Star Date: 51843.55

Common Era: 2374

Location: Serenity System

22:55

The battered fleet hovered in a scattered formation as ninety ships exited warp at the edge of the system. The twenty-five Romulan vessels, thirty Federation ships, and thirty-five Klingon warships presented a morale-boosting sight; the swarm of 800 fighter craft that darted amongst them gave the fleet a pleasingly bolstered presence on a sensor screen. The ship's commanders exchanged few pleasantries as they transmitted battle plans to one another and began divvying up the fleet into command squadrons. A few minutes later and the Dominion reinforcements arrived. The Allied fleet activated their impulse drives and sped towards the now advancing Dominion line. Outnumbered but not outgunned, the Allied fleet began to close the five million kilometer distance. Slightly less than a minute later and the frontline ships opened fire.

A squadron of Akira-class and Steamrunner-class starships formed a first wave assault and laid down a withering barrage of photon torpedoes. The other starships in the fleet fired a single torpedo each, programmed to fly slightly ahead of the main wave. Two seconds after firing and the torpedo swarm had entered the outliers of the Dominion's beam-weapon's targeting range, the torpedoes spearheading the surge detonated at carefully timed intervals. The targeting sensors of the Dominion vessels had been set to full sensitivity upon detecting the launch and were momentarily blinded by the sudden surge of radiation. The torpedo swarm streaked forwards, unimpeded by the out-of-date targeting vectors of the defending fleet. The torpedoes arched and swerved as they compensated for evasive maneuvers. Smaller ships were able to avoid most of the incoming ordinance, but enough hit their mark to destroy many of the attack ships damaged by the previous fighting. Larger ships withstood the fusillade; again, it was the war-weary veterans of the battle that fared the worst. By the time the last torpedo detonated 12 Dominion ships had been disabled, all of which had been previously damaged and would likely have been used as far more dangerous suicide ships.

The Dominion fleet had identified the Allies' strategy far sooner than anticipated and launched their remaining expendables at the Allied fleet. The ships pushed their damaged warp cores to the limit as they engaged, bridging the distance in a nearly imperceptibly short time. The jump took its toll and five ships detonated upon disengaging their drives, unable to harm any Allied ship. The others swooped and darted amongst the defending ships, firing full-bore and inflicting as much damage as possible before zeroing on their targets.

A stricken attack ship hurled itself at a Romulan warbird; it impacted the port nacelle and sheared itself in two. The nacelle crumpled and was torn away under the impact, but the warbird was spared total destruction as the innermost half of the attack ship sailed through the hollow center and detonated hundreds of kilometers away. Numerous secondary explosions blossomed throughout the mighty warship as the EPS conduits ruptured, the energy from the core that would have otherwise gone into the warp coils was now surging into other systems beyond the emergency capacitor's ability to compensate. The crewmen that were not vaporized by the explosions were pulverized by shrapnel and incinerated by conduit plasma; entire decks were turned into charnel houses, littered with body parts and green blood. Multiple hull breaches sucked screaming crew into the vacuum of space to die horribly.

"Engineering to bridge!" a bloodied Romulan crewman cried into the com. "The port nacelle has been completely destroyed! We've managed to avoid a core breach, but almost all the EPS conduits on decks 11 through 21 are overloading! Requesting core shut down!" she waited anxiously for an affirmation. "Bridge?!"

There was a familiar keening sound building from across the room, another conduit was overloading behind a work console; its occupant began a vain effort to flee. With a small exclamation of frustration the engineer began the core shut down procedure. There was a shrieking explosion and plasma flooded out at hypersonic velocities, the other console worker was reduced to a blast of viscera that impacted the wall above her station. A surge of shrapnel and superheated gasses followed.

The engineer groaned and clambered back up to her work console. Both her legs had been severed and her left hand was missing most of its fingers, but she could still see her objective through her remaining eye. She gasped and gagged on the superheated air as she completed the procedure. Another keening sound built up behind her console, she thumbed the last two commands and waited. The keening sound rose in pitch before winding down and fading completely. She drew another hitching breath before slumping forward and sliding to the floor.

