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A Prelude to War

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Crayz9001, Apr 20, 2002.

  1. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    [ST/SW] A Prelude to War

    This is a fanfic that I've been working on for nearly two years now, on ASVS and another web forum. I've run through seven drafts of it, of which this is the last; there are currently eight chapters completed. Want me to post the rest?

    Title Image

    Code:
     Prologue
      ========
    
    
    	ALL THAT one isolated and insignificant star system might have 
    had to present to any visitor bored enough to come and see was light. 
    Yet even this seemed to be in short supply; emanating from an old star 
    that was reddish due to the fact that most of its fusionable hydrogen 
    was long since spent, some of this light actually did not go anywhere.
    	Well, actually, to state that the light went nowhere is not quite 
    correct. It did go somewhere, but the only problem was that it never 
    came back. This fate of annihilation was shared by a disk of gases that 
    slowly spun, oblivious to fate, around the anomaly. For millions of 
    years, since the red giant's partner had decided to expand then rapidly 
    contract in on itself, this toroidal ring of gases had existed. It 
    streamed in, contracting into a tiny spiral that eventually led to the 
    heart of the anomaly, a place where the very fabric of space-time was 
    folded in on itself, where eternity existed and common sense went out 
    the metaphorical window.
    	Colloquially, it was called a black hole. But that was an 
    improper definition; any such bending of gravity whether artificial or 
    natural that is sufficient to prevent the escape of light could be 
    called a black hole. Technically speaking, it was called a singularity, 
    although even that name didn't quite seem appropriate when you were 
    staring right at it.
    	But the one person casually observing the slow cannibalization of 
    the red giant did not really care for technicalities at the time. As a 
    matter of fact, he didn't really care about anything at the moment. 
    Were one to enter his mind, they would have found him thinking about 
    paint schemes, of all things; how different colors could be used to 
    influence human emotions. There were also a few stray thoughts about 
    procreation thrown in for good measure, if one dared to probe that 
    deep.
    	Oddly enough, this one observer was not inside of a spacecraft, 
    or even a space suit for that matter. He was simply there, and that was 
    virtually all that could be said of him.
    	For what could have been a few seconds or a few thousand years, 
    the observer contemplated the situation of the stars (after he had 
    decided that a green and tan paint scheme would be nice). He idly 
    wondered about grabbing a paint can and changing the color of the red 
    giant, but discarded it as useless. After all, what was the use of 
    painting a star if nobody saw it?
    	He shifted his attention several more times, noticing the light 
    from several nearby stars and wondering why it was shifted a few 
    fractions of a degree toward red. A comet caught his attention several 
    unmeasured periods of time later; he grabbed a paint can out of nowhere 
    and decided to test his new color scheme on it. At least he could paint 
    on it and not worry about the applicator getting vaporized.
    	Halfway to the comet, however, something artificial arrived in 
    the system. Well, to be precise it was several somethings, but to the 
    man it did not matter. They were artificial, and that was all that 
    mattered.
    	"Hello," he muttered, more to himself than to anyone - or 
    anything - that might be listening. When the ships did not answer back, 
    he decided to walk over to perhaps have a chat over a hot beverage with 
    their captains.
    	It seemed after some time that he was not the only one interested 
    in the ships, as a dozen battered-looking ships emerged from 
    hyperspace, some not even half the scale of the fifteen already in the 
    system. However, it soon became apparent that they were not as 
    interested in having a hot beverage as they were in throwing hot plasma 
    at the other warships. Before long, space was filled with the brilliant 
    red and green streaks of turbolaser fire. The observer sighed; leave it 
    to some new arrivals to spoil the party.
    	A roughly corvette-sized attacker fell under the withering 
    bombardment it was receiving from the fleet, its shields buckling and 
    plumes of vaporized armor erupting from its hull. In return, one of the 
    defenders fell, albeit in a slightly less spectacular fashion as the 
    crippled corvette rammed it. Sometimes, he idly noted, the old-
    fashioned techniques worked just as well. What a pity. He actually 
    liked the design of the Corellian Corvette.
    	As he watched, far smaller dots began to appear, weaving 
    intricate paths between the capital ships as death rained about them. 
    Sometimes one would blossom out into a fiery flower, scattering their 
    component atoms throughout space like pollen. But this pollen would 
    never spawn seeds, unlike a true flower. It would not serve to produce 
    new Z-95 Headhunters, nor Republic Interceptors. The only thing it 
    might have eventually produced, due to the concentrations of metal in 
    the debris, was perhaps a new star, and even that seemed unlikely.
    	For an indeterminable period of time, the small battle raged in 
    front of the forgotten observer. Corvette-sized attackers paired up, 
    driving adventurous frigates back to the relative safety of their own 
    fleet. The lone cruiser's heavy batteries spat green death toward the 
    attackers, sometimes taking them down in a single shot and sometimes 
    only grazing their armor. A defending frigate succumbed to the 
    punishment it was being dealt, annihilating several friendly 
    snubfighters in the explosion that ensued. Other starfighters, some 
    showing signs of battle damage like missing foils or cannons, formed up 
    in what seemed like futile attack runs on the larger warships.
    	Missiles and torpedoes flew through the void, sometimes shot down 
    by close-in weapons systems and sometimes finding their targets. A 
    constant barrage from the remaining corvettes that was aimed at the 
    cruiser eventually succeeded in nullifying its shields, allowing them 
    to inflict damage on the bare hull. But that they did not do; instead, 
    they began firing with ion cannons, striking all the weapons 
    emplacements they could find. Once most of the deadly batteries were 
    neutralized, one or perhaps two of the smaller attackers that had 
    survived the firefight landed in the hangar of the cruiser. 
    	The observer knew what they were doing, of course; that hardly 
    had to be pointed out to him. With the battle obviously over, and the 
    remains of the defending fleet scattered across space, the attackers - 
    which were down from twelve to five now - grouped around the lone 
    cruiser, even going so far as to latch onto its hull so as to prevent 
    it from firing on them. 
    	Then blackness.
    	As the observer came to, he briefly wondered what had happened to 
    him, but his attention was again drawn to the cruiser and the escorting 
    ships. They were all moving toward the comet that he had been about to 
    paint earlier.
    	"Hey," he shouted toward them, not caring if they didn't hear, 
    "that's my comet! You can't take it!"
    	They continued to move towards it, apparently not caring for the 
    threats of a single person. The observer sighed once more, grabbed his 
    paint can, and started running for the comet for all he was worth.
    	Amazingly, he reached it before they did. Setting the can down 
    and drawing out a brush, he dipped it into the paint and tried to draw 
    his initials on the comet. When they did not appear, he blinked, re-
    dipped the brush to be sure, and tried again. Still nothing. He looked 
    at the label on the can, and then gave it a hearty kick that sent it 
    flying toward the oncoming warships. Invisible paint was not really 
    what he had wanted.
    	The man was relieved to see that the warships did not open fire 
    on the comet, but what they did startled him, to say the least. Every 
    one of the ships locked tractor beams on the comet, and they began to 
    drag it out of orbit, slowly but surely. The man glanced up and 
    scratched his head; what anyone would want with a comet, besides water, 
    was beyond him.
    	He didn't bother to think of its hyperspace shadow until he'd 
    blacked out again.
    	This time, when he came to his senses, he found himself lying 
    flat on his back, with something very cold and very hard beneath him. 
    For a split second, he thought that somehow the warships had captured 
    him and placed him into a detention block, but the klaxons he heard in 
    the next moment threw that thought out with the trash. He finally 
    opened his eyes, and was greeted by red strobes. Blinking to clear his 
    eyes, he looked again. Neither the strobes nor the klaxons had stopped, 
    and he could now make out blurry forms running about the deck. One 
    stooped over him and mumbled something that he could not hear. Without 
    realizing it, he groaned something in reply and shakily came to his 
    feet.
    	By this point he could recognize that the person who had talked 
    to him was wearing some type of uniform similar to that of an Imperial 
    navy officer. Inexplicably, he could hear himself talking, although it 
    was in a strange voice and simply did not make any sense. He wasn't 
    trying to talk, either, which made it all the more surreal.
    	Again, his field of vision shifted involuntarily, and he briefly 
    felt like vomiting. Now he saw exactly where he was, on a bridge of 
    some warship. A crew pit, lit only by the terminals in it and red 
    emergency lights, was to his left; some panicked officers were standing 
    to his right, barking orders in the middle of the situation. In the 
    crew pit, one of the terminals was smoking dangerously while a crewman 
    sprayed fire-retardant foam over it, and several other crewmen were 
    lying on the floor. 
    	He paid them only passing interest, although he didn't have much 
    choice in the matter. Someone shouted something incomprehensible, as if 
    from an extreme distance. He wasn't sure what had been said, but as the 
    voice shouted out again his vision once again shifted. Now he could see 
    that he was running somewhere, and all of a sudden there was a 
    sickening lurch as if gravity had gone on a holiday.
    	The feeling didn't last forever, he noted thankfully as he landed 
    hard on the deck of the crew pit and began running, again without 
    wanting to. Someone else shouted in a barely intelligible voice--he 
    heard something about [I]comet[/I] and [I]mass shadow[/I]--but his hands were 
    already flying over the terminal's keyboard. Belatedly, he realized 
    that it was a navicomputer he was apparently working at, and suddenly 
    it clicked; that was why the warships had moved the comet, to interdict 
    a passing ship.
    	More klaxons began blaring as his hands activated the course 
    changes in the navicomputer, and two voices shouted at once. The first 
    said something about a rectenna hole, and the second, something about a 
    black destroyed. Before he could contemplate the meaning of either 
    seemingly nonsensical phrase, he felt the ship lurch - but it was as if 
    he were disoriented when it happened, like being only half awake. He 
    went flying into the wall of the pit, and the last thing he could hear 
    was someone shouting "No!" before that calm, inky blackness greeted 
    him. He was almost glad for it, as a matter of fact.
    	An indeterminate amount of time later, his lungs decided that 
    something was amiss, and the result was a cough. It was the sort of 
    cough that threatened to tear out one's larynx, but strangely enough he 
    could not feel any sensations of pain. Quite odd, he finally decided.
    	"Aw, kriff," he heard a hoarse voice swear - his own? - as his 
    field of vision shifted around rapidly. Things seemed quite blurred, 
    and in a surreally detached fashion he wondered if his eyes were not 
    focusing for some odd reason.
    	His next sensation was not exactly pleasant, all coughing aside. 
    Put simply, he realized that he was falling, and tried to scream. The 
    endeavor was unsuccessful, as if it would have mattered anyway. He 
    slammed into a hard surface, still oddly detached from any sensations 
    of pain, and watched as something dark completely enveloped himself.
    	And then he blinked.
    	Silently sighing, he realized that he was not unconscious again, 
    but only covered with a blanket. Now, the only problem proved to be how 
    to extricate himself from the oddity; he seemed to have no control over 
    his limbs.
    	But the problem was soon solved, as his body brushed the thermal 
    sheets aside, and promptly coughed in another deep rasp.
    	Now, from his perspective on the deck, it all came to him. He was 
    not able to see earlier because of the smoke, which was also what was 
    causing him to cough. It was to be expected.
    	He, or perhaps his body, began crawling toward a brown robe that 
    lay on the floor, and quickly put it on. With the attention of a person 
    who has had nothing to do all day, he noted the design of the 
    lightsabre attached to the robe.
    	It was not his own. 
    	He attempted to contemplate this new revelation, that somehow he 
    was using someone else's lightsabre, but his brain decided that it did 
    not make any sense. Even so, his body took the lightsabre and began 
    crawling toward the door of the room...
    	Then discovered that he had somehow gotten inside of a bacta 
    tank.
    	Still confused, he tried to look about himself but failed 
    miserably; again, his body did not react to his decisions. Idly, the 
    observer noted that he seemed to have the galaxy's worst itch; rather 
    than feeling it in the dermis, he actually felt it below his skin, as 
    if his nerves had been snipped short then tickled. He eventually 
    concluded it was maddening, and attempted to decide why it was so.
    	This time, the explanation was quite brief. He saw an arm float 
    in front of him, and after studying it for a few moments he realized 
    that the only option was that it belonged to his body. But what shocked 
    him the most was the fact that it was missing most of its skin, 
    although he could see the bacta at work re-growing it.
    	Without further time to contemplate his arm, the observer found 
    himself bobbing upward, suddenly buoyant. He idly wondered why he was 
    being released if his skin had still not regrown, but another glance at 
    his arm said otherwise. After the machine dried him off, he noticed 
    that a bronze protocol droid was approaching him.
    	"I'm glad to see you fully functional again," the droid began, 
    "Master Der-"
    	WHAM!
    	As he was sent reeling, his very first impression was that the 
    droid had decked him. But common sense then took over, reminding him 
    that protocol droids (with the exception of several specially modified 
    ones) were not designed to deliver punches. Moreover, the itch that had 
    plagued him so much in the tank was noticeably absent.
    	He slowly looked about himself, noticing that his surroundings 
    were completely black. As he continued to scan the blackness, he 
    eventually noticed a lone point of green light. For lack of anything 
    else, he fixated his attention on it; then it blinked. He recoiled in 
    shock, crashing into something that fell over and shattered. He swore 
    briefly, then realized that if he could speak...
    	"Room, lights on," he ordered in a hoarse voice.
    	The room was instantly bathed in the light of several glowpanels 
    embedded in the ceiling, and with a hint of irascibility he realized 
    that he'd knocked a large crystal vase off the table, which is what had 
    shattered. 
    	"Luke?" an incontestably feminine voice beside him asked, a voice 
    that sounded vaguely familiar. "What's going on?"
    	Groaning, Luke Skywalker came to his feet and looked around. He 
    noticed that he'd somehow fallen off the bed, and Mara was currently 
    staring at him, bleary-eyed. Glancing around, he observed that the 
    blinking light was merely that of an emergency detector.
    	He finally breathed a sigh of relief.
    	"What are you doing over there?" Mara asked again, her voice 
    containing a hint of a plea.
    	"I think I fell out of bed," he replied as he lifted the sheet to 
    get back in.
    	"No, you know what I mean," she replied through her pillow, 
    shivering from the cold air that he'd let in by lifting the sheets. 
    "You were tossing and turning, then I heard a thump and a crash."
    	Luke paused to think. Had he really been tossing and turning?
    	"Oh, that," he finally said. "I think I had a vision."
    	Mara abandoned all pretense of sleepiness, and placed her elbow 
    on her pillow. "About what?" she inquired.
    	"Ships, mostly," Luke replied as he settled into the bed. "I saw 
    a couple of small fleets battle near a black hole. Then the victors 
    used a comet, I suppose, to interdict some other ship. Everything after 
    that was kind of blurry, although it seemed that I was aboard that 
    ship. Seems it went through the black hole or something similar."
    	She brushed several wayward strands of reddish hair out of her 
    face, then flopped back onto the pillow. "Could be anything," she 
    admitted. "Can we go back to sleep now, honey?"
    	"Sure thing, sweetheart," Luke said, turning toward Mara. "Room, 
    lights off."
    	The last thing he was aware of before going to sleep was Mara 
    wrapping her arms around him.
    
    	* * *
    
    	Far in the future and far, far away, a certain vessel was quite 
    busy violating (or simply stepping around, depending on one's point of 
    view) laws and theorems that Einstein had created over four hundred 
    years before. Of course, the fact that Einstein had conceived those 
    theorems at a time when space travel was entirely in the realm of 
    science fiction, and the only thing capable of even going near space 
    was the German V-2 rocket (no larger than a school bus), meant that the 
    idea of a three hundred and forty-four meter warship traveling at two 
    hundred times the speed of light was simply inconceivable.
    	The shape of the ship itself was elongated and streamlined, 
    unlike the rocket-ships conceived by science fiction authors such as 
    the celebrated Jules Verne. Its forward hull was somewhat egg-shaped, 
    although it looked as if it had been cut in half down the center. In 
    the bow, a small indentation barely concealed a small concave saucer, 
    which in turn was a backup for a far larger saucer mounted directly 
    below the primary hull of the ship. Both saucers glowed with a hint of 
    blueness, and they were designed to ensure that the ship would not be 
    turned into a colossal colander by the impacts of hydrogen atoms.
    	Even so, many parts of the ship's hull were scorched and 
    blackened where the ablative armor had worn away. In some areas, the 
    internal structure of the ship could be seen, with plasma conduits and 
    various pipelines exposed to space. Printed immediately above the 
    auxiliary deflector dish in large lettering was the ship's registry of 
    NCC-74656; further aft one might make out USS VOYAGER through the 
    missing armor and holes in the hull. 
    	Now that one had seen the ship, they might have wondered exactly 
    what government this warship belonged to. Certainly not any one of the 
    major powers in the area; this part of the galaxy was more or less the 
    backwater area, with a large part of space controlled by a race that is 
    better off not being mentioned. 
    	But even if the crew of this strange ship was concerned about the 
    threats surrounding them, they did not show it.
    
    	"Captain," Tuvok's voice echoed across the bridge of the 
    Federation starship Voyager, "I seem to be picking up an object."
    	Captain Kathryn Janeway didn't reply immediately, being immersed 
    in a book. She finally placed it aside, and looked up at the darkened 
    viewscreen. "On screen."
    	"It's out of visual range," he reported. "At the limits of our 
    long-range sensors."
    	"Range?"
    	"Ten light-years off our present position, inside what would 
    appear to be a fairly typical star system. No other objects have been 
    detected within the system."
    	Janeway stood up and turned around. "Composition?"
    	"Primarily metallic, made of an unknown alloy. It is most likely 
    a vessel of some type."
    	She thought for a moment. "Is there anything else worth knowing 
    about it?"
    	Tuvok was silent for several seconds while he worked his 
    terminal. "Its course seems to be taking it toward the fourth planet of 
    that system, class unknown."
    	Captain Janeway nodded, turning toward the viewscreen, deep in 
    concentration. She finally turned back. "Have you hailed it?"
    	"Yes, Captain, with no response."
    	"Plot an intercept course with the object," she ordered 
    Lieutenant Paris at the helm, "and increase speed to Warp Eight."
    	Paris immediately began working. "Course set," he reported. 
    "Increasing warp velocity to factor eight."
    	Janeway walked back to her chair and sat down, pulling out the 
    book she had been reading--Jules Verne's [I]Twenty Thousand Leagues under 
    the Sea[/I]-- and tried to find her position in it. Soon she was engrossed 
    in the adventures of the submarine [I]Nautilus[/I]...
  2. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter One

    Code:
     Chapter One
      ===========
    
    
    	"Captain's Log, Stardate 52579.1.
    	"After nearly a week's journey at high warp, we have finally 
    reached the object, although my crew seems to be at a disagreement as 
    to its identity. I will add more information to this as we learn more."
    	Captain Kathryn Janeway shut off the recording device, and once 
    again focused on the viewscreen. From the distance of two hundred 
    meters, the computer listed the ship - she couldn't think of it as 
    anything but - as six hundred meters in length. Its structure, from 
    what was shown on the viewscreen, was comprised of a massive aft hull 
    that housed three equally massive ion engines. This in turn was 
    connected to a forward hull that somewhat resembled an upside-down 
    cross between a pyramid and a termite mound. Although its patchy 
    appearance, with pipes protruding at seemingly random intervals, might 
    have made one look twice, she was now sure it was no Borg vessel.
    	Every part of the ship seemed to have a purpose. On the starboard 
    side was a small opening that was very likely a hangar bay. Then there 
    were the aforementioned engines to the rear of the vessel, and an 
    extension of some sort that protruded for nearly fifty meters from the 
    aft hull she took to be the bridge.
    	"Seven, have the scans turned up anything yet?" she casually 
    inquired.
    	"They have not revealed anything that we have..." At that point, 
    the former Borg drone's voice trailed off, and a perplexed expression 
    came over her normally calm face. "Perhaps I am mistaken. Sensors have 
    just picked up over two hundred life-signs aboard the vessel. Most seem 
    to correspond to human life, although there seems to be an exception. 
    All signatures exhibit dramatically slowed metabolic rates and almost 
    non-existent heartbeats. Some signatures, however, do not seem to match 
    anything stored in the computer."
    	"Hibernation?" Janeway asked.
    	"Possibly."
    	Slowly, the Captain nodded, somewhat surprised at finding human 
    life so far displaced from Earth. "Weapons systems, then?"
    	"The computer has not identified any phaser or disruptor 
    emplacements, although there are five turret-like forms that the 
    computer identifies as possible phase-coherent energy weapons. In 
    addition, it reads two ports that may be torpedo launchers."
    	"Are you reading any shielding, Seven?"
    	"No, Captain, unless the shield generators are deactivated."
    	Janeway came to her feet, turning to the Chief Security Officer's 
    position. "Well, Tuvok, would you advise sending an away team to 
    investigate the vessel?"
    	"That all depends, Captain," the dark-skinned Vulcan responded. 
    "We do not know if they are hostile or not. They may, indeed, dislike 
    our intrusion onto their vessel, in which case perhaps we should wait 
    and continue to scan for transmissions. For all we know, they 
    communicate using entirely different technology."
    	Janeway narrowed her eyes. "They're human. Why would they use 
    different communications technology?"
    	"We must take all possibilities into account, Captain. They may 
    be from the future, in which case we do not know for sure what 
    technologies they use."
    	"Well, Captain Braxton's vessel still used subspace 
    communicators..."
    	"Yet, he was only from the 29th century. Will we still be using 
    subspace communicators another thousand years beyond that? Remember 
    your own history, Captain. Until the invention of "radio" by Marconi in 
    the late 19th century, communications were limited to the telegraph. A 
    thousand years before that, humans were still using smoke signals."
    	"That may be the case," Janeway replied. "Yet I still think we 
    should send an away team, perhaps to initiate First Contact or perhaps 
    to re-establish contact with the humans aboard the vessel. Do you 
    disagree?"
    	"I will trust your judgement, Captain."
    	She smiled. "I knew you would, Lieutenant Commander. Prepare the 
    away team."
    	Before he could acknowledge, she had turned around. "Commander 
    Chakotay, you have the bridge."
    	"Yes, Captain," Chakotay acknowledged as Janeway, Seven, and 
    Tuvok stepped into the turbolift.
    	"Transporter room one," Tuvok commanded the computer, then turned 
    to the Captain. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
    	"What is it, Tuvok?"
    	He bit his lip, an unusual expression for a Vulcan. "There was 
    something else that bothered me, which I did not wish to ask on the 
    Bridge."
    	"Go ahead."
    	"The Prime Directive, Captain."
    	"And what about it?" Janeway asked, beginning to tire of picking 
    apart Tuvok's thought processes.
    	"It was designed to limit contact with pre-warp civilizations, 
    and this ship you wish to investigate has no trace of warp drives or 
    antimatter reactors. Therefore, it is my fear that we will violate the 
    Prime Directive by initiating contact with this race or sect."
    	The computer chimed, indicating that the turbolift had arrived at 
    the destination. Tuvok quickly reached for the controls, preventing the 
    door from opening.
    	In the meantime, Janeway was considering what he had just said. 
    "Our mission, Lieutenant Commander, is also to seek out new forms of 
    life. The only thing we have to be careful of is that we do not 
    adversely affect the culture, as the USS Horizon did two hundred years 
    ago."
    	Tuvok looked uncertain, as if he was about to say something else. 
    Finally, he simply nodded and opened the turbolift door, walking out 
    into the transporter room.
    	Janeway noticed that Tuvok hadn't been lazy, having called the 
    rest of the away team from his console. B'Elanna Torres, the ship's 
    chief engineer was already there, and so were several ensigns, among 
    them Harry Kim and Alexander Munro.
    	She turned to the transporter control console, in time to see him 
    giving orders to the transporter chief. 
    	"You understand where we are going, correct?" Tuvok asked him.
    	"Yes, Sir. The hangar bay."
    	"Good. Now we will need full space suits, compression rifles, and 
    tricorders."
    	"I understand, Sir."
    	"Are we ready?" Janeway addressed everyone.
    	A half-dozen "Yes, Captain" acknowledgments instantly came. 
    Janeway nodded, stepping onto the transporter pad. The other four 
    members of the away team followed suit.
    	"Engage," she ordered the transporter chief, soon feeling the 
    strange dissolving effect of the transporter.
    
    	They re-materialized in the hangar bay of the Bulk Cruiser. It 
    was fairly dark, only illuminated by starlight reflected by Voyager, 
    and the shadowy shapes of several shuttles greeted the away team.
    	"Ow!" one ensign exclaimed as he crashed into something he 
    couldn't see. "Darn it, I tore my suit."
    	"Munro, why do you always forget to turn on your light-" Torres 
    started to respond, before realizing something. "You tore your suit?"
    	"Yeah," he responded. "There's a tear almost ten centimetres long 
    in it. I caught it on this... this... whatever this is." He leaned 
    against the shuttle, and bent as far as the suit would allow to take a 
    look at whatever he had torn the suit on.
    	"Well, if you're still alive, then there has to be air in here 
    somehow," the engineer calmly observed, clumsily lifting her tricorder 
    to eye level.
    	"Wait," Munro quickly said. "We're supposed to be in vacuum?" 
    Without realizing it, he was starting to sweat profusely under his 
    faceplate.
    	"That's what I thought it was, at first," Torres responded over 
    the comm. "But it's got atmosphere, all right. The pressure is at 1016 
    millibars, oxygen is at eighteen percent, and all the other gases are 
    in the correct proportions for human life."
    	Janeway let out a small, albeit somewhat nervous laugh. "What did 
    you expect with a ship that has humans on it?"
    	"With all due respect, Captain, that isn't the point," Torres 
    snapped. "I thought this hangar was open to vacuum. It doesn't have any 
    doors!"
    	"Perhaps it is not entirely open to vacuum," Seven reported from 
    the far end of the hangar bay. "I am reading a magnetic field covering 
    the opening." Slowly, she extended her left arm toward the slightly 
    shimmering field. It penetrated the near-invisible field effortlessly, 
    and she retracted it. "I don't believe these suits are necessary 
    anymore," she finally said, reaching up to remove her helmet.
    	"Wait!" Ensign Kim shouted over the comm. "How do we know the air 
    isn't poisoned?"
    	Everyone looked at Ensign Munro, who was in turn uncomfortably 
    staring at the tear in his suit. In response, Seven continued to 
    unclasp her helmet, finally pulling it off.
    	"Transporter room," she began over the comm, "we don't need these 
    space suits anymore. You can beam them back."
    	"Acknowledged, Lieutenant Commander." There was a pause, and then 
    the bulky suits disappeared.  Seven flexed her arms, and took in a deep 
    breath of the air.
    	"Much better," she finally said, hooking the tricorder to her 
    belt. "Even if the air is a bit stale."
    	Torres hesitated, then took a breath as well, wrinkling her nose 
    as she smelled it. "Smells a little oily," she finally said. "Like it's 
    been processed for a few too many years." The half-Klingon shrugged. 
    "It's breathable, though."
    	"Uh, hey, does someone want to take a look at this?" Munro asked, 
    standing near what appeared to be a sealed door.
    	Torres quickly stepped forward, aiming her light at the door. The 
    beam played across the door, and she stopped moving it as it showed a 
    control panel of some sort. As she lowered herself on one knee to see 
    the panel at eye level, Kim turned away from her, only to be met with 
    Seven of Nine's inquisitive stare.
    	"Great," he muttered. Then he turned toward the only other ensign 
    on the away team, and raised his voice to a more normal level in an 
    attempt to dispel the eerie silence that seemed to hang over the ship. 
    "So, Munro, what do you think about this so far? Like anything they 
    prepped you for in the Hazard Team?"
    	"Not really," Munro tensely admitted. "But then we haven't seen 
    much of anything yet."
    	"Right," Kim said slowly as he turned back to the blastdoor, in 
    time to see B'Elanna begin working the control panel. Apparently as a 
    result of her working the panel, a heavy blast shield slowly slid over 
    the door.
    	"I guess that didn't work," she commented, more to herself than 
    anyone else. "Maybe this one..."
    	A klaxon went off, which had the effect of making Munro snort in 
    amusement at the situation.
    	"No, that's not it either." Hearing the noises behind her, she 
    finally turned around.
    	"Something wrong?" she asked the two ensigns.
    	Kim hesitated, nervously glancing around himself. "The klaxon," 
    he finally admitted.
    	"What about..." The half-Klingon's voice trailed off as a ring of 
    lights flicked on at the far edge of the hangar bay, apparently 
    designed to alert hangar crews as to where the edge was. Slowly, more 
    lights along the walls came on, their light bright enough that Torres 
    eventually reached up and shut off her own light. 
    	Almost every member of the away team looked at each other in a 
    mix of surprise, consternation, and apprehension. 
    	"Just like one of Tuvok's holo-simulations," Munro lightly 
    commented after several awkward moments. "Plenty of suspense before the 
    action starts."
    	Torres let out a small laugh, the tension obviously broken. 
    "Well, this isn't a simulation, Ensign. Even... if it might be 
    suspenseful." She glanced at the blastdoor. "Anyone have suggestions on 
    how we get past that, though?"
    	There was no audible response, although Seven shifted her 
    compression rifle slightly. 
    	"I don't think blasting the control panel would work," Kim 
    eventually commented.
    	"Why not?" Munro quietly asked, shifting his own phaser rifle to 
    his left hand and making some adjustments.
    	"For one, I don't think it would be a good idea to fire weapons 
    aboard this ship."
    	Munro was about to object when a loud click came from the control 
    panel, and the blast-door rolled back along with the other door.
    	"See what I mean?" Kim said, nodding at the door. "Come on, let's 
    take a look."
    	Seven was the first one to step through the newly opened door, 
    gripping her compression rifle as if it were part of her that could not 
    be released. She quickly scanned the corridor, determining it to be 
    clear.
    	B'Elanna was close in following, carrying her tricorder as if it 
    were a weapon. "Life forms are roughly fifty meters aft and two decks 
    below us," the half-Klingon lieutenant read off the display.
    
    	"How are we supposed to get there?" Kim pointed out. "I don't see 
    any turbolifts."
    	As if in response, a hissing sound came from one end of the 
    corridor as a curved door slid aside.
    	Captain Janeway looked about herself nervously. "Is this ship 
    alive? I'm really beginning to get a bad feeling about this."
    	"Well, I don't see any tentacles reaching for us yet," Kim 
    quipped.
    	"I fail to see the humor in that, Ensign," Tuvok replied as he 
    followed Torres' lead to the turbolift.
    	"It's just the cynicism you get from being in the Delta Quadrant 
    for five years," Munro said, stepping inside and looking around 
    nervously.
    	"I understood that, Ensign."
    	As soon as Janeway and Kim entered, the door quickly hissed shut.
    	"Great," Kim sarcastically commented. "Now what?"
    	The car shuddered briefly, the movement accompanied by a fairly 
    loud grinding noise that only grew in intensity. Quickly, B'Elanna 
    grabbed her tricorder, consulting its display.
    	"We're moving," she finally reported, "in the direction of what 
    ought to be hibernation chambers."
    	Janeway's expression remained placid, but her voice conveyed a 
    different feeling. "I'm really beginning to be convinced that this ship 
    is intelligent."
    	"And I'm beginning to agree with you," Kim quietly commented as 
    the grinding noise diminished, and the turbolift door slid open.
    	The corridor that they were confronted with was little different 
    from the one they had stepped off of, and indeed were it not for the 
    different symbol on the wall the team might have been convinced that 
    the turbolift had indeed come back to the hangar level.
    	But as they stared at the walls in confusion, something quickly 
    caught their attention - a small, one-meter tall cylindrical android, 
    which was busy at a socket of some sort.
    	"What on Earth is _that_?" Alexander asked. "Looks like a garbage 
    can on wheels."
    	If the android heard his comment, it made no sign of 
    acknowledgement, and continued to work the socket.
    	"Maybe this is a ship of robots," Kim suggested.
    	Torres shook her head. "Those two hundred life-signs, remember?"
    	"Oh... yeah." he responded, somewhat embarrassed. Then he raised 
    his voice and shouted. "Hey! Robot!"
    	The android stopped, spinning its dome around to point its single 
    optical sensor at them.
    	"Can you understand me?" he asked it.
    	The droid let out a series of rude-sounding electronic blats.
    	"I guess not." The ensign turned to the half-Klingon lieutenant. 
    "Maybe it understands Klingon."
    	"I wouldn't think so," she finally responded.
    	He was already trying something else. Apparently having 
    previously contacted Voyager, his clarinet appeared in his hand. "It 
    beeps and whistles," he explained. "Its language could be musical."
    	"Spare me," Torres sarcastically replied.
    	Kim played a simple series of notes on the clarinet. The result 
    was that the droid let out an even more rude-sounding barrage of 
    electronic blats, then scooted away as fast as its wheels could carry 
    it.
    	"I think you just insulted it," Munro dryly observed. "Some First 
    Contact."
    	"So what am I?" Harry countered. "Comic relief?"
    	"No, I thought that was Neelix's job."
    	By this point, the two ensigns had fallen behind while Lieutenant 
    Torres turned and stopped at another door.
    	"I think the life-forms are just beyond this door," she finally 
    reported. "Now if I only I can open it..."
    	"Careful," Janeway warned. "We don't know what else might be 
    hiding behind it."
    	"I'm not reading anything other than the life-forms and a bunch 
    of androids, like that one we ran into." Torres looked at the controls 
    more closely this time, and finally hit one of the buttons. 
    Uneventfully, the door slid back along its tracks.
    	"There are your life-forms," Janeway said after having stepped 
    through the door, waving her hand across the chamber where hundreds of 
    brick-like shapes were.
    	The six members of the away team carefully began to walk forward 
    as if they were moving through a Borg vessel. 
    	"They're in hibernation, all right," Torres said. "Encased in 
    some form of carbon."
    	Kim stepped closer, peering at a face that protruded from one of 
    the bricks. "I don't think they were put in it against their will. Too 
    peaceful."
    	"That eliminates the possibility of a robot uprising," Tuvok 
    observed.
    	"Looks like there's some sort of heart rhythm monitor on this 
    end," Kim said, circling the brick. "I think we should get the Doctor 
    over here."
    	"Perhaps that will be unnecessary," Seven said as she stepped up 
    to the brick. After concentrating on the display for some time, she 
    pressed several buttons in sequence.
    	"Uh, Seven?" Ensign Kim hurriedly backed away from the unit's 
    front as it began to emit a high-pitched whine. "I don't know what you 
    did, but you made it do something."
    	The whining sound continued to vary in pitch, as thousands of 
    small pinpricks of light began to form in the dissolving carbonite. The 
    pinpricks began to merge, forming larger holes that expanded outward, 
    revealing the frozen person's face. Gradually, his entire body was 
    released, and the man started to collapse to the deck before Seven 
    caught him.
    	He was obviously alive. After being caught, he slowly turned his 
    head, blinking rapidly as if his eyes were filled with sand. He mumbled 
    something that no member of the away team could understand.
    	Seven eased the dazed man upright, and he turned and felt her arm 
    as if he were attempting to determine what she were. Again he said 
    something incomprehensible, and in response the former Borg inclined 
    her head.
    	Eventually, she spoke. "I do not know what he is trying to say. 
    Perhaps we should bring the Doctor over?"
    	Almost like a baby learning to walk, the man turned and groped 
    for something to grab on to. Feeling the carbonite brick, he grasped at 
    its side to steady himself, then turned around and said something else 
    in whatever language he spoke. 
    	As if he had called them, several more droids moved toward the 
    away team, some humanoid and some like the barrel-shaped android the 
    away team had encountered in the corridor.
    	"Here come the androids," Kim observed.
    	The leading droid, a golden-bronze colored, roughly human-height 
    robot, stopped about a meter from the away team. It cocked its head as 
    if listening to what Kim had said, then finally spoke in a male voice.
    	"Greetings. I am E-4PO, human-cyborg relations." The droid turned 
    toward the recently awakened human, listening to what he was saying. 
    "Master Dellen respectfully wishes to know who you are."
    	The six members of the away team looked at each other in 
    confusion.
  3. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter Two

    Chapter Two
    ============


    LIGHT ASSAULTED him as he opened his eyes. Rubbing them, he tried to clear the whiteness but was miserably unsuccessful. He wondered what was happening, but before long realized that someone had apparently deactivated the carbonite hibernation block.
    "Fourpio, see if you can help them with their translators," he heard someone - probably Master Dellen - order a droid in another part of the storeroom.
    "Certainly, Master Dellen," the protocol droid responded, confirming his suspicions. He blindly groped toward the voice, trying not to stumble in the maze of carbonite hibernation units.
    "Hello, Captain," the Jedi Master addressed him casually. "Might want to step to the left a bit, or you'll run into a carbon-freeze unit."
    Captain Avin sidestepped, silently thanking the Jedi. "What's all the fuss about?" he finally asked.
    "Fuss?" Although the blinded Captain could not see it, Dellen was surveying his surrounding area. "We got six intruders somehow. They all look human, although I could be mistaken about two of them."
    "Kriff," Avin cursed under his breath. "They try to take over the ship or something?"
    "No," Dellen responded thoughtfully. "They say they're from a passing spacecraft, trying to get home as well. Hailed us, but when nobody responded they decided to come over and have a look for themselves."
    "Humans? Are they from our galaxy?"
    "No, Captain, that's what is so strange. They claim that their home is on the other side of the galaxy, about a week's trip through hyperspace."
    Avin's vision was getting somewhat better. Instead of a shapeless white blur, he could distinguish large objects, although his eyes still refused to focus.
    "They must have a pretty primitive propulsion system," he finally commented.
    "That's what it looks like. Well, as soon as Master C'baoth is ready we'll head to one of the diplomatic rooms and try to figure out what's going on."
    By the time Captain Avin could see clearly, he was struck by the appearance of the six-person team. Their uniforms, unlike standard Republic uniforms, were tight-fitting, somewhat sleek uniforms that had a small arrowhead-shaped badge on the chest.
    After half a minute of dazedly looking them over, he nearly broke out laughing. 'That's what's so strange about them,' he thought, 'their uniforms look like thermal undergarments.'
    His muffled snort caught their attention. As the leading person, a human female of average height, turned toward him, he walked over to them.
    "Hello," he said, extending his hand. "Jonas Avin, captain of this vessel."
    Although the leader of the team accepted and shook his hand, she obviously couldn't understand what he had said. Avin held up a finger, and turned around to a silvery protocol droid.
    "Fourpio, get over here."
    "Excuse me, Sir," the droid said somewhat haughtily, "I am TC-17, military protocol droid."
    "I don't care if you're an SP-80," Avin sarcastically retorted. "Just get over here." As the droid shuffled over, the Captain was sure that had it the capacity to display facial expressions, it would be glaring at him.
    Janeway watched the argument between the man and the android with slight bemusement. Finally, however, it seemed that the man won, as the droid turned and began translations.
    "This is unsettled Jonas Avin, captain of this trawler."
    Captain Janeway turned to Tuvok with a confused expression on her face. "Unsettled?" she asked as she turned back to the android, wondering what on Earth it meant. "Trawler?"
    "Ah, gluon me. My transfusion dank seem to be corrupted." The droid's optical sensors dimmed for several seconds, then came back on. "Prettier?"
    She shook her head. "You don't look any prettier to me."
    "Un segundo, sí," the droid said as its optical sensors dimmed again. "Schprecken le Jonas?"
    "What's it trying to say?" Munro asked from behind her.
    "No goose," the droid continued, emitting a series of high-pitched whistles. "Permutation program es descompuesto. Numero of possible permutations da Basic-1039 exceed capacidad da number uno databank." It emitted more whistles, then made a long, drawn-out beeping noise and froze.
    Apparently having been called, the 4PO model which had greeted them earlier shuffled toward the away team, pausing to regard the frozen droid.
    "Pardon me," it finally said. "The TC-17 line of protocol droids was never very good at long-term operation. Cybot Galactica made quite a serious mistake in using less expensive memory registers to conserve price." It stiffly turned as Avin tapped it on the shoulder.
    "Ah, the esteemed Captain wishes to introduce himself. Jonas Avin, captain of this vessel. He gives you his warmest greetings."
    Janeway nodded. "Tell him that I am pleased to meet him, and also that I apologise for intruding on his ship."
    The droid did so, turning back after Avin replied.
    "Master Avin says that he accepts your apology, but is curious as to who you represent."
    "The United Federation of Planets," Janeway supplied. "I am Captain of the Starship Voyager." She paused as one of the other people walked up to Captain Avin, and spoke to the droid.
    After delivering its translation, the droid turned back. "Master Dellen asks if I may be of assistance programming your translation implants."
    The captain shook her head. "No, but thank you. The Universal Translator will on occasion take time to fully 'learn' a language." She looked around the converted cargo hold, which was buzzing with the voices of the awakened crew. "Perhaps we can continue this somewhere that is quieter?"

