This story begins the Price of Unity trilogy, and follows up on the stories presented in Worlds Without End, Shadows of the Night, and Against All Odds. It would be beneficial to read those stories first.
The revisions to this story are much less than those of the previous three chapters, primarily bringing continuity in line and correcting some of the more eggregious errors, but there is some new material here and there.
The wormhole. A bridge across both time and space, one that connected two halves of a united Empire that, through its remarkable presence, was located on opposite sides of the known universe in the past and the future. As the tiny ship passed through its true beauty was revealed in twisting forms and flowing colors that seemed to not so much please the eye as caress it seductively. The passage was far too short, and the awakening on the other side equally irritating.
“Vessel 1C-711,” the bored voice of the controller said over the communicator, “this is Wormhole Base. Identify yourself and state your purpose.”
“Elphin Ryool,” he answered, using the name that matched his documents. Forged of course, but not terribly difficult these days as the Empire continued to loosen its restrictions on travel throughout its territory. “I’m bringing exotic animals to the Alpha Quadrant.”
“You have permits for these organisms,” the controller asked.
“Yes,” Elphin said, transmitting them. His instruments showed they were being scanned, but that wasn’t unusual. It certainly would back up his story; exotic animals. Very exotic.
“Vessel 1C-711 you are clear to depart for the Alpha Quadrant.” There was nothing more; a cargo ship was of little interest to the Imperials, especially one this small. Elphin reset the coordinates and activated the hyperdrive with distaste. No one had said his job would be pleasant.
Elphin walked back to one of his storage holds and brought out an animal which, had the Imperials taken a close look at it, would have piqued even their attention. No environmental force or mutation had been responsible for this creature’s development. It was the result of design so advanced it put this vessel on the level of bacteria. He reached behind its ear and the creature's skin glowed to present the transmitted image from his colleagues working on the distant planet of Sernpidal. He listened to the recorded message, which only confirmed what was obvious to him from the picture.
Over the tiny human cities, a moon loomed menacingly large in the bright Sernpidal sky.
The twin suns of Tatooine baked the landscape in the early afternoon as Luke Skywalker stepped out the front of his home. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness, but that didn’t slow him down; he didn’t need them anyway. “Sebastian,” he called, not bothering to look for the boy. He took his seat as the child came running out of the garage, his light brown hair sticky with sweat from his work. He jogged over, Luke noting how long his strides had gotten. Even at fifteen the boy was nearly a man in stature, and Sebastian never turned down an opportunity to remind his parents of this.
“What’ll it be today, father?” Sebastian said, wiping his brow as he sat down. He exuded the cocky confidence of his mother, which pleased or infuriated Luke depending on the situation.
“Terran chess,” Luke said, taking the board from inside his robe and letting it float in the air between them. With a thought he flicked the game on, and holographic pieces appeared in the shape of ancient horsemen and soldiers, ready to do cross swords for control of the tiny battlefield. “You’ve been reading up on strategy, I hope.”
“Oh yes,” Sebastian said with a grin, “yes I have.” Luke had beaten the boy every game for the past three sessions. It was a matter of pride now for the young man to try and best his old man.
“Good,” Luke said, and with that the two closed their eyes and relaxed. Their shadows moved slowly along the ground as time passed, each finding true peace within themselves, and yet within something far greater. “On three,” Luke said quietly. Sebastian nodded, his eyes still closed. “One...”
“Two...” Sebastian said.
“Three.” A white pawn advanced two squares and in response his black counterpart moved in kind. Another white pawn moved while a knight leaped over his own soldiers to secure his position. More pawns advanced on both sides, the soldiers setting up quick supports for each other as they approached their adversaries. After mere seconds, the bishops and rooks began advancing on the battlefield as well, and tiny skirmishes broke out as soldiers battered away at each other. Sebastian, having lost both his bishops, sent out his queen ten seconds into the match; Luke waited another three before doing the same. The tall woman strode forward and swung her scepter like a club through the towering rook, shattering it. A group of pawns led by a knight encircled her, but she slipped away. The knight leaped, lancing an opposing bishop as a consolation prize. In less than a second he was surrounded and done in himself. The game had now lasted seventeen seconds.