23:03

Another attack ship streaked towards the Brockway, its smoldering engine manifolds sparking and sputtering as they pushed it towards the Federation ship. At a distance of 50 kilometers a barrage of phaser pulses racked up and down the crippled ship, disintegrating its entire front end. The ensuing reactor explosion scattered all but a few sections of plating that bounced harmlessly off of the Brockway's shields. A more successful Dominion vessel nosedived and smashed into the saucer section of an Excelsior-class, lodging itself in the bow fuselage. The impact, while not enough to destroy either ship, sent the starship into a spin as its inertial dampers failed to completely shunt the momentum into its compensators.

"Damage control teams report to priority stations, cascade prevention is now priority one!" the captain shouted into the com. "Evacuation of non-engineering staff in saucer section is now in effect!"

A wounded lieutenant pushed a dead officer slumped over a command console, hurriedly typing in commands, intermittently coughing from the chemical smoke choking the air. "Sir! Shields are down and power is out in large sections of the ship. The Jem'Hadar ship has somehow maintained antimatter containment."

"For now…" the captain grumbled, wiping blood from a nasty gash from his forehead out of his eye. "We'll have to shut down all power to the saucer section, any surge could set it off."

"Shutting off the power could cause a momentary surge in the EPS conduits, sir."

"Reroute to it to the phaser banks," he commanded. "It'll fuse them solid, but they won't explode."

"Yessir."

The captain looked out at his bridge crew, of the original twelve only seven remained, all of them struggling around a burn or an embedded chunk of shrapnel. Five of the most talented people he knew lay dead on the floor or slumped over at their stations. Lieutenant-Commander Esthridge was going to treat them all to a poem once all this was done; ensign To'Landra was going to be her accompanist…

"Captain!" the lieutenant shouted over the din of klaxons. "We're detecting power surges from the Jem'Hadar ship!"

He sprung into action, leaping over to the navigation console and hammered in code for an emergency maneuver.

Emergency force fields holding the atmosphere in the ship were deactivated and hundreds of tons of atmosphere blasted into space around the embedded ship. The ship's ventral thrusters caused it to lurch up for half a second before the dorsal thrusters thundered to life. Loosened by the explosion of atmospheric gasses and momentum gained by the upward climb, the Jem'Hadar ship pulled away from the Federation ship and drifted away. The damaged Excelsior-Class limped away from the surging ship, putting almost fifteen kilometers between it and the enemy before it exploded. A nacelle, propelled by the enormous blast, tumbled through space at hundreds of kilometers per second. It crashed into the partially erected shields and collapsed them instantly; it proceeded to smash into the bridge, crushing the pylon in a muted explosion.

Similar scenarios played out across the fleet and inside of two minutes all fifteen sacrificial ships had either been destroyed or had found their targets. Fortunately, the Allies had anticipated such a tactic and a redoubtable defense had been erected, of the fifteen suicide runs only seven had succeeded in ramming a ship, and of those only four went down with all hands. Like their Dominion counterparts they too recovered and rallied far faster than anticipated as the Allies prepared to attack.

23:10

"All ships in Delta Squadron," Captain Sisko said into the com. "Follow the Defiant in an attack on the Dominion's outer formations. Formation D-Seven Niner-Two, soften up their point defense for our long-range torpedo attacks!"

"Captain!" Colonel Kira said, looking up from her console. "Long range scans are detecting a large vessel exiting warp ten million kilometers behind the Dominion line…it's a…dreadnought."

Sisko blinked and turned back to the viewscreen. "Onscreen."

The immense ship lumbered through space, filling the screen with its enormous bulk as gnat-like attack ships swarmed about it. It was far larger than any ship in the Allied fleet by kilometers and was bristling with weaponry. It began to advance towards the system's star, closing in on the anomaly as the rest of the fleet covered its rear.

"Impossible…" Ensign Nog muttered in horror. "It's even bigger than the ship the Valiant faced!"

"A new kind of warship…" Sisko said as he signaled to Dax to open a communications link to the fleet. "…For a unique situation. Commanders of the fleet, this is Captain Benjamin Sisko. Destroying that dreadnought is now our top priority! A ship that size would not only have a deflector dish complex enough to establish that wormhole, but the powerplant to back it up!"

"Agreed," Captain Picard said with a nod. "A section will have to run interference with the Dominion forces while we concentrate our attack on that flagship. Suicide attacks will no doubt increase once our intent is made clear."

