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

Strange Bedfellows

“I myself became capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.”

~ Victor Frankenstein

“You said you knew where to look for David Marcus,” Lucas reminded Spock. “What course do I set?”

“I’ll input the coordinates myself,” Spock replied.

“If you’d prefer, but we downloaded the stellar cartography charts from your starship,” Luke interjected. “If you’d care to name the destination, we can program the course.”

“It’s no longer listed in the cartographic charts. The planet is essentially quarantined. It is by mutual consent with the Klingons. They and the Federation both suffered stunning defeats while contending for possession of the planet. But the omnipotent occupants are no longer there. You would probably say they transformed into the Force.”

“What planet and what occupants?” Lucas demanded, apparently becoming impatient.

His sentiment seemed to be shared by Luke, who said, “We have been here long enough to know Vulcans do not lie. But you certainly have a penchant for remaining mysterious.”

“The occupants were the Organians. The planet is Organia.”

“Wait a minute,” Lucas exclaimed. “Weren’t they the people at war with the Douwd?”

“They were already noncorporeal when we encountered them. They have since abandoned their homeworld. But it is a virtual no-man’s-land. It would be perfect for someone who wished to have no further contact with anyone. We abstain out of respect. The Klingons fear to go there. It is perhaps closest to Gorn Space, but they abide by the terms of the treaty they signed with us.”

“One out of respect and one from fear,” Tysha echoed. “An interesting distinction to make.”

“Respect like honor is an act of the intellect,” Spock replied while programming the vessel’s new trajectory. “Fear is an emotion. My people subscribe solely to the discipline of logic. We do not allow ourselves to be ruled by emotion.”

As the Quest adopted its new course, Lucas asked, “How were both forces defeated?”

“The ships of both fleets were rendered completely inoperable.”

“That sounds an awful lot like what the Metrons did,” Luke observed. “Is there a relationship between the two races?”

“Unknown. The homeworld of the Metrons is unidentified. It could lie in the same sector as Organia, although our current coordinates are more than a sector away. And the Metrons seem to still be corporeal. But since they are obviously aware of things transpiring far from their region of space, they probably knew of the confrontation between our forces and those of the Klingons, as well as the Organians’ intervention. If so, that knowledge might’ve influenced their decision to act in almost like manner by disabling both the Enterprise and the Gorn ship.”

“I have a planet on the heading you provided,” Lucas conversationally observed. “If you are correct in your deductions, there should really only be one humanoid life form on the planet. We should therefore have no trouble isolating its location. Do you expect Marcus to resist our visit?”

“Most definitely. But I don’t expect him to respond with lethal force. He has become what in olden days was known as a conscientious objector. He’s already been inadvertently responsible for the loss of his mother’s life. I don’t think he’ll willingly add to that total; at least, not until we’ve told him why we’re here.”

“That’s comforting,” Tani sarcastically commented.

“We’ll just have to convince him of our philanthropic purpose,” Tysha concluded.

The Quantum Quest circled and landed near the only standing homestead. Its vigilant crew disembarked and headed toward the lonely structure. It was early in the evening on Organia as they arrived at the property’s obvious outskirts. Nothing beyond its perimeter showed any signs of maintenance.

Consulting his tricorder, Spock said, “I’m now reading a force field. It wasn’t there when we landed.”

“At least we can be certain someone’s home,” Odo grimly joked. Turning to the intergalactic contingent of the group, he asked, “Do any of you have a handy way of defeating a force field?”

“We’ve known of lightsabers specifically constructed for just such a purpose,” Luke replied. “But ours were fashioned to be the nemesis of Narik’s Banisher.”

Looking to Tysha, Lucas said, “I notice you’ve also come equipped with a lightsaber. I don’t suppose yours is designed for use against force fields, is it?”

“Regrettably not.”

“A correctable oversight and something else the Phemera didn’t bother to tell us,” Tani took the opportunity to complain.

“The Phemera?” Luke echoingly inquired.

“A botanical Force life form,” Tysha answered. “You missed rather a lot since you left. They were brought about by the Blossom, like those of us who are now Enhanced. I’ll catch you up on all of it just as soon as the opportunity arises, although I am not certain how much of any of that really matters now. It was all long ago and very far away.”

“On the chance I’d eventually build my own lightsaber, I brought a collection of crystals from the extracted portal in the Cache through which we came. I think I know how to use them to get through the structure’s ray shielding. The Force is with me now and I’m pretty sure it’s telling me what to do.”

“Then we will follow your lead,” Tysha replied, looking to her companions for affirmation and receiving it.

Tani led them to the place where the ray shielded perimeter was revealed by the windswept particulate striking its surface, which shimmered in response. After kneeling she extracted a pair of crystal shards from her tunic. She held each one in turn in front of the force field, waiting for a harmonic response in the extended shard. Upon sensing the awaited reception, she slipped the shard along the ground and under the edge of the force field. It successfully tunneled under the obstruction.

