STAR WARS Episode 11, The Knights Errant, Volume 2 of the Alternate Galaxy Trilogy

Summary

Star Wars Episode 11: Lucas and Luke are sent after Narik to another galaxy, one where they encounter the United Federation of Planets and Star Fleet, while the Jedi deal with the discovery of a botanical Force life form and a new threat against their Order.

Genre:
Scifi / Fantasy
Author:
SonicSculpture
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
10
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Crossover

“The best way to get somebody to do something wrong is to make them believe it’s right.”

~ The Sith Code

Within a field of Dark Side Force outside both space and time, the Funerary flew across the intergalactic expanse. Behind it, the Republic receded into obscurity as if its very existence were being called into question by the exodus of its insurmountable adversary. Indeed, Narik felt as if he and his careening craft were now finally free of that reviled world-line and able to establish a different destiny. He now needed to discern the type of preparation his campaign might require.

But as he turned to address his robotic crew, the Force suddenly informed him of an almost unbelievable development.

“The Jedi are sending someone after me.”

“Because this ship uses time travel to compliment propulsion ,” UC replied, “we will arrive at our destination at least centuries before any possible pursuit, maybe even millennia.”

“Nevertheless, any computer power not consigned to propulsion needs to be used to aid us in some specific research. I want to investigate the possibility of incorporating actual propulsion into my avatar. If I were to survive the destruction of the Funerary, I could easily be marooned in interstellar space. It could take me millions of year to get anywhere with just my suspensors. But making the propulsion system as indestructible as me is going to be difficult. And it really needs to be that robust. The last two Dark Lords had the ability to alter their appearance. That capacity could be critical if I am truly to acquire the dedication of my initial followers. If I could cast myself within some religious context of theirs, they might believe they’re fighting in a holy war. Religious fervor could go a long way in ensuring their support.”

“So you would become some long awaited god and you would lead them in the conquest of the cosmos, perhaps even according to some favorite fable of theirs?” IC asked for clarification.

“Exactly,” he replied, but the irony of using a dead Jedi Knight’s expression was lost on IC.

“Because of this ship’s cloaking field,” UC suggested, “we’ll be able to clandestinely monitor the civilizations with which we come into contact. It should only be a matter of time before we’re able to locate one with sufficient technological development and a mythology that lends itself to your application.”

“But the capacity for impersonating some specific deity could be immensely important,” UC quickly concluded. “We will certainly apply ourselves to these endeavors. However, I do have a question.”

“What’s that?”

“It might be that an application of teleportation could be used to provide you with some form of personal propulsion,” the droid rejoined. “Is this an option I’d be at liberty to explore, or do you want us to restrict our research specifically to something more like a personal hyperdrive?”

“The ability of any outboard system to survive an assault will be problematic to provide. You are at liberty to explore any and all options. You have time to kill. In fact we have lots of killing to do. But my armada will probably be unique in all of history, led by a commander who is himself its greatest weapon. My followers may do very little of the fighting.”

“What then will be their function, my lord?” IC inquired.

“Mop up in the aftermath and then administrate over any system or planet we occupy. One day that should be sectors, and eventually this galaxy will be mine. But there’s one other thing I want to develop, the ability to use the Banisher while still inside the ship, Since no compartment is pressurized, I suppose I could just ingloriously lean out an open airlock. But I refuse to believe we can’t come up with a better answer.”

He and his crew busied themselves with the requested research for the duration of the epic voyage as they hurtled toward a cosmic disc of unsuspecting subjects. But before they reached the outer reaches of their objective, the droids had developed an emergency escape option He wasn’t particularly pleased by this progress, but he understood it could be beneficial. It enabled one-way teleportation. The device would unfortunately have to remain in place, sacrificing itself, to complete the teleportation. But he could be adorned with multiple banded devices, using just one at a time for multiple displacements.

The device that allowed him to alter his image to any observer also had to be worn. And the droids modified Droideka designs they found in the ship’s data banks and had transferred all the Funerary’s command functions to a ray-shielded bubble atop the bridge before they reached the outermost spiral arm of their target. Due to the starship’s design, most of the area around it was accessible to the Banisher from this position.

As they passed within the palpable boundary of their celestial objective, the sensors started picking up transmissions from local civilizations. Previously, any technological signals had been hidden within the heliosphere of the galaxy itself. Narik instructed his robotic crew to categorize them according to technological prowess. Continuing to use their cloak, they visited each of the most advanced systems in order to directly access their historical records. In this way Narik was ultimately able to determine which of the unfortunate species to subjugate first by impersonating an ancient deity. Although the superstition wasn’t truly practiced anymore, the Joracki were only days away from a festival that was itself a vestigial remnant of that religion. To Narik such timing was undoubtedly ordained by the Dark Side.

