“Those whose occupation is to eliminate the freedom of others will never themselves be free.”
~ Admiral Irlick Canto
Both the captain and first officer of one of the two missing Joracki ships were brought under heavy guard before Admiral Canto. The ersatz emperor of course asked why decorated officers were being treated like prisoners.
“Wait until you hear their report,” Commodore Najacor replied. “It surely sounds seditious to me.”
“Seditious?” Canto questioningly echoed. Turning to the shackled officers, he authoritatively said, “Make your report. How did you survive being captured by the Ferengi?”
“Some of my crew unfortunately did not,” Captain Arpi Ropani answered. “And our ship was confiscated by the Ferengi after it had been rendered inoperable by a mysterious damping field. But we were then turned over to the Federation. They told us troubling things, and their alarming message was reinforced by what they showed us, sir.”
“What they showed you?”
“Sire, they claimed Pax Parakal is an imposter, a cybernetic being from another galaxy. We were shown a ship that looked very much like his. It belonged to emissaries who were sent after him, tasked with preventing him from establishing an empire here. They said both ships were of Scree design, and his name was Narik, a member of that race. We of course disputed the claim. But they returned our weapons to my first officer and myself and challenged us to kill them if we could. The intergalactic representatives were armed with weapons that resembled the Banisher. They easily deflected the fire from our disruptors. They then used magic, much like Pax Parakal, to pull the weapons from our grasps. We were then shown the remains of the Banisher. I am not sure why they did not claim to have killed him. They told us his disposition is not known but both his weapon and his ship were destroyed. They said they had a recording of the event. But since recordings can be manipulated, they thought it pointless to produce such evidence. They put us in the drop-ships in which we returned, and then they let us go.”
“And what do you now believe to be the truth concerning Pax Parakal?” Canto inquired.
“Every soldier in the service of the Empire must deal with doubts. Pax Parakal is very much different from the way he’s described in scripture. He was not a god of war. And though alien life was unknown to us at the time, he was portrayed as being a god of all peoples. Nothing is being done to proselytize the races we’ve conquered. They serve only as slaves. If they accepted him as their god, as we do, we would not need to be nothing but oppressors. We could enjoy normal lives. We wouldn’t be jealous of servants whose lives are often more normal than ours.”
“But you are in the service of the Empire,” Canto reminded her. “What effect do you believe this encounter will have upon that service?”
He noted the way she carefully contemplated his question before answering, “None, sir. As I said, we all deal with our doubts. Nothing they showed me can by any means countermand the oath of service I took, nor the honor I have received by being promoted to the rank of captain. If I were to alter my affiliation I would condemn everything I’ve done up to this point. If I am indeed serving a deception, the choice has already been made. I will continue to perform as expected. I am Joracki. My faith is ultimately in my people, not necessarily in the god whom we serve.”
“And if I order you and your crew to say nothing of this encounter, will you comply?”
“We will of course obey your instruction, going forward. But there have already been people who heard our report. And our familiars will need some type of explanation for our abrupt arrival. We should still be in Breen Space.”
“Perhaps a redeployment might be in order, sir,” Najacor suggested. “We’ve just completed repairs on one of the cruisers damaged during our first battle with the Federation, but it requires a crew. We could send them to probe the extent of the damping field, maybe even determine its source. Only a limited number know of their return. We could order them to keep quiet.”
“If Pax Parakal is truly missing shouldn’t we be searching for him, sir?” Captain Ropani took the opportunity to ask.
“If he is indeed on the far side of the Celtris Shockwave, an exploration of the damping field would ultimately take them in that direction, sire,” Najacor suggested. “And since their mission is sequestered, it would perhaps be the easiest way to ascertain and control all such information.”
“Agreed,” Canto concurred. “But maybe some assurance of their secrecy is in order. I want you to accompany them and make certain they maintain a complete communications blackout.”
Captain Ropani turned to the commodore and bowed, saying, “It’d be our honor to have you aboard, sir.”
Admiral Canto had half-expected her to raise some sort of reasonable sounding objection to his order. He was therefore relieved when she responded in this way. He thought her encounter had perhaps not engendered as many doubts in herself as it had in him. The possibility that Pax Parakal would not return was beginning to sound more and more substantial. And meanwhile he was less and less certain of the true identity of the being upon whose return their empire hinged.
With his administrative duties completed for the day, Irlick then returned to his quarters. His wife, Loji, was already there. Since the command center on Cardassia was still being rebuilt, her only option was to work from home. Her ancestors had once been members of the Nickani clan, and that had been her surname before marriage. Although males and females were regarded as having the same social standing, some women still preferred to adopt the time-honored tradition of taking their husband’s surname. She had also taken the liberty of preparing the evening meal.
“There is a rumor that some crew members from one of the ships that went to Breen Space have already returned,” she said after embracing him. “Is it true?”
