Prologue Bridge USS Benjamin Sisko Zeta Alpha Gamma 12 6th April, 2631 The Laurentii had brought them here to witness a miracle. Perched on the edge of his chair on the bridge of the USS Benjamin Sisko, Captain Theodore Robau gazed at the viewscreen and the nebula represented there. Three Behemoths hovered in space before it, their vast bulks creating shadows on the crimson and violet swirls of gaseous matter. Located in the direct centre of the nebula were five oval objects, elongated and covered in uneven bumps. As Robau watched, one of the ovals vibrated violently, causing the nebula to swirl into motion. "Sensors are picking up massive electrical disturbances within the nebula, Captain," Lieutenant Ro Gavel, his Bajoran science officer announced. "The eggs seem to be drawing particles from the charged matter, almost like plants drawing up sustenance from earth." "Is there any danger to our ships?" Gavel shook his head, eyes never leaving his holographic screens. "No, sir. The energy readings are well within safety parameters." Robau nodded, turning his attention back to the screen. All around him, he could sense his crew doing the same. In all the years of the Occupation and the Rebellion, Robau had never imagined himself as an explorer. He had always been a military man, ready to lay down his life and that of his crew in order to see the job done. He had fought in more engagements than most of his generation, and more importantly he had seen his ship and a large number of his crew through all of them. He had survived. Now, to find himself out here on the edge of known space, on what was plainly and simply a scientific mission... Robau could hardly believe it. Commander Nivara M'Roa, his Caitian XO, stepped away from her place at tactical and stood next to his chair. Although the Sisko had gone through a complete overhaul in the years since the end of the war, Robau had insisted that the basic configuration of the bridge remain the same. So although the ancient stations salvaged from pre-Occupation hulks had been replaced by more user-friendly modern holographic displays, the captain's chair remained on its own in the centre of the bridge. Just so that you never forget that the buck ends with you, Teddy. Robau almost smiled at the sound of his wife's voice echoing in his head. "We have yet to hear back from Redemption on the status of the talks," M'Roa whispered, her clawed hand coming to rest on the back of his chair. "So far, our attempts to contact them have been unsuccessful." Robau felt a slight tightening in his chest, which he forced away as on the screen he saw one of the eggs begin to drift away from the others. He turned his head slightly towards his XO. "I'm sure they're busy, Niv. Relax. Enjoy this. It isn't every day we get to watch the birth of a starship." M'Roa tensed up slightly at the overly jovial tone he had forced into his voice, but after glancing at the screen her shoulders dropped somewhat. She smiled. Forced, but still a smile. "Of course, Captain." As she moved back to Tactical, Robau bit back a sigh. M'Roa had been assigned to the Sisko in the aftermath of the end of the war. Most of his command staff had been reassigned to other ships - their experience too valuable to be wasted as someone's subordinates. Robau had fought the new brass tooth and claw to hold on to his old XO, a crusty old Klingon called Kar, but it all had come to naught. M'Roa, who had served aboard a Caitian only ship during the Rebellion, still found it hard to adjust even though they had been together for a couple of years now. Not that Kar would have liked this any better, Robau admitted. He would have been itching to be on the front lines in the war against the Klingons. In fact, Robau realised, he was probably commanding one of Starfleet's ships out there even now. Thoughts of his former crew and the dangers they might be facing were banished as the egg he had seen earlier reached the edge of the nebula. The three Behemoths that had led the Sisko and her sister ships out here to this nursery cloud eased forward. "The Behemoths are broadcasting on a theta-band," Gavel explained, his head bobbing as he looked from his display to the viewscreen and back again. "It is not in any language found in the Hegemony database. If I had to guess, I would say that it is the Behemoths' own language." "So the Laurentii don't have anything to do with it?" "I can't be sure, Captain, but I don't think so." "Get me the other captains. I want to make sure they're catching this, as well." His operations' officer, an Elasian male named Kael, manipulated the holographic matrix before him with practiced ease. The view of the Behemoth egg reduced slightly, allowing room for four other images to appear. Robau nodded to each of his fellow captains - Olivia Rhodes, a stern faced human woman of Native American descent, Trog, a Ferengi male with tattoos covering his prominent brain lobes, Mortan, a