A FORCE TO FEAR
SUMMARY: Be surprised
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters from Babylon 5 or Star Wars. I'm just borrowing them. Two of the characters are my own creation. I gain nothing by writing this. It is strictly for my own amusement. Any feedback, negative or positive is welcome.
They were gone. That was all there was to it. One moment he had been able to feel them, certain he had a positive lock on their position. Their ship was a clear blip on his sensors.
Then they were gone. He had no way of knowing exactly where they had gone, just that they had vanished. For a moment he considered the possibility that the ship had been destroyed. Perhaps they had even done it themselves, to keep him from finding their hidden base. This was a vector through hyperspace that no one had ever explored before. It was possible he was even getting close to their rumored home world.
He dismissed the idea almost immediately. If they had died he would have almost certainly felt the death screams of so many telepaths. So what happened?
"We're through Lyta." The pilot turned to the head of the Resistance. Lyta didn't answer immediately. She was too busy looking. The familiar red and black clouds of hyperspace had vanished, replaced by streaks of light against a black backdrop. The pilot smiled. "Your first time?"
Lyta nodded. "It's incredible. Where are we?"
"We're not entirely sure. There are theories of course, but no way to prove any of them. In about an hour, we'll drop out of… whatever this is… and arrive at the system where we've got our primary staging area set up. From there, well there are lots of places for refugees to go."
One of the exploratory ships the Narn had provided had discovered the passage a month before. They had immediately dropped out of hyperspace, in an effort to return to normality. When they did that, they found themselves in a completely different area of space. None of the stars were familiar to them. There had been a brief panic before the captain had turned the ship around and reentered hyperspace. Once there, they stopped and waited, scanning the area. The readings they got were not that different from those they got in normal hyperspace.
It was mostly because of the differences that the anomaly stuck out like a sore thumb. The scanners showed it as a lack of something. It did not read like a jump point at all. It was just a hole in what should be there. A few of the telepaths aboard had been scientists. They spent hours, then days examining data and spinning theories. They had even devised two new methods of scanning the anomaly. They learned little more than that it was a stable gate of some sort. It led from one place to another, although where or what that other place was, no one knew.
It had taken some time, but they had eventually convinced the captain to test their theories by reentering the anomaly and emerging in hyperspace exactly where they had left. They then turned around and went through again. Careful mapping at each side had fixed a set of coordinates for each side of the passage. When that was done they began to explore.
The nearest system contained nothing of interest. It had two planets, both of them inhospitable. They visited two more systems before they found a world they could use. It was an Earth-like world with compatible organisms for food and a fairly hospitable climate. Three days of exploring the planet and they were satisfied. This was the best place they had found yet.
Since the anomaly was invisible on their side unless you knew what to look for, there was little or no chance of the Psicorp finding it or them. The evacuation began.
The ship carrying Lyta returned to normal space as it entered the system. They weren't the only new arrival though. One of their ships was just entering orbit of the second planet. They began to pick up a great deal of com chatter between the planet and the ship.
"Wonder what all the excitements about?" the pilot murmured.
Lyta glanced at him and shrugged. "Guess we'll find out soon enough."
"There were humans there. We counted almost a dozen races we'd never seen before," the man reported, "but there were humans."
The recently returned explorer ship had been out on the ever-expanding rim of what the telepaths considered known space. Their new home world was in a very isolated area. They had visited all of the neighboring systems and found nothing that could interest anyone. Now, that had most definitely changed.
The ship had entered a new system to discover an inhabited world. It wasn't merely inhabited, either. It was some sort of way station for trading vessels. There had been seven different types of ship in orbit, none of them even remotely familiar. They had sat out at the edge of the system and just listened to the com chatter for a while.
The planet belonged to a race called the Bothans, and it was a trading post for races out on the rim. The Bothans, it seemed, were part of something rather like the Interstellar Alliance back home. A group of races that followed one government they referred to as the New Republic. The most startling discovery came with the arrival of a ship from a world called Corellia. The visuals they pulled out of the transmission they were tapping confirmed that the pilot was human.
Although it was a huge risk, they approached the planet to gather more information. Because the business of the ship was exploration they had some of the best decryption and translation software available, so the language barrier had not been a problem. Their arrival had raised an eyebrow or two, but unfamiliar ships were not uncommon, so no one had paid them too much attention. They had managed to trade a few goods for landing rights and proceeded to look around.
They had picked up language tapes, cultural and historical information, and as much data about the technology as possible. Then they had left, taking a circumspect route back, even though their information indicated that these people lacked the technology to track them after they had entered hyperspace.
"Incredible," Lyta said as she finished reviewing the information. "They overthrow this Empire and set up a peaceful government, not unlike the Interstellar Alliance. But since they had a model to base their government on, theirs is a lot more stable. The races seem to get along much better as well. There's none of the infighting we've seen in the Alliance or at least not nearly as much."
"Well," Captain Ta'lon put in, "they have had a lot more practice at it. Apparently, before the Empire arose, the Republic had lasted for thousands of years."
"So, what next? I see no reason to approach these people. They don't know we're here and since this region is so uninteresting it is unlikely they will discover us any time soon." She considered carefully. "We should continue to gather information, though. Visit some of the closer worlds and find out whatever there is to learn about the New Republic and their neighbors."
Over the next year, refugees poured through the passage. The human telepaths finally had what they wanted, a home world of their own.
During that year, they were careful to keep their existence a secret from their neighbors. In addition to the Bothan trading post, there was a mining colony of the insect-like Aldreen and the home world of a pre-FTL race known as the Brinn. They left all three alone, tending to their own affairs. Sixteen months after the discovery of the anomaly, there was a respectable colony on the world they decided to call Camelot.
Lyta thought it a silly name, overly sentimental and bordering on arrogant at the same time, but the others seemed happy with it.
She spent some time at Camelot, but there was really too much work to do back home. The Resistance was growing stronger, but the Psicorp was still a dangerous and increasingly ruthless enemy. They had become much bolder in their disobedience of Earthgov of late. Lyta suspected that they were building toward something big. Maybe, she thought, they felt cocky enough to try a takeover.
It was all the more reason to step up their plans and get out as many telepaths as they could. And the number that wanted to leave had gone up enormously. Lyta wasn't the only one who believed that a storm was on the horizon and she certainly wasn't the only one who wanted to be well away from Earth when it broke.
As she walked down the main street of the colony, she felt a flash of pride at what they had accomplished. There were almost a thousand telepaths on Camelot, and the town they had built continued to grow. It had been pretty ramshackle at first. The early arrivals had lived in tents and prefab shelters while they explored their new world and learned its dangers.
Camelot had no large predators. At least none that posed a serious threat to humans. Disease was another matter. So far two new strains of bacteriological infection had been discovered as well as an extremely irritating fungus. All of them had responded well to broad-spectrum antibiotics, but this was still a largely unexplored planet.
The only town on the planet was located in the southern hemisphere, in an area very like the American mid-west. It proved to be an excellent place for farming and there was an incredible variety of animal life. Only a few of the crops they had brought from home had thrived, but there were native plants in abundance, many of which proved to be edible.
The town, no one had bothered to name it as there was only one, was growing to a plan. The design was laid out similar to colony towns all over the human colony worlds. New arrivals built houses and plowed the land, or they set up workshops of various sorts as they saw fit or were needed. Basically, they got on with the business of living.
We were lucky, Lyta reminded herself. The planet seemed almost perfect for their needs. It had its problems, but all in all, Lyta had to admit they could have done much worse. Another Earth-like planet had been discovered thirty light years out toward the rim. It boasted harsh deserts and large frozen, polar regions but little else. Although it would support human life, it would never be a pleasant place to live. It had been marked, though, as a potential fall back site as well as a source of raw materials.
She set aside such thoughts as she turned into the Planning Office. There, amidst blueprints and drafting tools and maps of the region surrounding the town, Lyta found Henry James. "Hello Henry." He looked up and nodded.
"Good morning, Miss Alexander. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes. You can pack. You're going for a trip."
Captain Ta'lon of the explorer ship Santa Maria settled himself in his chair in the conference room. He looked to Lyta Alexander and her companions. One, he knew in passing. Henry James was one of the colony planners, remarkable for his youth. He had a tremendous amount of responsibility for a 21 year-old boy. He was a P-12 and a telekinetic as well as a telepath.
The other was Hispanic and a few years older. He was a rather plain looking man, the sort that got overlooked easily. Perhaps, Ta'lon realized, that was the point.
He looked to Lyta. She nodded. "Let's begin, then." She looked at each in turn before continuing. "Henry, Thomas, I have a very important job for you. We've learned of a training ground for psionics in the New Republic. We have very little information about this 'Jedi Academy' as it's called. I want you two to go there and find out everything you can about it." She glanced at Henry and nodded, obviously answering a question that Ta'lon wasn't equipped to hear.
He tried not to be annoyed at this; he had gotten used to the silent conversations. But it did annoy him when he was part of the conversation. Lyta glanced at him sharply, but her expression softened.
"I'm sorry, captain. I did ask you to be here." She leaned back in her chair regarding the Narn with a genuinely apologetic look. That's a bad habit to get into. She chided herself. It's rude, and I need to make allowances for norms.
"We don't have any information on these Jedi as they are called. It seems that having and manipulating psi powers is the center of some sort of religion. They could be as dangerous to us as the Psicorp. They could be allies against the Corps if it comes to that. The bottom line is, we don't know, and we have to find out."
While they absorbed this, Lyta fished a data crystal out of her pocket and put it in the viewer built into the table. She could feel their curiosity and growing nervousness, and she knew that what she had to say next would not be well received.
"The three of you will go to the planet Tatooine. From there, you will make your way to the planet Yavin where the Academy is located. I want you to acquire a small ship along the way. It will be less conspicuous than one of the explorer ships.
"Ta'lon, once they are safely in place at the Academy, I want you to go to the library at a place called Obra'Skai. It's said to be dedicated to the history of the Republic. Gather whatever information you can and return here. Go by the Jedi Academy on your way back to check on them and to pick up their first status report yourself. I don't know how long this will last, and I don't know what troubles you may find there." She nodded to Thomas.