He sighed exasperatedly before answering, “This story isn’t going to be as easy to squelch as Jark seemed to think. Yes, it’s true. But they’re being sent out again before anybody can ask questions. We need to try to keep this quiet until they complete their current mission. Their ship lost power after encountering a damping field. They were consequently captured by the Ferengi and then turned over to the Federation, by whom they were indoctrinated.”
“They were told that Pax Parakal is a cybernetic being from another galaxy and he’s merely impersonating an ancient deity in order to ascertain our service. They were shown a vessel that looked much like his and told it brought emissaries from that other galaxy who were tasked with stopping him from establishing an empire here. The emissaries wielded light weapons that very much resembled the Banisher, and they used magic to pull the weapons from the grasps of our officers in much the same manner as we’ve seen Pax Parakal do to our enemies.”
Rather than ask a question that might seem to be blasphemous, she carefully inquired, “Did the Federation say where he is?”
“They claimed he lost both his weapon and his ship in combat. Something that looked very much like the remains of the Banisher was presented. They believe he is lost in space. Jark and the recovered crew are on their way to map the damping field and look for him.”
“What do you think of all this?” she asked, being careful to make the question as general as she could.
“Something Captain Ropani said really struck me. She spoke about the unrest that’s always existed in the ranks. Some of our soldiers are jealous of the lives lived by the conquered.”
“They are jealous of the lives of slaves?”
“They’re jealous of the relatively normal lives of those they oversee while we ourselves are slaves to enslavement. Our civilization was once an abode of artisans. The most creative of the Joracki are now relegated to designing weapons and ramparts, body armor and battleships. We are now a society of soldiers. Our culture is one only of conquest. We can no longer be proud of creative accomplishments. We take pride only in appropriating the properties of others. There is much such a militaristic mindset must sacrifice. And for many, it’s just too much. If our god can’t be found, I will be forced to consider withdrawing from Cardassian Space. And it could easily be the beginning of the dismantling of our empire. I have been given absolute power, but I’m not its equal. Perhaps no one is. With such power comes absolute responsibility. And I now realize that I do not want to be responsible for everybody else. I really only want responsibility over my own life. And I don’t think it’s possible to have both.”
Captain Arpi Ropani stood at the back of her bridge on the right side of her scanner officer. Commodore Jark Najacor stood to the seated technician’s left. In spite of every sort of sensory device they’d aimed at the damping field, it steadfastly refused to betray its paralyzing presence to their equipment. The ship could only carry a limited number of probes, and they’d very quickly exhaust their compliment if no alternative way of detecting the damping field could be found. But Arpi had other things on her mind.
Her ship was the Kalaxa, named after the sister ship of the Prinox of legend. The captain of the ship that destroyed itself in order to avoid confiscation by the Ferengi had been her longtime lover. It had all seemed so safe. Soldiers sometimes died on the surface of whatever planet they were attempting to appropriate. But the safest place to be during a battle was on the bridge of a starship. The confrontation with the Federation was the first time in centuries so many ships had been lost in a single skirmish. Between that loss and the disheartening disclosures that had then followed, her sense of certainty was very much diminished. Pax Parakal wasn’t just their god, he was their primary weapon. She saw neither expansion nor continuity for the Empire without him.
As much as she wanted to dismiss her debriefing by the Federation, there was an obviously consternating complication. If what they had presented was disinformation, why didn’t they claim to have destroyed Pax Parakal? Why did they present his pulverized weapon but then admit not knowing where he was? Since he was ostensibly lost in space, such a scam could’ve continued indefinitely. It made no sense.
And now she felt as if she had been made a pariah by her captaincy. Due to the information with which she’d been burdened, her dedication was clearly being called into question. It was in fact the reason for her current assignment. And the commodore’s presence hardly simplified her circumstances.
She had sensed some bizarre tension between her commanding officer and Admiral Canto. If indeed the commodore had something to prove, it could further compromise her situation. Any misstep on her part could become a catalyst for a court-martial, something that hadn’t happened for as many centuries as a massive loss of Joracki spacecraft.
“You’re still in command of this ship,” Commodore Najacor reminded her. “What course do you recommend?”
“The longer we wait, the farther the Celtris Shockwave will expand. We should begin on its backside before it further complicates our access to that section of space.”
“So you think we should start with the search for Pax Parakal?” he slyly surmised.
“Since the Federation didn’t identify him as destroyed, I think they anticipated his return. It’s the obvious place to look, given his last known whereabouts. Our scanners might not be able to detect the damping field, but I’m certain they’re completely capable of finding him if only he is in range.”
“What if he’s inside the shockwave?”
