Chapter 3: The Shape of Things to Come

Outskirt of the Imphill System

The jumpgate awoke with a flash of lights. Space twisted and folded as the fabric between one dimension and another was ripped asunder. Four Drazi Sun Hawks emerged from the swirling blue vortex before it closed behind them. They were not affiliated with the Freehold, not officially. From the bridge of the lead ship, Sabar glared down at Imphill III. He'd had a promising military career once. Served with distinction against the Dilgar, before accusations of cowardice had ruined him. None of his raiders had ever been brave enough to ask the specifics. Still Sabar was loyal in his own way. He might prey on any ship that he came upon, Drazi or otherwise, but here on the frontier of Drazi space Sabar was willing to play his part in Drazi expansion, for a price of course. Imphill III was a beautiful world, not that he cared about beauty. More importantly, it was an abundant bounty. Through Sabar, the Drazi had held this world of timid farmers virtually hostage. The Freehold didn't have to bother with the expensive business of conquest, and Sabar was positioned to make a regular profit. More money, in fact, then he ever would have made in the military. Besides, primitive farmers were unlikely to fight back.

"Sir," the voice cut through Sabar's dreams of luxury and retirement. "We're detecting vessels in orbit."

"Centauri," he snapped angrily. Imphill was his domain. No one could take it from him.

"No sir. I'm reading six unknown ships in high orbit." Sabar pushed the underling out of the way to examine the readings himself, but he didn't recognize the ships either. They certainly weren't Centauri but who ever they were they had spotted the raiders. Two ships had detached themselves from the group and were approaching fast, faster than any ships Sabar had ever seen.

"Sound the alarm," he ordered. "Prepare for battle." The intruders were arrogant sending only two ships after him. Four Sun-Hawks was enough to make even a Vorchan think twice. He'd fight them all the way back to the jumpgate and return with a larger force to teach these upstarts a lesson. Yet even as Sabar formulated his battle plans, the enemy was upon him.

This was the first time ships of one universe engaged ships of the other, and it quickly presaged things to come. The Drazi opened fire first, pouring particle beams, plasma and missiles at the enemy ships. The full armament of four Sun-Hawks deflected harmlessly off the enemy's shields. Then the Sontarans returned fire. Meson cannons and photonic missiles, weapons perfected by millennia of never-ending warfare, tore through the Drazi with a vengeance. Within moments two Sun-Hawks were erupted in soundless explosions.

Sabar forced himself back to his feet. Around him, the remainder of his crew struggled to do the same. The engagement had lasted a little over a minute. He'd never been this outmatched, not even against the Dilgar. Suddenly the bridge was illuminated with numerous blue lights, which faded revealing short squat figures in blue grey armor. Intruders! He reached for his weapon, but they were faster. Laser fire erupted throughout the bridge. The intruders were quick and precise. The bridge crew was gunned down in seconds. Sabar was thrown against the wall by multiple blasts. He knew he was dead, but there was something he still had to do.

"Who…who are you?" he breathed. One of the intruders stepped forward, clearly the leader. He removed his helmet in a practiced maneuver revealing squat brown-grey features of a race Sabar had never seen before.

"I am Captain Sarg of the 5th Sontaran Battle Fleet," the intruder said. "Do not be ashamed, Drazi. You die in battle. There is no better death."

Sabar spat in his enemy's face, one final act of defiance, then slumped to the floor dead.

"Wonderful," Captain Sarg said wiping the spittle from his cheek.

"Sir, you do them too great an honor. This was not battle. It was sport."

"True," Captain Sarg agreed. "But even in sport one should honor worthy prey."

Fort Walters— Mars

Stenx stared at the wall lost in thought. He was weak now and getting weaker. It had been almost six months since he last recharged and the so-called food his jailers provided was a poor substitute for raw plasma. His captors thought their interrogations were finally starting to take their toll, but Stenx had endured worse in basic training. Fatigue and energy withdrawal was beginning to impair his mind. Stenx was prepared to die for the Cause, but this was not his universe. Here there were no Sontarans, no Rutans, and no Cause to die for. He was alone. The Military Code did not cover this eventuality. Standard operating procedure when isolated was to gather information, negotiate or coerce local primitives with the primary objective being the return to the front. Stenx had occupied himself in gathering data. He'd certainly learned more about his captors then they had about him, but the information was of little use. The existence of large quantities of human telepaths could have proved useful against the Rutans, but there was no one for Stenx to report the intelligence.

There was no way home. He was a soldier, not a scientist. Even if he had understood the principles behind the Timelord weapon, Stenx could never have replicated it with these human's disgustingly primitive technology. Still survival was the prime motivation of all species, and he needed to get out of this cell. The stratagem would need to be flexible to take advantage of opportunities has they occurred, but Stenx had been a squadron leader. He could be flexible, for a Sontaran any way.

