STAR WARS Episode 12, The Balancing of the Force, Volume 3 of the Alternate Galaxy Trilogy

A long time ago in a galaxy way, way too close

“Sometimes when the past is revealed it just makes the present seem that much more mysterious.”

~ the author

“I think this might’ve been a mistake,” said Tani, Force Speaking to Tysha through the field of the Phemera.

“Because you’re practically engaged to a Neimoidian?” Tysha quipped. “That’s very easy to remedy. Ackbar would transfer you out of there at a moment’s notice. You’re job there from now on could be done by droids. Lieutenant Tey might even still get his promotion. That should keep him from holding a grudge. People in Republic Security get transferred all the time. He wouldn’t need to know it was by request.”

“I will keep that under consideration, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. I think you actually should’ve selected someone Force-Sensitive. I’m now constantly conscious of Phemera spread all across the galaxy; here, on Tatooine, on numerous Neimoidian freighters, on Neimoidia, on Cato Neimoidia, on Dagobah and on Coruscant. It’s changing the way I think. I wasn’t trained to incorporate this kind of experience, nor do I have the Force as my ally. I was tested for the latter and I didn’t pass.”

“You were tested when you’d have qualified for training as a youngling, weren’t you?”

“Of course. But as I understand it, a person’s midi-chlorian count doesn’t change over time.”

“There have been exceptions on both Sides of the Force. I’m one of them. But the Phemera represent an unqualified factor. We don’t yet know what changes could be caused by consistent interaction with them. I was already changed, which probably helped me adapt. Do I understand that you need to be free of field of their influence? That can certainly be arranged.”

“No, quite the opposite. I was briefly outside their field when I went down to Endor. I’d say it was disorienting. It felt like the universe shrank. I’m now very seriously considering their offer of permanently linking with me, like they did with you. But you have an advantage I never will. This is untested territory. I almost feel as if I need to get permission from the Jedi Council. But I know you didn’t.”

“Whatever happens is between you and the Phemera. You’re not beholden to the Jedi.”

“But I wouldn’t even have this posting if it weren’t for the Order.”

“Wrong, girlfriend. We were intentionally told to operate outside the auspices of the Order. Ackbar reassigned you at our request, and he has no connection whatsoever to the Phemera.”

“If you’ll excuse the nomenclature, I will have to meditate on this some more. My life before coming here now seems small by comparison. I’m not all certain I would be satisfied going back to it. But if I leave here, I’ll be bereft of the field of the Phemera unless I accept their offer to link with me permanently. That is a decision I must ultimately make on my own. But speaking of the field of the Phemera, I have a question. And you might be the best person to answer it.”

“What’s your question?”

“I know our floral friends can read people without actually immersing them in their telepathic field, just like Master Gwonameeth can read people without them being aware of it. But we think the Neimoidians have an anti-telepathy compound. Are we really certain the Phemera are more powerful than the compound?”

“That may not be the case. But if the Neimoidians are responsible for all this wrongdoing, it might be possible to catch them without the protection of the compound if they don’t understand they’re in the presence of a telepath. We could need the Phemera to catch them with their guard down. That’s why installing them in domestic circumstances is so important. Comfortable people might let something slip.”

“One of the plantings is headed for the office of Viceroy Rumpf on Cato Neimoidia. I’m sure he’d let his hair down in his own office, if he had any hair that is,” Tani quipped.

“As far as I know there’s no compound for that,” Tysha jokingly agreed. “But it could be that we’ll get our best intel from the people receiving the orders rather than the ones giving them. As instructions are sent down the command chain, telepathically unprotected people might receive them.”

“It’s fortunate the Phemera can take care of themselves. They’re able to manipulate people into properly caring for them without revealing their telepathic nature. But I wonder if this has all been worth the risk to them if that care should unexpectedly falter. They’d never survive indoors if they were left alone too long. They could try to call on us for rescue, but even Jedi would need probable cause to enter a private residence. And that would still be true if the owner was dead.”

“We might be able to send in botanical droids without raising much suspicion. I will speak of your concerns to Grand Master Cyrella and see if we can develop a plan for such emergencies. I’ll check in with you again soon.”

After exiting the field of the Phemera, Tysha immediately sought out Cyrella. She wanted to speak to the Grand Master face to face. She really was concerned, but it was mostly for Tanish. The empathy the lieutenant commander had demonstrated was worrisome. The possible peril to the Phemera had been rather outrageously overstated. She was linked to the life forms and she knew they accepted the risk all plant life does when expanding its territory.

Most of the Temple’s occupants were Jedi. And everyone interacted through the field of the Phemera only occasionally, even though that field now permeated almost the entire structure. It seemed as if constant contact with someone not Force-sensitive or Enhanced regrettably came with an unexpected drawback. Tani was manifesting symptoms of addiction.

***

From the back of the bridge on the Excelsior where his station had been assigned, Security Chief Odo said, “I’d suggest we use this trip to the Delta Sector to discuss what can possibly be done about Narik. Nothing in the universe is truly indestructible. I don’t see why he should be.”

