“If droids could think, there’d be none of us here.”
~ Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi
Being a Scree representative to the Republic, Demorin had been instructed in how to signal the arrival of a diplomatic mission. He sent the appropriate signal to the Colicoids and waited for them to acknowledge it before he set the Screech down just outside the main entrance to one of the primary Creation Nests. He was accompanied by Tysha, Tanish and C3 as he disembarked. They waited just outside the ship for the Colicoid delegation to issue forth. Cloaked and orbiting above them, the Falcon waited to rush to the rescue if needed. But that recourse would be gone if the diplomatic mission ventured underground.
Like Tysha and Tanish, Demorin was wearing a wreath that contained Phemera. In part this was done for the purpose of appearance, so the three members of the mission were all similarly adorned. But it also gave Demorin the ability to participate in the telepathy of the Force Wielding flora. The Colicoids were notorious for eating intruders. If the insectoid hosts suddenly chose to disregard the mission’s diplomatic immunity, ample warning could be required in order to enable escape.
Klinix and Jench had perished during the ill-fated inspection. Smurb had survived. It was he who led the Colicoid delegation aboveground. Due to the loss of his friends, he seemed the best suited to represent the suspicions of the Swarm when it came to receiving off-worlders. He was accompanied by six others. This was deliberately done so they would outnumber the visitors.
Noticing the wreaths they wore, he paused in puzzlement before asking, “Why wear relish?”
The members of the diplomatic mission had not considered that their headwear might make them seem more appetizing. But they’d prepared a response in the event of a query concerning the same.
“Laurels are an age-old expression of goodwill among my peers as they are among many in the Republic,” Demorin answered. “We wear them as symbols of our ambassadorship. They are to certify our peaceful intentions.”
“State intentions,” Smurb insisted.
“My companions have come to express their condolences concerning the calamity in which they each played a small part. Perhaps their identities are known to you,” he rejoined. And then, indicating each with a gesture of his hand, he continued, “This is Tysha Eisley, widow of the late Commissioner. And this is Tanish Smetch, last survivor of the Forthright. Of course I’m Demorin, son of Varnic, Chancellor of the Scree. And I’ve come to talk to you about trade. I am fascinated by the concept of your Creation Nests. We also are a very industrious people. It seems sensible to me that we already have a basis for at least a business association.”
“Why make offer?” Smurb asked, obviously still suspicious.
“It’s true that I hope you’ll share some information with me. And I suppose you’d be far more likely to do that with a business partner. But the offer is valid.”
“I was on Tatooine when the orbital platforms came raining out of the sky, platforms bought from you. Don’t mistake me. Nobody blames you. But there’ve been repeated attempts to frame your people for murder. It would therefore be in your best interest to help me expose whoever is really responsible. My suspicion is that it relates back to the redesigned Droidekas. How did you first come up with the idea?”
“Not our idea.”
The Phemera informed Demorin that this was an honest answer, so he asked, “Whose idea was it? The Neimoidians?”
“Slugs delivered original shipment, then placed own order. Slug Droidekas not same as first order.”
“How was the first order different, or do you not consider yourself free to discuss the details of a business deal?”
“Not business deal. Not voluntary, coerced. Slug Droidekas had only blaster arms. Original shipment had bio chamber, telepath response unit and also hands.”
“Why did they have hands?”
“To build. What is word? Manipulate.”
“Perhaps play cards,” one of Smurb’s companions sarcastically added, apparently annoyed by the exchange up to this point.
“Who placed the original order?” Demorin decided to take the chance of asking.
“You said you were coerced. How was that done?”
“Used Force like Jedi.”
“I thought your people weren’t susceptible to mind tricks.”
“Not mind trick. B’omarr telepathic. Took control of collective.”
Demorin was shocked by this explanation, as were both of his wreath-wearing companions. After several moments, he finally asked, “How many units were in the first order?”
“General Grievous times a thousand?” Tysha rhetorically asked, unable to restrain herself.
“Swarm consider brains in droid abomination. Would never have agreed. But no choice. We know not why monks change behavior. We know not how monk use Force. Did monks sabotage orbital platforms?”
“We don’t know, but you’d better believe we’re going to find out.”
“You said the Neimoidians delivered the first order,” Tysha reminded Smurb. “Do you know where it was delivered to?”
“No. Slugs know. Ask them.”
“Do I understand correctly that the B’omarr monks took possession of a thousand upgraded Droidekas before you’d even manufactured the suspensor-equipped ones for the Neimoidians?” Tysha asked.
“Correct. Wasn’t in favor of deal, but at least Slugs paid. Needed to cover losses after monk not pay.”
“So whatever they’re planning to do with their new droid bodies,” Tysha concluded, “they’ve gotten off to one hell of a head start.”
“How many monks did you deal with? Do you know?” Demorin asked.
“Just one, Force-user.”
“Thank you for the information. Now let’s talk trade,” smilingly said, redirecting the course of their conversation.
