Chakotay," she replied. "I don’t think we can afford not to try. And if it works ." She let that idea hang and was relieved when he smiled as well.
The turbolift stopped and the captain led them down the hall to the transporter room. "Put us down right in front of the caves, Ensign," she ordered the young woman at the controls.
"Yes, ma’am," replied Ensign Lang.
The officers materialized in the forest surrounding the Ocampan caves. The trees around them were indistinct shadows against the intense brilliance of the shafts of sunlight breaking through the foliage above them.
A part of the shadows seemed to be moving; it detached and moved towards them. As it moved closer, the undefined shadow became the silhouette of a familiar humanoid form. "Captain Janeway," it said. "Welcome back."
They were unable to make out his face clearly, but they recognized the voice. "Locin," acknowledged the captain. "We’re here to see Kes."
He bowed slightly. "Right this way."
Locin led them into the caves. They had to stop momentarily to let their eyes adjust to the pitch black of the cave. Kes met them halfway up the entrance. "Captain," she greeted them. "This is a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon."
"We need your help," explained the captain. She glanced at Chakotay, then turned back to Kes. "We may have a chance to bring all of this to an end."