“You’re afraid Kevin won’t help us then. You have a suggestion?” Captain Alexander asked.

“If I could’ve gotten a transporter lock on him on Cardassia, I would’ve beamed his immortal ass straight into the nearby star.”

From the bridge of the Enterprise, Data replied, “That might not have worked.”

“And why not?” Odo demanded.

“Narik has some unqualified capacity for self-teleportation,” the admiral explained. “I am not certain if it is somehow incorporated into his cybernetic form or if it is a device he wears instead. It allowed him to escape a thermonuclear assassination attempt. Since his appearance is simply a projection that makes him look like Pax Parakal, it could conceal all kinds of technology.”

“As much as I hate to admit it,” Lucas interjected, “there might be another reason your plan would not have worked. According to legend, one of Narik’s most recent predecessors was able to control the power of a star.”

“If Narik shares that capacity, we most certainly wouldn’t want to help him discover it,” Luke finished.

“But he does make mistakes,” Odo insisted. “I’m pretty sure it was how I was able to rescue you.”

“What do you mean?” Lucas inquired.

“That throne room was initially impregnable to teleportation. But as I kept scanning, I began to detect weaknesses. I used one to get the two of you out. He thought his time-shifting weapon would rip you out of the galaxy. When you were able to deflect its discharges instead, the bursts weakened the shielding. His assumption enabled your escape. He is a very powerful opponent, but he’s not infallible.”

“Point taken,” Luke replied. “A failure of their foresight has often brought about the downfall of the Dark Lords of the past.”

During the pause in the conversation, the pair of Star Fleet ships received a communication from Vice Admiral Adamson. Admiral Data instructed his communications officer to enable VOX.

“Due to the discomfiture of the Romulans in the initial battle with the Borg,” he said, “they’ve threatened to break off negotiations. They’ve accused us of not being completely forthcoming in the information we provided. In order to move the peace process forward, Star Fleet Intelligence has elected to share all our information with them. This includes Narik, the super-massive black hole and the Nexus. Since the Nexus is now in their space, we hope this olive branch will entice them back to the negotiation table.”

“It would be wise for someone to keep an eye on the anomaly while we attempt to enlist the aid of the Douwd,” Spock suggested.

“I’m aware that your reports say you believe there might be a relationship between the two,” Adamson replied. “I’ll suggest that they engage in such surveillance. That would be taking them into our confidence. If we want them to be our allies, we must keep giving them opportunities to behave as such.”

“We face the same dangers,” Spock summarized.

“Star Fleet Intelligence interviewed the worst homicidal maniacs currently imprisoned to see if any of them had original ideas on how to destroy Narik in case the Douwd still declines to help us. The only one that seemed to have merit involved injecting tri-lithium into a star. As far as we know, nothing can survive a Level 12 Shockwave.”

“You’re not implying that we destroy Cardassia, are you, sir?” Alexander asked.

“Of course not, Captain. The optimum application would probably require stranding Narik in an uninhabited system and then detonating its star.”

“Or beaming him into the star and then inducing the quantum implosion,” Odo suggested.

“That would be another possible application, probably less problematic than the first. I can’t recommend a specific course of action however that would lead to either outcome. All our hopes are with you. But is there anything within my power I can do to assist you?”

“There might be one thing,” Lucas replied on VOX.

“It might help us recruit Kevin to our cause if we had some leverage,” Luke explained. “As you said we suspect a relationship between the Douwd and the Nexus. His appearance seemed to closely coincide with an incident involving some El-Aurian refugees. Maybe he was displaced when they were absorbed. Could we offer to take him there or at least provide its coordinates?”

“I doubt very much if the Romulans would tolerate any Federation ship entering their space at this time,” Adamson answered. “But they might consider transferring a passenger onto one of their ships to complete the trip.”

“The Douwd apparently enjoys the ability to move through space without the aid of a ship,” Data interjected. “It is how he managed to destroy the entire Husnock species. But he might be interested in knowing exactly where the Nexus is now located, if indeed it represents his origin.”

“We’ve already shared that information with the Romulans,” Adamson reminded everyone. “I’m onboard with giving it to Kevin Oxbridge, but only if he’ll help us and only after he’s done so. Let’s not make the mistake of giving him an opportunity to abandon us instead.”

“If only the loss of the bulk of his attack fleet gave us an advantage over Narik himself, then we could go on the offensive,” Alexander postulated. “But he’s the real threat.”

“Indeed,” Adamson agreed. “But the loss of that fleet hopefully buys you time to organize a means for defeating him. I’ll leave you to it then. Adamson out.”

After Vice Admiral Adamson signed off, Alexander turned to the section of the screen where the Knights Errant were displayed and said, “Even though it shorted almost every system on the Enterprise, its shields were able to absorb a burst from Narik’s time-shifting weapon. I heard you say your lightsabers were also able to deflect such bursts.”

“I think that had more to do with the limitations of his weapon and the Force,” Lucas replied.

