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

Duel of the Demigods

“It is always far more effective to be angry than afraid. By hating the thing you fear, you may discover the strength to destroy it.”

~ The Sith Code

Although the Douwd could travel through space without the aid of a ship, Kevin Oxbridge let Captain Alexander assign him guest quarters aboard the Excelsior. These were spacious rooms that were normally reserved for admirals or visiting dignitaries. Since everyone was counting on the demigod to save the galaxy from Narik, the placement seemed more than proper. He quickly called for access to all records regarding the Borg, but he was unwilling to explain his plan. Nog paid particular attention to the files he perused but was unable to discern the Douwd’s strategy.

Noting the first officer’s attention, Kevin asked, “You said Narik wanted to make contact with the Borg in order to assimilate them into his empire, didn’t you?”

“Yes, that would be end-game for the rest of the galaxy.”

“So everyone assumes he’d be able to do that?”

“I don’t think it’s an assumption, sir,” Spock replied, entering their conversation. “Narik is the ultimate robotic being. I’m afraid it will be a simple matter for him to hijack their collective.”

“What if he were to discover he can’t?” Kevin pressed. “Just how demoralizing do you think it would be?”

“Perhaps I comprehend part of your plan,” Spock replied. “Narik is certain of himself. You’re going to begin by assailing his self-assurance. That could secure you a significant psychological advantage.”

“Once you’ve been outthought, you’ve been outfought,” Kevin smiled as he summarized. “It will look as if his anticipated allies are very ones who’re stripping him of his ship-building ability. And in spite of everyone’s expectations, he won’t be able to do anything to stop it. I need him to start doubting himself.”

“So you also intend to wage war against his troops, the Joracki?” Alexander asked.

“It sounds to me as if they’ve become the modern version of the Husnock. We’ll never know what kind of people they were before. But now they exist exclusively to slay and enslave. They’ll have to learn to adopt a different agenda. And if they suffer crippling defeats beside their would-be god, perhaps they’ll be ready for a different lifestyle after he’s fallen.”

“We’ve consulted stellar cartography,” Spock commented. “Our recommendation is that you lure or drive Narik to the Celtris system. Its third planet is Class M, but it’s uninhabited. Maybe if your phantom forces appeared to withdraw in that direction, Narik would follow.”

“As I understand it, you can travel through space without a ship. We don’t know if Narik has that ability, but we’re hoping to find out. Our cloaked ships will monitor your encounter hopefully from a safe distance. If the opportunity presents itself Admiral Data’s ship and mine will launch a full spread of quantum torpedoes at Narik’s ship provided you’re able to make him give away his position,” Alexander said, addressing Oxbridge. Noting that the shield enhancement team hadn’t gone back below decks upon their return from the planet’s surface, he asked, “Were you able to improve our shielding? Even cloaked, we’ll give away our positions by firing on Narik’s ship.”

“The technicians at Spacedock did a thorough evaluation of the effect of Narik’s weapon on the dilithium crystal assembly of the Enterprise,” Spock replied. “Our intergalactic allies removed the crystal assemblies from their lightsabers, which they built here, and we did a comprehensive comparison. We discovered that including gallicite and pontite, the latter of which they’d brought with them, resulted in a marked improvement in the simulations. The pontite came from another galaxy. It therefore presents a problem for Narik’s time-shifting weapon. Of course the next step is to perform this enhancement to the dilithium crystal assembly of the Enterprise.”

“Make it so,” Alexander instructed. Turning back to Kevin, he asked, “Is there anything else we can do to assist you?”

“Just stay the hell out of my way,” he replied. But after further reflection, he added, “It would be best if you could make sure the real Borg don’t show up while I’m impersonating them.”

“I just got an update from Star Fleet Command that concerns that subject,” Jake interjected. “Half a dozen Borg Cubes apparently fell into the trap we set for them. They were in proximity to the Dyson Sphere when it blew. It could be quite some time before they venture into our sectors of space again.”

As Lucas and Luke were heading for the turbolift to go down to the transporter room so they could beam over to the Enterprise and upgrade its dilithium crystal assembly, Alexander noticed their movements and said, “When you’re finished you need to beam back to your ship. We need to deactivate the tractor beam we’re using to tow your ship. It’d be visible to Narik’s scanners.”

“As soon as you’ve uncoupled your ship from theirs,” Kevin said, “I’ll go on ahead and teach Narik some humility. You should easily be able to discern the energies of our encounter from far outside the Cardassian system. Show me the position of the system you want me to lead him to. Your names for astrological phenomena mean nothing to me.”

“I’m putting its position on the main viewing screen for you now, sir,” Spock replied.

Marking the boundaries that also appeared on the star chart, Kevin observed, “That is back in the direction of Federation Space. I’m familiar with your star dates. I assume it’s because this is within the Cardassian Union, but this part of the chart hasn’t been updated for some time. You could be incorrect about it being uninhabited. If so, collateral losses could be unavoidable.”

“That’s just a chance we’ll have to take,” Alexander replied.