When its far end had extended into the area beyond the force field, she focused on the flow of the Force and began to raise the crystal shard. The force field warped in response as an arch was formed with the shard as its lynchpin. She was completely unaware of Julither having done something similar back during the brief but horrible reign of Darth Chrysalis. Tani held the edge of the force field up until everyone was inside the protected perimeter. Now it was time for them to face any other defensive systems.

An aged man with grizzled hair appeared as the doorway opened. He leveled a phaser rifle at the approaching group. Disabling the safety with a flourish, he addressed them.

“I’ve never shot anyone before. But if you don’t turn around and go back the way you came, I most certainly will blow you away.”

Spock was still holding his tricorder and availed himself of its readings as he replied, “Your weapon is only set to stun, sir.”

“So? It’ll still hurt like hell when I shoot you with it.”

Stepping around her associates and brandishing her lightsaber, Tysha said, “Show me.”

Gripping his weapon menacingly, the man replied, “I’d prefer not to shoot a lady, but I will.”

“You will try,” Tysha tauntingly retorted.

Using her lightsaber, she then easily deflected the blast from the phaser rifle back upon its source. Knocked from its wielders grasp, it skittered uselessly across the ground. The man was unhurt. As he stood there aghast at the display of skill, Spock spoke to him again.

“Doctor David Marcus, do you not remember me? I was a friend of your father.”

Squinting at the silhouette before him, the son of James Kirk finally replied, “But you’ve not changed. How could you still look the same? But of course, you are one of those Vulcan clones, aren’t you?”

“I’m essentially the same person you met before, just in updated packaging. We are here to ask for your help. Our galaxy has been invaded, and your Genesis Device is the only means by which the cyborg can possibly be destroyed. It’s also the only way to reverse the harmful effects of a war fought here by the Organians and the Douwd innumerable millennia ago.”

“I will grant you it excels when it comes to killing, but that’s all it’s good for. The proto-matter makes the matrix dangerously unstable. And there’s no way to make the device work without it.”

“We have a symbiotic substitute,” Spock assured him. “Your dream can now be realized.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t have any such device. Because it is so dangerous, I didn’t save the generation files. And I don’t remember how I built the one we unleashed inside Regula. I simply can’t help you. Sorry about your luck.”

“You’re lying,” Tani abruptly blurted. “When you spoke about the generation files, I saw the schematic flash through your mind.”

“Damn you!” David cursed, speaking to Spock. “You brought a damned telepath with you?”

“More than one as it turns out,” Tysha told him. “We weren’t certain we’d bring this skill with us. Tani and I are both recent arrivals. But I’m sensing the source of your hesitancy and I assure you that we need your device only for the most peaceful of purposes.”

“I’d like to believe you. Too bad I’m not telepathic.”

“Perhaps to a certain extent that can be arranged,” Spock surprised them all by suggesting. “If you will kindly allow me to mind-meld with you, you can be assured at least of my intentions.”

With the Organian sun heading toward the horizon behind his visitors, David said, “Perhaps we should go indoors. Evenings can be uncomfortably cool at this time of year. Seems to bother me more the older I get.”

Once comfortably within the confines of his humble abode, David allowed Spock to perform the mind-meld with him. The four intergalactic immigrants and the shape-shifter all looked on in fascination as the unique form of telepathy was demonstrated. The former could sense through the Force as David’s emotional state changed from suspicion to acceptance.

“Then it’s all true?” he asked, as Spock ended the session. “The godlike being from another galaxy and the super-massive black hole at our galaxy’s edge?”

“Indeed,” Spock replied.

“And you really believe the Genesis Device is the answer?”

“Our new allies brought that assurance with them. It is in fact why they were willing to leave their galaxy forever and bring us this information. Narik won’t survive the Genesis wave, and the primordial midi-chlorians might be able to reboot those of this galaxy to a symbiotic state. We’ve no other option for dealing with either dilemma.”

“Of course I have a replicator. But it can’t create the entire device, only components that we would have to assemble. The fabrication will therefore take some time. But from what I gathered through the mind-meld, the deployment is to take place somewhere near the Bajoran Sector?”

“We believe Narik is adrift in interstellar space somewhere within the Occupied Cardassian Union,” Odo took the opportunity to answer.

“The only schematic is the one is my head, so I guess I’ll have to come with you. I would’ve never believed I’d be taking such a trip. I expected to finish my days here on Organia.”

“You’d have been in good company,” Spock wistfully suggested. “Some of the most evolved beings this galaxy has ever produced also became noncorporeal while standing on this soil.”

“And now I’m called upon to use what they left behind and save the galaxy they abandoned, or maybe they saw all of this coming. I don’t suppose we’ll ever really know. But let me gather a few things and I’ll be ready to leave. We need to get immediately underway?”

“It would probably be best,” Lucas answered. “We don’t know how much time we have. And it’s a long way to the Bajoran Sector.”

“By the time we get there the Metrons will probably have set up their damping field,” Spock suggested. “But due to the distance the subspace message I sent our comrades probably won’t get there in time to keep our comrades from having to do battle with the Breen. I wish the timing could have been more instantaneous. I suppose even the Metrons have limitations. I don’t doubt Captain Alexander and Admiral Data will be grateful for the news. But combat will probably have already occurred before they even receive our message. And I’m sending another transmission about our successful encounter with Doctor Marcus right now.”