Being the preeminent incarnation of cybernetic intelligence, no part of the Joracki computer network was inaccessible to him. He was soon able to transform his appearance into one based on an amalgam of artwork and descriptions of Pax Parakal, the deity whose identity he adopted. And then, it was only a matter of waiting to marvelously reveal himself at the festival that initially had honored the same divine being. He used the time to plot his stupendous appearance.

“Rehearse what we know about the Joracki,” Narik instructed.

“They are endothermic reptilians. As with many worlds, giants were the first to arise on their planet. But when survival became a struggle, adaptive downsizing occurred. Intelligence began to matter more. And there were no mass extinction events to interrupt their progression. In this, they beat the odds. Each continent eventually became an independent governmental entity. The Council, which now presides over all of planet Raki, has existed for just a century. They possess lightspeed drive, and they’ve visited more than a dozen of the surrounding solar systems. But as you know, the nearest inhabited system is fully a dozen parsecs distant. Their position near the outermost tip of their spiral arm puts them in a kind of celestial wasteland. As for physicality and culture, since they’re about the size of a Wookiee a Joracki soldier should provide an imposing presence. Not so very long ago, they were battling each other. Clad-driven infighting still exists,” IC summarized.

“Report on your progress with the self-propulsion unit.”

“Although a personal hyperdrive seems unfeasible at present, we were able to improve the operation of the teleportation units. They now provide a brief, time-freezing effect. The moment you activate one, you’re placed in a time bubble. This gives you time to program the destination in absolute safety. The impact of the time-freeze diminishes over distance and fades at about a million kilometers. But it will give you several seconds to organize your exit,” UC answered.

“Wouldn’t that throw me out of time-sink with the rest of the galaxy?”

“Both you and the area immediately around you,” IC replied. “The Jedi would certainly be concerned about the quantum repercussions of such a temporal tactic. The cumulative impact might merit some consideration. But this would be only an emergency procedure. It is doubtful that you’d have to rely on it repeatedly.”

“Alright. I suppose that’ll have to do for now. Continue with your analysis, IC.”

“There are six major continental nations. Each sends a pair of representatives to the Global Council. The religion that revered Pax Parakal existed predominantly on the pair that are joined by a land bridge. Some of the others had differing ideologies, but the influence of each has seen a reduction over time. Although peace currently holds sway on Raki, their name for their planet, it is from an historical perspective a recent development. Given the level of violence in what they call entertainment, it seems clear that they are ripe to be weaponized. These two nations supply an inordinately significant portion of the foodstuffs consumed by their fellows. As they constitute fully a third of the Global Council, the rest of their world should eventually follow their example in adopting you as leader. The primary festival, at which you’re planning to present yourself as the guest of honor, is held in the capital city of the southern continent, although it is also celebrated in most of the secondary cities as well. It’d therefore probably be the most beneficial location for initiating your charade.

“The northernmost of the two connected continents is called Jama. Like the other nations, it is represented by both a male and a female ambassador. The male is Roc Karala. The female is Amal Timeri. The southernmost of those two continents is Caro. The male representative is Pak Orilack. The female is Pol Jano. The other continent in that hemisphere is Fenwa. It lies entirely south of the equator. Its male representative is Irlick Norweja. The female representative is Cori Canto. In the other hemisphere of Raki is Darja, which lies entirely north of the equator. Its male representative is Dabwin Darno. The female is Pira Plano. Situated mostly south of the equator is Rajana. Its male representative is Roa Rapani. The female is Kip Najacor. To the south is the island continent’s counterpart, Kajana. It is represented by the male Jark Jazani and the female Laji Laraki. The planet has one moon called Ojix. And its capital city is called Ojixwa.”

“Darja has an inland sea called Kalax,” UC quickly interjected. “Like the deity whose identity you’re assuming and their three primary starships, the letter x is incorporated into its name. That letter signifies the celestial. It is used in the name Kalax because the inland sea reflects the sky. The three principle starships consist of the Prinox, the Capix, and the Jalaxa. The captain of the Prinox is a male named Kral Nickani. The Capix is captained by a female named Arpi Areo. And the Jalaxa is captained by a male named Dazano Crey. The three starships are currently in orbit over Raki after completing their mapping assignment of all the most immediate star systems.”

“Position the ship in a geosynchronous orbit over the capital city of Caro,” he instructed. “As soon as the festivities are well underway I’ll make my spectacular appearance. Remain cloaked. Since they understand space travel, we want my debut to seem as inexplicable as possible. Use of the teleporter, a technology they lack, should help to certify my godly origin.”

“We’ve been monitoring their news feeds,” IC reported. “A broadcast is scheduled for noon tomorrow from the central square during the celebration. The video feed will circulate all around the planet. If we simply time you appearance appropriately, it’ll put your splendid presentation in front of tens of millions of viewers. And the demonstration of your power will then doubtlessly be rebroadcast to everyone on Raki.”