"You are an experienced pilot, and you used to be a psi-cop. I want you to make yourself familiar with their ships, especially how to get around the security devices. You may have to steal a ship if things go sour."
There were questions asked and plans made and altered over the next three hours. Some of those plans had to be altered again as new information about Tatooine, the Jedi, and other aspects of the situation filtered in. Finally, though, they were ready. It seemed that the desert world was controlled by a powerful criminal syndicate whose upper tiers were made up entirely of Hutts, a most unpleasant species by all accounts. It made acquiring an untraceable ship easier, but increased the risk in other ways. Two weeks after the initial meeting, though, all preparations had been made.
Jaina Solo watched the transport descend toward the landing field. The arrival of new students was always something of an event at the Jedi Academy. There were two new arrivals today, and since Master Skywalker was on Corruscant, she had been asked to greet them and show them around before presenting them to Tionne, the Jedi historian who served as instructor when Luke Skywalker was away.
Tionne was conducting a lecture at the moment and couldn't greet the transport herself. So Jaina and Lusa, a childhood friend, were serving as the welcoming committee.
The transport touched down lightly and they moved forward to meet the passengers as they disembarked. Two men, one only a few years older than Jaina, the other apparently about 30 came down the boarding ramp. The younger one smiled, he felt open and friendly. The older was more reserved.
"Welcome to the Jedi Academy. I'm Jaina Solo and this is Lusa. We've been asked to get you settled and give you a tour of the place before taking you to meet some of our instructors."
They both nodded and the older one stepped forward. "I am Thomas Diego. This is Henry James." He hesitated a moment giving them an appraising look. "We appreciate the opportunity afforded us to study here." Henry nodded and grinned at her.
"I already know I'm going to like it here." Jaina blushed slightly and smiled.
"Okay Henry, Thomas, let's get started on that tour."
Their greeting wasn't what they expected. Rather than being greeted by security forces and going through a lengthy processing procedure they were met by two students and given a tour of the place. The most talkative of their guides was a human girl of about 15 or 16. She had an open enthusiastic nature that surprised both of them. During the entire tour, Henry kept up a steady stream of chatter while Thomas dropped his defenses and listened. This was a technique they had employed before with great success.
One of the pair would serve as a distraction, fully engaging the people they met and spoke to, while the other would simply listen. An active scan of another telepath would have attracted attention and caused the target to raise their defenses, but a passive scan would go unnoticed while often turning up more interesting information.
At least, that was how it usually worked. The two Jedi were just what they claimed to be. Thomas got no indication of suspicion or even reservation. Both of them were as open and friendly as they made out.
Ah well, that is to be expected in teenage students I suppose. I should get more from the instructors. He continued to listen with his ears and his mind as the two Jedi showed them about the place. There were dozens of alien races at the academy. All who greeted them were polite enough, but Thomas sensed a sadness in some of the older students. It didn't seem to have any specific source, though. There was no particular thing that depressed them, at least not that could be detected by simply picking up on surface thoughts and emotions.
Henry and the Solo girl were getting on well. She had already told them quite a lot about the history of the place and some of the key people involved. Henry stuck to the cover story they had worked out and was suitably vague when necessary.
Thomas answered the few questions that were sent his way. Mostly though, their attention stayed focused on Henry. The boy was definitely beginning to impress Thomas. He kept his head, sticking to their story and doing a first rate job of distracting their hosts while not arousing any suspicion. Very good indeed, Thomas thought. They would have made an excellent team had they both stayed with the Psi-cops.
That thought brought him up short. He grimaced at the memory and quickly returned his focus to the job. He definitely didn't need to be thinking about the Corps, or the events that led to his hasty departure.
The place itself intrigued him. In some ways, it made him homesick. The temple was very similar to Aztec architecture, the jungle, not unlike those of Mexico where he had grown up. He had always had a keen interest in archeology, and the similarities intrigued him. It would be interesting to look into the history of the people who built the place.
Eventually, they were brought before one of the instructors a humanoid named Tionne. She was not a strong psi, but she obviously held a position of authority. Tionne made no efforts to scan them or even to listen to surface thoughts, as far as Thomas could tell. She greeted them warmly, and accepted them for what they claimed to be.
"We are always happy to have new students to train in the ways of the Force. More come to us each year, but still the Jedi are spread only thinly across the New Republic." She regarded them keenly and Thomas felt something, not a scan exactly, sweep across his awareness. It was over before he could raise his defenses, and the experience left him feeling very exposed.
"I see you are both strong in the Force. With proper testing we will determine exactly how strong." She smiled in a reassuring manner. "But it is your first day here. We don't want to put any undue pressure on you." She addressed Jaina next.
"Jaina, why don't you show them their quarters and let them freshen up. They can come to the lecture this afternoon." She turned back to the new arrivals. "The subject is Jedi history and purpose. You will find it most enlightening."
Thomas and Henry took that as a dismissal and followed Jaina out, trying not to look as eager to leave as they felt.
"Did you feel that?" Thomas asked, as soon as they were alone. "I've never felt a scan like that before."
Henry shook his head. "I don't know. She couldn't have learned much from such a quick scan. I think she was just generally getting a feel for us. Maybe it was a test to see how we would react?"
"Possible," Thomas mused. "It was certainly a surprise. Perhaps she was testing our reactions. She wanted to see if we would try to shield ourselves."
"What would that tell her?" Henry asked with a slight frown.
"That we know how to shield ourselves, that maybe we're not the novices we claim to be." It was a disconcerting thought, and one that stayed with them while they readied themselves for the afternoon lecture.
Tionne readied herself for the lesson in private. It was one of the first lessons a Jedi learned, and one that was repeated regularly as a reminder. She had given it many times and always looked forward to giving it. Even the older students would be attending. One of the Jedi masters, whose life she had studied used to say, "The truth can never be repeated to often."
A statement of purpose, a reminder of what it meant to be Jedi, could never be out of place. It was especially appropriate now, given the attendance of the two new students that had just arrived. She thought about them as she finished her ablutions and donned a fresh Jedi robe. There was pain in the older one, well hidden, but there for those who had eyes to see. She knew that she had shocked them with her scrutiny, although how and why wasn't quite clear.
She had opened herself to the Force to gain some insight into them. That act alone had caused them to flinch and raise walls. Tionne shook her head in puzzlement. They felt like basically decent people, but there were depths there that she suspected it would take time and patience to plumb. Fortunately, she had adequate amounts of both.
The main meeting hall of the Jedi Academy was only about half full. Many of the students were off planet or were practicing their skills in private. Tionne always drew a respectable crowd, though, and Thomas and Henry found themselves seats near the back of the crowd.
They spotted their guides from earlier in the day sitting with a group of other students. Most of them were human, but one was a large hairy creature that resembled the old Earth legend of the Sasquatch. He seemed to communicate in growls, whines, and bellows. Thomas listened briefly, but couldn't detect any sort of pattern to the sounds, but since the others responded and even laughed, he figured it must be some form of speech. He adjusted his translator and settled in to listen, speculating quietly on what approach the instructors would take.
They shifted their attention to the stage as Tionne came in. Thomas watched curiously as she took a stool at the front of the audience. She was carrying what looked like a musical instrument of some sort. The Jedi historian smiled at them and thanked them for their attendance, and then she began to speak of the Jedi. She told them of the earliest days of the Old Republic and of the Jedi that guarded that fragile structure.
"The Jedi grew as the Republic grew. For more than a thousand generations, they were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic, before the rise of the Emperor."
Thomas had been expecting a standard indoctrination, rather like the one he had received when he was brought into the Psicorps. This was a slightly different approach. It was subtler than anything the Psicorps used. That was probably due to the religion angle he thought. Where Psicorps dressed its people in military style uniforms and acted like soldiers, these people wore robes and acted like monks. It was a fine approach, but Thomas wasn't buying it.
Well, he thought, surprising himself with his cynicism, they have had a lot longer to practice. Woven into the history were moral lessons that a potential Jedi needed to learn. What unnerved both of the new arrivals were Tionne's references to the Dark Side.
Thomas Diego had had a traditional Catholic upbringing. He had attended Mass and observed all of the rituals that went with being part of a traditional and very conservative Catholic family in Mexico City. He shuddered to think about it.
The perceived moral superiority and sometimes outright bigotry that seemed defining principles in much of what he had been taught, had lingered with him for years after he had been taken in by the Psicorps. His parents had worried sick about him being out among soulless aliens and the immoral members of his own race who had not had a proper upbringing.
Now he listened to talk of the Dark Side, and he could not help but think about the sermons on hell and the Devil's easy path that he had had to sit through as a young boy. The 'Dark Side' she spoke of, however, seemed less defined. She talked about fear and hatred. It was more generic than what he was used to. There were no references, specific or oblique to any one group. So they weren't being directed against anything specific, not even the nebulous, all encompassing 'them' that Psicorps instructors sometimes spoke of.
He found himself beginning to wonder. What if these people were making an honest effort to be what they claimed to be? Guardians of peace and justice? The idea was almost laughable, but it was also sad in a way. He knew what the Psicorps was supposed to be, and he knew what it actually was.
Thomas shook his head. If these Jedi had just been starting out he could have believed that their claims were genuine, but they had been around for thousands of years. He could not yet be sure that the Jedi were not some sort of secret ruling class, but he found it difficult to believe that when he looked at the people around him. He just didn't know. I need more information, he decided. That was the only answer he could think of, although a nagging voice in the back of his head told him he was being cynical.
Still, he had time to learn what he needed to know.
Time was running out, and he knew it. Nevertheless, he just couldn't stop looking at all the amazing sights around him. There was so much to see and learn here that could be put to use back home. There were new technologies and goods, new sources of trade to be exploited, and of course, new threats to be assessed. That thought put him back on track. He quickened his pace and soon reached his destination.
"Thomas, Henry! Come on, there's some people I want you to meet." They looked up from their quiet conversation to see Jaina and her friends headed their way. There were seven of them, all under 20. Thomas smiled and nodded to them as they approached. She gestured to them. "These are the new arrivals, Thomas Diego and Henry James." The two nodded politely as they were introduced.