“Given the passage of time, he probably is. And I know the admiral has some doubts about my dedication. But I will risk this ship and its crew to go in after our missing god, if we find him. I can only hope you’re prepared to take that risk with us. Our shields might be sufficient to protect only the ship and not its crew from the radiation. The Kalaxa might return to port with no one but Pax Parakal aboard. Perhaps then we will all have redeemed ourselves.”
Captain Ropani was off-shift and getting ready for bed when the chime to her quarters softly sounded. First Officer Kral Loracki was revealed as the panel slid aside. Although his visit hadn’t been scheduled, it wasn’t entirely unanticipated. He waited for the doorway to close behind him before he started speaking.
“The commodore wants at least one command officer on the bridge at all times,” he said. “I am to join him in an hour after my meal break. We’ll then relieve each other for breaks while you are off-shift. But I thought I should use this time to discuss our possible responses depending on what we find.”
“The Federation didn’t say Pax Parakal was destroyed, just that they did not know where he was. We are therefore hoping if not expecting to find him alive. But there is another possibility. If they weren’t deceiving us and he is no more than a machine, he wouldn’t be able survive it if his course caused him to cross the damping field. He’d be rendered as dead as the ship we lost.”
“I suppose that’s a possibility. And if it turns out to be true, if our scanners find his inert from on the other side of the field or if we find him dead?”
“We might find ourselves in a conflict of interest between our empire and our people. Canto is clearly concealing our survival and the existence of the damping field from everybody. What if we find the carcass of Pax Parakal and he chooses to do the same thing about it? I’m not willing to participate in such deception. Are you?”
“Our allegiance was sworn to Pax Parakal, not to Admiral Canto. And our duty to the rest of the Joracki far outweighs our subservience to Najacor. What do you recommend?”
“Because the Cardassians are so technologically advanced, it simply hasn’t been possible for us to confiscate all their communications equipment. News of the destruction of our garrison on Cardassia has already spread throughout their Union. We could possibly use that network to bypass any attempt to censor what we find. The only conceivable obstacle would be Najacor. If he is in favor of tricking our people into continuing to serve an imposter, and a dead one at that, he would be guilty of a high crime against the Joracki. He would have to be eliminated.”
The Excelsior, Enterprise and Quantum Quest were all cloaked and keeping station right at the interface between the Delta and Bajoran Sectors. Nobody really believed the Joracki would make the mistake of sending more ships through the damping field. But Federation ships had to be on hand to receive additional prisoners if in fact the Ferengi apprehended more interlopers.
The personnel from the Quest had at least temporarily transferred to the Excelsior, which is where Doctor Marcus was routing warp power from its engines to the ship’s primary replicator. It would take nothing less to finish the fabrication of the Genesis Device.
The Quest’s previous compliment had assembled in 10 Forward. While they were returning from Organia, the four intergalactic ambassadors had begun the process of updating each other on events the respective pairs had missed. Spock had actually wanted to help with the Genesis Device, but he saw a unique chance to learn more about the Jedi as their discussion continued.
“Tani and I had just come onboard when mention was made of the Nexus,” Tysha said. “I’m one of the few who’ve seen the buried Nexus Device on Utapau. Yoda was watching over it and making certain it remained unused. Having now seen what it did to this galaxy, I’m appalled that anyone could deliberately devise such a thing. And you think the rogue universe you mentioned, which is now inside a super-massive black hole, was formed in response to the imbalance in the Force it caused?”
“Yes,” Lucas replied.
“We are hoping it will transition to its own level of subspace if we’re able to use the Genesis Device to rebalance the Force here,” Luke added.
“There’s something I’ve wondered about,” Spock mused, seeing the chance to participate in their conversation. “This galaxy’s timeline was changed by the alternate version of my precursor going back in time. But could that event have possibly caused ramifications in other galaxies?”
“Being Force Wielders we’re all very familiar with quantum entanglement,” Tysha replied. “It is essential to our skill set. But you just told me what the Douwd said, which explains the device I saw. Their war with the Organians spilled over into our galaxy long ago. And that monster of a machine is a remnant of that war. So maybe it makes sense that our timeline was also changed by your predecessor’s time travel.”
“But just how profound a difference could it have made?” Tani inquired. “What could it have caused or prevented?”
“Imagine if Darth Chrysalis had somehow stayed in stasis,” Lucas suggested. “The original Luke Skywalker would not have destroyed star systems in his attempt to eliminate the Sith Lord and essentially committed suicide in order to finally succeed.”
“We are pretty sure Lamis Cormosa was prospecting inside the devastated Kamino system when he discovered the secret cloning facility in the ripped open moon,” Luke added. “That also wouldn’t have happened. And Darth Umbrage was his clone.”
“Wasn’t it Umbrage who presented the Scree with a shard of the One Crystal, an event that precipitated the transformation of Narik?” Tysha asked.