    * * *

    The conference room proved to be larger than Janeway would have imagined aboard a spacegoing vessel. A table that would easily have seated twenty was at its center, and the walls were apparently covered in holographic tapestries.
    At the insistence of a person she had come to know as "Jedi Master"--whatever that meant--Jorus C'baoth, she took her seat just off one end of the table, and the rest of the away team lined up beside her. Then the other group filed in, taking their seats across the table from the Voyager personnel.
    The appearance of this "C'baoth," however, struck her as... different. A fairly short black beard that was interspersed with grey stripes adorned his sharp chin, and wavy, somewhat unkempt black hair hung down in a loose ponytail. He wore a simple and rough brown robe, tied at the waist with an equally rough cord. Clipped to the cord was a silvery cylinder approximately twenty centimeters in length, which Janeway had no idea as to the identity of, although she noticed that he seemed to carry no weapons.
    The one that she had learned was named Dellen seemed to be dressed in a similar style, although he was apparently far younger. His hair was of a lighter tone than C'baoth's, but his robe was a flat grey color. Like C'baoth, he seemed to have the same kind of peculiar cylinder clipped to his waist.
    Then there was the man called Avin, who was apparently the Captain. From a glance, Janeway could tell that he was probably her own age, although he might have been older.
    "So," C'baoth began, "tell us about yourselves."
    Subconsciously, as if something he said had prompted an emotional response, Janeway felt compelled to tell him their story. This she did; she explained what the Federation was and where they were, and how her own starship had ended up in the Delta Quadrant - dragged across the galaxy against their will by a mysterious being called the Caretaker. She explained how they had eventually taken on the stranded crew of the Maquis raider, and how they had brushed with the Kazon on more than one occasion. Neelix, the Talaxian hitchhiker they had picked up as a "travel guide" and "master chef"; the problem with Species 8472, and how it had eventually been resolved. The addition of Seven of Nine to the crew. The final parting of Kes, and how she had propelled them ten thousand light-years closer to home. The treachery of Arturis in setting up an elaborate scheme just to exact revenge for the assimilation of his species.
    "And here we are today," she finished almost an hour later. "Fifty years from getting home."
    Captain Avin sighed, looking across the conference table. "I understand," he finally said. "We're only seventy-six years from our home galaxy."
    Janeway's countenance took on a look of confusion. "You're from one of the dwarf companions of this galaxy?"
    The other captain frowned, as if he were attempting to recall an almost-forgotten fact. "Much further than that. Eighty-five million light-years distant, to be specific."
    Her jaw dropped slightly in shock as Avin continued.
    "According to the ship's navigator, even though it would have taken us a bit over seventy years to get home it would be fruitless. Most planets would be either dried up or consumed by supernovae."
    "In only seventy years?" Kim broke in. "That's astronomically impossible. Stars have a lifespan measured in the billions of years."
    "You don't get it, do you," Avin resignedly said. "We accidentally went through a wormhole, which not only moved us through space but time as well." He tapped at a control panel in front of his chair, and at the center of the table a hologram appeared. "This is a composite holo that the computer assembled after our arrival, with light that was emitted from our galaxy eighty-five million years ago." The captain then worked the controls again, and a far more detailed map appeared. "This, by comparison, is a map of our galaxy made just before we left." He worked the controls once more, and the two appeared side-by-side.
    "They're almost identical," Janeway finally said, wrinkling her brow in concentration as she observed the holograms. "So you are from the past." Then she frowned as a thought hit her. "If your galaxy's had eighty-five million years to evolve, shouldn't they have developed a faster way of travel, and come and rescue you?"
    Captain Avin stared at the two images for a moment before working his console again. This time, a single map appeared; it seemed to rotate at a noticeable pace. As it did so, several bright dots appeared, glimmering briefly before fading. He stopped the projector as a particularly bright dot appeared near the galaxy's center.
    "This is another composite that the ship's systems recorded in the sixty years we were traveling to this star system. See that bright dot?" He pointed at the brightest of the dots that had appeared in the time-lapse recording. "That's the Cauldron Nebula. Something must have happened there nineteen years ago, because those stars were only blue giants, early on in their lives."
    "Blue giants don't just spontaneously go nova," Janeway stated, wondering exactly what this Captain was getting at.
    "Exactly my point. The average amount of supernovae since we left has risen dramatically, and we don't know why. Fact is, no other Republic ships have come here, and there is any number of reasons why they might not have. The Republic could have forgotten about us, decided it was not worth the effort, or they could have even been destroyed - eighty-five million years is a long time for anything, and we only know that the Republic was founded several tens of thousands of years before we left."
    He paused to look at the rest of the people at the table before continuing. "But as I was saying, we decided to enter hibernation and cruise to this system, in the hopes of finding a sentient, space-going species to continue our mission."
    "Continue your mission?"
    Avin looked over at the brown-robed Jedi. "You want to answer that, Master?"
    "This is the Ny'lith Boro," C'baoth began with a slight note of pride. "A Neutron Star-class Bulk Cruiser, she was commissioned for one purpose: to extend the reach of the Republic beyond our galaxy. I organized this project, and saw it to completion and eventually launch.
    "Sixty years ago - our time - we launched from the Yaga Minor shipyards, and set out through the Unknown Regions of our galaxy. We were forced out of hyperspace en route, and attacked by a Republic warship.
    "Even though I knew it would cause severe damage to our hyperdrive, I quickly made the decision to jump to hyperspace inside the gravity well. We encountered a wormhole, and ended up here in this galaxy, a good eighty-five million years in the future."
    C'baoth paused, and took a drink of amber liquid from a glass in front of him. "So, as Captain Avin has already explained, we entered hibernation until we reached this system, hoping to find a space-faring civilization."

    "I'm..." Janeway paused. "I'm really sorry to hear about that." She quickly thought it over. These were people who could cross the distance between galaxies in the time it took Voyager to cross a galaxy. Androids appeared to be a common thing for them. And they said that their mission was to extend the reach of the Republic; so, apparently, they would not be going home anytime soon.
    'What does that mean for us?' she wondered to herself.
    "It's no problem," C'baoth reassured her.
    "I wish there was something we could do for you," Captain Kathryn Janeway continued, "but our ship has limited resources as it is."
    "Perhaps there is something we can do for you," another man that she hadn't noticed said. "If we could repair our hyperdrive, we can tow your ship home in a matter of weeks."
    Without realizing it, her face suddenly brightened. "You can?" she hurriedly asked.
    "It's not a big deal," the man, whose name was Derek, said. "The only problem was that the engine room staff was killed during a fire. I was the only survivor, and alone I don't have either the time or the concentration to repair the hyperdrive."
    Janeway nodded, catching on to the plan. "So you want the assistance of our engineers in exchange for giving us a ride home."
    "Correct."
    "There's just something else I want to know," she continued. "What is this Republic you represent?"
    "The Republic of legend," C'baoth replied with a grand note. "It has existed for over a thousand generations, spanning the entire galaxy. For as long as history can record, its capital has been Coruscant, a planet-wide city that trillions call their home."
    She slowly nodded, attempting to comprehend what he had just said. "You said you were a Jedi. What are the Jedi?"
    "I am a Jedi Master," he corrected. "As are the other five Jedi aboard this vessel." He allowed a small sigh to pass his lips. "We are members of an ancient order, the Jedi. Our origins hark back to before the formation of the Republic, when were merely a society of scholars interested in debating moral matters.
    "Untold thousands of years later, we encountered a race that introduced us to the Force. We learned what it was and how to use it. Then, we truly became powerful. Our numbers swelled into the hundreds of thousands. We were feared by criminals, lauded by the just.
    "Our influence spread throughout the galaxy. When the Republic was founded so many thousands of years ago, we became an essential part of it. We were the diplomats of choice, the preferred mediators of arguments.
    "But there was always another side to the power we wielded. The Dark Side. Those Jedi who could not control their anger fell, and many became ruthless warlords. About eleven thousand years before this insignificant vessel departed our galaxy, the Schism of the Jedi occurred."
    C'baoth allowed a look of resignation to cross his face. "The battles continued for over eight thousand years, eventually culminating when the Republic assembled over three thousand warships to destroy one of the most powerful traitors' jungle bases.
    "Those were our days of glory, however. Our order has been dwindling as of late, and only numbers in the thousands now. The Sith have re-emerged and times are darkening, but there is a prophecy about a Chosen One, who will mend the schism; some in our order now believe that the Chosen One has come. I do not know what may have transpired in our absence, but I fear greatly that something evil has occurred."

    Janeway felt herself swept up into the story he had told. She could almost see giant warships, larger than the largest Borg Cube, descending on a seemingly tranquil jungle moon. Deadly fire pouring down on the moon, exterminating the treacherous Exar Kun and his Massassi minions...
    She was suddenly brought back to reality as she realized that he had never stated the name of the Sith Lord aloud. "The Force," Janeway quietly said. "You're telepaths."
    "I would not say we are telepaths as much as we are attuned to life itself," C'baoth replied, as calm as ever.
    "That's it," she said, standing up and pushing her chair back, in a sudden rage at his implanting thoughts into her mind. "There will be no deal."
    Tuvok turned his head to regard her with a blank Vulcan stare, while the captain of the Ny'lith Boro had a quite plain expression of shock on his face.
    "Captain," Tuvok started, "your decision seems quite illogical.
    She ignored them, tapping her commbadge. "Janeway to Voyager. Beam us out."
    "Suit yourself," the Jedi finally said with a note of resignation. "I guess that means you don't get home, and neither do we."
    Captain Janeway and the rest of Voyager's away team gradually dissolved in the transporter mists.

    * * *

    Chakotay came to attention as the Captain walked out of the turbolift. "How did it go?" he asked.
    "Not as well as I would have liked," Janeway vaguely responded as she turned to the helm. "Lieutenant Paris, we will continue on our original course, Warp Six."
    "Captain?" he questioned.
    "Do it."
    "Uh... yes, Captain," the Lieutenant replied with some hesitation. "Warp Six."
    "Captain," Chakotay began, "may I ask what happened?"
    Janeway took a last look at the Bulk Cruiser as Voyager accelerated to warp, cutting off the viewscreen image. "I'll be in my ready room," she said as she stepped into the turbolift. "Ask me there."

    By the time the turbolift opened on the deck containing her ready room, Janeway was beginning to realize how exhausted she was from the away mission. She glanced down at a wristwatch, noting that she had spent nearly five hours aboard the alien vessel.
    Absentmindedly, she tapped the small control panel next to the door. It quietly slid open, and beyond it the room's lights activated.
    "Coffee," Janeway ordered the room's small replicator. "Black. Hot." Within moments, a white cup appeared and she took it, sitting down in a chair across the room.
    "Computer, give me all the data there is on the Bulk Cruiser."
    Several monitors came to life, showing various diagrams and text data screens. She disinterestedly looked them over, pausing several times to change screens.
    For nearly half an hour, the room remained quiet save for Janeway drumming her fingers against the chair rest. Then, the door softly chimed, startling the Captain out of her seat. "Come in," she finally acknowledged after glancing around the ready room.
    The door promptly slid aside, revealing the mysterious visitor. "Hello, Commander," Janeway announced. "Have a seat."
    "I'd prefer to stand," Chakotay replied, taking a close look at one of the monitors in front of the Captain. "What is this?" he asked in a subdued voice after several moments had passed. "Analysis of Republic Bulk Cruiser, page five of fifty...?"
    Janeway heaved a sigh, looking at him with bloodshot eyes. "I've been analyzing the data we gathered on that ship," she responded. "Frankly, I've never seen anything like it."
    She tapped a button on the console, and an audio recording began playing.
    "This is the Ny'lith Boro," the recorded voice began. "A Neutron Star-class Bulk Cruiser, she was commissioned for one purpose: to extend the reach of the Republic beyond our galaxy. I organized this project, and saw it to completion and eventually launch."
    "I haven't heard of any Republic," Chakotay said quizzically.
    "That's because there isn't," Janeway replied. "Here, at least. Listen."
    The voice continued. "Sixty years ago - our time - we launched from the Yaga Minor shipyards, and set out through the Unknown Regions of our galaxy. We were forced out of hyperspace en route, and attacked by a Republic warship."
    "Republic again," the Commander began before Janeway raised her hand and silenced him.
    "Even though I knew it would cause severe damage to our hyperdrive, I quickly made the decision to jump to hyperspace inside the gravity well. We encountered a wormhole, and ended up here in this galaxy, a good eighty-five million years in the future."
    "Hyperspace?"
    Janeway nodded. "Hyperspace. You might call it a higher domain of subspace."
    "I heard lectures about it when I was in the Academy. But nobody had any idea of how to use it... until now." The implications of what he just said caught up to Chakotay. "Permission to speak freely?"
    "Go ahead."
    "Captain... why did you return so quickly? Were they hostile?"
    She shook her head.
    "I can see that something's bothering you, Captain. What happened?"
    "They're... they're humans," Janeway finally said. "Tricorder scans are a perfect match, although to be perfectly sure we would need a DNA sample."
    "But that isn't all, is it."
    The Captain nodded slightly. "Several seem to be telepathic, among them the one that seems to be the leader."
    Chakotay studied her face for nearly a minute. "And you left because of that?" When she nodded, he continued. "We've dealt with telepaths before. Remember Species Eight-Four-Seven-Two?"
    "All too well," Janeway replied. "And that's part of my problem. Virtually every telepathic race we have encountered tried to destroy us."
    "The Ocampa didn't," the Commander pointed out.
    "They're an exception."
    He was not convinced. "These... humans never tried to fire on us. They showed us no hostility-"
    "And neither did Arturis, at least until the very end."
    "If our supernumeraries didn't always have their phasers set on stun, maybe we could have avoided that particular problem," Chakotay retorted. "Of course, you always insist on being part of the away team. You probably remember when we were forced to leave you on a planet because of your participation in an away team, until I gave up and tried to find a cure for your disease."
    "Commander-"
    He cut her off. "Captain, after five years in this dump of a quadrant, I have just about had it with your decisions. You have put both yourself and the crew in danger on more than one occasion. And there have been times when I was tempted to relieve you of your command, regardless of what might happen when we reach Earth."
    "It-"
    Chakotay was not done yet. "The Caretaker offered to let us back through his array. He even had a self-destruct device in place. Yet you felt sorry for the poor Ocampa, so we blew it up and saved their day. We also had a chance to run for the Bajoran wormhole, yet we did not."
    "We would be traveling through Dominion space. Besides, as I heard a few days before we left, Captain Benjamin Sisko mined the other end."
    "Fine," Chakotay shrugged. "Maybe he did. And maybe we could have used the Dauntless if our phasers were not set for stun. Maybe we could have used our version of slipstream drive to get home if you had not ordered Lieutenant Torres to mothball it. Maybe we could have used Omega as a power source when Lieutenant-Commander Seven discovered how to stabilize it. So many maybes, Captain. So many could-haves that you nixed."
    "I did that for the safety of my crew, Commander," Janeway replied. "Slipstream is very unstable. Fifteen minutes and our hull would buckle."
    "That's what development is for, Captain," the Commander retorted. "We had an imperfect replica. Wouldn't you expect imperfect results?"
    "I did not want to put the lives of my crew in jeopardy."
    "That is not the point, Captain. This Bulk Cruiser - they showed us no harm, aside from several of their crew being telepaths. Why did you decide not to negotiate with them? They seem perfectly open to it."
    "One of them planted ideas into my head."
    Chakotay's expression was quite sarcastic. "Oh. They planted ideas into your head. Did they water them, too?"
    "Commander!" Janeway firmly shouted. "That will be enough. We will not negotiate with them."
    "Captain," Chakotay quietly began, "we have been in this quadrant for five years now. Do you realize how long that is? The crew morale is dropping. The ship is in desperate need of repairs. And you keep turning down opportunities to get home, left and right. I'll be damned if I can't get this ship home faster on my own."
    Before Janeway could say another word, he turned and walked out, leaving her to stew in silence.
    "Computer, replay recording two," she finally ordered.
    "I am a Jedi Master," the recording began. "As are the other five Jedi aboard this vessel." There was an audible pause. "We are members of an ancient order, the Jedi. Our origins hark back to before the formation of the Republic, when were merely a society of scholars interested in debating moral matters.
    "Untold thousands of years later, we encountered a race that introduced us to the Force. We learned what it was and how to use it. Then, we truly became powerful. Our numbers swelled into the hundreds of thousands. We were feared by criminals, lauded by the just.
    "Our influence spread throughout the galaxy. When the Republic was founded so many thousands of years ago, we became an essential part of it. We were the diplomats of choice, the preferred mediators of arguments."
    "Lauded by the just," Janeway whispered to herself. "The diplomats of choice."
    Then, even quieter, she added, "Maybe Chakotay was right, after all."

    * * *

    "How rude of them," E-4PO observed in a corridor on the Bulk Cruiser, "to leave without saying goodbye."
    C'baoth flexed his shoulders in an attempt to loosen his tense muscles. "Some societies have a marked distaste for telepaths."
    "Quite true, Master C'baoth. According to my database, there are over four hundred thousand and sixty-three species who shun telepaths as a whole."
    "Yes, I am aware of it," C'baoth grumbled. "And there are probably another hundred thousand civilizations that detest droids."
    "Sir, you are not suggesting-"
    "No, Fourpio, I'm not. Right now I want to know if the dialect they spoke is related to anything you know."
    "Well, Sir, the dialect they speak is known as 'English.' Its heritage is of several other dialects, most notably an amalgamation of 'Germanic' dialects, plus 'Latin' and 'Greek.' Comparisons reveal that 'Greek' is most similar in form to an ancient form of Basic used in the Corellian System, informally called Old Corellian."
    "How long ago was that dialect used?" C'baoth inquired.
    "The last known record of it was from approximately several thousand years before the formation of the Republic."
    "That's interesting," C'baoth admitted. "Maybe the early Corellian hyperspace explorers found their way to this galaxy."
    "A possibility, Sir, although information stored in my database speculates that an unknown species brought hyperspace technology to Corellia quite close to the time this dialect first came into use."
    The Jedi Master paused to open the door to the Mess Hall. "I don't know about that," he said while stepping through. "Their ship seems pretty slow - seventy years to cross the galaxy?"
    The droid cocked its head. "Sir, many battles have taken place over the course of time in our galaxy, and it would not surprise me if that were the case here. It is entirely possible that they lost knowledge of hyperspace as a result of one."
    "Right." C'baoth stopped in the food line to take a look at the protocol droid. "You seem to have developed quite a personality for a droid. When was the last time you had a memory wipe?"
    "Just before we left Yaga Minor, Master C'baoth."
    He groaned. "So it's been a bit over sixty years, then."
    "Correct, Sir, but why do you ask? According to the standard diagnostics, my average performance has increased by one hundred fifty percent over that period of time."
    "Nothing," C'baoth said as he shook his head and grabbed a tray.

    * * *

    A flustered Chakotay nearly ran into Tuvok as he stepped onto the Bridge.
    "Commander, is there a problem with something?"
    The Native American commander turned to regard the chief security officer. "Can you bring everyone that was on the Away Team, save the Captain, to the Briefing Room?"
    "Certainly, Commander." Tuvok briefly worked his console, then turned back. "But again I must inquire what is wrong."
    Chakotay sighed. "Come into the Briefing Room and I'll explain."
    When they had crossed the nearly deserted Bridge and entered the Briefing Room, Chakotay was the first one to speak after the door had closed.
    "It's the Captain," he explained. "I just talked with her in her Ready Room. What happened while you were on the Republic ship? It seems that she broke off negotiations because she felt that some of them were telepaths."
    "Then you know more than I," Tuvok said flatly. "I was also curious as to why she ended the meeting so abruptly."
    "That's all I know, however," Chakotay finally admitted. "But from what I saw, I'm beginning to wonder if she's mentally incompetent. No doubt you're aware of all the strange decisions she's made."
    "Are you then suggesting that she be relieved of command?" the Vulcan inquired.
    "No, I'm not," replied the commander. "I'm suggesting that the Doctor run some mental tests on her."
  4. ggs Cabal Arm Commander

    Good story, keep it coming.

    You have a different version on your home page and at ASVS.

    This version seams better balenced between the starwars & startrek side of the story. Voyager hasnt had many frendly experiances with telepaths have they? (Even the Ocampa was unfriendly latter)
  5. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    [Q]Originally posted by ggs
    Good story, keep it coming.

    You have a different version on your home page and at ASVS.
    [/Q]

    That's because they are different drafts. The one on my homepage is the old 5th draft, while the one on ASVS is just an earlier revision of what I'm posting now. When I finish, I'm going to re-format it, convert it to PDF, and upload it to my website as well as the ASVS Fanfic Archive.
  6. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter Three

    Oops. I just realized that I omitted Chapter 3. (sheepish grin)

    Code:
     Chapter Three
      =============
    
    
    	"I'm sorry, Kathryn, but there simply is no way around this. I 
    must relieve you of command until you show definite signs of 
    improvement."
    	Captain Kathryn Janeway forced a sigh as she sat on one of the 
    bio-beds in Sickbay. "I still think this is completely unnecessary, and 
    somewhat primitive. You want to confine me to Sickbay? Why not simply 
    perform treatments while I retain my command?"
    	"Starfleet Directive 44 specifies that if the captain or other 
    officer is declared unfit for his/her position by the Chief Medical 
    Officer, the CMO may remove the Captain from active service until the 
    point at which the CMO declares the Captain fit for service."
    	"You know, Doctor, I'm beginning to wish this ship had an actual 
    physician."
    	"You feel a [I]mere[/I] hologram is inferior? No, Captain, I 
    understand your facial expressions. A similar situation occurred in the 
    late 23rd century, when Doctor Leonard McCoy of the USS Enterprise 
    relieved Captain James T. Kirk from command due to depression."
    	"And if you had researched further, you would know that the 
    situation was rectified as the Enterprise discovered a new type of 
    Romulan warship," she retorted.
    	"Two wrongs do not make a right, Kathryn, no matter how you wish 
    to distort history."
    	"Enough of your philosophizing. I am perfectly fit to command 
    this vessel, and I will be returning to my quarters until further 
    notice." With that, she stood up and began to walk out of the room.
    	"Very well then, Captain. You leave me no choice."
    	A forcefield appeared in front of her, instantly blocking her 
    exit.
    	"Computer, deactivate forcefield," Janeway ordered.
    	"Unable to comply," the computer responded. "Insufficient 
    security clearance for command."
    	"Override security clearances, authorization Janeway Delta Five 
    Seven Four."
    	"Unable to comply," the computer repeated.
    	Kathryn sighed again, letting her shoulders collapse. As she was 
    about to turn around, however, movement caught her eye, and she instead 
    turned in the direction of the movement.
    	"Tuvok!" she exclaimed in desperation. "Will you please tell the 
    Doctor to release me?"
    	"I am sorry, Captain, I cannot. Logic does not allow me."
    	"Oh, so you're in on this, too," she groused. "I suppose the 
    entire command crew has mutinied. Whatever happened to your ideas of 
    preventing a Maquis mutiny?"
    	"Captain, this has nothing to do with the Maquis. It is entirely 
    based on your recent actions. I apologize for this, but it was 
    ultimately the decision of the Doctor and not my own."
    	She looked back and forth between the Doctor and Tuvok several 
    times before speaking again. "So indeed, my ship has mutinied."
    	"Captain, the Starfleet regulations allow for-"
    	"Don't tell me what the Starfleet regulations say!" Janeway 
    shouted. "I've heard them enough already from our resident 
    encyclopedia. Commander, I am ordering you to tell the Doctor to 
    release me immediately."
    	Tuvok said nothing, watching silently as the Doctor appeared 
    behind Janeway and applied a sedative hypospray. She collapsed to the 
    deck almost immediately.
    	With a saddened expression on his face that was unusual for a 
    Vulcan, Tuvok turned and slowly walked away from Sickbay.
    
    	* * *
    
    	"Acting Captain's Log, Stardate 52579.9." Chakotay turned and 
    cleared his throat before continuing. "This entry marks the point at 
    which I assume temporary command of the USS [I]Voyager[/I]. Relieving Captain 
    Kathryn Janeway was a hard decision for me, but one that had to be 
    made. We have reversed our course, and are currently five hours from 
    the Bulk Cruiser at our speed of Warp 8. I am in the hopes that they 
    will accept our apologies; from what I learned from the Away Team, they 
    also wanted to cooperate so that they might complete their own 
    mission."
    	He shut off the recorder, and glanced around the bridge. Directly 
    in front of him, Lieutenant Tom Paris was at his usual position at the 
    helm. Seven of Nine was supposedly at her usual post in Astrometrics--
    didn't she ever sleep?--and other ensigns filled out the rest of the 
    Bridge. Tuvok was currently conducting a holodeck training simulation 
    for his Hazard Team, and Neelix... well, Chakotay could personally not 
    care less as to the whereabouts of the Talaxian.
    	Slowly, he dozed off, and by the time [I]Voyager[/I] arrived at its 
    destination he was engaged in a dream about how one of Neelix's 
    concoctions took control of Seven of Nine's central nervous system and 
    decided to remove Janeway from command for no particular reason.
    	When an ensign tapped him on the shoulder to wake him up, he at 
    first thought that the concoction had broken out of Seven, and was 
    attacking him. So it was that when he finally woke up, several 
    supernumeraries had their phasers trained on him, and the ensign that 
    had attempted to awaken him was nursing a rather large black eye.
    	"Um... did I hit you?" he asked the injured ensign, who nodded in 
    reply.
    	"Sorry about that. I must have been dreaming."
    	The supernumeraries eyed him nervously, and the ensign repeated 
    the information. "We've arrived at the Republic ship. They have made no 
    attempts to hail us yet."
    	Now fully awake, Chakotay nodded. "Have we attempted to hail 
    them?"
    	"Yes, Sir, but with no response."
    	He frowned. "That's odd... maybe their equipment is incompatible. 
    Perhaps we should send a diplomatic team over?"
    	"Your call, Sir."
    	Chakotay paused to consider the issue. "All right then. Where's 
    Tuvok?"
    	"Still in the Holodeck, sir."
    	"All right," he said, pausing at the comm. "Tell Lieutenant 
    Paris, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, and Lieutenant Commander Seven to 
    meet me in Shuttlebay One," he ordered the ensign at the station. Then, 
    he turned and strode purposefully to the turbolift.
    
    	* * *
    
    	By the time the [I]Delta Flyer's[/I] ramp unfolded in the hangar bay 
    of the Bulk Cruiser, Chakotay was not at all surprised to see armed 
    soldiers surrounding the exitway. Standing behind them was a person in 
    a coarse brown robe, which he took to be Master C'baoth.
    	Nervously, he stepped forward and extended an arm. "Hello." he 
    finally offered. "Commander Chakotay of the USS Voyager."
    	After some hesitation, Master C'baoth likewise stepped forward 
    and shook Chakotay's hand.
    	"Where is Captain Janeway?" the Jedi asked casually, as if he had 
    been a part of Voyager's crew since they entered the Delta Quadrant.
    	"She-" The Commander paused for what seemed like an eternity, 
    although it was in reality only a matter of microseconds. "-did not 
    want to come."
    	C'baoth seemed to take it all in stride. "Oh. Well, I suppose 
    that's her decision." Then, without pausing, he continued. "I suppose 
    you wish to continue the meeting that was so forcefully... terminated?"
    	"Certainly," Chakotay absentmindedly replied. There was simply 
    something about this person that he couldn't exactly place... "Where is 
    the diplomatic room?"
    	"TC-14?" C'baoth called over the hangar bay, and much to 
    Chakotay's surprise a humanoid-shaped, gleaming silver android stiffly 
    walked forward. "Show the Voyager crew to the meeting room."
    	While the droid awaited further orders, the Jedi politely bowed 
    to Chakotay. "Please excuse me while I assemble the rest of our own 
    team. You may follow TC-14, who will serve as your guide through the 
    ship."
    	"Thank you," the Commander automatically replied. 'I wonder if 
    Janeway really had something,' he thought to himself as the droid set 
    off. Mentally, he shrugged and followed the droid, adding, 'But maybe 
    they are our best chance of getting home.'
    	The protocol droid walked, or perhaps shuffled, out of the hangar 
    bay with Chakotay, Tuvok, Paris and Seven in pursuit. While Tuvok and 
    Seven had already seen the ship before, Paris and Chakotay had not; the 
    former was inspecting the walls and construction of the ship while the 
    latter was attempting to converse with the android. However, the droid 
    proved to be more than conversant.
    	"The main conference room is located just forward of the bridge, 
    in Sector 8. There are several others identical to it, but they have 
    not yet been used. Medical facilities occupy most of the habitable 
    portions of Sector 12."
    	"Don't you have decks?" Chakotay asked the droid after some time.
    	"Decks? Well, in places, but most of this ship is broken up into 
    a habitable honeycomb structure. This is divided into twenty sectors, 
    the first of which are closest to the bow and the last of which are 
    closest to the stern."
    	"I suppose it helps contain battle damage," the commander mused. 
    "Do only the turbolifts connect the sectors?"
    	"Well, sir, I am only a protocol droid and not knowledgeable in 
    such matters. My mission parameters contain only data essential to my 
    operation."
    	"Right," he agreed, glancing at the disturbingly familiar control 
    panel and wondering when the turbolift was going to reach its 
    destination.
    
    	By the time the turbolift doors slid open on a curving corridor 
    that supposedly led to the conference room, Chakotay was beginning to 
    wish that he had brought some cotton.
    	[I]The droid just wouldn't shut up.[/I]
    	Mercifully, the first door on the corridor proved to be that of 
    the conference room. Chakotay was relieved to see C'baoth and several 
    other people already seated at the table.
    	"I don't believe we have been introduced yet," C'baoth calmly 
    began, motioning toward Paris.
    	"Lieutenant Tom Paris, USS Voyager," Paris supplied.
    	C'baoth promptly turned to the rest of the crew from the Bulk 
    Cruiser, and prompted them.
    	"Captain Jonas Avin," the first one, a somewhat short man with 
    greying brown hair, started. He expectantly looked at the person next 
    to him, who continued.
    	"Lieutenant Derek."
    	The next person was female of fairly average proportions. Her 
    exposed arms, however, seemed to be far more muscular than Chakotay 
    would have expected for a person shipboard for over sixty years. "You 
    may call me Raven," she identified herself, throwing a glance at 
    Chakotay, who promptly shifted his gaze to the next person in line.
    	There were not that many people left, and when it came Chakotay's 
    turn to speak he was blunt and to the point.
    	"You have my sincerest apologies for the abrupt termination of 
    our last diplomatic meeting. However," he looked over the assembled 
    crew, "without further ado I wish to propose an arrangement between our 
    crew and yours."
    	"How so?" C'baoth cooly inquired, although he knew what was 
    coming next.
    	"From what Captain Janeway informed me of, your ship is in need 
    of repairs. We can assist with those repairs, but in exchange..." His 
    voice trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence.
    	"We tow your ship home," C'baoth finished for him.
    	"Yes," Chakotay replied hesitantly. "Is that agreeable?"
    	"Well, it would seem that was the plan we were to follow before 
    your Captain pulled out," the Jedi rhetorically said. "She seemed to be 
    wary of treachery on our part, and in her position I would be wary 
    also, given what you have gone through in the past five years."
    	"Well..." the Commander paused to think. 'Am I really being that 
    careless?' he wondered to himself. "I suppose I'm looking at the 
    situation from the opposite side - sick and tired of all the 
    diversions. It seems that every few weeks or so we are attacked by some 
    strange race, and it's a welcome relief for us to meet a ship crewed by 
    humans that don't want to kill us."
    	"Are you sure?" C'baoth asked with a slight smile on his face. 
    "Can you [I]really[/I] trust us?"
    	After some thought, the Commander replied. "There are risks 
    involved in anything, including waiting. Let's just say I'm willing to 
    take my chances with this."
    	"Indeed," C'baoth calmly said.
    	At once, every commbadge on every person of the Voyager team 
    separated and flew to the far end of the table. Seven of Nine's hands 
    automatically went to where she normally kept her compression rifle, 
    but too late she remembered that she had agreed to leave it inside the 
    [I]Delta Flyer[/I].
    	Chakotay was out of his chair in a flash, although he was careful 
    not to appear threatening. "What is the meaning of this?" he harshly 
    demanded.
    	With a flick of C'baoth's hand, the commbadges returned to their 
    rightful owners.
    	"Mr. Chakotay, you stated yourself that you are willing to take 
    chances. I gave a mere demonstration of what can be accomplished with 
    the Force. As easily as I removed your communications devices, I could 
    have moved your starship. Or, were I in less control of my anger, I 
    could have killed every one of you before you could even comprehend 
    your fate."
    	The commander fumbled about, attempting to reattach the commbadge 
    as the Jedi Master continued speaking.
    	"However, you will understand that I am simply trying to be fair 
    to you. I did not organize this mission to conquer another galaxy, or 
    subjugate peoples under myself. Rather, this was designed to be an 
    exploratory mission; some in the Republic wished to know if life 
    existed beyond our galaxy. Doubtless this has proven to be the case, 
    and so now we negotiate."
    	"I see," a chastened Chakotay finally said as he sat back down.
    	C'baoth nodded at Avin and Derek. "I believe our captain and 
    engineer are perfectly capable of handling the rest of the discussions. 
    I've never been terribly good at the technicalities of shipboard 
    operation."
    	Silence prevailed as most everyone looked at the captain and 
    lieutenant while C'baoth exited. Finally, however, Chakotay broke the 
    silence.
    	"So what do we do?" he rhetorically asked. "Write a contract and 
    begin work?"
    	"Unfortunately, it's not so simple," Derek said thoughtfully. "If 
    we're to take you in tow, it is much more difficult than simply 
    attaching a cable to your ship, as we might a small freighter. We have 
    to build a frame that can firmly secure your ship, and it must have 
    communications and data linkages, plus all the other necessities."
    	"Okay," Chakotay said as he held up a hand and cut the engineer 
    off. "As long as we can obtain raw materials for our replicators, we 
    can assist in the construction of the framework. Any other problems?"
    	"No, but I have a question." Paris said from his seat, looking 
    expectantly at the other people. "How long will it take?"
    	Nobody answered the question for a long while, although Derek 
    uncomfortably looked at the assembled personnel.
    	"Construction and repairs, or travel?" was his eventual question.
    	"Travel," Paris replied.
    	"I'd think two and a half weeks is a good estimate," Derek 
    replied. "Providing you can give us some detailed star charts of the 
    area we're to travel through.
    	Chakotay stifled a sneeze. "I suppose that can be arranged for."
    	"Well what about repairs?" Tom continued.
    	The engineer sighed. "Anybody's guess is as good as mine, which 
    is about one month. Our engine room was damaged pretty badly--fires are 
    never a good thing to have--after we hit the black hole, and I don't 
    know what I'll do about the destroyed equipment, not to mention the 
    hyperdrive motivator."
    
    	* * *
    
    	Kathryn Janeway drummed her fingers restlessly on the side of her 
    biobed. Being confined to sickbay was simply so... [I]maddening.[/I]
    	She drew a LCARS console closer to herself, and looked it over. 
    As she did so, she remembered that even the famed Captain James T. Kirk 
    had often resorted to underhanded tactics in certain situations.
    	Several taps of the console brought her out of the Sickbay menu 
    and into the ship's main menu. 
    	[I]One time, when Kirk was in training at the Academy, he was 
    presented with a test. Nobody before had beaten it, as it was designed 
    to be unbeatable.[/I]
    	She accessed the crew roster, and proceeded to scan it.
    	[I]But he was going to change that. He reprogrammed it and made it 
    winnable, and thus passed the test. Only afterward did they notice what 
    had happened.[/I]
    	[I]Perfect,[/I] she thought to herself as she noticed one of the 
    ensigns' entries. Janeway was about to access it, but then she stopped 
    herself and casually looked at her own profile.
    
    	KATHRYN JANEWAY
    	2338-
    	GRADUATED STARFLEET ACADEMY, MAY 2363. MAJORED IN 
    	SPACIAL PHYSICS. PROMOTED TO RANK OF ENSIGN, JANUARY
    	2364, AND ASSIGNED TO USS AL-BATANI UNDER COMMAND OF CAPTAIN 
    	RICHARD PARIS (LATER ADMIRAL RICHARD PARIS). TRANSFERRED TO . . .
    
    	She scrolled down the display, knowing perfectly well of her own 
    history.
    
    	PROMOTED TO CAPTAIN, DECEMBER 2368. NOT ASSIGNED ANY
    	ANY COMMAND UNTIL 2370, WHEN SHE TOOK COMMAND OF THE 
    	INTREPID-CLASS STARSHIP USS VOYAGER. TEMPORARILY 
    	RELIEVED OF COMMAND, JUNE 2375 BY ORDERS OF CHIEF 
    	MEDICAL OFFICER. 
    	CURRENT STATUS: PENDING FURTHER EVALUATION
    
    	Janeway frowned at the display. She had already completed several 
    batteries of psychological tests; what could this mean?
    	She shut the LCARS terminal off, shoved it away, and decided to 
    go to sleep. Maybe things would sort themselves out.
    