Captain Roark's face appeared next to Picard. "Captain, I have just finished consulting with Captain Ko'Loth of the Klingon fleet and Captain Byzaan of the Romulan fleet. We will lead the bulk of our forces in a feint advance on the dreadnought to draw away the main Dominion Fleet whilst the Enterprise and twenty ships of your choosing engage it."

Captain Ko'Loth appeared next to Roark and gestured affirmative. "As the most powerful ship with the most experienced crew, we feel that the Enterprise is the best candidate for leading this assault."

"Understood. I accept," Picard said. 'We are also uniquely equipped to deal with the situation should the battle be unwinnable…'

"I volunteer the Defiant and Delta Squadron to accompany the Enterprise on its mission," Sisko announced.

Picard nodded. "I can't think of a better squadron to assist."

Sisko waited until the screen went dark before smirking. "Someone has to make sure you don't get blown out of the sky."

"It is not wise to underestimate Captain Picard," Worf said with a knowing smile. "But you are correct that he will need our assistance."

23:15

The Enterprise and twenty ships held back as the rest of the fleet surged forwards in an obvious beeline for the dreadnought. The Dominion fleet mobilized instantly the head off the swarm of on-coming starships. There was a nearly audible thud as the two fleets collided, a thin margin of glittering beams and flashing explosions dotted the sensor screen. As the mighty fleets clashed the dreadnought lurched towards the system's star accompanied by four battlecruisers and two squadrons of Jem'Hadar attack ships. The impulse engines of the Allied task force flared and they gave chase. The Dominion ships attempted to signal for help, but their communications were jammed both by their pursuers and the Allied forces engaging their fleet. The escort ships turned and engaged their attackers with torpedo barrages.

The Dominion task force was hampered by the slow speed of their gargantuan protectorate while the Allied attack group was agile and determined; the gap between them began to close. As they approached full impulse, the two forces exchanged beam and torpedo fire, the beams of the pursuing fleet now taking on an almost sluggish quality as both sides experienced time dilation. The torpedoes' sustainer engines allowed them to maintain faster-than-impulse speeds for the short time it took to bridge the two light second gap. The glowing oblongs of orange and blue light danced and flickered through space, silently impacting the sturdy shields of the mighty Dominion capital ships.

The dreadnought fired its aft torpedo launchers and long-range polaron beam cannons. The flurry of ordinance streaked back at the Allied ships, a Miranda-Class took four beam strikes to its forward shields before a torpedo smashed into it. The weakened defensive screens absorbed the bulk of the warhead before they collapsed, but the fraction of energy that got through shattered the forward saucer-section like a dinner plate, obliterating the bridge. The lobotomized ship quavered for a moment before falling out of formation, adrift as its momentum carried it forward.

The Enterprise let loose a flurry of quantum and photon torpedoes and long-range phaser bursts. The blistering volley smashed into the shields of a selfless battlecruiser that pushed itself into the line of fire. The Enterprise's fire proved too accurate and ferocious to withstand and the battlecruiser's shields buckled on the port dorsal quadrant, shearing an entire nacelle from the warship, causing it to spin uncontrollably and fall out of formation. Even as it fell behind it continued to unleash a furious but unfocused attack, unable to hit its targets as it spun out into space. The Allies drew closer still.

As they approached the anomaly the Dominion forces abruptly broke off from the dreadnought and charged at the Allied fleet, weapons blazing. To avoid a catastrophic impact the Allies slowed dispersed in all directions. Jem'Hadar attack ships instantly engaged the Klingon wing of the fleet as the battlecruisers occupied themselves with the Romulan portion, the following dogfight ensured that neither side could adequately focus firepower or outflank the other. Only the Enterprise, the Defiant, and the three ships from Delta Squadron managed to break from the melee and resume their attack on the dreadnought. The five ships sped towards their target, even with the might of the Enterprise and the skill of the Defiant, victory against this foe was far from guaranteed.

23:28

"Delta Squadron, report!" Sisko commanded.

"The Mont Zinit, reporting in," Captain D'Redix said.

"The Beowulf is ready to fight, sir," Captain Reedy responded.

"This is the Shran. We have five fighter squadrons ready to launch, sir," announced Captain Claness.