Being within the field of the Phemera, the light years between the crews of the Screech and Falcon and the occupants of the Jedi Temple were meaningless. A conversation concerning the information provided by the Colicoids therefore didn’t have to wait until after the crews of the two ships had returned.
“Smurb claimed that the B’omarr monk who arranged for the construction of the redesigned Droidekas was a Force Wielder,” Tysha Force Spoke. “His associates all agreed. And according to the Phemera, they genuinely believed they were telling the truth. They said he used telepathy to highjack their collective and impose his will upon them. How do we account for this?”
“If one of the monks truly happened to be Force-sensitive, then the kind of contemplation in which they engage could conceivably result in the finding of the Force,” Awswi suggested in like manner. “But it doesn’t explain a skill derived from the Dark Side.”
“Does this all somehow relate back to the lichens?” Leia posited. “They developed in a very bad place. Do you suppose this monk is the same one upon whom they tested the compound?”
“Telepathy is their main means of communication,” Priella replied. “Whomever they tested it on would’ve been completely isolated until it wore off. That could’ve been a contributing factor.”
“You think they tested it on one of their own?” Awswi asked.
“The monks have very few friends,” Leia replied. “Certainly none who’d have been willing to be pharmaceutical test subjects. They probably wanted to keep their discovery quiet until they’d determined what they really had. They might’ve used medical droids and wiped their memories.”
“None of this explains how a thousand B’omarr monks in redesigned Droidekas are unseen even to the Enhanced,” Cyrella insisted. “The Force tells me that their location has something to do with their apparent devotion to the Dark Side and the fact we still haven’t detected them.”
“We were all over the galaxy searching for Narik,” Avalynn reminded everyone. “They have to be somewhere very far from the places we investigated.”
“It’s been suggested that they want to retake what the Hutts took from them,” Xan found the opportunity to add. “If they’re really staging an invasion, wouldn’t that mean they are somewhere near Hutt Space?”
“But where?” Han asked. “We actually went to Kessel. And we were in the vicinity of places like Boz Pity and Saleucami. We went right around Hutt Space at least on the Core side. Unless we postulate a location in Wild Space, I don’t see how Leia didn’t detect even an inkling. So she isn’t one of the Enhanced. She used to teach here, you know.”
“As you said, Han, if they actually are staging for an invasion that only leaves Wild Space,” Tanish interjected. “There’s nothing out there.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Leia reluctantly replied.
“What do you mean?” Trimelle apprehensively asked, unable to restrain her question or the anxiety that induced it.
“Back when we were discussing the relocation of the Temple from Coruscant,” Leia replied, “there was a Council meeting that dealt specifically with the Bogan Collection.”
“Oh no,” Cyrella unintentionally exclaimed.
“What, pray tell, is the Bogan Collection?” Avalynn asked.
“This happened before you were on the Council,” Leia consolingly answered. “They’re Dark Side relics. Many of them relate to the Sorcerers of Tund. Tund is a hidden world in Wild Space on the far side of Hutt Space.”
Since the Council members had obviously permitted Padawan Trimelle to participate, Kodi-San Camorra said, “I thought Kamino was the only world that’d ever been hidden.”
“Most regrettably not,” Cyrella replied. “And I’m afraid it makes sense for the monks to have settled in a place they knew they’d never be bothered.”
“But how did they become aware of it?” Tanish asked.
“Maybe through their meditation,” Xan suggested. “Perhaps simply through exploring space far outside the dominion of the Hutts. They might’ve simply stumbled upon the Centrality.”
“The Centrality?” Han questioningly echoed. “The same sector where Oseon is located?”
“How do you know about Oseon?” Cyrella asked.
“It’s accessible to Kessel through the Sanity Skip Hyperspace Route,” he reluctantly replied. “Back when I was a smuggler doing the Kessel Run, I had to familiarize myself with every one of the local hyperspace lanes in case I had to use one as an escape route. But I never heard about a planet called Tund, let alone that it was in the same sector. That being said, however, I know how to reach the Centrality if you’re wanting to send a reconnaissance mission there. It’s a lucky thing that we just happen to have a couple of ships that can cloak.”
“I’m not sure cloaking alone will prevent detection by telepathy,” Leia suggested. “We need to be extremely circumspect in how we go about this. We’re dealing with a Force User, one who is apparently allied with the Dark Side. If he was able to hijack the collective of the Colicoids, he might command a thousand monks in Droidekas the same way. They would not be limited to the planet’s surface. They’d be able to travel in space.”
“I don’t get that part,” Kodi-San took the chance of interjecting. “I mean, it seems unlikely to me that there are exactly a thousand B’omarr monks. Why such an even number?”
“The padawan is right,” Xan agreed.
“It’s not unheard of for the B’omarr to induct converts by force,” Leia admitted with a shiver. “They wake up disembodied. And their screaming brains are kept in isolation until they’ve made the transition to acceptance of their new state. Perhaps the B’omarr are expecting to swell their ranks, or perhaps they believe others will join their order in response to their accomplishment of whatever the hell they’re planning.”