“Yes,” Lucas answered. “It all started with the awakening of Darth Chrysalis. I guess that is how profound a difference the changing of one event could’ve made, whether your predecessor is responsible or not, Spock.”
“And I believe the empire would have reared its hideous head in some other form anyway,” Luke consolingly said.
With its atmosphere frozen to its surface, the skies above Tund started to clear shortly after the destruction of Rotta’s armada. The void of space now extended almost all the way to ground level. The sheens of the municipal ray shields were therefore much more visible than they would have been in the presence of oxygenated atmosphere. But those assurances of security had not completely quelled the fear the earlier firestorms had induced.
For generations most of the B’omarr monks had existed in total sensory deprivation, relying on their robotic bodies to provide whatever their continued existence required. Only those who’d endured such sensory deficit for decades were eligible for transferring into droids that were able to supply a modicum of sensory input. This was because such droids were used to construct the temples in which the monks preferred to reside, and their mechanical hosts required guidance in order to do so. The Droideka bodies of those on Tund hadn’t been crafted to comply with such a protocol. Blind men do not wage war.
In order to house a brain-filled bio-chamber and the apparatus that sustained the life within it, each Droideka was bereft of any decision making circuitry. The substantial sensory input was routed instead to the monastic occupant. This was very much the opposite of what a monk’s life was supposed to be. And it created complications even for the telepath who controlled them.
The incendiary salvoes erupting above them had therefore been very visible to the mortified monks. And since fear is a path to the Dark Side, Moxi-Lon Kashani had just barely been able to keep his control over his mesmerized subjects. Their panic had practically ripped them free from his telepathic control.
His formative years had been spent on Metellos, overwhelmed by the ecumenopolis and all of its technology. There’d seemed to be no place where he could be alone with his thoughts. His parents suspected his sensitivities extended into the esoteric, so they’d taken him to Coruscant to be tested. The Jedi Council had just reformed. Although they confirmed his Force-sensitivity, there were other considerations. There weren’t nearly enough Masters to tutor every acceptable candidate. Disposition was therefore the deciding factor. And he had some personality traits that made him less desirable as a student. He was ultimately turned away.
Being human hadn’t prevented him from becoming a B’omarr monk. Force-sensitivity wasn’t relevant to his application and it was consequently never disclosed. He’d existed in total sensory deprivation for over a decade when his brain was transplanted into a droid body with elementary sensing ability and assigned to the team that returned to Tatooine to reclaim the growth crystals.
Upon entering the violated vault in Jabba’s sewer of a cellar, he’d been assailed by a sense that had nothing to do with the input of the droid’s sensory electronics. It had been his first direct encounter with the Dark Side of the Force. And it’s where he got the idea to suggest to his peers that they explore Tund as a possible place of refuge. At the time he thought it was merely a way to reconcile a situation that had plagued the B’omarr monks for millennia.
Their temples were prone to appropriation by the Hutts. This might’ve seemed innocuous to disembodied occupants. And the Hutts often allowed the monks to remain. This was particularly true of Jabba. But there was still an overarching concern. The mercenaries and bounty hunters, who populated the temples after their appropriation, often had extremely sadistic mindsets. And since the B’omarr monks communicated telepathically, they would sometimes sense the pitiless sentiments of the other occupants. It was hardly an atmosphere that promoted mental health in members of a monastic order.
The other members of the reclamation team had all been uneasy about coming into contact with the compromised crystals and the infesting flora that had formed on their surface. Moxi-Lon therefore didn’t have any competition when it came to carrying the questionable cache. Even he however didn’t understand prolonged exposure to the Dark Side’s field of influence would result in a cumulative transformation. By the time they got to Tund he’d been so sensitized to the Dark Side that the crystals led him directly to the Dark Energy weapon.
His newly-developed Dark Discernment had showed him how the infected crystals could be used to activate the appalling weapon. A field had formed around it in response to its activation, interacting with his telepath response unit, and his terrible telepathic powers were born. The rest of the monks swiftly fell to his influence. And there beneath the night sky on Tund, near the very edge of Wild Space, the Dark Side showed him the approach of an intergalactic calamity. A plan suggested itself to him. He had undertaken the trip to Colla 4 shortly thereafter. When telepathy allowed one of his subjects to discern the Bothans’ discovery of a backdoor to Ansion, which the Falcon had already found, he had everything he needed to begin the enacting of his scheme.
The fear induced by the firestorm had however come very close to breaking his control over his associates. This highlighted an anticipated difficulty, one that would surely ensue if the battle moved inside the atmosphere. It was an easy thing to control an individual or a group connected as a hive mind, like the Colicoids. And it was a mass hallucination that’d made it possible for him to persuade the fighter pilots to turn on each other. But to use the Droidekas for dogfights would require independent control and the processing of too much information. The monks didn’t have any experience as warriors and certainly no expertise in aerial combat. As if that wasn’t enough of a concern they would also have to be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to engage in any kind of uncontrolled skirmish. Only through direct telepathic control could he expect to persuade any of them to face possible death. He couldn’t control hundreds at a time to such an extent.
