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“FIRE!” the command rang in his ears and obediently he swung his arm around the bulkhead, closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger. The volley of phaser fire filled the narrow corridor and raked across the invaders. Their gleaming white armor proved to be far less resistant to hand phasers than the alien spacecraft had been. A high enough setting and the phaser beam would cut through the armor in a matter of seconds. But in those seconds the Starfleet personnel had to expose themselves to return fire. These alien invaders moved and attacked with military training and precision. They easily took advantage of the tactical difference. The Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards was certain to fall into the invaders hands before the station reached the “day” side. He did not know if he had hit anything being too scared to look. Quickly he pulled his hand back as the enemy returned fire. Bright red pulses that looked like projectile fire, but burned through or disintegrated everything they hit, ripped through the Starfleet defensive positions. The bulkhead he was using as cover opened up like tissue paper and the red bolts passed right by his face. He hit the ground shaking trying once more to escape, to “will” himself to safety but that power seemed to be taken from him. Taken the moment the stars had gone all crazy. Now the universe seemed alien to him… and to press in on him from all sides holding him in one place…and in this time. There would be no easy escape. The enemy had already taken the command center and now they were making their way to each of the ships still docked there. As far as he knew none of the other Starfleet ships had managed to weigh anchor. His own ship, the Titan, was docked on the very ring on which they were now fighting. He should be aboard her, helping to get the ship up and running and ready to shove off but he had been aboard the shipyard station when the enemy attacked. Now he was part of the small contingent of defenders under orders to hold off the enemy long enough to get the USS Titan flight ready. “Fall back!” Commander Hathaway cried out. He moved at once as he heard the order. The enemy was so close now that he could hear the click-clack of their metal boots on the deck plating. So, he ran as fast as he could with hunched shoulders as the red bolts flew past him. Ahead of him he saw Rodriguez struck in the back… then Collins…but he kept running low until a power conduit exploded just as he rounded a corner. The blast knocked him off his feet and he landed in a heap on top the bodies of his comrades. His ears were ringing, and his head swam. The gleaming white armored invaders stomped around the corner with their black rifles ready to fire. Death was very near…then he saw that he had not dropped his phaser. Time seemed to slow around him as he raised the weapon. He knew there was no way he could get off a shot before they killed him, but he tried anyway. Death had attempted to take him many times before… but he had always managed to elude it… to beat it back. At one point he had figured himself to be unkillable… immortal… …but then the stars realigned and now… Death was bearing down finally, wearing ghostly white armor with macabre skeletal helmets. The explorer in him briefly wondered what the aliens looked like beneath the skull-like masks. They opened fire. The red bolts arced across the room toward him and his fallen comrades. Instinctively he twisted away and… …somehow… …he dodged the bolts! But only by the merest of margins. The bolts were moving slower than they had been… no… wait! EVERYTHING was moving slower. Everything but him. He pulled the trigger of his phaser and let loose a beam. It hit the lead invader square in his chest. The strike smoldered and began to eat its way into the armor at a painstakingly slow pace. The invader turned his weapon toward him, and he knew that the beam would not cut through in time. A flick of the wrist and the phaser beam raked up the invaders chest and hit him directly in the neck joint. The effect was instantaneous. Set so high, the phaser beam vaporized the invader beneath his armor which collapsed in pieces to the floor. He fired again and again at the invaders, their red pulse bolts flying past him as he dodged and returned fire with amazing accuracy. Soon the corridor was filled not only with the bodies of fallen Starfleet but with the half empty white armor of the enemy. Time returned to normal as he stood now alone in the corridor breathing hard. Somehow, he had managed to exert some measure of control over the power he had once wielded so casually. He had slowed down time itself. But only barely. He had to get to the Titan or he would surely be… Footsteps sounded in the far corridor. Not more of the invaders he thought, for he could only hear one pair of heavy thudding steps. But there was a measure of power in the steps… and it got both hot and cold in the corridor suddenly. His comm badge beeped then and through static he could hear his commanding officer barking orders. “This is Captain Riker to the defense team. Fall back to the ship. We’re ready to make way! Does anyone read me?” He held his breath as the footsteps sounded ever closer and neared the bulkhead where the invaders bodies lay. An even stranger sound drew closer as well, much like the sound of broken cooling fans or a mechanical… rasping? Almost like… breathing? Fear took a hold of him in a way he had never known. “This is Captain Riker! Does anyone read me? Commander Forcier? Commander Hathaway?” This invader was different. Big, almost as tall as the corridor itself and instead of white armor he was clad in all black with a large black cape draped over his massive shoulders. His helmet was similar to the others but much more menacing. The mechanical breathing came directly from the metal vent beneath the dark eye lenses. The huge dark invader glanced at his fallen soldiers almost calmly then turned the coal black eyes of his mask toward the only living being in the corridor. “Again, if you can