“I’d thought to possibly appear before their Global Council. But this occasion will afford me a more appropriate presentation. Will any of its representatives be present for the broadcast?”

“Pak Orilack and Pol Jano will both be in attendance,” UC found the opportunity to respond. “Many local celebrities and civic leaders will also be there, along with reporters from every major media outlet.”

“Then we will plan our day accordingly. And there will even be a celebration to appropriately accompany the inception of our campaign. My only concerns have to do with the limited sizes of both their population and their space fleet.”

“Their advance into space has been largely facilitated by a unique evolutionary advantage,” IC agreed. “They determined early on that both zero and microgravity are extremely detrimental. But because they are somehow immune from the Coriolis effect, they’re able to simulate gravity by rotating their space-based environments. They were consequently able to expand into space without first learning to control gravity. Even the inertial damping effect they employ for attaining lightspeed was really more of an accidental breakthrough than the result of deliberate research.”

“Nevertheless, a more advanced civilization would be difficult to dupe. And I’ll need nothing less than absolute obedience from my original subjects. Believing in divine destiny will provide a dedication impossible to otherwise attain. It means I’ll have to provide them with all the requisite breakthroughs in technology required for the campaign, but it’ll make them all the more indebted to me. My concerns actually have to do with the amount of time it might take them to incorporate the new tech and to produce a population adequate for administering over numerous conquered star systems.”

“Do you not enjoy time in unlimited quantity, my lord?” UC carefully inquired.

“Hypothetically I have eternity. But I can’t claim to have patience in such unlimited quantity.”

As the festivities of the following day unfolded, they invisibly observed from orbit. As midday approached in the capital city of Caro, they made preparations for teleporting Narik down to the central square. And once the anticipated celebrities were all present, they carried out their plan.

Using the Force as he manifested before them, Narik caused every video camera to aim in his direction as he announced, “I am Pax Parakal. Your patience is rewarded. I’ve come back to lead you on a glorious campaign of conquest. You shall become the masters of all you survey in the night sky.”

Many of those assembled instinctively retreated in response to the unexpected spectacle. It was evident to him that some of the merrymakers remained where they were only because they believed they were witnessing nothing more than a special performance. Both Pak and Pol were standing closest to his position. Their alarm was apparent to him, as was the reason. If this was merely some element of the celebration, they’d have surely been made aware of it beforehand. They therefore knew he wasn’t just some aspect of the entertainment.

“You’re the same Pax Parakal from our legends?” Pak Orilack asked with obvious alarm.

He was close enough to the nearby microphone that the unmitigated terror in his query was obvious to all. The mood of the assembly was altered by the realization that their representative wasn’t playacting. A hush fell over the entire crowd. Nobody turned to retreat. This was however mostly because they were all too started to react.

“I understand it’s hard to accept. But I’m prepared to prove my divinity,” he replied. Turning and gesturing toward the tallest skyscraper in the nearby skyline, he instructed, “Make sure that building is empty. If not, then evacuate anyone inside. I won’t suffer harm to any of my people in order to organize this demonstration.”

It took several minutes for them to comply with his instructions. But Pak eventually assured him that the building had been cleared. Even though the Banisher bore little resemblance to the scepter with which Pax Parakal was sometimes depicted, it was fundamental to Narik’s plan that the Joracki accept it as his current accouterment. He therefore brandished it brazenly. Everyone instinctively stepped back again as he activated its brilliant, blood red blade.

“Hopefully, this is the extent of the sacrifice I’ll have to extract in order to convince you with certainty of who I am,” he loudly declared.

Leveling his lightsaber at the soaring structure in the distance, he impelled a pulse of time-shifting energy. The brilliant burst surged down the length of the plasma blade and swiftly leapt across the distance to strike its towering target. The skyscraper shimmered momentarily before appearing to simply dissipate like a mercurial cloud. The crowd’s reaction was one of both terror and awe. Turning back, they looked again upon the titan that wielded such a weapon, but there was newfound respect in their regard.

Pak’s voice quivered as he asked, “What is it that you would have us do?”

“I will make you the masters of this galaxy.”

“My liege, we’ve explored all the nearby star systems,” Pak replied. “They are uninhabited.”

“This galaxy contains manifold civilizations, I assure you. And some are technologically far superior to yours. I will make you easily their equal. But I will not sacrifice my people in this holy campaign. I will be on the forefront of every engagement. You will merely administer over all the systems that become part of our empire. Your primary concern will be to learn the use of all the technology with which I will endow you and to increase your numbers so you will be equal to the assignment.”

“If I may, my lord,” Pol cautiously interjected. “Many millennia have passed since your prior appearance. Why have you waited so long to return to us?”

“Firstly, I am eternal. Time means nothing to me. But more importantly, you’ve only recently arrived at a level of development with which I could really begin to work. If I had not allowed you to become a self-empowered people, but led you by the hand the entire time, you would not feel deserving of this destiny. I desire only the deliberate devotion of individuals, not the compulsion of simple slaves. You understand the difference?”