“I guess I hadn’t really considered that I’m actually volunteering for a trip to the front lines in a war,” David observed as they reached the Quest. “But it doesn’t look like there’s room for me.”

“With your device and the Metrons’ damping field, it may soon be over,” Odo offered.

“I’m the son of James Kirk,” David reminded him. “I know only too well that wars tend not to come to tidy endings just when you expect them to. And even after the last shots are fired, there are always details to which to attend.”

“There’s more room aft in the galley,” Lucas said in answer to David’s observation. “And we installed the replicator there. You could go ahead and start fabricating the parts for your device.”

***

A moment after the Breen battle cruisers activated their cloaking devices and Admiral Data reminisced about the time before everyone enjoyed the option, he contacted Captain Alexander and the Nagus.

“We are switching our transponder to a coded subspace frequency and sending the code to you. This should keep us from accidentally shooting each other. Engage your cloaks, pulse your warp drives to reverse ten kilometers and launch a full spread of torpedoes along the respective trajectories we are transmitting with the subspace code. Prepare to follow with phasers if any of the torpedoes find targets. Engage.”

Data had automatically calculated the most complete composite spread for the torpedoes. It had been his prerogative to assume command of the armada, being a flag officer. The authority of the Nagus, as he knew, was probably superior. But when it came to battlefield experience, he was the obvious first choice. And the Nagus expressed no objection to his presumption.

He would’ve preferred the Picard Maneuver. But it wasn’t designed for cloaked combat. And the proliferation of ships would also have made it impractical. His strategic maneuver turned out to nevertheless be effective. Several of the incoming cruisers were struck by the torpedoes, and there were suddenly targets for the armada to fire their phasers at. But the Breen battle cruisers were so robust that none were destroyed in the exchange. Four were momentarily made visible as their cloaks flickered, but then they disappeared from the scanners again.

Using the same coded subspace frequency he had already shared with the Ferengi and the Enterprise, Data transmitted another enhanced tactic.

“Firing our weapons gives away our positions. Use your transporters and deploy torpedoes. Use a timed delay to enable detonation shortly after deployment and the transponder signals to avoid placing them in front of sister ships.”

Onboard the Enterprise Shanella asked, “Captain, could we possibly use tachyon beams to detect the Breen?”

“It would only work if they were to fly directly between the emitting ships, which would have to then fire in each other’s direction at a moving target. I appreciate the suggestion, however the Breen might also be able to track the tachyon beams to their source. We require another way to reveal the positions of the enemy ships.”

“As you said, Captain, nobody can fire a weapon without revealing their position,” Shanella circumspectly mused. “Maybe we just need to give the Breen something to shoot at.”

“What do you have in mind, Lieutenant?”

“If we channel the holo-emitters through the main deflector dish, we could project the image of our ship with its cloak failing. We could alert the rest of the fleet to the maneuver so they’ll be ready to target any Breen ships that take the bait.”

“Configure the equipment necessary and let me know when you’re ready to execute.”

“Sir, the Breen are systematically strafing space with their Type 3 disruptors,” Nog reported. “But they’re doing it in brief bursts and flying too erratically for us to track their trajectories. If our cloaking field takes a direct hit, we might not have to fake a malfunction.”

“Sir, the other ships in the fleet have begun using their transporters to explode torpedoes in proximity to where the disruptor beams originated,” Kato reported. “But the Breen are seemingly able to detect the transporter beams.”

“Mr. Sisko, have all our ships route their transporter beams though their deflector dishes.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Sir, one of the Ferengi D’Kora class vessels has been struck by the Breen disruptors,” Nog reported. “It’s cloak is failing.”

“Configuration complete,” Shanella announced. “The main deflector dish has been enabled for holo-projection.”

“Perhaps we can draw some of the fire away from the Ferengi ship,” Alexander suggested. Turning to Jake, he said, “Inform the rest of our fleet we will attempt our gambit in five seconds.”

Some of the Breen ships fired at the malfunctioning Ferengi cruiser, but the rest all took aim at the image of the Federation starship. As they fired the Breen were desperately trying to make the trajectories of their ships unpredictable. But some of their disruptor beams were grouped too closely together at their source. The cluster of torpedoes that was then transported into the area ripped the cloaks from two of their battle cruisers. Although the Ferengi D’Kora battle cruiser fell before the concentrated attack, the Breen paid with the loss of two of their own as the weapons of the Ferengi and the Federation were brought to bear on the exposed trespassers.

“Disengage the holo-projectors before the Breen are able figure out where we are,” Captain Alexander ordered.

The image of a crippled Excelsior abruptly disappeared from the main viewing screen, but it was replaced by a flash of incredible intensity. It took a moment for their sensors to identify the cause.

“Sir, one of the Breen battle cruisers has collided with one of the Ferengi ships. I’m reading the total destruction of both vessels. There were no survivors,” Shanella reported. After pausing for a few moments, she continued, “The battlefield is now full of particulate from the explosion.”