Klingon, and L'vok, a Romulan with the impassive countenance of a Vulcan. Each of them stood or sat in front of their respective bridges - Robau was especially interested to see the dank crimson-hued bridge of a Klingon battlecruiser behind L'vok. Although he knew that the man's ship had once been a battlecruiser, he had assumed that Starfleet would have changed the decor somewhat when it was re-purposed. "Captains. I trust you are seeing what I am seeing." "Indeed," L'vok replied. "Most illuminating." "Can you imagine the latinum we could make with these?" Robau smiled at Trog - he assumed the Ferengi was making a joke. Although after spending a meal with Admiral Qwert, he supposed he shouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly. Most of his attention, though, was centered on Captain Rhodes. Of all of them, she had the ship the most well equipped and suited to a scientific mission. The Highland, a pre-Occupation Galaxy-class starship, had been refitted with the latest sensor equipment and a full laboratory section. Rhodes, however, did not seem impressed. "I do not see what Starfleet hopes to accomplish by having us out here, Captain." Robau bit back a sharp retort, reminding himself that the chain of command was much more clearly defined now than it had been in the Rebellion and that according to that chain, every single one of them were on an even keel. He couldn't go around browbeating his fellow captains like he had before the Dominion fell. "I believe they were hoping we would learn something about our allies, Captain. And perhaps uncover some new technology that could help with the recovery. For now, though, I would like to suggest that we all put the full power of our sensors to work recording what is about to happen." As the words left his mouth, the egg began to spin rapidly. Without needing to be asked, Kael increased the magnification on the screen, eclipsing the other captains, until the egg was all that could be seen, a few wisps of the brightly hued nebula just visible behind. The uneven bumps that Robau had noticed earlier began to pulsate as if something within was trying to escape. Ridges appeared, only to break apart, releasing dark liquids out into the void. As those ridges tore further, Robau and his crew - and the crew of the other Federation ships - got their first glimpse of what was beneath. The infant Behemoth seemed to be rolled up into a ball within the egg. Its flippers and tail began to bat frantically at the egg surrounding it, smashing through the fragile material and freeing itself. As it came more fully into view, Robau realised that it looked exactly like the parent creatures, just smaller. And lacking the modules that were implanted on the larger creatures. "The infant Behemoth is projecting along the same wave length, Captain," Gavel almost crowed. Robau hid a smile at how excited the young Bajoran was. "It is answering the adults." On the screen, Robau saw the three adults move in towards the child, manipulating their bodies to bring themselves into a circle around the newborn. "Lieutenant, see if you can broadcast the communication lines you are picking up." Gavel nodded, his fingers dancing in the air as he called up the necessary commands on his holo display. Moments later, a deep throbbing filled the bridge. Interspersed within the throbbing sound were three keening whines, each pitched at a slightly different tone, that overlapped and interlaced themselves. As Robau listened, a higher whine entered the fray, tentative and tremulous. The Laurentii really had brought them here to witness a miracle. "Lieutenant, see if you can-" Robau broke off as the ship shook around him. To his side, he heard Commander M'Roa stumble to her knees. "Report." "Captain, we have five more Behemoths exiting slipstream space behind us. One of them just fired on us!" What?! "Raise shields, bring weapons online." Robau flipped a switch on his chair, swinging it around so that he could see M'Roa. "What the hell is going on?" Back on her feet, the Caitian had brought her holodisplay down and spread it out into a desk-sized map of the nebula and surrounding space. Her deep red fur rippled with fear or anger at the sight. "Confirm five Behemoths, all of them with their weapons active." "Hail them." A beat, and then M'Roa shook her head. "No response, Captain." "Hail the other ships." All four captains reappeared on the screen as Robau spun round again. Robau could see red lights flashing on each of their bridges. "We are betrayed," Trog shrieked, his hands clenched into fists. "The Hegemony have lured us here to destroy us." "Let's not jump to conclusions," Robau snapped, trying to meet each of his fellow captains' eyes. "We have no idea what is happening here. Have any of you been able to reach the Laurentii?" Each of them confirmed that their attempts to reach the Laurentii captains had failed. In the meantime, Robau felt the Sisko shake