“Maybe they require that number in order to accomplish whatever that is. Let us hope so. It might give us some time to comprehend and counter their agenda,” Cyrella suggested.
“You mentioned Dark Side relics taken from Tund,” Jedi Knight Jenassee Secura reminded Leia. “Are you certain all the relics were indeed located and safely stored in the collection?”
“With things the way they are,” Leia morosely admitted, “I’m not certain of any such a thing. If one was missed, it might also explain how a Force-sensitive monk turned to the Dark Side.”
“You spoke of proceeding circumspectly,” Cyrella Force Spoke to Leia onboard the Falcon. “Did you have a specific plan in mind?”
“The Phemera said one of the Enhanced needs to always remain at the Temple. One of the Enhanced is still a de facto member of our order. Her husband is another, and he happens to be a pilot with a ship that can cloak. Add our resident telepath to the mix and you have a triumvirate for the reconnaissance.”
“Once the appropriate personnel are aboard, I can lead Demorin through the hyper route to Oseon and remain in orbit there in case backup is required,” Han suggested.
Force Speaking again to Leia, Cyrella asked, “Do you have any recommendation as to who should go on the Falcon?”
“The standard crew might suffice, but we could probably use an extra gunner just in case.”
“Since he repeatedly served on the Forthright,” she suggested, “I believe Master Awswi has the most experience with turbo lasers of the type with which the Falcon is armed.”
“This is strictly an information gathering exercise, isn’t it?” Demorin asked. “You don’t really expect us to take on a thousand battle droids, right?”
“I don’t want them to even be aware of you,” Cyrella answered. “But like Leia said, cloaking might not keep telepaths from detecting your presence. You need to be prepared to withdraw at the slightest suggestion of a response.”
“It’s too bad we don’t have some of that anti-telepathy compound ourselves,” Tani ventured. “It just might’ve masked the presence of the reconnaissance mission.”
“A tactically sound suggestion,” Cyrella agreed. “And I certainly don’t mean to dismiss your skill set. You also served aboard the Forthright, although probably not in a gunnery position. But if this mission ends up devolving into a firefight, the accuracy of a Jedi Master could conceivably make a decisive difference.”
“I understand. I’m not in a hurry to face a thousand Droidekas anyway.”
“Han and Demorin, I’d suggest you both give your ships a thorough examination before you head out on this particular mission. I need to contact Commissioner Ackbar and tell him what we have found so far. He might not appreciate our independent investigation. But I can honestly tell him everything we have learned has been a byproduct of trade negotiations, both with the Hutts and with the Colicoids. He can hardly be upset with us for practicing diplomacy.”
“I’m an officer of Republic Security and I was involved with all the aforesaid negotiations. I’d be happy to make that report for you, your grace,” Tanish volunteered.
With assistance from Chewie and Awswi, Han and Demorin had completed the inspections of their respective spacecraft when Cyrella stepped out of the turbolift and onto the flight deck. It was immediately apparent that she had come in person to summon one of the workers since the field of the Phemera had not yet extended into this uppermost area of the Jedi Temple. Dari and Avalynn were both with her.
“Demorin, you have a call on the holo-transceiver,” she said.
After being escorted by the trio of Force Wielding ladies down to the nearest iteration of the appliance, he was stunned to recognize the image of Senator Crik hovering above the projector platform. Having spent so much time around members of the Jedi Order, he routinely bowed as he stepped before the projection.
“Good day, your honor,” he said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Have spoken to Smurb. Grateful for trade agreement. Wanted to say. Also have some info for you. First is matter not told you by Smurb. B’omarr monk Droidekas unique in additional way. Casings same metal as orbital platforms. Difficult to destroy even without ray shields. Also monk just contact Smurb again, seeking cloaking technology. Not our field. Certain to look elsewhere.”
“It was my honor to arrange the agreement and I thank you for the information, your grace.”
As he signed off, Avalynn anxiously observed, “Droidekas are too small to cloak. What else could they be hoping to hide? A spaceship? Why would they need one?”
Trimelle had come to farewell the flight teams. As the assembly was turning to make its way up to the flight deck, it looked to her as if everybody had suddenly been struck. The effect on the Enhanced and the Grand Master was however the greatest.
“What just happened?” she anxiously asked. “I felt something, but I think you all felt it more than I did.”
“There’s just been a terrible disruption in the Force,” Avalynn struggle to answer.
“It was like when Umbrage used his temporal technology, only it was worse,” Cyrella finally found the breath to say.
“There are Phemera within the affected area,” Dari added. “I can sense their terror.”
“I can as well,” Avalynn agreed. “But I can’t tell if they’re actually in danger.”
“Prepare for departure,” Cyrella instructed. “But don’t program your navicomputers yet. You might being going to a different destination.”
As quickly as they could, the flight teams stowed their gear on their respective craft. And by the time they were prepared to blast off, the perceptions of the Force Wielders in particular were much more clear.