She introduced her brother first. Jacen Solo gave them a lopsided grin and stuck out his hand. Henry extended his own gloved hand but quickly retracted it when Jacen's sleeve moved and a small reptilian head poked out and looked around curiously.
"Oh, sorry about that. I forgot he was there." He quickly extracted an iridescent lizard about nine inches long. "He's really harmless." Jacen held the creature up for inspection. "He just likes warm places." Jaina rolled her eyes.
"Not everyone is as fond of animals as you are Jacen." She gestured to the others. "This is Tennel Ka, from Dathomir." The one-armed teenage girl in brief reptilian hide armor nodded. Her face was studiously neutral.
"This is Zekk." A tall young man with dark hair and emerald green eyes nodded politely. "Raynar Thul," a shorter boy in a brown Jedi robe and a sash so brightly colored that it was almost blinding to look at smiled and shook hands with both of them. The tall ginger furred biped turned out to be Lowbacca. He let out a sound somewhere between a honk and a growl.
"Master Lowbacca says that he is extremely pleased to make the acquaintance of two such obviously promising new Jedi students." The voice seemed to be coming from an oddly shaped badge or decoration on the creature's belt. As they watched, it detached itself and floated toward them on miniature jets.
"Really?" Henry asked, "and here I just thought he said 'hello.'"
The furry creature chuffed in amusement and the others snickered. Thomas regarded the floating oddity suspiciously.
"What…?" he sidestepped as it moved toward him.
"Oh, this is Emteedee. He's a translator droid."
"Indeed mistress Jaina, I am fluent in more than sixteen forms of communication, and can readily learn others." He moved closer to the two new comers, apparently oblivious to their discomfort. "And if I can ever be of service to you as a translator, please do not hesitate to ask. I - Oh dear!"
Thomas had cut him off with a string of Spanish invective and a swat that the small droid barely avoided.
Henry's jaw dropped briefly, but he quickly recovered and stepped in. "I don't think anyone needs a translation of that. Thomas," he explained as the older man watched the droid retreat to the safety of his place on Lowbacca's belt, "does not like droids. He avoids them whenever he can." Henry smiled apologetically. After a moment of glaring at the cowering droid, Thomas nodded, looking embarrassed.
"I'm sorry. I have never liked the idea of machines moving about and thinking as they please. There were no droids where I grew up." This also fit with their cover story. It had been a last minute addition since Thomas had never encountered a droid before going to Tatooine, and they had been an unpleasant shock. There was no denying their utility, but the notion of an entire society being dependent on machines that could move and think on their own was unsettling. "I find it difficult to adapt to such things." The students stared at him curiously for a moment then shrugged it off as a personality quirk.
"It's okay," Jaina said for the group. "Does he bother you too?"
Henry shrugged. "I don't mind droids in general, but I am curious why you would use such an inefficient translator."
"Inefficient!" The little droid huffed. "Why whatever do you mean? Why I…" While he spoke Henry removed a small clip from his earlobe. The ones who had noticed it assumed it was a piece of jewelry. Now he held it up to the little droid. Emteedee heard his own voice chattering on in a language he did not recognize. The droid turned its sensors to examine the device. "Whatever is that?"
"It's a translator. It translates every word I hear verbatim so I can understand it. There is no selective interpretation. It is incapable of deciding how something should be said. It translates everything literally." He replaced the device on his earlobe.
Lowbacca made a thoughtful sound. Emteedee became even more indignant. "Master Lowbacca, really! I cannot imagine why someone would want such a limited device. Why literal translation is all well and good, but the flavor of the message is entirely lost."
The young Jedi looked on tolerantly during this display of computerized histrionics. Thomas made a rather pointed aside to Henry in Spanish, and EmTeeDee stopped at once. "I don't think the flavor of that was lost at all," Henry muttered dryly. The others chuckled, while the little droid sulked.
"What language is that anyway?" Jaina asked curiously. "I've never heard it before."
"Nor have I mistress Jaina, and if making rude comments is all it is good for I don't think I'm missing anything."
Thomas spoke to the small machine at length in his native language, his tone doing most of the translating for him.
Henry found it hard not to laugh, but he stopped Thomas eventually and deftly turned the conversation to other matters. He asked about training and about the instructors. Soon, the matter was behind them. Henry still watched Thomas closely. He had not expected such a strong reaction.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. The two telepaths learned a great deal about the young Jedi and the history of the Academy. They were careful to speak only vaguely of their homes. A few well rehearsed anecdotes and the names of places that their hosts might recognize, but that were suitably remote were the only reference they made to their pasts.
If the Jedi students found this at all unusual they did not let on. And, again, their surface thoughts revealed no trace of suspicion.
Over the next two weeks, their training continued smoothly. The techniques they learned were reminiscent of some of the Psicorps training that new telepaths received. The Jedi were taught to defend themselves, but there was much more to it.
All of them were trained as warriors, but some concentrated on healing, and some on negotiation. They learned that some of the Jedi would go into the New Republic military but not many. There seemed to be no fixed position for Jedi in the society. Once their training was complete they would be turned loose to follow their own paths. The Jedi were not an organized peace keeping force like the Corps. They also learned that the Order had not always been managed so loosely. This new generation of Jedi were trying to find a new place and path for themselves.
It made little sense to Thomas and Henry, but they kept silent and watched and learned. In all this time, they had yet to meet Master Skywalker. The Jedi master had been away on business for some time. None of the instructors or students, they learned, knew precisely where he was.
Actually, the two telepaths were glad of this coincidence. Thomas had found the run in with Tionne disturbing enough. He wasn't sure he wanted to meet her teacher.
It was enough that they were learning a great deal about the Force. The conception these people had of their psionic gifts was very different from the view they had been given by the Corps. Henry wasn't sure he liked it, and Thomas was sure he didn't.
"They've cloaked it in mystery and turned it into a quasi-religion. It reminds me of the Drazi Hu'rosi."
Henry blinked, looking thoughtful. "Hu'rosi? Weren't they some kind of cult?"
"That's right. They believed their telepathy was a gift from the Universe, that it set them above the rest of their race as a 'chosen people.'" Thomas shook his head. "I'm sure you remember how that ended." The cult had isolated itself and come out only to preach their own superiority, and to attempt to entice other telepaths to join them. Drazi authorities had eventually had to crack down when rumors began circulating about a stockpile of weapons and a plan by the cult leaders to overthrow the government. The rumors had turned out to be false, but by the time that was learned all of the Hu'rosi and many normal Drazi were dead.
Henry shook his head. "If something like that were going to happen," he disagreed, "it would have happened long ago. I think you're over reacting. It's not so much a religion as a philosophy, although it's not entirely that either." He trailed off, at a loss to explain what he meant.
Sighing, Thomas sat down on the bunk next to him. "I know. My own biases are interfering. I've been a knee-jerk hater of organized religion for a very long time." He smiled when Henry stared at him incredulously.
"I suppose that sounds strange coming from a Mexican with a traditional Catholic upbringing."
Henry nodded. "A little. What happened? If I'm not prying," he hastened to add.
"S'all right. I don't really have a good answer to that. My family is old and influential. They are very proud of their heritage and proud of their faith. They were very strict in their observation of catholic doctrine, and they looked down on those who were not as diligent in their devotions. They certainly wouldn't allow laxness in their own family." He stopped and grimaced at the memories.
"Puritanical Catholics?" Henry asked, raising an eyebrow. The look Thomas shot him made him regret it instantly. "Sorry."
"No. Actually, that is very apt. They were strict in raising me, so strict that I came to hate the very idea of going to church. They were so caught up in the letter of the church doctrine that they neglected the spirit of it." He shook his head, sadly.
"I think I get the idea." Henry looked around for a subject change, and perhaps, a smooth segue to go with it.
"Robes and meditation aside though, they don't appear to be training monks here. I'm not sure the parallel applies."
"Perhaps not. What do you make of their training techniques?" Thomas willingly went along with the change. He was happy enough to get back to business.
"Very effective. I've learned a few things since I've been here. I can block out the voices more completely now. I can focus more clearly on what I want to accomplish with my TK. They know their stuff."
"Yes, they do. Do you think they might pose a threat to us?" Henry was surprised by the question, stated so directly. Thomas raised an eyebrow. "That is, after all, why we're here, to gather information and assess the level of threat they pose."
"Or to determine if they pose one at all," Henry reminded him. "I'm not convinced they're a danger to us."
"We still don't know enough about them." Thomas sighed. "I tend to agree, but that doesn't mean they're trustworthy. They might be inclined to leave us alone, but that doesn't mean they won't betray us to the Corps if it is in their interests to do so."
Henry nodded reluctantly. "We'll have to be careful. We don't know that they wouldn't support us against the Corps, though. What we've learned of their history tends to suggest that they might."
"Perhaps, but high minded ideals have a way of crumbling under pressure. You know the kind or pressure the Corps can exert." Henry shuddered as he remembered some especially terrible events. Some he had only heard of, others, he had been involved in, much to his shame.
"-high-minded ideals have a way of crumbling under pressure. You know the kind or pressure the Corps can exert." Thomas voice came faintly through the closed door. Raynar hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but he couldn't help overhearing what was said as he readied himself to knock on the door to Henry's chamber. He frowned. Core? Could that have been a reference to secret Imperial worlds at the galaxy's core? He'd heard rumors that there were hidden bases there. They all had, but there'd never been any solid proof, and Raynar found it difficult to believe these two were Imperial agents, especially after what had happened to the Shadow Academy.
Almost against his will, he listened. "I don't need to be reminded," Henry said irritably. "I was there too, you know."
"Sorry," Thomas sounded it too. After a moment, he continued. "We have to be careful. It's too soon to be sure of anything yet."
The conversation lost any suspicious qualities at that point. They talked about training techniques and schedules.
After this began, Raynar counted to ten slowly and knocked. There was a mystery here. Perhaps these two could be drawn out. His instincts told him they were not enemies, but that didn't mean they were friends.
His knock brought an end to the conversation. A moment later, Thomas opened the door.
"I was sent to ask you if you wanted to explore some of the ruined temples on the other side of the river. You said you were interested in the history of the builders." Thomas' face brightened.
"Yes, that would be pleasant." He turned to his friend. "Do you wish to come along, Henry?"