Sisko nodded, this was good. The Beowulf was a Nebula-Class starship with a dorsal torpedo unit, a veritable juggernaut of shields and weaponry. The Mont Zinit was an Ambassador-Class starship; it was fast, powerful, and quite sturdy, a compromise between the speed of the Defiant and the firepower of the Beowulf. The Shran was an Akira-Class, meant for long-range bombardment and fighter support, the perfect compliment to the Defiant, the Mont Zinit, and the Beowulf attack stratagem. But then there was the Enterprise, a Sovereign-Class starship. Sisko admitted that he was unfamiliar with the exact specifications of this class; he knew that they were likely the most powerful warships the Federation had ever produced; they were fast, they were tough, and they were exceptionally well armed. They were all-rounders, he hated all-rounders; they were nightmares for strategists because of their lack of specialization. Enterprise could easily serve as a charge-leading battleship, a hit-and-run attack ship, or a long-range bombardment platform without a noticeable loss in performance in any field. Because it could do it all and set the bar while doing so, its placement on a battlefield would have to be based solely on the merits of its commander. He was fully aware of the negative impacts his own biases and prejudices had on his judgment of Picard's abilities, but he wasn't prepared to risk a battle purely for the sake of giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"Mr. Worf…" Sisko paused, how to broach this subject to a man as loyal as Worf? 'Where should I put your former captain and mentor so that he won't get us all killed?' probably wasn't the way to do it.

"Captain Picard would likely prefer to engage in stand-off bombardment with the Shran, engaging in direct combat later as the battle progresses," Worf responded, having divined the question from Sisko's reticence. "I would like to remind the captain again not to underestimate Captain Picard."

"Yes, I'll keep that in mind, thank you Mr. Worf," Sisko said with a smirk. "Open a channel with him, will you, Old Man?"

Dax nodded. "We're hailing the Enterprise."

"Captain Picard, I have formulated a plan of attack that will allow us to maximize damage while keeping the Enterprise's cargo relatively safe."

"I'm listening," Picard said slowly.

23:30

The dreadnought halted and began to probe the anomaly from a distance of 1.5 million kilometers. It's massively powerful deflector dish firing tachyon and chroniton pulses into the mass of subspace tears.

"It's beginning the process!" Picard exclaimed. "According to Mr. Data's assessment of Dominion computing capabilities, it should take them approximately ten minutes to establish the wormhole."

"That's all I need to hear," Sisko said tersely. "All ships, fire!"

All five ships fired a withering barrage of photon and quantum torpedoes. The orange and blue glowing missiles raced towards the dreadnought as fast as their micro-impulse engines would allow. The torpedoes slammed into the shields of the enormous warship, their destructive energies harmlessly muted flashes of light as the force field dispersed them. The Defiant and her two escorts flew towards the Dominion warship, phasers and torpedoes blazing as concentrated barrages from the two ships behind them arced across the battlefield. The dreadnought didn't bother fighting back against the oncoming attackers; energy that would have otherwise gone to weapons was redirected into the shields and deflector array.

"They're not even bothering to defend themselves!" Worf said incredulously.

"Why bother?" Sisko said grimly. "All they need to do is make sure their shields stay up while they tear open that wormhole!"

"We're just not doing enough damage, captain!" Kira said, frustrated. "Even if we had all twenty ships we wouldn't get that thing's shields down in time."

"We can't afford to think like that, Colonel!" Sisko barked. "We have to…we…"

Sisko was suddenly standing as the bridge fell away from him, his surroundings bled away into white light. An all-too-familiar feeling of weightlessness overcame him as the white light solidified into the shapes of his father's restaurant. He was in their plane, the temple of a race of non-linear beings known by their mortal worshippers on Bajor simply as The Prophets.

"Greetings," the Prophet assuming his father's form said from behind. "We have news to share with The Sisko."

Sisko spun around. "Now is a bad time."

"Elaborate," his 'father' demanded. "How do terms expressing dichotomous moral and ethical states translate to the relative temporal planes you occupy?"

"It–" Sisko sighed and gestured dismissively. "It's not important. What is important is the Dominion opening a new wormhole! That affects you, if I remember correctly!"

"You do," said a voice from behind, it was in the form of his son, Jake. "The Sisko intends to stop them?"

"That's right, and I can't stop them if I'm here!" he snapped. "Return me at once!"

"There is no danger," 'Jake' said dismissively. "We have temporarily arrested the flow of time surrounding the opening. It was not difficult."