Data’s voice came over the subspace connection, saying, “To all ships, our cloaks have just become useless. Disengage them and transfer all power to shields and weapons. Program your scanners to track eddies in the debris field.”

Targeting the pair of Breen cruisers to which they happened to be the closest, the Excelsior and Enterprise opened fire with full phasers and a volley of quantum torpedoes. The Breen were completely annihilated. With the numbers no longer in their favor, the remainder of their armada began to move off.

“They’re withdrawing, Captain,” Shanella announced, “although I can’t tell if they’re actually retreating or just trying to lead the fighting out of the debris field.”

“They have no honor either way, which somewhat surprises me. They should maintain their positions and fight.”

“If their only real objective was to escort their envoy to Joracki-controlled space, I am afraid they’ve already achieved their intention,” Nog suggested. “The pair of Breen cruisers that broke off before the battle are cloaked and at warp. They weren’t enveloped by the debris field. We’ve no way to track them.”

“What if we assume they’re headed directly for Cardassia?” Alexander asked.

“If we follow at flank speed we might overtake them,” Shanella suggested. “And if we probe the space ahead of us with our phasers we might expose their positions.”

“If we keep our cloak down we’ll have more power for weapons and shields. And if they see us pursuing them alone without our cloak, they might take the bait and turn to fight,” Nog added.

“Prepare a pursuit course, helmsman,” Alexander instructed Kato. Turning to Jake, he said, “Advise Admiral Data of our intent.”

“Captain, we might want to rethink our strategy,” Jake cautiously countered. “I just received a message from the away team. Ambassador Spock has secured the assistance of the Metrons. They’re going to place a damping field between the Cardassian Union and the Ferengi Alliance. Even if the Breen envoy gets through, no Joracki fleet will come to their assistance. It makes no difference what bargain they strike. In the words of the Nagus, won’t they be surprised?”

“The Ferengi are following the retreating Breen,” Kato reported. “Should we do the same?”

“As much as I’d prefer to keep fighting,” Alexander brusquely replied though clenched teeth, “contact Admiral Data and ask for orders.”

Using the established subspace communication channel, the Nagus appeared on the main viewing screens of both Federation starships, saying, “The Breen trespassed into our space and fired first. They’ve destroyed Ferengi ships. We will continue our assault until they’re beyond the borders of our sovereign domain. We came to your assistance in the Typhon expanse. Shall we not continue to aid each other?”

“It seems the Nagus noticed our hesitation. Pursue the Breen battle cruisers and destroy as many as you can,” Data replied over their VOX connection. “Honoring this new alliance with the Ferengi is far more important than risking war with the Breen. If there is a chance to have peace with them, it would be best to negotiate from a position of strength. We will give them no quarter in this encounter.”

“Qapla’!” Alexander exclaimed. To the bridge crew, he emphatically instructed, “Pursue and destroy the trespassers. It is a good day for them to die.”

Falling in behind the Ferengi dreadnaughts, already in pursuit, the Excelsior and Enterprise gave chase to the retreating Breen battle cruisers. With every erg of their shield power routed to their aft deflectors, it was clear the Breen hoped to reach the edge of the debris field and vanish again before they succumbed to the salvoes of their pursuers.

All eyes were abruptly drawn to the commotion at the back of the Excelsior’s bridge as the turbolift doors opened and disgorged Quilesk with Molly O’Brien right behind him. As the captain looked to her for an explanation, she paused before explaining.

“I was with him in the cargo bay when he suddenly activated the doorway and led me to the turbolift. I guess I just intrinsically understood he was wanting to get to the bridge. I have no idea why.”

Although he didn’t have one, the Horta appeared to be chasing his tail. He started circling in the area there before the turbolift doors. Being more empathic than anybody else on the bridge, perhaps because of being in symbiosis with symbiont, Shanella was the first to discern what the alien ambassador was trying to say.

“I’ve no idea how he knows this, but I think he’s trying to tell us the Breen will circle back on us as soon as they clear the debris field.”

“Captain,” Kato announced, “they’re only seconds from clearing the field.”

“Put me on VOX,” Alexander instructed, turning to Jake. Over the coded subspace channel, he said, “To all ships, don’t continue firing at their last known positions when the Breen cruisers cloak again. Focus all your firepower at the coordinates around them. They’re preparing to circle back on us.”

“This is Admiral Data, I am transmitting a targeting grid to maximize our coverage. Program it into your targeting scanners.”

Only seconds later as they reached the edge of the debris field the Breen cruisers began to reengage their cloaks. At Admiral Data’s orders the remaining armada over which he’d assumed command unleashed their preprogrammed assault. The effort induced a series of explosions, as the invisible Breen battle cruisers were struck by the salvoes. The two fleets were unexpectedly face-to-face and both visible to each other. But the shields of the surviving Breen battle cruisers had been damaged by the bombardment and they couldn’t effectively defend themselves. They fell before they could do more damage to the ships of the Ferengi/Federation alliance.

“Captain Alexander, how did you know what the Breen were going to do?” Data asked over VOX.