  7. His Divine Shadow Commence Primary Ignition

    I like this draft alot better than the old one.
  8. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter Four

    Hm, the CODE tag works nicely for preformatted text. Now I have tabs :)

    Code:
     Chapter Four
      ============
    
    
    	"May I inquire as to the source of this information?"
    	"Classified, Mr. President," replied the NRI advisor. He was 
    standing in front of Senate President Borsk Fey'lya's desk, having just 
    delivered a report in-person.
    	The President proceeded to make a pretense of reading through the 
    report, if just to please the NRI spook. Halfway through, however, 
    something caught his eye.
    	"Bimmiel? I've never heard of it."
    	"It's an uninhabited planet within human tolerances between the 
    Outer Rim and Wild Space. As the report should mention, it was selected 
    as the site of an archeological dig by the Obroan Institute. Supposedly 
    it holds Jedi artifacts."
    	Fey'lya moved his gaze back up the page. Sure enough, the report 
    detailed the operations of the Obroan Institute, and how the team on 
    the planet had lodged several complaints about certain artifacts 
    disappearing; apparently, the team leader suspected that some Jedi were 
    raiding the site. Typical.
    	"Have you done anything about this yet?"
    	"No word has been received from the expedition in nearly a month. 
    Luke Skywalker already dispatched a team of Jedi to investigate."
    	[I]Convenient,[/I] the Bothan mentally observed. "On the request of 
    whom?"
    	"The Chief of State, apparently. A personal request, since Dr. 
    Joto Eckels, the administrator of the Obroan Institute, met with her 
    last week."
    	'Without the permission of the Council,' Fey'lya added silently. 
    What he said was different. "Did Dr. Eckels not appear in front of the 
    Senate some time ago to request assistance?"
    	"Correct."
    	"If I recall correctly, Major, the Senate voted and issued an 
    injunction against any interference with archeological matters due to 
    their sensitive nature." Fey'lya put on his best frown. "She should 
    have known better. I suppose that means an investigation is in order." 
    He let out the Bothan equivalent of a sigh, if just for effect.
    	"Indeed, Sir," the Intelligence major replied flatly.
    	Fey'lya gave another mock sigh, and set the report down. Bothans 
    were experts at disguising their emotions, and he had little reason to 
    suspect that the Major knew of his true feelings on the issue. "Thank 
    you, Major. The report was very informative."
    	The NRI major bowed and walked out. Fey'lya promptly grabbed a 
    handset belonging to the intercom on his desk, and punched in some 
    numbers.
    	Several new issues were added to the next Council meeting, among 
    them the state of affairs on Bimmiel.
    
    	* * *
    
    	Three days later the New Republic Advisory Council was assembled 
    in its meeting room, in an obscure wing of the former Imperial Palace. 
    It was certainly not the only meeting room they used; a far more secure 
    chamber was located nearly sixteen kilometers below the planetary 
    surface. However, Fey'lya saw no need for the security it provided, and 
    the more it was used the higher the likelihood of its being 
    accidentally found.
    	Presently, however, his attention was brought back to the matters 
    at hand as Leia Organa Solo, one-time Princess of Alderaan and 
    presently Chief of State of the New Republic, walked into the L-shaped 
    conference room and took her seat.
    	"Sorry I'm late," she informally apologized. "The traffic was 
    particularly bad going from the Manarai Mountains to Republic Center. 
    Some drunk pilot crashed his shuttle into a high-rise right beside one 
    of the main corridors."
    	Several other Council members smiled slightly. Coruscant's aerial 
    traffic snarls were known across the galaxy, rivaled only by those of 
    the Hutt moon of Nar Shadaa.
    	Fey'lya looked around the room, shuffled his flimsiplast scratch 
    sheets into something resembling order, and finally spoke. "As all 
    members are now present, I call this council meeting to order. The 
    agenda is accessible from your terminals."
    	He cast a casual glance toward the Chief of State, watching her 
    unconsciously fidget as she read the agenda. 'Good,' he thought to 
    himself as another Council member broached the first topic of the 
    meeting. It was one of the decidedly uninteresting topics that somehow 
    managed to slip through the cracks in the Senate bureaucracy. Although 
    Fey'lya had read through all the relevant documents beforehand, he 
    still had to pay cursory attention for looks. A dispute about nerf 
    farming regulations was not quite the most interesting topic, but it 
    was better than nothing. 
    	The next topic of discussion was concerning the current state of 
    the New Republic Navy. This was a recurring topic that came up at every 
    meeting; Fey'lya listened disinterestedly as a military advisor 
    explained why the lone remaining Executor-class commandship, the 
    [I]Lusyanka[/I], was being re-commissioned after nearly ten years of 
    inactivity. The reason behind the decision was that the Mon Calamari 
    shipyards were presently bogged down in civilian orders, slowing the 
    Republic's orders for battle-cruisers and "Star Defender" battleships. 
    At least it was a decent reason, Fey'lya mused.
    	Again, the Bothan observed the reactions around the table as the 
    golden-furred Caamasi senator, Elegos A'kla, stood up to voice his 
    opinion on the situation. He did not like it, as Fey'lya would expect. 
    Well, the Bothan did not blame the other senator; most Caamasi who had 
    survived the destruction of their world held a grudge against any and 
    all things Imperial. Fey'lya didn't bother to point out that the Base 
    Delta Zero operation had taken place before the Old Republic became the 
    Empire. After all, there was no sense in re-opening certain wounds if 
    he didn't have to.
    	His eyes briefly settled on those of the Chief of State. For a 
    fleeting instance, he wondered if she'd used her Force powers to probe 
    what was in his mind; then he discarded it. Jedi, as much as he 
    disliked them, were not supposed to do things like that. It was 
    considered an invasion of privacy.
    	But could they?
    	Fey'lya raised a furred hand to cover his mouth as if he were 
    stifling a sneeze. Of course, it served the more important function of 
    concealing a expression that briefly flickered across his face.
    	Another councilor stood up at one part of the table, conveniently 
    beside Leia. This person countered the Caamasi's points, dragging the 
    discussion on for ten additional minutes.
    	Finally, however, they reached the next-to-last topic: Bimmiel.
    	"It has come to my attention," the President began simply, "that 
    contact has been lost with a research team on the planet Bimmiel. I 
    have re-considered the previous stance that we took on archeological 
    research, and so request a discussion as to whether we should send a 
    low-cost team to investigate. This will, of course, require a Council 
    override of the Senate decision, so please take time to think it out."
    	"A team," Senator A'kla mused. "Special forces? Observers? Jedi?"
    	"If it proves necessary," Fey'lya responded amiably, manipulating 
    his terminal. "This is some data that the NRI delivered three days ago 
    concerning Bimmiel." He motioned to the conference room's main 
    viewscreen; on every terminal at the table, copies of the data 
    appeared.
    	"Intersting," the Caamasi said to himself. "And we received a 
    distress signal from their ship?"
    	"Last week, in fact," Fey'lya replied. "Which is why I believe we 
    should act fast on this information." He smiled inwardly as he observed 
    Leia stiffen ever so slightly.
    	Another Council member spoke up. "But if it's a week old, then 
    isn't it already useless? The Navy should have been immediately 
    dispatched to the source of the signal."
    	Fey'lya gave what might have been a quiet laugh. "Did you not pay 
    any attention to the Navy advisor? The Navy is retiring some of the 
    early warships, which is causing gaps due to production issues. We 
    simply don't have enough warships to respond to every single distress 
    call."
    	"Mr. President, I understand that the Navy numbers in the 
    thousands. Why the shortage then?"
    	The Bothan's fur rippled slightly. "Senator, the Old Republic had 
    over a million member worlds. Although we are not quite that large yet, 
    we still control a major portion of those member worlds. Several 
    thousand - even several tens of thousands of ships are simply not 
    enough to go around almost a million worlds." What he didn't say was 
    that the Republic relied far more heavily on the independent defense 
    forces of their member planets than the Empire ever had.
    	Fey'lya's voice became softer. "Please, Senator, we are deviating 
    from the topic at hand. Would anyone like to forward a motion?"
    	"I will," Elegos said after some time had passed. "I propose a 
    motion to send a team of Jedi to Bimmiel and see what became of the 
    researchers."
    	Fey'lya inwardly smiled. The Caamasi was going along exactly as 
    he'd expected him to. It was hardly surprising given the Senator's 
    friendship with the Jedi Knight, Corran Horn.
    	"I second the motion," the Senator that had brought up the Navy 
    issue said.
    	"Very well," the Bothan said. "All in favor of the motion, say 
    yes. All not in favor, say no."
    	Eight Council members said yes; two said no, and, Fey'lya noted, 
    the Chief of State abstained along with one other Senator.
    	"The motion passes." The Bothan now reached to the terminal, and 
    shortly the Intelligence documents on the main viewscreen were replaced 
    by the scarred yet still handsome face of Kyp Durron.
    	"Jedi Academy," he said absentmindedly, blinking a few times 
    before he realized who was calling. "Oh, Mr. President! Is there 
    something you want to know?"
    	Borsk Fey'lya turned to the Caamasi senator. "Senator A'kla?"
    	"Can I speak with the Jedi Master?" Elegos inquired.
    	Kyp frowned briefly. "He's not here at the moment. He put me in 
    charge temporarily. Is there anything you wanted?"
    	"Yes. The Council requests that a team of Jedi investigate 
    Bimmiel. We lost contact with a group of archeologists there last 
    week."
    	Now, Kyp's expression took on a clear look of confusion. 
    "Bimmiel? Master Skywalker dispatched Corran and Ganner there a couple 
    of days ago."
    	"[I]What?[/I]" Fey'lya came to his feet, surprise written on his 
    normally expressionless face. "How could that be if no orders were 
    given?"
    	Kyp Durron shrugged. "Beats me. All I know is that Corran said 
    something was up over there. He packed up and left in a hurry."
    	"That means there is a security breach somewhere," the President 
    commented. "And we must take all security breaches seriously. Mr. 
    Durron, do you know why they were sent with this information?"
    	The Jedi was somewhat complacent about it. "I heard something 
    about their being authorized by the Chief of State, but I guess I could 
    be wrong. Why?"
    	"The Chief of State..." Fey'lya muttered, slowly turning away 
    from the viewscreen. At the same time, Leia came to her feet.
    	"Mr. President, what is the meaning of this?" she quickly 
    demanded. Although Kyp couldn't see her, he could certainly hear her, 
    and his expression took on even more concern.
    	"It is simply a matter of national security, Madame Chief of 
    State," the Bothan said in a smooth, calm voice. "You breached security 
    in ordering those Jedi to be sent, as the NRI report was not cleared 
    for the general public. Likewise, you violated a direct Senate order 
    designed to protect the archeological community."
    	"Wait a moment!" Kyp shouted over the comm. Fey'lya cut him off.
    	"Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Durron." He shut the 
    viewscreen down, and turned back to Leia Organa-Solo.
    	"A hearing will be held in the Senate tomorrow, I assure you. 
    This Council meeting is adjourned." He flashed a toothy smile at Leia, 
    and walked out.
    	She let her shoulders collapse, and gritted her teeth. What could 
    she do?
    
    	* * *
    
    	An hour later, Leia stormed into the Solo apartment near the 
    Manarai Mountains. Her angry activation of the door switch caused 
    seventeen-year-old Anakin to stick his head out of his room.
    	"Hi, Mom," he cheerfully offered. He'd arrived back from Yavin IV 
    only the previous week, and was enjoying his brief stay on Coruscant, 
    for the most part. She almost envied him for that; so carefree, so 
    unconcerned with the current political situation. "What happened?" he 
    inquired.
    	"Don't ask," she spat. "Where's Han?"
    	Anakin caught her glare, and decided to trust his mother's 
    advice. "He left to check the [I]Falcon[/I] with Chewie. Should be back in a 
    few hours."
    	Leia threw herself into a chair, and undid her hair from its 
    elaborate braid. She'd never liked Fey'lya, and this entire thing with 
    the Council seemed somewhat phony. Granted, she had asked her brother 
    about Bimmiel - but that was only because Dr. Joto Eckels had come to 
    her personally! How did [I]that[/I] constitute a threat to national 
    security?
    	'Maybe I should have taken Han's advice and retired from politics 
    years ago,' she thought. 
    	"Mom, I know something's bothering you. What happened?" Anakin 
    was walking toward the kitchen, [I]still in his sleeping clothes[/I], Leia 
    observed. She wondered if he'd forgotten to dress again because he was 
    programming a droid. 
    	'Oh well.' Maybe it would be good to get the issue off her chest. 
    "Borsk Fey'lya is trying to impeach me again, apparently. He thinks 
    that I breached national security."
    	"Oh." Anakin looked over the food synthesizer unit, finally 
    tapping its controls. "That reminds me why I don't want to get into 
    politics."
    	"Good choice," she commented, standing up and walking to a mirror 
    on the other side of the room. Her brown hair was shot through with 
    grey, doubtlessly because of all the stress of her job. 'And I'm only 
    44,' she wondered, turning her head to the side and noting the wrinkles 
    that were beginning to form on her cheeks. 'I'm too young for this!'
    	Another thought hit her. 'You've been spending so much time with 
    politics that you aren't even paying attention to your family! Now even 
    Anakin's almost grown up!'
    	Leia sighed. Both Jaina and Jacen visited very infrequently  - 
    they were nineteen, after all, and considered adults by most 
    governments. It was surprising how fast her children could grow up. 
    "How has everything been at the Academy?"
    	"All right, more or less," her son amiably replied. "The shield 
    generator was giving us some problems, though. The humidity's likely 
    damaging some of the circuitry. Oh, that reminds me. I need to pick up 
    some parts for it before I head back."
    	"How's Tahiri?"
    	Anakin blushed ever so slightly at the mention of his friend and 
    fellow Jedi trainee, two years his younger. He'd met her six years ago, 
    when he first joined the Academy. "She's all right. She was planning to 
    build her first lightsaber while I'm gone. I don't know how that's 
    going."
    	Leia sighed, and walked to the bedroom. A shower would be very 
    nice, she decided. Maybe it would take her mind off current events.
    
    	* * *
    
    	The following morning, Leia found that her body didn't want to 
    head to the Senate. She forced herself to get out of bed, however, and 
    listened quietly to Han's loud snores as she dressed. Once dressed, she 
    padded down the hallway toward the kitchen and got a hot beverage. It 
    was supposed to have a lot of caffeine, and she felt that she would 
    need it.
    	Leia glanced out toward the balcony adjacent to the main room. 
    Chewie was there, all right, sleeping in a sort of hammock that he had 
    strung up. Despite her many visits to Kashyyyk, she never really 
    understood why Wookiees liked heights so much, or why they preferred to 
    sleep outdoors.
    	Slowly, she sipped at the hot beverage, and turned on the HoloNet 
    receiver to see what was happening. Nothing terribly out of the 
    ordinary-
    	"[I]What?[/I]" she half-shouted. Outside, Chewbacca jerked in his 
    hammock, and she heard a loud thump from Anakin's room. He'd probably 
    managed to fall out of bed.
    	The news channel was running a story on [I]her[/I]!
    	"Here to discuss this affair is Senate President Borsk Fey'lya." 
    the reporter, whose name she couldn't even try to pronounce, said. The 
    holocam changed its view.
    	'What affair?' Leia wondered, watching disgustedly as the Bothan 
    stepped up to the podium. 
    	"Ladies and gentlebeings," he began, "a most distressing matter 
    has come to my attention. Madame Leia Organa-Solo, our Chief of State, 
    has been accused of money laundering and racketeering by several 
    corporations. We are currently investigating the matter, and hope to 
    prevent any sort of embarrassment to the Senate or the New Republic 
    government. This, of course, being a serious accusation."
    	"You kriffing two-faced bastard!" she shouted at the screen. 
    Awakened by her voice, Han stumbled into the living room.
    	"What's going on, hon? I heard you shouting."
    	He froze as Fey'lya responded to a reporter's question.
    	"Intelligence is looking into the matter, as I previously said."
    	Anakin walked into the room, somewhat bleary-eyed. He also froze 
    when he saw the screen.
    	"Mr. President, we heard from a confidential source that the 
    Chief of State also has been accused of violating a recent Senate 
    ruling. What do you know about this?"
    	"Very little," Fey'lya stated. "However, the Senate has already 
    decided to hold a hearing on the matter in two hours. We expect that 
    the Chief of State will be there to hopefully clear any accusations 
    against herself."
    	Leia swore under her breath as the station went back to their 
    newsroom.
    	"Well, there it is," an anchor commented. "For those of you just 
    joining us, allegations have been made that the Chief of State has been 
    quietly laundering money on the side. Such a scandal has never been 
    seen at such a high level before." The anchor turned to another person 
    beside him. "I certainly hope that they're false, but all the 
    indications show otherwise." The other anchor agreed.
    	Han shook his head. "I don't believe it."
    	Leia downed what was left of her drink and stood up. "Neither do 
    I. But if Fey'lya wants to crown himself Emperor, I don't really care 
    anymore." Walking back to the kitchen, she set the mug down. "Because 
    I'm resigning as soon as I get to the Senate."
    	Han Solo, smuggler and one time hero of the Republic, simply 
    stared at his wife, too stunned to speak.
  9. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter Five

    Well, I goofed up a bit, and accidentally posted Chapter Four instead of Chapter Three. With some editing (thank you vBB) Three is in its rightful place. That should clear up any confusion.

    Oh, yeah, here's Chapter Five.

    Code:
     Chapter Five
      ============	
    
    
    	FIVE PEOPLE strode down a fairly long corridor on the Bulk 
    Cruiser, talking between themselves as they did so. It was not 
    surprising considering that one was dressed in the garb of a Jedi, one 
    in the uniform of a Republic Navy crewman, and the rest in form-fitting 
    Starfleet uniforms. 
    	They stopped at a blastdoor, and the Jedi activated a switch to 
    open it. Its three layers slid apart in a diamond shape, slowly 
    revealing the room beyond. Many crewmen, both Republic and Federation, 
    walked about, working or consulting datapads, PADDs, or terminals. A 
    greater number of droids were scattered about, primarily astromechs-
    although there were a few protocol droids, too.
    	"So this is the engine room," Chakotay observed as he took in the 
    room. He noted the prominent absence of a warp core.
    	"Actually, this is only the engine control room," Lieutenant 
    Derek explained as he stepped around an R4 series astromech droid. "The 
    engine room actually covers the entire aft section of the ship, if not 
    very deeply. But the hyperdrive is located here." He pointed to a 
    large, rectangular block in the center of the room, the white surface 
    of which seemed to be embossed with a web of interleaving circuitry 
    patterns. Much of the activity of the crewmen was concentrated around 
    it.
    	"Is it powered by a warp core?"
    	That only earned him a strange look from the engineer. "Never 
    heard of one. What is it?"
    	"Pardon me," Chakotay apologized, realizing that he was talking 
    to a person who knew very little of Federation technology. "It's a 
    matter-antimatter reactor," he supplied. "I'm not particularly sure of 
    its specifications, but the reaction is controlled with a matrix of 
    dilithium crystals."
    	Derek shivered noticeably, although it had nothing to do with the 
    temperature of the room - which was, in fact, quite warm. "Some ships 
    have antimatter reactors, but I've never seen one on a warship yet. 
    Antimatter engines are another thing, though. Those are our primary 
    propulsion systems."
    	"Our computer identified them as ion engines."
    	The engineer shrugged. "They work on a similar principle. It's 
    pretty easy to misidentify them when they're shut down, but when 
    they're running they produce a hell of a lot of high-energy radiation." 
    	A loud _clang_ echoed across the room, catching his attention. 
    Derek spun around, in time to notice two workers drop a panel and run.
    	"The kriff-" he started before noticing a swarm of small, almost 
    invisible black creatures begin crawling out of the wall. He briefly 
    laughed. "R4, get over there and spray those critters before the crew 
    has a heart attack."
    	The droid obediently trundled over, and began spraying the 
    arachnids with fire-retardent foam. In the meantime, the engineer 
    turned back to the group. "Anything else you wanted to see?" he asked, 
    almost as if he was used to having arachnid nests disturbed all the 
    time. Chakotay briefly wondered if he was.
    	"Whatever you want to show us next," Seven stated as she watched 
    the crew walk about, tending to various tasks that needed to be 
    completed.
    
    
    	Elsewhere, Captain Kathryn Janeway rolled over on her biobed as 
    if she had just awoken, and looked at the time. She nodded, propped 
    herself up on one elbow, and looked around the Sickbay. It was empty, 
    which was to be expected considering that they had not been attacked by 
    anybody. 
    	This was a routine she had rehearsed for nearly a month now, 
    since they had confined her to Sickbay in the first place. And as far 
    as she was concerned, it was insanely simple. 
    	She tossed her legs over the side of the bed, and dragged an 
    LCARS console toward herself. Switching it on, she accessed the crew 
    roster and glanced at her own profile. No changes had been made to it.
    	Her next step was to access a section of the computer that seemed 
    completely innocuous and did not appear to be connected to anything. 
    While she was working her way thought a particular sequence of 
    commands, however, her thumb slipped and activated the wrong thing.
    	The LCARS terminal beeped, the same volume as it had for all of 
    her commands. However, to her the beep seemed to echo throughout 
    Sickbay. She grimaced at the error, and focused even harder on the 
    console.
    	The sequence was entered once again, more carefully this time. It 
    took a bit more time, but as long as nobody called Sickbay for advice 
    from the Doctor, she was perfectly fine. Finally, she smiled at her 
    work: the LCARS terminal now displayed a detailed list of options. 
    After looking the options over, she selected one and waited.
    	It worked perfectly.
    	Her genetic profile was now associated with that of a non-
    existant ensign.
    	Janeway let out a deep sigh, one that sounded as if it had been 
    pent up for several weeks, and perhaps it was. It didn't really matter; 
    she stood up and stretched, listening to the joints in her spine crack. 
    Then she walked toward the exit.
    	Or at least tried to.
    	Am all-too-familiar voice behind her spoke. "Are you perhaps 
    going somewhere, Captain?"
    
    
    	"I think that we've just about covered everything in here," 
    Lieutenant Derek remarked somewhat tiredly as the group walked back to 
    the front of the control room. He glanced at Seven, absentmindedly 
    admiring her curvaceous figure while he attempted to converse with 
    another Federation crewmember. He'd never been able to figure out how 
    he could hold two conversations at once. "Besides, I don't think I need 
    to watch them anymore. Did one of you want to head out and take a look 
    at the work on the framework?"
    	"That would be pleasant," Chakotay replied with a hint of 
    boredom. Derek didn't blame him; listening to technical specifications 
    for alien equipment tended to confuse most laymen.
    	"All right," he said, throwing another glance at Seven, "I guess 
    we'll head for the hangar bay." The engineer tapped the controls on the 
    door, which slid open with a quiet hiss, and walked down the corridor 
    toward the turbolift shaft.
    
    
    	Janeway spun around in reaction to the Doctor's sudden 
    appearance.
    	"Captain," his voice took on a note of annoyance, "I did give 
    specific orders that you were to remain here until I released you from 
    my care."
    	Janeway dove to the floor as the Doctor suddenly brought a 
    sedative hypospray toward her. As she did so, her elbow slammed into 
    the hard surface of the deck, causing her to grimace in pain; she tried 
    her best to ignore it, stretching out her heel to trip the Doctor.
    	He went down briefly, but as soon as she had come to her feet so 
    had he. The two combatants faced off over a biobed, one holding a 
    hypospray and the other unarmed.
    	Again, the Doctor lunged at her. She dove out of his way again, 
    belatedly realizing that she had managed to get her computer 
    permissions back.
    	"Computer, end program."
    	The Doctor disappeared, and promptly she began running toward the 
    exit...
    	Only to have him re-appear in front of her path.
    	"Computer-" This time, he did not allow her to complete her 
    sentence as he advanced, still holding the hypospray. She backed up, 
    tripping over a biobed in the process. The Doctor brought his hypospray 
    closer.
    	"End program!"
    	The Doctor didn't pause before he spoke. "I have isolated myself 
    from the main computer, Captain."
    	"Thanks for telling me," she sarcastically retorted. "Computer-"
    	Janeway cut her sentence short and rolled sideways as the Doctor 
    forcefully thrust his hypospray toward her again. She came up on the 
    far side of another biobed, half-crouched and tense with anticipation.
    	"Cut all-"
    	He again thrust the hypospray toward her. This time, she grabbed 
    his wrist and thrust it away from herself. She heard the distinctive 
    hissing as he activated it, but thankfully the drug only went into the 
    air.
    	"-power to-"
    	She dodged another thrust with the hypospray, madly looking 
    around Sickbay to see if there was something that she could use as a 
    weapon. Her quick search only turned up several pillows.
    	"-Sickbay!" she finished. The lights promptly went out, but she 
    could still see the Doctor, who faintly glowed in the absence of light.
    	"Damn," she cursed. She'd forgotten about his mobile emitter. But 
    there was no time to contemplate her mistake, as she observed the 
    Doctor come at her again. She grabbed a nearby pillow and flung it the 
    approaching hologram, momentarily stopping him as he ducked below the 
    polyester projectile. She started running in the darkened Sickbay-
    	-and ran straight into a medical cart, which fell over, 
    scattering instruments all over the floor. She came back to her feet 
    once more only to trip on the fallen cart.
    	The Doctor continued his pace toward her, the ever-present 
    hypospray still in his hand. "Captain, may I suggest you return to your 
    unit before you inflict further harm on yourself? It is difficult 
    enough handling a psychological emergency."
    	Kathryn ignored his cautions. She picked up the medical cart with 
    as much effort as she could muster, spun around as fast as was 
    possible, and hit the Doctor broadside. As he fell backward from the 
    impact, she dashed out of the Sickbay.
    
    
    	The hangar bay was, unsurprisingly, bustling with activity as the 
    the five people stepped out of the turbolift. 
    	"All right, who's in charge here?" Derek half-shouted over the 
    din of chittering astromechs and fusion welders. A mechanic, jumpsuit 
    stained with various lubricants, stepped up.
    	"I am, Sir. Lieutenant Ricow, Sir."
    	Derek glanced at the other man's insignia to confirm the 
    statement. "Relax, Lieutenant. We're the same rank." The engineer 
    paused when he saw several heavy-lift droids carting a hyperdrive unit 
    out of one shuttle, and several others bringing in something that 
    marginally resembled a cross between a fishbowl and a blender, 
    depending on the observer's perspective. Other droids were busy 
    modifying the "outriggers" on the Cygnus Spaceworks shuttle.
    	"Something wrong?" the other lieutenant queried as he noticed 
    Derek's stare.
    	"What the heck are they doing to that shuttle?"
    	"An experiment, Lieutenant. We're fitting something called a 
    'warp drive' to it. Commander Chakotay and Master C'baoth authorized 
    it."
    	Derek questioningly turned to Chakotay. "Sir?"
    	The Commander slowly nodded. "Yes, I did give my consent."
    	He spun about again, somewhat unsure of the current situation. 
    "We need a shuttle, Ricow. Is the other one working?"
    	"It should be, although we haven't completely checked it."
    	Derek nodded. "All right. Get us cleared for liftoff."
    
    
    	The Doctor snapped back up in time to see Janeway exit the 
    Sickbay. He briefly calculated the outcomes of pursuing his patient, 
    but decided against it. Although a medical cart could not do him any 
    real damage due to his nature as a hologram, it was terribly annoying - 
    and he calculated that the risk of damage to his mobile emitter was too 
    high, despite its protective, high-density armor.
    	Besides, he was a doctor, not a soldier. He walked over to a comm 
    unit, and activated it.
    
    
    	Janeway was stepping into a turbolift just as the Doctor's 
    announcement came over Voyager's communications system.
    	"Attention all personnel. This is the Chief Medical Officer 
    speaking. Former Captain Kathryn Janeway, a potentially dangerous 
    patient, has escaped Sickbay after attacking me. Please stun and bring 
    her back here intact if possible."
    	She cursed silently and hit the control panel rather than using 
    voice commands. The doors slid shut, blocking off the view of the 
    corridor beyond, and there was the briefest of sensations as the pod 
    began moving. It seemed like only several seconds had passed before the 
    doors opened again. She cautiously and quietly stepped into the 
    corridor, walking down it as softly as possible toward the door at the 
    far end. Again, Janeway worked the control panel, and was rewarded as 
    it slid open in response to her thumbprint. 
    	Kathryn stepped into the shuttlebay, and looked over the one 
    shuttle that was left after the five years she'd spent traveling 
    through the Delta Quadrant. 
    	The /Delta Flyer/.
    	Ever so cautiously, she walked forward to the shuttle, watching 
    for crewmen. Strangely enough, nobody was present, which caused her to 
    wonder even more about the situation. Despite all the times Voyager's 
    shuttles had been hijacked, there typically was a shuttlebay crew 
    present. Yet now there was none.
    	She continued to the rear of the Delta Flyer, opening its main 
    hatch and jumping inside, then closing it after her. Next, Janeway 
    walked forward to the cockpit, looked over the controls, and made her 
    decision.
    	She would take the Delta Flyer out, figure out what was 
    happening, then continue to the Bulk Cruiser and try to warn Chakotay 
    about the situation, try to make him break off whatever he'd started. 
    All thoughts she'd had about the Jedi were discarded; the only thing 
    she now cared about was the way that C'baoth had planted ideas into her 
    head.
    	She shook it and blinked. What was she thinking? A shuttle was 
    nearly defenseless... but then again, this was no ordinary shuttle, she 
    concluded as some crewmen finally stepped into the shuttlebay.
    	Taking a deep breath, she started to bring the shuttle's systems 
    online.
    
    
    	"I'll take the controls," Master Dellen supplied as Derek stared 
    uneasily at the cockpit. 
    	"Thanks," the engineer acknowledged, stepping away to let the 
    Jedi pass. He wasn't much of a pilot, although he could fly a ship in a 
    pinch; it wasn't something he was too proud of. The first time he'd 
    taken the controls of a ship, it was a shuttle similar the one he was 
    aboard now, and five minutes later he'd managed to crash it. Well, it 
    wasn't completely his fault; a flock of birds had run into him (or vice 
    versa), jamming up the engines and catching themselves on the control 
    surfaces. Several had run into the viewport, obscuring any chance of a 
    view. He didn't remember much beyond that other than the fact that he'd 
    crashed, nor did he want to remember. It was a miracle he'd made it out 
    alive at all.
    	Dellen, however, was anything if not calm and collected. He 
    confidently manipulated the shuttle's controls, and without a bump the 
    shuttle lifted off the deck of the Bulk Cruiser's hangar on its 
    repulsorlifts. As soon as the shuttle cleared the hangar, the Jedi then 
    fired the maneuvering thrusters to aim the engines clear, and lit the 
    sublight engines.
    	The other three people crowded into the cockpit, and Paris 
    slipped into the copilot's seat beside Dellen without asking. He didn't 
    take the controls, however; instead, he simply looked over the 
    displays.
    	"Do you fly?" Dellen asked when he noticed Paris' inspection of 
    the console.
    	"As a matter of fact, yes. I was one of the best pilots at the 
    Academy."
    	A smile started to crack Dellen's face, and he shoved down hard 
    on the stick. The shuttle instantly responded with  a burst of power, 
    which sent it hurtling back toward the mostly-completed framework that 
    connected /Voyager/ and the /Ny'lith Boro/. Behind Seven and Chakotay, 
    Derek tightly gripped the padded entryway and closed his eyes.
    	"I think I get the point," Paris said through gritted teeth as 
    Dellen pulled up bare meters from the framework, then threw the shuttle 
    through a series of stomach-wrenching twists and turns as he slalomed 
    through some exposed girders. "I also think the Commander didn't want 
    to inspect the framework /this/ closely!"
    	He glanced over at the Jedi, and recoiled in shock when he saw 
    that his eyes were closed. But the shuttle leveled out and slowed 
    slightly, and Paris breathed a sigh of relief.
    
    
    	Janeway wrapped her hand around the /Delta Flyer/'s joystick, 
    somewhat uncomfortable with the feel of it-after all, most shuttles 
    were controlled by touchpads-and pulled back. The modified Type-11 
    lifted off the shuttlebay deck, much to the astonishment of the crew.
    	"Computer, open the shuttlebay doors."
    	"Unable to comply. Biological forms detected in shuttlebay. 
    Decompression will result in death."
    	The captain gritted her teeth. She didn't want to kill any of her 
    crew, but she also wanted to get out. A new thought came to her... 
    although it had never been tried before. She shuddered briefly before 
    she gave the order; what if it went wrong?
    	"Computer, activate cargo transporters one through five. Beam the 
    /Delta Flyer/ out of the shuttlebay."
    	Her stomach twisted slightly as the less refined cargo 
    transporters, which were never intended to be used for what she wanted, 
    took hold of her and the shuttle. Moments later, the view of Voyager's 
    shuttlebay was replaced with a view of the aft section of the ship.
    	She gasped at what she saw next. Not only was she aft of 
    /Voyager/- she was in front of the Bulk Cruiser!
    	"/Delta Flyer/, this is /Voyager/. You have launched without 
    authorization. Return to the ship at once."
    	Janeway ignored the warning. She could already see that the 
    shuttle was out of range of the Intrepid-class starship's phaser 
    strips, thanks to a framework of some sort that connected it, backward 
    and upside-down, to the alien Bulk Cruiser. Quickly, she took the 
    controls of the shuttle and moved it forward, looking the situation 
    over as she did so.
    	She wondered exactly where the Bulk Cruiser's hangar was. 
    Although they'd beamed over to it, she never really had a good idea... 
    Now she remembered-it was on the port side of the ship. Janeway made 
    the necessary alterations to her flight path...
    	... only to find another shuttle coming at her, directly in her 
    path. She had no time to do anything before the computer automatically 
    took over, diverting the shuttle's course to prevent a collision.
    
    
    	"What in the blazes?" Dellen exclaimed as the Delta Flyer 
    suddenly appeared in front of them. He pulled back on the controls to 
    avoid a collision, noting that the other shuttle was diverting its 
    course likewise.
    	Paris froze for a moment with his jaw open before he was able to 
    recollect himself and respond. "That's the Delta Flyer... /that's my 
    ship!/"
    	"Your ship?" Dellen shot back as he steered the Cygnus shuttle 
    clear of a large girder.
    	"I built it, and someone's taking it!"
    	Dellen threw Paris a slightly confused glance. "Are you sure that 
    it's not just ferrying someone over?"
    	"No, because I'm really the only one who knows how to handle it. 
    And if that person so much as scratches the paint..."
    	"What paint?" Dellen asked with a grin on his face; the only 
    paint on the shuttle was that of its name and its registry of NCC-
    74656. They both chuckled for several seconds before Paris became more 
    serious.
    	"Hail it. I'd like to see who stole my shuttle."
    	Dellen reached up to an overhead control panel and flipped 
    several switches, then frowned. "It's not broadcasting any IFF, and I 
    can't open a channel."
    	Before Paris could open his mouth, Seven spoke up from her 
    location in the back of the cockpit. "The communications systems are 
    likely incompatible."
    	"I'd just about figured that out myself," the Jedi sarcastically 
    responded as he continued to follow the /Delta Flyer/. "Any 
    suggestions?"
    	Seven shook her head. "No, since I have little knowledge of your 
    equipment."
    	He nodded. "Perfect. Derek, maybe you can explain our equipment 
    to her and come up with a solution."
    	Beside him, Paris' face turned white. "Dellen... it's heading for 
    the asteroid belt."
    	Dellen turned his head around to look, and subconsciously 
    confirmed that the Delta Flyer was heading for the system's asteroid 
    belt. His brain briefly told him that the /Ny'lith Boro/ had moved 
    closer to the belt so it could tractor some asteroids in for Voyager to 
    refine and build the frame out of, but the thought was irrelevant and 
    promptly discarded.
    	"Can you do anything to stop it?"
    	"Not really," the Jedi replied quickly. "I could try a tractor 
    beam, but that ship's almost the size of this one. It would just pull 
    us with it."
    	"So what are we going to do?" Paris asked somewhat desperately.
    	"Follow it." Dellen flipped several more switches, and a green 
    indicator on the control panel came to life. "Shields are up. We're 
    going in."
    	Despite his experience as a pilot, Paris was sweating profusely 
    as micrometeroids began to pepper the shuttle. It reminded him of 
    flying through a hailstorm in an airskipper, as he had done several 
    times in his younger, more reckless, days. He reached up to wipe some 
    sweat off his brow, and gasped as a new scene presented itself.
    
    
    	"Warning. You are entering an asteroid field. The odds of 
    destruction are greatly increased."
    	"Shut up," Janeway told the computer. It complied, thankfully. 
    The less distractions she had, the better; now, she concentrated on 
    shaking the other shuttle that had pasted itself to her tail. 
    Absentmindedly, she wondered why they didn't try to attack her.
    	She pushed down on the control stick, watching the old-fashioned 
    attitude dials spin around like crazy, and looped around a large, slow-
    moving asteroid. For a brief second, she thought that she had shaken 
    the other shuttle, but it immediately imitated her move and was back in 
    pursuit.
    
    
    	Master Dellen threw the Cygnus Spaceworks shuttle through a 
    series of twists and turns that, had it not been for the alluvial 
    dampers, would have made everyone aboard pass out. As it was, several 
    of the passengers were close to losing it. He heard some noise come 
    from the refresher compartment; the engineer was likely relieving his 
    stomach.
    	"Watch it," Paris warned beside him as a fairly large asteroid 
    spun into their path. The Jedi was turning the ship almost before the 
    words came out of his mouth; in front of them, the Delta Flyer vanished 
    from view behind another large asteroid. "They went that way."
    	"So I saw," Dellen responded tersely as he dove under the new 
    asteroid. He quietly thanked the Force that this was a relatively quiet 
    field, unlike some fields he'd seen. Still, it was not without its 
    dangers-dangers which, he observed, were /very/ much present.
    	A fairly small rock slammed into the side of the ship, and he 
    heard a person groan somewhere in the aft compartment. The shield 
    indicator briefly flickered with red, then went back to a yellow-green 
    as it recharged. The Jedi paid only cursory attention to the indicator, 
    concentrating on weaving a path through the belt behind the /Delta 
    Flyer/.
    
    
    	Janeway glanced down at the controls, then back to the asteroid 
    field. "Computer, what is the shield strength on that shuttle?"
    	"Fifty-seven percent," the computer replied as cheerfully as it 
    might announce the brewing of a cup of coffee. With that thought, 
    Janeway wished that she did have some coffee; she was getting rather 
    tired.
    	"Is it weak enough to beam through?"
    	"There is a 50% chance of transport success," the computer 
    responded.
    	"Establish a transporter lock on it, and beam me off if there is 
    significant risk of my destruction." She briefly wondered if Paris was 
    piloting the pursuing shuttle; whoever it was was a far better pilot 
    than herself. But she pushed the thoughts aside, and continued to focus 
    on piloting the shuttle through. Subconsciously, her brain continued to 
    wonder at the sanity of escaping in a lightly armed shuttlecraft rather 
    than attempting to negociate.
    	She looked up, and her mouth seemed to drop of its own accord. An 
    asteroid, the size of a small transport, was heading directly toward 
    the /Delta Flyer/ - and she had no way of turning that would not damage 
    or destroy the shuttle.
    	"Computer, /initiate transport sequence!/"
    
    
    	Dellen shook his head. "That's crazy," he commented. "Those 
    asteroids are going to move-yeah, there they go."
    	Paris stared at the shuttle in front of them in disbelief. "Are 
    you sure?"
    	"She's not going to get out of that situation in one piece."
    	As if he had predicted it, the paths of several other asteroids 
    formed a sort of tunnel, at the center of which was the [I]Delta Flyer[/I] - 
    which was heading directly toward a large asteroid with nowhere to go.
    	"Holy-" Tom Paris cut himself off as he heard the distinctive 
    whine of a transporter beam from behind. He turned his attention back 
    to the viewport, however, unable to take his eyes off the shuttle he'd 
    built. "Shit."
    	The [I]Delta Flyer[/I] crashed nose-first into the asteroid, 
    splintering the tough carbonaceous rock into millions of insignificant 
    pieces before the shuttle's antimatter tanks ruptured. The ensuing 
    explosion blossomed out, engulfing hundreds of nearby asteroids in 
    gamma rays and superheated plasma. The Cygnus Spaceworks shuttle bucked 
    slightly as it ran into the shockwave, and Paris saw, out of the corner 
    of his eye, the shield indicators briefly flash red again.
    	He swore under his breath as he watched the explosion dissipate. 
    "I'm going to kill whoever did that, if they're not already dead."
    	"You were saying?" Chakotay rhetorically asked as he walked up to 
    the cockpit, holding one of Captain Kathryn Janeway's arms while Seven 
    held her other arm.
    	Paris turned around, and his jaw automatically dropped. 
    "[I]Kathryn?{/I]"
  10. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    A Prelude to War, Chapter Six

    OK, I'm going to be posting these a little slower, since I ran into some embarassing continuity mistakes.