"We are currently conducting an experiment," his 'father' said quickly. "Your ships will retreat to a safe distance."

"But what about the Dominion?" Sisko said insistently.

"Your ships will retreat to a safe distance." 'Jake' said tersely.

Sisko lurched forwards in his chair; beads of sweat pouring down his brow; Dax turned around, worry clear on her face. "Captain?"

"All ships!" Sisko said abruptly. "All ships retreat to the standoff line!"

"Sir?" Ensign Nog exclaimed.

"Do it ensign!" Sisko barked. "The Prophets are up to something!"

The Defiant, the Mont Zinit, and the Beowulf all banked hard, their impulse engines thrumming as they tore away from the dreadnought at full speed. As they did the dreadnought fired another pulse into the growing anomaly. As the pulse flashed against the tears there was a blinding explosion of light, a pulse raced back out and impacted the dreadnought. The enormous ship listed as its nacelles ceased to glow and its light began to flicker, its power drained.

"The dreadnought, sir." Miles O'Brian said. "It's dead. I'm detecting minimal power readings from inside the ship, their warp core is completely offline."

"How are they maintaining antimatter containment?" Kira said incredulously.

"It's been deactivated," Dax responded. "Its charge has been switched from negative to positive, its just deuterium now."

Sisko smirked and shook his head. "At least try to sound a little surprised, Old Man."

"It's nothing I haven't seen before, sir!" Dax said with a smirk. "There was this one time Kurzon encountered a planet-eating robot that could do the exact same thing! Looked like a giant cigar…"

"Captain!" Kira shouted from her station. "A wormhole is opening!"

"What?!" Sisko said, shocked.

"Something's coming through!"

"Put it on screen!" Sisko ordered, rising to his feet as she did. "…My…god!"

A wormhole identical to the one in the Bajoran system pulsed and undulated before them, in front of it were thousands of points of light, flashing and shimmering distortions in space and time that instantly flashed out of existence.

"Starships!" O'Brian exclaimed. "I'm detecting several hundred…no…several thousand starships!"

Sisko looked out at the ships that filled the viewscreen. They were unlike any ship he'd seen before, long and boxy, without any discernable warp nacelles or impulse manifolds. What he could recognize were the dozens of apertures that were clustered at their bows and dotted their sides: beam cannons and missile tubes, dozens of them. Every ship, each and every ship, was a warship.

"Chief…how many?"

O'Brian looked up from his console, an uncharacteristic blanche forming in his cheeks. "Six…six thousand two hundred ships, sir."

"Captain!" Dax said. "We're receiving a general hail from the largest ship."

Sisko didn't turn from the viewscreen. "Put it on screen."

The screen flickered and before them stood a Terran man of maybe thirty in a dark green military uniform. He had a tall, somewhat almond-shaped face topped by a tangled mess of thick black hair; his dark brown eyes were large, wide, and somewhat tired-looking. "Unregistered vessels, this is Rear Admiral Yang Wenli, Commanding Officer to the Thirteenth Fleet of the Free Planet's Alliance. Identify yourselves and state your business."

Sisko gestured to Dax to open a channel and said. "This is captain Benjamin Sisko of USS Defiant. Admiral Yang, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I welcome you and your fleet to the Alpha Quadrant."

Yang Wenli blinked at this announcement, what was the 'Alpha Quadrant'? He opened his mouth to ask when a startled navigations officer spun around to look up at him. "Sir! The stars, they're different!"

"What?"

"The computer's run through every star chart for every system within our warp range from Tiamat, nothing's matching up! I don't know how, sir, but we're not in any starzone within Alliance space."

Yang turned to the man on the screen. "Allow me to confer with my people, captain."

Captain Sisko nodded and the screen went dark, Yang rubbed his head under his beret. 'Hmm…must have been that anomaly that sent us here. Makes sense, or, as much sense as possible given the situation. A miscalculated warp wouldn't have put us this far into a star's gravity well, and the lack of matching star charts seems to suggest a different part of the galaxy, maybe even a different galaxy altogether! But what about those ships out there? Benjamin seems human enough, but I've never seen a ship like that outside of science fiction…suppose…we're not in our galaxy, or any other galaxy for that matter? Suppose we're in an…alternate dimension?' Yang Wenli sipped his tea. 'I'm surprised I'm taking this as well as I am! My men are relying on me; I'll have to have a meltdown on my own time!'

