Part L (cont'd)
The Borg Queen stepped to Admiral Cirule's side as they watched. The shield buckled and gave, and the full force of the superlaser struck the planet. It ripped through the layers until the core was breached, and then it burst, shattering the world into bits of starlight and rubble.
Around them, the Vong ships floated, but it was clearly inertia, nothing more. No will filled their simple minds to fight, they simply floated, free of the malicious thoughts of the Hive. The Vong menace was finally, fully wiped from the galaxies... and that meant that the war that had waged for ten long and tragic years had finally ended... that peace was finally here.
"Congratulations," the Doctor said, "it's a boy." Tears and sweat covered Laudica's face, but beneath it was nothing other than pure joy. The Doctor placed the baby in her arms, and she wept, she was so happy. Han patted her shoulder and smiled a little at his grandson.
"Did you two work out a name?" Han asked, watching the rocking form in Laudica's arms.
Laudica nodded. "Luke," she said. "Luke Solo."
Han let out a small chuckle. "Nice choice," he said. "Very nice choice.
Mara Skywalker and Captain Seven of Nine sat in the shuttle, waiting for the Visage -their Visage- to lock on to their distress signal and pick them up. The anomaly was gone, and their galaxies were safe again. They only hoped that Annika had been able to finish what she needed to do, but they knew they would never know. Seven looked over at her friend. “There’s something you should know,” she said. “What I said in the storage room wasn’t exactly accurate... the fact is that I never stopped caring about Luke as, as more than a friend. The other me didn’t make me do those things... all she did was make me do what I’ve been wanting for a long time.” She swallowed and looked away. “Don’t misunderstand... I could never hurt you. Luke is a very special man, and he deserves someone worthy of him, and he’s got her.” She forced a smile to her face. “I’m just glad that, for a little while, he thought that someone could be me.”
Mara cleared her throat; she couldn’t look at Seven. “Swear you will never tell anyone this.”
Seven blinked. “Of course. What is it?”
Mara closed her eyes. “One time, on his birthday, he asked me to wear the Borg hologram.”
Seven stared, then started laughing, and Mara quickly joined in. “That... that I would have liked to have seen.”
“Yeah,” Mara said, then managed to stop laughing. “Seven,” she said, taking her hand, “there are parts of his heart that will always belong to you... as much as it may drive me crazy,” she said with a grin. “That you can be my best friend when by all rights you should hate my guts says that, well, that maybe Luke made the wrong choice.” She looked down. “God, I’ve missed him so much... we’ve been apart before but this, trapped in those places, wondering if I would ever see him again...” She looked up into Seven’s eyes. “Maybe your counterpart had the right idea. Maybe there comes a point when you need to stop fighting to stay alive and just live. Maybe it’s time he and I stopped being the Emperor’s Hands and become Luke and Mara Skywalker.”
“I can’t imagine you settling down,” Seven said.
“I couldn’t imagine you doing it either, until I met the you that did... and saw how truly happy she was.”
Seven nodded. “Even if you leave, know that there will always be a place for you on my ship.”
Mara squeezed her hand. “And there will always be a place for you in our lives.”
Admiral Cirule and the Borg Queen beamed onto Cube Prime. “What’s the damage to the Collective?” he asked as they began walking.
“Extensive,” she admitted. “But we will recover... we are Borg.”
“Fleet’s not much better off,” Cirule said. “Between the annexation, the loss of your ships, and this fight...”
“Hopefully we will not require them any time soon,” the Queen said.
Cirule let out a small laugh. “True. We’ve been fighting a war for so long I’ve forgotten to think in any other way.” An officer quickly came up and presented a datapad. Cirule took it, nodded, and continued on his way. “Assaults on the Vong processing centers have all been successful; no resistance at all. Yeah, this war’s over, it’s just a little tidying up of the galaxy.”
The Borg Queen nodded. “It is regrettable he couldn’t live to see the peace he worked so hard to bring.”
“Yes,” Cirule said grimly. “And I don’t know how this is going to work without him,” he said under his breath.”
“If there is nothing further, admiral, I must tend to the Collective. Will you...?”
Cirule nodded. “I’ll break the news,” he said. “I owe him that much.”
