"Attention, this is the Captain speaking. All hands, attention."

Picard's voice echoed through the entire ship. All over the Enterprise crew members paused in their duties. Everyone knew what this announcement was about; they just didn't know what the Captain had decided. Everyone knew about the Reavers, knew how horrific they were, and had seen the bodies decorating the Reaver ship like obscene garlands.

Many hoped the captain would engage the fleet. Others were afraid he would. Some didn't know which decision they feared more.

"Even as I speak to you, a fleet of mutants called Reavers is on its way to destroy one of the worlds in this system, a terraformed moon named New Melbourne. You may be aware that we brought one of the Reavers onboard to perform a medical examination. Our tests revealed Reavers have suffered an irreversible mutation that has rendered them completely insane and incredibly violent, even homicidal."

"We have discovered Reavers are hopelessly xenophobic, at a biological level. The mere sight of a normal human sends Reavers into homicidal rage. During this rage they commit the most unspeakable atrocities, and will not hesitate to torture their victims to death, including infants. They have been known to eat victims that are still alive."

"Should that fleet reach New Melbourne it is certain the minimum death toll will reach one hundred thousand, the actual toll could be as high as twenty million individuals. Worse, the damage to New Melbourne's infrastructure could make it impossible for the planet to continue to supply food to the rest of the system, resulting in a system wide famine within three months time, placing the whole system in danger of destruction at the Reaver's hands."

"We have explored every possible alternative, including the possibility of disabling their ships. Nothing short of total destruction of every ship in the Reaver fleet will prevent a slaughter of innocents unprecedented in human history."

"As captain of this ship I have decided, on my own authority and discretion, that in this case the Prime Directive must be set aside for reasons which I deem good and sufficient."

"It is my order the Enterprise move to engage the Reaver fleet which is now approximately 18 hours from striking New Melbourne. Enterprise will not allow any Reaver ship to flee; we must destroy every single ship in the Reaver fleet. Likewise we will take no prisoners."

"There are some who argue what I am about to do is genocide. I am not sure they're wrong. But if the Enterprise does not act it is certain that tens of thousands of innocent people will die in agony, ripped to pieces by an enemy which is hopelessly insane."

"As of this moment I am declaring general quarters. All personnel to battle stations; prepare to engage the Reaver fleet."

Captain Picard pressed the button that shut down the intercom. The red alert lights began flashing, and the alarm klaxon sounded.

"Well, Captain Reynolds, it appears Enterprise is going to solve your Reaver problem once and for all." Picard said somberly. Mal nodded.

"I take no joy in this, Captain. But rabid dogs gotta be put down, afore they destroy everyone and everything dear. I just wanna say you're the better man. If I believed in God I'd pray for you."

Picard nodded. "Mr. Data, plot an intercept course for the Reaver fleet. Shields up, all phaser banks stand by. Arm photon torpedoes. Our primary target is the largest Reaver vessel. Once that is destroyed fire at will. Destroy every Reaver ship, let none escape."

"Shields up, Captain. Photon torpedoes armed, phasers standing by. Engaging warp drive, contact with enemy in approximately twenty-two seconds."

"Engage." Picard said.

Mal watched the tactical plot on the screen as the Enterprise closed the distance with her magical faster than light speed.

"Dropping out of warp now, Captain." Data reported calmly. "Distance to enemy one hundred thousand kilometers and closing. Primary target locked, launching torpedoes now." Mal watched as the screen showed a swarm of small ships, with one monster in the middle. Suddenly two sparks of light zoomed toward the largest ship and struck home. There was a blinding flash. When the light died down the large ship and some of the closest smaller ships had vanished.

"Primary target has been destroyed. Twelve other Reaver vessels also confirmed destroyed. Targets closing to sixty thousand kilometers, commencing phaser barrage."

Mal felt his jaw drop. Beams of scarlet light flickered over the screen, which pulled back to reveal the entire swarm of ships. As he watched explosions bloomed in the swarm. A scarlet beam would touch a ship and pass on, and that ship would simply explode, coming apart in a glowing fireball. Mal, an experienced soldier, recognized reactors going critical when he saw them.

The entire engagement was over in under a minute. The Reaver fleet was simply gone, wiped from the face of the 'verse. Mal stared, unable to think of anything to say. He felt numb. Even reminding himself they'd been Reavers didn't chase the chill from his spine. The power this ship possessed was terrifying.

"Reaver fleet has been destroyed, Captain." Data said, still calm.

"Thank you, Data." Picard punched the button to activate the ship wide intercom.

"All hands, this is the Captain. Secure from general quarters. The Reaver fleet has been destroyed, New Melbourne is safe. That is all." Turning off the intercom he sat back, closing his eyes. He suddenly looked like an old man, Mal thought. Mal had never considered Picard old before.

"Well, well, so the mighty Jean Luc Picard relinquishes his high moral ground to save a planet full of savage barbarians. Oh, well done, Captain." Q stood in front of the view screen. River started moving before Mal could grab her. Q waved a hand and she froze in place.

"Now, now. No more of that my savage little girl." Q strolled past the frozen River and confronted Mal.

"So, barbarian, are you happy? Three thousand four hundred eighteen deaths lay at your feet, to save one puny little world and its mewling masses."

"Not happy." Mal said. "What was needful got done. Can't cry over Reavers, true enough. Would take a better man than I." He glanced at the command chair. Picard was glaring at Q.

"What do you want Q?" He demanded. "You want me to say I'm a murdering savage? Fine. I killed every one of those homicidal maniacs before they could slaughter the innocent. If they had attacked New Melbourne the slaughter would have been the least of the horrors."

"Now we're getting somewhere." Q murmured, studying the captain. "Miracles are expensive, mon capitaine. And power always exacts a toll. Remember that, when you're composing your report to Starfleet."

"You always found a way out before, didn't you Jean Luc? Always pulled a miracle out of your hat. Well, not this time. This time I rubbed your nose in it. This time there was no right answer, no cheap trick. This time you had to pay the piper. I hope you enjoyed the tune." He studied the seated man.

"No more arrogance, old friend? No more blathering on about the Federation's high moral values? Good. Maybe now you'll be ready to face the challenges in your future without hubris. Pride is fine in those that deserve it. But humans haven't earned it."

"We're done here. I've given your computer the coordinates for the rift. It will take you home, mon capitaine. All you have to do is fly right into it and you'll be back among your familiar friends and foes."

"As for you, barbarian, I've given you and yours a gift, but you'll never comprehend it. You played your part; you're the hero that defeated the Reavers. Pity no one will ever know." Q smiled. "Say hello to Wash and Book for me." He winked and vanished. Mal frowned.

"Now what the devil was that all about?"

River started moving again, and then stopped, looking around in confusion.

"Where'd Coyote go?" She asked. She closed her eyes, raising her arms from her sides. Then she started to smile, a beautiful peaceful smile. It made Mal's skin crawl but all River did was come back to Mal and take his arm in hers.

"Coyote says goodbye." She said. "Says to tell you to keep flying."

"Does he now?" Mal asked quizzically. "That trickster is a puzzle, and no mistake."