"Admiral…" Sub-Lieutenant Greenhill said insistently. "…Your orders?"

Admiral Yang immediately straightened and cleared his throat. "I need a full spectrum scan of the entire starzone, I want every relevant parameter regarding this star and its planets catalogued as soon as possible and disseminated to the fleet. Sub-Lieutenant Greenhill, dispatch a communiqué to the fleet's flag officers that there will be a conference at 01:00 hours and that I want stocks on fuel, ammunition, and food to be taken. Rationing strategies are to be formulated and presented at the meeting. You may go."

"Yes sir!" Sub-Lieutenant Greenhill said with a nod.

She turned to leave when Admiral Yang called after her. "Sub-Lieutenant!"

"Yes sir?"

"When you come back, bring me a bottle of brandy, would you?"

"Of course, sir!"

"Admiral!" a tactical officer said. "Mid-range scans are detecting a small group of starships, less than forty, approximately eight lightseconds away. We're detecting what appears to be weapons fire. There is also a larger conflict over two hundred lightseconds away involving approximately four hundred ships."

"Re-open communications with the Defiant," Yang said sternly, turning back to the screen. 'It's the same all over…'

Benjamin Sisko waited until the screen went dark before exhaling. He turned to Chief O'Brian who looked back at him. Sisko's expression conveyed his orders instantly, 'I need tactical information!'

"Scanning," O'Brian said, tapping his console. "The flagship possesses 112 identifiable beam weapon emitters, forty-eight missile launchers, and what appear to be launching bays for fighter craft. Shields appear to be present, but the operating mechanism is currently unknown. The hull is composed of a kind of composite of monocrystalline alloy with ablative ceramic plating, interference with scans suggests that the hull is at least several meters thick in places. No apparent warp signature or impulse manifolds, rather the main propulsion unit appears to be a highly efficient form of nuclear pulse drive."

Sisko nodded, by Federation standards it was all quite primitive, but something told him that underestimating the newcomers could be a potentially fatal blunder. "What kind of weapons, Chief?"

"Unknown. Between their shields and armor the scans are having trouble getting anything concrete, sir," he looked up from the console and at the viewscreen. "Scans suggest the main powerplant is a highly efficient form of fusion reactor, comparable to a…medium-sized warp core."

"But that's impossible!" Worf said incredulously. "No fusion reactors known to the Federation can match a medium warp core!"

"Until now, anyway," Sisko muttered before turning to Dax. "Has either Dominion fleet spotted them?"

"No sir, the radiation surge from the wormhole is blotting them out for the time being," she said. "Only the ships that broke through the Dominion line are at the right vantage point to see them."

"Speaking of our fellow line-breakers…" Sisko said amusedly. "Has the Enterprise tried to hail us?"

"For the past two minutes, sir," Dax said with a smirk. "I didn't want to interrupt your dialogue with the admiral."

"Damn decent of you," Sisko chuckled, idly fidgeting with his armrest console for a few seconds. "Lieutenant-Commander…respond to the Enterprise."

The visage of captain Picard filled the screen, Sisko silently mused at the ever-so-subtle tweak in the normally collected captain's demeanor. "Captain Sisko. Good of you to finally respond, we've detected that you've been in communication with the largest ship. Care to enlighten us as to the nature of the situation?"

"During the battle I was contacted by The Prophets and instructed to withdraw, I'm operating under the impression that this is their doing." Captain Sisko signaled to O'Brian to send Picard the information they had gathered. "The fleet is commanded by one Rear Admiral Yang Wenli, he claims to represent an organization he calls the Free Planets Alliance. He appears to be human."

"Very good," Captain Picard said with a nod. "Diplomatic processes will hereby be transferred to the Enterprise. We–"

"Captain Picard," Captain Sisko cut in. "This is still a very delicate situation. I believe I have developed a rapport with Admiral Yang."

Dax shot him an incredulous look, her expression saying 'Rapport, Benjamin?'

'Quiet, you!' he signaled, "It is my opinion that the Defiant should maintain communications with the Free Planets Alliance fleet for the time being."

"Captain Sisko, the Enterprise is sanctioned by the Federation to–" Picard began to say when the FPA flagship hailed the Defiant.