    Chapter Six

    RYASPI FERNAS, Jedi Master and assigned navigator of the Outbound Flight Project, strode into a conference room aboard the Ny'lith Boro with what might have been called an air of slight annoyance. He scanned the room, noting in his glance the ebony-black conference table and the several datapads that were resting on its slick surface, the other five Jedi Masters that were gathered around the table, and several droids that were scattered about. Ignoring the droids, he pulled a seat from the table and sat down.
    "You're late," Master C'baoth observed as he shooed several MSE droids out with a wave of his hand. They skittered out of the door, scattering into the corridor outside in search of dust particles.
    "I know," Fernas answered, glancing at the datapad before him. He noted absently what the topic of the meeting was before turning his attention back to the other Jedi. "I got delayed down in the engine room. The navicomputer is a complete mess."
    C'baoth raised his eyebrow slightly. "I thought you said it was repairable?"
    "If you didn't fly this ship through a black hole, yes, maybe it would be," Fernas retorted. "But you did, and here we are in another galaxy, with a wrecked hyperdrive motivator and no star charts. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant."
    The other Jedi ignored his sarcasm. "You didn't answer my question. Can it be fixed or not?"
    He nodded. "Fixed, no problem. Derek and those left of the engine room crew have already replaced the motivator--at least we had a spare. But all the presets are lost, as are the star charts. Not to mention that it'll take forever to run jump calculations from here because of that convenient black hole."
    "So what would you suggest we do, Master?" Dellen inquired, sitting across the table from C'baoth. "Have we considered sending a shuttle back through the wormhole?"
    "That would be pointless," C'baoth responded. "We need to have everyone stay with the Project until we can find another spacefaring race."
    "We have two shuttles."
    "Exactly my point," he continued. "If we lose even one shuttle, we will not have a backup. And as I mentioned before, we need everything we can get."
    "All right," Dellen admitted, somewhat crestfallen. "What will we do in the meantime, then?"
    Fernas checked his datapad. "We've located a star system approximately forty light-years away that we can cruise to at sublight speeds. It'll take a long time, I admit, but it's out best choice of the bunch."
    "A long time?" Dellen asked somewhat incredulously. "You're talking about drifting for nearly... what, seventy years?"
    "I did say it would take a long time." Fernas pushed his seat away from the table slightly and leaned back. "But without a working hyperdrive, what other choice do we have? At least we know that the system has four planets, so maybe one of them has life."
    "Seventy years is still a long time," Dellen repeated. "Then there's always the chance that the system is barren, like so many others."
    "Oh, stop being so pessimistic, Dellen," Ryaspi commented with a hint of a smile. "The time depends on the speed we can reach with what fuel we have. If we have enough to accelerate to at least sixty percent of lightspeed, time will dilate somewhat. It'll seem like maybe two or three years at most. We might not even have to use the carbon freeze chambers."
    "Enough." C'baoth raised his hand, halting the discussion. "We must decide what we're going to do. I agree with Master Fernas that we should travel to that nearby star system. What are the opinions of everyone else?"
    "I'll go along with it," Dellen said after an uncomfortable moment had passed.
    "Three," C'baoth stated, turning toward the other three Jedi Masters. "And you?" Eventually, they all agreed.
    "I have just one question," Dellen finally said. "If we go into carbon freeze, who will stay behind to monitor the ship?"
    "One of us can do it," Ryaspi answered, "although the slave circuit system is up to the task."
    "Like the Katana fleet's was?" Dellen asked, alluding to the strange disappearance of the Dark Force, a fleet composed of two hundred new Rendili Dreadnaughts. The memory still hung fresh in many of their minds.
    Fernas sighed. "Of course not. That's also why we have several thousand droids aboard, and they're not slaved to the ship."
    "I'm still not so sure about this," the other Jedi finally commented, looking at C'baoth. A ripple seemed to go through the room as he did so, and for a brief instance Fernas thought he could see C'baoth's face contorting in anger.
    "Enough!" the Jedi Master finally roared, standing up. The air seemed to crackle around his outstretched fingertips. "None of you will travel to that system, then!"
    Fernas hurriedly backed away from the table as C'baoth seemed to grow in stature, towering over Dellen, who was by far the tallest of the bunch. By now the air was almost electrified, and Fernas' hair was nearly standing on end.
    He was about to hit the door controls when it happened. As if a thunderstorm had suddenly appeared inside the room, crackling bolts of blue energy suddenly burst from C'baoth's hands, coursing into the table, some nearby droids, and the five other Jedi. They were unprepared for it, but instinctively Dellen grabbed his lightsabre and started to draw it.
    C'baoth saw it, of course. There was no doubting that; instantly, a stunning barrage of energy coursed through the air toward Dellen. It hit his right hand just as he was about to ignite the blade of his energy sword, and he dropped it with a howl, clutching his smoking hand.
    Fernas attempted to take advantage of the brief lapse in the bolts to hit the alarm switch, open the door, and draw his own sabre. He was only able to accomplish the first task when a new cascade of energy hit his back. Spots began to form before his eyes--
    The Jedi Master froze, waiting for the final blast that never came. He opened his eyes, and was somewhat startled not to see the conference room and an enraged C'baoth, but the navicomputer and the entire crew of the engine room. They were, in fact, standing in a circle around him and staring.
    Noticing his confused look, the leading person decided to speak. "Do you need anything?"
    "Not really," the Jedi eventually said, attempting to figure out what his strange vision really meant. It was a recollection of the past, he was certain; but the whole thing at the end was confusing. "I'm fine, thanks. But I think I'll just head to my quarters for a brief rest, just in case."


    "Kathryn, just what the hell were you doing taking the Delta Flyer into an asteroid field?" Paris harshly demanded, using her first name without realizing it, as Dellen continued flying toward the Ny'lith Boro.
    She dropped her head. "I shouldn't have done it," Janeway admitted with a sigh. "But I wanted to reach the Republic ship and warn you."
    "Warn us?" the lieutenant inquired, his angry expression changing to one of shock. "Of what?"
    She looked directly at him. "I still fear that we're in danger by allying ourselves with them, although I have changed my mind several times."
    "In danger?" Paris' eyes bulged so much that Janeway idly wondered if they might fall out of their sockets." You're the one who got us in danger by going into the asteroid field in the first place! These people have helped us, provided us with a means to get home, fed us-what more could you ask of them?"
    "That's the problem," she replied. "It's just like what happened with the Dauntless."
    "With a major difference," Paris retorted sharply. "It's not just one person."
    "Stop shouting," a voice moaned from the back of the shuttle. "You're giving me a headache." Janeway turned to see Lieutenant Derek sitting at the back, holding his head between his hands.
    Chakotay gestured to the Republic lieutenant. "I know we discussed this before, Captain, but there's your difference. The Ny'lith Boro carries a crew of over two hundred-larger than our own-and several hundred, if not thousand, more androids like the ones you saw when you first beamed over. Now think this out, Captain: how difficult would it be to conceal a conspiracy among that many people?"
    "Too difficult," Janeway finally admitted as she looked around herself for a place to sit. Failing to find anything, she sat down on the deck and crossed her arms. "Forgive me, Commander. That was rather stupid of me." She disentangled her arms and rested her head on one hand, only to feel a sticky sensation on her chin. Quickly, she pulled her hand off and looked at it; it was stained with blood.
    "You're bleeding, Captain."
    She grimaced. "Scratches, really. I must have scraped myself when I was in Sickbay."
    Chakotay smiled and let out a quiet chuckle. "I never thought I'd hear someone say that they were injured while in Sickbay."
    They felt the faintest of sensations as the shuttle gently landed on the hangar deck. Clicking and hissing could be heard as the engines cooled down, and within a minute Dellen walked back from the cockpit. He glanced briefly at everyone's faces.
    "Am I interrupting anything?"
    "No," Janeway admitted with a smile. "Not really."
    He glanced around again somewhat uncomfortably, finally noticing the red stain on her hand. "I think we need to get you to Medical," Dellen eventually said matter-of-factly. As they stood up to exit the shuttle, however, his com-link apparently chose that moment to beep. The Jedi looked down at it as if deciding whether to answer it or not. He finally chose the former.
    "Dellen here."
    "This is Master Fernas," a voice said loudly enough for everyone in the shuttle to hear. "I need to talk with you in the mess hall as soon as possible."
    The Jedi thumbed the com-link to transmit. "Acknowledged. I'll be there, but I have to take Voyager's captain to Medical first."
    There was a brief moment of silence, which seemed like an eternity, on the other end. "I copy, Master Dellen."
    For the briefest of instants, Janeway's doubt crossed her face, but she quickly covered it up as she came to her feet. "All right," she began, "let's go."

    * * *

    By the time Dellen arrived in the mess hall, Fernas was mostly finished eating. Dellen didn't bother guessing as to the identity of the food, although what looked like the remains of sauteed brukalli lay across one part of the plate.
    As he stood staring at the plate, Fernas motioned for the other Jedi to take a seat across from him. "You hungry?"
    "Somewhat," he admitted as his stomach growled sharply. "Want to hear a really strange story?"
    "Go ahead."
    Dellen leaned back in the stiff chair, glanced at the other Jedi's plate hungrily, and started. "You might recall how I was giving Voyager's commander a little tour of the ship." When Fernas nodded, he continued. "Well, we finished ahead of time, and there really was not anything else to do, so Chakotay wanted to have a look at the framework. I obliged, and we took a shuttle out."
    "Hardly anything strange about that," the other Jedi observed in a monotone.
    "There's more. While we were out, I nearly ran into one of Voyager's shuttles."
    "They only have one left, you know," Fernas pointed out, causing Dellen to blink in surprise before continuing.
    "That's... nice," he finally said. "After we nearly ran into their shuttle, for some odd reason it just turned and ran. Lieutenant Paris asked me to chase it--he said that it wasn't supposed to be flying--so I did, right into the system's asteroid belt."
    "Sounds like whoever did that was either stupid or insane," the other Jedi Master observed.
    "Who are you kidding? That's not the end of it, by any means. The pilot managed to get herself trapped, and the shuttle was destroyed. She..." He faltered, thinking for the right word. "... beamed off just before destruction, apparently."
    "Who was the pilot?"
    "This is the unbelievable part."
    "Who?" Fernas repeated.
    "Captain Kathryn Janeway."
    Fernas' jaw dropped by a fraction of an inch in what passed for shock. "You're right." He shook his head. "Incredible. So what did you do with her?"
    "She was slightly injured, so I had Lieutenant Derek and a few security people take her down to Medical."
    "You didn't have her placed in detention for that?"
    Dellen looked at him strangely. "No. I didn't think it was really necessary, and besides, she didn't harm any of our crew. Remember, she's from a different ship and a different government. It's up to the Federation personnel to decide what to do with her."
    Fernas shrugged. "Your call, I suppose. Anyway, this isn't what I really wanted to talk about."
    "What did you want to talk about?"
    "Are you willing," Fernas moved his face closer to that of the other Jedi, resting his chin on elevated hands, "to take a shuttle and head back through the wormhole?"
    He frowned. "Didn't we have a discussion over that when we first came through?"
    Fernas nodded. "We did. But Master C'baoth never said one thing."
    "Which is?"
    "That the Outbound Flight, no matter how successful it is in finding and enlightening a civilization, is ultimately a failure if no word goes back to the Republic."
    He contemplated what the other Jedi had said. "Is this only your idea?"
    "No. I talked it over with the Captain. He recorded a message for you to take back." Fernas slid a chip across the table, which the other Jedi hesitantly took.
    "And what do I do with this?" Dellen asked pointedly, wondering exactly where Master Fernas was leading him.
    The older Jedi shrugged. "You'll have to figure that out when you get there. Take it to the Jedi Council if you can; they'll know what to do with it."
    Dellen nodded slowly, contemplating what Fernas had just said. "All right, I'll do it. When do I leave?"
    "I suggest you leave in a few hours."
    "What!" Dellen exclaimed with outrage. When he noticed the expressions on the crew, he lowered his voice. "That hardly gives me time to pack!"
    "I'm sorry about the brief notice, Dellen, but I was only informed earlier about our test run."
    "Is there any reason why I can't leave after we run the test?"
    "A very good one." The Jedi leaned back in his chair. "If it fails, we'll either be trapped in hyperspace or destroyed."
    Dellen swallowed a lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. "All right," he finally said. "I'll leave in a few hours, once I pack." He paused. "Hold on for a moment. The shuttle will need to be checked. I think it might have been slightly damaged in the asteroid field."
    "I'll see to it," Fernas replied as he extended his hand. "Thank you, Master Dellen. I knew I could count on you."
    "You're welcome," he acknowledged as he stood up to leave.

    * * *

    "That was quick," Janeway commented as the last of the bacta patches was applied to her injured arm. The only thing about this form of treatment was that it apparently itched far in excess of the tingle caused by a dermal regenerator. As she watched the droid apply the patch, it told her in its barely-modulated voice that the patch would have to remain on for the next half hour or until the bacta did its job.
    Which, she concluded, wasn't so bad after all, considering that her only other option was to return to a Doctor who sincerely believed her crazy. That was certainly something she was not looking forward to.
    "Your wounds have been dressed. You are free to go," the droid finally reported as it rolled back from the chair she was sitting in. "Have a very safe day."
    "Thank you," she absently told the machine, lifting up her arm and inspecting it. The itching was already subsiding somewhat, and the patches were roughly the same color as her skin. As Janeway came to her feet, she caught a glance from Chakotay that made her pause. It was not a glance of malice, nor one of happiness; it was simply a look that told her as much as if had he spoken directly to her.
    He doesn't trust me, she thought solemnly.
    When they reached the turbolift, Chakotay finally spoke the question that she knew was inevitable.
    "Kathryn," he began informally, "how exactly did you get out of Sickbay in the first place? Those scrapes on your arm suggest that you were in a fight, but I thought that the Doctor had you under lock and key."
    "He did," she answered after a long and uncomfortable pause. "I bypassed the security codes in the main computer, and was able to override the force-fields."
    "I knew it," Chakotay muttered. "Starfleet really needs to secure their computers better. But I guess what's done is done. What about the scratches on your arm?"
    "The Doctor became aware of my plans somehow, I suppose. He tried to sedate me with a hypospray; I grabbed a cart and knocked him over with it, then tried to deactivate him. It worked the first time, at least; then he isolated himself from the computer. I tried cutting all power to Sickbay next, but that only shut the lights and instruments off. He came at me again, and I tripped over a cart full of medical instruments. That's where the scratches came from."
    Chakotay grimaced. "If Tuvok were here, he'd insist that you be put in the Brig. Breach of protocol and all."
    "You're right," Janeway finally said. "And I'd do the same in his place. Just look at what I did... broke out of Sickbay, stole the Delta Flyer, and promptly managed to destroy it. It's a wonder I didn't kill myself in the process."
    "You're lucky that Master Dellen is a good pilot," Chakotay replied.
    "I know," she acknowledged. "I should probably return to Voyager, though, and see what the Doctor will do about this." Janeway shook her head. "I don't even know why I did that now."
    "Forget it. There's nothing we can do about it now, unless you want to take Voyager and slingshot around the local star at Warp 10."
    She smiled. "I'd rather not, given how desperately it tries to shake itself apart at anything over Warp 9."
    The turbolift doors slid open, showing the Mess Hall. "Well," Chakotay finally stated, "one thing is for sure. Voyager needs to have a full overhaul as soon as we get back to the Alpha Quadrant."
    Janeway knew he wasn't kidding. With the damage wrought on it by the Borg, Kazon, Krenim, and Species 8472, it was a wonder they'd made it this far in one piece. "More like a full refitting," she agreed as she hesitantly stepped into the food line, with Chakotay, Paris, and Derek hanging back at a slight distance.
    Chakotay obviously noticed her hesitance in stepping into line. "Don't worry," he eventually said. "The food here is much better than Neelix's cooking, even if it is completely alien. If they have nerf, try it--it's just like that Welsh rarebit you like so much."
    "I will," she said as she took a tray. "Anything sounds good after you've had leola root stew."

    * * *

    In his compact quarters, Dellen was more or less unconcerned with the discussion in the mess. Rather, he was concerned with getting his belongings together. Not that he had many, that is; Jedi Knights usually packed very little: two or three different outfits, designed for the types of worlds they visited most frequently; some survival gear, which was always a necessity; and their lightsabre.
    Indeed, this is for the most part what Dellen was packing, with the exception of Captain Avin's message chip and some other assorted souvenirs from this galaxy, namely one of Starfleet's Universal Translators and a tricorder. He'd received the former from one of Voyager's communications officers and the latter had been given to him by their chief engineer; he hadn't felt like discarding them, for who knew when something like that might come in handy?
    Satisfied, he grabbed the crate that was packed with his belongings, checked to make sure that his lightsabre was clipped onto his belt, and strode out the door.
    Thus ended his term as chief historian of the Outbound Flight. Before the departure of the Project, the Jedi Council had chosen him for that position-probably feeling that his experience as the Temple's assistant historian would make him useful in the target galaxy. In reality, however, he'd proven to be more or less superfluous; the Bulk Cruiser had been equipped with a compact database system, containing much of the major history of the Republic (yet still with enough room to contain more from whatever they found), and there were data archival droids to manage the database.
    It wasn't that Dellen did not mind leaving. The crew of the Rendili Neutron Star-class Bulk Cruiser had become almost like an extended family to him. Then again, his duty still remained with the Jedi Order, and there it would stay. He had been requested to join the Outbound Flight, and now he had been requested to return; now, it was his duty to ensure that the message chip fell into the proper hands.
    The last thing we need, he decided, is for that missing Sith apprentice to get this chip.
    It didn't take long for him to reach the hangar, and when he did it was still bustling with activity, although it was now focused on the shuttle he would be taking, rather than the one that was being retrofitted earlier. But that didn't stop Dellen from idly inspecting the other shuttle as he waited for the droids to load his crate aboard; he stooped down to inspect the modified outriggers on that shuttle.
    "Anything I can help you with, Master?" one of the engineers asked as he walked up to the Jedi.
    "Not really," Dellen replied, "unless you can get my shuttle prepared any faster." Noticing the look on the engineer's face, he continued. "But don't worry about it. I don't want you guys to work too fast and forget something, like checking the carbon scrubbers."
    "Yes, sir." He still didn't leave. Dellen finally decided to ask him a question.
    "Are these grooves here part of the warp system you were installing?"
    "Yes, Sir. They're the warp coils, the part that creates the warping of space. Normally, they're extended away from the ship for maximum efficiency, and the outriggers seemed a natural place to put them."
    "Oh." It didn't seem natural to him to land on a key part of the propulsion system, but he took the engineer's word on the matter.

    Several minutes later, he climbed back into the other shuttle, taking his position in the cockpit and checking the instrument panel for any warning indicators. Finding none, he signaled the hangar crew his readiness and started the warmup sequence.
    "Outbound Flight Shuttle 1, you are cleared for exit."
    "Acknowledged, Hangar Control," Dellen replied over the comm. He eased power once again to the repulsorlifts, and the shuttle glided off the smooth hangar deck. Easing it out was slightly trickier, considering that he didn't want to scorch the hangar by firing the primary engines.
    He didn't have to worry about it. The shuttle glided out of the hangar as if it were nothing, and once in space Dellen brought the throttle up to full power, accelerating toward the black hole.
    The navicomputer, however, was his biggest delay. Calculating the jump so close to the black hole took what seemed to be an eternity, although it finally came up with a course.
    He pulled back on the actuator, and the stars seemed to elongate as the shuttle did the impossible, accelerating beyond the speed of light. It would be a mere twenty minutes before he reached his destination.

    * * *

    Janeway glanced up from her food, listening for a barely perceptible whine that seemed to come from around them. "What is that?" she finally asked.
    Derek looked around confusedly. "What?"
    "That high-pitched whine I heard a few seconds ago."
    "Oh, that." He paused as if listening, but apparently didn't hear anything. "I think we just jumped to hyperspace.
    She nearly dropped her fork. "Already? I thought you're the chief engineer. Aren't you supposed to be down there?"
    He laughed softly. "No, I'm off duty, and I'm also not the chief engineer. Besides, the engine room is pretty much automated."
    This time there was a faint shuddering accompanying the whine. Derek watched his plate rattle and move slightly with the expression of one who isn't entirely happy with the situation. He placed his fork down, and quickly swallowed. "I don't think the inertial dampers handled that one as well as they should have. It was nice talking with you, Captain Janeway, but I think I should go and check."
    "Same to you, Lieutenant." She watched him leave, but as soon as he'd stepped out the door there was another faint shudder, and his plate moved slightly.
    "We didn't go to hyperspace again, did we?"
    "I don't think so," Chakotay responded, coming to his feet quickly. Almost immediately, the klaxons began blaring.
    "Now what?"
    The comm system answered her question for her. "All personnel, report to your stations. We are under attack. This is not a drill. Repeat, all personnel, report to your stations."
    The mess hall emptied quite rapidly, and within moments the Voyager personnel were the only ones left.

    "I don't like this," Chakotay finally said. "We should go to the Bridge and see what's going on."
    "Shouldn't we be on Voyager?" Janeway pointed out.
    The ship shuddered again. "Not enough time for that," the Commander replied as he broke into a run for the turbolift. "Come on."
    Janeway and the others wasted no time in following him, and within moments they were inside of a turbolift car. Chakotay slapped the control panel, inserting a pass card when the computer prompted him.

    When they arrived at the Bridge, the security guards looked them over, then waved the group on.
    "What's going on?" Chakotay asked as soon as he was in earshot of Captain Avin.
    "I think we already have our answer," Seven said, pointing toward the viewports. Following her direction, Janeway looked. Her jaw promptly dropped.
    "How did they know?" she half-whispered as a greenish beam lanced out from the attacker, striking somewhere on the Bulk Cruiser. When it did, more alarms erupted in the crew pit.
    Chakotay stopped to look as the bridge was momentarily illumined by a burst of green fire. His jaw also dropped, and he uttered two words that explained it all. "The Borg."
  11. ggs Cabal Arm Commander

    Good story, hope you continue it.
  12. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    [Q]Originally posted by ggs
    Good story, hope you continue it. [/Q]

    Yep, here's the ending of that cliffhanger.

    Chapter Seven


    ACTING SOLELY on habit, Dellen reached forward to the control panel of the small shuttle and put his hand just next to the manual hyperdrive actuator. It was mostly a useless gesture, however, since the actual chance of a navicomputer failure was quite low. Even so, it never hurt (especially considering that he was traveling so close to a massive hyperspace shadow).
    Precisely on time and without so much as a shudder, the shuttle smoothly emerged from hyperspace. From as close to the black hole as he was, he was presented with an unmistakably thrilling, yet alarming, view of the black hole. A disk of gas molecules, oblivious to their own fate, spun around the gravitic anomaly at such incredible speeds that Dellen could visually track the general motion of the accretion disk.
    Dellen shook himself. While the phenomenon was a sight for sore eyes - especially when one was confined to a ship for some time - it was far too hypnotizing to focus on. Instead, he looked over at the navigational console and reviewed the coordinates on the navicomp's display. Before he'd left, Master Fernas had taken several minutes to pre-enter most of the necessary coordinates, but the control of the most critical jump-the one through the black hole-had been left to him.
    He finally turned back to the controls, took a deep breath, and concentrated. The maze of gravity slowly became clearer as he let the Force guide him, until finally he knew exactly where the point that he needed to go through was. To the shuttle's limited sensors, it was just part of the black hole and impenetrable by conventional means. To the Force, it shone like a beacon, drawing his attention to it.
    Force or no, were it not for the hyperdrive he'd still be stranded in this galaxy. Dellen could tell through simple insight that the maze of gravity was too thickly intertwined to allow him to pass through to his destination. He'd be drawn off course and crushed. But such was the advantage of the hyperdrive: traveling at a speed far beyond that of light, and indeed in a different dimension, he could avoid the pull of gravity just long enough to reach his destination. That was what C'baoth had done, albeit with detrimental effects to the hyperdrive. Dellen could only hope that he wouldn't have the same problem.
    Finally, he made some minute adjustments to the shuttle's trajectory, and activated the faster-than-light drive. With a burst of speed so intense that it shoved him back into his seat, despite all that the inertial dampers could do, the shuttle shot into hyperspace. What followed was not quite as smooth, and was indeed so sudden that it had passed before he realized what had happened. The ship seemed to lurch, nearly throwing him through the crash webbing and out of his chair. Then the ship lurched again, this time so hard that spots began to form before his eyes. The last thing that Dellen heard before blackness overwhelmed him was the sound of the cockpit door sealing.

    * * *

    As the alarms blared around him on the bridge, Captain Avin paused for what might have been an eternity to regard the new arrivals. He certainly knew who they were-they'd been working with each other for over a month now-but that wasn't what he found interesting about them. It might have had to do with the fact that he hadn't seen one of the people standing in front of him for almost three weeks of that month, but even that wasn't quite close to the real reason.
    "The Borg?" he finally asked with a hint of disbelief, wondering if their universal translators weren't quite working correctly. "You mean the collective you described?
    "The one and the same," Chakotay replied quickly-probably to save time, Avin mentally noted.
    "So that explains the rather cryptic transmission they sent us a few minutes ago. We couldn't make out what they said, but it sounds like they're a rather friendly bunch." As if to punctuate his statement, another greenish beam slammed into the ship directly in front of the bridge.
    "I guess they sent you their standard welcoming message," Chakotay replied with the barest hint of a smile. "Along the lines of, 'We are the Borg, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.'"
    "How nice," Avin dryly remarked as one of the Bulk Cruiser's turbolaser batteries opened fire, spitting a rather pathetic display of reddish blasts at the attackers. "So why didn't you tell us before that we were in their territory?"
    Chakotay heaved a sigh as a second battery opened fire. It wasn't as if two batteries could do much against several cubes when an entire fleet of starships was hard pressed to destroy just one, and barely at that. For him, it was simply delaying the inevitable. Running, he finally concluded, was probably the best option. "I didn't think it was necessary," he said after a tense moment had passed. "All the sensor readings we'd taken showed no Borg activity."
    "I suppose those readings were inaccurate, then," the Captain commented.
    "Not necessarily, Sir. The Borg move rather quickly. It's almost impossible to tell when they're coming unless you're actively scanning with long-range sensors."
    "Well, that's wonderful." Avin's expression said exactly the opposite, however. "Sounds just like it is at home."
    "What do you mean?" Another volley of beams impacted the shields as Chakotay asked the question. Concerned, Avin looked to the personnel in the crew pit, but they hurried about their tasks professionally, despite how he knew they must be feeling.
    "When you're in hyperspace," Avin answered simply, "you can't detect ships in realspace and vice versa."
    Before Chakotay could acknowledge, he heard a voice from the crew pit speak up. "Sir?" Belatedly, he turned about to see if he could identify the speaker.
    "Yes, Lieutenant?" the Captain promptly asked.
    The lieutenant drew in a deep breath before beginning. "Sir, our shields are being steadily depleted by the hostiles, and we don't have the firepower to do them significant damage. I recommend we retreat at once, Sir."
    "Recommendation noted, Lieutenant. What is the status of Navigation?"
    He stepped back to confer with another person that Chakotay guessed was also a lieutenant, trying hard to ignore the increasingly common green flashes. "The computer is completing the calculations, but it will take some more time to finish, Sir."
    "I want an exact time, Lieutenant."
    The lieutenant stepped back again. "Unknown, Sir. The local conditions are interfering with the calculations."
    Avin sighed, looking at the encroaching cubes. "Where are those Jedi when you need them the most?" he muttered, half to himself.
    "Right here," a voice behind the Captain suddenly said, nearly causing him to lose his balance and fall into the crew pit. "Seems we have a bit of trouble, no?"
    "I wish you wouldn't do that," Avin said as he turned about to face Master Fernas. "Yes, we have quite a serious problem. We're being attacked by the Borg."
    "Wonderful," Fernas said as if he knew exactly what Borg were, even though Chakotay didn't remember his being at the first meeting. "I suppose you've considered retreat?"
    "The idea occurred to me, yes," Avin somewhat sarcastically responded. "We're already calculating the jump. Maybe you have a helpful suggestion to make?"
    Ignoring the other captain, Janeway interrupted the conversation. "Is this ship fast enough to outrun them? I know you said it can cross the galaxy in weeks, but so can the Borg."
    Fernas regarded her with an inquisitive stare. "This ship can make Point Five past lightspeed under good conditions, which is enough to outrun almost anything in our galaxy."
    She said nothing for a very long moment, then finally opened her mouth and closed it twice before speaking. "You mean to tell me," Janeway began, "that you lied to us-that this ship can only do one and a half times the speed of light?"
    The Jedi shook his head disbelievingly, turning toward the crew pit and speaking in a commanding tone. "Lieutenant, get that jump plotted on the double."
    "Yes, Master," a reply came quickly, and it seemed as though the activity in the crew pit doubled.
    "You didn't answer my question, Mr. Fernas. What do you mean by point five?"
    "Watch and see, Captain." He turned away again, and spent several moments conversing with Captain Avin before giving some more orders to the crew.
    "Sir?" Chakotay noticed that it was the same lieutenant who had spoken earlier. "Sir," he repeated to Avin, "the enemy has locked onto us with a tractor beam. We can't jump to hyperspace."
    Avin nodded, then spoke in the direction of the pit. "Gunnery, target and destroy that tractor emitter." He didn't even wait for the response before turning back. "Captain Janeway-"
    This time, a shout cut him off. "Sir!" Before Avin could acknowledge, the crewman continued. "Ventral shield generator 5A has just failed, switching to 5B. Voyager has taken a direct hit to the bridge, damage and casualties unknown. We also have reports of boarders on the lower decks."
    "What?" Janeway half-shouted. "You said-"
    "Captain Janeway," Avin slowly spoke, "if you continue to interfere with the operations of my crew, I will request that you remove yourself from my bridge. Is that understood?"

    * * *

    By the time Dellen came back to his senses, he wasn't quite sure how much time had passed-only that a lot of it must have had elapsed. Well, there were a few things that had to be done before he could figure out the time. First, his emergency crash webbing had activated, effectively immobilizing him with its tendril-like mesh. He spent the next few minutes disentangling himself and disconnecting the safety harness.
    Once that was done, he leaned forward and looked at the displays. Dellen was mostly expecting what greeted him: nothing save for the emergency power status lights. At least those are on, he thankfully noted as he slowly stood up.
    After nearly bashing his head on the overhead controls, and briefly wondering if the shuttle's designers had been Sullustans or another short species, he stepped back and checked the cockpit door. It was sealed, indicating a possible loss of atmosphere in the aft compartments. Well, that was rather unsurprising. By all rights, it was a wonder that the small shuttle had survived thus far; it was even more of a wonder that he had survived. A testament to the design, he supposed.
    But there wasn't much point in deciding the odds. He'd survived, and that was one thing that really mattered. The other thing that mattered was that he had to figure out a way to reach Coruscant.
    Dellen crossed the cockpit again, being careful not to slam his forehead into the upper control panel. He quickly glanced over it, finally flicking a few switches.
    Nothing happened.
    The Jedi flipped the switches back to their previous positions and tried again. Still, nothing happened. He gritted his teeth, realizing that it meant he was relying exclusively on backup power, which was only good to keep the life-support equipment running for several weeks. After that... well, he didn't want to consider it at the moment.
    He walked back toward the cockpit door, and pressed the activation button. Dellen was promptly greeted with a warning buzz; so much for that idea. There wasn't any atmosphere on the other side.
    Briefly, he ran through the possibilities in his mind. He'd seen firsthand what the failure of the Bulk Cruiser's hyperdrive system had resulted in; it had killed most of those who were working in the engine room at the time, by backfeeding the motivator and overloading the hyperdrive cooling system with catastrophic results. Such an equipment failure could have easily breached the thin hull of the shuttle, allowing the atmospheric gases to escape.
    Again, the Jedi strode to the control panel, and glanced at the navicomputer, noticing immediately that it was not on. Sighing, he depressed the power button and waited for the computer to come online, which it did after some time. Quickly, Dellen prompted the computer to display the shuttle's current coordinates, and was naturally dismayed to see that he was in a degrading orbit of the black hole.
    And I don't even have thrusters, he thought idly, wondering how in the galaxy he was supposed to get out of orbit with only emergency power. He threw himself into the pilot's chair, and exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh. After staring at the accretion disk for several minutes, he apparently made up his mind and picked up a headset, then changed some settings on the main control panel.
    "Attention any nearby ships," Dellen began. "This is Outbound Flight Shuttle One requesting assistance. Ship is disabled and currently in degrading orbit of a black hole. Please acknowledge. Message repeats."
    He pulled the headset off, disconnected it and switched to the main speakers, then got back up and walked aft to see if there was anything he could do with the door.

    * * *

    "Captain," Janeway retorted, "I understand that this is your ship, but my ship has just been damaged and I need to know what is going on!"
    Avin glanced at her for a moment, then turned back to the battle at hand as if to ignore her. "Captain Janeway, I appreciate your concern for your crew, but you do not seem to realize that you are endangering both my crew and your own by your rash actions. Will you please just let us escape alive, and then ask questions later?"
    Janeway paused for a moment to consider what he said, all while the rather one-sided battle continued in space. "My apologies, Captain Avin," she tersely responded in a tone that wasn't quite what one would expect for an apology.
    "Thank you," Avin quickly said as he spun about to face Chakotay. "You had something to say, Commander?"
    Chakotay had a hard time collecting his wits; battles could be terribly confusing when you were aboard another vessel. "Yes. One of your crew mentioned boarders. If they're Borg, you will need to tell everyone to stay away from the intruders, and to kill them from a distance if possible. They can adapt to weapons, though, which makes it difficult."
    Wordlessly, Avin quickly walked over to a communications terminal and made the announcement. As the Captain was doing so, however, Chakotay heard an all-too-familiar whine, accompanied by someone in the crew pit shouting that a dorsal shield generator had been knocked down. He quickly looked about himself, breathing an ancient Native American curse under his breath once he'd located the source of the noise.
    "So that's what the Borg look like in person," Master Fernas commented in a slightly amused tone as the nearest drone began to move forward. In a blur of motion that was almost too fast to see, he ignited his lightsabre and brought it up in what Chakotay assumed was an en garde stance. "They need to fire their fashion designers," he continued jocularly. "That headgear looks rather... drab."
    Acting on instinct, Chakotay reached down to grab his phaser, only to realize--belatedly--that he wasn't carrying one. When he looked back up, however, he realized that he didn't really need one after all. Nearly every crew member on the bridge had a blaster out and trained on one of the unexpected arrivals, although due to the fact that the drones didn't pose any imminent threat, none of the crew had opened fire yet. After looking around again, Chakotay noticed another possible reason for their lack of fire.
    Indeed, he had to wonder at the courage of these Jedi. Master Fernas was striding--with an almost curious expression on his face--toward the nearest of the drones, his emerald energy blade blazing as if possessed of the power of a star. The Commander wondered for a moment where the blade had come from, until he noticed the cylindrical device that the Jedi had in his hand. Finally, it made sense; that was what all the Jedi had been wearing on their belts.
    In one deft stroke, the sabre slashed through the neck of the drone, and with a thump the head landed on the deck, still sparking and bleeding at the connection points. Fernas prodded at idly with his boot, and Chakotay nearly shouted out as he saw another drone (obviously alerted) walking up behind the Jedi. Almost as if the Jedi had sensed the alarm on his mind, Fernas again spun about, intercepting the drone's extended arm with the blade of his sabre and cleanly slicing it off. He then parried (if one could even call it that) another attempt by the drone to reach his neck, and even Chakotay nearly laughed in amusement at the armless, virtually helpless drone.
    It became obvious after several seconds that even removing both arms wasn't going to stop it. Veins on the humanoid drone's forehead began to bulge, and with a sickening crunch more greyish metallic tubules extended themselves toward the Jedi. Apparently growing tired of the drone's repeated attempts, Fernas lifted his lightsabre up and neatly bisected it, whose two still-twitching halves then crashed to the deck.
    By no means was it the end. Still more drones moved toward their most obvious threat, and immediately met the same fate as the first two. The Jedi was now sweeping across the Bridge like an avenging Angel of Death, all while red-hued blaster bolts flew toward their targets. For Chakotay, it was quite an awesome experience; the sound of dozens of blasters ringing as they fired, combined with the loud hum of the Jedi's sabre, was enough to inspire him with wonder. It was a far cry from the limited combat that Voyager's crew had with the Borg so far.
    "Dorsal shields back up," someone shouted over the din of battle as several more cubes appeared. The Borg certainly weren't taking their chances this time, Chakotay observed with mild apprehension. He saw a yellow-gold phaser beam lance out from an unseen place and strike the leading Cube, but to no effect. Well, at least that proved that someone was manning Voyager's battle bridge.
    As in response to the lone phaser shot, the assembled cubes fired in unison. Their own greenish beams struck back toward the unseen location where the phaser beam had come from.
    "More damage to Voyager," someone in the crew pit was saying. "Hull breaches on decks 1 through 5, loss of atmosphere, unknown casualties."
    Avin didn't say anything in response to that unseen crewman. "Helm, roll us to port so that Voyager won't take any more fire," he quickly barked in the general direction of the conn, firing on another drone that had somehow come too close to him for comfort. The drone dropped to the floor with a heavy burn between its eyes.
    "Yes, Sir," came the prompt reply. Another drone impacted the deck, its head rolling rather messily into the crew pit (to the astonishment of the startled crew). For all of the Borg's experience in creating cutting beams, Chakotay reflected with a slight smile, they still hadn't figured out a way to defend against them.
    On second thought, Chakotay considered as Fernas' blow to another drone was reflected by a greenish force-field, _maybe they have_.
    "Getting creative, aren't you?" the Jedi sarcastically commented as be brought his sabre around in a continuous arc, making use of the blade's momentum. As he did so, he increased the velocity while still holding it firm. Bare microseconds later, the glowing blade impacted against the field, causing a discharge of sparks; then there was a sharp crack as it overwhelmed the force-field in that place, impaling the hapless drone through the chest.
    Then again, I guess not, he finally decided, ducking a thrust by a drone which had somehow gotten a little too close to him for comfort. A blaster shot rang out over his head, and the drone dropped to the deck with a smoking hole in its upper torso. Chakotay silently thanked whomever had fired the shot as he stood back up and looked around.
    "Tractor beam emitter has been destroyed," another officer in the crew pit reported after some time. No more drones showed up on the Bridge, which the Commander found slightly interesting. Either the Borg haven't found a way to overcome them or their shields are somehow different, he finally decided.
    What followed next was, to put it simply, unusual. After another flurry of activity in the crew pit, the ship almost instantly began accelerating at an incredible pace towards the nearest of the Borg cubes--although, Chakotay noted, not directly towards the Cube. The view then seemed to stretch and twist, and vanish altogether into a swirling, bluish maelstrom.
    "Well, that's a sight for sore eyes," the Commander finally commented as he began to look about for Captain Janeway. Seeing her standing near Avin, he addressed Master Fernas. "I suppose that we're in hyperspace?"
    "You suppose correctly," Fernas replied, looking over the body of a fallen Borg drone with all the interest of a sleep-deprived taxidermist. The Jedi finally turned away from the corpse and walked back toward the command crew.
    "How fast are we going?" Janeway asked as he approached.
    "About Point Five, as I said before," he responded, his voice sounding exceptionally tired. "Oh, but of course, you don't understand what that means."
    She shook her head. "I might be able to understand if you could give me a warp factor."
    "Warp factor?" Fernas replied quizzically, the expression on his face indicating that he hadn't the slightest idea of what she meant. "I suppose it's my turn to be confused. I'll try to put it simply, though. At Point Five, we're covering about 130 light-years in an hour."
    Janeway blanched noticeably. The closest Voyager had come to that speed was when it was using slipstream-and even then, it was less than half of the speed they were traveling now. Hell, they were even outrunning subspace data packets! "Well," she finally said, "I hope that's fast enough. We've never actually been able to measure the speed of Borg transwarp."
    Fernas gave a slight smile. "In that case, should I head down to the engine control room and coax the engineers into giving us a little more speed?"
    She shook her head; it wasn't hard to tell that he was saying it in jest. "No, it's probably fine."
    "Suit yourself," the Jedi replied amiably, turning toward the lift. "I think we're done here, at any rate; besides, I think your ship needs some immediate attention. Care to come along, or do you want to bother Captain Avin some more?"
    Janeway looked at Chakotay and Seven, gesturing to them. She then turned back to Fernas. "We'll come."
  13. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Oh dear, I forgot that I haven't yet posted Chapter 8.