“He couldn’t time-shift us without sending us back to our galaxy, which would’ve taken more energy that his weapon wielded,” Luke explained.

“Nevertheless, I’d like you to work with the members our science team for the remainder of our voyage to the Delta Sector and see if you can possibly improve the operation of our shields against Narik’s weapon. If we cannot persuade the Douwd to help us and we have to try to lure Narik into an uninhabited solar system, we’ll need to be able to survive multiple salvoes from his weapon.”

After Spock, Shanella, Lucas and Luke left the bridge for the science lab, Odo turned to the captain. Alexander got the immediate impression the changeling had been waiting for the pair of Jedi to leave before asking his question.

“Have we any reason to believe Narik’s weapon wouldn’t work against the Douwd?”

The command crew grew so silent as they awaited the captain’s answer it was as if the void of space had suddenly permeated the bridge. Like his flight officers on the Enterprise, Data was still on VOX. But everyone seemed to understand that Odo’s question had been intended for his immediate commander, and no one else seemed in a hurry to field the inquiry.

“Since becoming aware that Oxbridge might be our best defense against Narik, I’ve studied the account of the historic encounter between him and the previous crew of the Enterprise. Part of it involved his apparent ability to wish a starship into being that outmatched the weapons and shields of the galaxy-class cruiser. It sounds like he could take on Narik without even presenting himself as a target. I think the relevant question is whether or not Narik would actually be able to time-shift such formidable fabrications. Can something that didn’t really exist in the past be time-shifted into the past? Beyond that I have to wonder what else the Douwd can bring to bear.”

“The ship we faced was no illusion,” Data was quick to contribute. “The damage it did to our shields was real. We were forced to flee or we could easily have been destroyed. Of course, his only real intention was to make us withdraw. In our subsequent encounter with that ship Captain Picard, obviously suspicious of the situation, instructed that our shields not be raised. Instead of attacking us, the enemy vessel simulated the destruction of the homestead on the planet. It was the ultimate way to eliminate our reason for staying.”

“But we are not trying to force Narik to withdraw,” Odo argued. “We’d just be wishing him on someone else. We need the Douwd to destroy an ostensibly indestructible opponent. The match will be decided by the limits that apply to one and not the other. There is no certainly of success. We still need a backup plan.”

“We have one,” Alexander insisted.

“The quantum implosion?” Odo asked, aghast. “I thought that was off the table.”

“I’ll explain this to you since it seems I must, but this isn’t to go into anybody’s log. We’ve no idea of the full scope of the Douwd’s powers. He might be capable of accessing our data banks. In the interest of saving Cardassia Prime, since the Cardassians suffered so much first by taking the wrong side in the Dominion War and then being conquered by Narik, we’ll ask the Douwd to try to move the confrontation to an unoccupied system. If we see he’s on the verge of defeat, we will implement the quantum implosion. He certainly doesn’t need to know we’re willing to kill him to rid the universe of Narik. I’d even recommend we utilize that option as soon as we have them both so isolated, except we need the Douwd to also help us with the super-massive black hole if he’s able. So let me reemphasize the Vice Admiral’s instruction, we don’t provide the Douwd the coordinates of the Nexus until he’s defeated Narik. If he understands his probable destination to also be endangered by the black hole, perhaps he’ll supply us with additional assistance.”

“The unmitigated gall inherent to your agenda is beyond belief,” Odo observed, shaking his head.

“Thank you,” Alexander earnestly replied. “I admire gall.”

“Am I correct in assuming you’d prefer for our intergalactic guests not to be cognizant of this contingency unless it needs to be enacted?” Odo asked speaking most specifically to the image of Admiral Data, who had remained silent during this exchange.

“We can afford to countenance no objection from them,” the admiral answered. “They have already demonstrated their inability to fight on our behalf. You were there. They must accept the decisions of Star Fleet and the Federation.”

“If we destroy the Douwd, we could be eliminating our only chance of ultimately neutralizing the black hole,” Odo argued.

“If the only way to defeat Narik is to destroy the Douwd then we will do what we must,” Data resolutely responded. “He has an unparalleled power to kill and to wish things into being. It does not logically follow that he can wish things out of existence with equal facility. He could not bring his wife back from the dead. He could only fabricate a replica of her. He is not omnipotent.”

“Number One, you have the bridge,” said Alexander, rising. “I’ve a surreptitious assignment for our chief engineer. We’ll need to have the tri-lithium on hand if we decide we have to use it.”

After Alexander left the bridge, noticing Admiral Data was still on VOX, Odo said, “We have already created two black holes, one where a Borg Cube used to be and one that swallowed the proto-universe. Both actions have produced extremely uncertain outcomes. We’re now prepared to destroy a solar system? Isn’t that exactly what a Dark Jedi named Skywalker did?”

***

“I’ve become permanently linked with the Phemera,” Tanish Force Spoke to Tysha from her posting on Century Station.