***

Because they were permanently linked with the Phemera, Tysha and Tani really didn’t need to make an official report. By being in proximity to the telepathic plants, everybody had shared in their experience. Cyrella nonetheless summoned everybody to the largest gathering chamber to discuss what had been learned, troublesome as it was.

“The B’omarr monks discovered the lichens that produce the anti-telepathy compound right here on Tatooine,” she summarized to start the discussion. “They then attempted to sell it to the Hutts. Failing that, they ostensibly sold it to the Neimoidians. But there’re many things about this that aren’t clear. These lichens appear to be the antithesis of the Phemera. Did the Force play a part in their formation? And if so, how did that happen?”

“We’re now aware some of the primordial midi-chlorians are leached by condensation out of the Caches overnight and form a fog that’s reabsorbed in the morning,” Awswi offered. “It’s even been suggested that such condensation played a part in the origin of Anakin Skywalker. But we don’t know if there’s a Cache anywhere near Jabba’s palace.”

“Considering how and where it arose,” Avalynn added, “I’d have to question just which side of the Force it favors if it is in fact a Force life form like the Phemera.”

“I’m more concerned about the Monks suddenly adopting so unlikely an agenda,” Leia said. “If ever there was a religious sect whose vow of poverty worked out perfectly, it’d have to be the B’omarr monks. It is like Rotta said, their nutritional needs are next to nothing. They deliberately submitted to disembodiment so they could then contemplate the universe without the distraction of being biological. Profiteering is the opposite of their lifestyle. Why would they suddenly decide they need money? What could they possibly need to purchase?”

“Maybe the Geonosian Shockwave resulted in a paradigm shift among those of their order,” Cyrella suggested. “After having all their handiwork appropriated by others for untold centuries, they suddenly found themselves in a situation where survival itself depended on the generosity of others. They were forced to abandon both Jabba’s palace and their collection of regeneration gems. Perhaps that pushed them around a critical corner.”

“But how exactly would having money change that?” Tani asked, finally daring to enter their conversation. “It’s not like they can carry it around in their pockets. They don’t have any pockets. Wouldn’t it have to be for some specific purchase?”

“Are they perhaps planning on upgrading their robotic bodies?” Han asked.

“Oh no,” Awswi breathlessly exclaimed. As everybody turned to him questioningly, he said, “When we examined the Droidekas that the Colicoids redesigned, I noticed that by removing the legs and their servos a void was created inside the robotic body. Narik apparently used that void to install thermal detonators. But that void is also about the same size as a B’omarr brain.”

“You think they’re planning to become warrior monks?” Tani asked.

Tysha had to stifle her laughter before she could explain, “I am sorry. It’s just that I’ve heard people refer to the members of the Jedi Order that way.”

“It’s probably just the robes,” Han quipped, for which Leia gently elbowed him in the ribs.

“But what’s the endgame?” Avalynn asked. “Are they just trying to prevent any more of their possessions from being appropriated by others or are they equipping themselves to retake what they’ve lost?”

“Most of their losses were the handiwork of the Hutts,” Awswi observed, “which includes the temple now serving as Rotta’s personal palace. Are we really discussing the possibility of acting on behalf of the Hutts?”

“We might’ve just created a conflict of interest,” Cyrella wistfully suggested. “Because of us the Bothans will now be serving as the facilitators for trade between the Hutts and the Scree. It’s possible the B’omarr monks might target their freighters before they even reach the nebula.”

“We need to know just how many B’omarr monks there are and how many of those already inhabit the bodies of Droidekas,” Han stated. “And I can think of only one place where we might find that kind of information, with the species responsible for redesigning those Droidekas.”

“Ackbar has already read me the riot act about any further interaction between the Jedi and the Colicoids,” Cyrella answered. “Twice now they’ve been blamed for wrongdoings they at best unknowingly facilitated. At this point it isn’t clear whether the attempt to destroy the Temple was carried out by the Neimoidians, the B’omarr monks or both. We’re apparently dealing with three different factions who may be undertaking individual actions unknown to the others. The degree to which they’ve cooperated all together has yet to be determined.”

“Tani and I were able to approach the Hutts because we aren’t Jedi,” Tysha said. “The Jedi actually assisted with the recovery effort after the debacle with the orbital platform. Some of you at least tried to make amends. I was one of the primary instigators for the inspection. I’ve never expressed my regrets to the Colicoids. The Forthright was involved in two police actions against them, the last of which was the ill-fated inspection. Tani was onboard both times. She can speak for the dead. We could wear wreaths that include the Phemera, just like we did on Teth. It might be that we could pick up on intel concerning the B’omarr monks. And the Colicoids should afford us diplomatic immunity both because of our stations and the fact that we’re on an apology tour.”

“That could work,” Cyrella carefully commented. “Perhaps Demorin could even accompany you to talk trade. You certainly don’t want to arrive in the Falcon. The Screech is undoubtedly a better option.”