Sweat ran down Sebastian’s face as he concentrated, his father’s face completely expressionless. Not that Sebastian saw him, of course; his attention was focused fully on the contest. His pawn slipped through an opening in the defenses and rushed for the back row, a rook sliding into position to defend him. With triumph he stopped, threw off his helmet and grew to the towering height of a queen. She took one great leap across the board, battering aside the staff of the bishop and killing him. Before her next chance to attack the board froze. The black king stood stock still as a pawn’s sword was held to his throat. A step back would put him in range of the rook’s crossbow, to his left the knight’s lance, and his own pawns blocked movement to the right. He dropped his sword and fell to his knees; the entire game had taken twenty-nine seconds.
“What happened?” Luke asked as he opened his eyes.
Sebastian took a few deep breaths. “Too much offense,” he said. “I should have been watching for traps for my king.”
“Not just that,” Luke said. “You saw an opportunity, and you were so intent on seizing it you paid less attention to what I was doing. You can’t fixate on the goal without losing your ability to watch for threats.”
“Yes, father,” Sebastian said dejectedly. Before he could discuss any further 4D-8, their droid, stepped out of the shelter.
“Master Luke,” the robot’s feminine voice said, “there’s a communication for you from Chandrilla.”
“Aunt Leia?” Sebastian asked even as Luke got up.
“We’ll see,” he replied. “Keep practicing.” He followed the droid inside and took a seat before the small holographic communicator they had. He activated the system, and a slight chill passed through him as the wrinkled, weathered visage appeared before him. “Your highness,” Luke said, keeping the emotion from his voice.
“Jedi Skywalker,” the Emperor replied, his voice void of any emotion. “We have something of great importance to discuss.”
The pieces on the chessboard moved almost as quickly as they had during the game between Sebastian and his father, but this time it was different. Unlike his father, the computer was predictable, and while it had been programmed with every chess strategy ever conceived, it was still no match for him. “Come on,” Sebastian said aloud even as he continued moving the pieces with his thoughts, “I don’t have all second.” The white king held up his hands as the bishop pointed his staff at him, then dropped to his knees. “Checkmate,” Sebastian said with contempt. This game had taken only half as long as the one against his father. It was infuriating that he seemed such a master against anyone but him, and perhaps that was the point, to keep him humble. But then again, his mother was the universe’s greatest master of knocking him down when he got a bit full of himself.
“Bastian,” a voice called, and the young Jedi turned towards the source of the voice as he deactivated the chess board. Even without the Force he could sense Jorri’s excitement as she practically sprinted up to him. “Guess what just arrived?”
Sebastian himself was too anxious to make a typical smart remark as he took the datapad from her hands. The normally subdued girl was near bursting as he took it, her frame shaking a little as she pushed a lock of dark hair out of her face. “Is it-”
“Just read it!” she almost shouted.
With a deep breath he activated the datapad. “Jorrielle Sunspring,” he read aloud, “this is to inform you that your application for the Imperial Academy has been accepted.” He couldn’t continue because she had latched onto him and begun jumping in excitement.
“I can’t believe it!” she screamed as she bounced. “I’m going to be a pilot! A real pilot!”
“I never doubted you for a second,” Sebastian said as he squeezed her back. “You’re the best bush pilot in either galaxy.” He glanced back at the letter, then loosened his grip a bit. “They want you there by the end of the week,” he said, a bit blown over.
Sebastian’s remark brought Jorri’s celebration to a halt. “I know,” she said finally. “And traveling to Ralltiir from here...”
“You’ll probably have to leave in a couple of days,” Sebastian finished. He passed the datapad back to her. “Sorry,” he finally said. “Didn’t mean to drop a sandstorm on the celebration. Really, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for you. You’ve got so much potential that’s going to waste out here.”
“I’m not the only one,” she said, sliding the datapad into the back of her belt. “Come on, ‘Bastian,” she prodded for the hundredth time. “You know if anyone on this dustball was meant to be an ace pilot, it’s you.” He said nothing. “With your family’s connections you could walk into the front office and get accepted without a second word.”
He smirked at the thought. Yeah, being the son of rebel hero Luke Skywalker and the woman who had single-handedly destroyed the Borg went a long way, and Aunt Leia being chief advisor for the Emperor certainly didn’t hurt. And when it came to dealing with non-Force users, no one else challenged him like Jorrielle could. The fun they had growing up here, despite living in the armpit of the universe; it was so hard to accept that it was all going to come to an end now. Damn, it was so tempting, to just run away and forget about everything. But facts were facts: no teacher could compare to his mother, no one could show him more about flying than his uncle, and there was no one else in the galaxy equipped to lead him in the ways of the Force than his father. And in the end, joining the Imperial Navy just wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. “I’ll visit whenever I can,” he finally promised.