Interrupting her lightsaber katas in the practice room at the Jedi Temple on Tatooine, Tysha replied, “Like I wouldn’t know that, but I suppose it was inevitable. Congratulations. What finally caused you to take the plunge?”

“I suppose it was like when a youngling accesses the Force for the first time, although your case is different. But I’m sure they’re left wanting more. I don’t have the expanded awareness of a Force Wielder. I only have it vicariously through the Phemera and its access to the Force. But the more I considered the loss of that access, the more reprehensible I found it to be. I’ve never heard of a Jedi foreswearing the use of the Force. Once accessed, it becomes part of the user’s personality, an important ingredient of their gestalt. If I gave up my interaction with the Phemera, it would change who I am.”

“I understand.”

“Respectfully, I’m not sure you do. You were already a Force Wielder when you joined with the telepathic plants. I’ve become one by reciprocity. And it’s changed my perspective.”

“How so?”

“It’s caused me to question the assumptions that led to my posting here. I need to ask you a question.”

“Go ahead.”

“The evidence for the Neimoidians having an anti-telepathy compound is overwhelming. I’m well aware of that. But how did they test it? They’re not telepathic.”

“I guess we’ve always assumed it was given to them by Narik, along with teleportation.”

“But the Scree aren’t telepathic either. The compound was somehow developed and tested, but none of the players identified thus far possess telepathy. The Colicoids don’t qualify either.”

“You’re suggesting there’s someone else involved, someone moving behind the scenes?”

“I see no other solution.”

“Okay, you’re scaring me now. Despite my access to the Force I’ve been relying on the Jedi for all my answers. I never even considered this complication. Can we divine anything about the nature of this phantom menace?”

“They have to be telepathic and ostensibly someone with a grudge against the Jedi.”

“Your final qualification hardly narrows the field, but your original assumption certainly does. Only a smattering of species in the Republic are known to possess telepathy. Wait a minute. I’m aware of one that would have a reason to hate the Jedi. Some lived here on Tatooine before the evacuation.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Some of the B’omarr monks lived in Jabba’s palace and took possession of the place after he died. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate giving it up because of the Geonosian Shockwave.”

“Were those the horrible creatures with disembodied brains that went around on spider-like droid walkers?”

“The very same.”

“Do you know where they went?”

“At one time they had a temple on Teth, which I believe they abandoned, in Hutt controlled Wild Space. It’s actually not that far from Saleucami.”

“I’d like to request a reassignment. Keter will just have to understand.”

“What do you recommend as your reassignment?”

“We need intel on the current locations and activities of the B’omarr monks. Teth sounds as if it’s the place to start.”

“As I said, that is Hutt controlled territory in Wild Space. It is entirely lawless out there. Your position as a lieutenant commander in Republic Security would be meaningless to them. Wait a minute. You are the last survivor of a ship that was destroyed. I happen to know that many sects even out there consider killing such a person bad luck. But I’m still not going to let you go alone. If you really want to do this, I’m going with you.”

“I happen to know the Hutts have no love for the Jedi Order. Aren’t you a Jedi now?”

“The Force is my ally and I carry a lightsaber, but I’ve never been a member of the Order. If any interaction between me and its members have been broadcast out there, I guarantee it was the skirmish I had with Dari. That would’ve been red meat to the media. My name is well known, so it’s common knowledge I’m a widow. And widows are held in very special esteem even in the backwaters of the quadrant you intend to invade.”

“So our reputations could provide us some modicum of protection. What if the Hutts want to know why we’re trying to find out about the monks? That’s going to be a bit difficult to explain.”

“If we can compensate them for the information, they won’t be too concerned about why we want it.”

“That’d be a good trick. Do we actually have anything to trade?”

“I’m thinking,” Tysha impatiently replied. “I was of course my husband’s beneficiary. But the disbursement was all in Republic Credits, which would be useless out there. It’d take something tangible, something with instant resale value. Got any suggestions? I mean it was your idea.”

“My idea was to gather information,” Tanish replied. “You’re the one who wants to buy it. I’m coming around to your point of view, but I see a possible complication. What if they simply try to take whatever we’re offering in trade?”

“We share one definite advantage. We’re both linked to the Phemera. Everyone in their field will be aware of what’s happening to us. Perhaps we could convince the captain of the Falcon or Screech to act as backup. If one of them were cloaked and in orbit with Phemera aboard, they’d be able to provide an emergency extraction.”

“So we have an exit strategy. We’re still stalled on the negotiations. Since we are trading for information, it behooves me to ask if we have any to offer in exchange.”

“I’m drawing a blank. But one possibility suggests itself. I happen to know the Bothans have offered to compensate the Order for the protection its providing for their freighters. Cyrella would never accept outright remuneration, but perhaps there’s an opportunity. The Hutts would benefit from trading with the Scree, but the Scree only trade with honest clients. The Hutts have earned a bad reputation. But maybe an arrangement could be reached where the Bothans would act as middlemen. Neither have any love for the other, but both would stand to benefit. Offering a trade deal might be the ultimate enticement. I’ll speak to Cyrella about it.”