“There is another matter of serious concern,” Tani surprised everyone by saying. “We know the B’omarr monks are telepathic. We didn’t take into account the chance of the Phemera being exposed to another telepath. We went to great lengths to have plantings placed in locations like Viceroy Rumpf’s office. If he’s deeply enough in league with them to be visited by one, wouldn’t the monk sense the presence of another telepath? Couldn’t their entire espionage network be at risk?”

“We need to meditate on how to prepare for that contingency,” Cyrella anxiously answered.

***

Captain Alexander had misgivings the moment he and Spock were summoned to the ready room. The Knights Errant had completed their upgrade of the shields on the Enterprise, and the Douwd had already gone on ahead to begin his encounter with Narik. As he and Spock entered the room, he noticed the viewing screen was already active. Admiral Data, who had issued the summons, was displayed on one side of the split screen. The Knights Errant were on the other, and they looked as apprehensive as the captain felt. Their desperately crafted plan was now in progress with the Douwd already absent, so there seemed no need for such secrecy.

“What if all of this is not really necessary?” Data surprised them by inquiring.

“How could that be?” Alexander asked in reply.

“What if we were to tell Narik about the Nexus?” the admiral persisted.

“To what possible purpose?” Spock queried, sounding almost as intrigued as alarmed.

“Even if he were to assimilate the Borg it is doubtful he could conquer the galaxy before it is displaced by the super-massive black hole. His further ambition, as he told us, was to amass an intergalactic armada with which he could return to and conquer his originating galaxy. Before he could possibly do that every galaxy in the Local Group would be endangered by the same black hole. His ultimate objective of conquering the universe would obviously be unachievable, except inside the Nexus. Time has no meaning there. It might be no more than imaginary, but he could actually experience the realization of his otherwise unattainable objective. If we could convince him to accept this substitute, we could avoid all the destruction that is otherwise about to occur.”

“The Nexus should not even exist,” Lucas exclaimed. “We can’t regard it as being beneficial without embracing the Dark Side.”

“As you said,” Luke quickly added, “time has no meaning there. Oxbridge said it is possible to exit the Nexus to any time or place. He could elect to reenter your galaxy a million years prior to his current arrival and buy himself the time to complete its conquest. Knowing what he knows about our galaxy’s past, he could insert himself in our history in such a way as to annul it.”

“You have not considered the advantageous side of the equation,” Data replied. “You could use the Nexus to return home. You could arrive as adults the moment after you left as juveniles. If Narik were to accept the Nexus as a substitute, your mission could be considered complete.”

“The Force here is out of balance,” Lucas argued. “Redirecting Narik won’t ultimately solve anything.”

“Offering him access to the Nexus would be the worst of possible mistakes,” Luke agreed.

Alexander and Spock quickly concurred with Luke’s assessment and Data relented. But the exchange left the captain, in particular, wondering if Data was secretly determined to somehow save Narik.

***

His attempt to contact the Borg had come at an astronomical cost. He had since discovered the redundancy in the control circuits and eliminated them. Because of the images sent back by his sacrificed fleet, he knew what the Borg vessels looked like. It seemed like small recompense for the soldiers and ships he’d lost, but it enabled his droids to identify the armada that suddenly darkened the Cardassian sky.

“Two dozen Borg Cubes just entered the atmosphere, Master,” UC said, although the Force had already alerted Narik to this development.

“They must’ve been cloaked,” IC surmised. “There was no indication of their approach.”

“How interesting,” he mechanically muttered.

The voice that thundered down from the assembly of ships also burst from every broadcast receiver across Cardassia, declaring, “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

Before there was any possibility of a response, the Borg Cubes opened fire on the airfields, the barracks and the staging areas. Within seconds Narik was the only military might remaining.

Although he bemoaned the loss of so many more seasoned soldiers, his original agenda of inducting the Borg into his service stood to more than offset the slaughtered Joracki. But as they continued to monitor the Borg Cubes, one began to move toward the palace. The Funerary was cloaked and parked in geosynchronous orbit above them, He instructed his droids to beam up to the ship and wait for him while he teleported to a point outside the palace to await the imminent arrival of the Borg. It was time to find out just how formidable a foe he was really facing.

Brandishing the Banisher, he leveled the radiant weapon at the oncoming colossus. He had never time-shifted anything of such size before so he anticipated only a partial removal of mass. But the first energy burst failed to find its target. Just as he fired, the Borg Cube teleported out of his field of fire and materialized to the side of its original position. Having been a scientist before dying to the Dark Side, he was appreciative of the amount of power required to accomplish such a maneuver. He compensated for his first salvo by strafing the sky with a volley of energy bolts.

Several of the time-shifting emissions found their target this time, but the result wasn’t what he expected. Instead of the impacted portions winking out of existence, they seemed to dissolve as if they’d been struck with an exceedingly corrosive acid. And as he watched in disbelief, they somehow reconstituted themselves. He knew the Borg Cubes could self-repair. He had scanned Federation records on Cardassia that indicated this. But he instantly understood that technology wasn’t responsible for the phenomenon. He sensed that was facing a Force Fabrication.