    Code:
     Chapter Eight
      =============
    
    
    	TO SAY that the air in the main chamber of the ancient Massassi 
    temple was humid would have been a severe understatement. Think of an 
    old-style sauna, with a fire heating water and that water being turned 
    into vapor with the scent of the burning wood. Now replace the wood 
    with two hundred Jedi trainees of varied species, the wholesome smoky 
    scent of the wood with the odor of two hundred bodies, and you 
    approached the atmosphere present in the chamber. But in this case the 
    vapor was invisible, a sticky addition to the air that could not be 
    seen although it could be felt.
    	Jacen Solo, standing two rows from the front of the room, 
    certainly felt the humidity. He reached up and loosened his robe, 
    fanning himself slightly as he did so. A half-dozen unpleasant odors 
    assaulted his nostrils, and he quietly observed that Wookiees didn't 
    always smell very good. It was one of those observations he couldn't 
    help but make, considering that there was a seven-foot tall Wookiee 
    standing immediately in front of him.
    	On one side of him, he heard a quiet snort, and he turned to 
    look. His sister Jaina turned her face away from him, attempting to 
    cover her mouth in the process. Jacen sighed at the distraction; here 
    he was, nineteen years of age, and being laughed at by his sister as if 
    he were only twelve. If there was anything he hated the most about 
    having a Jedi-talented twin sister, that was it: the fact that they 
    always knew what the other was thinking.
    	Pushing all thoughts of his sister aside, Jacen leaned back in 
    his seat and closed his eyes. Immediately, everything that he hadn't 
    noticed while his eyes were open snapped into focus: the plethora of 
    aromas that wafted about the Grand Chamber, the sounds caused by 
    several hundred trainees, various conversations taking place. Most of 
    the conversations, he noted after about a minute, were merely the usual 
    gossip that floated about the Academy. There were some people 
    theorizing about what the meeting was going to be about--he listened to 
    one of those with mild interest--and other conversations concerned the 
    preceding day's assignments. 
    	At that moment, a particular voice caught his attention.
    	"Do you think this has something to do with the Chief of State's 
    resignation?"
    	Jacen snapped out of his trance-like state in a heartbeat. 
    "Jaina?" he whispered.
    	"What?"
    	"Do you know if Mom resigned?"
    	His sister looked at him with a shocked expression. "What makes 
    you think that?"
    	Jacen shrugged. "I heard someone talking about the Chief of 
    State's resignation. Just wondering if you'd heard anything." It was 
    not terribly surprising, considering that the Academy students were 
    mostly cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Although there was a 
    communications center, it was primarily reserved for emergencies and 
    such.
    	"No, I haven't," Jaina admitted. "Although Anakin should know, 
    since he's coming back from Coruscant today."
    	/Of course/, Jacen realized. "I hope he'll be in time for this 
    meeting," he whispered back.
    	"He will," she commented. "We still have fifteen minutes before 
    the meeting is supposed to start."
    	He sat up and looked toward the exit, wondering if he would see 
    anyone coming in. A slight clatter from above his head distracted him, 
    and Jacen looked up to see a woman, clad in a grey suit that seemed to 
    be made of a type of reptilian hide, descending from one of the 
    temple's skylights. Slowly, she rapelled down the rope, using only her 
    hands and feet, and finally landed in front of an empty seat next to 
    Jacen. She quickly snapped the fibercord, which detached from the rock 
    face a dozen meters above and landed (albeit somewhat disorganized) in 
    her hand. Several students applauded.
    	"You always were one to make a grand entrance, Tenel Ka," Jacen 
    commented with a smile on his face as the Dathomirian coiled the 
    fibercord.
    	"I decided that it would be easier than pushing through a smelly 
    crowd," she replied nonchalantly after she'd clipped the cord to her 
    belt. Running her hands through her red-gold braids to straighten them 
    out, she continued. "I suppose I haven't missed much?"
    	Jacen shook his head. "No, they haven't even started yet. We're 
    still waiting for Uncle Luke and Corran."
    	"Good." She sat down, releasing a heavy sigh. Jacen noticed that 
    streams of sweat were pouring down her forehead.
    	"How hot is it out there?" he casually inquired.
    	Tenel Ka took a piece of cloth off her belt and wiped her face 
    with it. "It's not as hot as it is humid. And it's definately hotter in 
    here."
    	"That's what I thought," Jacen replied. "I guess I'll have to ask 
    Anakin to see about getting some condensers the next time he's off-
    planet."
    	She nodded, but didn't say anything. For a few minutes, the only 
    thing that Jacen heard from her was heavy breathing as she apparently 
    tried to cool down.
    	"Looks like they've arrived," he finally said, looking toward the 
    entrance. "You're right, Sis. Anakin's with them."
    	"And arguing with Kyp, it would seem," Jaina added. "I wonder 
    why. They usually haven't had many disagreements."
    	Jacen shrugged, coming to his feet along with the rest of the 
    trainees in the chamber as Master Skywalker confidantly strode in. As 
    Luke looked at the arrangement of the tables on the dais, however, 
    Jacen thought for a moment that he could see a slight frown on his 
    uncle's face. The frown quickly disappeared, leaving the younger 
    trainee wondering what it was all about. He stood on his toes in an 
    attempt to see over Lowbacca's shoulder, and noticed that the tables 
    were arranged in a V-formation facing outward, which certainly was 
    unusual. So maybe that was the problem, he decided.
    	Luke remained standing as the other Jedi Knights took their 
    seats, and Anakin slipped through the rows of trainees to get to his 
    brother and sister. Finally, when the tumult in the grand chamber had 
    calmed down, he spoke.
    	"Jedi Knights and trainees," the Jedi Master began, "I apologize 
    for keeping all of you in suspense as to the topic of today's meeting. 
    I also apologize for the suddenness of this meeting, but unfortunately 
    events occur in the galaxy far faster than I can respond to them."
    	There was a slight murmur as he continued. "Since communications 
    are obviously restricted here at the Academy, most of you likely have 
    not heard the recent news."
    	Luke drew his breath in. "Last week, Chief of State Leia Organa-
    Solo resigned from her office over a scandal concerning the Jedi Order. 
    President Borsk Fey'lya-" At that point, a handful of "boo" cries 
    erupted from the chamber. Luke raised his hand in an indication to 
    stop, and continued with his speech. "I'm sure that many of you hold 
    the President in high regard," he commented with the barest hint of a 
    smile on his face. "Personal preferences aside, at a Senate Advisory 
    Council meeting, Fey'lya called this Praxeum to request that a team of 
    Jedi be sent to the Outer Rim world of Bimmiel. However, on my sister's 
    urging, I had already dispatched Corran Horn and Ganner Rhysode to the 
    planet." Master Skywalker turned and gestured toward the person sitting 
    next to him. "Kyp, would you like to explain further, seeing as you're 
    the one who answered?"
    	"I'm afraid that I can't add very much to what Master Skywalker 
    just said," Kyp said in a somewhat tired tone. Jacen wondered how much 
    sleep he'd gotten in the past few days. "Fey'lya cut off the data feed 
    before I could hear any more, but from what I heard it seemed that he 
    was attempting to frame the Chief of State on a security breach. 
    Apparently, that's where Corran and Ganner came into this; I think he 
    mentioned the Bimmiel situation having to do with a New Republic 
    Intelligence report." He paused, looking around. "That's all I know. 
    Master Skywalker," the Jedi said, putting undue emphasis on master, "do 
    you wish to continue?"
    	"I will, and thank you, Kyp," Luke said calmly as he turned to 
    face the assembled Jedi. "Are there any comments on what Kyp just 
    said?"
    	Someone on the other side of the chamber from Jacen spoke. "What 
    would archaeology have to do with the NRI?"
    	"A good question, Wafra Bealar," Skywalker replied. There was a 
    large amount of new trainees coming into the Academy, most of whom 
    Jacen hadn't met yet. Of course, he could have expected his uncle to 
    know most all of their names. "I believe Corran can answer that 
    question for you when his time comes, however." He looked out at the 
    trainees again. "Any other questions?"
    	When nobody else said anything, Luke gestured to Corran, who came 
    to his feet. Jacen wondered briefly why he was heavily leaning on his 
    left leg, but put the thought aside as Corran glanced about himself, 
    looking toward Luke briefly for approval before proceeding.
    	"A week ago, as Master Skywalker mentioned, I left for Bimmiel 
    with my apprentice, Ganner Rhysode. Now, before I go any further, I 
    would like to briefly give you some information on the planet itself." 
    He stepped back, limping slightly, and walked over toward a 
    holoprojector that had been set up in the center of the dais. Sliding 
    what Jacen assumed to be a datachip into the machine, he then turned it 
    on.
    	"This is Bimmiel," Corran began. "Not much to look at, really. 
    But, as I discovered in the notes of the scientific team, it has quite 
    an interesting ecology."
    	Jacen perked up at that point. Perhaps this wouldn't be another 
    boring, pointless meeting after all.
    	"The planet follows a highly elliptical orbit, and its rotational 
    tilt is very pronounced. The result of these factors is that the 
    planet's surface is somewhat inhospitable, being covered mostly in sand 
    dunes. It has two small polar ice caps, which the archaeologists 
    theorized were being slowly worn away by the recent dust storms that 
    have been sweeping across the planet's surface. The southernmost one is 
    already surrounded by a large ocean."
    	Jaina yawned, distracting Jacen momentarily.
    	"It has, surprisingly, a large population of native creatures. 
    I'll be brief on this part, but suffice it to say that they are of two 
    kinds: herbivores and predators. The predators are primarily slashrats, 
    burrowing creatures that use their strong tails as weapons. They are 
    more of a threat than their name sounds; we encountered several of 
    them."
    	Corran took the opportunity to switch the image displayed by the 
    holoprojector. It now showed a small debris cloud that orbited the 
    planet.
    	"This was the situation when we arrived in the /Dalliance/. A 
    debris field, which we identified as belonging to the Obroan 
    Institute's research vessel /Penga Rift/, was all that was left in 
    orbit."
    	He changed the view again, this time to show a wide, sweeping 
    prarie on Bimmiel. While it seemed to be only grass, after looking at 
    the large holo for several seconds Jacen thought he could make out some 
    debris scattered across the plains.
    	"This was the site of the research base. Not much to look at, is 
    it? We searched for over a day, looking for any indications of what 
    might have happened to the researchers."
    	"What did you find?" some overeager trainee inquired from the 
    back of the chamber.
    	"Quite a bit, actually," Corran replied. "That's what I'm about 
    to show you."
    	He reached for the holoprojector controls again. Now the image of 
    a skull, longer than that of a human and with a low cranial ridge, 
    appeared. As Jacen looked at it, he wondered about it. In addition to 
    its odd appearance, it seemed to have many fracture lines and 
    deformities. The cheekbones--if one could even call them that--had been 
    broken and reset in an odd fashion, resulting in the skull's face 
    having a slope that went from left to right. The nose bones had also 
    clearly been shattered, giving the skull an odd, leering appearance.
    	"What is that thing?" someone exclaimed.
    	Corran shrugged. "We couldn't figure it out. The datachips we 
    found identified it as 'AR-312,' but didn't give any other information. 
    I'm assuming that was the scan number. There were also scans of the 
    entire corpse, and also a computer reproduction of the creature as it 
    might have stood. I'll show that right now."
    	The hologram changed, now to display a full-size view of the 
    humanoid. Human-style flesh had been added to give it somewhat of a 
    more life-like appearance, but just from taking one look at it Jacen 
    knew it wasn't even remotely human. It stood a half-meter taller than 
    the typical human, and its shoulders were broad and powerfully built. 
    Its face, which seemed to be painstakingly reconstructed from the 
    skull, posessed the same leering, almost hideous quality that the skull 
    had.
    	"The scans identified this as being over fifty years old," Corran 
    continued. "It was found in a collapsed cave to the north of the 
    research base along with weapons and armor, according to the chip."
    	"Did you return this information to the Obroan Institute?" yet 
    another voice asked. Jacen identified it as belonging to that of Raynar 
    Thul, a marginally-talented student coming from one of the few 
    remaining royal Alderaanian houses. He'd known Raynar since he had 
    first joined the Academy, and was somewhat glad that he didn't have to 
    see him given the rather garish robes, made of interweaved and often 
    clashing colors, that the man often wore.
    	Corran shook his head. "Although the Obroan Institute sponsored 
    the trip, it was organized by the University of Agamar. But to answer 
    your question, yes, we did stop by Agamar on our way back and return 
    the information that the scientists had collected before they were 
    killed."
    	"Who killed them?" another trainee asked. Jacen sighed; the 
    interruptions were getting more than a little annoying.
    	"That's the interesting part," the Corellian answered. "It seems 
    that the attackers were of the same race as the corpse that the 
    reserachers discovered. I know that for sure; we encountered several of 
    them when we were searching through the remains of the base. That's how 
    I got this," he answered, placing his right foot on the table and 
    lifting up the leg on his jumpsuit to reveal a deep scar. An audible 
    gasp went through the chamber.
    	/So that's why Corran is limping/, Jacen realized.
    	"Where they came from, I don't know, and probably won't know. 
    When we returned the data to Agamar, the researchers couldn't find 
    anything like it in the databases."
    	Raynar spoke up again. "How could a group that's been in this 
    galaxy for at least fifty years have escaped our notice for that long?"
    	"I really can't answer that," Corran replied with a shrug. "There 
    just isn't enough information, although I suppose that if the group's 
    small enough, they could easily evade notice for years. Remember, we 
    still haven't mapped out the entire galaxy; there are still thousands 
    of unexplored stars in Wild Space."
    	The discussion dragged on for several more minutes, but Jacen 
    found his thoughts drifting off to the figure in the hologram. /Who are 
    they?/ he wondered. /And what do they want?/
    	His thoughts were interrupted as he heard the twittering of an 
    astromech droid. Jacen quickly looked toward the entrance to the 
    auditorium, just in time to see several people, all dressed in flight 
    suits, come running in.
    	"That's Miko Reglia in the front," Jaina whispered into his ear. 
    "Looks like Kyp's Dozen just arrived."
    	"Wonderful," he replied, still keeping his eyes fixed on the new 
    arrivals. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the Jedi on 
    the dais were also looking at the assorted pilots that had just 
    arrived. It was then that he realized that the chamber had gone silent.
    	Jacen watched Miko climb the steps of the dais, give a slight bow 
    toward Luke, and continue to Kyp. He then watched him hand--/what, a 
    datapad?/-- to the older Jedi. Kyp's face paled slightly as he read the 
    datapad, which made Jacen even more curious. The Jedi then walked over 
    towards Skywalker, and spoke with him for several seconds before 
    stepping up to the podium as Corran sat back down.
    	"My apprentice Miko just told me about some new information that 
    I decided we should talk about here," Kyp began. "With Master 
    Skywalker's permission, I will begin."
    	He pushed some buttons on the datapad, then walked over to the 
    holoprojector and did something--Jacen assumed he was uploading the 
    information--before walking back to the podium. "This information was 
    recorded by a sensor buoy that my squadron had placed in the outer 
    areas of the Tingel Arm, perhaps about fifty light-years from Bimmiel." 
    Kyp momentarily closed his eyes, and the holoprojector switched back 
    on. A long list of coordinates and numbers were now projected into the 
    air beside the podium. "Along with the usual activities, the buoy 
    recorded some rather interesting things."
    	He again manipulated the projector without even turning away from 
    the podium. Now, a three-dimensional diagram of a shuttle appeared, 
    rotating around an unseen axis.
    	"Show-off," Jaina muttered under her breath.
    	"This is a /Spacecaster/-class shuttle. The last of its 
    production runs ended over a hundred years ago when the company that 
    produced them went bankrupt. What's remarkable about this one is that 
    very few are still in existence, much less flying."
    	"So?" a voice exclaimed from the rear of the auditorium. "It's a 
    shuttle, even if it's an antique. We see plenty every day, so why the 
    bother?"
    	Kyp leaned over as Miko whispered something into his ear. 
    "Because," he began, "of this."
    	The projector now displayed a view of a jungle planet. "This 
    is..." the Jedi glanced down at the datapad, "Belkadan. Home to the 
    scientific research station ExGal-4. The buoy picked up a weak distress 
    signal from the station nearly two weeks before the signal from the 
    /Penga Rift/ was received."
    	He switched the display back to that of the shuttle. "It also 
    recorded this /Spacecaster/ leaving Belkadan on the same day it picked 
    up the distress signal. Although it couldn't track the shuttle's 
    movements, the distress signal told us where the shuttle was bound 
    for."
    	Now, a frozen ball of ice appeared.
    	"This is Helska IV, as seen by the Third Galactic Survey over a 
    hundred years ago. According to the signal, this was where the shuttle 
    was bound for.
    	"It's not the only thing that the buoy recorded. A distress 
    signal from someone named Urias Xhaxin was recorded approximately a 
    week after the departure of the shuttle. His location was about twenty 
    light-years away from Belkadan. According to his signal, his frigate 
    was attacked and disabled by what appeared to be asteroids."
    	Kyp stepped down from the podium and shut the holoprojector off, 
    then stepped back up. "Any questions?"
    	Corran chose that moment to speak. "I forgot to mention that 
    Ganner and I were attacked by what seemed to be asteroids when we left 
    Bimmiel. We didn't get any sensor readings on them, but someone might 
    have turned some small asteroids into gun platforms."
    	The auditorium erupted in conversation, and Jacen noticed that 
    Kyp had a somewhat surprised expression on his face when Corran had 
    spoken.
    	"Do you think this is connected with Bimmiel?" Jacen asked after 
    almost half a minute had passed.
    	The Jedi contemplated the question. "I can't say for certain," he 
    finally stated, "but Miko thinks we should investigate it further, and 
    I agree with him."
    	Even more discussion erupted in the auditorium. Finally, Raynar 
    raised his hand. "I don't think that we, as Jedi, should investigate 
    this. I've heard reports of what your squadron had done, Durron. You've 
    given us a bad reputation with the Republic government, which is why 
    they haven't been willing to give us the supplies we need anymore. I 
    don't care what you want to do, because we will not support you."
    	Next to Jacen, Tenel Ka quickly came to her feet. "Raynar Thul," 
    she began, "you're forgetting that this isn't the typical smuggler 
    conflict. Innocent people are dying, and we don't even know why. Or did 
    you forget what Corran Horn said about the scientific team?"
    	Someone else a few rows back replied. "We're peacekeepers, as 
    Master Skywalker keeps reminding us. Why, then, are we so eager to get 
    into conflict? We should bring this to the attention of the Republic, 
    and let them do the investigation--and get the blame if they make 
    mistakes."
    	"We're peacekeepers," Tenel Ka sharply retorted, "and you would 
    let people die without raising an eyebrow? What sense of morals do you 
    have? We are already involved, because of what Corran and Ganner did. 
    We should find out what this means before informing the Republic."
    	"That's not what I was implying," the same voice said. 
    "Considering what happened when Master Skywalker dispatched Corran 
    without the express permission of the Republic, I don't think we should 
    become involved in this, on either side."
    	On the dais, Kyp raised his hand to cut the arguing students off. 
    "If we inform the Republic of this," he pointed out, "nothing will be 
    done until it's too late. Tenel Ka has a good point."
    	"Not the way /you/ do things." Raynar was now on his feet, but 
    Jacen didn't bother to look at him. "You act as if you're the 
    government, making decisions best left to those who are /supposed/ to 
    be in charge."
    	Kyp's gaze on the Alderaanian was unrelenting. "So what do you 
    propose doing, then?"
    	Raynar was obviously flustered. He opened his mouth several times 
    as if to speak, but nothing came out the first few times. Finally, he 
    seemed able to collect his wits. "We bring it to the Republic's 
    attention and let them decide on the course of action, but no more than 
    that."
    	Jacen shook his head as the room erupted in shouting. He could 
    have expected this from Raynar, considering the problems they'd had 
    with the Senate after they had taken it upon themselves to investigate 
    the headquarters of the Diversity Alliance on Ryloth. 
    	"Enough," Luke finally exclaimed in a strong voice that seemed to 
    fill the chamber as he came to his feet. "This conflict is getting us 
    nowhere. As one of you pointed out, we are peacemakers, not warlords." 
    His voice softened somewhat. "We do not dominate the people; instead, 
    we serve them. As such, I feel that we should investigate the 
    situation, then report our findings to the Republic if it proves 
    worthwhile.
    	"But," he added as he turned toward Kyp, "we should also not take 
    an offensive stance unless we are given the authority to do so. Our 
    actions will be in self-defense, and self-defense only; if we are 
    attacked, we will defend ourselves. Do I make myself clear?"
    	Kyp had a somewhat disappointed expression on his face, but he 
    nodded. "Then we will do so, Master. When should we leave?"
    	"I'll leave that up to you, Kyp," Skywalker replied.
    	The younger Jedi nodded, turning back toward the assembled Jedi. 
    "Does anyone here want to come with my group?"
    	After a long period of silence had passed, Tenel Ka stood up, 
    much to Jacen's surprise. "I will come," she offered.
    	"Good," Kyp said. "Anyone else?"
    	As the rest of the Jedi discussed the matter in hushed tones, 
    Jacen leaned over toward Tenel Ka with an inquiring expression on his 
    face. "Why?" he whispered.
    	"I have been planning on visiting Dathomir for some time now," 
    Tenel Ka replied quietly. "It will be on the way, so I do not view it 
    as much of an inconvenience."
    	Jacen considered what she had said for several moments, somewhat 
    confused about the issues. "Would you mind if I came with you?" he 
    finally asked. 
    	"Not at all." She looked at him as if to say, /Thank you/.
    	Jacen immediately stood up, raising his hand. "I'll come."
    	"And so will I," Jaina said as she came to her feet.
    	Kyp nodded. "That makes three. Anyone else?"
    	A low, throaty roar broke the hushed atmosphere. Moments later, a 
    somewhat tinny voice piped up, sounding absurdly weak in comparison. 
    Jacen promptly identified the voice as belonging to Em Teedee, a rather 
    smallish translator droid that the Wookiee standing in front of him 
    kept. "Master Lowbacca expresses his strong desire to come as well," 
    the droid translated. 
    	Lowie growled softly at Em Teedee, which jetted backwards on its 
    repulsors. "What do you mean, I could have said it more plainly?"
    	Jacen shook his head, a wan smile on his face. It was kind of 
    surprising that Lowie hadn't reprogrammed the little thing yet. See-
    Threepio had put a lot of his own personality into the droid when 
    Chewbacca had first built it, and the results often showed.	
    	"I think you're making a mistake," Raynar began to say, before 
    Luke cut him off as he stepped up to the podium.
    	"We are all entitled to our own opinions, and I respect that," 
    Skywalker began. "But this kind of dissention will not get us anywhere. 
    As some of you may know, in several days I will be leaving for 
    Coruscant to speak to the government about re-establishing the Jedi 
    Council to handle just this kind of dispute."
    	"Who will be on the Council?" another trainee asked.
    	"That wil be decided later," Luke replied. "As for now, this 
    meeting is dismissed."
    	Jacen watched as the people on the dais filed down, some of them-
    -most notably a Twi'lek, Daeshara'cor--with disappointed looks on their 
    faces. He started to leave, but a hand held him back; he turned to see 
    Tenel Ka grasping his shoulder.
    	"Not yet," she said, pointing toward the dais, where several of 
    the Jedi remained. "I need to talk with Kyp first."
    	"No problem," he replied with a slight twang of jealousy--but 
    just as quickly pushed the feeling aside, hoping that Tenel Ka hadn't 
    noticed. There wasn't any reason, of course--Kyp had his own interests, 
    and probably knew that Jacen and Tenel Ka had been friends for several 
    years now.
    	When the auditorium had all but emptied, the group walked toward 
    Kyp, who extended his hand toward Jacen. "Thanks for your support," he 
    said, a smile spread across his face. "I really appreciated it."
    	Jacen half-shrugged. "It wasn't really me," he admitted, 
    wondering what he had gotten himself into. Kyp's checkered past was 
    fairly well-known to most of the Jedi. Some avoided him because of it; 
    others were constantly asking him for advice. Jacen wasn't sure which 
    group he fit into.
    	"Well, yes." Kyp turned toward Tenel Ka. "Thank you especially. I 
    take it you're going to be flying your transport?"
    	"That's what I was planning on doing," she replied. "Unless you 
    would like me to fly something else?"
    	"No, no, of course not," the older Jedi replied as he ran a hand 
    through his hair. "In fact, I was hoping you would be taking your ship. 
    We can use its firepower if we run into trouble."
    	Tenel Ka nodded in reply, and Kyp now turned toward Jaina. "And I 
    hear you've become quite a pilot." 
    	Jaina blushed slightly. "Maybe exaggerating a little, but I 
    suppose so."
    	Kyp continued without pause. "We have a couple of new X-wings 
    that'll be arriving from Incom in a few days. They're of the XJ 
    variant... have you ever heard of them?"
    	Jaina nodded, her curiousity piqued. The XJ was a model designed, 
    amid much publicity, to extend the life of the X-wing series and keep 
    it competitive with newer starfighters. It sported stronger shields, a 
    slightly larger munitions payload, external weapons hardpoints, and 
    better maneuverability. "I've heard a lot about them, actually."
    	"I was wondering if you'd like to fly one."
    	Excitement flashed across Jaina's face, but she quickly covered 
    it up. "I..." She paused for a moment to consider what to say. "I 
    haven't had much experience with X-wings," she finally said.
    	"That's not a problem," Kyp replied. "There are a lot of ex-
    Republic Navy pilots in the Dozen. I'm sure they'd be glad to help."
    	Jaina considered his offer for nearly a minute. "No thanks. I 
    think Tenel Ka could use my help as a copilot."
    	If Kyp was disappointed, his face didn't show it. "Whatever you 
    want is fine with me. But if you ever want to reconsider, just remember 
    that there'll be a pilot's seat open for you."
    	"Well, I'll keep that in mind," Jaina replied.
    	Another throaty bellow interrupted the conversation. "Master 
    Lowbacca wishes to inquire as to how soon we will be leaving," Em 
    Teedee translated for the Wookiee.
    	Kyp frowned. "Maybe in a few days. I want to make sure that the 
    XJs are working right before we field-test them."
    	"Perhaps we can rendezvous on Dathomir?" Tenel Ka asked. "I would 
    like to visit my grandmother for a day or two."
    	"Sounds good to me." Durron looked up at the towering Wookiee. 
    "And you, Lowbacca. I take it you'll be going with Tenel Ka as well?"
    	Lowie bleated a reply that Jacen took to be a yes.
    	"Good," Kyp finally said. "I'll tell my squadron that we'll meet 
    you on Dathomir." He turned to Tenel Ka again. "Was there any specific 
    place that you wanted us to meet you?"
    	"The Singing Mountain Clan's fortress will do," the redheaded warrior replied.
     "I will let them know that you're coming."
    	"Thanks." The older Jedi stopped to shake everyone's hand--and 
    paw--before turning to leave. "Dathomir it is. I'll see all of you 
    there in a few days."
    	Jacen watched Kyp leave, a confused expression on his face. [I]What 
    have I gotten myself into?[/I] he wondered.
  14. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Alright, I finally got around my writer's block. Another reason for my long delay was because I was at a summer camp for three weeks up until last Saturday, watching over the 7-9 year-olds as a camp counselor.

    I don't particularly feel like reformatting this, either.

    Chapter Nine
    ============


    JACEN AWOKE to darkness so thick that one could have cut it with a knife. He opened and closed his eyes several times, but couldn't even tell whether they were open or shut. Something was humming steadily in the background, something that sounded almost as if a swarm of Yavin IV's piranha beetles were nearby.
    That thought made him practically fly out of his bunk, with the result that he slammed his head into a hard, cold surface above himself. Rubbing his head, he considered the situation. If there were somehow piranha beetles nearby, he had a serious problem indeed.
    Then, finally, he let out a nervous laugh. "Room, lights full," he ordered, and the bunkroom was instantly bathed in light. There were no piranha beetles--the humming was that of the _Rock Dragon's_ machinery, propelling them through hyperspace toward Dathomir.
    He quickly swung his feet off the bunk. The entire week before they had left Yavin IV they had been preparing, and that entailed a lot of work. First they cleaned up and sealed their quarters, which took a couple of days. Then they'd had to stock, fuel, and prepare the _Rock Dragon,_ which took several more days. And the trip to Dathomir from Yavin IV was another day and a half because of the route that had to be used, which had plenty of obstacles in the way.
    Once Jacen had finished dresing, he stepped outside the bunkroom and walked toward the transport's small hold. He found everyone sitting around a holotable off to the side.
    "Playing Dejarik again, sis? How badly did you get beaten this time?"
    Jaina turned to face him, a triumphant smile on her face. "I didn't." She stood up and stretched. "I was wondering when you would wake up, anyway. We're about half an hour from Dathomir now."
    "That close, huh?" he asked, a mildly surprised expression across his face. As she nodded her agreement, he sat down at the end of the bench and watched the current game between Lowbacca and Tenel Ka. "I'll play the winner," Jacen offered after some time.
    "You?" his sister chortled in amusement. "I thought you hated dejarik."
    He shrugged. "Maybe I do, but it's better than nothing."
    "You won't have enough time," Tenel Ka finally said during one of Lowie's turns, her eyes focused on the board as the Wookiee made his move. "Ah. Aha." She tapped the controls briefly, and one of her smallest holographic characters jumped across the table, knocking down a much larger character. Lowbacca urfed in surprise as the redhead leaned back contentedly.
    "You were focusing too much on offense," she offered. "Anyway, I believe we only have about five minutes left. Would anyone care to come to the cockpit?"

    Five minutes later, the cockpit of the _Rock Dragon_ was at its maximum rated capacity, with all four seats filled. The cockpit, located at the very front of the transport, had a viewing arc that was completely unobstructed--unlike that of the _Millenium Falcon,_ whose loading mandibles blocked a good portion of the view. Presently, the viewport was displaying one of the oddities of hyperspace, a swirling maelstrom of blueshifted light that seemed to defy conventional astrophysics.
    Not that its occupants were interesteed in the view, of course. They were no strangers to hyperspace travel, and had seen that 'sky' any number of times. Of course, they were somewhat concerned about where the undefined lanes of hyperspace were taking them; Jaina's hand rested above the manual override, "just in case" as her father had said so many times. Even so, there was really no danger of navicomp failure.
    "Right on schedule," Jaina reported as the navicomputer pulled them out of hyperspace. They were instantly greeted by a multicolored orb that seemed to hang in space--Dathomir. Dominated by browns owing to its mostly desert-like terrain, the planet had large patches of blue scattered across its surface. High clouds obscured a third of the visible area, although Tenel Ka didn't have to see it to know what was there.
    Tenel Ka was silent for the longest time as Jaina began running their approach vector through the navicomp. It had been almost two years since she had visited her home; she wondered how much it had changed in the time she had been away. Probably not by much, she eventually decided. Although there had been radical thinkers since the planet's incorporation into the New Republic--the Shadow Academy's ill-fated Nightsisters were among them--none of them had lasted for very long. Her mother's clan, the Singing Mountain clan, was indeed the largest and strongest on Dathomir.
    The planet below seemed to spin in place as the transport rolled so as to be right-side upon entering the atmosphere. The twisted remains of Warlord Zsinj's orbital shipyards flashed by, seemingly streaked by the speed of their descent, and after several seconds had passed they were arrowing through Dathomir's sky. Although none of them could see it yet, their target was a deep canyon that, because of strong winds, was the safest air approach to the fortress.
    Less than a minute later, the _Rock Dragon_ set down on the valley floor, overshadowed by the sheer wall of the fortress. Tenel Ka noted with mild interest that there were some modern orbital defense turbolasers positioned on the turrets overlooking them. The last time she had visited, a team of Hapan engineers had been working on something, but she never had a chance to find out what it was. At least she knew now.
    "I take it we're there?" a voice beside her said, interrupting her thoughts. She turned and saw that it was Jacen, realizing after a moment had passed that he'd never actually visited Dathomir.
    "Uh..." Tenel Ka paused to collect herself. "Mostly there." She pointed out the viewport at the base of a stair that wound up the sheer wall. "We still have to climb that."
    His jaw dropped. "How many steps is that? A thousand?"
    "Roughly," she replied, smiling slightly as she saw his reaction. "It was an old protection against invasion, although not always effective."
    "I suppose it keeps your clan in shape," Jacen managed to joke. "Anyway, if it's that far, shouldn't we be getting started?"


    * * *


    "Tarb!" The voice from the cockpit was almost a shout. "Get up here and have a look at this!"
    The Twi'lek stumbled into the cockpit moments later, still blinking to clear his eyes. "What happened?"
    "The navicomputer pulled us out of hyperspace for a course change but promptly crashed. I've been trying to bring it back up for the past hour."
    "And you called me in here because of that?" Tarb asked, starting to sound annoyed.
    "No," Cathi, his copilot and navigator, replied as she pointed toward the sensor displays. "I called you up here because of this." She switched the cockpit holodisplay on, and instantly the slightly blurry image of an Imperator-class Star Destroyer appeared.
    Tarb drew in a sharp breath through his pointed teeth. "Imperials? Here?"
    Cathi paused a moment to consider. It would be unusual for them to intrude so deeply into Republic territory, especially considering the nonagression treaty that the Remnant had signed. "I don't think so. They're not broadcasting any IFF, which is unusual for both the Imperials and the Republic."
    "Pirates, then?" the Twi'lek smuggler suggested.
    "That's what I'm guessing," Cathi replied, throwing a cursory glance to the holo.
    Tarb muttered under his breath in his native language before switching back to Basic. "And here we are, sitting mostly immobile and with a full load of ryll. Is there any other good news?"
    The human shrugged. "I told you a few weeks ago that we needed to run some full diagnostics on the navicomp."
    He glared back at her. "I'll take over from here. Why don't you go into the hold and get the spice ready to dump if we have to?"
    Cathi shrugged as she stood to leave. "Whatever."

    Tarb leaned back into his seat and let out a long breath, staring at the sensor display, which showed the Star Destroyer getting closer. Almost from the start, he'd regretted his decision to partner with Cathi in smuggling. Yes, she was capable, but she was also a smartass and generally a pain to work with. Plus he also had to split his profits with her, which was also galling. He could get a droid to do the same job just as well...
    Yes. That was it. He'd get rid of her, right now in fact, and blame it as a mechanical accident in case anyone asked. She'd probably die anyway when the pirates attacked.
    Reaching for his keys, he unlocked a hidden compartment beneath his seat and pulled out one of several blaster pistols, then started toward the cargo hold...

    As she affixed another remote detonator pack to one of the spice crates, Cathi heard quiet footsteps coming down the hallway. "Tarb?" she inquired without looking. "What's the matter?"
    "The Star Destroyer went to hyperspace for some reason," the Twi'lek lied. "I came back here to tell you that you could stop."
    "Oh." She carefully deactivated the detpack and placed it atop the spice crate, then turned around--
    --to find herself staring directly into the barrel of Tarb's blaster. "W-wait, what happened?" she stammered.
    "Your contract's ended," he replied as he tightened his grip on the pistol.
    "Hold on!" she uselessly tried to protest. "Couldn't you just let me off on Nar Shadda or something?"
    "No, I'm sorry," Tarb said with a toothy grin. "It wouldn't work. You know too much about me." He began to pull back on the trigger as her mind raced...
    ... when the ship suddenly lurched as if from a turbolaser blast, throwing Tarb off balance and sending his shot wild. Her adrenaline kicking in, Cathi lunged for him and swatted his blaster arm aside. The Twi'lek was nobody's fool, though, and as she brushed past his head he used his sharpened teeth to tear a gash across her arm. She screamed in pain, and promptly punched him full in the face, breaking his nose.
    Breathing heavily, Tarb threw her off and tried to bring his blaster to bear again, but she swung out from her prone position, brought her boot behind his knee, and kicked hard. There was a sharp crack as the bones broke, sending him sprawling. He still clutched the blaster in his hand, and let off an accidental shot that brushed past her.
    Cathi dove for the blaster, but the Twi'lek rolled over and hit her in the face with its butt. She cried out and redoubled her efforts, landing an elbow in one of Tarb's sensitive head-tails. In reaction to the pain, his grip on the blaster relaxed slightly, which she then kicked out of his hand. With the Twi'lek in hot pursuit, she scrambled over to where the blaster had landed, picked it up, and fired just as he lunged for her.
    Her shot hit him in his right shoulder instead of his chest, where she would have preferred to hit. Cathi struggled to her feet, his teeth tearing through the leg of her pants and into her leg. Gritting her teeth, she quickly set the blaster on stun and fired down at him. As the stun blast wreaked havoc on his nervous system, his grip on her leg relaxed and she tore free, bleeding all over.
    The woman thought for a moment about what to do with him, and finally started dragging his limp form back to the cockpit, where she shoved him into the ship's only escape pod. After hitting the release switch and firing the pod into space, she finally turned around and looked out the forward viewport.
    "Oh, kriff."