***

It was Spock who suggested transferring the appropriate people for the landing party to the Excelsior and leaving the other two ships parked at the edge of the Delta Rana system. Since it was supposed to be a diplomatic mission, he was concerned that showing up in numbers might send the wrong message. As the galaxy-class starship entered orbit, he and Shanella were able to quickly confirm the small patch of paradise that stood in stark contrast to the barren world.

“Selecting the proper personnel could be critical to our success,” Data said, addressing the command crew on the bridge of the Excelsior. “Both Jedi Knights, Ambassador Spock, Odo and I will beam to the planet’s surface. Representation of rank is of no value here. I am going simply because Kevin knows me. We must endeavor to represent the inhabitants of this galaxy, maybe even the universe itself. Our only bargaining chip is tenuous in the extreme. We must truly hope to prevail upon whatever sense of altruism the Douwd might possess.”

“He destroyed an entire species,” Odo added. “If he’s at all interested in redemption, maybe we can convince him that saving every other species in the galaxy might actually suffice.”

“As a Force Wielder, he certainly senses that we two are as well,” Lucas said.

“When he sees how utterly we failed in our attempt to stop Narik, perhaps he will appreciate just how serious a threat the would-be emperor really is,” Luke added..

“We will signal you when we are ready to return, whatever the outcome,” Data concluded.

The four members of the away team then left the bridge, taking the turbolift to the deck with the transporter room. Moments later, they were standing on the luxuriant lawn outside the house of Kevin Oxbridge. The homeowner was on hand. But from his glowering countenance, he didn’t appear prepared to receive guests.

“You people are impossibly persistent,” he crossly complained. “Is there some peculiarity of your culture that prevents you from accepting no as an answer?”

“You’re our only hope,” Luke replied, presenting his robotic arm for the Douwd’s inspection. “The Cardassians tried to assassinate Narik through the use of a thermonuclear device. Narik’s neuranium casing has now been hardened by radiation. It was impervious to our lightsabers. He is now essentially indestructible. His fleet just suffered a major defeat, so we’ve managed to buy a little time. But that’s all. Make no mistake. He will be coming. Your sanctuary is inconveniently located directly between Cardassia and the Federation.”

“Like I said before,” the Douwd replied, sighing exasperatedly, “I’ll deal with him when and if he becomes my problem, although he might simply turn aside instead. I’ll not destroy him unless he leaves me no choice.”

“Have you heard of the Borg?” Odo abruptly asked before the Douwd could dismiss them.

“Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” Kevin sarcastically responded. “Friends of yours?”

“They’re another faction bent on subjugating the galaxy, a race of cybernetic zombies with a collective consciousness. They assimilate entire species, appropriating their technologies and making drones out of the survivors. To Narik they represent a readymade army of billions. Narik has already come very close to making contact with them. If he succeeds, he’ll assimilate them.”

“I’m not sure I get your point.”

“We inadvertently sacrificed our fleet in order to prevent their contact from occurring. Many hundreds of people died. We were responsible. I understand regret. I’m told you slaughtered an entire species. If there really is such a thing as redemption, wouldn’t saving every other species in the galaxy be at least a beginning in achieving it? It’s almost like this opportunity for restitution was made specifically for you.”

“I see no association between the two. Doing the one doesn’t negate the other. It would just be more killing. I’ve no interest in performing the intercession you’re requesting. You are on your own.”

Before he could actually order them to leave, Lucas said, “Luke and I are Force Wielders so we know you are too. How is it that you’re the only one in this entire galaxy we’ve encountered?”

“Just lucky I guess,” Kevin sardonically sneered.

“I don’t think so,” Luke confrontationally countered, alarming his colleagues.“What exactly is your connection to the Nexus?”

The Douwd smiled remorsefully before replying, “Your insight serves you well. That’s where I’m from. I was displaced when a group of El-Aurian refugees were absorbed.”

“Why didn’t you return?” Odo asked.

“I was temporarily rendered unconscious. When I awoke, there was no trace of the Nexus. I couldn’t even discern its course. I was stranded. But the Force was still with me. I sought out the nearest populated planet and blended with the inhabitants. Almost immediately I met the love of my life. You know the rest.”

“Would you like to return to the Nexus?” Data carefully inquired.

“My life has been very much the same as it was when I was there,” the Douwd shrugged as he answered. He then looked at them most unkindly and concluded, “Except for all the damned interruptions. Why?”

“We know its position and its course,” the android admiral admitted. “If you will defeat Narik for us, we will happily provide you that information. We can even offer you transportation at least part of the way there.”

“And I’d never have to put up with you presuming upon my good nature again?”

“Narik might not be our only common enemy,” Odo suggested on cue. “What would happen if the Nexus encountered a black hole?”

“I don’t know,” Kevin confessed. “Why?”

“A proto-universe was discovered in the Gamma Quadrant,” Lucas answered. “There’s only one way such an anomaly could exist without opening in its own layer of subspace. The Force is completely out of balance in this galaxy. We suspect that you know how it happened. The threat it poses isn’t just to this galaxy, although it will be the first to be displaced.”