hear me, fall back!” Rikers voice buzzed softly in his ear sounding very small compared to the sound of his pounding heartbeat as the black warrior stepped closer to him. “Fall back to the ship! Anyone? Lt. Commander Crusher? Damn it Wesley where are you?” So focused, was he, on the coal black eyes now bearing down on him that he only heard his name called in a dreamlike way. All he really could hear was the mechanical forced breathing which seemed to fill the corridor. Then the invader spoke with a voice as black and cold as space. “THE FORCE IS STRONG IN YOU” “Tuvok!” Janeway woke with a start to emergency lighting and the moans of her crew. She tried to look about, but her hair had fallen into her eyes. When she tried to brush it away, she found that her arms were pinned to her sides. “Captain?” gentle fingers pulled her hair back for her and she looked up into the eyes of her most unusual crewman. “Doctor?” She realized then that she was in sick bay. “Report.” “Sorry about the restraints, Captain, but you were thrashing so violently in your sleep.” The holographic physician touched the nearby console and Janeway felt the pressure binding her arms and legs disappear. She sat up at once and a wave of dizziness threatened to put her back down. Through a clenched jaw she asked; “What’s happening?” The Doctor waved a tricorder over her as he explained. “You suffered a concussion in the attack of that monstrosity that destroyed Earth. You’ve been unconscious for the better part of two days. I placed you on a regimen of cortical stimulation treatment. Only in the past few hours have you…” She cut him off. “What’s happening to the SHIP?” The Doctor almost looked hurt. He placed the tricorder down and walked to a nearby viewscreen. “Perhaps the acting captain should explain.” After a moment the bruised face of her security officer filled the screen. “She’s awake, Captain, and in a pleasant mood” said the Doctor sarcastically. “It is good to see you well, Captain” Tuvok said in his usual stoic demeanor. “Tuvok? You’re Acting Captain?” Janeway asked then looked about sick bay. Every bed was taken but in none of them did she see her First Officer… “Commander Chakotay was killed during our attack run on the alien sphere. I assumed command, then and moved the Bridge to Engineering.” Chakotay…dead? Janeway could not help but to continue to look about sick bay. “How many…” “23 crewmembers died in the initial attack.” The Doctor told her then. “5 succumbed to injuries since then and we have more than 40 wounded many of whom are still at their posts.” “We are currently engaged in rescue operations” Tuvok reported. “The alien sphere withdrew after our attack but then launched several hundred attack craft. They have destroyed or captured nearly every facility in the inner solar system. Currently the Utopia Planitia Shipyards is under attack.” “Where are we?” Janeway finally stood from the sick bay bed. With a Starfleet captain’s resolve, she gritted through a brief wave of dizziness. “We are currently in orbit over Europa and taking on passengers.” Tuvok told her. “Passengers? What about…” “Admiral Paris, who took command of the fleet, has ordered an evacuation of the entire system.” Janeway looked aghast at her security officer. “Evacuation? What about…” “Our attack run was successful in forestalling the alien ship from firing its main weapon again, however our analysis indicates that they will be able to return to firing readiness within one solar day. So far only the transphasic torpedoes have proven effective against them in combat and we have exhausted our supply.” Janeway took a breath. After struggling for so long to get her crew home…after so many losses and sacrifices for that one goal…to have to… “How long before we can re-arm?” her voice had a deadly tone. Tuvok actually seemed to grimace ever so slightly. “We have several repairs to key systems to make before we can begin the fabrication of new transphasic weapons. Most of our personnel are working toward making Voyager capable of high warp or helping to settle in the…” “Put Seven of Nine to work on the torpedoes.” Janeway barked. “Seven of Nine is currently in Astrometrics attempting to…” “ASTROMETRICS? Why would you order her to…” Janeway gasped suddenly at the throbbing in her head. The Doctor was beside her in an instant. “Captain, please! You received a severe concussion!” he tried to pull her back to her sickbed. “We discovered,” Tuvok explained. “…that something has happened to the very universe. Moments after we returned to Earth space the stars ‘realigned’. With the exception of the Sol system…nothing is as it should be. Seven is in Astrometrics attempting to map the surrounding sectors now. Primarily looking for a place to retreat to, on Admiral Paris’ orders.” “We’re just going to leave Earth?” Janeway asked in almost a whisper. No amount of discipline derived from having undergone the Kolinahr could keep the look of pain and sympathy from shading over Tuvok’s face. Her pain was his, but he knew that he must say it anyway. “Captain…there is no Earth to leave.” Vader stared down at the empty deck plating where the curious young man had been cowering just moments before. What had happened to him? Had it been some kind of suicide? Vader was certain he had not seen young man turn his weapon on himself but never-the-less he had seemed to be vaporized right before his eyes. Inside the black metal helmet the Sith Lord closed his eyes and sought answers in the Force. The young man was… …not dead… …no… …still very much alive… …and somewhere with friends… …YES! The stranger had simply escaped him. He stepped beyond the corridor onto an observation deck. Through the huge viewport, he watched as the last of the strangely shaped spacecraft pulled away from the station and made its escape. Such strange technology these people had…energy-matter-transportation-technology…soon to be in the hands of the Empire. And Vader knew that he would meet the young man again, as well as any of these new strangers who might show some talent in the Force.



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