"One moment, captain," Sisko said, barely keeping the smile off his face. He had faith that The Prophet had done this for a reason. It was no coincidence that he had been assigned to this system last minute, and as their Emissary he was obligated to facilitate and communicate their will. This 'Yang Wenli' was obviously a part of their plan. "I don't want to keep the admiral waiting."

The tired-looking man in a beret once again occupied the screen; Sisko rose to his feet and nodded respectfully. "Greetings Admiral Yang, I trust you have conversed with your people? Are you in need of assistance?"

"For the time being, no, thank you. Captain Sisko, would you explain to me the nature of the conflict here?" Admiral Yang said curtly, he was clearly in no mood for obfuscation. "Until we are able to return to our nation's space, we would prefer to remain neutral in whatever event you are partaking in."

"While I will not speak for our opponents, I can guarantee that you are currently in no danger of attack from the Federation and its allies."

"And your enemies?" Admiral Yang said cautiously.

Captain Sisko cleared his throat; this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up; primitive or no, a nearly unthinkable number of warships had just become available. There was more than enough to prompt the Dominion to retreat from the system, or win a battle should they wish to push the issue. "I understand that while this declaration has little merit coming from me, I can assure you that your people will find no allies in the Dominion. Just as it was with us, your very existence is an act of war to them."

"You're right," Yang said, a frustrated crease forming in his brow "Your declaration does have little merit. The desperation of warfare will inspire the noblest man to acquire an advantage by any means necessary. I'm afraid further investigation is warranted before a stance can be taken."

'Well, here goes…' Sisko swallowed quietly and leveled a stern gaze at Admiral Yang. "Do not take this as any sort of threat, but I'd like to share with you a cold hard fact, Admiral. You're new here, you don't know how to get back home, and you've walked into a war with a large fleet of battleships. How long do you think you can convince either side that you're not a threat? No, what youneed…is a friend. We can offer you technical support, supplies, information, we may even be able to get you and your men back home, but only if you work with us!"

Yang regarded the Federation captain, while significantly more straightforward and brusque than first-contact negotiations likely should be, he conceded than he had a point.

'As a flag officer, my political duty is to promote the best interests of my country. It would be a grievous dereliction of my duties to entangle the FPA is yet another war with yet another enemy!' he looked out at the assorted bridge crew, young men and women all of them, and they were looking to him for guidance. '…But my political duty only extends so far. I am, first and foremost, an admiral in a militarized navy, and my military duty is to those under my command, to keep them safe and preserve their lives whenever possible. 700,000 enlisted officers and at least twice as many conscripts could live or die based on my next decision…I could really use that brandy right about now…'

Yang sighed and nodded, he prayed that this was the right choice, and picked up the fleet-wide communicator. "Captain Sisko, you have a deal. Ships of the 13th Fleet…battle stations."

The fleet stirred from its surprised stupor. The sheer magnitude of the confusion felt by the 13th Fleet meant that the orders given were accepted without question, its soldiers retreating to the comfort of military conditioning rather than contemplate the nature of their situation. The ships of the fleet moved with a precision and determination that almost seemed rehearsed and practiced, when in reality it was the masterful coordination of Commodore Fischer that permitted Yang's fleet its speed. Battleships and cruisers staggered themselves amongst the far more numerous destroyers, creating an ideal mixture of offensive and defensive firepower. The protective covers for the beam cannons on all ships were uncovered and missile launchers were primed.

"Tactical," Yang commanded. "Any information you have on the nearest battle."

"Yes sir! There are currently 35 ships in total, 6 match the configuration of the Federation ships we've contacted, distance is eight lightseconds," Lieutenant Commander Stockley said. "We have a clean lock on each ship, sir, they have not established any EM-Wave Interception Fields and their sensor interception appears limited to internal scans."

"What do you make of their capabilities?" Yang said, noticing Sub-Lieutenant Greenhill as she exited the bridge, a bottle of brandy tucked under her arm.

"Their beam weaponry is of an unknown type with unknown parameters, but typical engagement ranges appear to be under one lightsecond. Explosive weaponry utilizes an unknown mechanism, but appears to be at least comparable to our heavy anti-ship and light anti-formation fusion warheads. Enemy ships have displayed accelerations far superior to our own, but exact nature of the drive remains unknown."