The twin suns of Tatooine were low in the sky; they hadn't risen high enough to scorch the air yet, but in time they would. But that was no concern to those gathered here. Han Solo and his daughter Jaina stood together; next to them was Anakin and Laudica, the latter cradling the latest addition to their family. Before them the mortal remains of a lost member of that family had been laid to rest alongside the grave of her husband. Life had conspired countless times to keep them apart, but Han had made certain that death would be another story.
Their respects paid, the small group returned to where the Millennium Falcon sat amongst the dunes. Molly O'Brien, her new artificial eyes shaded in the growing brightness, stood up at their approach, along with Sakonna and the rest of the surviving Jedi. They had done the same earlier for Annika and the Jedi that had fallen trying to topple the Sith, acknowledging the sacrifice and offering a silent thanks for the safer place the galaxies had become because of it. There were prices to be paid, of course; no one had escaped the battle unmarked, whether it was with cybernetic limbs or artificial organs, but they knew they were the lucky ones.
Well, not lucky... that would imply an element of chance.
"Everyone inside," Han said. "Next stop: Earth."
The group climbed into the Falcon and the ramp rose. Without another word Han found his way into the cockpit. Kilana was in the co-pilot seat running through the pre-flight checklist; over the years he'd taught her enough piloting to handle it without a problem. Behind her, Roger was going over the diagnostics, and across from him sat Six, who was double-checking the navigational data. They were a hodge-podge if Han had ever seen one, and that made them the perfect crew for a ship like this. "Are we ready to go?" he asked.
"Just give me a minute," Roger said. There was an angry buzz. "Er, make that two minutes." Another buzz. "Five at the most." Han shook his head and slipped out of the cockpit and found a seat in the back away from everyone else. Jaina soon found him.
"Why don't you stay at the Academy?" she asked. Han couldn't look at his daughter; she took his hand. "We'd love to have you."
Han kissed Jaina's hand and pulled her close, just like when she was little. "You know why I hated Luke so much?" he asked. Jaina said nothing. "Because I did nothing all day but think about how empty the place was without Chewie there. Since then I've buried a brother, a son, a wife, and now a sister, and I've come to one conclusion," he looked over into her eyes. "I don't grieve well when I sit around and watch life go on around me. It eats away at me, and all that's left is a bitter man that... that I really can't stand being around. I need to move, I need to keep busy... that's just a part of who I am, kid." He kissed the top of her head. "I may be old out here, but in here," he tapped the side of his head, "I'm still running spice for Jabba through an Imperial blockade."
Jaina laughed and snuggled closer to him, clearly trying not to get teary-eyed. "You're not planning on smuggling, I hope."
"Naw... but I'll see what things turn up. Scoundrel like me, hey! We can always find some kind of dirty work." He looked up as Six entered. "Has Roger finished breaking the ship?" he asked.
"Yes, we've managed to correct everything he did to fix it," Six said. "Whenever you're ready, captain." She slipped out. Han turned and kissed Jaina on the cheek.
"I'll visit often," he promised.
"You better," she said.
"You're doing great things with the Academy... I'm sure your mother would be at least as proud as I am if she could see it."
Jaina smiled. "Thanks... we'll keep a room open for you... and an open landing pad."
Han got up and walked towards the cockpit, but paused as he saw Anakin holding his grandson. Anakin looked up from the boy to his own father. "I can't believe I almost missed this," he said distantly. "Bastian was right... he was so right." He rocked the baby just a little. "One look at him, and nothing can ever be the same again... and I'm not sorry for that."
Han patted his son on the shoulder as Laudica came up and kissed her husband's cheek, staring down at the little life they'd brought into the galaxy. Han left them and entered the cockpit. "Are we ready?"
"All set, captain," Kilana said.
Han looked at the dusty world through the canopy. He didn't plan to come back. There were too many memories there... and he wanted the ones he carried with him here. That cocky young kid who showed him he wasn't just talk when he climbed in that turret. The stuck up noble who'd shared a stolen kiss. An old furball who had crawled into every nook and cranny trying to find problems. A smirky Borg who never stood still even when she should have been dead on her feet. A smooth operator who helped him shift some less than legitimate cargo. A boy who beamed at his old man for letting him handle the controls of this ship. The Falcon was a thing, true... but that didn't mean it wasn't important.