He had done his telepathic best to instill his impetus in the other monks, hoping to minimize the amount of control he had to employ. But they knew the disaster, which he’d foreseen, was at least many millions of years away. They didn’t believe it was worthy of his murderous response. Billions had already been obliterated by his campaign against the Hutts. Reversing the gravity of the Core would result in an incalculable number of catastrophic collisions and eventually end all interstellar trade.
When it came to controlling the other monks en masse he had absolute power. But even he wasn’t capable of controlling the individual reactions of each in response to external stimuli. The Force had certain limits, even the Dark Side. And their dedication to his campaign depended on that control. It was therefore essential that he use the weapon to keep the Republic frigates from entering the atmosphere. The other members of his order would assuredly flee from before any such a firefight. He could really only hope to control a handful of them in actual combat. It wasn’t a reassuring proposition.
He consoled himself with the knowledge that every passing second brought Tund that much closer to the Core. Eventually an opening to his primary target would present itself. It was only a matter of time. He had to dismiss knowing there were Force Wielders situated between him and his objective, and they were dedicated to the prevention of his plan’s success. But eventually his pilfered planet would clear Hutt Space and he wouldn’t require the vanguard of vessels to tunnel through the debris field. He would be able to target the explosive rubble that was closest to their ships and ignite it at will. It would be like shooting Jawas in a barrel. The image amused him and he would’ve laughed out loud, but he couldn’t. He was after all nothing more than a disembodied brain in the body of a Droideka.
“The Celtris Shockwave isn’t dissipating the way we’d hoped,” Commodore Najacor noticed as he observed the scanner readout. “On one hand it should be simple to circumvent it and look at the regions beyond it. But it’ll still be a powerful subspace disturbance when it finally reaches Cardassia. We’ll have no choice but to evacuate the planet. All our efforts to secure it are about to be proven vain. Admiral Canto needs to know. But I was primarily assigned here to guarantee that a communications blackout is maintained. Suggestions?”
“Unless I miss my guess,” First Officer Kral ventured, “it’s only the crew that’s censored, not you. You could contact Admiral Canto directly without violating his order, sir.”
“Communications Officer, I’ll need a tightly beamed transmission aimed at Cardassia,” Jark instructed. “Set up the connection and route it to my quarters. What is our current position?”
“We’re passing by Lamenda Prime to port and on route toward the Pullock system, sir,” the helmsman answered. “The bulk of the Cardassian Union is still ahead of us.”
“So we’ll soon be on the backside of the shockwave?”
“Direct our long-range sensors to starboard, maximum scan. If Pax Parakal is out there, it’s up to us to find him. I’ll be in my quarters for a few minutes.”
After Commodore Najacor left the bridge, several of its officers looked to Kral questioningly. But it was the communications officer who asked, “Why didn’t he want us to hear his report, and why did he need to ask our position when he was looking right at the scanner relay?”
“He doesn’t trust us,” Kral correctly surmised. “And he knows a skilled command crew could make their instruments display anything they want. If any of you pick up any signals you suspect as originating from Pax Parakal, make your report directly to me or to the captain. We may have to soon make a very difficult decision. If we find our self-proclaimed god, we might have to figure out a way to make him to prove his identity before we bring him aboard. Najacor probably won’t be in favor of any delay. We might have to act unilaterally. It might be tantamount to mutiny. But we need to be certain we’re not serving an imposter. Let’s just hope we find nothing out here.”
Within the security of his quarters, Jark contacted Canto, saying, “The Celtris Shockwave is still on course for Cardassia and not losing strength as we had hoped. I’m afraid evacuation will become inevitable. We’re currently scanning for any evidence of Pax Parakal. But I’m not sure if the crew wants to save him or shoot him. Without his Banisher, he might be vulnerable to attack by a battle cruiser. If the crew has been as compromised as I fear, I might have no option but to destroy the ship in order to keep them from committing the ultimate act of blasphemy. So, if you monitor the destruction of Kalaxa, know that we did indeed find Pax Parakal. A second ship will then have to be dispatched to retrieve him.”
Chancellor Varnic led Viceroy Rumpf into the banquet hall in the chancellery on Brimula. He gestured toward the elongated table where a scrumptious assortment of delicacies had been set out. The viceroy had believed he was responding to nothing more than an invitation from Varnic to demonstrate the continued good will of the Scree toward their trading partner. Hence, he was brought up short by the discovery of other attendees who were obviously awaiting his arrival.
“What the hell is this?” he angrily demanded.