“By using a substance called Red Matter,” Luke continued, “we formed a black hole out of a rogue planet and caused it to absorb the proto-universe. We then had unexpected help driving it into the fringes of intergalactic space but the super-massive black hole will most certainly return. Only by rebalancing the Force can we hope to arrive at any permanent solution. And in order to even make an attempt at doing so, we need to know how its equilibrium was lost. You have that knowledge, don’t you?”

“Long ago there was a war between my people and a race called the Organians. It went on for many millennia and left relics, particularly in this half of the galaxy. Your Federation probably chanced upon some of them. Toward the end, it began to turn against us.”

“Your adversaries were from a planet called Organia?” Luke asked for clarification.

“Yes. Why?”

“Although adopted, my mother’s maiden name was Organa,” Lucas replied. “That is quite a coincidence, if that’s all it is. It’s only one letter off from the name of your enemy’s home planet.”

“Be that as it may, while testing its limits our researchers had learned how to create a Force Filament. It was a way to win the war but it caused an irreversible cascade event. It siphoned all the symbiotic properties from the midi-chlorians throughout the galaxy and gathered them into a single place for us alone to inhabit.”

“Were you there when this was done?” Data inquired.

“No. I am a child of the Nexus. I was conceived after its creation. We didn’t know the enemy was preparing to become noncorporeal, accomplishing a kind of transformation into the Force. It was a needless gesture on our part. And we had relegated ourselves to a type of prison, forever looking only at ourselves in a world with no real surprises. The limits of imagination became our reality. The Organians knew what we were doing. They created some kind of countermeasure. I don’t know what it was. It was never used. After their transformation, they could not be bothered by biology.”

“That was a terrible tragedy,” Luke interjected.

“The war even spilled into a neighboring galaxy. My people build a Nexus Device there, but it was never activated. The Organians, still corporeal, became aware of what we were doing. As I understand it, they prepared the same countermeasure there. But they found the device. There was a battle. I don’t think there were survivors from either faction. Neither the Nexus Device nor the countermeasure were ever used.”

“How did your ancestors accomplish this intergalactic travel?” Lucas asked.

“You can exit the Nexus to any time or place. The Organians had symbiotic ships that could traverse the intergalactic void.”

“Is there a way the formation of the Force Filament can be reversed?” Spock asked.

“It wasn’t designed to be reversed. Our intelligence indicated that the Organians had crafted some kind of countermeasure but I’ve no idea what that might’ve entailed or where in the galaxy it was located. And keep in mind all the disenfranchised Douwd you’d be expelling if you found a way to unravel the filament. They might take their eviction personally. How many Nariks are you prepared to face?”

“You said the Nexus can be exited to any time or place,” Spock replied. “We need to advise you that Narik has a time-shifting weapon that can hurl things into the past. It would probably be best if you don’t present yourself as a target. Am I correct in assuming that you can fabricate an entire fleet of battle cruisers like the one you used against the Enterprise?”

“If he can send me into the past wouldn’t that be my quickest route back to the Nexus? Why would I need coordinates from you?”

“Your assumption is illogical, sir. You would not be sent back to where you were at the time. You would be sent back in time at the same place. You might still be in the Delta Sector, but you wouldn’t be on the surface of this world. In a worst case scenario you might materialize inside of an astronomical body; a planet, moon or star. It might not be survivable even for you.”

“Wait a minute,” Luke interjected. “I thought we were only able to deflect bursts from Narik’s weapon because it couldn’t send us all the way back to our galaxy.”

“Not exactly. It couldn’t send you that far back in time,” Spock explained. “You traveled over a million light years to get here.”

“We have one further request,” Data cautiously interjected. “The Cardassians have suffered greatly, first because of taking the wrong side in the Dominion War and then in being conquered by Narik. We would appreciate it if you could keep any Cardassian losses to a minimum. Maybe it would be possible for you to lure or drive Narik to an uninhabited system. If my understanding is correct, you wish to avoid any extraneous loss of life. Is this not why you have abstained from intercession up to now?”

“So let me get this straight. You want me to lure or drive Narik out of the Cardassian system and somehow defeat him without exposing myself to his time-shifting weapon? And in return for accomplishing this approximately impossible feat, you agree to provide me with the coordinates of the Nexus? Is that right?”

“I am sure it seems like a lot to ask for nothing more than information,” Spock apologetically replied. “But we have exhausted all other options. And it’s the only thing of value we can offer in exchange. Do you accept?”

“Sounds like an interesting challenge. And I can’t recall the last time I faced anything like an interesting challenge.”

***

It was with a certain sense of trepidation that Tysha went before Cyrella, with Tanish in tow. It had been in no small part at her recommendation that the Grand Master had entreated Ackbar to reassign the latter to Century Station, and the propagation of the Phemera had so far yielded no results. And though the real friction at Londle’s wake had been between her and Dari, Cyrella ultimately bore the brunt of the public backlash. Tysha knew Dari harbored her no ill will over the incident, but Cyrella’s countenance was inscrutable even to the Enhanced. Yet, she was certain this was way to obtain the information they sought.