“Ambassador Quilesk somehow divined it,” Alexander answered. He looked to Molly for any further explanation.

“Quilesk senses all sorts of subsonic vibrations. Perhaps he intercepted some sort of signal sent between the Breen ships. He didn’t have any way to tell us directly so he had no choice but to resort to charades.”

“It is impossible to estimate how many lives you just saved,” Data said, addressing Quilesk. “Thank you very much for your assistance.”

“Yes,” Molly grinningly agreed as she lightheartedly bumped the ambassador with her knee. “The life you saved might’ve been your own.”

***

Taking pains to properly present himself according to the established military etiquette, Jark Najacor, Commodore of the Pax Phalanx, came before Admiral Irlick Canto. Of late, his counsel hadn’t been particularly pleasing to his superior. His career trajectory required that he somehow get back into the admiral’s good graces. And he hoped the report he bore might begin to lead in that direction.

“My lord, we intercepted two ships entering our occupied space. The Archives identify them as belonging to the Breen. They were transmitting what translated as ambassadorial messages, although the universal translator had considerable difficulty interpreting their language. They are waiting for an audience with you, sir. We believe they’re seeking an alliance with us against our mutual enemy, the Ferengi.”

“Isn’t that suspiciously serendipitous?” Canto countered. “Was it not you who suggested an alliance with the Breen for that precise purpose? And now they come to us with this request?”

“Neither I nor anyone in my command has reached out to these aliens. They’re here of their own accord. But perhaps my advice is somewhat vindicated by this event. The expansion of our empire could conceivably be facilitated by adopting such an alliance.”

“We shall see. Bring them before me.”

The captains and first officers of the two Breen battle cruisers were ushered in under heavy guard. Although the Joracki escorts were actually larger, their masked faces nevertheless made their presence imposing. But they demonstrated the wisdom to bow as they were brought before the ersatz leader of the Joracki.

“I...Captain Krishtar of the...,” the most decorated of the visitors said, although the universal translator sputtered and beeped as if tried to translate the entire sentence. Gesturing toward his companions in turn, he continued, “Captain Colex of the.... My first...Jasahd. His first...Darjang.”

“I understand you seek to ally yourselves with us against the Ferengi,” Canto ventured. “Do I understand correctly? And do you represent merely yourselves or are you authorized to speak for all your people?”

“Breen are Breen, all Breen. Your...Joracki? You...for all Joracki?” Krishtar asked in reply.

“There is one to whom I answer, but I speak in his stead. And I speak for all Joracki. We will enter into an accord with you. But understand that we will match your forces ship for ship. Since you came in two ships, two of our ships will return with you to Breen Space. They’ll estimate the size of your attack force, which we will then match. You’ll be equally at risk in any engagements. We will not bear the brunt of the battle, we will only share it. But we’ll do precisely the same with the spoils. Is this acceptable?”

As the Breen nodded in agreement, Commodore Najacor carefully interjected, “Begging the Admiral’s pardon, but two ships might not be enough.”

“What makes you say that?” Canto impatiently inquired.

“It wasn’t by chance we intercepted their ships, sir. Our deep space scanners detected high energy weapons’ fire just inside the border of the Ferengi Alliance. Although they were originally cloaked, it seemed to emanate from close to two dozen ships. We were therefore strafing space with tachyon beams in case any crossed into our territory, but the two Breen ships dropped their cloaks as they entered our space. We were unable to determine the outcome of the battle. But if we intend to send ships to Breen space, it’s entirely possible they’ll run into the victor. Maybe we should send a larger force. In any case I’d like to volunteer to command the mission. It’s clear to me my counsel isn’t held in the same regard it once was. I’d like a chance to redeem myself.”

“The purpose of this operation is to take inventory and determine the battle-readiness of the Breen. It doesn’t require a commodore. You’ll select two of the ships in your phalanx and advise the captains of their duty. If you’ve not overstated the danger and those ships are lost, I’d prefer to keep your counsel. But if the empire is to continue with its expansion, more commodores will inevitably be needed. Maybe one or more of the captains you select will distinguish themselves in a way that qualifies them for further service.”

“My experience in combat could prove indispensible if they are attacked on the way, sir,” he cautiously contended.

“The majority of the ships under your command will be staying here. You cannot coordinate their movements from Breen Space. Select the ships you’ll send and brief their captains. I would like them to be underway within the hour. That is all.”

Jark understood what the admiral was implying. The Borg ships might return. There was no reason to think the Breen were aware of the debacle that had occurred on Cardassia and driven Pax Parakal away, nor was there any need to alarm them with such embarrassing information. It was for the possible defense of Cardassia that the commodore was being reserved.

Although he was careful to conceal it because of the conflict of interest he was sure it would imply, he had feelings for Captain Pira Karala. He didn’t want to put her at unnecessary risk. But reserving the flagship, the Prinox, for continued patrol over the Cardassian homeworld sounded reasonable. He was therefore able to justify the allocation of two other war ships for the mission to Breen Space.

As Canto had requested, the mission departed within the hour. Jark gave little more thought to the expedition until about an hour later. That’s when a disturbing report was presented to him, one that he hated relaying to the admiral. But there was no way to avoid the dreadful necessity. It was up to him to deliver the disconcerting news.