“The affected Phemera are in an area where the temperature is decreasing drastically,” the Grand Master said over coms. “They’re in danger of freezing.”
“What area?” Han radioed back.
“It’s those that were left on Teth,” she worriedly replied.
“How could they be freezing; that’s a jungle world?” Han rhetorically asked. Then turning to his copilot, he said “Punch it, Chewie.”
With the Screech close behind it, the Falcon soared up through the atmosphere of Tatooine and into interplanetary space. On their respective ships Han and Demorin then programmed the series of jumps through hyperlanes that would ultimately take them to Teth. Oblivious to Awswi’s presence, Han spent most of that session grumbling about having just traversed the exact same progression in reverse order way too recently. His complaining was punctuated by Chewbacca’s sporadic agreement. Master Awswi occupied himself with the long-range scanners. As their ship dropped out of lightspeed at the edge of the Teth system, it violently shuddered and then veered from its programmed course.
“What the hell just happened?” Han rhetorically asked “I can’t get back on course!“.
From his position behind the pilot’s seat, Awswi asked, “Why doesn’t Teth appear on any of our scopes?”
Gazing out of the cockpit at the empty space that confronted him, Han said, “Our position is correct, except... no Teth. This can’t be happening again.”
Turning his attention to the solar system’s center, Awswi then altered his inquiry to, “What’s wrong with the star?”
Following the Jedi Master’s gaze, Han instantly saw what he meant and answered, “It looks like an x-ray of what should be there. And I can’t turn the ship into the system. There’s seems to be some kind of wave front pushing us away. The instrumentation is going crazy.”
“How are we off course?” Demorin asked over coms.
“I can’t explain what’s happening here,” Han answered, “but we need to find Teth.”
“The Phemera there are fading,” Dari answered. “But we can still get a fix on their direction and distance. Follow us in.”
As Han shadowed the course of the Screech, Awswi announced, “I’m now getting a reading on a planetary mass directly ahead. Teth is completely out of position.”
Teth had been entirely ejected from the confines of its indigenous solar system and was still outbound. Its ominous outline became barely visible as the blanket of ice steadily encapsulating its surface reflected the unearthly illumination from the distant star. The imperiled Phemera were located on the far side of the icy orb. Both spaceships adopted an equatorial orbit that took them around to the drop point.
“I’d recommend we go in with our cloaks engaged,” Demorin Force Spoke through the field of the Phemera. Both ships carried wreaths in trays of growth medium, which enabled the crews to communicate without other types of transmission, provided they elected to take advantage of the option. “Rotta’s palace is covered in ice that’s interfering with the detection of life forms. You can bet they’d think we’re somehow responsible for this disaster if any survivors should spot us.”
“Roger that. Engaging cloak.”
Tysha and Tanish had tossed their wreaths from the edge of the plateau and into the jungle below, but that jungle had become a jumble of icy stalagmites. The two ships circled around the area of the stranded Phemera for a few desperate minutes, but there obviously wasn’t any kind of clearing.
“There’s nowhere to land,” Han complained in consternation. “How are we gonna do this?”
“I have this,” Dari Force Spoke to the members of both crews. Turning from her place in the copilot’s seat to her husband, who was seated at the controls, she said, “Take the ship down as low as it can go and then set it at station keeping. I’m gonna need to borrow your lightsaber.”
The lightsabers she’d built for them, although Demorin had helped with his, were essentially a matching pair. The only difference was the RGB activation switch she’d incorporated into hers. Both were designed to interrupt and even short-circuit ray shields. Being modeled after Julither’s Adjudicator and Dari’s original lightsaber, the Violet Vergence, both produced plasma emissions that came very close to emulating the fabled Black Blade. Because of its function and color, Dari dubbed hers the Amethyst Antithesis. Demorin named his the Purple Persuader, although it was not actually purple.
Being in possession of both radiant weapons, Dar swiftly moved to the stern of the ship and the hatch on its underside. A blast of arctic air greeted her as she opened the portal. Undeterred she focused on the Force to determine the exact location of the Phemera below her. They were dying, with only moments left to live. Dropping through the hatch, she activated both lightsabers, one pointed down and outward in each hand. She then accomplished her descent like a twirling tornado, shearing off the branches that otherwise would’ve impaled her. She arrived right beside her objective.
Scooping up the wreaths as gingerly as she could, she Force Spoke to Demorin and asked him to momentarily disengage the Screech’s cloak. She then Force Leaped back up through the conduit she’d cut through the frozen overhead foliage. Arriving inside the ship again, she placed the wreaths in the tray of growth medium. Being within the field of the Phemera, Han then Force Spoke to Demorin and asked him to move his ship aside.
“For reasons I’d rather not go into I have a supply of transponders that haven’t been coded. I’m gonna give one an assignment specific to this planet and drop it down through the hole Dari cut. I’ll enter the code in the stellar cartography database. Teth is now a rogue planet. Everyone needs a way to avoid it if they travel through this sector. But I do need to ask a question. Are we supposed to search for survivors?”