“I was of course aware of your arrival at the Temple,” Cyrella penetratingly said, addressing Tanish. “Have you then concluded that your work at Century Station is done?”

“The gardener droids are perfectly capable of caring for the Century Solarium, your grace,” Tanish answered. “I programmed their protocols myself. And since I am now permanently linked with the Phemera, I’ll know if their needs are not being met.”

“Let’s skip over the part where you said droids are capable of caring, shall we?” she smiled as she suggested. “I was of course aware of the connection you’ve created. But you are here to speak to me about another matter. Say on.”

Tysha took the cue, replying, “The Neimoidians must have somehow tested the compound we are trying to trace. The B’omarr monks are telepathic. Some of them lived here on Tatooine, but they were driven off by the Geonosian Shockwave. They once maintained a temple on Teth. We would like to go there and bargain with the Hutts for information. I am a widow and Tanish is the last survivor of a lost ship. That should provide us at least a modicum of immunity. Our hope is that the Bothans can be convinced to facilitate limited trade between the Hutts and the Scree in exchange for actionable intelligence.”

“You need me to represent your plan to the Bothans,” Cyrella summarized. “That I’m willing to do. But how are the Hutts to know your offer is genuine?”

“Perhaps Demorin could go with us,” Tanish uncertainly answered.

“I’ll create no opportunity for the Hutts to make a hostage of such a dignitary,” Cyrella firmly stated. “Your link to the Phemera will allow us to constantly monitor your position. He enjoys no such an advantage. But I do have a counterproposal. The remnants of the protocol droid C3PO have been converted into an astrodroid. Like his missing counterpart, he can record and project holographic images. Demorin’s image is well known even in the reaches of Wild Space. And the only higher functions that could be saved were the interpreter circuits. You’re gonna need them. The Hutts understand Galactic Basic but don’t like to speak it. C3 will be an invaluable assistant in more ways than one. I believe it was the will of the Force that he be converted into a form that can help you accomplish this mission.”

”I am of course not a Jedi, but I’ve made a serious study of the history of the Order,” Tysha said. “I know Luke Skywalker hid his lightsaber inside his astrodroid. I’d prefer not to wear in on my person where it might be discerned. But since the astrodroid ploy was already used, maybe that’s not the best of ideas.”

“No one on the barge survived that day but Luke and his friends. The Hutts won’t expect it.”

“Excellent. I’ll have Demorin make sure there’s a place for it when I see him about making a holographic presentation for the Hutts.”

“It is in your interest not to mention the Jedi during your negotiations. Jabba’s son, Rotta, is the Hutt to whom you’ll be speaking. He knows a Jedi was involved in his father’s death. He now resides at the palace on Teth that was once the B’omarr monks’ temple. He inherited everything that belonged his father, including control of the Desilijic Empire, Jabba’s crime syndicate. It had been fragmented by parts of it being seized by relatives. Rotta really proved himself to the clans by reuniting and even expanding it. For obvious reasons Leia and I have been keeping up on all the developments in Hutt Space.”

“It’s good that we have so much groundwork,” Tysha appreciatively replied.

“As soon as I’ve confirmed that the Bothans are willing to support us in this endeavor, you’ll head for Teth. I intend to ask the captains of the Falcon and the Screech to shadow you. In fact, I’ll ask one of them to deliver you to the planet’s surface in a cloaked ship. Your appearance will be mysterious. That can only work to our advantage. Their superstition might prevent them from harming you, but they still might attempt to appropriate any ship in which you arrived. I’m happy to help, but I must remind you that I have no authority over you. What do you intend to do while I am doing my part.”

“I’m to see Demorin about hiding my lightsaber inside C3,” Tysha replied, “I’ll work with him on developing his reassuring part of the presentation and getting it recorded.”

“As a lieutenant commander I’ve been involved in negotiations before,” Tanish replied, “and I’m familiar with the language they usually involve. I’ll work on developing the proposal as I think it should be presented to Rotta.”

“Excellent. Meet me in the field of the Phemera when you’ve completed your tasks and I will hopefully be able to confirm the cooperation of the Bothans. If for any reason they are not willing to be intermediaries for the Hutts when it comes to trading with the Scree, do we have any other bargaining chips?”

“We could conceivably offer them the wreckage of the orbital platforms,” Tanish suggested. “I saw it stretching all around the Temple as we were making our approach. Although it’s clearly demolished, that much metal must be worth something.”

“Because of the Phemera on Coruscant,” Tysha added, “we know the commissioner hasn’t had any luck yet convincing the Jawas to return and process it for recycling. The Colicoids don’t even want it back in its current form. But the Hutts might have use for such imperishable metal.”