“Yeah, you’re always in the neighborhood of Ralltiir,” she replied a bit dejectedly.
“Hey,” Sebastian said, trying to perk her up, “with my connections, I can get a shuttle out to Ralltiir any time I like.” He grinned and she smiled back.
“Mr. Skywalker,” Jorri said, and Sebastian turned around to see his father walking towards them. Something heavy weighed on his mind, but he was doing his best to hide it from the boy.
“Morning Jorrielle,” the elder Jedi said, coming to a halt near them. “How’s the harvest going?”
“Way to slow for mom,” Jorri said with a laugh.
“Jorri’s been accepted to the Academy,” Sebastian said, not taking his eyes of her. She grinned with nervous pride.
“Really,” Luke said, “congratulations. You know, when I was your age they didn’t allow many women into the Academy.”
“Yeah, and you had to walk through a sandwhirl to get to school every day,” Jorri said.
Sebastian laughed. “Hey, tell her about the time you were in grammar school and had to kill a Tusken Raider with a tricorder who wanted your lunch money.”
His father laughed graciously at the prods but there was a somberness to him that he couldn’t hide. “Pack some things,” he told Sebastian. “We’re going to Chandrilla for a few days.”
The boy’s smile vanished. “Chandrilla? When are we leaving?”
“As soon as we’re packed,” Luke said, looking about. “Where’s your mother?”
“She took the speeder into town,” Sebastian said, trying to think quickly.
“Mos Rosta, at least that’s what she said,” he answered. “Father, I’d like to stay here while you go, if it’s all the same.”
“Sorry, not this trip,” Luke said, clearly distracted. “We’re not short on supplies...”
“She wanted to get some fresh air,” Sebastian answered, knowing what his father meant.
“There’s not much of that in Mos Rosta.”
“No, there isn’t,” Sebastian answered quickly. “Father-“
“No discussion,” Luke said.
“Mr. Skywalker,” Jorri said a bit sheepishly, “I’m leaving for the Academy very soon.”
Luke took a deep breath as he looked at two of them and then back at the garage. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been called before the Emperor.” He stared at Sebastian. “We both have.”
“Wait-wait,” Sebastian said, “the Emperor wants to see me. Emperor Palpatine.”
“Unless there’s been an overthrow I haven’t heard about, yes, Emperor Palpatine.”
“That is so wizard,” Jorri said to Sebastian, all thoughts of her trip gone. He caught her look; he'd seen it once or twice before. It was when she realized that this scruffy boy she'd grown up with, who'd become her best friend, was really part of a circle that no kid on Tatooine could ever imagine being part of, and that through him, sometimes she was brushing the highest authorities in the galaxy.
“Oh, he always calls at the worst times,” Sebastian said dismissively. Of course, he knew why they were going, he’d known for as long as he could remember. But, but now? Was he ready for that?
“As soon as we have some free time,” Luke said, “I’ll bring Sebastian out to the Academy. I promise. For now, I need you packed up and ready to take off within the hour.”
“What about mom?”
“We’ll drop in at Mos Rosta and pick her up,” he answered. “Or bail her out of jail if we have to,” he added with a sigh.
Annika Hansen Skywalker, former Borg drone, former Starfleet officer, former galactic savior, wanted a drink. Not a drink the way most of the patrons of this cantina thought of it, since she didn’t react particularly well to alcohol. But she was dehydrating like anyone was in the heat of Mos Rosta, and the inhabitants of the cantina were as interesting a sight to her as anything else in this town. Loud, uncouth, belligerent, they were the antithesis of everything Borg and Starfleet, which was what made the place so endearing. Not that it was always pleasant; she had gotten into four bar fights in this cantina alone, but that hadn’t happened in two years.
However much he was her soulmate, Luke couldn’t really understand. It wasn’t the need for violence or excitement --she’d had enough for several lifetimes-- she just needed places like this sometimes to satisfy her wanderlust. “Lemonade,” she said simply as she slid up to the bar.
Most of the beings took little notice of her, and with cause. Not long after moving here there had been a little unpleasantness. Luke had made it clear that, Jedi or no, the consequences would be dire if anyone tried messing with her again, and word had spread. Still, Tatooine drew all kinds passing through. “[I thought you didn’t serve their kind here,]” a Talz said with contempt. Borg tended to attract attention; Annika always attracted attention.
“You can think whatever you like,” Annika replied in the Talz’ own language. Her sub-vocal implant was still a useful device for situation like this. “Well, maybe YOU can’t,” she added, looking him over like a specimen.