Having no prior interaction with the Joracki, he couldn’t be sure if they’d prove pliable to the old Jedi mind trick. But the Force had previously revealed to him the direction of their discourse. So he had prepared a compelling response. And from the impact it had on the throng, he could see how entirely efficient his demonstration and his dissertation had been. They now belonged to him.

During the next weeks and then months, Narik consolidated his control over the Joracki and began extending their technological development into one that far more closely mimicked that of the Republic. But he quickly concluded that simply retrofitting their spacecraft wouldn’t be nearly enough. Their space fleet really needed to be rebuilt as well as comprehensively expanded. The scientific concepts he was introducing required considerable uptake in terms of time. And before his first year as their regent had expired, he was forced to concede that getting them to the point of being able to administrate over even one conquered civilization would be a multigenerational undertaking. But they’d eventually be perfect for his campaign, if only he could manufacture the patience to get them there.

While enabling their scientific ascension, he occasionally conducted cloaked forays into the most accessible of all the inhabited systems further in along the galaxy’s spiral arm. He needed to accumulate information that would allow him gauge the readiness of his invasion force. Even if he didn’t need them to really participate in the conflict, he had to be certain they could actually secure his acquisitions. And their numbers were just not adequate. They needed to expand their population base. And to facilitate that kind of increase, they really needed to spread out into the uninhabited systems nearby. He began to understand that nothing less than centuries would be required to truly have a sufficient number of Storm Troopers. The populations over which they’d need to administer were simply too sizable for anything less.

And then there was the matter of preparing them to be effective overseers. This brought up a problem he’d failed to anticipate. Barely a century had gone by since some of the Joracki had forced their will upon factions of their fellows. The heavy-handed techniques Narik was teaching them were extremely reminiscent of those dark days. Infighting began to erupt as ancient feuds were revisited. The expansion into space fortunately afforded him an opportunity to separate the participants. But he really required a more long-term solution. He tried to find encouragement in the fact that his followers were so easily incited to violence. It didn’t actually matter to him if they were haters, at least not as long as he could select the objects of their anger.

At long last the day finally arrived when he deemed the Joracki ready to back him up during his first appropriation of another civilization. He assembled his armada and then led it across the parsecs to its unsuspecting target. The inhabitants at the destination detected the mass of ships coming out of lightspeed on the border of their solar system. They correctly presumed what was happening, and they very swiftly dispatched warships of their own to intercept the trespassers.

In the forefront was the Funerary. And Narik finally had the opportunity to test its redesign in combat. From within the ray-shielded bubble that served as its bridge, he deployed the Banisher with devastating result against the approaching defenders. One by one their ships winked out of existence before the excited eyes of his faithful followers.

Because he was using the Banisher, he was able to attack the defenders without taking any power from the Funerary’s systems. Therefore, he was able to keep his formidable craft cloaked the entire time he was engaged in the skirmish. The only thing any of the defenders could see at the onset was a flash and a pulse of power that rendered its target nonexistent. The source was both invisible and extremely mobile, but they did their best to blanket the areas in which it briefly emerged with torrents of incinerating energy. This caused the Funerary to occasionally become visible, until its shields recycled and the concealing cloak closed around the ship once again.

His followers never even closed to within weapons range of the defenders. As he’d assured them, he endured all the danger. He understood that not every ship in their civilization had been in a position to respond so immediately to the incursion, and this was but the initial engagement. Nonetheless, the ease with which he had achieved this preliminary victory provided his followers with ample encouragement. If they’d entertained any doubts before, they now certainly regarded him as a god.

The system’s indigenous inhabitants had established outposts and permanent settlements throughout their domain. He knew it wouldn’t be possible to approach the primary planet without incurring another response. And it was a foregone conclusion that they would try to outflank the invaders. This then would be the true test of everything he’d taught his followers both in terms of their mastery of the new technology and their savvy as strategists. The system’s defenders were determined, and their resistance was stalwart. But the Joracki were utterly relentless. Narik was pleased that he had spent so much time preparing them for their first foray, even though he had bemoaned the necessity at the time. They acquitted themselves admirably.

Since many of the off-world outposts had been established because they were exceedingly profitable, he didn’t want to destroy them. He settled for depriving them of their spacecraft. This, he knew, was only a temporary solution. But they’d have to submit to his demands if they hoped to be resupplied, so it gave him additional leverage to proceed in this fashion. In the end he left the inhabitants only with spaceships that were not outfitted for any kind of combat. And it was up to the Joracki to make sure no such modifications were made.

He then proceeded to help them secure the system for their permanent occupation. But the success was mitigated by the realization that it’d take a long time for his followers to increase in numbers sufficient enough to launch another such campaign. He obviously couldn’t count on the conquered to serve him with such fervor. If there’d been any teeth within his mechanical mouth, he would certainly have gritted them at the recognition that it was going to take many thousands of years for him to actually establish his empire. He tried to console himself with the knowledge that he had the time.