“Your next objective is a stealth reconnaissance,” Cyrella Force Spoke from Tatooine. “And there’s no way to quantify the danger into which you might be flying. I’ll contact the Bothans and ask them to mount a rescue mission. After all, they’re now in a trade agreement with the Hutts.”
“Then I suppose our next destination is the Centrality,” Han replied. To Demorin he said, “I’ll drop my cloaked once we’re out of the atmosphere so you can follow me. We could be detected coming out of lightspeed. And as close as we are to the target, we shouldn’t need more than our sublight engines anyway.”
“If the B’omarr monks are trying to take back what the Hutts took from them, can we call it a coincidence that Teth was the closest of those Hutt-held acquisitions to the Centrality?” Demorin asked.
“If they’re responsible, they didn’t take it back,” Han argued. “They made it uninhabitable.”
“That’s not completely correct,” Dari gently disagreed. “They only made it uninhabitable for anybody not cybernetic. Their bio chambers are temperature-controlled. And the atmosphere is still there. Over time it’ll become just a layer of condensate on the surface. But the oxygen could still be extracted with automation.”
“So this move could actually have been a prelude to occupation?” Han incredulously asked.
“I’m afraid so,” she replied. “Who’d try to take it from them now? Hutts don’t like the cold.”
“Is there no way to determine how many monks there actually are?” Han asked, determined now to change the subject.
“There was a registry kept at Shiin’s Library at Mos Eisley,” Leia replied. “But we regrettably lost track of it when Tatooine was evacuated. We never imagined how desperately we’d require that information. It was a failure of foresight, which is usually a shortcoming of Sith Lords.”
“The new Jedi Council didn’t exist yet,” Han softly reminded her. “Everything was on Luke’s shoulders. And he was fully focused on contending with the Clone Emperor.”
“I’m reading two astronomical bodies on my scanners,” Demorin observed. “One is listed as Oseon. It is the closest. Deeper into the sector is another, identified as Renatasia. Nothing else is listed and nothing else registers on the sensors, but the Force tells me something is there.”
“I’d planned on hanging out near Oseon since smugglers occasionally venture out here, but I can follow you as far as Renatasia if you’d prefer your backup to be closer,” Han volunteered.
“I’m still hoping they won’t detect us through our cloaks,” Demorin replied. “But it’s true that they might be used to the occasional visitor through the Sanity Skip. If they can detect us, it’d be better for you to stay near Oseon. It’ll look like we’re just a couple of smuggler ships and you are waiting for me to reconnoiter the system before we head back together.”
“Then best of luck and may the Force be with you,” Han ceremoniously concluded.
“Thanks to being within the field of the Phemera,” Leia said to the crew of the Screech, “we will know if you need help before you can even signal.”
“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Demorin suggested as his ship moved invisibly away.
From Oseon the Screech proceeded toward Renatasia. After leaving its system they moved deeper into the sector. The Force then revealed a weirdly occluded planet in the goldilocks zone of the furthest system. Demorin swiftly adjusted the course of his ship and began to close on the target. Suddenly there was an alien voice inside the heads of each of the crew, and it ominously echoed through the field of the Phemera.
“Proceed no further or you will be destroyed. You must be Jedi or someone associated with their Order since I can neither control nor even read you. But make no mistake. You will comply or there will be catastrophic consequences You won’t be warned again.”
Bringing the ship to an abrupt stop, Demorin asked in reply, “Who are you?”
“I am the B’omarr monks.”
The statement seemed to confirm their suspicions that the monks had become a collective, subject to the will of a single Dark Side serving individual. Demorin was on altogether unfamiliar footing. He was supposed to have been carrying out a reconnaissance mission, not conducting an actual interview with their adversary. But through the field of the Phemera, he was connected with the entire Jedi Order. He quickly expressed to them his willing to act as intermediary, if only they provided him with adequate guidance.
“Are you responsible for what happened to Teth?”
“The Hutts brought that retribution upon themselves. I’d insist Rotta’s ilk were responsible.”
“Can you explain what happened to the star?”
“Matter is manipulated with energy. Dark Matter is manipulated with Dark Energy. The prior occupants of this planet left behind a device that can convert between the two. The star’s gravity has been reversed. It now emanates Dark Energy.”
Struggling to accept the B’omarr monk’s proclamation, Demorin asked, “Do you then intend to do that to all the systems held by the Hutts?”
“No, it was a test and a warning for any who would oppose our plan.”
“The Jedi believed they’d removed all the Dark Side devices from Tund. If you’re willing, I’d like to know how you found it and what you intend to do with it.”
“The device is powered by crystals. None were chambered when we found it. A gun without ammo isn’t a weapon. It consequently eluded their search. We first activated it with regeneration gems we brought from Tatooine. The Dark Side then imparted specifics as to what we’d need in order to fire it. At first the kinds of crystals seemed unattainable. But one of our many spies read the Bothans on their return from Scree Space. They found a backdoor to Ilum within the Utegetu Nebula. The opening of the Ansion Trade Route was a critical component to our search.”