This was an exceptionally confusing conclusion. The scanners had read the Borg Cubes as physical objects, each populated with legitimate life forms. There was only one way to be certain about their contents and it was a necessary step in his campaign to assimilate the attackers. He activated one of his personal teleporters and beamed himself inside the Borg Cube. The drones converged on his location almost immediately. He cut them down with the Banisher. They could not modulate their shields to deflect the time-shifting energy of his ruinous weapon. After buying himself the time and space to perform the procedure, he formed an interface that could connect to one of their alcoves and proceeded to access their collective. But the result was far from what he’d expected. The Borg Cube self-destructed.

His suspensors kept him from slamming into the ground after falling from the sky. But there seemed to be no way to reconcile what’d just happened. His interface hadn’t detected a protocol for self-destruction. To make matters worse several other Borg Cubes had managed to close on his location while he was completing his plummet. They opened fire on him simultaneously. The neuranium casing withstood the assault, but the pavement was blasted from right under his feet.

He knew the slaughtered Joracki had sent an emergency distress signal to the garrisons in the nearby star systems. Reinforcements would soon arrive. But the battle cruisers would be no match for the Borg Cubes. To prevent the loss of additional fighting forces, he’d have to lead the Borg away from the current engagement area himself. He tried to contact and order them not to engage the Borg, but his signals were being jammed. It was consequently up to him to draw the Borg out of the system.

He beamed himself aboard the cloaked Funerary. The ship was the repository of equipment he didn’t want to put at risk, but he was out of options. Dropping out of low orbit and just into the upper atmosphere, he rolled the ship over so the open cockpit was pointed downward. And then he let loose with a sustained barrage from the Banisher. Several of the Borg Cubes were struck, some repeatedly. He then established a trajectory back out of the atmosphere before engaging the cloaking device again. He was relieved when the ship’s scanners revealed that his ploy had been successful. The bulk of the armada had moved to pursue.

He recognized however that something was out of place. He didn’t see how the Borg could have tracked the ships of the Joracki fleet back to their point of origin. They had already been at station keeping when the three Borg Cubes first appeared on their scopes. And their method of attack seemed deliberately designed to avoid civilian casualties. They had focused very overtly on military targets, as if they already knew the locations of those installations. He was therefore justifiably suspicious of exactly what was really happening. And it made him angry.

“Something is happening here, something besides what it appears to be,” he complained to his droids. “Have you finished upgrading the transporter to Federation specifications?”

“Yes, Master,” IC and UC replied in unison. UC then continued, “It’s now able to teleport life forms safely.”

“Can we perform the teleportation with the ship still cloaked?” he inquired further.

“Indeed, your majesty,” IC answered. “Might I inquire as to the nature of the target?”

“We need to grab one of the Borg drones for closer inspection.”

“The Borg might be capable of tracking one of their own, your highness,” UC suggested. “It might be necessary to take extra steps to ensure the safety of the ship. The cloaking field alone might not defeat detection”

“Would they be able to detect the use of our targeting scanner?”

“Possibly, but if we are between Borg Cubes they probably won’t be able to get a weapon’s lock, sir,” IC answered.

“The targeting scanner should be able to determine which component or components serve as a transponder. We either leave them behind or teleport them somewhere else. The drone will possibly be injured by this action, but that’s nothing compared to what I’ll do to it once I’ve gotten it away from the collective. If I’m unable to assimilate it, then I’ll torture it into telling me what the hell is really happening here.”

“The Borg Cubes have established a formation that is consistent with a search pattern,” UC reported. “They’re using tachyon beams, sir. They will inevitably detect us. But taking a position between them should confuse their targeting scanners.”

“Make it so and then bring our targeting scanners online. It’s time for a little alien abduction. Kill the main drive once we’re in position and then use short bursts of our thrusters to continually change our orientation. That should help to keep them from locking weapons on us.”

“As you command, Master,” IC replied.

Answering the helm the Funerary leapt into position between two of the Borg Cubes. Within the ray shielded bridge, Narik prepared to use the Banisher if either vessel dared to open fire. In moments, a Borg drone was surprised to find itself standing on one of the teleporter pads. It had been injured by the unceremonious removal of some of its components. Although it immediately tried to attack, it initially collapsed to the deck plates as its systems strove to compensate for the missing circuitry. It was restrained by a force field before it could recover.

“Resistance is futile,” Narik sneered as he approached the pinioned prisoner. “Now let’s see if you can prevent me from hacking your mainframe.”

There were junctures in the drone’s exposed technology that appeared to be access points. Narik methodically probed them as he sought a way to make a connection. He soon succeeded. The eyes of the drone glazed over as the ultimate cyborg totally took control of its systems. But Narik backed away almost immediately.

“This drone is only hours old, as is the Borg Cube from which it was taken. It didn’t originate in another quadrant. Their ships weren’t cloaked. The Borg don’t use cloaks. They didn’t exist.”