"No thanks. I'm going to get in some Meditation time. Enjoy yourself." Thomas nodded and followed the boy from Alderaan.
They met up with his friends at the main entrance to the Great Temple. Jacen and Jaina were there as was the Wookie, Lowbacca. Tennel Ka and Lusa, he was told, had a practice session to attend.
"We'll start with the Temple of the Blue Leaf," Jacen said. "It's one of my favorite places." He babbled on enthusiastically about the history of the temples and the people who had built them. EmTeeDee made occasional noises like he might interject but instead, kept silent. He had begun to do that when Thomas was around. The afternoon passed pleasantly enough.
That evening, Raynar spoke to his friends of what he had overheard. It was not unusual for the two new arrivals to speak in Thomas' native language, which none of them understood, when they were in private. This conversation had been in Basic. They had most likely believed themselves to be safe with everyone else practicing or attending lectures.
"Are you sure they mentioned the core systems?" Jacen asked.
"No" Raynar admitted. "They just used the word 'core.' It may have even been a different word entirely. I do know they felt nervous when they spoke of it. I believe they are afraid of whatever this 'core' is or represents."
"So they, what, came here to get away from it?" Jacen asked, sounding as puzzled as the others felt.
"Maybe," Raynar shrugged. "I think we need to learn more about them, whatever the case."
"What did he say exactly?" Lusa wanted to know.
After a moment of thought, Raynar replied. "They were speaking of the Jedi in general. I heard Thomas say, 'High minded ideals have a way of crumbling under pressure, and you know what kind of pressure the Corps can exert."
Lusa considered this for a moment. Finally she said, "I think you're worrying over nothing. It… has the potential to sound ominous, but it doesn't have a context. They could have been talking about anything."
"Perhaps, but I felt a flash of fear from Henry when this 'core' was mentioned."
"Let's keep an eye on them," Jacen suggested, "but I don't think there's anything to worry about, yet."
They agreed to try to get closer to the two newcomers and learn more about them, discreetly.
As it happened, they didn't have the opportunity. The twins were recalled to Corruscant by their mother. They were required to testify about the activities of the Diversity Alliance. The investigation was almost a year old and new facets of the group's treachery were still being uncovered, much to the dismay and general irritation of the investigators.
The twins were conveyed by special transport to the capitol and spent three days telling three different groups of senators the same things they had told them at the outset of the whole affair. It was tedious in the extreme. Finally, though, it was over.
Jaina walked the streets of the capitol, just glad to be able to stretch her legs and clear her mind after testifying before Senate committees. It would be good to get back to Yavin 4 and the Academy. She missed her friends and instructors. It was good to be home, but this was the kind of visit she could have happily skipped.
Politics. She shuddered delicately. Why did it have to always get back to politics? She stopped suddenly when she heard something. For a moment, it had sounded like someone was chuckling, as if at a private joke, but the source seemed to be inside her head. She stretched out with the Force but sensed nothing unusual.
I must be tired, she thought. She was about to start again when a man stepped in front of her.
"Good evening, miss. I was wondering if you might help me?"
"If I can," Jaina said politely. The man seemed to have come out of nowhere, simply appearing before her. She was startled, but assumed that she simply hadn't been paying attention. Besides, she would have felt him through the Force if he were any kind of threat to her.
"I am looking for several people, perhaps you have seen them."
"I don't think I'll be able to help you. I've only been on Corruscant for three days, and this is the first time I've been outside." Again she reached out through the Force, trying to get a feel for the man, but there seemed to be no threat. In fact, there seemed to be nothing there.
"Not here. I believe you've seen them elsewhere." He held out a flimsy that contained several images, a red-haired woman she had never seen and two people she recognized readily. "They are very dangerous criminals. I am here to apprehend them." Jaina hesitated, tried to appear to be examining the picture. She felt something cold brush her mind.
"You have seen them." The man stated; then he smiled, a decidedly unpleasant expression. Now the alarm bells were sounding, but it was far too late.
Henry sat bolt upright in bed, his heart pounding like a jackhammer. He practically dove out of bed, grabbing at clothes and the few possessions he had. He quickly began stuffing them into the duffel bag he had arrived with.
With an effort he stopped himself. What was he doing? He had had a dream, nothing more. So why was he shaking like a leaf? It was just a dream. The Corps wasn't there. There was no way they could have found the passage, let alone the Academy or Camelot.
He sat on the bunk, still shaking. He used a Jedi calming technique to try to settle himself. It didn't work. He tried again.
It took three tries before his heart rate and breathing began to slow to something resembling normal. Once he was calm enough, Henry closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, just listening. Nothing.
There was no panic, not even worry from anyone in the Academy, and there was certainly no sign of bloodhounds. He began to actually relax. Although calm now, he knew he would not get to sleep. He dressed in a standard Jedi robe and left his room.
Making his way outside, he climbed to the top of the temple. He found a spot at the center of the platform and sat down cross-legged to meditate. He had heard that Jedi sometimes received visions of the future, but he had never believed it. Now, he did. The Corps hadn't found them, yet, but they would. He was sure of it down to his bones. Somehow, though, he doubted he would be able to convince Thomas of that.
Three hours of meditation later he was much calmer, the images from the vision were more focused in his mind, and he was sure there was no immediate threat to those at the Academy. It amazed him how little that reassured him.
He watched the sun rise over the jungle, feeling, if not safer, then at least calmer and more ready to face this potential threat. He had to find Thomas and tell him. That, he decided, is the first order of business.
Thomas was in the main dining hall eating breakfast with Tennel Ka and Lowbacca. The two Jedi trainees seemed to be going out of their way to be friendly and spend time with them. This would have made Henry suspicious a week or so ago, but he had learned that the young Jedi were naturally gregarious. Well, that word could not be applied to Tennel Ka, but she was civil and far more open with them than many people.
Thomas was clearly still suspicious, but he hid it well. He answered their questions about home with suitably vague answers and enough specifics to keep them from getting suspicious.
They were laughing at some anecdote he had just finished when Henry joined them.
"Morning all," Henry put on a false cheerful face. They nodded politely. "Thomas."
"Good morning, Henry." The conversation continued. They talked about trivialities. Henry turned the conversation to the Academy and other students, trying to divert them away from talk of the two men from Earth.
It worked to a degree, but they kept trying to turn it around, and they were less than subtle about it. They gave up when the meal ended and the group split up. Henry pulled Thomas aside to speak to him.
"The lecture is about to begin in the main auditorium," he reminded.
"Forget the lecture, we've got bigger problems."
"I noticed. They were pressing for details. You think they suspect us?" Henry shrugged impatiently.
"Don't know and don't care. Bester is on this side of the passage."
"Keep your voice down. I saw him last night in a dream, a vision, I don't know, but I do know he's found the passage and he's looking for the colony."
"How do you know? What's this about a vision?"
"You've heard the instructors talking about visions of the present and future. I think I had one."
"You've never shown any precognitive abilities before," Thomas pointed out. "Come to that, no telepath has." He sighed, obviously relieved. "You had a bad dream." His friend shook his head emphatically.
"This was more than a dream. It was too real. I tell you the Corps is closing in on us. We have to warn the colony."
"Warn them about what? Even if I buy that you had a prophetic dream do you think you can convince Lyta and the others? It won't work."
This brought Henry up short. Of course they wouldn't act on just his word, especially if he told them he'd seen it in a dream. His frustration showed on his face. "Do you believe me?"
"I think you believe it, but that's not proof that they know about the passage, let alone that they've found us." He took a moment to think. "All right, Bester is a nightmare, there's nothing new in that, but even if you're right and he is here, what do we do about it? Do you know where he is now?" Henry shook his head.
"I saw him coming here, to the Academy, but I'm not sure when or how it will happen. Perhaps," he broached the next subject carefully. "Perhaps we should talk to someone here about it. Not about the Corps or Bester, but about visions in general. It might give us something concrete to go on." Thomas nodded reluctantly.
"That sounds like a reasonable precaution." They began discussing details of whom to approach and how to approach them.
Tionne was surprised when Thomas and Henry approached her. They had kept out of her way since that first meeting. It was difficult to say they were avoiding her as the Academy had so many students, but she was, nonetheless surprised to be approached.
"How can I help you?" she asked, smiling gently.
"Well," Thomas hedged, "We've been wondering about certain aspects of the Force and our abilities. From what I've learned the Force obeys our commands, but it also guides our actions, sometimes in more than one way."
Tionne nodded. "That is true. Do you have some particular interest in a type of guidance?"
"I've been told that Jedi sometimes have visions of the future. Is that right?"
"Yes," Tionne nodded, "and no. The future is always in motion. A Jedi sees things that may happen, and even when an outcome seems certain the vision has an odd way of being something different entirely." Strangely enough, Henry didn't find this reassuring. Tionne seemed to realize this. "Has one of you seen something?" she asked gently. There was no prodding, no pressure, just a concerned question. Henry looked at Thomas, who nodded. He wasn't happy, but he decided to trust Tionne, to a degree. Henry rose and began to pace as he thought about it.
"It's hard to say. It was a series of disjointed images. I have meditated on the images trying to impose some order on what I saw but have only had a little success."
"What did you see?"
"I saw my home in flames. Invaders in the streets of my home town." He paused, wondering how best to put the next part. "I saw a face, a cruel face." He shuddered, remembering the sensation of cold that had accompanied that image. "I felt…cold when I saw him."
Tionne was instantly concerned. "Are you sure of what you saw? Visions are not always what they seem."
"So you said, but it's sort of hard to misinterpret seeing burning buildings and people running and screaming. I don't think they were having a cook out." Tionne grimaced, although whether at the point he was making or the inappropriate humor it was hard to tell.
"Do you wish to return home? Some of our knights could escort you and help-" Henry was shaking his head.
"That's the strangest part. It starts here. I'm not sure how, but it starts here. If what I saw is to be stopped it will be stopped here."
"So that's why you two have been on edge lately. I've been wondering."
"There are so many unanswered questions," Thomas frowned. "I don't know how to proceed, but I do know that if Henry is right, and it starts here, running home is the last thing we should do."
Tionne considered his words carefully. "Was the face familiar?"