The old freighter lifted off the dusty world and passed over the twin suns, rising towards the place where the sky meets the stars. Like its owner, it never did well sitting still either.
Kathryn Janeway stood in the cave with her newly constructed equipment. She had some new theories, some involving the bending of light -hence the need for the large mirrors Garak had provided, though they weren't properly installed yet. She was just finishing the power-up sequence when there was the sound of thunder, and she looked about her lair in confusion. It came again, and then electrical arcs, blasting into the equipment and breaking the mirrors, glass lacerating her skin. Then a figure dropped out of the air and landed in a heap nearby. Cautiously, Janeway approached; her newly-honed Sith abilities advised her to be careful. "Hello?" she asked. "Who are you?" The figure didn't move. She pulled back the hood, and stared in horror at the face.
The Oracle's eyes sprung open, and she grabbed Janeway. She was dying; she needed lifeforce to live, to fight, to grow strong, to resist, to conquer the galaxies, to get her revenge! Dark energy traveled up their limbs together until there was a final thunderclap, and Janeway dropped to the floor, eyes open in shock, dead.
The Oracle got to her feet, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs. What happened? It was instinct; it was- She looked at the dead woman before her. "Oh no," she whispered. "Not again." She felt for a pulse, but there was nothing. "Not again!" She put a hand to her head; she had to think! "I can resuscitate her," she said. "I have the power. I just need time." She looked about. "I'll need a stasis chamber to keep the body in until then, just to be safe." She paced about frantically. "Can't have a temporal paradox. Paradoxes are dangerous things. Paradoxes will swallow you up. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a vacuum in time even more so." She had to restore her past self to retain the time continuum, or who knows what could happen to her. It could all happen again, just like last time, and the time before, and the time before... She could see it so clearly in her mind's eye, her path through time, becoming an arc that turned in on itself and became a loop, an inescapable loop, looking like... like a six...
She put a hand to her head. "But you made a mistake, Seven," she said. "I can do things differently this time... I just... there's so much to remember... I'll... I'll need to acquire more power, devote myself more to my research. Can't run around and do everything. I'll... I'll find an apprentice... yes, someone to do the dirty work for me. Have him kill my enemies so that I won't have to. A Skywalker, perhaps... it would be deliciously ironic." She stopped in her steps and looked at the cracked mirror before her; she had stepped between the two. For some reason, the sight caused the word "Prometheus" to pass through her mind, but it was unimportant.
"This time will be different," an infinite number of Janeway's said. "This time it won't be like any of the others... this time will be the last time... this time I'll win... I must win... I am Kathryn Janeway, Sith Master, and time is my servant..." As her lips moved, countless voices spoke the same. "I will not die... cannot die... this will never be allowed to end..."
Sebastian opened his eyes, and he was elsewhere. If this was what being one with the Force meant, it was a bit of a letdown. After a few seconds, though, the memory popped up... an old court on Earth during its dark period, and a setting relished by Species 47, better-known as- "Q," Sebastian said aloud.
"I hope you don't mind a little diversion on your way to wherever good little Jedi go when they're reduced to atoms," Q said. He was lounging on one of the stands, dressed in the uniform of a Starfleet captain. "I thought we might chat a little, get to know one another better."
"Why?" Sebastian asked as his eyes narrowed.
"Such suspicion," Q said. "And you don't even know me."
"I know enough," Sebastian said. "I doubt you brought me here for my well-being."
Q turned and sat up. "I'm hurt. You wound me, Bastian, like a superlaser to the heart, and you would probably understand that better than anyone." Sebastian dropped onto a bench, still exhausted from his ordeal. "Not the smartest of decisions, volunteering to stand on a planet about to be pulverized."
"It was necessary," Sebastian said, a little more forcefully than was required.
"It was necessary to go down, but why couldn't you have escaped?"
"There was no way to escape."
"You didn't even consider it," Q said with dripping accusation. "You went to that planet to end yourself as much as the Vong... you wanted to die there."
"That's not true."
"Lie to yourself boy, but don't bother lying to me. I've been doing it much longer than you have."
Sebastian folded his hands and stared at them. "My task's done," he said softly.
"Of stopping the Vong," Q said. "But the work, the real work, is about to start. It's one thing to bring Klingons and Romulans together in a time of war, but quite another to do the same during peace. Holding billions of worlds together now that their common enemy is gone, giving them a reason to remain united... well, that's not an easy task, is it? Sounds rather daunting, in fact." He lounged back. "Probably the work of a lifetime."