“Master, how can that be?” IC asked.

“When I was appropriating the neuranium from Coruscant I remotely accessed the Archives and downloaded every record concerning the Force, the Jedi and the Sith. Mention was made in one reference of a theoretical possibility called a Force Fabrication. It advocated the idea that it might be possible to actually bring something into being by using the Force. In the entire history of the Republic, no one has possessed such power. But the Force is different in this galaxy. The midi-chlorians are not symbiotic. Perhaps it’s because they’re symbiotic only with one person or one people. And the Federation has somehow made friends with a Force Wielder.”

“If he’s so powerful, why does he fight you by proxy,” UC asked. “Why does he not confront you directly?”

“He must know about the Banisher. He’s justifiably afraid of what it might do to him. And yet I need to get him to step out from behind his machinations.”

“How could he be manipulated into doing that?” IC carefully inquired.

“These Borg have an agenda. I got a glimpse of it when I interfaced with the drone. They’re trying to drive or lure me to the Celtris star system in order to avoid more Cardassian casualties. They think it’s uninhabited. It isn’t. I absorbed all the data in the Cardassian Archives while I was on Cardassia Prime, including all their information on stellar cartography. I know the positions of all the stars in the Cardassian Union and their relative motions. And I know a way I can use that to my ultimate advantage. Move the Funerary just out of range of their weapons, drop the cloak and initiate a lightspeed jump to the Celtris system. Reengage the cloak once we’re underway.”

“Master,” UC cautiously questioned, “if they want you to go there, have they not prepared a trap for you? Why would you acquiesce to their scheme? What do you hope to do?”

“Spring the trap. We need to move the battle away from this star system before the Joracki reinforcements arrive. This Force Wielder has yet to realize the true power of the Banisher. I am going to teach him the true nature of the Force.”

Beyond the range of the Borg weapons the Funerary dropped its cloak. As further incentive to induce pursuit by the Borg, Narik teleported the captive drone off the ship and into space, but not by use of the Federation-standard transporter. The collective shared the death experience of the doomed drone. And then the ship initiated a lightspeed jump to the Celtris system. The Borg Cubes immediately moved to pursue, as did the Excelsior, Enterprise and Quantum Quest. The crews of the three starships weren’t certain why Narik had suddenly decided to proceed to their preferred destination. They just hoped the Douwd was really ready for the endgame.

After arriving in the Celtris system, Narik said to his droids, “Take us in just as closely to the star as our shields will allow, drop the cloak and then adopt an equatorial orbit. The Borg Cubes will have to come in behind us. Now we shall see if all my experiments with temporal location on Cardassia were worth the effort. The ability to control how far back I send things in time is about to become critical.”

Moments later, the Borg Cubes dropped out of lightspeed as they entered the system. With the Funerary uncloaked, it was a simple matter for them to locate their quarry. Each adjusted its course to follow the Funerary around the star. None of the drones had any idea their ships were passing through the same space occupied by the star only days earlier as it circled the center of the galaxy. Narik waited until the lead ship had drawn almost to within weapons range before he initiated his scheme.

He fired a burst from the Banisher at the surface of the star right below the closing cluster of Borg Cubes. A portion of the star’s surface was temporally relocated into the past by a couple of days. It materialized amongst the hindermost of the incoming column of Borg Cubes. The result was a thermonuclear explosion of truly astronomical proportions. The disruption of the magnetic field, where stellar material had been removed, resulted in a coronal mass ejection. The energy of the star reached out and swatted the leading ships into nonexistence. With a single blast from the Banisher he had eliminated all proximate pursuit.

“Now they’ll pay the ultimate penalty for their lack of vision,” he gleefully gloated. “According to the Archives on Cardassia Prime, the Cardassians have gradually been assembling a military presence on the third planet of this system. Originally I’m sure it was intended to launch a sneak attack against the Federation. More recently it was probably supposed to strike against me. But Star Fleet didn’t know about it, of that I’m certain. And I’m equally sure they see the Cardassians as allies against my empire, so they’ll be pained to see them incinerated.”

Opening all hailing frequencies, he acerbically announced, “This is a demonstration of what will happen to your worlds if you continue to oppose me. Watch carefully.”

The next coronal mass ejection was aimed right at Celtris 3. Parked in their cloaked vessels at the edge of the system, the crews of the Excelsior, Enterprise and Quantum Quest looked on in horror as the firestorm engulfed the helpless planet. It was only quenched by the evaporation of the atmosphere. An airless orb, entirely devoid of life, was left in its wake. Its charred surface was almost indiscernible from the blackness of space.

“How many Cardassians were just killed?” Alexander asked.

“Six thousand nine hundred and twenty-three,” Spock answered as dispassionately as only he possibly could.

“Our original information said this system was uninhabited,” the captain complained.

“The Cardassians have evidently been building a military outpost here,” Odo observed. “It’s no surprise we didn’t know about it. If they hadn’t kept it such a secret from the Federation, we’d have selected another arena for this engagement. Their shiftiness came back to haunt them.”