The cell door opened to admit the daily trio. Stenx had gotten to know Pierce, Endawi, and Bester quite well over the past few months. Their increasing frustration had provided Stenx a much-needed source of amusement. He could imagine the pressure their superiors were placing on them. Stone-faced investigators, gruff military men, the scientist with beady eyes and an insincere small, even groups of telepaths had rotated through here. In the end, however, these three always returned. Stenx was glad, in a way, that it was them. After all their hard work, they deserved to be rewarded.

"Lieutenant Commander Pierce," he greeted. "Special Investigator Endawi, Mr. Bester." Stenx watched their reactions with great amusement. Bester controlled his expression better than the others, but even he could not disguise his shock completely. Stenx knew that these three had always maintained that he understood them, but to have that belief so suddenly and unexpectedly confirmed was quite a jolt. He waited until his captors had schooled their features.

"I am Lieutenant Stenx of the 5th Sontaran Battle Fleet," he said. "Tell your superiors I have a proposition for them."

City of Valipheen—Imphill III

The streets were crowded with long silent lines of people herded towards the old palace. Short squat figures with imposing guns kept the citizens of Valipheen quiet and subdued. The invaders did not look like the cannibalistic Narn, the indescribably cruel Centauri or even the oozing, squishy-skinned Humans of whom the Drazi had warned. Most people had come to believe that the Drazi had merely been making up stories to frighten them into servitude, but now it seemed the demons were real and here on Imphill itself. Some the cagier members of the throng began to wonder if the Drazi's extortion might have been worth it after all.

The square before the palace was filled to bursting. The people stared in wonder and fear, in joy and trepidation, some even with all of the above. For there upon the palace gates over a dozen Drazi heads were stuck on pikes, a few still dripping milk-white blood.

" By order of General Strag, supreme commander of the 5th Sontaran Battle Fleet," one of the intruders called into the hushed and fearful silence. "This world and its attending moons are now property of the Sontaran Empire. We have destroyed your oppressors. You will repay us with service to the Great Sontaran Cause. Perform your assigned tasks well, and you will be rewarded. Martial law is now in effect. Failure to comply will result in immediate execution. Together we shall make the Drazi bleed and suffer as you have suffered. For the Glory of Sontar!"

Fort Walters— Mars

"Why now?" General Fontaine asked. "We've had the alien…the Sontaran in custody for almost six months. We've subjected it to every interrogation technique we've ever thought of, thrown Teeps at him and gotten nothing to show for it. I've had the Joint Chiefs breathing down my necks, and now for no reason it feels like talking. Again, why?"

"Sir," Dr. Walsh leaned forward. "The alien's life-signs have been fluctuating for weeks. We assumed it was because of the Lieutenant Commander's…aggressive questioning, but perhaps the uh…Sontaran is suffering from some unknown ailment. That might explain the sudden shift in its actions."

"Or it's simply been stalling, waiting for a prearranged moment to strike."

"With respect, sir," said Endawi. "It's been six months and Earth Alliance hasn't been over run by potato men."

"Lieutenant Stenx claims that his people are engaged in a war on the far side of the galaxy. Too far away and too busy to bother with us."

"He could be lying. For all we know the Sontarans are right outside the gates."

"All of this is purely guesswork," Major Vassanji interrupted. "The fact is that Dr. Morden and myself have made no real progress in understanding the alien's technology. The crashed ship is a goldmine that could put the Alliance so far ahead of the other races, but we haven't even scratched the surface. The Sontaran's help would be invaluable…"

"It would also give him access to his ship, which might be the whole point…"

"Enough!" General Fontaine pounded the table. "The ultimate decision lies with the President and the Joint Chiefs, but we're the closest thing they have to Sontaran experts. Lieutenant Commander, your team spent the most time with this Lieutenant Stenx. What do you think?"

Pierce took a moment to compose his thoughts. "I believe the offer is genuine, as far as it goes. Lieutenant Stenx will fulfill his end so long as it suites his purposes, but he has an agenda of his own."

"I concur," said Endawi.

"And you Mr. Bester?" General Fontaine sighed. Telepaths made his skin crawl at the best of times. "Mr. Bester!" he called sharply when the Psi Cop failed to respond. The telepath shook himself and focused on the General.

"Oh I agree, " Bester said with a disquieting smile. "He's using us and we're using him. That doesn't mean it can't be…beneficial all round."

Bester gave an internal sigh of relief. That had been close. He'd allowed himself to become distracted. It would not happen again. Only two hours ago, he'd felt the alien's mental walls drop, which for a P-12 was the equivalent of shouting, and even as the alien had made his offer to Pierce, Bester had heard another mental voice.

"I have seen you and your kind treated with contempt and distaste," the Sontaran had spoken in his mind. "Telepaths are clearly the superior part of the species. Perhaps your Psi Corps and I could reach a mutually beneficial arrangement…"

Yes, Bester agreed, as he listened to the mundanes debating all around him, perhaps they could.