***

The old B’omarr temple, which the Hutts had converted into a citadel, stood atop a towering mesa that rose from the jungle all around it. The Phemera suggested it would be a perfect place for their propagation. Since the heads of both of the ambassadors were adorned with wreaths of the telepathic plants, Tysha replied they could shed the headdresses when they returned to the edge of the mesa to be picked up at the end of the negotiation. After depositing the diplomats to the mesa’s edge the cloaked Falcon turned away and streaked into the upper atmosphere on its way back to space. Tysha and Tanish started the trek toward the formidable abode of Rotta the Hutt. C3 used his newly installed suspensors as he escort the women on their way.

As they strode up to the imposing partition that defined the stronghold’s doorway, their task seemed almost imprudent. But the telepathic plant life woven into their wreaths allowed them to read the minds of the guards on the other side of the entrance. And the three mercenaries were merely curious. They didn’t see the women as a threat. Stepping up to the announcement area, Tysha identified Tanish and herself to the robotic armature that extended to inspect them. It was only a matter of seconds before the hatchway opened and they were ushered inside.

Tysha had been careful to included the information that she hoped would provide them with impunity. As a result, they arrived in the throne room without having been accosted.

“Greetings, Exalted One,” she said as they both bowed before Rotta the Hutt. “We are here to conduct business, from which we believe you could profit greatly. Would you please do us the honor of hearing our proposal?”

C3 interpreted as the Hutt replied, “Have your say.”

“We seek information about the B’omarr monks,” Tanish took the occasion to answer. “And in compensation for actionable intelligence, we’ve arrived at an accord with the Bothans to bring you into their trade arrangement with the Scree.”

“Why come to me?” C3 translated.

“The monks were the original owners of this structure,” she replied. “We are also aware that some were guests in the palace of your father on Tatooine.”

“What guarantees can you give that this offer is real?” C3 interpreted.

Tysha instructed C3 to play back the holographic recording of Demorin articulating the offer. Murmurs could be heard from around the throne room as some of those assembled recognized the son of the Scree Chancellor. His image was also known to Rotta. The Phemera discerned it.

“Actionable intelligence?” C3 translated. “None are here. I know not where they went. If you want me to find them for you, there could be considerable cost. But I think I know what you seek and I trust you will find my information adequate. They kept a collection of regeneration gems in a triple sealed vault under my father’s palace. As disembodied brains, the monks need very little in the way of nutrition. Their droid bodies keep them alive. Poverty has therefore always worked for them. But when Tatooine was evacuated because of the Geonosian Shockwave, they had to rely on the generosity of others in order to get off-world. They’d no time in which to retrieve their precious gems. After the wave front went by and before construction of the Jedi Temple started, they returned to see what had become of their treasure. Beneath the rubble they found the vault had been breached. Some of the gemstones survived but some had been shattered. As you can probably appreciate, my father’s basement wasn’t the most sanitary of places. An unknown type of contaminate had entered the vault through the breach and made a growth medium out of the shattered gemstones. The lichens into which it sprouted had extremely unusual properties. The monks soon discovered that it guards against telepathy. They tried to sell it to me. I have no use for such a substance. Failing that, they tried to get me to find a buyer and broker the deal. I had no interest in doing that either. They were highly motivated, so I’m sure they found a buyer. But we have come to the end of the information I can provide. Do you find it adequate?”

“Indeed we do,” Tysha assured him. “It’s just unfortunate so many questions remain. Earlier you mentioned how the monks thrive in poverty, so why are they suddenly seeking income? It is a huge departure from their customary conduct. And while your people have hosted them in the past, it sounds as if they’re now almost shunning your hospitality. Have they indeed broken faith with the Hutts?”

“I don’t pretend to understand their ways. Maybe I could’ve questioned them more. But I did not purchase the compound. It occurred to me that I might require plausible deniability. If only it had enabled telepathy I might’ve been interested. As I said, I might be able to find them for you. But I’ll have to pay the people who will conduct the search, meaning I will require remuneration,” C3 interpreted.

“Perhaps it will come to that, and we thank you for entering into this agreement,” Tysha said as she bowed once more. “Please start collecting the goods you wish to present to the Scree for trade. You’ll be contacted by the Bothans shortly. Farewell, your grace.”

Before making their way from the throne room the two women used the Phemera they were wearing to scan the minds of everyone in attendance for any further information. They found no such data. As they exited the stronghold they knew they were being watched. But no one acted against them and they were allowed to leave. Reaching the edge of the mesa, they hurled their headdresses over the edge into the luxuriant jungle stretching out below. They then boarded the temporarily uncloaked Falcon and began the journey out of Hutt Space.

(The reader should be aware that I’m on dialysis, in desperate need of a kidney transplant, but I didn’t make the transplant list. It turns out I have prostate cancer. I’m in double jeopardy. I would have to beat the cancer and be clean for a specified period of time before I could be considered for the transplant list. My ability to complete the trilogy simply is not under my control. If you’re a scout for Disney please be aware that I’m able to provide a comprehensive summary of the final volume, including its epic conclusion. However it would be wise not to delay in contacting me.)

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