    * * *


    By the time the four Jedi reached the top of the stairway, Jacen was wishing that he'd brought a speeder bike or something. He was already exhausted from the walk, and beads of sweat dripped down his face. A quick glance at Tenel Ka told him that although she might have been tired, she definately wasn't showing it.
    At the door, they were met by two athletic young women, dressed in the same style as Tenel Ka. When they saw her, they nodded and let the group in.
    "We should see my great-grandmother first," Tenel Ka said as they walked through the fortress. "She will likely welcome us."
    Too thirsty to speak, Jacen merely nodded and followed her through the maze of passages inside the fortress until they came to what he assumed was the chamber of the Council of Sisters. As they stepped inside, everybody came to their feet, and a very old woman at the far end came to her feet.
    "You have returned, Tenel Ka Chume Ta' Djo," the old woman, who Jacen immediately realized was Augwynne Djo, said in a motherly tone. "How are you?"
    "I am fine," Tenel Ka simply replied as Augwynne walked over and embraced her.
    The matriarch turned her attention to the rest of the Jedi. "And these are...?"
    "Jacen, Jaina and Lowbacca," she responded as she pointed them out.
    "Ah, so this is that handsome young man you told me about," Augwynne Djo said as she looked Jacen over. He was painfully aware of the fact that his face was turning crimson as the wizened old matriarch spoke, and hurriedly attempted to run through a relaxation technique. Although it was successful, he realized that he hadn't been fast enough as she noticed the look on his face.
    "Don't be ashamed, young man. Tenel Ka has excellent tastes in whom she chooses. You're the first man she has captured."
    Jacen realized that his face was probably as red as Tenel Ka's hair by this point. He bowed his head and let out a slight chuckle, then looked back up in an attempt to regain face. "I am honored," he replied simply.
    "As well you should be. Now, my daughter's granddaughter," she turned to Tenel Ka, "do you wish to have a marriage ceremony performed while you are here?"
    Lowie let out what might have been the Wookiee equivalent of a chuckle, while a look of horror came across Tenel Ka's face. After a long, awkward pause, she burst out into peals of laughter. "Great-grandmother! I have no plans to wed Jacen. He is merely an old friend from the Jedi Academy."
    "Ah, pardon my misunderstanding, Tenel Ka," Augwynne replied. "I had forgotten that you dislike many of the old customs. Still, one could say that there is more to the two of you than meets the eye."
    The two Jedi exchanged nervous glances as Augwynne cleared her throat. "What is your full name, young man?"
    "Jacen Solo," he nervously replied.
    A look of puzzlement came across her face. "Are you related, then, to Han Solo?"
    "He's my father."
    Augwynne chuckled softly. "Then you must know that your mother was made an honorary member of our clan."
    Jacen's eyebrows shot up. "No, I didn't," he admitted.
    She continued. "And that your mother's brother was actually captured by my granddaughter--Tenel Ka's mother--for marriage?"
    His jaw dropped slightly, and he shook his head.
    Augwynne smiled again. "It does not matter too much now," she said. “Teneniel, as you know, married Isolder from Hapes. Because of that, we are now part of the Hapes Consortium, and thankfully supported by them.”
    She turned to face Tenel Ka again. “So, daughter, what brings you back here?”
    “We are going to meet with a fighter squadron led by a Jedi, then continue on to investigate some strange attacks in the Outer Rim.”
    “Explain.”
    Tenel Ka paused for a moment. "There has been a string of attacks on planets and ships through the Outer Rim, but nobody knows what's been causing them. That's what we're going to try and figure out."
    “A dangerous task," Augwynne mused. "How long will you be staying here before you leave?"
    “Less than a week," Jaina replied, feeling somewhat left out. "Perhaps five days."
    "Ah," The matriarch nodded. "In that case, you are most welcome to stay and rest. I believe you will need it."


    * * *


    So, Cathi realized as a white docking bay loomed ever closer, Tarb had lied about the Star Destroyer. As if it was very surprising considering everything else that had happened so far.
    As she watched, the comm suddenly came to life, nearly causing her to hit her head on a control panel. "Attention unidentified freighter, this is the Imperial Star Destroyer _Magistrate_. This is your last chance to respond before you will be forcefully boarded."
    Cathi quickly hit the switch, and did her best to sound intimidated, even though she wasn't really that scared. "I copy, _Magistrate_." She paused. The only thing that really worried her was the load of first-grade ryll spice aboard--enough to get her landed in prison or even executed on most planets. Although she was now even more afraid, she put on a more normal tone. "Actually, I'm kind of glad you found me. I was having some serious problems with my navicomputer."
    The controller on the other end seemed to be taken slightly aback by her change of attitude. "That will be discussed once you are taken into our custody. In the meantime, you will drop your shields and prepare for boarding. If you do not resist, you will not be harmed."
    “I copy.” Cathi looked about herself nervously. There was still the blaster pistol in her hand; it wouldn't do for the Imperials to take that. She knew that Tarb had kept a secret locker beneath his seat, but the key...
    She nearly hit herself in the head. She'd fired him out in the escape pod, and hadn't bothered to remove that stuff first. Oh well; if and when she got back to civilization she'd have a new key made. Maybe there was somewhere else she could store it...
    Naturally, she realized. There were other smuggling compartments that she had helped to build into the ship. In a flash, she was heading down the corridor toward one of the shielded compartments, where she deposited the blaster before returning to the cockpit.
    Once back in the cockpit, she dropped the shields and extended the landing gear. There wasn't any sense in antagonizing the Imperials when you were this much at their mercy. A drawn-out shudder informed her that the ship had been deposited on the deck of the hangar, and she quickly hit the switch to drop the loading ramp, then put the ship into standby.
    “Come out with your arms up,” the amplified voice of a stormtrooper barked outside. She complied and slowly walked down the ramp, where two of the troopers immediately put cuffs on her. The rest of the team marched into the freighter, and her heart sank.
    Several minutes later, the team returned and handed their commanding officer a datapad. He glanced over its contents, then nodded at the two troopers restraining Cathi. “Place her in Detention for now. I'm sure the Commodore will be interested in this.”


    Cathi was surprised when, less than an hour after she had been given medical treatment and put in a holding cell, the door slid open. She looked up and noticed that the stormtroopers who had opened the door were high-ranking ones, at least judging by the color of their pauldrons. And standing behind them... a _Chiss_? She blinked in surprise at the person's appearance. He had to be a Chiss; there was no other way to explain his blue skin and the eyes that seemed to shine with a brilliant red. Judging by his rank cylinders, he also had the rather lowly rank of Commodore, which was a far cry from the only other Chiss officer she'd heard existed in the Imperial Navy. She mentally shrugged. You saw strange things everyday as a smuggler.
    The Commodore stepped inside of the cell, bowing his head to keep from banging it on the door. She studied him as he stopped, noting the air that he kept about himself.
    He held up the datapad which she'd seen the stormtrooper sergeant take from his squad, and begin looking at it. “My information tells me that you are Cathi Riclin, standard age 25, and copilot of the light freighter _Headwind_,” he began.
    “Correct.”
    “It also tells me that you were carrying two metric tons of first-grade ryll spice, packed into six crates.”
    She nodded. “Also correct.”
    He continued. “I am also sure that you know the penalty for smuggling spice in both the Republic and Empire is life in prison or death.”
    “Yes,” she replied with a note of hesitance. Why was he telling her all this?
    “Allow me to introduce myself,” the Chiss commodore continued. “I am Commodore Mantrel, and I am commander of a small taskforce of which this Star Destroyer is the flagship.”
    She raised an eyebrow. It was fairly common knowledge that the amount of Star Destroyers left in the Remnant proper had dropped to below 200. To still control one was considered nothing short of amazing.
    “You may wonder why I am speaking to you instead of attending to other duties. The reason is this: I am going to let you go free with your ship. Without the spice, of course.”
    She felt her jaw drop slightly in shock. “Why?” she managed.
    “Well, I see you're a resourceful woman. We retrieved the escape pod that you launched before being boarded, and have the captain of your vessel in bacta and awaiting further interrogation. It seems that he tried to kill you, but you managed to disarm and stun him. Is that correct?”
    “Yes.”
    “I will let you draw your own conclusions concerning my motives, then. But for now, you are free again. I would highly recommend that you leave as soon as possible. Our engineers have already finished repairing your navicomputer, so you will not have any problems departing.”
    “Thank you,” she managed.
    “It is but a small favor. You will also find a very small gift inside your ship, one that will hopefully support you for a time.” He turned and stepped outside the cell, then talked to the two stormtroopers. One came in and promptly escorted her out. Her head was swimming.

    Uneventfully, she boarded her ship and began the warmup, and ran through the steps that they had given her before she left.
    Finally, she tapped the comm. “Star Destroyer _Magistrate_, this is the freighter _Headwind_ requesting permission to leave.”
    A moment later, the reply came. “Permission granted, _Headwind_. Do not stray from appointed flight path.”
    “Affirmative.” She eased back on the controls, and the YT-2400 freighter glided out of the bay and into space. When she was clear, she increased the throttle and wondered what to do next.
    The realization hit her like a thunderbolt. With the loss of the spice (not to mention Tarb) the Twi'lek clans would likely put out a large bounty for her.
    She quickly came to a decision. Closing her eyes, she started tapping the coordinate input for the navicomputer at random. When it beeped, she stopped and reached for the manual hyperdrive activators, then pulled back.
    It was better to be lost forever in hyperspace than to be captured and forced to work in the Ryloth spice mines, she reflected as pseudomotion caused the stars to streak as the ship entered hyperspace. At least death this way was painless.
  15. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Chapter 10

    Sorry, I don't have as much time as I used to. Anyway, here's Chapter 10.

    STRETCHING AND YAWNING, Jacen sat up from the crude mattress lying on the ground and turned to look out the window. The blue-tinted sunlight was already starting to drift across most of the fortress, as he noticed through a window. He checked his chronometer; it was earlier than he would normally wake up on Yavin IV. Oh, well. He’d been awaking at sunrise every day since they came to Dathomir.
    He looked about himself, and noted that Tenel Ka had already woken up and left. Briefly, he wondered where she had gone before he got into his utilitarian jumpsuit and wandered outside. Probably hunting with her clansisters, he decided. She’d mentioned that it had been years since she had last done that sort of thing, and they’d be leaving tomorrow...
    As Jacen wandered outside the room that had been provided for them, a faint sound caught his ear, and he moved his head to see if he could identify the source. He frowned at the distance, squinting to try and see a little better. After a moment, he gave up and instead focused with the Force.
    “Huh,” he muttered after a moment. “They weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow.” Jacen spun around and headed back inside to wake his sister and Lowbacca.

    Slightly less than an hour later, the four Jedi were assembled in the landing field below the fortress, where Kyp had landed his starfighter. Lowbacca was first to greet Kyp with a deafening roar as the group walked toward him.
    “Kyp!” Jaina said. “You’re early. What happened?”
    The older Jedi turned around from his XJ. “We’ve got to leave as soon as possible. Some new things came through while we were at base.”
    “What?” Jacen’s surprise was clearly evident. “I didn’t think it was this serious.”
    “Well, you know now,” Kyp replied sharply. “Where’s your ship?”
    “It’s on the landing pad at the top of the fortress,” Tenel Ka answered.
    “Good. Make sure that you can leave as soon as we’re done down here.” He caught his breath and continued. “Anyway, we got some more information on the attacks. One of the first victims was a guy named Urias Xhaxin, as you might recall.” Kyp paused for a moment to tell something to his astromech, then turned back to the group. “From the information I found, he’s actually a rather notorious pirate in the sector. His base of operations is a Nebulon-B frigate, which seems to have had a lot of illegitimate upgrades.”
    “He’s a _pirate_? Jacen asked incredulously. “Then why send out a distress signal?”
    “Lure another victim or two in, perhaps,” Jaina answered for him. “It sounds suspicious.”
    “Normally, I'd agree,” Kyp stated. “But the odd thing is that he used his real name and identity in the distress call. Unless he suddenly had a death wish, that doesn't make any sense.”
    “We should go in with our shields and weapons powered up, at least,” Jaina persisted.
    “I know,” he replied. “We will, trust me. But there were some other things I need to tell you about. First, I talked with your parents, who told me that they’re sick of Coruscant and are going to be moving out this way, to some backwater called Sernpidal.” He handed Jacen, who was standing nearest, a datachip. “That has the coordinates for the planet, as well as the location of their new house.”
    “Why would they do that?” Jaina interjected.
    Kyp shrugged. “They didn’t give me much in the way of details, but I gathered that your mother was sick of politics, not to mention all the media attention following her resignation.”
    The flat-domed R6 in the socket of Kyp’s starfighter chose that moment to interrupt the conversation with a loud twitter. Kyp threw the droid a glare and continued.
    “I also talked with several Extragalactic Society executives, who informed me that they still haven’t received anything from ExGal 4. So, after we check out Xhaxin’s distress call we’ll be traveling to Belkadan. Sound good?”
    “I... suppose so,” Jaina answered after several moments had passed. “In that case, we’ll rendezvous with your squadron up in orbit.”
    “Good,” Kyp said as his gaze moved across all of them. “Just so you know, I really appreciate this. May the Force be with you.” He leapt to the top of the starfighter as the four Jedi watched him. With a high-pitched whine, the X-wing lifted off, accelerated, and vanished into the sky.
    “I don’t know about you,” Jacen said quietly to his sister after Kyp had left, “but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

    * * *

    Cathi stared blankly at the twisting maelstrom that was the ‘sky’ of hyperspace, her mind churning. She’d dozed off in the pilot’s chair the previous day, and when she woke up, she was naturally very surprised to find out that the freighter hadn’t crashed into anything yet. Her hand, rougher than one might expect for a woman of her age because of all the mechanical work she’d performed, hovered over the manual hyperdrive controls as she debated in her mind whether to drop out of hyperspace or not.
    _No_, she finally decided. She’d just let it take her where it would, and not worry about it. _But_, another part of her mind said, _isn’t that what you decided yesterday?_ Cathi uncertainly reached for the hyperdrive controls once again, but stayed her hand before she touched them.
    “What am I doing?” she wondered aloud. There was no guarantee, after all, that a bounty hunter would even find her in the first place. The galaxy was a big place for a lone smuggler to hide, and she could always change her name, have reconstructive surgery, or do something else to disappear. Still, her mind debated the issue for several minutes before she reached a conclusion.
    “All right,” she whispered, and reached for the hyperdrive controls yet again.
    Her hand was only halfway there when the navicomputer bleeped a warning and cut in the safeties, dropping the ship out. She quickly moved her hand and silenced the alarms, looking out the viewport to see exactly what the heck had happened.
    “Wonderful,” she said to no-one in particular. “I ran into a black hole’s mass shadow.”
    Cathi spent the next several minutes running diagnostics and checking things to see how badly her ship was damaged. Much to her surprise, most of the systems seemed to be intact. She silently thanked herself for not disabling the hyperdrive safeties.
    As she was looking over the control panels, the sensor panel caught her eye. Most of the data related to the black hole’s emissions, but one thing stood out: a distress signal that was very close. She switched to audio and played it.
    “Attention any nearby ships,” the recording began. “This is Outbound Flight Shuttle One requesting assistance. Ship is disabled and currently in degrading orbit of a black hole. Please acknowledge. Message repeats.”
    Had her jaw not been attached to her head, it would have hit the deck at that instant. Of course she had heard of the Outbound Flight. Who hadn’t? Like most stories of lost ships, over the years it had garnered a great deal of mystery. Some people insisted that the Project had succeeded. Others, who had heard about Grand Admiral Thrawn’s involvement during that time, claimed that it had been destroyed.
    And now she was hearing a distress signal that purported to be from one of its shuttles. For a moment she wondered if it was a quirk of the black hole, somehow preserving the subspace message through gravity. Her mind discarded it a moment later when she double-checked the sensors. They definitely showed a ship, by the looks of it an earlier Cygnus Spaceworks design, stranded in the black hole’s accretion disk.
    Thumbing the comm to transmit, she picked up a handset and spoke into it. “Outbound Flight Shuttle One, this is the independent freighter _Headwind._ I have just received your distress call and may be able to provide the assistance you require. Please acknowledge.”
    The reply came a little over five minutes later, and by its sound, the speaker was rather relieved. “Freighter _Headwind,_ I copy. My hyperdrive was blown when I went through the wormhole. What kind of assistance can you provide?”
    Cathi frowned. What wormhole was he talking about? “I don’t happen to be carrying any spare parts for a hyperdrive of your age, but I might be able to give you a ride.”
    “That’ll do,” the other person replied. “Can you dock with my ship?”
    “I should be able to,” she said after a moment’s pause. “This is a Corellian YT-2400, and it has a standard docking ring. I take it yours has one as well?”
    “It does,” the man answered.
    “I’ll start the docking process immediately, then,” Cathi said. “Make sure your shields are down first.”
    “They failed a long time ago,” the man said. “At least the hull blocks most of the radiation.”
    Cathi didn’t bother to reply, but instead started jockeying her freighter toward the old shuttle. As she neared it, she nodded. It was definitely a pre-Clone Wars design, one rarely seen now.
    Once she was next to the shuttle, she used the YT-2400’s maneuvering jets to line up with the docking port and finally attach. She could hear a slight clang as the two ships connected, and breathed a sigh of relief.
    “I’ve finished the docking process,” she said into the comm. “You can come across the docking tube and I’ll meet you on my end.”
    “Sounds good,” the reply came almost immediately. “I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar face again. Shuttle One out.”
    The smuggler hesitated before leaving the cockpit, but managed to calm her fears and stepped out into the corridor that led to the access hatch. When she heard knocking from the other side, she drew her blaster and pointed it at the hatch, then activated the release switch. The hatch promptly irised open, allowing a surprisingly young-looking blond-haired head to emerge.
    Her mind churned in bewilderment as the man took in his surroundings. It had been over fifty years since the Clone Wars had ended, and anybody from the Outbound Flight that had survived should have been in his seventies. Yet this man seemed to be only in his late thirties...
    The unknown man paused when he saw her blaster. “You can put that away,” he said in a calm tone after a moment had passed. “I don’t think you’ll find me to be much of a problem.”
    As an amazed Cathi watched herself put the blaster back in its holster, the man easily climbed out of the access hatch. It was then that she noticed his attire: a flowing brown robe that hung to the floor.
    “Jedi,” she whispered before raising her voice. “You’re one of the six Jedi that were aboard the Outbound Flight, aren’t you?”
    He nodded. “I’m Master Dellen, historian for the Outbound Flight. And you are?”
    “Cathi Riclin,” she replied. “I’m just a freighter pilot, nothing special.”
    “Pleased to meet you,” Dellen replied in a conversational tone. “So what’s a small freighter doing this far away from the major trade routes?”
    “Long story,” Cathi muttered. When he looked at her inquisitively, she continued. “I got captured by some rogue Star Destroyer a few days ago. They took all of my cargo as well as the owner of this ship, but for some reason set me free shortly after.” She paused for a long moment. “Well, after that I didn’t know what to do, so I made a random jump into hyperspace and wound up here.”
    He shrugged. “Random jumps are pretty dangerous. You must have survived because the Force wanted you to.”
    “What’s that mean?” she asked, thoroughly confused.
    Dellen took a deep breath. “It means that the Force works in mysterious ways. What might seem like a random chance may have actually been made that way by the Force.”
    “Really,” Cathi managed to say. _So he’s saying that the Force wanted me to be here just so that I could pick him up?_
    “That’s about it,” Dellen said, shocking her out of her senses. Seeing her surprise, he smiled. “You should stop thinking so loudly.”
    Now she remembered why most smugglers detested Jedi. Well, there wasn’t much she could do now with one aboard her ship. “All right, so where do you want me to take you?”
    “Coruscant,” Dellen replied almost without pause. “But I need to get my belongings out of the shuttle first. Why don’t you run the course through the navicomputer?”
    “Uh...” She hesitated. “I suppose I can do that. Do you need any help moving your stuff?”
    “No, but thank you.” Dellen disappeared down the tube, leaving her to mull over her thoughts. The navicomputer was fast enough that she could wait almost until they were ready to leave before starting the calculations.
    Less than a minute had passed when Dellen emerged from the tube carrying a small crate. “Still here?” he asked in mild surprise. “I’m ready to go. The shuttle’s shut down completely and all my belongings are in here.”
    “Already?” Cathi asked. “I thought you were carrying more than that.”
    The Jedi shook his head. “I travel lightly.”
    “Well,” she took a breath, “then let’s go. I need a copilot; do you mind?”
    “Not at all,” Dellen said, holding up the crate. “Where should I put this?”
    “Oh...” She thought for a moment before coming to a decision. “Just leave it in the sleeping quarters. They’re one door down on the left side.”
    “Thanks. Why don’t you uncouple the ships in the meantime? I sealed mine already.” He was gone down the corridor in an instant, leaving Cathi staring at her hands and wondering if he’d tried using one of his Jedi tricks on her. She shook her head, sealed the hatch, and decided to disconnect the ships from the cockpit.

    * * *

    In less than a standard hour after they had met with Kyp, the _Rock Dragon_ was back in space, hurtling through hyperspace toward the last known location of Urias Xhaxin.
    “What doesn’t make sense about this,” Jacen said as he walked down the short corridor leading to the cockpit, “is why anybody would conduct this kind of attack.” He waved his hands emphatically. “I mean, look at the targets so far: a scientific research station, a pirate ship, and an archaeological expedition on some unsettled planet.”
    Jaina regarded him with a bemused look. “We don’t even know if Belkadan and Xhaxin are related to Bimmiel. As far as we know, ExGal 4 could have had a communications problem, while Xhaxin’s probably just trying to lure prey in. Maybe the aliens on Bimmiel are just some local pirate group themselves!”
    He shrugged as they stepped into the transport’s hold (or lounge, depending on what it was functioning as). Neither Tenel Ka nor Lowbacca were there, but that was to be expected since both were still in the cockpit. “That’s a possibility, but...”
    “We’ll find out when we get there, won’t we,” Jaina cut him off.
    Jacen glared at his sister. “I’d still like to have some idea of what’s going on before we get into the middle of things. So far we’re only going on sketchy information.”
    “I know - _We_ know, Jacen.” She paused for a moment. “I’m just as nervous as you are about this. But we don’t have any choice now; we’re going to arrive in a few hours.” Jaina gave him a friendly pat on the back. “Try not to worry about it. I’m going to head back to the cockpit and see if Tenel Ka or Lowbacca need to do anything.”
    “That will not be necessary,” a voice behind her said. “The navicomputer will give us fair warning before we exit hyperspace.”
    The twins turned about to face Tenel Ka, standing as alert as she typically did. She inclined a single eyebrow. “Of course, there is always the danger of pirates, but with the Dozen-and-Two Avengers nearby, I would hope that any would-be attackers might realize discretion is the better part of valour.”
    “They wouldn’t even know what hit them,” Jacen jokingly commented. “At least judging by the attitudes of Kyp’s pilots,” he hastily added in response to a slightly confused look from the warrior.
    “Ah,” Tenel Ka nodded. “Aha.”
    “If they would spend as much time working on their piloting as massaging their egos, they would rival Rogue Squadron,” Jaina added derisively. “Brand-new XJs or not, I really wouldn’t want to fly in a squadron like that.”
    “And I thought you looked almost eager when Kyp asked you if you wanted to join his squadron.”
    Jaina spun about to face her brother, irritation clearly evident on her face. “Maybe I was, for a moment. You should know that I’ve always wanted to fly in a professional squadron... but the Avengers are really just amateurs with fancy hardware.”
    He raised his eyebrows. “Have to admit, they’ve done a pretty good job against pirates for a bunch of amateurs.”
    “Hah. Pirates,” she remarked scornfully. “They’re nothing compared to a professional military force.” Her tone changed slightly, gaining a worried edge. “Although that does have me concerned; if you’re right and this isn’t just some third-rate group that’s been causing trouble, then we are going to have serious problems.”

    By the time the navicomputer signaled that reversion from hyperspace was imminent, the four Jedi were in their positions and the ship was ready, its deflectors and sensors already powered up and waiting. Jaina had taken over piloting, with Tenel Ka sitting in the copilot’s seat; while she couldn’t easily fly with only one arm, running the navicomputer and various other systems was far from difficult.
    “We’re powered up and ready,” Jacen reported from the port laser turret. A Wookiee roar, which needed no translation, echoed him.
    “Standby,” Tenel Ka reported, her voice sounding smooth despite the stress that all of them were facing. She waited for the navicomputer to count down...
    The _Rock Dragon_ smoothly decelerated, the mottled sky of hyperspace gradually streaking and then turning into a field of points.
    “Avengers, report in,” Tenel Ka said over the comm.
    “We’re all accounted for,” Kyp’s voice responded. “Nothing’s turned up on passive sensors yet.”
    A collective sigh of relief came from the four Jedi aboard the transport. “I’ll run a full-power scan,” Jaina commented, her hands flying across the console. “It should show anything that’s sensor-stealthed.”
    After a short period of time, she spoke up again. “I’ve got what looks like a debris cloud, range about ten thousand klicks. No lifesigns anywhere. Transmitting the vector right now.”

    As they neared the debris field, the Jedi aboard the _Rock Dragon_ heard a long, drawn-out whistle come across the com. “Looks like this pirate won’t be making any more raids.”
    A reply came from Kyp almost immediately. “Those Nebulon-B frigates aren’t exactly easy kills,” he said. “At least for most ships out here on the Rim.”
    Jacen stared out the forward viewport, wondering about the dispersed debris field. Whatever was passing through his mind was interrupted by his sister.
    Keying the com on, Jaina spoke into it. “Avengers, this is Jaina. I’m going to use the _Rock Dragon_ to try and collect debris to obtain a serial number.” She switched it off, turning to Lowbacca. “Lowie, I need you to use the tractor beam. Drag in anything that looks promising.”
    The Wookiee urfed a reply as Jaina got up, giving the controls to her brother. She turned to exit the cockpit. “I’ll be in the main hold. If there’s nothing on whatever you bring in, I’ll dump it back.”
    “Got it,” Jacen replied, focusing on the debris through the Force, trying to see if there was anything that drew his attention. A few minutes later, he noticed a small piece that seemed mostly intact, and snagged it with the tractor beam.
    “Good catch,” an excited voice echoed from the hold. “It has some numbers on it, but I'm not quite sure what it's from." There was silence for a moment. “Jacen, can you come here and take a look at this?”
    Jacen stood up, leaving Tenel Ka and Lowie with the task of flying the ship. Moments later, he reached the hold.
    "Take a look at these," Jaina commented, pointing towards a set of deep scratches in the plate. "I could almost swear that these are tooth marks."
    He knelt down, inspecting the plate. ‘You’re right,” Jacen eventually agreed. “That’s kind of odd, though. I don’t think there would be any space slugs this far from an asteroid, and they’re about the only organic I can think of that could do this kind of damage.

    * * *

    The atmosphere was uncomfortably silent aside from the humming of machinery as Cathi and Dellen secured themselves into the cockpit. Finally, Dellen broke the silence. “I think we’re ready to leave. I’m not quite sure, though, since this navicomp is a little different from what I’m used to,” he admitted.
    Cathi leaned over and looked at the display. “Yeah, it’s correct,” she affirmed. “Well, then, let’s get out of here.” She checked the status displays one last time to make sure that everything was good. Moments later, the ship jumped to hyperspace.
    Far behind them, the shuttle continued its slow spiral toward the source of the gravity.

    * * *

    “That’s kind of an interesting idea,” Kyp mused. “Whatever it was, it was pretty thorough, I’ll admit.”
    “So what’s our next stop going to be?” Jaina asked.
    “I think Belkadan should be next,” the reply came. “Our fuel reserves are still good, but we should probably stop at Sernpidal afterwards.”
    Jaina agreed. “That sounds good. I’ll program that into the computer.”

    * * *

    A fairly young human lieutenant entered the bridge of the ISD /Magistrate/, walked up to the Commodore, and snapped off a salute.
    “Permission to speak, sir?”
    “Granted,” the Commodore replied, still facing the windows. “Sir,” the lieutenant started, “we’ve received a signal from the tracer on the smuggler’s ship.”
    “Good.” Mantrel turned around to face the lieutenant. “What is its location?”
    “That seems to be the problem,” the lieutenant replied. “The signal traced to a location near an unstable black hole system. There is no record of any base being located there.” He handed the Commodore a datapad.
    “Interesting,” Mantrel mused. “Captain Ollic?”
    “Yes, Sir?”
    The Commodore passed the datapad to Ollic. “Have the /Magistrate/ prepared for hyperspace. I want to be at these coordinates as soon as possible.”
    “Yes, Sir.”
  16. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Damnit, is anyone going to reply, or is my fic just too boring?
  17. Theodosius Wanzerpilot

    Ahh..I've read it...
  18. :eek:

    ASVS has always been a haven for good and long fanfics, after my essay today I'll see if I can start this. :)
  19. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    The more the merrier :)
  20. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Yow! More catchup work to do...

    Looks like I've got a five-chapter backlog here... shit, it's been two years already? Anyway, if you want the current stuff, you can read most of it on the ASVS Fanfic Archive. I think this is pretty up-to-date, but there might be some minor changes from what I posted here.

    So here's chapter 11. More to come shortly. (If I don't post any more in the next few days, and you start to feel deprived, feel free to bug me via IM...)

    CHAPTER ELEVEN


    A HEAVY silence descended over the conference room on Voyager as former captain Kathryn Janeway entered, escorted by several security personnel. Most of the other senior staff of both the Outbound Flight and Voyager were already assembled and waiting at the conference table.

    "Well," Chakotay sighed, looking the information on his PADD over, "seeing that we're all here, I call this meeting to order." He waited for Janeway to take her seat, then continued. "The first topic on the agenda is what course of action we will take when we reach Federation space."

    He waited for the room to calm down. "As all of you doubtlessly know, several of our own crew are not from the Federation. Given that two of those crew members are present now, I am interested in hearing your opinions on coming to the Federation."

    Neelix was the first to speak. "Sir, as the ship's cook, you might be aware that..." He paused to wet his lips. "Several of the crew have suggested that I come to Earth to take cooking courses. I've seriously considered this, and after much thought I have decided that I would like to attend a culinary arts institute in Paris."

    Some of the Voyager staff gave knowing smiles, and there was a weak attempt at applause. Chakotay merely nodded. "That takes care of one. Lieutenant-Commander Seven of Nine, what is your feeling on this matter?"

    "I am amenable to returning to the Federation," Seven answered. "The Delta Quadrant no longer holds any appeal for me."

    "What? No long speech?" someone jokingly commented.

    She gave the speaker a cold stare. "That would be unnecessary," Seven replied.

    Chakotay, ignoring the side conversation, turned his attention toward the Republic personnel. "So that's settled, then. Now..." He paused to recall the correct title for the Jedi. "Master C'baoth, what are your own plans for when we reach Federation space?"

    "As I have stated before, we will open talks with the Federation on behalf of the Galactic Republic. My hope is that those talks will be successful in creating mutual amnesty between the two governments."

    "That's all good and well," Chakotay agreed, looking past C'baoth to one of the other Jedi. "But what will you do if you can't get into contact with the Republic?"

    The room was silent for several long moments. Then, finally, Master Fernas spoke. "That is a possibility that we have always been prepared for. However, as some of you are no doubt aware, two weeks ago I sent Master Dellen back through the wormhole to contact the Republic. If all goes well, he will be able to bring the information I gave him to the Council and the Senate. Then it is our hope that they are able to mount a resupply mission for us."

    C'baoth cast a thoughtful glance at Fernas. "Providing that the instabilities in the Republic have not overwhelmed it in the seventy years we have been absent, of course. You certainly remember the incidents surrounding the Trade Federation and Naboo."

    "Naturally." Fernas folded his arms on the conference table. "But what is done is done, and now we may only hope that Master Dellen has reached Coruscant successfully."

    After Chakotay had determined that further discussion had ended, he continued, turning to the Doctor. "Now, we need to move on to the next topic: what we will do about our Captain. Doctor, I believe this is your area of expertise."

    "Indeed it is," the hologram, who to the Jedi seemed a little too at home in the conference room, replied. "Given the Captain's earlier behavior, I am inclined to keep her in Sickbay for further monitoring, but you did make the point that further confinement may only worsen the situation, and suggested that we merely keep a security detail around her. I have considered this, and it is my conclusion that perhaps we should have one of the Jedi keep watch over her. A lone Jedi should be far less intrusive than a team of security officers."

    Chakotay was silent for a while, deep in thought. Finally, he turned toward Master C'baoth. "What do you think of the Doctor's proposal?"

    "It would be possible, given that the duration is only a week," C'baoth said. "However, it would be more appropriate for a woman to watch her, which leaves only one person. Master Fornil, what is your response?"

    The attention of everyone in the room shifted to the black-haired Corellian, whose appearance seemed more suited to the exotic fashions of an entertainment diva rather than the dull robes of a Jedi. "Better than sitting around another week, I suppose," she nonchalantly commented. "I can do it."

    The Doctor looked at Janeway. "And what does the patient think of this?" he asked.

    Janeway sighed. "I can live with it," she said, but there was no mistaking the doubt and resentment in her voice. "But I still think this is completely unnecessary."

    "If you had not broken out of Sickbay, hijacked the Delta Flyer, and then destroyed it in the asteroid field, we might have gone a bit easier on you," Chakotay said in as calm a tone as he could manage. Paris was still angry with Janeway for destroying the Flyer, and Chakotay didn't blame him. "However, given your actions, we have no choice according to Starfleet regulations."

    "That I understand," she replied. "What I am questioning was the original decision that you and the rest of the command crew came to when I ordered that we break contact with the Republic diplomats. My decision was well-grounded, and as far as I am concerned, sound."

    Chakotay held up his hand. "We discussed this in private before, Janeway. I would prefer not to have a repeat of that discussion. The fact is that, thanks to the assistance of the Republic ship and its crew, we have only a week left before we reach Federation space. If we had followed your orders unquestioningly, it would still take us over fifty years to return."

    "That's beside the point and you know it, Chakotay. Our engineers fitted a warp drive system to one of the Republic shuttles, which is a clear contradiction of the Prime Directive. Not all of your decisions are sound."

    He sighed. "Janeway, you may have noticed that the technology level of the Republic is far in excess of our own technology, at least where drive systems are concerned. After looking through the historical databanks aboard the Bulk Cruiser, we found that a form of warp drive was used in the Republic several thousands of years ago, before the invention of their hyperdrive. Therefore, we were not violating the Prime Directive by repairing a shuttle."

    After a long pause, C'baoth spoke. "Captain Janeway," he addressed her by her formal title, "I understand your concerns about us. However, your laws bind you as our laws bind us. My crew had nothing to do with the decision of your command staff, and we cannot change their minds. Please accept their decision."

    "Very well," Janeway said after a long period of silence. "I accept the consequences of my actions."

    Chakotay nodded. "Then this meeting is adjourned."



    Several hours after the meeting, Captain Avin found himself wandering toward the turbolift, the recent issues pressing in his mind. "Level 17, Computer Operations," he instructed the turbolift in a rather uninterested tone.

    Moments later, the door slid open into the computer operations center. Dozens of droids of various sorts were moving about the room, while a couple of technicians sat at consoles working on various projects... or playing games, Avin decided after watching one of them for a few seconds.
    He walked across the room, avoiding the whirring and whizzing droids, and entered a low hallway slung with data cables of various sizes and lengths. Finally, he came to a metal door with a rather prominent "DO NOT DISTURB" sign affixed to the outside of it. Ignoring the sign, he knocked.

    "Go away," a muffled voice within said.

    "This is Captain Avin," Avin addressed the person inside, "and you'd better open that door unless you want a courtmartial effective now."

    The door immediately slid open, and Avin stepped into a rather badly lit room—or, as he ducked some more cables, perhaps closet would fit it better. The air smelled of burned circuits, and a thin haze of smoke seemed to cover the place. Packs of datachips were scattered around the room, along with various other bits of equipment that Avin could only guess as to the origins of.

    "Sorry, Sir." Moments later, a black-haired head emerged from behind an equipment rack. "I thought it was one of the junior techs. They've been bugging me all day." The person, a rather short and light-skinned human, stepped out and brushed his hands off. "What brings you here?" he asked informally.

    "Just business," Avin ambiguously answered. "By the way, Lieutenant Reco, what is that smell?"

    "Oh, that." Ph'ngu Reco tried to laugh, but only wound up coughing. "One of the droids blew its motivator. Running for around sixty years without any maintenance did wonders for its circuitry. Anyway, I've ordered the rest of those droids to be checked."

    "Good call," the Captain agreed. "You ought to get some better atmosphere circulation in here, though."

    "It doesn't bother me too much, Sir," Ph'ngu replied with another cough as he stuck a fan in the doorway and turned it on. "I might as well save the air recirculators for the more populated parts of the ship."

    "I see." Avin looked down at his feet, which had accidentally become tangled in a coil of wires. He shook the wires off and stepped into a clearer area. "And you might want to see about tidying this place up, too."

    "Yes, Sir. But I don't believe that tidyness is what you came here to talk about."

    "No, it's just something I noticed," Avin replied in a less-than-happy tone. "There are no taps here, right?"

    "As far as I can tell, no," Ph'ngu replied. "Why do you ask?"

    The Captain walked back to the door, moved the fan inside, and closed the door. Turning back to the tech, he spoke. "I want you to slice Voyager's main computer. I'm only interested in information on their former captain. And do nothing that might alert the attention of their officers."

    "I can probably do that," the slicer answered in a tone that suggested that cracking alien computer systems was something he did every day. "How soon do you want the information?"

    "As soon as possible," Avin responded. "We drop out of hyperspace about a week from now, so you'll have to at least finish it by then."

    Ph'ngu nodded. "That should be possible, but don't take my word for it. I've got a bunch of other jobs to finish first. For sure, I'll have it by the deadline."

    The Captain turned around to exit. "I appreciate your efforts. And for the record, we never had this conversation."

    The slicer smiled wanly. "I'm used to not having conversations. Don't worry about me."


    * * *


    Leading the taskforce was a spacecraft that had perhaps started off life as a Rendili bulk freighter, although it showed little resemblance to its roots now. Warship-grade armor plating had been welded on in many critical places, lending the hull a patchy appearance. A large hangar bay had been built into the ventral hull where the cargo retainers had once been, and extra turbolaser cannons dotted the hull at seemingly random intervals.

    Most of the other ships in the group looked no better; if anything, many of them looked worse. Four appeared to have once been corvettes or perhaps gunships of Corellian origin, although of hopelessly outmoded design. They, too, had been extensively modified with almost current galactic technology, armor and weapons. Rounding out the taskforce were ships no larger than a typical medium freighter, ships that may have been mistaken as belonging to smugglers were it not for the strange insiginia appearing on all of the ships.

    In stark contrast to this motley group, the force that they were approaching was much cleaner and newer. In a tight formation around a comet, it consisted of a recent-manufacture Rendili Star Dreadnaught, a couple Loronar frigates and eleven corvettes, all anodized the same matte gray. The anodization was reminiscent of the recently vanished Dark Force, and it was entirely possible that the Dreadnaught at the core was from that ill-fated fleet.

    The first force, while ragged in appearance, was anything but ragged when it came to coordination and thus drew inexorably nearer to the second force. Whether this was the comet or the other taskforce remained unknown... for the time being.

    Once the attackers had closed to a range that could be measured in the hundreds of thousands of kilometers, they suddenly did something that at least seemed unexpected by the other force: they jumped to hyperspace. Mere microseconds later, chaos broke out in the formerly composed black taskforce, as the bulk freighter and its escorts re-emerged from hyperspace around the comet and inside the other force's formation at point blank range, guns blazing and starfighters launching. Not all of the attackers were lucky or coordinated enough to escape damage, however; one Loronar was surrounded in a blossoming fireball as a medium freighter came out of hyperspace on top of it. With its bridge and upper hull plating shorn off by the violent collision, the frigate somewhat ponderously went into a collision course with the comet's nucleus.