The Talz got up. “[We don’t care for the Borg around here,]” he growled, looming over her.
“I didn’t know you were elected group speaker,” she replied. “Nice coat,” she added, indicating the Talz’s fur, “I’ve got several exactly like it in my closet.” She smiled. “Exactly.”
Well, she thought distantly, two years was a long time without any excitement.
She slipped in as all eyes were fixed on the Talz and Seven, unnoticed as she joined her male companion at his table. Like her, he wore a full length tan robe, his hood pulled forward to hide most of his face from view. “How long?” she asked in a low voice.
“She just walked in,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the bartender, just as she was. While the Talz occupied everyone else’s attention, they watched him drop the capsule into the drink. He knew better than to look up at the two of them as he did it.
“I was wondering if she would ever leave that hole of theirs,” the woman muttered. They both stopped talking as the Talz pulled out a hold-out blaster from somewhere. Seven caught the limb as it came around with her left hand, twisting it and driving two fingers into a pressure point. The hand reflexively opened and dropped the blaster. She caught it with her foot, kicked it back up, and snatched it out of the air with her other hand, then jammed it under the Talz’ chin. It had taken just over a second.
The Talz’ breathing was heavy, fear reflected in its compound eyes. Seven just smiled at it, then pressed the barrel a little harder into his chin. “And Flotter the Water,” she said with a slight sing-song voice, “learned that day, there are some games he should not play.” She squeezed and the Talz flinched, then they heard the power pack slide out and hit the floor. She pulled the blaster away and held it out for him. “Now run along, you uncouth lout, or I will have to blow your brains out.”
The Talz waited several seconds, then snatched the blaster and headed for the exit. The bartender didn’t bother asking him to pay, he had been expecting it as much as they had. “It might be safer to kill him,” the man remarked.
“Agreed,” the woman replied. “But pay him first. We don’t want to make enemies among these people. We may need them again.”
“I understand,” he said. They watched as the bartender put the drink in front of Seven while she played absentmindedly with the powerpack. The capsule had dissolved instantly and the powdered substance settled near the bottom. She never thought twice as she sipped at the straw.
“Wait a few minutes,” the woman said to her companion, “then leave through a different exit.” She got up and slipped out. The man watched out of the corner of his eye as she finished off the lemonade and looked about the bar. He keyed data randomly into the datapad in front of him, just to look busy. After a short while he noticed her lull, then he got up. As he stepped through the exit he heard her collapse onto the floor.
“Perfect,” he said to himself. “Absolutely perfect.”
Theoretically there was no difference between the streets of Mos Rosta and their home, but as far as Sebastian was concerned, theory could go suck a power socket. The air hung, enveloping them in unending heat and thick with dust. The streets were especially crowded, but the two Jedi somehow walked through them unimpeded, as if people instinctively stepped out of their way as they passed by.
“Excuse me,” Luke said as he approached a pair of stormtroopers, “I’m looking for someone. Borg, female-“
“Blond hair,” the trooper answered, “nice implants?”
“That’s the one,” Sebastian’s father said, not allowing his smile to reflect his contempt. Yes, never heard that joke before... how original! “Did you see where she went?”
“Watering hole up the road,” he pointed, then resumed his conversation.
Sebastian doubled his pace to keep up with his father. “They don’t make stormtroopers like they used to,” he grumbled.
“You’d think they could send a few less backwards ones out here,” Sebastian said in agreement.
“They’re from the Outer Rim,” Luke answered. “Weren’t you paying attention?”
Sebastian looked at his father. “What does that mat-“
“A Jedi must always be alert,” he interrupted. “Every detail, no matter how seemingly trivial, can be important. You especially, given your memory-“
“Okay, you’re right,” Sebastian said, letting a little of his adolescent rebelliousness take over, “I should pay more attention. From-“ He stopped as his father did. He was about to say something when he noticed it too, the “disturbance in the Force” as it was always described, like a change in the blowing of a wind. He probed inside the cantina in front of them, but sensed nothing unusual.
“Wait outside,” his father finally said. Before he could protest the elder had stepped through the front door. Did he really expect him to listen? Sebastian waited a few seconds outside the door, then slowly crept down the stairs after his father. The inside of the cantina was dark compared to the brightness outside, but he could still see what was going on. His mother’s body was sprawled across the floor surrounded by a representation of a dozen different worlds the young Jedi had never seen. They drew back as his father slowly approached. He could sense the elder’s fear as he knelt down by her side, an echo of the fear in Sebastian’s own heart. He couldn’t feel her, but whether it was because of her ability or because she was... he couldn’t allow the thought to continue.