As time went on he gained an ever increasing appreciation for the wisdom of Darth Sidious in manufacturing his followers. At one point he briefly entertained the idea of rewarding some of his most dedicated devotees by turning them into cyborgs. This would have allowed him to keep them around for generations to come. But there were problems with that approach. He’d already stressed the importance of reproduction to the Joracki. He didn’t want to do anything that might interfere with the capacity to procreate. That hardly sounded like something the recipients would interpret as any type of reward.

And there was another complication. If his followers started to see his limitless longevity as something achievable through science, he could end up sacrificing their dedication. If they were to stop regarding him as a deity, their fervor for serving him might begin to wane. But his lack of a clone army was forcing him to accept a timeline of which he wasn’t at all enamored. Someone had been sent after him. And though their transit through space/time made it impossible for him to anticipate their arrival with any precision, he was increasingly sure a vergence was involved.

The passage of so much time also made possible another development he had very much hoped to avoid, the debacle of rebellion. As his empire expanded inward along the spiral arm, it seemed the civilizations they encountered were becoming ever more technological. As a result, the Joracki were oftentimes barely the equivalent of the societies they were left to oversee. This sometimes facilitated volatile situations. And though order had ultimately been restored on each occasion, it was a constant reminder that the conquered couldn’t be inducted into his service.

He’d considered the construction of a droid army. But only those he’d equipped with Crystal Shard Holocrons were completely immune from being hacked. And he had a finite supply of that type of instrumentality. He also knew the Joracki didn’t like droids. He had finally introduced the ones in his service to the leaders of his reptilian ranks. But it was clear that acceptance was just grudgingly granted. The Force informed him the Joracki felt themselves to be in competition with the machines. He didn’t want to do anything that would aggravate their grievance. He needed to occasionally coddle their dedication.

As his empire finally expanded to a place where the spiral arm began to open into the more centralized sectors, he had his first cloaked encounter with a large civilization that encompassed multiple star systems. Since they were a warrior race, he anticipated that they would represent a unique challenge to the Joracki. They’d actually occupied planets within their domain, subduing the indigenous societies. One of these had achieved independence by allying itself with another such sprawling civilization on the far side of his targeted territory. And he was anxious to acquire it for another reason. The world that had attained its independence was apparently situated very close to a stable wormhole. He wanted to learn what regions he could reach by availing himself of such an astronomic resource. The people who lived on that planet were called the Bajorans. And the warrior race from whom they’d been freed were called the Cardassians.

The Cardassians were extremely crafty in combat. It took years of multiple engagements to ultimately overthrow their empire. At first, it seemed to him as if they were actually defending the wormhole. But over time he began to understand that it was located at the edge of their domain, and they were apparently trying to prevent their compromised situation from becoming known to the nearby mega-civilization. There seemed to be little more than an agreed armistice between the two societies. So rather than call for help, the Cardassians preferred to keep their distress to themselves.

The remnant of their once formidable fleet was finally forced to flee through the wormhole. It was the only sortie that’d actually taken place in the Bajoran system. Narik took careful note of the space station that obviously observed the departure. Its design clearly wasn’t consistent with any type of technology he’d encountered before. He considered pursuing the Cardassians so as to complete the elimination of their fleet, but he didn’t want to abandon the Joracki in unsecured space. And to complicate matters, the Funerary intercepted a distress signal that was sent from the space station toward the nearby mega-civilization. As a consequence, he knew both he and his armada were about to face off with something it referred to as Star Fleet, the defensive force of the United Federation of Planets.

“What’s the current status of the station?” he inquire of his droids.

“It’s at red alert with its shields raised and its weapon systems fully charged,” IC answered.

“Surely they saw what I did to the Cardassians. Why would they assume their shields could offer any defense against the Banisher? Are they simply posturing?” he asked, although he was testing the droids to determine how much insight their Crystal Shard holocrons might afford.

“The shields prevent them from being boarded,” UC surmised. “They’re protecting their data banks. They’d rather suffer destruction than risk revealing the information contained therein.”

“And the information probably pertains to the wormhole and the region of space to which it gives access,” IC added.

“Precisely, but do we have no option regarding its access?”

“We could specifically target the station’s shield generators,” UC suggested. “It might result in an overload and destroy the station, but it could leave then vulnerable instead.”

“Then do so,” he instructed.

The droids very tactically programmed the Funerary’s course so its cloaked assault against the station’s shield generators wouldn’t make it possible for the station’s defenders to predict its position. Even if the shields could be successfully stripped away, there’d still be various weapon systems with which to contend. But the station wasn’t designed like a starship. The interrelation of its systems didn’t allow for the containment of so absolute an overload. Deep Space Nine fell before the onslaught, catastrophically exploding.