“I’m not sure we can say we truly chose this battlefield,” Spock replied. “It seems Narik did.”

“We need a confab with our champion, but we can’t be certain we’re really alone out here. Transfer warp power to the shields, then drop the cloak and let’s see if we can get his attention,” Captain Alexander instructed.

Moments later, Kevin Oxbridge appeared on the bridge of the Excelsior. Captain Alexander immediately had Lieutenant Sisko activate VOX so the other members of their strike team could participate in the discussion. The viewing screen split to show Admiral Data on one side and the Knights Errant on the other.

“Are you going to be able to destroy Narik or not?” Alexander asked the Douwd. “He needs to be separated from his ship and from his weapon.”

“It will probably be necessary to accomplish the first before the other will even be feasible,” Admiral Data suggested.

“As evidenced by his ability to use it to weaponize the energy of the star, this weapon of his is far more powerful than I feared. Eliminating him is also complicated by the ability of his ship to cloak,” Oxbridge explained.

“That shouldn’t make any difference,” Lucas insisted. “We could feel your presence on your planet while we were still in orbit.”

“Narik creates a very distinctive disturbance in the Force,” Luke agreed.

“I’ve been advised not to present myself as a target,” Oxbridge reminded them. “If I’m close enough to sense him, he’ll be able to sense me.”

“Maybe Borg Cubes aren’t the best solution,” First Officer Nog suggested. “Can’t you create a massive, multi-limbed space monster so big that he can only dislocate small sections of it at a time?”

“I’d still need to isolate the target,” Oxbridge answered. “And if you’ll consult your scanners, you might notice he’s cloaked again.”

“Then the logical solution is to trick him into giving away his position,” Spock speculated.

“I could create a copy of your ship and make it appear as if your cloaking device had failed,” Oxbridge suggested. “He might move in for the kill and thus reveal his position.”

“He might also expect to be ambushed by the other two,” Alexander argued.

“It might not be necessary to fabricate an entire starship,” Data posited. “What if he thought I had taken a shuttle and was defecting? He unfortunately does not need to drop his ship’s cloak to fire his weapon. But he would have to drop his cloak for a shuttle to maneuver into his landing bay. Even if he opted to beam my double aboard instead, we could track the transporter beam.”

“And as soon as his position is revealed, I send in the space monster,” Oxbridge concluded.

“Why would he be willing to believe you’re defecting?” Odo suspiciously asked.

“Wishful thinking,” Data swiftly responded, unfazed. “Since I am the only being anything like him, he has repeatedly attempted to sway my sentiments to his side. But I have no sentiments. I have only my duty and an obligation to act with honor.”

“He’s wrong anyway,” Lucas observed. “You’re not a being like him.”

“He resonates only the Dark Side of the Force,” Luke elucidated. “He does not manifest the Force impression of a life form. You do.”

“Each of you perceive me as a bona fide life form?” Data pressed.

“Yes,” Lucas certified. “Droids have no Force impression. They can in fact be sensed solely as voids in the Force. That isn’t the case with you.”

“Your Force impression seems to be centered in your positronic brain,” Luke added. “There is a gestalt that is resident in that area, one we believe would survive disembodiment. Your next manifestation might even be biological.”

For all of his automated life Data had dreamed of somehow becoming biological. No one on the bridge of the Enterprise had any clue as to how complete a paradigm shift their commanding officer had just experienced in response to the words of the Knights Errant. Not even a Betazoid could have sensed it. But like many who share biological sentience, Data now had expectations of an existence that exceeded his current incarnation.

“The only exception would probably be the B’omarr monks,” Lucas added in reflection. “The droids that carry them around are controlled by their disembodied brains.”

“So they have access to the Force?” Odo asked.

“They originate in Wild Space, beyond even the Outer Rim worlds,” Luke replied. “So as far as we know, none have ever been tested for Force-sensitivity.”

“If we’re going to do this, we need to begin while we’re reasonably certain Narik is still in the system,” Oxbridge insisted. “And if we really hope he’ll fall for it, I’ll need to also fabricate pursuit by one of your galaxy-class cruisers. You probably wouldn’t allow defection without a fight.”

“Agreed,” Data concurred.

“I will simulate some phaser blasts first, then Narik will see the shuttle become visible as its cloak fails,” Oxbridge continued. “A duplicate of this ship will then uncloak, ostensibly to transfer power to weapons and shields, and move to pursue. The shuttle will head toward the Funerary’s last known coordinates.”

The bridge crews on the Excelsior and Enterprise watched as the main screens switched to a view of the immediate area. Flashes appeared nearby, and then a shuttle become visible as it hurtled toward the inner solar system. Its cloak intermittently activated and it left a trail of sparks. Moments later, the Excelsior seemed to materialize from nowhere. Particle beams erupted from its emitters and strafed the fleeing shuttlecraft. Its cloak then failed completely. The distress call could be heard through the communicators of all three cloaked ships as a duplicate Data called to Narik for help.