"I've seen him before." Henry knew Bester only by reputation, but he knew that Thomas and the notorious psi-cop had a history. That much Thomas had told him, but he didn't know what that 'history' entailed. Henry didn't know what the psi-cop was going to do. He could guess, though.
"You believe a threat is approaching the Academy, or that a threat will originate, somehow, from the Academy."
"Yes. I wish I could be more specific. I was hoping you could tell me if there's some technique, some trick to bring the images into better focus, to make some sense out of what I saw." She shook her head sorrowfully.
"I'm afraid not. It simply takes time and experience. You are certain that your home is in danger. What about the Academy?"
"That wasn't clear." He paused to think and inspiration struck. "Maybe it wasn't clear because it will depend on what choices are made here." She nodded thoughtfully.
"That is possible. We should inform Master Skywalker of this." She turned to Thomas. "You seem to have doubts about his vision."
He hesitated. "I don't know. This is new to me. The entire idea of prophetic visions is too much like hokey superstition. I know Henry is concerned, though, and that is enough. If our world is threatened I will do what I can." Tionne seemed satisfied with his answer and tolerant of his doubts. She nodded.
"Don't worry," she said. "Whatever sort of trouble is headed this way, you won't face it alone."
"Thank you," Henry said sincerely. He found himself believing fully in the woman's good intentions.
"I trust you will share anymore insights you have into this matter."
They both nodded agreement and left Tionne's chamber.
"How far can we really trust them?" They had returned to Thomas' room to speak in private, slipping into Spanish for extra security. Thomas sat calmly on the bunk, but Henry was too keyed up. He paced like a caged animal, something that was beginning to grate on Thomas' nerves.
"When the Corps comes," Henry pointed out, "and they will, we can't face them alone. If the people here are unprepared, some of them could be killed. What will that do for our cause?"
"I see your point." Thomas admitted. He pursed his lips and leaned back against the wall.
"She doesn't know our business here. She doesn't know about the Corps."
"They will soon enough, if you're right. You still don't have any idea when or if they are actually coming," Thomas pointed out.
"They are. I know it. It's just a matter of time."
"I hope you're wrong," Thomas answered gravely. "I'm not looking forward to a reunion with Bester."
Henry looked over at him sharply. "You never have told me what happened between you and him. Why do you two have it in for each other?"
Thomas didn't answer immediately. After giving it some thought he sighed. "Let's just say it's personal, for both of us." He changed the topic before Henry could press for details. "We'd best get word to Lyta. Ta'lon is due tomorrow. We'll need to prepare a full report." He sighed. "Now we just have to figure out how to break this to her."
The small ship Ta'lon had acquired at Tatooine, a Verpine Adventurer that was a century old if it was a day, landed in the field in front of the main temple, and Henry and Thomas were there to meet it. They went aboard and spoke at length about what each had learned so far. Ta'lon had a box of data crystals full of information about the history and culture of the New Republic and the primary member races, the humans, Wookies, Mon Calamari, the Bothans, and several others. Information about the Jedi and the Force was sketchy. Much of what had been written about the Jedi before the rise of the empire had been destroyed on the Emperor's orders. There was enough, though, to give them considerable food for thought.
"What do you think Lyta will do? This indicates that the Jedi might be willing to help us, but the New Republic has policies which may prevent them from doing so."
"We have learned one other useful thing, though," Thomas reminded them both. "The Jedi master, Luke Skywalker, is the president's brother. I think if we can convince him, he can convince her."
"Let us hope it doesn't come to that," Ta'lon said, his tone not conveying much hope. He had been skeptical about Henry's dream, but he was sure, now that Henry had told part of the story, however vague to one of the instructors, that the rest would come out. It was only a matter of time until Camelot was discovered, ready or not.
Lyta wouldn't be happy, but she would be practical. They all knew this. It was possible she would find advantage in their current mess, although, for the life of him, Thomas couldn't guess how, but that was one of the reasons she was in charge.
"I wish you'd learned more about the Jedi from the archive," Thomas mused. "We could use a different perspective than we're getting here."
"Bias," the Narn captain reminded them, "is unavoidable." Thomas shrugged.
"Different biases then; would be nice." Over the next hour the two told Ta'lon of what they had learned about the Jedi. There were precedents in the history of the Republic for their situation, but there was no consistent response. Politics of the time determined the Republic's reaction to each crisis. The current government was less divisive. The memory of the Empire was only two decades old.
Ta'lon lifted off shortly thereafter and headed for the colony. His outbound vessel made way for the returning twins aboard a New Republic transport. Tennel Ka, Lowbacca, and Lusa came out to meet them.
"Welcome back. How are things on Corruscant?" Lusa asked.
"Okay," Jaina answered, somewhat distracted. Jacen picked up the conversation and talked for both of them. Jaina smiled and nodded, but her mind was clearly elsewhere. She brushed aside her friends' concerns though and excused herself to go to her quarters. The others were curious but shrugged it off soon enough, assuming she was simply tired after her ordeal with the Senate. Jacen told them about the testimony and earned several laughs with his imitations of several of the more notorious senators.
Jacen asked eventually about Henry and Thomas. The others looked at each other hesitantly, and they all went to find a quiet place to speak.
"So Tionne asked us to watch them and help them if we could?" Jacen asked.
Raynar nodded. "Henry at least seems convinced that a threat is approaching the Academy. Tionne says he was vague, though, and she believes they know more than they are saying."
"Why would they want to hide anything from us?" Jacen asked.
Raynar shrugged. "Fear perhaps. Maybe they're worried about how we'll react to the whole story. We do know they haven't been exactly open with us."
No decisions were reached during that discussion. They realized that, short of confronting the pair, which might do more harm than good, there was nothing they could do but watch them.
Thomas eyes flew open and he fought his way back to full awareness. The Jedi trance he had entered had slowed his metabolism considerably, and coming out of it quickly was not only dangerous but very nearly impossible. There was plenty of motivation though.
A visiting Mon Calamari Jedi came at the sounds of his struggle and used her talent for healing to calm him and help him come out of the trance safely.
"What happened? Are you all right?" Another Jedi student joined them and was looking down at Thomas with evident concern. Thomas shook off their efforts to help him and drew a deep breath. Gradually, he mastered his wild heart rate and breathing. What he had just seen terrified him, but he wasn't going to let the fear dictate his actions.
Instead, he used the fear and the anger it sparked in him to fortify himself. Control, he gritted silently. I will have control. He literally forced his body to calm itself. "I'm all right," he said calmly and rose to his feet.
"No, you're not," the Mon Calamari healer declared. "You can't come out of such a deep trance that quickly without paying a price. What happened? Did you have a vision?"
"Yes," he answered matter-of-factly. "Now I have to do something about it." He turned and walked away. He was feeling a bit light headed, and he knew he would indeed pay for that later, but for the moment he focused his mind on what he had seen and let the anger give him the focus he needed to complete his task. He went to find Henry.
"I believe you."
"What?" Henry said distractedly. He sat cross-legged on the floor of one of the many meditation chambers set aside within the temple. Three stones floated before him at eye level. The stones wavered, but stabilized again when he returned his full attention to them.
"Bester. He is coming." Henry was on his feet before the stones hit the floor.
"What did you see?"
"Bester, coming here with blood hounds. I'm not sure when, but it's soon. Something else too. I got the impression that somehow he's already here, after a fashion."
"I don't know. Maybe he has an agent here."
"It would have to be someone new. Someone who's arrived since we did." Thomas shook his head.
"Not necessarily. Remember the case of Michael Garibaldi." Henry paled slightly as he remembered the rumors that had circulated. The Babylon 5 security chief had been captured and reprogrammed by the Psicorps, and they both knew that it wasn't the first time it had been done. It was only one of the horror stories that involved Bester and the upper levels of the Psicorps. Talia Winters, Jason Ironheart, Sophie Ivonova, and many others had suffered or died because of the Corps' agenda.
"So what do we do?" Henry asked. "We should tell Tionne about this."
Thomas shook his head. "At this point we'd have to tell them everything. We can't do that without word from Lyta. I doubt Bester is going to be alone when he comes. I think they're coming in force."
"What sort of force? Is he bringing an army of bloodhounds? A warship? What?"
"I don't know," Thomas answered in exasperation. "You know how vague these visions are you were the one who came around trying to convince me first, remember?"
Henry nodded glumly. "I remember, and I remember how frightening it was. Sorry."
Thomas nodded. "Believe me, I understand now." They settled down on a bench, each silent for a time, brooding over their predicament. Henry didn't know how to proceed, but Thomas had a few ideas.
"Lyta should contact us soon, based on what we told Ta'lon. Whether she believes us or not she'll take some sort of action, even if it's just to pull us out."
"I hope it's soon," Henry lamented. Then he turned to his partner. "Why don't you do what I did, spend some time meditating on the vision. Try to bring it into focus and make the imagery clearer. We'll want to have more than vague warnings when we go to Tionne or Lyta, whichever comes first." Thomas nodded. That made sense. He turned and headed out. Henry knew that the former psi-cop had his own favorite place for meditation. He waved good-bye and tried to go back to his exercises. He found though, that he couldn't lift more than one stone at a time.
Splash! EmTeeDee stopped and hovered where he was. He had been out looking for Master Lowbacca and the others. He knew they favored this stretch of river for swimming and as a meeting place. He turned toward the sound and moved through the trees. There was another splash and he picked up voices as he drew closer to the river. EmTeeDee stopped as he came out of the trees.
Thomas was sitting on the bank alone, throwing rocks into the water. He was talking to himself.
"Things fall apart." Splash.
"The center cannot hold." Splash.
"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood dimmed tide is loosed." Splash! That one had been thrown with extra force behind it. Thomas picked up another stone, but stopped suddenly. Dropping the stone he whirled and glared at the small droid. EmTeeDee backed up sputtering an apology. Or at least, he tried to back up. Nothing happened.
"What do you want?" Thomas asked, annoyed now rather than angry. The invisible grip on the small droid abruptly vanished.
"Oh, I do apologize master Thomas. I was looking for master Lowbacca and mistress Jaina. I thought they might be down here, as this is one of their favorite places to swim."