While endeavoring to discover some alternative to the Neimoidian Trade Route, the crew of the Falcon had inadvertently provided the B’omarr monks with access to Adegan crystals, which were the exact type they needed in order to arm their dreadful weapon. This announcement had a very unpleasant impact on Han, Chewie and Leia.
“I see,” Demorin rejoined, flinching unconsciously in unison with the aforementioned trio, all of whom were within the field of the Phemera. “But you still haven’t said what is you intend to do with the device.”
“Save the galaxy.”
Demorin was hardly prepared to experience the emotional response this statement evoked particularly from the Jedi. Darth Umbrage had espoused a similar ambition. It took a moment for Demorin to ask the requisite question.
“How is the galaxy endangered and how are you going to save it?”
“The furthest galaxies are all red-shifted. Only those in our local group are blue-shifted. This indicates a decreasing distance and the coming of a convergence. Astronomers would like us to believe the convergence will be innocuous. They cite the distance between the stars. But gravity alone cannot explain the stability of the galaxy’s spiral shape. The Force doesn’t bind the galaxy together, as you’ve probably been told. The Force simply permeates it. It’s actually held together by a latticework of Dark Matter. The space between the stars is not empty. When the latticework of one galaxy intersects with that of another, the reality of both will be rent. If we hope to survive the coming collision, we must dismantle the Dark Matter latticework holding our galaxy together. It’s the only way to enable an innocuous convergence. The Core’s gravity must be reversed.”
“But the star systems would all go flying apart, and commerce between them would end.”
“Technology is continually increasing. The ships of each generation fly faster than the ones of the generation before. This will offset the increase in distance.”
“But what about the Core Worlds? Some of them are packed pretty tightly around the Core. Are you certain no collisions will occur as they’re abruptly pushed away?”
“Some collateral collisions will result. But the rest of the galaxy will thereby be saved.”
“How soon do you intend to do this?”
“The weapon must be fully recharged. We must also have a clear channel through which its emanation can reach the Core. Despite all the supposed space between the stars, we currently have no clear shot at the target. Either an opening will develop or we’ll relocate the weapon.”
“My people are the Scree. We’re a race of scientists. We live at the end of a spiral arm. Our view of intergalactic space is not occluded. You’ve not told me anything about cosmology I didn’t already know. The convergence or collision you talk about is still several billions of years away,” Demorin argued. “Why the rush?”
“It will take significant time for the solar systems to separate and the Dark Matter latticework to altogether unravel. The process needs to begin. Now that you understand our agenda, surely you see it is nothing with which you should be interested in interfering. And we’ll not broach any such attempt. Take your Force Wielding friends and depart in peace, else you’ll incur our wrath.”
The monks’ attempt to acquire cloaking technology suddenly made sense. It’d be extremely problematic to protect the weapon during transit. It was simple to surround a stationary S-thread booster with suspensor-equipped Droidekas. But suspensors wouldn’t facilitate interstellar flight. The monks needed a more functional solution.
Demorin’s perception told him he’d been given all the information the monks were willing to share. He wanted to know how long it’d take the weapon to recharge, but he knew better than to ask. He was certain no such information would be forthcoming. He also wondered how soon an opening through which they could fire their weapon at the Core would develop. But he could not comprehend why they’d referred to the possibility of relocating the weapon. On its surface such an admission seemed self-defeating. He sensed plans within plans and wondered if some form of manipulation was being attempted. They had admitted their inability to control him overtly, but that didn’t mean they might not try to do so some other way.
As he brought the Screech about and wheeled away from inner system of the Centrality, he used the field of the Phemera to confer with everyone else who was so connected.
“I’m not certain what to think about their doomsday prophecy, but billions will definitely die if they fire their weapon at the Core. What can be done to stop them?”
“I’m in contact with Commissioner Ackbar,” Cyrella Force Spoke in reply. “He’s arranging to have every available Republic Security ship armed with MG7-A proton torpedoes. I doubt they’ll be able to get a weapons lock on the Dark Energy device, so they’ll have to strafe the surface of Tund. The monks have to recharge their weapon and wait for an avenue through which to fire it. The fleet will hopefully be there before that can happen.”
“I really hate to sound like a killjoy,” Han hesitantly interjected, “but what it they’re right? Are we certain we should stop them? What if this is the only chance to forestall a future disaster/”
From the change in her countenance, the few Jedi gathered with her in the Temple instantly recognized Cyrella was addressing them as the Vergence. But being in the field of the Phemera they, like all the other participants, felt the Force as it spoke through her.
“The monks are wrong. The light from the distant galaxies has been effected by its passage through time reference fields that are very different from those between the galaxies of the local group. Time is subject both to the influence of mass and the absence thereof. The color shifting is a function exclusively of distance, not of relative motion. The implication of motion is produced by the variations in space/time experienced by the light as it travels through regions where there is no time-constricting mass. Light from the galaxies in the local group travels merely millions of light years. But light from the more distant galaxies has sometimes traveled hundreds millions of parsecs. All things are colored by time, even light.”