Sebastian closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Yes," he whispered.
"To have to have all the answers," Q said. "To solve their problems even while people curse you for how you choose to go about it. It would be a most thankless job."
Sebastian's expression bore bitter agony. "It would be a curse."
Q nodded. "So, you'll let it all fall apart then?"
"The Sith and the Vong are gone," Sebastian said, his voice dry. "I've done my part."
"Yes," Q said. "But you could do more." Sebastian said nothing. "You could hold them together, if you tried... if you lived..."
"I'm tired," Sebastian said. "And the path... the path is so long..."
Sebastian looked up, and Q was now standing before him. "It would be better to just take the easy way out, right?" he asked, not unkindly. "Even if it meant everything you strove to build falling apart. To be the modern day Alexander in every way, including having your empire collapse with your death."
Tears slipped down his face. "Yes," Sebastian admittedly quietly. Maybe it seemed selfish... but he just didn't have the strength to carry this burden any more.
Q nodded in understanding. "Did Sisko ever tell you that Unity would only come if a price was paid?" Sebastian shook his head. "I'm not surprised... it doesn't paint a very good picture of it, if it demands so much."
"What is the price?" Sebastian asked.
"It's very steep, I'm afraid," Q said as he turned away and walked a short distance. A monitor lit up, and he looked at it; people were milling about on Cube Prime. "They need you, you know."
"The people can get along without me," Sebastian said, though he couldn’t look at them while he said the words.
"Oh no, I wasn't referring to them," Q said. "No, they need you... more than the galaxies do."
It took Sebastian a few seconds to understand what he meant, then he looked up at the monitor. The crowd parted, and there stood Jorri talking to Admiral Cirule; she was crying. "What's going on?" he demanded.
Q looked very serious. "She, and her baby, need you, Bastian."
"Jorri's dead!" Sebastian said. "Don't kriff with me!"
"'They're going to take it all away from you, Sebastian,'" Q quoted. "Who says you can't take it back?" Sebastian stared at his wife on the monitor. "Jorri never died at Wormhole Station. That event has been... corrected."
Sebastian's jaw trembled, but he couldn't accept it. "Jorri's death was the catalyst," he said. "You can't undo that without-"
"I know," Q said. "To warp reality to accommodate this is beyond the power even of the Q."
"I'm not working alone," Q said. "Others have lent their power to this task."
"To pay a debt we owe to someone who feels that Unity is too important to throw away," Q said. "Someone who knows that no matter what, the price must be paid."
"No, someone else."
"Does it matter?" Q asked. "I've watched you, Bastian, since before you were even born. I know exactly what's going through your mind. Look at her. Not a dream, not a trick, not a hologram... not an alternate reality, parallel dimension, clone, or any other deceit. She - is - real; the real Jorri that you knew and loved. And the little one, Morgan," and the image switched. Instead there was a woman there, and Sebastian saw in her his mother's long golden hair and deep blue eyes... and in her face, so much of the beauty that was Jorri. "Yes, that's her, or will be in time. And as she grows in body so too will her abilities and wisdom." The image pulled back, and she was dressed in gorgeous Jedi robes, standing before a shining building that sat before the rolling shore Sebastian knew was Hawaii on Earth. "She'll become the most renowned Jedi of her time, building on the Academy to restore the Order as an instrument of peace and justice throughout both galaxies, helping to heal all the old wounds and create understanding among former enemies. In ten thousand years, the Jedi Order will still speak with reverence of Morgan Skywalker Fields." Sebastian was smiling as he looked at her, but it faded as she vanished, returning to Jorri's crying face. "But of course, you won't be there for any of that," Q said. "Unless, of course, you want to return. I have the power to send you back, naturally. All you have to do... is ask."
Sebastian's heart was pounding like a steam engine. It would be a lie to say it was more than he'd ever hoped for, because he'd hoped for it every day. But now, with it so close at hand, he was so afraid of losing it, as if the mere act of moving or speaking would shatter this one chance for the only thing he ever truly wanted. "Bring me back to them," he said, a tremor in his voice. "Please."