He immediately recognized the two Jedi Masters, Gwonameeth and Avalynn. The girl at the female Jedi Master’s side was unfamiliar to him, although he accurately supposed Trimelle to be the padawan of Avalynn. But the presence of the telepath alarmed him. Believing he was dining among friends, he hadn’t taken any of the anti-telepathy compound. But he’d seen no sign of the vessel in which the Jedi had arrived. It therefore had to have been hidden. Varnic was therefore an active participant in arranging this setup.
Responding to the image Gwonameeth placed in her mind, Avalynn said, “So you’re indeed the main architect of the plot to destroy the Jedi Temple.”
“You have no proof,” the viceroy acerbically insisted.
“If we report this impression to the Senate, there will be an investigation,” Avalynn serenely responded. “Do you actually believe Senairus won’t throw you under the bantha to save his own skin?”
Demonstrating the shrewdness that had helped him to ascend to his position, he inquired in reply, “Why did you say, ‘If we report?’ You must want something from me. What is it?”
“Although you clearly neglected to use it before joining us, we know you’re in possession of an anti-telepathy compound,” she smilingly replied. “It was sold to you by a B’omarr monk. He is engaged in a plot to reverse the gravity of the Core. He’s already destroyed star systems. We’re in desperate need of that compound if we’re to stop him.”
“Please forgive me, my master,” Trimelle carefully interjected, risking the interruption. “Why would a telepath sell an anti-telepathy compound? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive?”
“Listen and learn, my young apprentice,” Avalynn patiently replied. Looking again to Rumpf, she asked, “What did you give in trade?”
“Kyber crystals from Ansion.”
Turning back to Trimelle, she said, “The telepathic B’omarr monk could easily interface with the collective consciousness of the Colicoids and control an entire Creation Nest. But to procure the crystals was more complicated. He’d have to commandeer a crew, go to Ansion, and control their efforts to secure the crystals. The alternative was to buy them. He immediately sensed the plan to destroy our Temple the moment he met Rumpf. Knowing we were the main impediment to his plan, he saw helping Rumpf as a way to either destroy or at least distract us. And it saved him from any further direct involvement. He never expected us to be able to use the compound directly against him.”
“And how much of the compound do you require,” Rumpf suspiciously asked.
“More than you can probably supply,” Avalynn answered. “We need enough to land a strike team on Tund, and they could be up against as many as a thousand Droidekas.”
“Then you’re talking hundreds of doses. We have the mycelium and growth medium, but it’ll take some time to produce that quantity. Will I acquire clemency for my assistance in this regard or is this only a partial repayment? You say your strike team is going up against Droidekas. You had better have a plan for that.”
“If you can also assist us in that regard, we will dismiss our grievance against you. I’ve been given that assurance from the Grand Master herself. And can confirm that with her by using this facility’s holo-transceiver if you wish. Master Gwonameeth will put the image of what we need in your mind. Perhaps you know where some are in storage. Maybe they will have to be produced. But in any case they will have to be transported to the backside of Hutt Space. And your people are better prepared for such an undertaking than anyone else.”
In response to his receipt of the mental image, Rumpf replied, “I have not seen any of these since the days of the Empire. But as resistant to blaster fire as they were renowned to be, I have to agree with the wisdom in using them against the Droidekas. I’m not sure where I can find any. They might require construction. And that will require material.”
“At Ackbar’s request the Jawas have been gathering the wreckage from all around the Jedi Temple. They don’t have a buyer yet. I’m certain the Colicoids would be able to refashion it into the required forms if you were to procure it for them. That expense would be yours to bear, and their labor would have to be the contribution of the Colicoids. But we’re talking about saving the galaxy here. The lives you save might be your own.”
“And I have to assume you needed all this yesterday.”
“Tund is already on a course toward the Core. We’re hoping to deflect the gravity-reversing fire of the Dark Energy weapon. But there’s no assurance it will work. We need to be much more proactive in stopping this mad monk’s plot, and there’s no way to know how much time we have. So, you’re correct. And once Tund is engulfed in the dark debris from the worlds that have been obliterated already, the approach by the strike team will become that much more complicated. It is essential that we have the necessary equipment on site as expeditiously as possible. Can we count on you in this regard.”
“Doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice.”
Avalynn smiled sardonically as she replied, “That’s the idea.”
“I was just contacted by the Colicoids,” Ackbar announced over subspace radio to the ships in his command. “They were confirming what we need them to supply. I decided to upgrade the order. Instead of standard AT-AT’s I requested AT-CMHC’s. Lacking an atmosphere, it is colder on Tund than it was even on Hoth. But I am grateful to both Han and Leia for coming up with the suggestion. The only places where Tund is as warm as that snow-globe of a world is beneath or beside one of its many shields.”