“I withdraw the question,” Han apologetically Force Spoke, being also inside the field of the Phemera. “Temporal mechanics has never been my strong suit.”
“This master of the B’omarr monks is a devotee of the Dark Side,” she replied. “Such ardor normally leads to an error in insight. This is just an extreme case, and an especially dangerous one.”
“I’m just trying to get my head around this,” he rejoined. “First there were Death Stars 1 and 2, which could destroy planets. Then there was the Star Killer, which could obliterate entire solar systems. And now there’s a weapon that could destroy the galaxy?”
“I don’t believe they think of it as destruction,” Leia pointed out. “I think they consider it to be something more like social distancing.”
“If we’re done discussing the fatal failures of B’omarr philosophy, I need to relate what I now know about how Tund is hidden,” Demorin interjected. “I don’t pretend to know why such a thing could’ve happened, but the part of the accretion disk that didn’t coalesce into the planet became a ring of gaseous matter just outside its orbit. It extends both above and below the ecliptic, thus it absolutely obscures the planet from sensors. Their weapon apparently punched an opening in the ring, and I was able to get some readings. But the ring and the planet don’t orbit at the same rate. The hole has already moved away from Tund.”
“That’s gonna complicate our strafing runs,” Han observed.
“The attacking ships will have to come in either above or below the ecliptic and then double back to come in with the star behind them,” Demorin suggested. “But there’s significant radiation in places on the surface. The monks are living in shielded cities. That’s not good news. It’ll make things difficult for our bombing runs. The best bet would probably be to concentrate on the areas where the shields meet the surface, and try to cause leakage. Enough radiation could endanger the monks even in their bio chambers.”
“What about the weapon?” Han asked.
“I didn’t get any reading on it. Maybe it isn’t sufficiently charged,” Demorin replied. “I am just hoping it’s on the day side when we attack. If the target’s on the night side, we’d be in the limited space between the planet and the accretion ring. In suspensor-equipped Droidekas, the B’omarr monks could easily leave their atmosphere and engage us in that area. That could get dicey.”
“Why do you both keep saying we?” Cyrella pointedly asked.
“Because we’re planning to participate in the bombing runs,” Han answered, “although we’ll have to acquire our armament from one of the frigates.”
“I’d prefer you didn’t.”
“Why?” Han and Demorin asked in unison.
“I don’t know. The Force seems to be suggesting to me that this is all somehow going to go sideways, even though I’m not sure I see how. But the power of this telepath concerns me. If he was able to hijack the entire Colicoid collective, I’m not certain what would be beyond his ability. I keep thinking about Rostla-Kon and how Narik was able to make a puppet out of him. I’d prefer for the two of you to hold back until we can better estimate what we’re really up against.”
Ackbar was accompanied by an enormous armada of Republic Security ships, half a dozen frigates and dozens of one- and two-man fighters. The frigates carried additional ammunition for fighters. Having left the field of the Phemera when he abandoned his office on Coruscant to lead the attack, he contacted Cyrella by subspace radio once the flotilla emerged from hyperspace at the edge of the Tund system.
“The Senate held an emergency session in which they gave me command of our makeshift armada. They stopped just short of returning me to the rank of Admiral. But this is an extremely unusual situation. We are far beyond the auspices of the Republic, yet the Core Worlds are the most immediately endangered. Operating in such a gray area, I’m not certain which title is really the most appropriate. Do we have a plan of attack?”
Cyrella deferred to Demorin, who reiterated his readings and resulting recommendations to Ackbar. The commissioner then asked Han if he had anything to add. But Han had only a single sentiment to express.
“This is where we could’ve really used Lando.”
“Well said,” Ackbar agreed. “But if the admiral had only been available to take command of this mission, I probably wouldn’t be here. I’d be sipping Jawa Juice in my office on Coruscant.”
“I’d suggest holding the frigates in reserve,” Cyrella added. “Death Star 2 was able to target those that were with us during the Battle of Endor. It might be that they’re substantial enough to be endangered by this new weapon.”
“The Falcon and Screech are also considerably larger than the fighters,” Ackbar observed. “Are you in favor of also holding them in reserve?”
“Our ships can cloak,” Demorin argued, not willing to be dismissed by the Grand Master.
“You recommended attacking with the star behind us,” Ackbar reminded him. “Your vessels could be revealed by refraction even while cloaked. And how could we prevent the fighters from running into you? You’d have to fly with your transponders active, and that’d defeat the purpose of being cloaked. I’m afraid the Grand Master is quite correct. You should hang back at least for this first foray.”
“Roger that,” Demorin disappointedly replied. “My readings also indicate that Tund orbits its star somewhat more rapidly than one might expect. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it being the only planet in its system, but the monks obviously won’t be able to fire their weapon at the Core when they’re on the far side of their sun. Even if we fail to destroy it in this first foray, if we can just keep them occupied, we might buy ourselves precious time to absolutely determine its position on the planet for a more surgical strike.”