"Relay a fleet-wide communiqué to load one light anti-formation warhead and prepare standard anti-ship missiles for immediate launch." Admiral Yang lifted the communicator to his mouth. "All ships, prepare to fire on the small fleet. Keep your fire tight and accurate; try not to hit any of the retreating ships." He signaled to the communications officer to contact the Defiant. "Captain Sisko, tell your allies in the smaller conflict to begin a withdrawal, we will commence artillery bombardment in ten seconds."

The Federation captain looked surprised for a moment before gesturing to an officer off-screen. "Done…what do you mean by 'artillery'?"

"This," Yang said, raising the communicator to his mouth. "All ships, target enemy craft and engage the EM-Wave Interception Field and sensor countermeasure suites…fire!"

The wall of ships lit up as tens of thousands of neutron beam cannons fired simultaneously. The beams were tightly compacted steams of neutrons crushed together by precisely calibrated gravitational fields and accelerated to almost the speed of light, giving each particle tremendous kinetic energy. The extent to which they had been focused by their gravity lenses gave them extraordinary cohesion over long distances; as such they radiated very little energy beyond a faint blue-white glow. The particle beams lanced across the 2.4 million kilometers in just a microsecond over eight seconds.

The target ships were still reeling from the abrupt departure of their opponents and the inscrutable 'fog' that had suddenly dulled their sensors when the beams converged on their location. The beams had only begun to lose cohesion when they impacted the already worn shields of the Dominion ships, instantly shattering the defenses of six Dominion attack ships and passed through their hulls as though they were air. The enormous kinetic energy of the neutron beam bled catastrophic amounts of thermal energy into the ships, igniting the atmosphere and melting five-meter-wide holes clear through the fuselage. Six attack ships were instantly dotted with molten holes in multiple groupings of eight and six, rupturing warp cores and antimatter containment pods causing each ship to explode spectacularly. Other attack ships faired better as their shields barely held under the onslaught, the three remaining battlecruisers weathered the attack but power surges from the sudden strain began to exacerbate previous damage. The fleet rallied and surged towards the source of the attack at one-quarter impulse.

The 13th Fleet staggered its fire between destroyers and cruisers, using their greater numbers as range-finding shots for the larger warships to focus their more powerful cannons. Jem'Hadar attack ships bobbed and weaved amongst the destroyer fire, but as they grew closer the attacks became more and more accurate and increasingly more difficult to evade. One by one the numerous attack ships drew concentrated fire and blossomed into expanding clouds of plasma until only the hardier battlecruisers remained. The larger ships were now subject to the combined attacks of dozens of warships each, even their mighty shields began to buckle and fail. The lead ship was suddenly marred by enormous wounds of glowing metal as the hull was raked by cannon fire, huge swaths of molten hull were ripped away as overlapping fire tore into the ship. The lances of high-energy particles shredded the internal structures of the ship, rupturing the warp core.

As the first ship disappeared into a bright ball of high-energy plasma, another battlecruiser pushed ever forwards, struggling to bring its new enemies within firing range. Second after agonizing second passed as it drew closer, neutron beams punching though the hull and scourging entire decks of life. Its bow torpedo launchers glowed and began to fire when a small craft darted forward and fired two quick bursts at the behemoth ship. Four one-meter-wide holes were instantly punched into the hull surrounding the launcher and an instant later the bow section of battlecruiser was torn apart by its own detonating ordinance. The warship listed before a well-placed cannon shot put a glowing five-meter-wide hole in the smoldering wreckage of its bow, coring it and rupturing its antimatter fuel tanks.

Dozens of agile Spartanian fighters beset the third and final battlecruiser on all sides, their small size belying their incredible firepower. The many polaron beams of the warship were too slow to even hope to hit the nimble craft as they danced across every axis available. The battlecruiser's cover fire managed to keep the Spartanians at bay long enough to fire two torpedoes before concentrated battleship fire dealt it a similar fate as its brethren. The two torpedoes flashed forward into the formation on a collision course with the battleship Ulysses, a moment later they were destroyed as every electron beam cannon from almost eighty surrounding ships flashed to life to shoot them down.

The 13th Fleet's engines glowed as the order was given. Slowly but surely the mass of warships accelerated towards the larger battle.