Having snaked its way through the debris, the Enterprise finally entered clear space. Gazing at the viewscreen, Picard watched as the Hydra was forced to break off its assault of its original target and engage the small dumbbell shaped fighters that were peppering the Galaxy's shields. To his surprise the ship's phaser arrays switched from bolts to beams without hesitation and began rapidly thinning the ranks of the smaller craft.
Another feature to separate it from the herd, he thought.
"What is the status of the enemy ship?" Picard asked.
"The propulsion section of the vessel appears to be completely destroyed," the operations officer replied. "However it's continuing its attack on Voyager."
"Captain," Data said. "I am reading heavy small arms fire on board Voyager. The ship itself is completely without power and is without life support."
"Transporter room 3, beam the Voyager survivors aboard," Jean-Luc ordered. "Mr. Worf, open hailing frequencies."
"Hailing frequencies open," Worf stated.
"This is Captain Picard of U.S.S. Enterprise. Cease your attack, lower your shields, and surrender."
"No response, Sir," Worf stated.
The sleek hulls of several Valkyrie-class fighters shot into view as they arced over the Enterprise and raced forward, showering the wedge shaped ship with pulsed phaser fire. The Falcon Island took up position off the enemy ship's port side and hammered at the shielding that protected large weapon turrets.
"Mr. Worf. Coordinate our fire with the Falcon Island. I want those weapons offline. Helm, place us directly over that ship."
"Aye, Captain," the helmsman said.
"Aye, Captain," the Klingon replied almost eagerly.
As the Enterprise took position, Picard watched as brilliant steaks of orange light appeared in the viewscreen striking the area above the enemy's port side weapons. The seconds ticked by and as enemy's shields began to buckle against the combined assault of two starships, Picard began to feel uneasy. Something didn't feel right. Why would a lone ship take on four adversaries, at least two of equal strength?
"Lawson, to fleet. Break off the attack and withdraw immediately." Picard could hear her voice was thick with worry.
"We can't leave Voyager behind," Captain Nguyen replied quickly.
"Captain," Data called. "I am reading five large ships at the edge of senor ra…" When Data suddenly quit speaking, Picard looked over and saw a confused expression on his first officer's face as he rapidly tapped the panel before him. "Sir, four of the five ships I was just reading suddenly vanished following a massive discharge of energy."
"What do you mean they van…" Picard cut off when the Enterprise's automated proximity alarm began sounding.
"Evasive maneuvers!" Captain Stan abruptly screamed.
The audio channel shared by the starships was suddenly filled by horrible sounds of screaming, twisting metal. Human cries of fear and panic quickly followed. There was one last sound of a large explosion before the channel went silent but for the computer noises of the Enterprise. The silence lasted only a moment before the Enterprise was rocked by weapons fire so viciously that Picard was forced to tightly grip the arms of his chair to avoid the risk of being thrown to the floor.
"Report!" Jean-Luc called.
"Four ships have appeared in close proximity, Captain." Worf called "We are receiving fire from the ships located to our forward and starboard sides."
"Helm, full impulse! Take us underneath that ship! Mr. Worf fire at will."
"Sir," Data said. "The Falcon Island was rammed by the ship to our starboard. She is gone, Sir."
"Forward and starboard shields are down to sixty percent, Sir," the operations officer said.
Lawson had observed in a fascinated horror as four giant arrow shaped ships had streaked into combat. Her stomach muscles had twisted painfully as she watched the small Falcon Island break apart with agonizing slowness across the bow of the enemy ship. She was certain that screams of terror she had heard over the open channel would haunt her nightmares for the rest of her life.
Rising to her feet, Cassandra began making her way off the raised command platform. "All ahead full. Get us moving," she called. Pointing a finger at Commander Shepard, she said, "Beam an antimatter device to that first ship."
Nodding once, Shepard quickly tapped his communicator. "Le Grant. Send our new friends a parting gift."
"Lawson to Enterprise and Red Cloud. We need to get out of here."