Everybody waited for Narik to somehow respond as the pair of fabricated vessels continued their course toward the alien sun. They knew it was possible he had already vacated the system and headed back toward Cardassia to rendezvous with Joracki reinforcements, but the Knights Errant believed they were still sensing an indication of his presence. Nevertheless, the moments marched by with no response from the god of the Dark Side. The charade couldn’t be continued indefinitely.

At length the shuttle reached the Funerary’s last known position but still without producing a response from the invisible enemy. The ruse hadn’t worked.

“Okay, let’s try this,” Oxbridge rasped with a dangerous edge to his exclamation.

The duplicate shuttle and its pursuit both exploded. The scanners on all three cloaked ships immediately detected a section of space where the shockwave was deflected, indicating Narik’s location. Oxbridge immediately fabricated a massive space monster with multiple tentacles right next to the Funerary’s exposed position. One single swat of an immense appendage caused the ship’s cloak to fail. But the Funerary was still as close to the star as its shields would permit. And Narik fired the Banisher from his spinning ship, inducing another coronal mass ejection.

The stream of plasma dismembered the monster, sheering away the assaulting appendage. But the colossus quickly reconstituted itself as no biological life form could have. The attack was instantly renewed. Narik however responded by firing rapid pulses of time-shifting energy at the star’s surface directly below the impossible behemoth, slicing it to scintillating shreds and forcing it to constantly reform.

The battle had become so bright that the crews on all three of the observing spacecraft had to add extra filtration to their viewing screens in order to safely observe it. All eyes on the bridge of the Excelsior were fixed on Oxbridge as he directed the assault of the giant space monster.

“He’s managed to re-modulate his ship’s shields,” Shanella announced. “He could cloak his ship again, but for some reason he’s not doing it. If these readings are right, he is also prepared to engage his warp drive.”

“There’s so much plasma around his ship that we could easily track his trajectory even if he did reengage his cloak,” Alexander observed. “He needs an interruption in the assault. And he’s not getting one.”

But then Narik did something completely unexpected. He briefly disabled the shielding over his open bridge and propelled himself into space outside his ship. It immediately re-cloaked and he turned his own weapon upon it, time-shifting it out of the envelop of plasma. The Douwd was able to sense what Narik was doing.

“He’s going to transport himself back aboard and warp away before we can locate his ship.”

“You can’t let him escape,” Alexander bellowed. “Didn’t you say you can sense him if you’re in close proximity?”

“He’s beaming,” Shanella announced. And then she added in alarm, “There’s way too much plasma. I can’t track him to his destination!”

“Oh no you don’t,” Oxbridge grated before abruptly disappearing from the bridge. Alexander immediately instructed that the tri-lithium torpedo be prepared for firing.

Amidst the scintillating swirls of iridescent ejecta, Oxbridge appeared in space near the last known location of Narik and his ship. An immense comet instantly winked into being just beyond the plasma cloud. It was the size of small moon and it was traveling just within sublight speed. It struck an imperceptible object with horrific force. With its force field and cloak overwhelmed, the Funerary became visible as it shattered in response to the impact. Narik was thrown clear of the debris field that used to be his ship. But he located Oxbridge before the Douwd could slip away.

An energy burst from the Banisher struck the defenseless demigod. He disappeared before the anguished eyes of the onlookers. Alexander desperately turned to the pair of officers at the science station. It was Spock who voiced the answer everyone feared.

“The Douwd appears on none of our scopes. Given his position relative to the star when he was struck, the time-shifting effect may have placed him inside of it. His ability to survive such a relocation is unknown.”

“Fire the damned torpedo,” Alexander ordered. Turning to Lieutenant Sisko, he said, “Order our ships to fall back to Federation space at maximum warp. Narik can’t escape the shockwave without his ship.”

The Excelsior, Enterprise and Quantum Quest fled the ill-fated Celtris system at many times the speed of light. As they rapidly withdrew, they monitored the darkening of the doomed star in response to the termination of its fusion reactions. The shockwave swiftly followed, but no more collateral losses were possible. Narik had already killed everyone else.

The challenge now was to somehow certify the successfulness of the desperate procedure. Like homicide detectives, they needed a body in order to truly close the case. Finding it was the tricky part. There was now what approximated to a planetary nebula of debris where the system had once been. And it was impossible to know just how far Narik’s neuranium remains had been hurled. Three way communication was once again enabled between the ships.

“We know his approximate position with respect to the star when it exploded,” Spock stated dispassionately. “If we can assume his imparted momentum was linear, it considerably reduces our search area. His ability to self-teleport however adds some uncertainty to this assumption.”

“Since he had positioned himself to destroy it, he was between the star and Celtris 3,” Data added. “The planet’s debris could act to mask the neuranium signature. Long distance scanning might not be entirely revelatory. It is fortunate that we have three ships to allocate to the search. I would however recommend they remain cloaked. In the unlikely event that he survived, he will try to contact the Joracki and arrange rescue.”