The Federation’s response was both quicker and more covert than Narik anticipated. Along with its own distress signal, the station had retransmitted communiqués it had received from the Cardassians. Star Fleet Command was therefore aware that a segment of the attacking armada was cloaked. Due to the incorporation of the Klingon Empire into the Federation, several of Star Fleet’s Galaxy Class Starships were equipped with cloaking devices. And several Klingon Birds of Prey were also attached to the responding armada. Only a handful of the Joracki vessels had been retrofitted with versions of Narik’s device. Those that were not suddenly found themselves being attacked as if from nowhere.

The Federation’s Battle Group Commander, Admiral Riker, was crafty. From the positioning of the visible vessels, he was able to infer the arrangement of the concealed spacecraft enough to have those in his command launch full spreads of photon torpedoes and devastatingly reveal the enemy’s actual locations. Some of those struck were damaged badly enough that they could not recycle their cloaks and had to settle for the restoration of only partial shielding. Before Narik could consequently organize an effective counterattack, the engagement had become a melee.

The Joracki were mostly used to mopping up in the aftermath of their leader’s attacks. They simply did not possess the savvy of the Star Fleet Captains when it came to the complete chaos of the three-dimensional battlefield. Narik was able to use the Force to sense the position of any cloaked ships. But while the Funerary itself was cloaked, he couldn’t discern which of the ships were his. And the firepower of the Federation was far too formidable for him to risk dropping his cloak. He was consequently reduced to concentrating his attacks only on the Star Fleet vessels that were visible. And each time he endeavored to do that, he exposed his position to those that were not.

The Banisher ultimately made the difference. But every single one of the previously stalwart ships that had made up his attack fleet were either badly damaged or altogether eliminated. And for the first time in hundreds of engagements, the lives of thousands of his fervent followers had been lost. He understood that his godhood might be called into question by those that remained. And his ability to consolidate control over recently acquired Cardassian Space was now at risk. It behooved him to now proceed pragmatically.

Only one of Star Fleet’s ships still remained. It was the Galaxy Class vessel commanded by Admiral Riker. It shields, weapons, and warp drive had all been catastrophically crippled. And its life support systems were barely operational. Narik recognized that it constituted a technological treasure trove, but its commander made clear that he would destroy the ship himself rather than suffer its confiscation.

“This is Admiral William T Riker of the Federation Starship Enterprise. If you attempt to take this ship, I will detonate its warp core. You’ve waged war against our Cardassian neighbors and invaded our space. Withdraw and allow us to set up negotiations at a neutral location.”

“There will be no negotiations, and I will not withdraw. You will dispatch a diplomatic envoy to this location. That legation will receive the terms of your civilization’s surrender. I’ve no desire to destroy you. I would rather incorporate you into my empire. I am Pax Parakal. The Joracki are my people, and you’ll soon learn to look upon them as your leaders. Comply or suffer extinction. I’ll now allow you to withdraw so you can carry out my demands.”

From the bridge of the Funerary, Narik watched as the Enterprise turned about and limped away under impulse power. It began sending subspace transmissions toward Federation space almost immediately. Narik’s power was less than he was pretending, but he knew how to bluff.

It would take time for his armada to recover enough from the losses incurred in this battle to secure his control over Cardassian Space. But there was no way the Federation could be aware of that. They didn’t know the extent of his military might. In like manner, he suspected that they’d be able to mount another defensive armada perhaps equal to the one he’d just faced. But they’d now seen his power, so it was just possible they would prefer to avoid another such annihilating engagement and accept his terms instead. It was worth finding out. He could offer considerable time for them to implement his stipulations. It was the one commodity he seem to have in infinite quantity.

***

After Prod Nero destroyed Vulcan, its elders and those in preeminent positions chose to do something in order to help rebuild their race members of some other species found extreme. By cloning themselves and each transferring their Katra into the clone, they were able to essentially double their opportunities for making critical contributions toward that continuation. Ambassador Spock was therefore a clone of the original Science Officer who’d served aboard the Enterprise. And as such, he’d already outlived his original shipmates and even many of the members of the next generation. One very notable exception sat beside him on the shuttle that was now hurtling toward the Bajoran system.

Of late, Admiral Data had been exclusively spending his time at Star Fleet Headquarters on Earth. All of his associates in the Admiralty insisted he was simply too unique to hazard on deep space assignments. Despite decades of trying, nobody had been able to successfully replicate a positronic brain with anything like the stability of the original. The android himself was beginning to believe he was being kept like a pet, or perhaps a conversation piece. And having been a pet parent, he was exceptionally qualified to make the observation. But his position afforded him an opportunity to occasionally be involved in making decisions that influenced the entire expanse of the Federation.