"I’m not without some mercy," Q said, holding his fingers up ready to snap them, but pausing. "But of course, you know what it costs to deal with Mephistopheles, and this time is no different." He stepped closer to Sebastian. "If you go back, you have to finish what you've started. It will be very, very hard work, and it won't end until the day you die, you understand? You make this choice, and there's no turning back," Q said with a shake of his head. "You become a slave to Unity... that's the price, Bastian. The price of Unity is your life."
When Q spoke, Sebastian could feel the weight of those words, the heaviness of the burden that he would be taking up, so that he would understand fully what he was getting into. His life would be a constant struggle until the day they found him cold and slumped over his desk. It was no light decision to make... it was a commitment to live and die for the cause of Unity.
Still, Sebastian had always said he'd do anything to have them back... apparently someone out there had been listening. They wouldn't take everything... they'd leave him one small thing, one small board to cling to in the endless sea that was this burden. For a man who had been so alone for so long, it was more than enough. "For Jorri, for Morgan," Sebastian said, "my life is a very small price to pay."
The room vanished, and he was back on Cube Prime. Jorri, tears still streaming down her face, looked up, and saw him, and she bolted towards him. He caught her up in his arms and they embraced. "He told me you were dead!" she wailed as she clung to him. "That you died on the planet!"
"Shh, it's all right," Sebastian said, holding her as tight as he dared, afraid he might unwittingly destroy this miracle.
"I knew it couldn't be true," she said. "Because there's no way I could live without you!"
Sebastian buried his face into her hair. "Same here," he said with a sob.
Eventually, amidst the applause of the people on Cube Prime, Sebastian and Jorri returned to their suite. The nanny got the sense of what was happening and slipped off to leave them alone with their daughter. Hand trembling, Sebastian reached out and ran the back of his finger down Morgan's cheek. I’ve so missed you, my little dawn, he thought. "The war's over, Jorri," he said, eyes never leaving his daughter. "I've got a lot to do now... a lot-"
"You have to fulfill your destiny," Jorri said. "I understand. I always knew it'd come to this."
"It won't be easy on us," Sebastian said. "Long days, sacrifices-"
"A hard life," Sebastian said, looking up and into her face. "It's a difficult road ahead for me, Jorri."
"Us," Jorri said. "It's our road." Her hand found his. "And I swear I will never, ever, let you walk it alone." She shook her head. "And even if they take everything else, Bastian, I'll never let them take me away from you." And then she kissed him, and the last echoes of the pain faded away. And without that, Sebastian felt like he could do anything. He could hold the Alliance together, he could solve the problems that plagued it, he could build a society that would last far beyond his years. None of it would be easy, but it would be within his reach, because he knew that if he ever stumbled on the road, he'd always have her -when he didn't have the strength- to carry him.
Sebastian brushed the hair from out of Jorri's face and gazed into her eyes. But, of course, he had a lifetime to do this in. There would be a tomorrow... and when it came there would be time to begin the long journey, but for now... for now he just wanted to make up for all the stolen yesterdays. "Happy anniversary, my love," he whispered, then kissed her again.
The curly-haired gentleman watched the viewer and saw Sebastian pick Morgan up in one arm and wrap another around his wife. "Looks like my work here is finished, wouldn't you agree, K-9?"
"Affirmative," the robot dog said.
Ben Sisko leaned against the console and nodded while he folded his arms. "Thank you," he said. "I couldn't have done it without you."
The Doctor gave a dismissive gesture. "All in a day's work, saving galaxies."
"With the prize you won, you could have had anything," Sisko said.
"Tosh, it wasn't my prize. All I did was believe in him, he did the hard work. And he's right, it really isn't too much to ask. The real question is, will you be able to go through with all this, knowing how it will end?"
"I've already done it," Sisko said.
"Good man. Very rare to find a human with such a firm grasp of time."
"I suppose you'll have to be going then?"
"Oh yes, other worlds to explore, things to understand, busy busy busy." He pulled some levers and turned some dials, but soon paused. "It will work, won't it, Benjamin? Unity?"
"Yes," Sisko said, turning back to the viewer. "The wars are over now, there will just be peace."
"How long do you expect it to last?"
Ben Sisko smiled as he watched Sebastian touch the side of Jorri's face, then kiss her like a man who knew the future would be as wonderful as he chose to make it. "Without end."