“Unfortunately it will be some time before we’re able to reenter the affected area,” Shanella reminded them. “A Level 12 shockwave doesn’t exactly dissipate overnight.”

“However its expansion won’t be uniform,” Spock interjected. “And we can continually scan the wave front for any discrepancies in its strength. Perhaps an entry point will suggest itself.”

“It won’t take all three of our ships to do that,” Alexander insisted. “I suggest that one return to Delta Rana 4 just in case the Douwd actually did survive and decided to return home. Even if Narik is no longer a threat, there’s still the matter of a super-massive black hole on our doorstep. We could certainly use his help in dealing with it.”

***

Before the quantum torpedo had even crossed the distance to the star, the Force told Narik what it was and what it was going to do. But the plasma cloud prevented him from being able to use the Banisher to rip it from its trajectory. He’d already dispensed with the Douwd, temporally relocating him to the center of the star. The Force also informed him that this time-shifting would be fatal for the recipient. But he was still in the situation of facing a Level 12 shockwave without a ship to bear him safely away. He was not however without technological recourse.

He was still wearing several disposable site-to-site teleportation modules. Even by using all of them in sequence, he wouldn’t be able to effectively escape the impact of the wave front. But he could certainly provide at least some time and space over which it could dissipate. He briefly wondered if he could punch a hole in it with the Banisher but the Force told him it wouldn’t work. Space itself was being disturbed, so the wave front would instantly collapse the hole. Using the first of his teleportation modules, he began his flight away from the wave front.

By using a second module he reached the edge of the imperiled system. This was nowhere near minimum safe distance, and he knew he would run out of modules before he ever reached that critical threshold. There was however one other option although he was loath to consider it. He would have to sacrifice his weapon.

He needed to retain one module with which to beam himself aboard any vessel that passed within range. So when one was all he had left he carried out his desperate procedure. Using the Force, he suspended the Banisher in space so the emitter was aimed at him. The bursts he had attempted to use against the Jedi were full power, but the weapon lacked the facility to time shift anything a million light years. The burst with which he struck himself was programmed to merely move him a parsec.

Due to the movement of stars in space this actually put him further from, rather than closer to, Cardassia. He was reasonably worried his subspace transmitter lacked the range required to contact the Joracki. But he began sending out signals on a coded channel nonetheless.

***

Considering the amount of time they knew would elapse before they could reenter the area once occupied by the Celtris system, it seemed reasonable to Alexander to offer to take Quilesk back to Janus 6. But the Horta seemed surprisingly determined to remain with the mission until all had been resolved. During the mind meld where his sentiment was expressed, Spock sensed that his stony constituents would expect a complete report on the expedition’s outcome. But the outcome as yet remained unknown. They only knew the Celtris system had been destroyed and Oxbridge was clearly a casualty. The little patch of paradise on Delta Rana 4 was both unkempt and unoccupied. The Douwd was dead.

When at last they were able to enter the affected area, Spock and Data immediately agreed on the most effective search configuration for the three ships to adopt. The presence of metallic ore in the debris field caused some complications in their attempt to scan for neuranium. But the sensors eventually detected a small object that was obviously made of manufactured metal. The three vessels converged on its position. Although everybody was initially disappointed by its tiny size, their disappointment turned to confusion when they realized what it was.

“That’s the hilt of Narik’s weapon,” Lucas gasped. “According to the sensors the shockwave must’ve shattered its crystals.”

“The same thing should’ve happened to the holocron that houses his consciousness,” Luke added.

“Why then is there no trace of neuranium anywhere within scanner range?” Spock inquired.

“I think we are misinterpreting the meaning of this discovery,” Data said over VOX. “He had no chance of escaping the shockwave with only suspensors and site-to-site teleportation, so he sacrificed his weapon in order to displace himself in time.”

“He used time travel to accomplish the spatial displacement he could not achieve any other way,” Odo summarized. “He could be light years from here.”

“But doesn’t this mean we succeeded in accomplishing two of our primary ambitions?” Nog inquired. “We’ve relieved him of his ship and his weapon. He’s now essentially defenseless and stranded in space somewhere.”

“If he did indeed survive the shockwave due to its dissipation over distance,” Spock replied, “he’s most certainly signaling the Joracki to rescue him. We can only hope he’s out of range.”

“But his primary weapon is gone,” Nog insisted.

“His primary weapon is his facility with the Force,” Lucas argued.

“And the loss might only be temporary,” Luke added. “He is undoubtedly intimately familiar with the composition and configuration of its crystals. And due to his conquest of Cardassia, he now has knowledge of replicator technology. He might actually be capable of replacing it.”

“So all we’ve actually done is buy ourselves more time?” Alexander incredulously asked.

“Apparently,” Spock took it upon himself to evenly answer, although the absence of emotion in his voice felt forced to the bystanders.

“Time to do what?” Odo asked.

“The Douwd said the Organians had developed some kind of countermeasure to the Nexus Device,” Data reminded everyone. “We need to locate it.”

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