"I haven't seen them," he answered shortly and turned back to the river, dismissing the small droid's existence.
"If I may say so sir, you seem rather upset. Is there a problem I may be of assistance in solving?"
"Doubtful. What I need I can't get from you." Another rock splashed into the river.
"Indeed? What might it be that you need? I have worked hard to become more than a translator. I can now boast a wide variety of skills. Perhaps in my experience serving with your fellow Jedi knights I may have learned something that could indeed be of use to you."
"All right," Thomas' tone was equal parts resignation and amused tolerance. "Consider this then. You are up against an enemy who is far more powerful and who has far greater resources, an enemy both malevolent and intractable. You have two obvious options." He turned to face EmTeeDee. "The first is to retreat, which is a temporary solution at best, and as an added drawback, innocent people could get hurt if you run. The second option is to stand and fight, knowing that it's all but useless to do so. The best you can hope for is to go down fighting." He paused and turned back to the river. After a moment EmTeeDee broke the silence.
"I can't say, sir, that either is terribly attractive. I can certainly see why you would desire a third option."
"I have one." His voice was level, but even the normally oblivious little droid could see the tension in him.
"And what would that be?"
"I can stop him, but only by setting loose something worse." EmTeeDee didn't have a ready answer for this. For the first time since he had met the little tin irritant, it was at a loss for words. "Can you offer me another option?" Thomas was honestly curious. There was none of the sarcasm that might have normally colored his tone. I'm asking the advice of a decoration with delusions of grandeur, he chided himself. I must be desperate.
"All I can suggest," the droid began hesitantly, "is that you remember you are not alone." Thomas shook his head.
"I can't involve your friends in this. It isn't their problem, isn't their fight."
"Why not let them decide that?" Thomas gave the droid a rueful smile.
"One of these days, your friends' altruistic tendencies will get them killed. I really don't need that on my conscience." I already have too much blood on my hands, he added silently. He turned away, ending the conversation. EmTeeDee considered making another attempt at convincing him but thought better of it. He turned and moved off, barely overhearing Thomas' last words before he got out of range. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intent."
EmTeeDee moved quickly to locate his friends. Something was very wrong.
"We have to leave. I don't see any other way."
"Tionne has said they would be willing to help," Henry reminded his friend without much hope of convincing him.
"We can't put them at risk. If we leave, the Corps won't have any reason to come here. It is possible we have a chance against them alone."
Henry stared at him in disbelief. "Really? How?"
"I'm still working on that," the other admitted. "Succeed or fail though we leave tomorrow. We go away from here and away from the colony."
Henry desperately tried to think of another option or a way to get Thomas to change his mind. He knew there wasn't much chance of accomplishing either. "All right then, we go tomorrow. There's a supply transport coming in. We should be able to get to Corruscant on that. From there, we can go practically anywhere." Thomas nodded approvingly.
"This does not sound good," Jacen said. "Did he say anything that would give you a clue as to what he's planning?" Jacen, Jaina, Tennel Ka, Raynar, Lusa, and Lowbacca sat together in a corner of the auditorium where lectures were normally held. The lesson for the day was over, and they were the last ones there.
"I'm afraid not master Jacen. He was not very forthcoming."
"So all we know is that he has an enemy that he thinks is coming here. He knows he can't handle it himself, but he doesn't want to accept our help. Why?"
"When I suggested that he ask for help he only said that someday your altruistic tendencies would get you killed and that he didn't want that on his conscience. I believe he wants to protect us. What I find disturbing is his reference to the only means he had to achieve victory."
"What do you mean?" Jaina asked. She had shown a keen interest in the problems of the two new Jedi trainees. It was the first time since their return from Corruscant that she had shown any interest in anything. Jacen had assumed she just needed to rest, but he found her sudden interest curious.
"He said the only other option was to 'set loose something worse.' It is a rather ominous statement wouldn't you agree?" Lowbacca gave a growl of assent. The others nodded or murmured their agreement.
"We better talk to them," Jacen decided, getting to his feet. "Let's get to the bottom of this."
"No." Jaina's voice stopped them as the others started to get up. They looked at her curiously. "I think we should tell Uncle Luke, er, Master Skywalker first. He'll be back later tomorrow night anyway. I'm sure he'll know what to do about this, and he can speak for all of the Jedi, not just us." This made sense to the group. They still felt the urge to act, but they agreed that waiting for the Jedi master made more sense.
"AAAGGHH!" Henry could not repress the scream that rose in his throat. Must escape! Without any conscious volition he put the thought into action. Diving out of bed he grabbed his clothes, but dropped them just as quickly. No time! his mind shrieked.
Abandoning his possessions, he made for the door, barely conscious of what he was doing. He turned to the door just as it opened. A human student he vaguely recognized from training stood in the door. He was short and wiry with dark hair and weathered features. He looked at Henry, clearly concerned. As he opened his mouth to speak, though, Henry saw another set of features superimpose themselves over those of the hapless trainee, a very familiar set of features.
"Away!" he shouted, falling back on a bad habit the instructors in the Corps had worked hard to break him of. The shocked trainee was catapulted across the corridor and slammed into the wall, where he slumped to the ground, unconscious.
Henry was already out the door, but as he turned into the corridor to run he found himself facing a man in a black jump suit. He was only of average height with dark blonde hair. There was nothing physically imposing about the man, nothing at all threatening in his manner. Henry stopped in his tracks.
"Breathe," the stranger instructed. Henry found himself trying very hard to comply. He took deep ragged breaths that gradually slowed.
"Clear your mind." Again Henry did his best to comply, though, he wasn't sure why. He still felt the desperate urge to escape.
Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master watched the stranger, obviously a new student, in confusion. The young man was clearly terrified, but there was no readily apparent cause. He had come barging out of the room and attacked another student, before trying to flee. He was dressed for bed, and Luke doubted it had been a deliberate attack. The stranger was panicking.
His unplanned return a day early was fortuitous, it seemed. Tired though he was, he found he couldn't ignore the itching at the back of his brain. When he had been drawn to this part of the Temple by a vague premonition, this is not what he had expected to find. The slight tugging on his awareness had been like a forgotten task. At first, he wondered if that was indeed what it was.
After a difficult and exhausting mission for Leia and the New Republic, he had wanted little more than to crawl into bed for a few hours. Sleep had eluded him, though, and he had followed the vague feeling to this section of the temple. He had rounded the corner at the far end of the corridor just as the young man had screamed. Although puzzled as to the reason for the outburst he knew he wouldn't get any answers unless the man first calmed down.
Luke reached out to the man through the Force trying to help him with the Jedi relaxation technique that kept eluding him.
The shout broke Luke's concentration, and he turned to see another stranger coming down the hall. He sidestepped the trainees who were caring for their unconscious friend and came to a stop next to the one called Henry.
"Henry what happened?" The newcomer spared a glance for Luke and did something that broke his connection to the young man. Luke blinked in surprise as he suddenly found himself shut out of Henry's mind. There was now a wall there, quite unlike anything the Jedi Master had encountered before.
"Who are you?" he asked aloud. They ignored him as the younger man began to babble.
"I saw him Thomas, he knows we're here and he's coming. I saw him."
"Now? Are you sure? What happened Henry?"
Luke heard the sound of running feet and turned to see Tennel Ka and Lowbacca running towards them. EmTeeDee soared ahead on his micro-jets, but abruptly changed direction as he approached the dusky skinned man trying to calm his friend.
"The Corps, Thomas," Henry gasped as he slumped against the wall. "They know. I saw him, Bester is here!"
Luke noticed Tennel Ka's reaction when Henry mentioned the Corps. Maybe now they would find out what was going on. He did not interrupt but stood and listened, as did the others.
Thomas whole manner changed at once. "Bester?" He flashed a suspicious glance at the people around him. Now something was coming through the barrier he had raised.
Luke felt anger.
"How close, how many, and what weapons?" His voice was deadly calm. Luke could feel him reaching out, searching. This one was strong in the Force.
"I-I'm not sure. I know he's close, though. He knows we're here. I mean he's certain of it. If he brings the Corps-"
'I know. Our plans just got moved up."
"You had a vision." Luke spoke up. Thomas looked at him. "A vision of the future. I think we need to talk."
"There may not be time for that," Thomas countered. "It would be better for all concerned if we left, quickly."
"Running away won't solve your problem." Jacen stepped into view from behind the Jedi master. "And don't worry about us. I assure you, we've faced worse. Come on, let's talk." The two telepaths exchanged a look, and seemed to come to an agreement.
"Who is Bester? And what is the Corps?" Luke was asking the questions. They had moved to his office. Jacen, Tionne, Tennel Ka, and Zekk had joined them.
Both were silent for a moment. Henry was embarrassed now that he had calmed down. Thomas was tense and angry although he hid it well. Finally, Henry spoke.
"The Psicorps is made up of what you would call Jedi, not dark or light, just people with talents. Most are probably fairly limited by your standards, having only some of the abilities I've seen the students here demonstrate." Zekk latched on to a key part of Henry's answer.
"'Not dark or light?' You don't acknowledge the Dark Side?" he asked, obviously worried. He and Tionne had joined them as they headed for Luke's office to talk. Thomas regarded him tolerantly.
"It's all one. The gift is there to use, and any power can be misused. Nothing inherently evil in any of it."
"It's a difference in how we see the Force, as you call it," Henry offered. "Our people don't shroud it in mystery and mysticism. Instead, it's studied and documented, catalogued and categorized. There are things we don't know about our abilities, but it isn't for lack of trying."
"It is difficult to maintain any conception of magic when all the tricks are studied and dissected under a microscope." Zekk mused. Henry went a little green at that.
"Please, don't say 'dissect.'" Their hosts looked at him curiously; then Zekk paled.
"You can't be serious."
"He is," Thomas assured him. "The Psicorps was founded more than a century ago to guide and train Telepaths. That was the idea, anyway. Actually, it is an instrument of control. Every human telepath, or Force user, is given a choice. They can join the Corps, they can take drugs to suppress their abilities, or they can go to prison."
"None of them are very attractive options," Henry put in. "'The Corps is mother, the Corps is father.'" He snorted, "Big Brother is more like it." At the confused looks this earned him, Henry elaborated. "It's a reference to an old novel about a totalitarian society, one in which the government controls everything, even the thoughts of the people. The government was referred to as 'Big Brother.'"