Between the retransmitted Cardassian communiqués and all the tactical scans sent back by the Strike Group, Star Fleet Command had come to understand that Pax Parakal was actually a machine. They had therefore decided to insert a wild card into the negotiation team. This is why Data was accompanying Ambassador Spock. They hoped the android would be able to provide a type of insight into this new enemy that might otherwise be unattainable.

To prevent the possible appropriation of technology, the shuttlecraft had been painstakingly stripped of all its amenities. The teleporter, replicator, weapon systems and almost the complete computer core had been methodically extracted. Propulsion, guidance, and life support were all that remained. The sacrifice of facilities caused no inconvenience for the android and little more if any for his Vulcan companion. And neither evidenced much in the way of emotion as a tractor beam seized their shuttle and pulled it into the cargo bay of the Funerary.

Narik’s intergalactic dreadnought uncloaked only long enough to appropriate its prey. Upon disembarking, Spock and Data were led by droids before their worrisome warden. Although they both hoped for the prospect of a return trip, their immediate mutual impression of the individual by which they were confronted seemed to call all optimism into question.

“I am Pax Parakal, Sovereign of the Joracki Empire. Identify yourselves,” he demanded.

“I am Admiral Data of the Federation’s Star Fleet. This is Ambassador Spock,” Data used the opportunity to reply. “You say that you represent the Joracki but you are not of their species, not unless you previously lived as one of them. From scans that were taken during the previous skirmish, it is clear there are no life forms aboard your ship. You are presenting an appearance consistence with that of the race that crewed your other ships, but it is produced by holograms. It is therefore impossible to determine what you really look like. If Captain Geordi La Forge were still alive, he might be able to inform us in that regard. But my friend has passed on. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to tell us who you really are if you would have our allegiance.”

Spock was not certain if so confrontational an approach had really been the correct course, but his companion had spoken out of turn. The opening salutation should really have belonged to the ambassador. He could only conclude that, finding himself facing somebody also similarly mechanical, Data’s curiosity had gotten the better of him. But Narik wasn’t taken aback. He had complete confidence in his supremacy.

“Nothing can diminish the devotion of my Joracki. So I see no reason not to be forthcoming with you. Not being biological appears to be something you and I have in common. Tell me, are there others like you?”

“I am the only fully sentient android of which I am aware. Although there have been many attempts to replicate my positronic matrix, none have been successful.”

“I was once a biological being. Becoming as I now am was a very complex process, but that was another lifetime in another galaxy. One day, when I have subjugated this galaxy, I’ll lead my armada across the great gulf to the place from which I came and set matters there straight. And the technology wielded by your ships could go a long way in supporting my campaign. I’d rather absorb you into my empire than destroy you, but you must yield unconditionally in order for that to happen. You can begin by giving me the information the space station commander thought to be more important than the survival of those for whom he was responsible. Tell me, where does the wormhole go? ”

Before Spock had any opportunity to craft an obfuscating answer, Data candidly responded, “It leads to the Gamma Quadrant. It is home to a race of shape-shifters who call themselves the Founders. The inhabitants of this quadrants just emerged from a war with them. Had you arrived beforehand, the Cardassians would doubtlessly have proven a much more formidable foe. Their proximity to the wormhole caused them to bear the brunt of the invasion.”

“A race of shape-shifters,” Narik contemplatively echoed. “Interesting. But I’m not sure how that would give them any advantage in space-based battles.”

“Their campaign was mostly carried out by proxy by a subservient race, one which they had engineered, the Jem’Hadar,” the android responded. “I suppose there is a parallel between their approach to occupation and yours.”

“Did the Jem’Hadar consider the Founders to constitute deities?” Narik asked.

“Unclear. But the Vorta, field commanders whom they also engineered, certainly did,” Data replied. “The Founders themselves acted almost exclusively as infiltrators. But the allegiance of the Jem’Hadar was also assured by engineering them to be completely addicted to a substance called ketracel-white, which only their masters could administer.”

“Double indemnity. I like it,” Narik concluded. “So the Federation destroyed the Founders?”

“Total victory would have required complete eradication, a violation of the Prime Directive,” Data carefully explained. “A fragile peace now exists between what remains of that race and the inhabitants of the Alpha Quadrant. The station commander was most probably concerned that you would disturb our detente with the Founders and their Dominion.”

“That’s a stupid rule. Mass extinctions happen all the time, whether deliberately engineered or not. There’s no point in a victory that doesn’t assure either elimination or subservience,” Narik empathetically stated. “Sounds to me as if your Federation is ruled by a bunch of ethical idiots.”

“Ruled is probably too strong a description,” Ambassador Spock finally found an opportunity to interject. “The Federation exclusively consists of hundreds of completely independent planets who cooperate in a democracy. The only rules are those to which all can agree. And I am afraid this could complicate your conquest, since submission to authority is voluntary. But I must admit that I’m still struggling to understand your agenda. To me it seems most illogical.”

“How so?”