“I’d have to agree the Cold-weather Mobile Heavy Cannon model is the way to go. Let’s just hope it works out as well for us as it did for the Empire,” Han replied. “But our Walkers won’t be facing entrenched soldiers and a handful of fighters. And they have to get into position first.”
“Deploying the Walkers to the surface will be tricky,” Ackbar agreed. “The weapon will have to be out of line-of-site of the landing craft. But we also want them as close to their target as we can get them. I have been studying a topographical map made from the probes’ scans. There is a ridge that should conceal the Walkers from the weapon, and it opens into a valley that lines up almost precisely with the shield generator that protects the weapon. If the Sorcerers had put the generator underground, this would be a lot more complicated.”
“Once the generator is destroyed and the shield has fallen, the Dark Energy weapon will be susceptible to bombardment from space,” Han concluded.
“The Walkers will also have to endure being constantly attacked by an army of Droidekas,” Demorin reminded them.
“The Colicoids are crafting the armor from the same material the Jawas reclaimed from the orbital platforms,” Ackbar answered. “The Walkers should be impervious to blaster fire.”
“So we have a plan for getting the Walkers to the surface and to a position from which they can fire on the generator for the shield that protects the weapon,” Han summarized. “But how do we extract the members of the team manning the Walkers?”
“That’s the real problem,” Ackbar bitterly admitted. “The weapon must be neutralized before we can really hope to organize any extraction. The Walkers won’t be able to simply amble out of there while being swarmed by Droidekas. The extraction ships would be vulnerable in a way the Walkers aren’t. The campaign must succeed if we’re to rescue the teams manning the Walkers.”
“And then there’s the other possible complication,” Demorin added. “The telepath might fire the Dark Energy weapon at the Core after the Walkers are on the surface. If Dari is actually able to deflect the bolt back at Tund, the Walkers will probably be repelled into space. That will make rescue almost impossible if the Droidekas surround them. We’d then have to use turbo lasers to try to pick off the Droidekas without possibly compromising the compartmentalized atmospheres inside the Walkers. The kind of salvoes that could penetrate the shields of Droidekas could also potentially pierce the armor of a Walker.”
“Which leaves one very critical question,” Han unenthusiastically observed. “Given that this is quite conceivably a suicide mission, where do we get the daredevils to pull it off. I’m not going to lead the ground game this time no matter how nicely you ask.”
“There’s been a development on that front,” Ackbar informatively answered. “In response to the assassination of Rotta, the Hutts have placed a bounty on the telepathic monk. And it’s very substantial. The only possible way to cash in on that bounty is to go in with the Walkers. Seems strange to think that a bunch of bounty hunters, smugglers and rogues might end up saving the galaxy.”
“Why does that sound familiar?” Han rhetorically asked.
After leaving his quarters on the Kalaxa, Commodore Najacor stealthily made his way to the transporter room. Due to a combination of circumstances the new transporter chief had been his to assign. Not all of Captain Ropani’s crew had survived the disabling of their former ship by the Ferengi. The previous transporter chief had been one of the casualties. And because the Kalaxa was equipped with a biological transporter, courtesy of Cardassian technology, the replacement had to be trained to use it. This gave the commodore an advantage he hadn’t expected to need. The new transporter chief hadn’t been debriefed by the Federation
After entering the compartment and making sure they were in fact alone, he commandingly addressed the chief, saying, “From this moment on you are directly under my authority. You are to use this system’s targeting scanners to search for any trace of Pax Parakal. The moment you detect something you believe to possibly be him, I want you to beam it immediately aboard. You are not to wait for an order from the captain or any other commanding officer. You will ignore if it anyone but me issues a countermanding order. And you will notify me immediately if any such a transport takes place. Is that understood?”
After leaving the transporter compartment Commodore Jark Najacor made his leisurely way back to the bridge. First Officer Kral Loracki had no idea what the commodore had been up to. It was the officer’s prerogative to take a break. In truth Kral wasn’t particularly comfortable with the commodore on the bridge and would have preferred him to be gone much longer. He felt like he was under the commodore’s microscope. His best response was to demonstrate that the bridge was his.
“Helmsman, what is our current position?” he authoritatively asked.
“The Korak system is almost immediately to port at just under a parsec,” the officer replied, “although it’s really in the Bajoran Sector. We’ve reached the backside of the shockwave, sir.”
“Sir, I’m reading a power source on long-range scanners,” the tactical officer announced.
“Adjust our course to intercept,” Kral ordered before the commodore could respond. “I need a positive identification of the object just as soon as one is available.”
“How soon will it be in transporter range?” Najacor asked.
“Approximately three minutes, sir,” the tactical officer responded.