three or four times, and he saw the images of the other bridges shake as they too come under attack. "What are our options?" "Fight or flee," L'vok replied, his hands turning almost white as he clenched the arm rests of his command chair. "I suggest we make a decision quickly. I am not sure how much longer my shields can stand this." "Better to fight than turn tail like cowards," Captain Mortan spat. "My men are ready to seize the Behemoths and drag them back to Federation space." "Not quite what I had in mind," Robau said. "We need to find some way of-" "Hull breach!" At first Robau thought that the shout had come from his own crew. It took him a moment to realise that it had actually come from one of the officer's on Captain L'vok's ship, the Gorkon. "M'Roa, status of the Gorkon?" "Their shields are failing. They have come under attack from the three Behemoths who accompanied us here." Them, as well? "M'Roa, get us into position to protect the Gorkon. Gentlemen, ma'am, I would suggest that we work our way free and escape back to Federation space. We can try and figure out what exactly has happened here and-" "Captain, the Gorkon's warp core is destabilising." "What?" The screen switched to a view of the nebula again. This time, Robau could see the three other Federation ships, each one surrounded by at least two Hegemony Behemoths. Off to the left of the screen, the avian form of the Gorkon was under the most intense fire, suffering a barrage of plasma from the three 'friendly' Behemoths. Robau could not believe his eyes - only hours before he had been communicating with the captain of one of those ships, discussing the event they had come her to witness. What the hell could have happened in that time to make them turn on us? "Commander, can we-" Before Robau could finish his question, a huge explosion ripped through the rear hull of the Gorkon. One of the warp nacelles sheared off, spinning out of control, spitting metal and fire. The explosions continued, following the lines of the energy conduits until they reached the bridge module where they erupted into a final conflagration. Within seconds, the Gorkon was gone. Robau fell back in his chair, unable or unwilling to believe what he had just witnessed. His stomach felt hollow, as though he had gone days without a meal. At the same time, nausea clawed at his throat, threatening to make him sick. Gone. Like that. For what? The silence that fell over the bridge was broken mere moments later as the entire ship rocked around them. "Direct hit. Two of the Behemoths that destroyed the Gorkon are now heading towards us. The others are engaging the Highland and the Tiberius." "Evasive maneuvers," someone ordered. It took Robau a moment to realise that it had been him. The realisation shook him out of his torpor. "Get us out of here." "Plotting slipstream course," his navigator said. "Belay that," Robau barked. "Get us out of here at warp. We don't need slipstream, not to get back to Federation space." "Aye, sir." The view on the screen blurred as the ship's pilot brought them around towards Federation space, away from the nebula. Robau felt the Sisko shake around him as their speed increased up through the factors of impulse power, towards their jump to warp speed. They would need to get far enough away, though, for the energy field being emitted by the nebula to stop scrambling the warp bubble. Robau glanced down at his display. The Behemoths were lagging behind so far, but he wasn't sure how long that could- "Captain!" M'Roa's astonished exclamation brought Robau's head up. At first, the sight on the viewscreen filled him with hope. Seven Klingon battle cruiser's, each a mirror image of the Gorkon, had dropped out of slipstream space and were moving in to surround the Sisko. Reinforcements were his first thought. He had no idea how Starfleet could possibly have gotten so many ships out here so quickly and how they could possibly have know what was happening but- But there was no way they could have. "All seven ships have Klingon Defence Fleet transponder codes," M'Roa announced. Robau looked across at her and their eyes met. He could see in them nothing but despair. "They're Imperial Cruisers." The Empire. Out here in Laurentii space. Suddenly, everything that had happened made sense. The Hegemony had made an alliance with the Klingons. "What is the status of the Highland and the Tiberius?" "They jumped to warp just before the Klingons arrived, Captain." At least they got away. Robau gripped the arm rest of his chair. All those years in the Rebellion, fighting the Dominion, and he was going to go out against the Klingons. It didn't seem fair. "Orders, captain?" Robau stood, as if he could face the Klingons across the gulf of space with his own bare hands. "Charge weapons. Let's take it to them." The Laurentii had brought them there to witness a miracle. But Robau got the feeling that there were no more miracles to be had.