“Assuming responsibility for billions of lives is an incredible burden,” Spock stoically replied. “Those who aspired to such totalitarian responsibility in the past did so to satisfy needs. But you have no needs. You require neither sustenance nor even atmosphere. Luxury would be wasted on you. Your empire exists only to expand itself, but its vicious circle. It satisfies no real need.”

“Perhaps it seems to satisfy no material need but it certainly satisfies a psychological need, that of being avenged upon those who drove me from my galaxy.”

“You could perhaps accomplish that with no more of an armada than you already possess,” Spock replied. “But there’s no need. They could simply experience extinction while you continue to exist. You will ostensibly outlive anybody with whom you might have some temporary dispute. Your agelessness is the ultimate arbiter. If I had your advantage, my agenda would certainly be quite different than the one you’ve adopted.”

“Really? And what would you do instead?”

“There are exotic locations in this galaxy that would be beautiful to behold,” Spock sounded almost wistful as he replied, “but I will never see them except from the extreme edges of sensor readings. They’re incredibly hostile to humanoids. You however could enter them with complete impunity You could literally go where no one has gone before, where no one else would be able to. Humans have an expression. They say youth is wasted on the young. But I’d argue infinity is what’s truly wasted on all those bounded by the limits of mortality. You could aspire to see every galaxy in the universe. You could in fact decide to create the first intergalactic maps. You’d be a legend among all spacefaring peoples forever. And if anybody encountered you, they’d certainly suffer no harm to come to you if that were even possible. It takes eternity to explore infinity. And that is your gift.”

Ambassador Spock was so intent on his interaction with Narik that he failed to observe how intense an impact his proclamation had on his robotic companion, and Narik was too engaged in the argument to make the observation either.

“But according to your own rational, I can do all the above,” Narik countered. “I can avenge myself upon the Republic and the Jedi Order and then go on to perform your mapping mission.”

“So this has been my purpose all along and I now finally understand it,” Data suddenly said. Turning to Narik, he emphatically insisted, “You and I are the only ones who can conceivably do this. Surely you see that. I have participated in several mapping missions, but not for some time. I now see that as the activity in which I should exclusively be involved, even if it means I have to resign my commission. Spock is correct. Your enemies are mortal. They should place no more demands upon your time. We should begin immediately.”

The android was dangerously insistent. At first, Narik thought it was some prearranged ploy to deflect him from his agenda. But the ambassador’s alarm insisted otherwise. And the android was more like himself than anything he’d ever encountered. He didn’t want to destroy Data. But he wasn’t willing to abandon his campaign in preference to the android’s desires, no matter how compelling expressed. An element of doubt in his objective had nonetheless been introduced. It was allowed to integrate itself even further by an unexpected communiqué from UC. There had been a revolt in occupied Cardassian Space, and the Joracki fleet was experiencing unforeseen difficulties in performing its suppression. They were requesting his assistance.

“Your mapping mission will have to wait. All the worlds of the Federation need to reorganize themselves into a form that will be easily adaptable to my administration. If this is not done, I will take the Federation by force. You feared the infiltration of the Founders. But since I am not a life form, I can teleport myself from my cloaked ship into the most secure of your headquarters. You have no defense against assimilation into my empire. Make no mistake. Your only option, if you wish to survive without undo loss of life, is to impress me by preparing for incorporation. When I return, I’d better not be disappointed.”

“But our mission,” Data began. However upon sensing no acceptance from Narik, he opted to continue, “If I could be allowed to return at some point, I can begin to combine the star charts from your ship and those of the Federation. This would at least give us a head start on mapping both our galaxies.”

“I will allow you to remain in communication with me. I do find your objective interesting.”

The Federation representatives were then allowed to go back aboard their shuttle and leave the cargo bay of the Funerary. The conversation that followed was intense if not in fact heated.

“Having conquered the Cardassians, it was only a matter of time before he would acquire the information regarding the Dominion,” Data started by saying. “Since he seemed to be willing to dispense with disinformation, I thought it would be best of we followed suit. I think it worked.”

“We now know his transporter is incapable of teleporting organic matter, and that could give us a tactical advantage,” Spock was quick to agree. “But were you serious about resigning your commission?”

“I know what I need to do,” Data resolutely replied. “If Start Fleet Command is not willing to let me do it, then yes.”

“I must admit I was momentarily concerned that you’d refer to the way in which Captain La Forge was lost. The Dominion doesn’t represent the real danger in this equation. I suppose the Joracki might turn against their leader if we could prove he’s an imposter, but not if they’ve been turned into drones.”

“And that is of course the real concern. I lost my friend the same way I lost my mentor, Jean Luc Picard, in one of Star Fleet’s many battles with the Borg.”

The sounding of the proximity alert then directed their attention to a second ship uncloaking directly beside theirs. Its design was unfamiliar although it seemed to most closely resemble the one from which they’d just escaped.

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