Presenting himself to the ersatz emperor, he said, “Sir, long-range scanners have detected the four ships on their way to Breen Space. Their power emanations are zero. Their cloaks have consequently collapsed. They’re still being carried forward by inertia but at sublight speed. Their warp fields collapsed with the cloaks. They will inevitably be detected by the Ferengi.”

“How could such a thing have happened?”

“We can’t confirm its existence but we suspect they passed through a damping field. If they had detected it, they’d have never made the mistake of trying to cross through it without sending a probe first, and there’s no evidence of them doing so. The field apparently was not there when the Breen came to us. That makes it an incredibly recent development.”

“And you say we can’t detect it?”

“We can detect neither it nor the instrumentality by which it’s being projected, which is very troubling. There’s nothing in the Archives to suggest either the Federation or the Ferengi would be capable of such an accomplishment. We’re forced to consider the possibility that some other agency is responsible.”

“Some other agency, you mean the kind of agency that attacks in vessels that appear to be Borg but don’t behave like Borg?” Canto angrily asked. “Could it be just a coincidence that we’re preparing to expand our empire in that very direction and we are suddenly prevented from doing so?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“If the damping field defies detection, then could there not be others around us of which we are not aware? Could it be that we’re being encased in a kill box?”

“I can send ships to deploy probes that’ll plumb the perimeter of the Cardassian Union,” he cautiously suggested. “We can thereby make that determination.”

“That’ll inevitably pull them from their normal patrols, a move our enemies might anticipate. And if it’s discovered that we are so encased, morale will certainly be the first fatality. You need to suppress the loss of the mission to Breen Space. No one involved is to relay that information to anyone else. I will have to carefully consider what should be done next. Is that understood?”

“Absolutely, Admiral. And begging your pardon, sir, but the loss of our two ships will have to be accounted for at some point in the future. This perhaps constitutes a type of deadline for your decision. If I can be of any assistance in suggesting possible explanations, I’m ready to serve.”

“It’ll be weeks before the loss of those ships must be accepted. If Pax Parakal returns to us in their interim, then the decision on what’s to be won’t be ours to make. If not, then news of this loss will help our soldiers to understand my decision if I then choose to withdraw our troops from the Cardassian Union. But they will have to be told the truth even though I’ve deferred the telling for now.”

***

“They’re firing their weapon again,” Han exclaimed, using the subspace channel to alert the defenders downrange.

“They’re not targeting the Core,” Leia hurriedly added as her discernment through the Force identified a different target. “They’re aiming at a point in Hutt Space.”

“I’m reading the incoming salvo with my subspace scanners,” Demorin replied. “It looks like they’re targeting Nar Shaddaa.”

“The Smuggler’s Moon, the satellite in orbit around the Hutts homeworld?” Han inquired in confusion.

“That’s the one,” Demorin confirmed.

“Why would they target the moon instead of the star?” Han insistently asked.

“Rotta and most of his ilk survived the targeting of the Teth star,” Leia insightfully deduced. “By targeting the moon, they strip it of its atmosphere. And everybody not enclosed in a secured structure will be propelled into space. In fact, every structure that isn’t secured to the ground will be launched as well. It maximizes the mortalities. The real question is why the monks are doing this. It’s hardly the type of pious behavior one would expect from a monastic order.”

“The Hutts have been appropriating the monks’ temples and turning them into their palaces for a long time,” Han replied. “The monks are now in a position to take revenge.”

“But monks do not take revenge. It’s part of being a monk,” Leia argued. “And such wanton murder will cause collateral losses. The Hutts have slaves, and those slaves will be slaughtered alongside their oppressors. I can’t believe the majority of the B’omarr monks agree with this kind of killing. Can the telepath have such complete control over them or could it be that forcing them to act against their convictions will begin to cause a lapse in his control?”

“And will he be satisfied enough to stop there?” Demorin uneasily asked. “According to the navicomputer, most of the occupied planets in Hutt Space are currently on the side of their sun that faces Tund. And it’s not like anybody can do anything to stop him. He could turn their entire territory into a shooting gallery.”

“I’m reading another power buildup in their weapon,” Han heavily announced. “It’s preparing to fire again. They barely had any time to adjust the aim.”

“The target is Nal Hutta,” Leia discerned.

As the weapon’s deadly emission sped by them, Han said, “If they’d fired at the planet first, Nar Shaddaa would’ve been released from its orbit. That could’ve made it a particularly troubling target. I’m reading a modification being made to the weapon. I think they’re adjusting its setting. I’m afraid they’re putting it in Death Star mode.”

“If they fire again at their last two targets, we’ll have immeasurable metric tons of extremely explosive material spread all over that sector of space,” Ackbar interjected. “If any happened to collide with the shields of a ship traveling at lightspeed, it would almost surely ignite. If the chunk was big enough, it would destroy the ship. I do hope he’s not planning to do this to the planets in multiple systems. We’d have to consider quarantining this entire section of space.”