"But Voyager," Captain Nguyen protested.
"All survivors are aboard the Enterprise," Picard countered.
"We can't leave her behind," Nguyen continued.
Sighing heavily, Lawson stared at the Intrepid's dark form still caught in the other ship's tractor beam. "I hate this," she whispered. Without looking away from the viewscreen, she called, "Shepard, beam three more devices to Voyager."
"Three?" Shepard asked surprised.
She was vaguely aware of her nails digging into the palms of her hands. "They already took one ship. We will not give them another."
"You can't do that, Lawson," Natia said.
Glancing over her shoulder, Cassandra met Commander Shepard's eyes. The man nodded grimly and Lawson looked away. "It's already done," she replied quietly. Returning to her command chair, she slowly found her seat, fully feeling the weight of her choice.
"You're making the right choice from a tactical standpoint, Captain." Ena was suddenly standing next her.
Ignoring the words that she assumed were meant for comfort, Lawson said, "Helm, set course for rally point one. Warp eight."
Tarkin sat behind his desk, his hands folded neatly in before him as he regarded those standing at attention across from him. There should have been five captains standing before him, but there wasn't and he was not happy about this fact. But a proper leader never let his emotions get the better of him. Uncontrolled emotions led to rash decisions, rash decisions led to mistakes, and mistakes often resulted in failure. And here in a strange galaxy, so far away from the full support of the Empire, failure could very well mean death.
"While I find your inability to capture a ship belonging to this Federation quite unfortunate, the destruction of the Insidious is completely unacceptable."
"Grand Moff," One of the captains began. "We moved in as soon as Captain Yavell signaled for help."
"A Gladiator-class starship was destroyed, Captain. We are very far from home and it will be months before Imperial reinforcements arrive. Captain Yavell should never have had needed to call for support." Rising to his feet, Tarkin leaned forward placing the tips of his fingers on his desk. "You should consider yourselves fortunate that we are far from home, Captains. Otherwise each of you would be offering your explanations to a far less forgiving audience."
He allowed them stand in uncomfortable silence for a moment before finally lowering his gaze and returning to his seat. "You may return to your ships."
Tarkin stared after the departing captains and waited for them to leave before turning his attention to the cloaked figure that was standing silently against the wall. "Do you wish to explain your lack of action?"
The figure moved away from the wall and padded silently to stand before his desk. Slender, gloved hands emerged from the folds of the cloak and pushed back the garments deep hood. The young woman never made eye contact with Tarkin; instead she gazed straight ahead towards the window behind him. "Sir, there is no excuse. I didn't act because I believed there to be no reason to."
"No reason?" Tarkin asked carefully keeping his tone even.
"No, Sir. I acknowledge that the Insidious was severely damaged and that further action should have been taken before things escalated to that point. However, with one ship disabled another destroyed, the Federation ships were in full retreat. It is still unclear how an explosive device even made it onto the Insidious."
Rising once again from his chair, Tarkin made to the window. He stared at the planet that the Empire's initial probe and construction droids had found and made suitable for later human needs.
All things considering, the droids had done a commendable job in the six years prior to Wave One of colonists. There was an entire city capable of comfortably housing all of the three and a half million people with plenty of room to spare. They had also constructed numerous automated factories turning out all sorts of goods, an orbital shipyard that circled nearly the entire planet. And the pentagon shaped gate that was stabilizing this portion of the anomaly that connected this galaxy to theirs.
"For six years droids operated in this galaxy; constructing our base of operations, mapping limited hyperspace lanes and all the while remaining undetected by the natives." Tarkin turned to face the young woman. "Within three months of our arrival, Inquisitors who cannot control themselves force our hand months before the Second Wave is due to arrive."
"The Thirteenth Brother was punished for his actions in that initial colony, Grand Moff," the woman protested.
Tarkin ignored her. "Our hyperspace lanes allow for travel to the homeworld of these Gorn do they not?"
"Then I want an example made. A sufficient show of force should convince those here that the Empire is not something to be taken lightly."