    By now the battle was in full swing. With only a token starfighter defense, the defenders found themselves hard-pressed to ward off the strange attackers. Although they managed to destroy several of their adversaries, it soon became apparent which side the battle was tipping in favor of. Finally, with the hull of his command ship breached and the rest of his force devestated, the commander surrendered.

    This surrender came as a surprise to many in the attacking group, but there was one person who was never surprised by anything. This person was now standing on the bridge of the Dreadnaught, having boarded it a few minutes before with many escorts.

    This person was known in his native tongue as Syndic Mitth'raw'nurodo.

    Mantrel followed Thrawn down a corridor, accompanied by a squad of charric-wielding troops. They eventually reached the bridge of the Dreadnaught, which had already been secured by the Chiss soldiers. In a show of courtesy, Thrawn inclined his head slightly toward the defeated commander. "Your crews put up a worthy fight, and I commend you on that," Thrawn said in almost imperceptibly accented Basic. "As my name is very difficult to pronounce in your language, you may know me simply as Thrawn."

    The other commander blinked, his face clearly displaying shock. Eventually he gathered enough nerve to speak. "And I am Kinman Doriana of the Galactic Republic."

    Thrawn immediately got down to business, as Mantrel was used to him doing. "In that case, what brings a commander of the Republic Navy so far away from Coruscant?"

    Doriana nervously licked his lips as he prepared to speak. Mantrel, inexperienced as he was, could tell when somebody was relying on their last gambit. "We have been tracking several wanted fugitives of the Republic," the commander went on to say, "and with some advance knowledge we had set up an ambush at this location."

    "Thus explaining the comet," Thrawn concluded. "Although it seems to have backfired on you."

    The Republic commander gritted his teeth. "Indeed it did. Our quarry is still two weeks away from here. If you are planning on giving them refuge in your territory, I'm afraid that you've succeeded."

    "Far from it," Thrawn replied, noticing the commander's eyes widen slightly. "We are part of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force, and are tasked with destroying any unauthorized intruders into our space, no matter where their allegiances lay."

    Hope began to dawn on Doriana's face. "Then you will also destroy these fugitives?"

    "Since you were so kind as to mention it, that will likely be our next priority," Thrawn answered. "Tell me more about these fugitives."

    "They are wanted by the Republic for various war crimes, and are highly dangerous. They commandeered a recent model Bulk Cruiser from the Sluis Van shipyards, and the ship has a fair amount of weaponry so it would be advisable to be wary. They are also highly unpredictable."

    "Thank you," Thrawn said, his face remaining unreadable. In a cool and professional tone, he continued: "Do you have any last requests?"


    Doriana's hope suddenly turned into panic. "I must verify that these fugitives are destroyed and report back to the Supreme Chancellor..." he said in a rush.

    Thrawn smiled wanly. "I'm afraid that won't be possible." He then spun about and began to walk away from Doriana, who stood, eyes flickering wildly as he attempted to find something to save himself.

    "Wait!" Doriana exclaimed in desperation. "You're missing something. I'm the Supreme Chancellor's aide. I can get you anything you want in the Republic. Ships, men, a position in the Navy... anything you want."

    The Chiss commander stopped and turned to regard Doriana. "Ah," he said. "An interesting offer. However, if I let you go, how do I know you will keep your side of the bargain?"

    Doriana stuttered something, but Thrawn cut him off. "If it humours you, I have no objection to allowing you to watch the demise of the fugitives." He motioned to several of the troops, who then proceeded to bind the former commander and take him away.


    Mantrel was shaken from his recollection by a door chime. He already knew who it was, and activated the door switch.

    "Commodore," Captain Ollic began, "we have arrived..."

    "Yes, Captain," Mantrel replied somewhat impatiently. "I am aware of it. Our smuggler friend has already left the system."

    Ollic hesitated, slightly uncertain. "What will we do next?"

    To answer the Captain's question, Mantrel tapped the comm on his desk. "Lieutenant Opgard, have an active sensor sweep run on the system. Leave nothing unreported."

    "Yes, Sir," the brisk reply came.

    Meanwhile, the Commodore came to his feet and strode over to Ollic. "Are you aware of the significance of this system?" he inquired.

    "No, Commodore," Ollic replied. "There was no mention of it in any Imperial databases."

    "No mention in any public Imperial databases, perhaps," Mantrel said, "but there is an entry in the database on Nirauan."

    Ollic looked up, slight surprise on his face. "Nirauan? The location of the Hand of Thrawn?"

    Mantrel responded with a nod. "Indeed. But that is unimportant at the moment. What is significant about this system is that this marks the location where Thrawn ambushed the Outbound Flight Project." He paused. "I was there. The sensor sweep should turn up, at most, some battle debris but nothing more. Thrawn recovered several of the hulks for salvage and vaporized the rest." The Chiss turned around and walked back to his desk, activating a holographic display of the system. "As a result, I find it rather interesting that the smuggler ended up here. There are no planets of note, no large asteroids that you could build a base on."

    Captain Ollic scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Perhaps she was looking for the battle debris?" he asked.

    "Doubtful, but nonetheless possible," Mantrel replied. "Only the Supreme Chancellor and Thrawn's force knew about what happened in this system, and neither Thrawn nor Palpatine were known to have loose lips." Turning, he sat back down at his desk and awaited the scan results...


    "Lieutenant Mantrel," Thrawn commanded in his native tongue, "concentrate all fire on the bulk cruiser's engines."

    "Yes, Sir," the young (in Chiss terms) lieutenant acknowledged, relaying the order to the soldiers who had replaced the human crew. The Dreadnaught and the remaining ships of the Chiss taskforce re-orinted themselves so as to present the most guns to the weak Bulk Cruiser. Under the suddenly refocused bombardment, the aft shields quickly fell, and the turbolasers began ripping into the hull. There was a slight explosion, a mere gout of plasma really; then the ship seemed to elongate in a flicker of pseudomotion as it vanished into hyperspace.

    Doriana, bound and standing off to one side of the bridge, sighed audibly. "I warned you that they were not fools."

    "And what did you expect me to do?" Thrawn snapped. "Move the comet's mass shadow to a more... convenient location?" He turned to Mantrel again. "Run a trace on their vector immediately."

    "The computer reports that they were on a collision course with the singularity," the Lieutenant replied after a silent moment. "Scanning the area surrounding the black hole right now."


    Commodore Mantrel leaned back in his chair aboard the Imperator-class Star Destroyer and sighed. The scan of the black hole, so many years ago, had only turned up some heavily ionized hull plating, which they had recovered and scanned. The plating had come from their quarry, which satisfied Doriana. Then Thrawn had ordered the Republic commander to be executed. From what he recalled, only a single hypercomm message made it back to Coruscant, and that had been a panicked message from Doriana to the Supreme Chancellor.

    So what then, he pondered as the holodisplay flickered on to show a Cygnus Spaceworks shuttle from the Clone Wars era, could this mean? He was well aware of the strange phenomena that surrounded black holes, but what seemed to be a shuttle from the seemingly destroyed Outbound Flight...

    "We are now in tractor beam range, Sir," a Lieutenant informed him over the comlink.

    "Excellent," he responded as he came to his feet. "Captain, come with me to the hangar bay."
  21. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    And here's the next long-overdue installment...

    CHAPTER TWELVE


    JAINA NEARLY put her fist through the comm panel, but thought better of it. "It's the third time," she complained, "and I still haven't heard anything from ExGal 4."

    "What about the scan?" Jacen asked from the rear of the cockpit.

    "One humanoid lifesign, and not much of anything else." Jaina turned around in her chair, frustration obvious on her face. "So, what do we do now?"

    As he put his boots up on a side console and leaned back, Jacen shrugged. "Knock harder?"

    "I guess that could work." Jaina spun back around, immediately reaching for the controls. Then, as if something had stung her, she pulled back. "Hang on. Is the atmosphere even breathable?"

    The cockpit was silent, save for the hum of computers, for a long moment. "Yes," Tenel Ka eventually said. "Marginally. There's a lot of carbon dioxide, methane, and sulfur dioxide floating around. There are also intense storms raging across the planet, although none are near the station so far. The situation seems to be calming down, however, and according to the computer the atmosphere should be back at normal levels in another month or so."

    "So you're saying that it smells like a cesspool. Wonderful."

    She looked at Jacen with an incredulous expression. "What are you talking about?"

    "Nevermind. Just page Kyp and tell him that we're going in. He'll probably want to come as well."

    Jaina checked some settings on the panel. "Sounds good to me," she said as she reached overhead and turned on the comm. "Rock Dragon to Avenger Leader. Kyp, there hasn't been any response, so we're going to land and take a look. What are your plans?"

    The comm was silent for a moment as Kyp talked to his squadron mates. "I'll come with you. Miko and the rest of the squadron will stay in orbit and keep us informed of anything."

    "Will do," she acknowledged, switching the comm to standby and grabbing the yoke. The Hapan transport responded immediately, diving into into Belkadan's atmosphere at a shallow attitude. Less than a minute later, they were skimming over the treetops—or rather, what was left of them.

    There was a slight stir as Jacen stood up in the back of the cockpit and walked forward so as to get a better view. "Blaster bolts!" he exclaimed as soon as he saw the jungle. "I knew the 3GS data was out of date, but I had no idea it was this bad..."

    "There's ExGal 4," Tenel Ka stated, her arm pointing to a rapidly growing speck on the horizon. "We'll worry about the jungle after we land. Lowie, anything on the short-range scanners yet?"

    By the time the Wookiee barked a negative and waited for Em Tedee to translate it, the Rock Dragon was already circling over the science station as Jaina attempted to find a suitable landing zone. The search didn't take very long, and soon thereafter both ships had touched down on what passed for a landing pad.

    As the landing ramp unfolded, Jacen was the first one down, holding his lightsaber in one hand just in case there was any wildlife looking for a quick snack. However, it wasn't wildlife that assaulted him. It was the smell.

    "Phew. It's like rotten vegetables," Jaina remarked for him as she came right behind him on the ramp.

    "No kidding." He stepped onto the stresscrete pad, looking down when he heard his boots crunching on something. The ground was covered evenly with small, rounded, two-centimeter brown objects that looked, for all extents and purposes, dead. He picked one up and turned it over in his gloved hands. "Hey, take a look..."

    Jacen was interrupted by a loud bellow from Lowie, which was promptly followed up by a remark from Em Tedee. "A pity that you can't shut off your olfactory sensors."

    The Wookiee snorted and chuffed something in response.

    "What? No, you wouldn't do that. Would you?"

    Lowie grabbed the small translator with a meaty paw and held it up to his face, then bared his fangs in a slight grin.

    "I see your point," Em Tedee said in a rather humiliated tone. "Can you put me back now?"

    The Wookiee did so, then strode across the pad to where Kyp was lowering his R6 astromech. The other Jedi were already gathered there and talking.

    "I wonder what happened to this jungle," Jacen was saying. "I mean, we've got these dead beetles strewn all over the place, and everything else seems pretty dead to me."

    "The person inside ExGal 4 might be able to answer that," Kyp said, turning as Lowie approached. "Good, we're all here. Lowie, would you mind taking R6 here back to your transport and staying there to alert us in case Miko finds something?"

    Lowie bellowed a 'yes,' then walked back to the ship with R6 in tow as the other Jedi went for the nearest entrance to ExGal 4.

    "Well, this would explain why they couldn't hear us," Jaina observed as they stopped in front of a fallen communications tower. "Completely sm... wait, there's someone trapped under it! Help me get it off."

    Several lightsaber strokes later, they rolled the top of the tower off the body, which was wearing a badly torn envirosuit. Jacen gingerly reached down and pulled the hood off the body, revealing a crushed skeleton that was covered in more of the dead beetles.

    "I wonder how long he's been there for," Jacen said, grimacing. "And whoever's inside didn't even come out and check... some teamwork."

    "Maybe he couldn't get the tower off," Tenel Ka remarked, fingering her rancor-tooth lightsaber. "Or else whatever hit this planet made him stay inside."

    By now the group had reached the door, and Kyp pressed the control panel to no avail. "Security lockout," he remarked, distaste obvious on his face.

    Then the heavy door slid open. Standing behind it was a black-haired human male, who looked to be in his middle 30s.

    "Welcome to ExGal 4," the man said in passable Basic. "I take it you're the rescue party? We've been expecting you for over a month."

    Confusion momentarily flashed across Kyp's face, although he quickly recovered. "Yes, we were sent by the Extragalactic Society when they received your distress call. It seems we came too late, however."

    "Too late for Tomri or the rest of the station crew, perhaps," the man said as he gestured to the body lying next to the tower. "But I am still alive."

    'He didn't even seem to care about Tomri,' Jacen thought.

    "True," Kyp said, extending his hand. "But I don't believe we've been introduced yet. I'm Kyp Durron, and these are my assistants."

    "Yomin Carr," the man said as he somewhat hesitantly took Kyp's outstreched hand. "A pleasure to meet you."

    Kyp immediately took charge of the situation. "Can you show us around the facility so we can assess the damage?"

    "Certainly," Yomin Carr replied. "Follow me." He began walking down the hallway, stopping at the first door he came to and unlocking it. "This is, or was, our hydroponics facility," he said as they stepped inside. "After the storm, one of the trees overhanging the facility fell over and smashed the upper windows. Fortunately none of the plants were attacked by those beetles."

    Jacen looked around the room, which was, just as Carr had said, now open to the sky. The plants scattered around the hydroponics room were all relatively standard food-producing plants, and he didn't notice anything really abnormal about them... "The beetles, can you tell me anything about them?"

    Yomin Carr shook his head. "Not much. It's possible that they mutated on this planet and then spread, doing enough damage to the environment to produce the storm that damaged this facility."

    "Do you have any genetic testing equipment here?"

    "No." Carr frowned. "This is an astronomical station, remember? All the scientific equipment we had was for charting extragalactic objects."

    Kyp laughed. "Don't worry about Jacen too much. He's our biologist, and isn't very much into technology."

    "I see," Carr replied as he noticed that Jaina was entering some information into her datapad. "As soon as you've finished the damage assessment for this room, shall we move on?"

    "Sure," Jaina said, flipping the datapad shut and sliding it back into a pocket on her flight suit. "What's the next damaged room?"

    "The observation lounge," Carr replied as he stepped back into the hallway and continued walking.


    Meanwhile, in the Rock Dragon, Lowbacca paced back and forth in the cargo bay. He stopped to pick up the scratched piece of durasteel, and looked over it thoughtfully before setting it back down. It had already been fifteen minutes since the rest had left...

    Lowie finally made up his mind. Attaching a comlink extender to the Rock Dragon's comm panel, so he'd know if Miko tried to contact him, he stuck a comlink on his belt, gestured to Kyp's R6 to follow him, and headed down the ramp.

    "Are you sure this is a wise decision?" Em Tedee warbled from his belt. Lowbacca ignored the miniature translator for the time being, going so far as to slap his paw over its grille as he approached the door. He then tried the door panel, but to no avail, and growled something.

    "Lowbacca requests that you override the door's security code," Em Tedee told the R6 in a muted tone. The barrel-headed astromech trundled up, extended its data port, and plugged into the control panel. A tense moment later the door slid open.

    The Wookiee grunted an inquiry under its breath, which Em Tedee then translated. A quiet reply promptly came from the R6.

    "R6 says that the computer center is approximately thirty meters into the base. The other group is about fifty meters away from the computer center."

    Lowie bared his fangs slightly in a feral smile and quickly strode into ExGal 4, R6 in close pursuit.


    "What can you tell us about the storm?" Tenel Ka asked Yomin Carr as they left the wrecked observation lounge.

    Carr shook his head. "As much as I told... ah... Jacen about the beetles. The storm started a little over a month ago on the far side of the planet. It spread rapidly, and several days after it started, several of the other scientists left in the base's airspeeder to check on its progress. When they returned, we hastily began preparing the base for the storm, but we were not fast enough. As the rest of the team took our shuttle into orbit to map out the global damage from the storm, the main comm tower was damaged. Bensin Tomri, who stayed behind with me, decided to climb up and fix it. I warned him against it, but he ignored me. The tower collapsed and I was unable to free him."

    "And the shuttle?" Jaina interjected.

    The scientist glared at her. "I was getting to that. I think the shuttle was damaged by the storm when it took off, because when they came back down it went out of control and burned up in the atmosphere. None of them made it as far as I could tell."

    "So you basically holed up and waited for help to arrive."

    "Yes," Carr replied, stopping in front of another door and unlocking it. "Now this was the communications room," he stated as they stepped inside. "All the equipment has serious acid damage, and will need to be replaced."

    "Acid damage?" Jacen frowned, then sighed in realization. "Sulfur mixed with the water in the atmosphere. Of course."

    "Correct," Carr replied. "But the equipment was rather old. I hope that the Extragalactic Society can bring some newer equipment."

    "We'll mention it when we return," Kyp replied. "But they are on a short budget."

    As Carr closed up the comm room, he continued talking. "The astronomical facilities were damaged the worst of all. The main optical telescope was completely ruined, along with the hyperspacial sensor array..."


    Lowbacca warily scanned the room as R6 whirred away at the computer terminal, downloading as many of the base's records as possible. The droid paused momentarily, and an audio recording began to play.

    "It's the fourth day of the storm," a woman's voice began, "and there's no sign of letting up. When we checked on the storm's progress earlier today, we got caught in it and Tee-Ubo was wounded. She sacrificed herself by giving us her oxygen pack so that we could get back to base." The woman on the recording took a breath, and Lowbacca could tell that she was in pain. "However, the sensor contact has already entered the Helska system and is approaching the fourth planet, decelerating all the time. Despite the storm, in a few minutes we're going to leave in the old shuttle and investigate. Bensin and Yomin are staying behind to watch the base, and I hope they survive the storm. Danni Quee out."

    The Wookiee pondered the message as R6 continued downloading. By the time the droid finished, he had made up his mind, and left in the direction that R6 told him the rest of the Jedi were.


    Yomin Carr stopped in his tracks as he saw Lowbacca and R6 approaching. "I was not informed that you had androids with you," he calmly stated.

    The Jedi turned to see Lowie, who bellowed something.

    "Wait a second. Why are droids a problem?" Kyp looked back at Yomin Carr.

    "It was an agreement with the Extragalactic Society that this base would not have any droids, as they are an offense to my religion. So I would recommend that you immediately remove your droid from the premises."

    Kyp rolled his eyes, but decided that a confrontation was not worth it. "Lowie, take R6 back to the ship, will you?"

    The Wookiee barked an objection, but Kyp put up his hand. "You can tell us later. Just go."

    "Thank you," Carr curtly stated as soon as Lowbacca and the droids had left.

    "You're welcome," Kyp replied, not meaning it at all. "Is there any other damage that we need to know about?"

    Yomin Carr shook his head. "There's minor damage all through the base, of course, but that's to be expected."

    "Well, then, I guess we're done here." Kyp looked straight at Carr. "Should we take you back to ExGal headquarters or do you want to take your chances and stay here until aid arrives?"

    "I will stay here. There is still some data that can be gathered, despite most of the main instruments being down. Thank you for the offer, but it is unnecessary."

    "In that case, we'll be on our way."


    Yomin Carr allowed himself a slight smile as he watched the group return to their ships and leave. He wasn't entirely happy about the fact that they brought a droid into the station—he hadn't made up the part about droids being against his religion, but that was not what worried him. He thought he had disconnected the station's main computer, but astromechs were repair droids and known to be good at slicing.

    Carr sealed the door again and walked back to his quarters, lost deep in thought. These people seemed to accept everything that he had fed them, but he still found something a little unsettling about them. Perhaps they were the Jedi that Nom Anor had warned him about?

    With that thought, he reached his quarters and slid the metal door open. As soon as he'd shut the door again, he began to undress, pulling off the suffocating artificial fabric uniform that had been issued to all the ExGal scientists. He balled the uniform up and, sneering, roughly tossed it into the room's closet. Then he reached up and pressed an area to the side of his nose. For a moment, nothing happened; then there was a slight, moist, ripping sound, and his "skin" began to peel along his spine. It continued to peel off, tiny hooks unbinding themselves from his pores in a wave of excruciating pain that ran from head to toe.

    He savored the pain, drank it in as if it were alchohol. Now the creature—it couldn't have been anything else—was halfway off. It continued to peel off him, now revealing his true face. Finally finished, the ooglith masquer undulated along the floor until it found its typical resting place.

    Yomin Carr straightened and looked at himself in the room's mirror. Scars ran along his body, long since healed, evidence of the tortures that he had put himself through while on the Praetorite Vong worldship.

    He tore his mind off his appearance, and put on a utilitarian loincloth before reaching into the closet and withdrawing a roughly head-sized pulsating creature, a villip. Setting it on his bed, Carr stroked the ridge on the front of the villip. A seam appeared in the center of the villip, which continued to invert itself until it was almost a perfect ball again. The oblong ball of the villip then took on the shape of a well-scarred face.

    "Executor," Carr addressed the person who possessed the villip's twin.

    "What do you have to report, Attendant?"

    "A small group of humans, as well as a large alien—I believe it's called a Wookiee—visited the station today. They said they were an inspection team from the Extragalactic Society."

    Nom Anor's eyes, or more correctly, the villip's rendition of his eyes, narrowed. "How many people?"

    "I counted five, Executor."

    Anor drew in a sharp breath. "Four humans and a Wookiee? What were the appearances of the humans? Was one a red-haired woman with only one arm?"

    "Yes," Carr replied, unsure of what the Executor was thinking.

    "Then we must speed up our plans dramatically. Those were Jedi, attendant."

    "Jeedai?" the Praetorite Vong infiltrator inquired, slightly slurring the word. "They did not seem suspicious..."

    "Jedi can mask their feelings quite well; I have dealt with them before. Are they still on the planet?"

    "No, Executor. They left the landing pad several minutes ago."

    "Be watchful, attendant. They may return at any time. I will contact Prefect Da'Gara and inform him of this news. He may send a coralskipper to retrieve you, or he may not."

    "Understood," Carr replied before closing the villip.


    "Did anyone else find anything strange about that guy?" Jacen asked as he took a seat at the rear of the cockpit. "It was... I don't know how to put it... like trying to probe a Hutt but worse."

    Tenel Ka nodded. "Almost like he didn't exist as far as the Force was concerned."

    "Almost," Jacen agreed. "But that gets me wondering, if the Force is in everything as Uncle Luke has said, then how can a person not exist in the Force?"

    Jaina rolled her eyes. "We've discussed that before, well, sort of. How can a ysalamir live if it pushes the Force back?"

    He shrugged. "Got me there."

    A Wookiee roar from the rear of the ship broke through any semblance of discussion. Sighing, Jacen came to his feet and walked into the hold. "What's the matter?" he asked.

    Lowbacca arfed softly, gesturing at the screen of the ship's computer, which was displaying some technical data.

    "Kriff," Jacen muttered to himself as he broke out in a run back to the cockpit. "Turn around," he insisted to the surprise of his sister and Tenel Ka. "We need to go back. Now."

    "Why?" the two pilots asked almost in unison.

    "Because Yomin Carr lied to us."

    "What?"

    Jacen paused to brace himself against the doorway. "The base's shuttle didn't burn up in Belkadan's atmosphere," he explained. "Logs showed a signal from sector L-30, about eighteen parsecs Rimward. Most of the personnel left in a shuttle to investigate that, not the storm. So as far as we know they're still alive."

    Tenel Ka reached for the comm, leaving Jaina to do the flying. "Avenger Leader, this is Tenel Ka on the Rock Dragon. We just received some new data from Lowbacca concerning ExGal 4."

    "-copy," Kyp acknowledged, partially cut off by a burst of static. "R6 already told me. We'll discuss it with the rest of the squadron."


    Predictably, the Avengers couldn't form a solid conclusion. Miko and about half of the squadron wanted to investigate. The rest, excluding Kyp (who had decided to wait before he took a side) were in favor of staying.

    "Jacen," his sister began, "if you think they might still be alive, we should go to Helska immediately. Not back down there."

    "But it could also be a front. We know he's alive, and we can still get information from him."

    Tenel Ka nodded her approval. "And what does Lowbacca have to say?"

    An excited Wookiee bellow answered the question; there was no mistaking whose side Lowbacca was on. Jacen merely smiled, to his sister's discomfort.

    "Squadron's split fifty-fifty," Kyp reported over the comm. "How about you guys?"

    They told him.

    "Then it's settled," he remarked. "Good point, Jacen; we don't need to waste time chasing wild Gundarks."

    With that conclusion the two ships, transport and starfighter, plowed back through the atmosphere at a much faster rate. This time the Jedi wasted no time on pleasantries, leaving Tenel Ka to watch the ships as they charged for the front door.

    "Fused shut this time," Jacen remarked as he drew his lightsaber. He quickly sliced through the sealed door, only to find the corridor beyond crushed in rubble. "Kriff."

    "Master Lowbacca suggests that we find a back door," Em Tedee translated from his position on the Wookiee's utility belt.

    "What a novel idea," Jacen dryly remarked as he shut down his lightsaber and clipped it back on his belt, running to catch up with the rest of the group. They were almost halfway around the station by the time he did.

    The sight that greeted the group as they neared the back door was, to put it mildly, gruesome. An astromech droid leaned against the back wall, its dome crudely removed and a human skull—Jacen recognized it fleetingly as Tomri's, whose body they hadn't bothered to check—in the dome's place.

    "My goodness," a tinny voice erupted after it could see the destroyed astromech.

    "What kind of maniac does that?" Jaina inquired, thoroughly revolted.

    "Same kind of maniac that I suspect we'll find inside," Kyp answered. "So much for his claims of the ExGal society agreeing to not have droids in the station."

    This time Jaina stepped up to the door and tried the controls. "Locked as well."

    Lowbacca arfed something, which Em Tedee reluctantly translated. "Master Lowbacca suggests interfacing me to the door controls."

    "Alright, then, get up here."

    Em Tedee floated off Lowbacca's belt on his repulsorlift cushion. "I must protest being used in this manner," the small droid complained despite knowing the uselessness of the complaint as Jaina hooked him up. Moments later the door slid open.

    "Sithspit!" Jaina exclaimed as she involuntarily took a step away from the door. In her startled state, she forgot about the stairs leading to the door and lost her balance, landing in Kyp's arms.

    Standing just beyond the door frame was a roughly humanoid creature, almost exactly two meters tall—'the same height as Yomin Carr', Jacen thought. In the alien's hand was a snakelike staff, and tatoos covered its body from head to toe. Upon seeing Jaina's discomfiture, it gave what might have been the equivalent of a snort, although Jacen wondered how that was possible given the lack of a normal nose on the alien.

    "I did not know that you jeedai were so characteristically clumsy," the alien remarked in Yomin Carr's voice. Then it leapt into action, snakelike staff stiffening and swinging as if it were a lightsaber.

    Four humming lightsabers, each a different color, greeted the hissing staff. Jacen, now the nearest to Yomin Carr, swung his saber into the path of the hissing serpent—and was surprised when the living creature deflected his saber as if it were another lightsaber.

    "What the..." was all he had time to say before he ducked into a roll, and the creature's staff bit into the wall behind where he had been standing. Now he was inside ExGal 4, but so was Carr. There was an electronic screech, and the wires that connected Em Tedee were broken by the staff while Jacen was distracted; the droid went flying back into the clearing before it could regain control with its repulsors.

    The door slammed shut, leaving Jacen standing opposite Yomin Carr. As the tip of a lightsaber poked through one corner of the blast door, Carr sprung into action again, hammering at Jacen with a flurry of blows that put the Jedi firmly on the defensive. The Jedi found himself hard pressed to keep up, feeling rather disoriented around the alien, and after perhaps two minutes had passed his guard faltered; he felt something strike his left heel, and he fell backwards.

    Before he could react, Carr was standing over him, armored foot standing on his lightsaber arm, strange staff pointing at his throat. "Too easy," the alien gloated, and drew his staff back for a killing blow--

    Which was stopped by a glowing bronze blade. Lowbacca bared his fangs at the alien warrior before applying more force to his blade, driving Carra back. Jaina ran over to help her brother while Kyp joined in the attack with Lowie.

    "Are you all right?" she asked, helping Jacen to his feet.

    He winced as a starburst of pain seemed to spread from his heel. Whatever the staff was had torn through his thick boot as if it didn't exist. "I think it might have been poisoned."

    "Then get back to the ship," she warned him.

    "I'll try." He leaned back against a wall, trying to recover enough strength in that leg to limp back to the ship while Jaina charged into battle. As the battle raged on, Jacen focused on halting the flow of the poison before it did any more damage. He already couldn't feel anything below his knee, and as he shifted weight in preparation to walk out the door, his ankle folded and he collapsed with a groan. So much for that idea, he thought as he started crawling.

    Now outnumbered, it was only a matter of minutes before the three Jedi brought Yomin Carr down. Bring him down they did; he croaked and fell as a lightsaber punched through his shoulder armor.

    "Who are you really?" Kyp demanded, his lightsaber pointed at the alien's face.

    Yomin Carr managed to contort his broken and bleeding face into something that resembled a grin. "The beginning of your end," he managed as his hand twitched imperceptibly toward the staff, which was lying only a few centimeters away. The staff instantly responded, softening and becoming more snake-like. Its head coiled upward, and before Jaina or any of the other Jedi could react, it spat a blob of venom toward her face. She started to dodge to the side, but with no warning from the Force her reaction time wasn't fast enough.

    The venom splashed across her right eye and cheek, burning like acid. She instantly recoiled, using a gloved hand to wipe most of the venom off her face.

    Before it could cause any more damage, Lowbacca rapidly stepped over and in one smooth swing beheaded the now soft staff. At the same time, Kyp moved his lightsaber closer to Carr's exposed face.

    "You will tell us who you employed you," he said in a very serious tone, "now."

    Yomin Carr managed to choke out a laugh. "I know enough to tell you that your vaunted Jeedai powers are useless against me."

    Kyp didn't flinch. "Tell us."

    The alien said no more. Sighing, Kyp turned to Lowbacca. "Lowie, bind him while I make sure he doesn't try anything. We'll have to bring him with us."

    As the Wookiee reached for the binders that hung on his belt, Kyp spotted Carr's other arm moving toward a bandolier on his chest. He swung the lightsaber to intercept it, cutting off the hand. The arm thumped down on top of the bandolier weakly as dark blood spurted out.

    Kyp's eyes widened. "Stand back!" he warned as he took a leap backwards. Moments later, the bandolier exploded like a weak thermal detonator, scattering Yomin Carr's remains all over the room. Kyp wiped some dark blood off his face. "So much for interrogation," he sighed.

    "Was that the same person who gave us the tour?" Jaina asked in a tone that suggested she'd seen better days. Already she had torn off part of her jumpsuit and used it to wipe the venom off her face.

    "Apparently so," Kyp replied as he turned toward her. He noticed that her right eye was tearing; a stream of clear fluid escaped and trickled down Jaina's cheek. "How badly did it hurt you?"

    She shrugged. "It burned pretty bad, and I'm having some trouble seeing out of one eye."

    Kyp nodded. "All right, let's get back to our ships and patch you guys up. Then we can tear this station apart to see what really happened."
  22. ggs Cabal Arm Commander

    Apparently I've read this story before. Looks like I'll need to reread it.
  23. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    ggs: I also have it posted on SD.net, and it's up to date there.

    Anyway, next chapter.

    CHAPTER THIRTEEN


    "THAT WAS Coruscant space control," Cathi explained as she pulled off her headset and turned to Dellen. "We can land, but nowhere near Republic Center, and they're going to send out a team of customs inspectors because of this ship's profile."

    Master Dellen sighed. He'd accidentally discovered the small amount of ryll spice that had been left aboard the freighter by the Imperials; it was enough for Cathi to survive for a time and maybe upgrade her ship, but it could also just as easily land her in a prison. "I'll see what I can do about them," he explained. Normally Jedi would not help smugglers, but in this case he was indebted to her for rescuing him; besides, she didn't even have enough money otherwise to pay the berthing fees on Coruscant.

    "Thanks," Cathi said with a hint of uncertainty. Dellen sighed again. From what she had told him, the Jedi were now perceived as a mere vigilante group by most smugglers, with reports of a Jedi-led squadron running rampant throughout the Outer Rim... How the mighty have fallen, he reflected. The Jedi Council would never have tolerated such an insult.

    The comm chose that moment to squawk, making the pilot involuntarily jump a little. "Freighter Headwind, you have deviated from the appointed flight path. Return to it at once."

    "Understood, Control," Cathi replied as she nudged the control yoke in the correct direction.

    The landing, several minutes later, was as unremarkable as any landing Dellen had seen. After making sure his lightsaber was still attached to his belt, he walked with the smuggler down the landing ramp and saw Coruscant from the ground, or as close as you could get to ground, for the first time in fifty years.

    "Some things just never change," he said, more to himself than to Cathi as he eyed the docking pit that the Headwind was berthed in. The well-scored walls, blackened from many years' worth of takeoffs and landings, could have easily predated the Outbound Flight. The Jedi took a deep breath of the air, smelling it carefully. "Just as polluted as ever."

    Cathi nudged him with her elbow. "Here comes the circus."

    He was already looking in the direction that she had pointed, so it came as no great surprise when the inspection team arrived.

    "If you two would be so kind as to wait for us here," the lead inspector, a somewhat overweight human in an expensive-looking uniform, began, "we'll begin our inspections. Are there any hazards we should know about first?"

    The smuggler shook her head. She'd secured the small package of ryll inside a scanner-shielded compartment, but authorities were always expecting such tricks so she was slightly nervous about it.

    The inspectors disappeared inside the freighter, and came out several minutes later. Needless to say, both Jedi and smuggler were relieved to see them empty-handed.

    "Your ship is clean, Miss Riclin," the lead inspector began, motioning to one of the other inspectors, "except for this."

    She took in a sharp breath and frowned as the inspector produced a small vial from an accompanying droid.

    "You recognize it?" the inspector remarked, smirking. "We will be taking both of you into custody until the judge determines your sentence." He leaned closer to Cathi, who wrinkled her nose in disgust at his breath. "I hear he isn't usually very friendly toward smugglers."

    "I'll bet," Cathi sardonically remarked as several other inspectors began to approach, carrying binders. Then, oddly enough, they found better things to do and scattered. Startled, she looked over at Dellen, who was staring at the inspector with a piercing gaze.

    "You will not take us into custody," Dellen said in a calm, controlled voice.

    "I... will not take you into custody," he hesitatingly repeated.

    "You will turn yourself in to port authorities for fraudulently arresting innocent people and possession of illicit substances," Dellen continued.

    "Yes," the man mumbled. "I will turn myself in for fraudulently arresting innocent people and possession of illicit substances."

    "But before you do," the Jedi added quietly, "you will sign the papers saying that this ship is clean."

    "Right." The inspector, still looking slightly confused, did as he was told before leaving and taking the rest of his team with him.

    Dellen shook his head as he watched the group leave. "Haven't done that in a while. Always some corruption somewhere in a bureaucracy."

    "You know," Cathi said in amazement, "you'd make a great smuggler."

    "Which is precisely why the Jedi Code forbids us from using our abilities for profit," Dellen replied, looking back at the ship. "In the meantime, I think we should get out of here before he gets suspicious and decides not to go to the port authorities."

    As they walked toward the pad's exit, Cathi looked up at the serene Jedi. "I thought it was impossible to go against something like that?"

    "Not impossible," he corrected. "Just very difficult, and it requires a strong mind. He wasn't the strongest person I've met, but he could have been weaker."

    Cathi had to admit, there was something about the tall Jedi Master that she found somewhat attractive. But as she opened her mouth to speak, he stopped her.

    "I know what you're thinking," he remarked. "I suppose I should have also mentioned that the Jedi Code forbids attachment."

    "But how is that possible if Luke Skywalker is married?"

    Dellen stopped in shock, more at the name than the idea that a Jedi was married. "Skywalker?" he asked.

    "Luke Skywalker. He's the leader of the Jedi. I thought everyone's heard of him?"

    Dellen shook his head. "I've been out of galactic matters for the past seventy or so years." So a Skywalker leads the Jedi now? he wondered. "Whose son is he?"

    It was Cathi's turn to shrug. "I could be wrong, but I've heard that he was Darth Vader's son."

    The Jedi Master abruptly turned to face her. "The son of a Sith?"

    "What's a Sith?"

    Dellen ignored the question. If this Luke Skywalker was the son of a Darth Vader, that meant that Vader was also a Skywalker... and the only Skywalker he knew of who would have been old enough to be a father was Anakin Skywalker. He shuddered. The Chosen One... or at least the person that Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi had insisted was the Chosen One.

    Which led to an interesting revelation: a Sith had brought balance to the Force?

    He left the question hanging in the back of his mind as they stepped into a hovercar rental shop. They quickly selected a model and paid the deposit to use the car; Cathi would have to pay the full fee when they returned it, but that wasn't a problem since he would pay her for her inconveniences as soon as they reached the Jedi Temple.

    They shot out into the crowded Coruscant skylanes, Cathi doing the steering as Dellen attempted to locate the Temple.

    "No mention of Jedi Temple found in city maps," the hovercar's navigational computer reported. The Jedi Master scratched his head and tried a different tactic. "Locate Jedi."

    "One entry found for Jedi Praxeum," the computer reported after a moment.

    "Location?"

    Dellen nodded when the map appeared and had the computer calculate a flight path to this Praxeum. Maybe they'd be able to tell him a little more about what had happened.


    Unlike the imposing Jedi Temple, Dellen noted, this Praxeum was anything but imposing. Nestled in between several skyscrapers, it occupied part of a rooftop and was a modest four stories in all, not even a fraction of the size of the Jedi Temple. It had no hangars as far as Dellen could tell, and the architectural style was radically different from that of the Temple.

    Master Dellen took a breath and stepped out of the hovercar onto the duracrete pad, Cathi following him at a few paces' distance. He stepped into the main entrance of the Praxeum, looking around at the few Jedi scattered around the room. "I'm looking for Master Skywalker," he announced.

    Eight pairs of eyes turned to meet him, all with inquiring gazes. "He's not here at the moment," one vaguely green-skinned Jedi said as he walked over. "I'm Dorsk 82. How can I help you?"

    "I'm Master Dellen," he replied. "Can you tell me where Skywalker is?"

    "He's in the middle of a Senate hearing at the moment." Dorsk 82 frowned slightly. "And you said you were... Master Dellen?"

    "Yes."

    Dorsk looked down. "Pardon my suspicions, but Master Skywalker is the only Jedi Master that I know of at the moment."

    Dellen laughed. "That's actually what I wanted to talk to him about, but I suppose I'll have to wait." He looked around the room. "Would you mind showing me around here while we're waiting?"

    "Ah... I suppose," Dorsk replied, stepping forward. "You see, the last person who simply announced himself as a Jedi Master was Joruus C'baoth."

    "Joruus?" Dellen inquired, noting the mispronunciation of the name.

    "An insane clone of the Jedi Master who died on the Outbound Flight," the other Jedi replied.

    Dellen screwed his face up in incredulity. Talk about being a stranger in a strange land!

    "What's so funny?"

    "Well..." The Jedi Master took the time to choose his words carefully. "That's the other reason why I'm here."

    "C'baoth?"

    "Sort of."

    Dorsk 82 shook his head in amazement, or perhaps confusion. "All right, I'll let you wait for Skywalker," he said as he started leading the Jedi Master through the Praxeum.

    The first room they stopped at was apparently a sparring room of some sort, the otherwise flawless walls marked with the occasional lightsaber burn. "The Praxeum," Dorsk 82 explained, "isn't supposed to be the main training center for the Jedi, but we do have limited facilities."