“Hutt Space is not under the rule of the Republic,” Leia reminded him. “The existence of the Hutts’ syndicate rather depends on their independence from the Republic.”

“Then the Senate might have to consider its annexation,” Ackbar impatiently replied. “There would certainly be sufficient provocation.”

“To a dark place this line of thought will carry us,” Leia cautioned. “Any Hutts who’re able to survive the onslaught will certainly take exception to such annexation. The quarantine would cut them off from their syndicate.”

“Some would contend it’s high time that happened,” Ackbar argued.

***

“I just received coordinates for our rendezvous with the Excelsior,” Lucas announced. “The Ferengi captured some Joracki who had crossed into their space and encountered the damping field. It completely crippled their ships. There were actually two. But some crew members of one ship figured out to use one of their torpedoes as a self-destruct device, and they destroyed their own ship to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The Ferengi responded by using carefully targeted disruptor beams to compromise the weapons bay on the second ship, thereby keeping its crew from doing the same thing. But the explosive decompression wasn’t confined only to the section they struck, and some lives were lost. The Ferengi vessels then individually beamed the survivors into holding cells, disarming them during transport. The Joracki are now in Federation custody. And we’re being asked to assist in debriefing them.”

“The Metrons are apparently able to detect events that occur far from their sector of space,” Spock replied. “I doubt very much if they’re impressed by the way we failed to keep our promise. We assured them no loss of life would result from their damping field.”

“Your Federation isn’t directly responsible for any of the lives lost,” Luke argued. “It was the Joracki themselves who destroyed their ship. The ones killed by the Ferengi were by accident. It wasn’t something the Federation could prevent.”

“Do you think the Metrons might deactivate their damping field,” Tani inquired of Spock.

“It might not matter,” he enigmatically answered. When questioning eyes turned his way, he explained, “The Joracki most certainly are now aware they lost two ships. They’ve almost surely deduced the existence of the field. But its absence would be just as entirely imperceptible as its presence. Their awareness of it would ostensibly serve as a deterrent even if it were removed.”

“They might attempt to use probes to determine its dimensions,” Odo suggested. “I would.”

“That is a likely possibility,” Spock agreed. “But to reveal such an inexplicable barrier to the members of a militia whose empire has already unexpectedly stopped expanding could be very counterproductive. Logic suggests their leadership will seek another solution in the short term.”

“What solution would that be?” Odo asked.

“More than ever they now need to find Narik. We’ve no reason to believe he was destroyed. The placement of the damping field might’ve actually hastened his return. Any ship they send to probe that barrier will most certainly also be tasked with looking for their leader. This makes the effectiveness of the debriefing all the more important. The Joracki need to know their god is an imposter.”

***

Rather than place the prisoners in the brig, for which there wasn’t enough room anyway, all the Joracki soldiers were confined behind force fields in several otherwise empty cargo bays on the Excelsior. This allowed them a modicum of camaraderie. It also allowed them to conspire in devising a plan for escape. But their movements and conversations were being monitored. And the Federation didn’t plan to hold them much longer anyway. Their distinct uniforms had helped their captors identify the officers among them. They were therefore grouped together in a single cargo bay. And this was where the debriefing began. Adorned in diplomatic garb, Spock entered the bay. Behind him was a entourage of assorted individuals. A universal translator was active.

“I am Ambassador Spock. I’m a representative of the United Federation of Planets,” he said as he faced the reptilian group. “I’m here to negotiate your release.”

“You’ve already taken our ship, what was left of it. What more could you believe we have to give you?” the most highly decorated of the officers demanded.

“It was the Ferengi who took your ship, and that was compensation for violating their space with an invasion force,” Spock replied. “I don’t seek to take anything further from you, but rather to impart it.”

“You’re going to give us something?” the same officer incredulously asked. “What?”

“Information and a means to get home, although the home I refer to is actually one you took from someone else.”

“What information?” the officer suspiciously asked.

“The entity you worship as Pax Parakal is actually a cybernetic being from another galaxy.”

“Of course he is. What other lies do you hope we’ll accept in trade for a means of returning home?”

“Did the Pax Parakal of your legends require the conveyance of a spaceship?”

“No mention is made of such a craft. But it’s of no matter. It’s not as if our ancient ancestors would’ve known what it was.”

“But you have seen it, have you not?”

“Of course.”

Activating the pressure force field, Spock opened the cargo bay door to space and inquired, “Did it resemble this one?”

At his request the Quantum Quest had been purposely parked in full view of the cargo bay’s opening. The startled expressions on the faces of all the incarcerated soldiers left no doubt as to their instant recognition of the similarities between the exposed spaceship and that of their deity. Spock was quick to take advantage of the uncertainty this produced.

“Both are of Scree design. The Scree originated from a system at the end of a spiral arm in the other galaxy. The person you call Pax Parakal is actually an individual named Narik, and he is one of the Scree.”

“Admittedly there are similarities between his ship and the one outside. But your Federation has engaged him in combat. You probably saw his ship. You’ve had ample time to construct this decoy. It proves nothing.”