“We have six battle groups of a dozen fighters each, one from each frigate,” Ackbar said. “I will send three over the accretion ring and three from beneath. Once they pass over the planet’s poles they’ll swing around and start their strafing runs. May the Force be with us. Here we go.”
After checking in, all six battle groups moved into their respective flight formations and sped toward the accretion disk. As they quickly closed on the orbiting ring of gaseous obscurity, three of the columns went up and over while the other three hugged the underside of the anomaly. As they crossed above and below the poles of the planet, they looped around, bringing the surface to bear in their crosshairs.
Since the target was far below them within the atmosphere of the planet, none of those who had remained behind expected to hear the reports of any explosions. And yet, amid unexpected screams, that is precisely what suddenly started to happen. Ackbar attempted to withdraw those who remained, but no one responded to his increasingly desperate transmissions. Following his instructions, the command frigate rose above the accretion to disk to scan the area between the planet and its star. No fighters remained, and there was only one possible explanation.
“As soon as they moved within range of his influence, the telepath made them destroy each other,” Cyrella sorrowfully surmised. “We need a completely new plan.”
“Thankfully the frigates remain,” Han observed, shocking everybody with his seemingly non sequitur statement.
“How does that help us?” Ackbar asked.
“When approaching a planetary system every star pilot knows,” he replied, “you don’t come in on its ecliptic. And the reason is simple. Planetary systems are generally surrounded by a ring of comets. I’ve already confirmed it’s true for this system too. Have your frigates use their tractor beams to tow a string of comets into collision courses with Tund. If we wait until it’s on the back side of its star, we should have time to complete the operation and it should be unobservable to the monks.”
“Won’t they just use their weapon?” Ackbar asked.
“Maybe against the first one. And maybe even against the first few, if their weapon has that kind of capacity. But if we line up half a dozen or more, some should get through. So they need to all potentially be planet killers, every one of them. We’ll time the attack so it coincides with the planet’s emergence from behind its sun.”
“A kinetic energy weapon, like a bolt gun,” Awswi observed. “That could actually work.”
As the cloaked Falcon and Screech kept watch, the frigates moved off and started the task of towing six of the largest comets into the inner solar system. They first had to be nudged out of their distant orbits. It was tedious and extremely time-consuming work that involved exceedingly irregular shapes. But while the planet was still on the Core side of its star, the weapon remained silent. After extensive coordination between the navicomputers and C3, the final trajectory of the six kinetic weapons was established. They were placed on a course to collide with the planet as it rounded the star and emerged again on the Core side of the system. The entire operation took several standard months to complete.
While the frigates were busy adjusting the trajectories of the comets, Demorin and the crew of the Screech conducted research on the accretion disk. There was concern that it might act to somewhat shield the planet from the incoming comets. But they determined the concentration of its mass was far too diffuse to have any such effect.
Since the Screech was entirely crewed by Force Wielders and only Force Wielders seemed immune from control by the B’omarr telepath, it was then positioned in the most forward location to observe the actual collisions. On the specified day, Tund started its swing back around to the Core side of its system, presenting itself as their anticipated target. The string of comets quickly closed on the hapless planet. The first one entered the accretion disk. Everybody waited for the Screech to confirm the first impact. But the confirmation never came.
By the suddenly strange light of the central star, everybody saw the effect of the shockwave as it summarily swept the accretion disk away. Tund and the incoming comets were ripped from their trajectories and hurled away from the mutated star. Demorin tried to warn everybody about what his ship’s sensors showed, but the impact of the shockwave cut him off in mid sentence.
Everything was unceremoniously expelled from the star system. The ships already had their shields raised, but it was barely adequate to maintain their integrity. And being the closest to the source of the shockwave, the outer hull of the Screech actually suffered some buckling. Minutes went by as the crews of the various craft succeeded in regaining control over their conveyances.
From his command frigate, the Rancor, Ackbar announced, “At sublight speed centuries will pass before it gets appreciably closer, but Tund is now on a course for the Core.”
“That’s why he was so open about his desire to relocate the weapon,” Demorin rasped. “He wasn’t talking about using a ship, cloaked or otherwise. He’s been baiting us all along. Damn it.”
“He’s been lying to us, too,” Han added, “unless he really didn’t realize what dismantling the latticework of Dark Matter would mean. He said it would have no effect on commerce. According to long range scanners, the Sanity Skip is already beginning to degrade. And it’s not even linked to this system, just to this sector. If they manage to use that weapon on the Core, I’m afraid we’ll lose all our hyperlanes. Thousands of years of exploration made meaningless in a moment.”
“With Tund now steadily moving closer to the Core,” Demorin angrily agreed, “the danger of that is constantly increasing. With the Force as our ally, we somehow managed not to anticipate this outcome.”
Everyone within the field of the Phemera experienced his angst. But it was Ackbar speaking over subspace radio who summed up the sentiment of everybody involved in the debacle.
“What have we done?”