Najacor noted that the first officer didn’t order the transporter chief to prepare for performing a teleportation. But he couldn’t be sure if it was simply an oversight or a deliberate dereliction of duty. He was nonetheless reassured that he had already put orders in place. The chief wouldn’t need any further forewarning. But what Kral elected to do instead was something Commissioner Najacor believed to be telling. He interrupted the captain’s sleep cycle and summoned her to the bridge.
Najacor breathed a sigh of relief as he understood that the object would already be in range of their transporter before Captain Ropani could possibly assume her post. The communications officer abruptly reported receipt of a signal from the mysterious target. It did indeed identify itself as Pax Parakal. Its configuration was confirmed as a positive match with that of the missing god just as Captain Ropani reached the bridge. But before she could so much as issue an order, the viewing screen showed the target dematerialize right in front of the eyes of the command crew.
“Where’d he go?” Ropani inquired in confusion.
“According to scanner records we beamed him aboard,” the science officer answered.
“Without orders?” she incredulously asked.
“The orders were mine,” Najacor confessed. “I didn’t want there to be any delay in bringing him aboard. We’ve been too long without his guidance and protection as it is.”
“I guess we should go down to greet our god and transfer command,” Arpi rejoined. “It’s his ship now.”
As they stepped into the turbolift together, Arpi seriously considered shooting Najacor in the back with her disruptor. Any advantage in dealing with Pax Parakal had been lost. It was known that he had the capacity to self-transport. So even if she beamed him back off the ship, he might be able to instantaneously return. As far as she knew he wasn’t truly telepathic. But her position was seriously compromised nevertheless. She’d have to exercise extreme caution. Any misstep could cost her far more than simply her captaincy. She could just as easily lose her life.
As she and Jark were approaching the transporter room, Narik contacted them and advised them not to enter. He asked the commodore for a situation report. Jark told him of the mission to Breen Space and its outcome, including the discovery of the damping field and the debriefing of the survivors of Arpi’s previous command by the Federation. Narik then ordered Arpi to relate to him everything the Federation had told her. She reluctantly complied. She could not withhold any of the account since Jark was standing right beside her and had already heard everything.
“We should finish this face-to-face, Captain Ropani,” Narik ultimately announced. “Enter the transporter room alone. You can bring your weapon if you want. You’re unable to injure me. But it might make you feel more secure.”
As she entered the transporter room, Arpi was instantly alarmed to see the transporter chief sprawled on the floor in front of the control console. He was very evidently dead. Turning to face the room’s only other ambulatory occupant, she realized she suddenly felt ill herself. She had to force herself to focus as Narik engaged her in conversation, leaving the intercom open.
“Tell me again what the Federation told you?”
She rehearsed the entire exchange with Spock, straining to recall every detail. Her ability to even stand was quickly dissipating. She’d sagged to the floor before she finished the discourse.
After the failed assassination attempt on Cardassia, Narik had found it necessary to retreat into the citadel and isolate himself so as not to expose any of his subordinates to his radioactive presence. They believed he’d done it to protect them from further attempts since being a god he would be able to survive what they couldn’t. Now he saw a way to offer another explanation and one that would further aggrandize his divine image.
“So they didn’t tell you I’d engaged another god in combat. They didn’t tell you he died while I didn’t and this is how I lost my weapon and my ship. Before that battle I was able to restrain my power sufficiently for mortals to stand in my presence. That is no longer true. If I am no god then why are you dying simply from standing before me?”
Arpi couldn’t answer. Her arms were no longer able to support her weight. She sprawled on the floor right beside the transporter chief. Using the intercom Narik addressed the commodore.
“I’m going to beam to Captain Ropani’s quarters. She won’t be needing them anymore. Any communications with me must be done by intercom. Patch me through to Admiral Canto.”
“At once, your majesty,” Najacor responded.
After Irlick had expressed his relief at the Emperor’s rescue, Narik said, “I’m aware that the Celtris Shockwave is on course for Cardassia Prime and is not sufficiently dissipating. I’m afraid an evacuation is inevitable. And the loss of the homeworld could compromise our ability to keep the rest of the Cardassian Union under our control. But it creates an opportunity to reassign our ships. We will use our probes to determine the edge of the damping field. We’ll then fly to Breen Space by way of the Federation, avoiding the field entirely. Have all our ships in the Cardassian Union leave their patrols and rendezvous with us in the Salva system. If my talks with the Breen are successful, they’ll attack the Ferengi Alliance at a specific time. When the Federation comes rocking to the rescue, we’ll follow them in. They’ll be trapped between the Breen and our forces. I do not fully understand the devices that have been used to put us on the defensive, but I know the best defense is a good offense. Our best chance of keeping our control over the Cardassian Union is the same as that of expanding our empire. And that’s to eliminate the Federation. They appear to have some powerful friends. That advantage becomes meaningless if there’s nobody left to save.”