“Although I wasn’t present during that conflict, I believe his ship was cloaked. But that is not the only evidence I offer. That ship bore ambassadors from the other galaxy. Their mission was to keep Narik from realizing his autocratic ambitions here. And they are with me now. Perhaps a demonstration of their esoteric skills is in order if I can persuade you to cooperate. I assure you there is no danger. I am an ambassador of the Federation and as such I guarantee your safety. Will the captain and the first officer please step forward?”

The force field in front of the decorated officers visibly deactivated as an unseen technician responded to Spock’s prearranged cue. After a moment’s hesitation the Joracki with which he’d been speaking and one other officer stepped forward. The force field rose again behind them. In the space before them, their personal disruptors suddenly materialized on the floor, as the same technician teleported them to that agreed upon location. Excitement mixed with uncertainty was evident in their reptilian eyes as they considered the situation.

Stepping behind the intergalactic emissaries, Spock said, “Maybe you should see if you can kill us.”

As the two Joracki officers rushed to retrieve their weapons, the lightsabers of Tysha, Lucas and Luke all activated. They deftly deflected the hail of disruptor blasts away from their intended targets. Some of the salvoes sped right past the shooters and struck the force field behind them. As they paused in disbelief, the defenders used the Force to pull the weapon’s from their hands.

Producing the husk of the Banisher, Spock said, “Unless I miss my guess, you’ve both seen weapons like this before. This is all that’s left of the one once wielded by your would-be god.”

There was evident terror in the look exchanged between the two Joracki officers. They were in fact so unnerved they each instinctively retreated a step although they were not actually being threatened. Exercising his authority, the captain raised an appendage to silence the hubbub that had broken out among the rest of the captive Joracki. Their belief system was falling to ruin right before their eyes.

“So what happens now?” the captain carefully inquired of Spock.

“Now we send you back home so you can report all you have seen here. The Ferengi have unfortunately elected to commandeer your ship. We did however convince them to release your drop-ships to us. They have been stripped of all nonessential systems, but they will be sufficient for your journey back to Cardassian Space. You clearly encountered the new damping field, you therefore know better than to attempt any further incursions into the Ferengi Alliance. Since your drop-ships will have neither cloaks nor shields, you are advised to proceed directly to Cardassia without deviation. You will be released within the hour. Tell your leaders what you learned here.”

***

“This is unconscionable,” Han complained as the Dark Energy weapon was brought to bear on first Nar Kreeta and then other worlds along the Pabol Sleheyron hyperlane. “And there’s not a damned thing we can do about it?”

“Buy why is the telepath focusing his attack on so specific a section of Hutt Space?” Ackbar asked. “If it’s capable of striking the Core, his weapon can reach any world in Hutt Space on the exposed side of its star.”

“Those planets all parallel the course Tund will take as it passes through Hutt Space,” Han observed.

“There’s your answer,” Demorin announced. “I’d been wondering if we could possibly make use of tractor beams to push some of the larger chucks onto collision courses with Tund. If they were large enough to survive planetfall, their remains might ignite against the ray shields above the cities. Terminal velocity could cause them to detonate. But somebody would have to venture into an almost unimaginable minefield in order to send them on their way. That’s when I realized we’d have to do that anyway in order to remain between Tund and the Core. He is setting a trap for us, and he’s destroying Hutt worlds in order to do it.”

“Oh, that’s just lovely,” Han spat. “How can we hope to defuse so dangerous a situation?”

“I’ve been considering that,” Demorin replied. “I could modify the tractor beam emitter of my ship to fire scattered pulses instead of a tightly constricted, steady stream. It might be enough to nudge any obstructing particulate out of the way and create a corridor. Of course, it’ll also create a corridor for Tund. And he probably knows how we’ll respond. But the planet is a lot larger than a frigate. It might not yield the same safe passage for him that it does for us. That is of course if it works.”

“The Screech isn’t expendable. Our only means of protecting the Core is onboard,” Ackbar authoritatively interjected. “And I am not convinced your ship can open a corridor larger enough for a frigate. The frigates will therefore fly ahead in a tubular formation. I’ll instruct their captains to modify their tractor beam emitters according to your recommendation. If we’re lucky, the wake of our passage will cause particulate to collapse into the corridor after we’ve all gone through. If you can come up with a way to coax such an occurrence, I’d be happy to discuss it.”

“Most of the locals have been eliminated or perhaps they could’ve helped,” Han sorrowfully summated. “And that was probably part of the telepath’s plan as well. We need to somehow find a fatal flaw in his strategy. There has to be one. I know he wields the Dark Side of the Force and all that, but he’s not omniscient.”

“Nor is he omnipotent,” Leia added. “His control over the other monks can’t be complete. At some point they may arise in opposition to his murderous plan. We must be ready to help them.”

“Really? He controlled an entire Creation Nest and our fighter pilots,” Han reminder her.

“There’s a little known truth that could possibly come into play here and it’s why we must be careful in using the Force to control others. If the technique is used on someone unsuspectingly Force-sensitive, it can awaken the Force within them. If the telepath isn’t the only monk who has that capacity, he could inadvertently empower an opponent.”

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