Luke nodded his understanding. "Yes, the emperor tried to achieve something similar. Why are you here? Did you run from the Corps?"
"And how. The first chance we got we broke away. The Corps does not allow any telepath to move about unchecked. Rogue telepaths are hunted down and taken in for 'adjustment.' Then they're paraded in front of the rest of us as examples." Henry didn't have the stomach to go into details about what he now knew about the Corps. "Suffice it to say, the people who run the Corps have their own agenda."
"The Corps was originally founded with good intentions, but ambition got in the way somewhere along the line. There are those in the Corps who see norms as lesser animals. For children raised by them, it seems natural."
Luke could barely believe what he was hearing. As bad as it was, some of the things he sensed they were holding back, he was certain, were far worse.
"You mentioned a name," he coaxed when they stopped talking. "Who is Bester?"
"He's a psi-cop. Telepaths aren't allowed to scan normals without permission. There are strict rules of conduct for us. Bester is one of those charged with enforcing those rules. That doesn't mean he follows them. He has a somewhat broader mandate than most telepaths. At the level he's reached, you pretty much do as you please."
"You're afraid of him," Zekk said, not a question.
"Damn right I am," Thomas gritted. "He's responsible for countless atrocities. He murdered a dozen escaped telepaths on Babylon 5 a couple of years back. He ordered monstrous tests done on people in order to find a way to create stronger telepaths. Genetic manipulation, neuro-surgery,…" he trailed off, shuddering at the memories.
"We escaped. So did a lot of others. Bester wants to find us and take back proof that no one can run from the Corps." The Jedi were silent for a time, absorbing all of this. Luke turned to Tionne.
"They confided some of this in you?"
"Some," the Jedi historian confirmed, "but I had no idea how much they were hiding." She turned to the two telepaths. "Why did you come here?" This topic made them nervous, Luke could see, but Thomas answered truthfully.
"Recon. When we learned of the Academy we had to find out what you were all about, and whether or not you posed a threat to us. We came here to learn only. Now it seems that, just by being here, we've put you at risk. That was never our intention." The two young men shared a look and Thomas continued. "We've discussed it and decided that the best way to draw attention away from you is to leave. We know Bester is close, so there isn't much time. The sooner we're away from the Academy the better it will be for you."
"Where would you go?" Luke asked.
"Anywhere but home. We couldn't risk it." Luke and Tionne conferred quietly for a moment. Thomas had to stop himself from listening. Instead, he turned to the other Jedi students, trying to gauge their reactions. They all looked serious; Zekk looked downright suspicious. It was at this point that Henry noticed an absence.
"Where's Jaina? I would have thought she would be here with you?" The others seemed to notice now and looked around.
"That is curious," EmTeeDee piped up from his place on the Wookie's belt. Henry hadn't noticed when Lowbacca arrived; he was so caught up in the story. "I thought she was right behind us. Perhaps she was delayed tending to the student that master Henry injured."
Henry winced at the reminder, but Thomas paid no attention. His mind was elsewhere. Luke noticed as the young man across the desk reached out through the Force, looking for something.
"Suddenly," Thomas said, rising from his seat, "I have a very bad feeling. We better find her."
"Why?" Jacen asked confused.
"I sense nothing wrong," Luke added.
"Call it instinct." Thomas rose and headed for the door. "Come on Henry." His friend looked uncertain.
"Are you sure-"
Henry spat a startled epithet and was on his feet and headed out before the Jedi had a chance to wonder who or what Talia Winters was. They followed the pair quickly, catching up as they tried to decide where to look.
"Talia Winters?" Luke asked as he came along side. Henry closed his eyes briefly at the painful memory.
"She was a friend." He didn't say more. He didn't see a need to tell them that Talia had been a loyal, law-abiding member of the Psi-corps. She had been what the Corps should have been, honest, generous, not a mean bone in her body. His expression darkened in, for him, an unusual display of anger as he remembered what she had been like the last time he had seen her. The Corps' Sleeper Program had changed that. Talia had been the sort of person that people liked and trusted. She was the perfect spy after the Corps finished reprogramming her. One look at Henry's face convinced the Jedi not to press for information.
"Jacen," Thomas spoke up. "I want you to check her room, Lowbacca, see if she went to the infirmary with that student. I want to see if the rest of us can get a line on her from the main communications room, contact us there if you find her." The others were a little taken aback by the snap of command in his voice, but the two younger Jedi were moving to obey before they thought about it. They paused and glanced at their uncle.
Luke nodded. "That sounds like a good idea." The two students moved off. Thomas kept going, either assuming he would be obeyed or not really caring what they did. He kept going till he reached the communications room. Luke and Zekk followed them to their destination, the other Jedi having gone to search elsewhere for Jaina.
At that time of night, the facility was practically deserted. There was only a night security guard and a single technician doing routine maintenance. When the two telepaths entered the room followed by Luke, Zekk, and Tionne, both the guard and the technician were fast asleep in a corner of the large room. The only person awake and active was Jaina.
She looked around as they entered the room and turned back to the com board working the controls with the speed and confidence of long practice. Under the circumstances, her calm demeanor set off alarms for Thomas. He reached out to scan her, but drew back as if slapped. He changed tactics.
Of all those present Henry was probably the most surprised when Jaina flew backwards away from the console. "Thomas?" he asked incredulously, incredulous because Thomas had never before demonstrated any telekinetic abilities.
"What are you doing?" Zekk demanded as he reached for Thomas. His hand skidded off a barrier of some sort.
"Henry," Thomas snapped, "find out what she's done." Henry broke off staring at Thomas and rushed toward the control console. The system was a little different than the standard Earthforce controls he was used to but not too different. He quickly found the information he wanted.
"She sent a transmission," he said tightly, "on a frequency the Psicorps uses. I don't think it's a coincidence." He manipulated a few more controls. "It's encrypted. I don't know what she sent." He turned back, and his jaw hit the floor.
Jaina was suspended a foot off the floor, struggling to break free of the invisible grip that held her aloft. Master Skywalker, Zekk, and Tionne were trying to intervene, but they were kept at bay by a crackling blue barrier that had sprung up between them.
"Thomas," Henry asked, beginning to be afraid for a different reason, "how are you doing that?" Even as he asked, a possible answer occurred to him.
"It's a long story," Thomas answered distractedly. He touched Jaina's cheek and her struggles ceased. She seemed to drop off to sleep immediately.
"What did you do to her?" Zekk demanded.
"She's not hurt, just asleep." He turned to face them and lowered the field. "I do apologize for this, but I didn't know what kind of safe-guards she might have. I couldn't risk you distracting me."
Luke put a calming hand on Zekk's shoulder. "What 'safe-guards' do you refer to?" he asked.
Thomas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "She has telepathic blocks all over the place. Level 12 blocks. They can only be put in or removed by a psi-cop. Bester must have caught her alone on Corruscant."
"You've admitted to spying on us," Zekk pointed out. "How do we know you're telling the truth?"
Luke was calmer, but still he needed convincing. "You must offer us proof of what you say. I sense no deception, but-"
"But you've been hiding a lot from us," Zekk finished. "Let's hear the truth. What the hell are you doing here?"
"People toss that word around far too easily," Thomas said in apparent non sequitur. "You want to see hell?" He faced the Jedi master and his irate pupil. "Then look."
Luke found himself awash in a sea of images. It took him a second to realize that he was seeing someone else's memories. He saw a street on Corruscant and a man with a predatory smile. He saw a darkened room and felt what it was like to have others picking casually through his brain, easily sifting and discarding memories of names, faces, and places. He could feel the person whose memory he was reliving struggling, but it was futile. He had never encountered such a powerful mind. Luke Skywalker knew what it was like to be completely helpless and vulnerable. And he knew pain as memories were snipped away or altered. Even second hand, it was agony.
Then there were other images. He watched helplessly for a moment, stunned by what he had just experienced, and by what he was experiencing now. With a supreme effort of will he tore away from the horror show playing out before his mind's eye. He wasn't sure which disturbed him more. The things he had been shown, or the amusement he sensed in Thomas as the telepath let him go. Luke had no doubt that he had been released. He had not broken free. He had been released by the young man standing before him.
Luke glanced over at Zekk and saw that the Jedi trainee looked as shaken as he felt. "All right," he said. "We believe you." Zekk nodded, wide-eyed and pale.
"Believe what?" Jacen asked from the door. Raynar, Lusa, Tennel Ka and Lowbacca were with him. They stopped when they saw Jaina floating in mid-air. "What's going on?"
"Later," Henry called from the control console. "We got problems. I know what was in that message she sent."
"You decrypted it?" Thomas lowered Jaina to the ground next to the sleeping guard and technician.
"No, but the transmission was short." As he spoke, the main view screen came to life and filled with an image of nearby space. Just beyond the perimeter maintained by the New Republic task force in orbit something was happening. "The odds are excellent that it contained one word." Suddenly a swirling vortex opened on the screen and something, no several somethings, emerged from it. "Now."
Luke wasted no time. Opening a channel he hailed the task force. "New Republic task force this is Luke Skywalker. Go to full battle alert. The incoming ships are hostile, repeat hostile."
"Acknowledged, Master Skywalker. We're on it." Two frigates came into view on either side of the screen, facing the vessels emerging from hyperspace.
"What is that?" Zekk asked.
"A jump point," Henry answered. "Our ships access hyper-space by creating stable openings between normal space and hyper-space then passing through them."
"A stable opening?" Zekk protested, "that's impossible."
"I'll give you a physics lesson later, right now I suggest we get this place ready for a fight." One glance at the screen showed that things were not going well. The New Republic ships had stopped. There were no signals from them and no weapons fire. The other ships, three in all, had cleared the jump point and were moving past the apparently immobile task force. Luke hailed them, but he was getting no response.
"Thomas? That ship, the one in the lead, that's the Grisolm. And there," he pointed at another. "That's the Sarratoga and the Nelson."