While his father looked at Annika carefully Sebastian could hear the subdued laughter of the aliens and humans throughout the bar. “What happened?” he finally heard his father ask.
“Restraining bolt,” someone in the crowd said, a remark which got roars of laughter.
“I wouldn’t mind locking her in a few restraining bolts myself,” added another anonymous face in the crowd.
“Come on, do some Jedi magic!” came a cry, which prompted a chorus of agreement and chuckles from the group.
“Jedi is all well and good,” a nice voice said, “but I’ll settle for a medpak.”
“Or in this case, a hydrospanner.”
The laughter was suddenly cut off by a piercing noise, a noise that was perhaps the most recognizable in the universe, a noise Sebastian had heard hundreds of times growing up. The group fell silent as their eyes focused on the newly-lit lightsaber blade. The only other sound was his father’s breathing, heavy and even. He still knelt on the floor in front of Sebastian’s mother, still faced away from the crowd, but something about the pose was all the more imposing. “All right,” he said in a voice that was low and shook just a little, “which one of you dead men hurt my wife?”
After a few seconds, those near the exits began slowly moving out. Sebastian’s father started to turn his head towards them and it became a mad dash. Sebastian leaped out of the way before he was trampled by the escaping mob. Within seconds, the three of them were the only ones left in the bar. “I thought I told you to wait outside,” his father said, turning off the lightsaber.
“You weren’t going to hurt them,” Sebastian said. It wasn’t a question. Despite his appearance, there was no hint of malice from his elder, not even when he gave his threat.
“No,” father said, looking his mother over more carefully.
“You could have used the Force,” Sebastian said. “You could have used it to persuade them to leave, rather than frightening them away.”
“The Force is not a blunt instrument,” his father said reprovingly. “And it is not to be used lightly. There is no spice, no glimmerstim more addictive in the universe than power, and love of power is the path to the Dark Side.”
His father rested his hands on his mother’s face as he took a deep breath. Slowly he felt a warmth spread from him into her, until she was part of the ebb and flow of the Force once again. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Luke,” she said hoarsely, running her hand along the side of his face.
His father smiled, but just a little. “What are you doing here, Annika?” he asked, his voice full of weariness.
“Ah, what an interesting philosophical question,” she replied. She coughed, then looked puzzled. “Hmph, must have been something I drank.”
“Can you walk?” his father asked even as he pulled her to her feet. She stumbled about a bit, so he gave her his shoulder for support.
“Sure, if you can stop the floor from moving.”
“You didn’t get into another fight, did you,” he asked as he led her to the door.
“I’m shocked you’d even think such an awful thing.”
Vessel 1C-711 docked at Imperial Station AQ-13-15. The pilot once again submitted to scans and bored questions before being sent on his way. He made a small purchase at a local shop to help maintain his cover, then found his way to the only bar on the station.
The bartender didn’t pay him much notice. The Ferengi hadn’t changed in the slightest, despite the fact that he had been working here since the station was known as Deep Space Thirteen. Being a hologram had that effect. “What’ll it be,” Quark asked, sounding nearly as bored as the customs agents.
“Whisky synthehol,” he ordered. The drink was served; he never touched it. “I need to speak to someone,” he said a few seconds later.
“I’m someone,” Quark remarked, polishing a glass for no real reason.
“Someone in particular.”
Quark leaned forward and whispered. “Is this your first time looking for information?”
“No, I just don’t enjoy wasting my time.”
“In any case, I can’t help you,” Quark said. “I don’t meet many people I’m likely to remember.”
“This one you would remember,” he replied. “He’s a Cardassian. Elim Garrak.”
“The terrorist?” Quark said with a laugh. “The only way he’d come on this station is if he swallowed a thermal detonator and wanted to blow it up.”
“I understand. But I have something he’ll find very interesting.”
“Really,” Quark answered, not believing a word. “Well if I see him I’ll be sure to pass that along.”
The man dropped a latinum strip on the bar. “Good. He can contact me on this frequency.” Quark picked it up and eyed it as the man slipped off, an Imperial credit besides the untouched glass.
“Jerk,” he remarked as he put the glass in the disposal, then read the strip again. “What kind of name is Nom Anor anyway?”
Last edited by Sonnenburg on 2006-06-21 06:08pm, edited 6 times in total.