    Dellen nodded. "So is the Order smaller than it was under the Republic?"

    "We are under the Republic," Dorsk 82 replied with a little confusion evident on his face.

    "Ah, pardon my choice of words. I was referring to the Jedi Order as it was sixty to seventy years ago."

    "Under the Old Republic, you mean?" Dorsk shook his head. "We don't have enough records to compare the old Jedi Order with the current one."

    "Another thing I'll have to remedy," Dellen muttered, more to himself than to Dorsk.

    "Pardon?"

    Dellen ignored the question. "Where is the main training facility located? Here on Coruscant?"

    A light laugh excaped Dorsk 82's lips. "Hardly, with land prices so high. The Academy is located on Yavin Four."

    "Surprising," Dellen murmured. "Once the headquarters of a great Sith Lord, and now a training academy for Jedi." He looked directly at Dorsk. "Were there problems with the Academy in its early days?"

    Dorsk 82 paused as he opened the door to what appeared to be a meditation chamber. "You know of Exar Kun?"

    Dellen lifted his hands. "How could I not? I'm a historian, after all. I am surprised that Exar Kun himself created trouble, since the Jedi order had destroyed him. I was thinking more along the lines of devices he may have left."

    As they left the meditation chamber, Dorsk 82 licked his lips nervously. "Exar Kun found a way to trap his spirit within the Massassi temples," he finally said. "He destroyed several promising trainees, and nearly destroyed Luke Skywalker before he was vanquished."

    Dellen shook his head in a mix of disbelief and amazement. "Even dangerous after death."

    The next part of the Praxeum that the two Jedi entered was the residential area, where any Jedi who happened to be at the Praxeum stayed. Dellen glanced inside the open door of an unoccupied room. The small room, more like a closet in fact, was sparsely furnished with only the minimum necessities. The bed didn't look terribly comfortable, but it was probably better than a freighter's berth.

    "That's about all there is here," Dorsk explained, motioning for the Jedi Master to return downstairs. Dellen followed without any further questions. By the time they had reached the entry of the Praxeum, Dellen noticed a sandy-haired man, dressed in black, standing and talking to one of the other Jedi.

    "Oh, there's Master Skywalker," Dorsk exclaimed before hurrying over. In the meantime, Dellen took a hard look at the sandy-haired man, noticing a distinct resemblance to Anakin Skywalker.

    By now Dorsk 82 had gained the Jedi Master's attention and brought him over to Dellen. "Master Skywalker?" he began. "This is Master Dellen."

    Luke gave Dellen a puzzled glance after they had exchanged polite bows.

    "A pleasure to meet you. I understand that you're the last Jedi Master remaining," Dellen said after the formalities had been exchanged.

    "We've been trying to change that," Skywalker said with a slight laugh, "but if you are what you claim to be then I am no longer the only Jedi Master." A more serious look came into his face. "What brings you to the Praxeum?"

    Dellen extracted a datachip from a pocket in his robe and handed it to Skywalker. "The message on that should explain the situation better than I could. Do you have a conference room we can use?"

    Luke eyed the old datachip somewhat suspiciously. "I suppose, but we need to keep it brief since I need to return to Yavin Four soon. Follow me."

    As they walked to the meeting room, Luke turned to the other Jedi Master. "You aren't the same Master Dellen that we thought died aboard the Outbound Flight, are you?"

    "Thought I died?" Dellen's eyebrow shot up. "Well, I can't say that I should be surprised. We've only been missing for fifty-odd years. But yes, I am from the Outbound Flight."

    Luke inclined his head. "You'll have to pardon my skepticism. About twenty years ago, I found a man who claimed to be Jorus C'baoth. He turned out to be a clone, an insane one to boot. So if you are indeed the real person, then I'd like to know two things. First, how did you survive this long? Second, why do you seem to be my age?"

    Dellen sighed as Luke inserted the datachip into a tabletop reader. "I was sleeping when the ambush happened, so the message on the datachip can probably tell you more about the attack than I could. But as for my age, our hyperdrive was blown and it would take some sixty years to coast to a nearby system at sublight, so we entered hibernation."

    Both Jedi remained silent as the hologram of a middle-aged captain appeared.

    "I am Captain Avin of the Bulk Cruiser Ny'lith Boro, attached to the Outbound Flight. This message was intended to be delivered by Master Dellen, one of the six Jedi Masters assigned to the Project.

    "I have recorded this message because, sixty years ago, our ship was attacked and nearly destroyed by unknown marauders. We survived the ambush because our navigator, Master Fernas, executed a hyperspace jump through a nearby black hole. However, that jump catapulted us eighty-five million years into the future, into a galaxy that I have learned is called the Milky Way.

    "Our hyperdrive was rendered inoperable by the jump, and we entered hibernation for the next sixty years as we cruised toward a nearby starsystem at sublight. Our arrival in that system caught the attention of a passing ship, whose human crew awakened us and helped us to repair our hyperdrive. In return for their assistance, we have arranged to tow their ship back to their home planet, which is on the other side of this galaxy.

    "We have included on this datachip the necessary information to execute a hyperspace jump through the black hole, as well as the coordinates of the human government we will be traveling to. As we will be attempting to bring this government into the Republic, I request that the Republic Senate consider sending a resupply mission, with additional diplomats, to the provided coordinates."

    Finally, the recording ended, and Luke spoke cautiously. "So Master Fernas blew the hyperdrive, yet you managed to escape, through a black hole nonetheless. No wonder everyone thought you were dead."

    Dellen shrugged. There wasn't much more he could say.

    Luke took a deep breath. "Well, that explains the vision I had several weeks ago," he said. "A brief battle between two fleets, centered around a comet, then a ship that got pulled out of hyperspace..." He shook his head. "Now it makes sense. I wish I had realized earlier."

    "It should," Dellen replied amiably. "Sixty years after we entered hibernation, in reality only a few weeks ago, a passing ship noticed us and accidentally awakened the crew. With their help we were able to jury-rig the hyperdrive using parts from one of the shuttles. I went back to the wormhole using the other shuttle, while everyone else headed across the galaxy to meet with the home government of the other ship."

    "So you duplicated Master Fernas's trick and wound up back here," Luke finished for him, "except that your hyperdrive was also blown?"

    Dellen nodded, leaning back in his chair. "That's where Cathi, that person you saw sitting by the door, came in. She stumbled across my ship and brought me back here." He sighed. "More had changed here than I had expected."

    "The rise of the Empire, its fall, and then the New Republic?"

    "More than that," Dellen said. "What happened to the Jedi Order? It used to number in the tens of thousands, and now it seems there's only about a couple hundred Jedi?"

    Luke bowed his head. "The Clone Wars took its toll on the Jedi, and then the Emperor and his minions wiped the survivors out. Only a handful survived the purges."

    "I see. The Clone Wars?"

    "A series of wars that broke out between the Republic and several groups that were pushing for secession," Luke answered. "Led by the Trade Federation and several other corporations if I recall. Unfortunately for us, the Clone Wars also resulted in the destruction of many libraries, so we only have sketchy records of what happened. Almost all records related to the Jedi were destroyed, purposefully or by accident, and we've been working from scratch since."

    "So that explains why so many of the traditions of the Jedi have been lost," Dellen replied. "Although I'm not terribly surprised that the Trade Federation was behind it. They were a pain the Republic's side for years, and it seemed that we could never get rid of them."

    "We've been attempting to recover as many traditions as we can," Luke said. "About four years after the death of the Emperor, we discovered the remains of the Chu'unthor, which helped immensely."

    Dellen nodded. "On Dathomir. Master Yoda used to tell us about the natives of that planet, back when I was a mere padawan." The two shared some laughter.

    "We defeated the Nightsisters as well," Luke said after they'd finished. "Dathomir is now a part of the Hapes Cluster and is by extension a part of the New Republic." He looked up at the chronometer. "Well, I need to leave for the Academy now. Would you like to join Mara and myself?"

    Dellen shrugged. "I'd actually be interested to see this Jedi Academy," he said as he came to his feet. "But first I need to pay Cathi for bringing me here."

    "We'll pay for you," Luke replied, and making sure to retrieve the unused chip, exited the room. "What was your position with the Outbound Flight?"

    "Historian," Dellen replied. "I was Master Jocasta Nu's assistant in the Jedi Archives for several years."

    "Oh?" Luke seemed surprised. "In that case, I'm sure that Tionne will be very eager to meet you. She's been studying everything we could find on the Old Republic Jedi."


    Several minutes later, Dellen collected his crate of belongings from the Headwind and went to the docking bay where the Skywalkers' ship was berthed.

    "So that's your ship?" Dellen asked Luke, who nodded.

    "The Jade Sabre," Luke answered. "Mara and I designed her, and I did a lot of the work on her."

    "Impressive ship." The transport's lines were smooth and vaguely organic, with sweeping vertical tailfins running along both sides. The large cockpit was at the front and in the center, a bubble on the nose of the sleek ship. All in all, it was a rather large craft, perhaps sixty meters in length...

    "She's like a cross between a shuttle and a light freighter," Luke continued, pointing at a seam in the aft part of the ship, below and just forward of the twin ion drives. "One thing that we built into it was a docking port for either my X-wing or Mara's Headhunter." He smiled knowingly. "I took a hint from my brother-in-law, a former smuggler, and included a milspec shield generator as well."

    A prudent measure; the Jedi were never short of enemies, Dellen reflected. "What about weapons?"

    "Besides the starfighter?" Both shared a laugh as they boarded the transport. "It has a couple of quad turrets and a concussion missile launcher."

    "Sounds like it would be useful in a fight," Dellen remarked.

    Luke agreed. "It's seen it's share of fights since we finished it three years ago." The two entered the expansive, almost bridge-like cockpit. There, a slim, red-headed woman was checking instruments. Her movements were smooth and appeared to be done in an almost bored fashion. "Mara, this is Master Dellen," Luke announced. He then turned to the other Jedi Master. "Master Dellen, this is my wife, Mara Jade."

    Dellen wanted to ask Luke about his having a wife, but he was interrupted as Mara tried to wrap her mind around there being another Jedi Master. She was regarding him with a calculating stare, her piercing eyes looking as if they wanted to see something on the other side of him. "You just made him a Jedi Master out of the blue?" she asked as she turned to Luke.

    "No." Luke laughed lightly. "I know it sounds strange, but he's one of the Jedi Masters, the historian, from the Outbound Flight Project."

    This was met with a blank, disbelieving stare from Mara. "From... the Outbound Flight?" She shook her head. "He can't be. He's too young."

    Dellen stepped forward and pressed the datachip into her hand. "I understood that this would be hard to believe," he said quietly. "This is a message from Captain Avin concerning our current plight."

    She turned the datachip over in her hand, appraising it with a trained, critical eye. "It's from the correct time period," she finally said, looking back up at Dellen. "But how are you still alive? You should be in your nineties."

    "Carbon-freeze hibernation," Dellen replied. "The entire ship's crew went into it for the period of time it would take us to reach the star system. When we awakened, another ship had already sent a team over to investigate us."

    "I see," Mara said coolly. "But I still have no real reason to believe your story, even if Luke thinks it checks out." There was a moment's pause as Mara considered her options. "Tell me," she finally said, "what the names of the other five Jedi Masters attached to the Outbound Flight were, and what their positions were. Then, since you say that you're a historian, I want to know the exact year that Palpatine assumed the title of Emperor."

    "Chancellor Palpatine assumed the title of Emperor?" Dellen made no effort to hide the shock that was written across his face. "That doesn't seem like him. He was one of the most staunch proponents of democracy in the Senate."

    Mara smiled and nodded. "You passed my first test. Palpatine didn't become Emperor until about ten years after the Outbound Flight disappeared. But you still haven't answered my question about the Jedi."

    Dellen answered that plus a few other questions that she had lined up for him. Then she looked down at her wrist chrono. "Well, our launch window will be closing, so can we stop talking and finish prepping the ship for takeoff?"

    The Jedi Master took a seat in the cockpit, somewhat ill at ease, while Luke and Mara made their way around the ship to check things. After a few minutes, they returned to the cockpit and sat down, bringing all the systems online and contacting Coruscant traffic control. After another minute, the Jade Sabre had left Coruscant orbit and jumped into hyperspace; the two Jedi piloting the ship finally relaxed in their seats.

    "I'm rather curious," Dellen began, leaning forward toward Luke. "How much do you know of the Jedi Code?"

    Luke mulled the question over for several moments. "We've recovered bits and pieces of the Code," he replied. "Why do you ask?"

    "I had meant to bring this up when you introduced me to Mara," Dellen replied. "You see, the Jedi Code forbids marriage or emotional attachment of any sort."

    Luke and Mara exchanged puzzled glances. "That wasn't in any of the fragments we recovered, and Yoda never mentioned that." Luke finally said. "Why would the Jedi Order forbid such attachments?"

    "I'm not sure of the precise reasons why, but from what I've studied, the reasoning behind this rule was because emotional attachment creates a certain fear for that other person's safety. That fear can interfere with a Jedi's judgment."

    Luke nodded. "That makes sense, unfortunately." Sighing, he looked straight at the other Jedi Master. "The Jedi have existed without that rule for over twenty years now, and I feel that may be hard to change at this point."

    "How many other Jedi are married?" Dellen inquired.

    "Out of about two hundred Jedi, perhaps a dozen are married," Luke answered.

    "I see," Dellen observed with a sigh. "It seems that much work will be required to bring the Jedi Order back to its former standing."

    "What do you mean by that?" Mara asked as a puzzled look crossed her face.

    "Before the fall of the Republic," Dellen replied, hoping he got the newer information correct, "the Jedi Order numbered in the tens of thousands. We operated under the official sanction of the Republic Senate, which funded us. The Jedi Council, which led the Order, answered directly to the Supreme Chancellor."

    "So there was a Council," Luke mused. "Who comprised the Council?"

    "It varied," Dellen replied, "although Master Yoda and Master Windu were almost permanent fixtures on it. The criteria for choosing new Council members was very complicated."

    Luke nodded. "How were new Jedi trained?"

    Dellen sighed, almost imperceptibly. "It was a lifelong process. The Jedi Knights would find Force-sensitive beings as soon as was possible, and with the permission of the parents these children would be taken to Coruscant. They would train as groups up until about the age of 12, when a Jedi Knight or Jedi Master would take a trainee as his or her apprentice. After that, it would be up to the master to determine when a padawan was ready to become a Jedi Knight."

    "So that's why Master Yoda said I was too old to train," Luke murmured, looking out the wide cockpit window at the infinite swirls of hyperspace.

    Dellen inclined his head. "You trained under Master Yoda?"

    He nodded. "Before that, old Ben Kenobi trained me."

    "How old were you?"

    "About sixteen when I found Ben. I started training under Yoda after Ben's death... I was around nineteen then."

    The older Jedi Master leaned back in his chair and stretched his somewhat stiff shoulder muscles. There was much that had happened in the galaxy during his absence that he needed to catch up on, and he suspected that he still wouldn't have much of it down by the time the Jade Sabre arrived at Yavin IV.
  24. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    Chapter 13, Part II:


    The Rock Dragon had much better medical facilities than the Millennium Falcon, one being a smuggler's freighter and the other a modified Hapan transport, Jacen reflected, but they were both equally cramped.

    He sighed and turned his head to the side, noticing Tenel Ka and Lowbacca attending to his sister's eye. His own wound didn't need much, as some bacta and a simple synthflesh patch worked, but the poison had been a little more difficult. Even so, after running through some Jedi purification techniques he'd been taught, the numbness was finally leaving his leg.

    It was still going to take a while to heal, he realized as he rolled over. The leg still hung limply, and it was painfully obvious that he'd be of no use in a melee. Not in his present condition, at least.

    Across the room, Jaina finally sat up on another fold-out medical bed. For the time being, she wore a crude patch over her right eye. Then she came to her feet and strode over to her brother, sitting down next to him. "How's the leg feel?"

    "Not like much at all," Jacen admitted. He didn't have to answer, given that as twins the two Jedi shared a sort of bond, but it was better than listening to the computers hum while the other three Jedi were off searching for anything at all in ExGal 4. "How about your eye?"

    "I think I pushed out most of the venom, but there was so much of it..."

    He nodded. There wasn't much that they could do for her eye with the limited facilities aboard the Hapan transport, and it would be a while before they got back to anything that remotely resembled civilization. With no person among them really trained in Jedi healing techniques, and no field medics handy, nobody was even really sure how badly Jaina's eye had been damaged by the staff's venom. "Think you'll still be able to fly?" he asked.

    She snorted. "Doesn't look like I have much choice, for now at least. I'm hoping that I won't have to get a bionic eye, but..." Jaina shrugged, then stood up. Moments later she returned with a dejarik board. "I'll play you."


    The other three Jedi returned around a half-hour later. Each carried a crate of material except for Tenel Ka, who couldn't carry a crate and hold a lightsaber at the same time; as a result, she was bringing up the rear.

    "Here," Kyp said as he tossed a couple of medpacks at the twins. "I think these ought to be useful."

    Jaina frowned. "You looted the base?"

    "Just putting some abandoned supplies to better use," Kyp said with a laugh. "It's not like Yomin Carr could find any use for those in his current state."

    Shaking her head at Kyp, Jaina tore open one medpack and pulled a bacta patch out of it. After making sure that it was still fresh, she flipped up her eyepatch and took off the old bacta patch, then applied the fresh one.

    In the meantime, the others were busy unpacking the crates. Tenel Ka handed Jacen a simple glass jar containing one of the brown beetles. "We found this in the station commander's room," she explained.

    "Looks like they did know about the beetles after all," Jacen remarked, giving the jar back.

    "Yeah," Kyp agreed. "Then we found these."

    Jacen craned his neck to get a better view of the stuff that had just been put on the dejarik table. In the middle were two roughly ovoid, purplish blob creatures. "What the kriff are those?"

    "Communications devices, or rather creatures, of some sort. They were in Yomin Carr's room. One was already dead when we found them."

    "And the other?"

    Kyp frowned. "It came alive when we touched its front ridge. That's how we found out it was for communication. Some other alien of the same species as Yomin Carr answered, and laughed when he saw me. He warned me that I'm going to be, ah, dead if I keep sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong." The Jedi chuckled at that. "Then he broke the link or whatever. We haven't managed to get this thing to respond since then."

    Jacen grabbed a makeshift crutch and hopped off the medical bed, making sure not to put weight on his left leg. Then he ambled over to where the strange, blob-shaped creatures were and put a hand on the one Kyp had indicated was alive.

    He normally had a talent with any kind of alien life, in that he could easily communicate with it, but in this case his talent didn't help him; the creature was obviously dead. He shrugged. "I guess we could stick them in a stasis chamber to keep them from decomposing... further." He wrinkled his nose slightly. They were already beginning to smell bad, or maybe that was how they normally smelled. He decided not to push the thought further.

    "Yeah," Kyp agreed as Lowbacca took both dead creatures into the cargo hold. "Well, there's nothing more to find down here. How about we head off for Helska now?"

    Jacen looked down at his leg. Injuries or no injuries, they couldn't forget about the scientists who had gone to Helska. "Maybe we should have gone there first."

    "I think Lowbacca and Jaina can pilot this ship," Tenel Ka finally said. "Jacen and I should be able to handle the turrets."

    "Then that's settled," Kyp said, turning and heading for the ramp. "Meet you guys in orbit."

    A few minutes later the Rock Dragon broke orbit and vanished into hyperspace.


    So this is Helska, Jacen reflected from his upside-down position in the ventral gun turret as the Rock Dragon dropped out of hyperspace along with the Avengers. It had seven planets in all, including a couple of gas giants in the outer system. Looks like any other system.

    He found himself somewhat dizzied by all the movement; so as to hopefully avoid detection, all of Kyp's squadron was looping and rolling as they moved, seemingly on the edge of disaster but in reality highly coordinated. He whistled softly. They were good pilots.

    "We've got a lot of activity around the fourth planet," Jaina called from the cockpit.

    Tenel Ka broke into the comm. "I thought it was supposed to be uninhabited?"

    "It's not now."

    "Any hostiles yet?" Kyp asked when there was a lull in chatter. Jacen had almost forgotten that the Rock Dragon had the best sensor kit of any of the ships flying with Kyp...

    "I'm reading what looks like an asteroid field in orbit around the fourth planet," Jaina replied, "along with a large moon. All have lifesigns."

    "Don't tell me we came all the way out here to find a mining operation," Miko said, his voice dripping with so much sarcasm that Jacen imagined he could catch the excess in a bucket.

    "Cut the chatter," Kyp called. "We've got incomings. Rock Dragon, do you have readings on them? Identification?"

    "Negative," Jaina replied. "Bunch of asteroids, came from the fifth planet."

    "Let me get this straight, a bunch of asteroids just broke orbit and decided to come over here?"

    "I said cut the chatter, Miko."

    There was an audible sigh. "Roger that."

    "Rock Dragon," Kyp continued, "do you have any sign of the scientists yet?"

    "Negative." There was a pause. "Those asteroids are accelerating."

    "Then they aren't asteroids," Kyp replied. "Shields up, weapons ready. Mark them as potentially hostile and scan all frequencies for comm traffic."

    Suddenly, Jacen's targeting screen was awash with yellow dots. "Blaster bolts," he muttered to himself. There must be around a hundred of them.

    "No comm traffic," Jaina reported. "They seem to be well-coordinated."

    "Strange," Kyp remarked. "Hang on, we've got something inbound."

    "Rocks."

    "What?"

    They're firing rocks at us? Jacen wondered.

    "Slight correction," Jaina dryly said, "they're molten rocks. Re-designating incoming group as hostile."

    There was a snort. "Rocks? What are they going to do next, start throwing sticks at us?"

    "Miko," Kyp warned, obviously getting annoyed at his wingmate. "Avengers, break formation on my mark." He waited until the two sides had almost closed to visual range. "Mark."

    Shortly after the squadron split into pairs, they found themselves in the middle of what would best be described as a swarm. Jacen opened fire along with everyone else, and space was suddenly awash with the streaks of tracers and the strange molten missiles of the enemy.

    He paused for a moment, in between bursts, to take a look at one of the enemy ships that was flying low below him, and noticed its roughly aerodynamic shape, transparent canopy, and even stranger-looking pilot. So they're starfighters, he thought before nailing the fighter with a burst from his twin laser cannons.

    The first shot... vanished? he wondered, but the second powerful shot caught the fighter squarely in the center and blew it into a cloud of molten debris. As he looked around, he noticed that the rest of the Avengers were faring just as well against these crazy fighters.

    "Jacen, stay sharp," Tenel Ka pointed out from the other turret. Jolted, he noticed a few of the fighters had strayed close to his position, so he resumed firing. The first blew up immediately, but he found that he had to put several bursts into the second before it was also destroyed.

    "They seem to be diverting our fire," he finally remarked. "And they're getting better at it."

    "Won't help them," Miko replied. "We've already killed over half of them."

    "I'm picking up a lot of small gravity cones," Jaina reported from the cockpit. "They're driving the navicomp nuts, just like an Interdictor would."

    Jacen stole another glance at one of the alien fighters. No engines...

    "They must be using that for propulsion," Kyp remarked for him. "I'm not reading any conventional shields, either."

    The Hapan transport abruptly changed course, throwing Jacen's aim off. Then he noticed a heavy barrage of molten rock sail below him. The numbers were finally getting balanced, with roughly two alien fighters for every member of the Dozen-and-Two Avengers. To be fair, however, the Avengers hadn't suffered a single loss yet.

    "Shields down!" someone shouted.

    Of course, there is such a thing as speaking too soon, Jacen reflected as all hell broke loose.
  25. Crayz9001 Insane Bounty Hunter™

    And another chapter.

    CHAPTER FOURTEEN



    "Computer, seal the doors to this room. No entry without my authorization."

    Ph'ngu Reco sighed as he compared the two voice graphs, one from the actual recording he'd found in an obscure log in Voyager's computer and the other one produced by a partially disassembled 3PO protocol droid that was sitting beside him. The voice graphs still differed too much for him to risk testing the authorization codes live.

    Frustrated, he kicked a loose bundle of wires, sending them halfway across the computer room. It certainly didn't help that he didn't have the handy Universal Translators that the Voyager crew posessed. What was worse was that the Federation kept several obscure languages in use, rather than standardizing on one language like the Republic had done in time immemorial. No wonder the protocol droids were going nuts trying to tell the different variants apart.

    He waited for the 3PO unit's vocal processor to make the changes before he tried comparing them again. This time, the graphs were almost identical, but still...

    "Kriff it," he muttered as he pulled some wires out of the 3PO's interface box and plugged them directly into a terminal. He then switched to another terminal and tapped in some commands before going back to the first terminal.

    PERMISSION GRANTED

    The slicer breathed a sigh of relief. He found the Federation's insistence on relying on such keyphrase/voiceprint combinations to be almost comical, given the ease with which such combinations could usually be cracked. Then again, this Federation's technology was rather lacking in certain areas, so maybe that was to be expected.

    He paused as his display gave him a list of choices, roughly translated into Basic. None of the choices presented were exactly what he wanted...

    The slicer stood up and walked across the room to a cabinet that was full of datachips. He sifted through the datachips until he found one he wanted, then walked back and plugged it into his terminal. It was a rather simplistic system worm that he'd designed when he was on Coruscant for the purpose of compromising a transit system database.

    He smiled at the memory. Those were the days when he was still a street urchin on Coruscant, before he'd managed to give himself a nicely paid position in the Jedi Temple. While he'd found it to be an exciting challenge to defeat the security systems of the Temple, getting past the Jedi had been impossible... and that had been how he'd wound up on this ship.

    Blinking, he looked at the chrono mounted haphazardly on one of the equipment racks, and decided to hold off on rewriting the worm for the alien system until he had some food in his stomach.

    Roughly three days later, Reco idly scrolled through the results that the worm had sent back across the flimsy ship-to-ship data couplings. For one ship, it had quite a treasure trove of information on this entire Federation...

    He was interrupted by a knock at the door, and quickly looked over at the holocam monitor. He quickly exhaled a sigh of relief and stood up. "Come in, Captain."

    Captain Avin carefully stepped over the bundles of wires as he entered. "Do you have the data I requested?"

    "Most of it, Sir," Reco replied nonchalantly. "I'm about ninety percent done with their database."

    Avin frowned. "What took so long? We're pulling out of hyperspace today and this needs to be finished."

    Ph'ngu sighed and sat back down. "Whatever this Federation might have in the way of sophisticated electronics, they certainly don't know how to use them."

    "What makes you say that?" the Captain asked, his curiousity piqued.

    "Permission to speak freely?"

    "Go ahead."

    Reco glanced at a terminal before leaning back and looking directly at the Captain. "Well, let me just put it this way: Whatever the people who designed the LCARS system were smoking, I want some of it. They have some of the worst algorithms I've ever seen. Their built-in search routines are sequential, so it takes practically forever to search for anything, and on top of that the search routines display all the data being searched through on the console. The closest thing to that I've ever seen was in a civilization that was barely entering the spacefaring stage."

    "You're a slicer. You know how to get around that sort of thing," Avin replied, obviously not understanding.

    "It's not that simple," Reco replied with a look of annoyance. "I coded a worm to insert into their system to get around the inefficiencies, but it took a full day to get it working properly. They have a massive, rather redundant database as well, and the worm has been sifting through it for the past couple days." He pulled a datachip off a nearby stack and inserted it into his console. After a few moments, he extracted the chip and handed it to the Captain. "Here's a copy of the results so far."

    Avin nodded as he took the chip. "I expect you to be finished in two hours exactly, because that's when we drop out of hyperspace."

    "I will, Sir." Reco blinked as the Captain left the room. Two hours? He knew it was close, but not that close...

    He turned back to the terminal and quickly sent some commands to the worm, which promptly dumped the data it had collected so far. 91%. Not enough. Reco switched to a command list and looked for any other programs on Voyager that he could kill without arousing too much attention...



    "Acting Captain Chakotay to the Bridge," a voice buzzed over the comm. Still in a groggy state, Chakotay slipped out of his bed and hurried over to the sonic shower, managing to stub his toes on a piece of furniture that he didn't recall putting there. What a way to start the day, he mused.

    "Shower on," he commanded. Nothing happened.

    "Computer, shower on," he commanded, more forcefully this time. After several more unsuccessful tries, he gave up and went back into his quarters and grabbed a comb. He ran it through his hair several times in front of a mirror until he was mostly satisfied with it, then half walked, half stumbled to a dresser and grabbed a clean uniform from it. Chakotay quickly put it on, cursing in an ancient American language as he realized that he'd put his shirt on backwards. After correcting his mistake, he rapidly clipped his rank pips to the collar and left for the nearest turbolift. On the way out, he managed to bash his head on the door, which elicited a few more choice responses.

    When he finally reached the Bridge, still rubbing his head, he was immediately informed that they were about to drop out of hyperspace in several minutes. Wearily, he took his seat in the captain's chair, and then activated the comm. "Bridge to Engineering. B'Elanna, do you know of any problems with the sonic showers?"

    "No. Why do you ask?"

    "The sonic shower in my quarters wasn't responding to voice commands," he replied.

    "We'll look into it," B'Elanna replied.

    Chakotay forced a bemused smile. Here they were, only a minute away from a home that none of the crew had seen for several years, and he was worried about the sonic showers.


    Deep in the data center, Ph'ngu anxiously glanced at the timer that he'd set up to tell him when they were coming out of hyperspace. The worm was telling him that it had processed about 99% of the records, but there were only 30 seconds left, and he needed to disconnect and clean up before they separated the ships...

    Come on, he silently urged the program as the seconds counted down.

    The progress indicator finally changed to 100%, and Reco let out a sigh before switching to another terminal and starting to clean his tracks.



    "We have reverted from hyperspace," Seven observed from behind Chakotay as Voyager's inertial compensators struggled with a sharp change in velocity. For a moment he wondered if he'd get thrown from his seat, but it stabilized after a moment.

    "Main viewer on," he instructed. The viewscreen snapped on, showing a breathtaking view of Earth. Moments later, Chakotay drew in a sharp breath. "We're inside the Mars Defense Perimeter," he muttered. "Lieutenant Kim, contact Starfleet Command and tell them that we are not hostile."

    Just as the lieutenant reached for the comm controls, the bridge lights suddenly dimmed and then went out altogether, along with every other system on the bridge. Chakotay found that he had problems seeing anything at all, considering that the emergency lights had refused to come on as they were supposed to.

    "What the hell just happened?"

    "Unknown," Tuvok replied from his position at the security station. There was some tapping sounds as if he was ineffectually trying to access an LCARS terminal. "It appears to be a complete power failure."

    Chakotay hit his commbadge. "Bridge to Engineering. We've suffered a power failure, can you give us any information?"

    There was a long pause before the reply came. "Torres here. I'm not sure what happened, we had just brought the warp core back online and everything failed. As far as we know, it's ship-wide."

    Chakotay came to his feet, wishing that the emergency lights were working, and tried to make his way to the bridge ready room without tripping on anyone or anything. "Fuck it, does anyone have a light?" he finally asked after ramming his foot into the steps. After several tries, he found the ready room door and felt around the wall for the emergency release. Once he'd tripped the release, he then went back to the doors and pried them apart, letting some reflected sunlight onto the Bridge.

    His commbadge chirped again. "Chakotay here."

    "Commander, we think we've found the problem. The main computer and the backup both went down, and they somehow brought all the other systems with them. We're restarting the main computer right now, but it will take about five minutes."



    "Why do we always get general alerts in Spacedock?" Captain Gail Hancock of the Excelsior-class starship USS Hercules complained, throwing an angry glare at the bridge dome. Naturally, she reflected, whenever some potentially hostile alien vessel showed up by Earth there were almost no Starfleet vessels around to investigate. She sometimes wondered if the universe was out to get the Federation.

    Still, a general alert meant that any nearby starship had to respond immediately. This meant that she had no choice—even if her aging Excelsior was only halfway through its long-overdue refitting process.

    She turned to the helm officer. "Get us out of here, maximum thrusters."

    "Aye, Captain," the officer replied.

    Gail glanced up at the viewscreen, noticing one other starship, a four-nacelled Cheyenne, begin to slide out of its berth as well. As if two ships would make much difference if the Borg had returned.

    Soon they had passed Spacedock's doors, and both ships were approaching the intruder at full impulse.

    "Lieutenant Gordon, can you get me a better view of the intruder?" Gail asked after a moment. The comm officer did as requested, and soon the viewscreen displayed what could possibly have been the bastard child of an Intrepid and a Borg Cube.

    Several people on the bridge swore under their breaths, while Captain Hancock merely frowned. "Lieutenant, see if you can read the markings on that Intrepid primary hull."

    Again, Lieutenant Gordon manipulated the viewscreen, and after a moment the badly-scorched primary hull came into view. Despite all the burn marks in the hull, the numbers remained clearly visible: NCC 74656.

    Gail's jaw dropped slightly. "My God," she muttered. "It's Voyager."

    "Should I power down the phasers?" came the inquiry from Tactical.

    "No!" Gail half-snapped, causing the officer at Tactical to recoil slightly. "Keep them up. We still don't know if they're hostile or not."

    "Yes, ma'am."

    Gail turned toward Lieutenant Gordon. "Comm, open hailing frequencies to Voyager."

    "Hailing frequencies open, no response yet."

    The captain frowned. Surely Voyager's captain knew Starfleet protocols? "Scan all frequencies, they might be transmitting on a non-standard one."

    After several seconds had passed, Lieutenant Gordon looked up. "I have a signal from the ship, audio only."

    "Put it on."

    The voice was garbled slightly, but remained intelligible. "-is Captain Avin of the Republic ship-" The transmission cut off at that point.

    Gail looked at Lieutenant Gordon before replying. "This is Captain Gail Hancock of the Federation starship USS Hercules. Be warned that although you are docked with a Federation starship, you are within the Mars defense perimeter and precautions will be taken if you show any signs of hostility."

    Lieutenant Gordon mouthed "Video" at the Captain, who nodded as the image of the strange captain appeared on the viewscreen. Her eyes widened slightly as the image stabilized; the captain appeared to be, for all extents and purposes, human.

    "I apologize for the transmission problems earlier," he began. "We had arranged with the crew of Voyager to tow their starship here to Earth, but just after we reverted to realspace their ship's systems went dead. I have been informed that they are currently bringing their systems back up."

    Gail glanced over at Tactical. "Scans?"

    "He seems to be telling the truth, Captain."

    She nodded. "We appreciate your hospitality, but Starfleet Command requests that you move your ship away from Earth orbit."

    "Captain?" Tactical interrupted.

    "What is it?"

    "I'm picking up a power surge aboard Voyager, indicative of a core breach in progress." The officer frowned. "Their core ejection hatch is pointed at the other ship's midsection."

    Gail turned back toward the viewscreen. "My tactical officer informs me that Voyager has a warp core breach in progress, and that your ship is blocking the core ejection hatch."

    Captain Avin's face paled noticeably. "Understood." He turned away slightly and began to give orders. Gail watched as the frameworks connecting the two ships together were suddenly jettisoned, and free from its burden, the Republic ship began to pull away from Voyager.

    "Voyager's main power seems to be back up," Lieutenant Gordon reported.

    "Hail them," Gail said, wasting no time.

    Another man appeared on the viewscreen, his face partly covered by a tattoo. Gail vaguely recognized him as a... wanted Maquis leader? She blinked in surprise but spoke anyway. "Captain, I cannot waste time on formalities. You have a warp core breach in progress."



    "Lieutenant Torres, what the hell is going on down there?" Chakotay's voice carried over—barely—the din of alarms and general panic in Engineering.

    "I'm not sure," B'Elanna temporized as she directed several crewmen around. "All we know is that the computer reboot wreaked havoc with the warp core."

    "Yes, I know," Chakotay's irritated reply came back. "Another ship informed me. Can you get it under control?"

    "We're trying, but the containment systems are all screwed up." The engineer tried one of the consoles, which promptly displayed some garbage and then died. "I think we'll have to eject it. Are we clear?"

    "The Republic ship has already undocked and should be clear now."

    "Good," Torres replied, running over to the ladder and climbing up to the second level. She reached another LCARS console and quickly began entering commands.

    "Core breach in 50 seconds and counting," the computer announced in the same tone it might use to announce the brewing of a cup of tea. Torres wished she could give the computer a good whack but refrained from doing so, instead continuing to enter commands into the console.

    "Ejection sequence started."

    "Damnit," the half-Klingon engineer swore as an error message flashed up on the console. The ejection doors would have to jam up!

    "Core breach in 40 seconds and counting. Ejection sequence aborted."

    B'Elanna gritted her teeth and tried again, closing the ejection hatch.

    "Ejection sequence started. Core breach in 30 seconds and counting."

    This time the doors opened smoothly, and the long warp core began to slide out. Containment fields appeared around it to prevent the air from being blown out of Engineering, and B'Elanna watched in relief as it disappeared through the floor.

    "Core breach in 20 seconds and counting. Warp core ejected."

    A ragged cheer went up from the assembled engineers as Voyager surged to full impulse to get clear of the unstable warp core.



    "Starfleet Command isn't going to be very happy about having a hot core in Earth orbit," Gail half-muttered as she watched the whole process unfold.

    "It's starting to stabilize," Lieutenant Gordon remarked. "Reactants are venting."

    Good, she thought. "Open the channel to Voyager again."

    "Channel open."

    Gail nodded. "Voyager, this is Captain Hancock of the USS Hercules." She paused for a moment. "May I inquire as to what happened to Captain Janeway?"

    "I am Commander Chakotay, Voyager's acting captain," the other replied. "Captain Janeway was temporarily removed by the orders of the Chief Medical Officer and is confined to her quarters with an escort."

    "Understood," Gail acknowledged, with a slight smile on her face despite herself. "Welcome back, Voyager. I believe you'll find a homecoming party waiting for you at Spacedock."

    Chakotay grinned, if briefly. "I wouldn't expect anything else." He grew more serious after a moment, however. "The Republic ship that brought us here is hoping to open diplomatic talks with the Federation. I trust you can relay that message to Starfleet Command?"

    Gail nodded.



    On Voyager, Chakotay leaned back wearily in the command chair as they continued toward Spacedock at half impulse. Voyager would certainly need an extended refitting; four years' worth of damage couldn't be repaired overnight...

    "Earth," he sighed, looking around the bridge. For the first time in as long as he could remember, the entire bridge crew was smiling, and he could just make out tears on many crew members' faces. So they were home—but how much had home changed?


    * * *


    Ph'ngu swallowed nervously as Captain Avin knocked at the door. "Come in."

    "What exactly did you do to Voyager? You nearly killed us all," Avin said in a no-nonsense tone.

    "The worm malfunctioned," Reco answered, pulling a datachip off the ever-growing stack. "I did get all of the data you requested, however."

    Avin took the chip and pocketed it without looking. "Exactly how did it malfunction, and can it be traced back to us?"

    Reco shrugged. "From what I could tell, the worm activated a bug or something like one in their system, causing the whole thing to shut down. I made sure to wipe my tracks before that, so aside from really bad timing, there's no real way they can trace us."

    "Good." Avin turned to exit. "Since this never happened, I can't do anything to you, but I'm just going to warn you that if I ever need your services again, I don't want any screw-ups."

    "Understood, Captain."

    Reco waited for the Captain to exit before he returned to his terminal.

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