Thomas nodded. "Well, that answers several questions doesn't it?" He turned to the young Jedi. "Every so often a ship simply disappears into hyper-space. No one knows what happens to them really. Some think their navigation equipment failed and they got lost in uncharted space. Others think some of them were destroyed by raiders or by some unknown enemy. There've been other rumors, unrelated we thought, that the Corps was building a fleet of its own, in preparation for a takeover bid back home. No one knew how that could be true, though, until now."
"They must have hijacked those ships and replaced their crews with Force users completely loyal to the Corps." Even as the words left his mouth, Henry could barely make himself believe it. Loyal Earth citizens committing acts of piracy and treason to help the Corps' insane leadership achieve their goals. He couldn't accept it.
"I can't raise the defense shield," Tionne said from the next console. "Something's wrong."
"Jaina sabotaged it," Thomas answered calmly. The others looked at him incredulously.
"She wouldn't do that!" Jacen protested.
"She didn't have a choice. The Corps got hold of her and messed with her head. I can put her right, but right now we have bigger problems. I don't think those ships of yours are going to do us any good." The task force still hadn't moved to intercept the oncoming Earth vessels. Jacen, now at the view screen controls, brought up a new image from a different angle. The Earth ships were taking up station keeping directly over the Academy.
"Incoming transmission," he stated.
"Let's see it," Luke ordered.
"Wait," Henry raised a hand to forestall any action, "make sure they can't see us. Telepath's work best with line of sight. We'll have the advantage if he can't see us." Jacen glanced at his uncle, who nodded. On screen a man appeared. He was short and wiry with dark hair and a tanned face. Luke recognized him from the images that Thomas had shown him earlier. This was the man who had taken Jaina and used her against them. For the first time in a long time he found he had to fight to maintain his Jedi calm.
"Are you receiving us?" the man asked curiously.
"We are," Luke answered. Everyone else remained quiet. "This is Luke Skywalker of the Jedi Order. Who are you? And why have you come here armed?"
"My name is Alfred Bester. I'm here representing the Earth Alliance. As to what I'm doing here, I've come to take two dangerous criminals into custody."
"They must be dangerous indeed if you feel the need to bring three warships just to apprehend two criminals."
"Let us not bandy words," Bester said smiling that unpleasant smile. "I know you are harboring them. I also know that they haven't been honest with you as to their identities or their motives. You have no reason to protect them. Turn them over to me and I'll be on my way. They will cause you no more problems."
"The only problem I see at present," Luke replied calmly, "is you. What have you done to our ships in orbit?"
"Nothing permanent," Bester assured him. "The crews will wake in an hour or so with out even a headache. Now please, release Thomas Diego and Henry James into my custody."
Luke glanced at the two boys. They looked at each other, nervous, but resolved, and nodded. Luke gave them a small smile and turned back to the screen. "I'm afraid that's impossible. Your acts of aggression here and on Corruscant have raised serious doubts in me about your motives. It is unlikely you are acting on behalf of legitimate authorities of you home world. If such authorities wish to petition the New Republic for custody of these criminals then they can go through the proper channels. For now, I strongly suggest you leave."
Bester only smiled and shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't do that. I'm not going back without them. You will turn them over to us now or we will open fire. I know your shield generator is down and that you have no ground to space weapons. If you don't turn them over now, you will be destroyed." His smile vanished. "I'll give you a few moments to think about it." His image vanished.
"Now what do we do? What's going on anyway?" Lusa looked around at the others. Most were as lost as she, though.
"It's a long story," Henry sighed. "Hopefully, I'll get the chance to tell you about it later." He turned to Jacen, Lowbacca, and Raynar who were working on the shield generator controls. "Any luck?"
"Yeah," Jacen said, "all of it bad. We know what Jaina did, but it will take at least an hour to undo it. In the meantime we're perfect targets."
"Might I suggest that you have the students and staff scatter into the jungle, away from the Temple?"
Luke glanced at Henry and nodded. "That's a good idea. Tennel Ka, Jacen, and Lusa, I want you to organize the evacuation. Get everybody out as quickly as you can." The three nodded and ran out. Luke turned to Lowbacca. "Any chance of a distress signal?"
The Wookie groaned and shook his head. EmTeeDee piped up dutifully. "Master Lowbacca says the hostile vessels are jamming our transmissions quite effectively. We have no way of getting a signal out." Thomas rolled his eyes at the verbose little droid.
"I think I may be able to do something," he said. Luke glanced at Thomas and raised an eyebrow. "The crews of those ships are asleep, nothing more. I think I can wake them."
"From here?" Henry asked. "Have your powers grown that much?"
"It'll be a stretch, but I can manage. After they're awake, I should be able to protect them from any further such attempts as well."
"Just how are you able to do this?" Tionne had been silent for a long time, watching and learning about the two strangers. Now she asked a question that Henry was fairly sure he knew the answer to. "You have not demonstrated these kinds of abilities before. What has changed?"
"He has," Henry spoke up, glancing at Thomas. "You were part of the project with Jason Ironheart weren't you?" Thomas nodded. Henry turned to the others. "A few years back the Corps started a project to find a way to boost a Force user's powers, to make them stronger. They had various degrees of success. Some died. Some experienced no changes whatsoever. Some became a little stronger, changing from a P-10 to a P-12 or something like that. Ironheart was the breakthrough."
"What do you mean, 'breakthrough?'" Zekk asked curiously.
"He went farther than anyone else ever has, or was meant to." Thomas replied distractedly as he concentrated on the crews of the ships in orbit. "He told me before he escaped." His chest tightened at the memory of his lost friend and teacher. "One day, after months of being injected with all manner of concoctions and being subjected to a variety of tests and probes, Jason Ironheart woke up. He told me it was like being given sight and hearing after a lifetime of being blind and deaf.
"He told me he could see everything. He knew the Corps' plans and the lengths they would go to in order to achieve them. Jason killed the head researcher, the only one who could replicate the procedure, and escaped. Before he left though, he saw that I was on the same road he was, it was just going to take longer. At my request, he put in certain safeguards to keep it from happening."
"What happened to Ironheart?" Luke asked.
"He escaped to Babylon 5, but his powers were growing beyond his control. He escaped from B5 in a ship, but it exploded before it reached the jump gate." Thomas shook his head. "You wouldn't believe what happened next." He smiled ruefully. "Or maybe you will. You're going to get to watch it happen to me."
No one said anything for a while, not knowing what to make of this. Luke glanced at Henry who looked pale and worried. Whatever was going to happen, Luke was sure it probably wouldn't be good. Surprisingly, it was EmTeeDee who broke the silence.
"Is this what you meant when we spoke earlier by the river? You said you could stop your enemy by 'setting loose something worse.'" Thomas didn't respond he was tensed up, a grimace of pain on his face. After a moment, it passed.
"What about the safeguards Jason installed?" Thomas glanced at his friend. "Did they break down?"
"Sort of. One of the safeguards was my memory of what he had told me and what he had done. He made sure that there was nothing there for the Corps to find. A month ago the memory started to come back. I figured out, eventually, that the rest of the barriers were kept in place by my will alone." He nodded to Luke. "The training I have received here has made it easier. For Jason Ironheart the transitions between levels were difficult, torturous events. I've learned, though, that I can ease the discomfort and the risk to the people around me. I have your Academy to thank for that."
"Don't mention it," Raynar quipped. "Please." No one reacted to the attempt at humor. "Um, Bester, your friend up there is still waiting for an answer."
Thomas nodded. "Well then, let's give him one." He closed his eyes and concentrated. The Jedi could feel his actions through the Force. It was like being next to a powerful electrical field. They could feel the current without actually being in contact.
On board the New Republic Frigate, Watch Keeper, the crew began to stir. They awoke with full knowledge of the situation, and what had to be done. The crews of the other ships in the task force were experiencing similar awakenings.
"I grow weary of waiting," Bester informed them when the channel was reopened. "If you do not agree to my terms immediately, I will open fire."
"By all means," Thomas stepped up to the view screen, which was now transmitting his image along with that of the rest of the group. "Fire." Bester opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to give the order, but all that came out was a surprise squawk as he was nearly tossed out of his command chair.
"Sir!" one of his officers said, staring at his readings. "We're under attack. The Grisolm has opened fire on us." Bester gestured to his communications officer to close the channel, but even as he did the Nelson rocked again.
The image which replaced the ship's bridge was one of an ensuing space battle. The NR ships were now firing on the renegade Earth ships. They were taking a beating though. The Grisolm had switched targets and had already disabled one of the New Republic frigates.
Thomas grimaced. "I've lost control of the Grisolm's gunner. They're blocking me." All they could do now was watch. The Grisolm and the Nelson were both heavy cruisers, but the Sarratoga was an older, Nova class destroyer. It was taking the heaviest beating but was still giving a good accounting of itself.
It was a peculiar conflict. The NR ships' energy shields gave them a distinct advantage, but the sheer firepower brought to bear by the heavy cruisers and the maneuverability of the destroyer evened the odds.
A spread of proton torpedoes from the Watch Keeper was vaporized by the Grisolm's forward interceptors while the frigate's shields wavered and finally died under the withering fire from the Nelson. Even as the group watched helplessly, the Watch Keeper broke apart and died, the second to do so since the battle began. A second barrage of HE warheads crippled the drive of a third NR ship. This left only two that could fight effectively, and they were both being swarmed by enemy fighters. The NR x-wings fought bravely, but they were outnumbered by the star furies which were a little slower, but much more maneuverable.
Even as they watched an x-wing closed on a star fury from behind, certain of a kill, only to have the enemy fighter spin on its axis and fly backwards while concentrating all fire on the surprised x-wing.
"This isn't going at all well," EmTeeDee fretted. Zekk was examining the Earth ships with a pilot's critical eye.
"Interesting design. They don't have artificial gravity do they?" Henry shook his head. "Clearly, they've compensated, though. Very clever design, indeed."
Lowbacca's concerns were more practical. He told them through EmTeeDee that he had found a way to get through the jamming. They gathered round him as he prepared a tight beam transmission to Lando Calrissean's mining operation in low orbit of the planet Yavin. From there, beyond the jamming, it could be sent out as a general distress call. The message was sent a few seconds later, even as, on screen, the Sarratoga blew apart, the blast destroying several x-wings that were flying too close.
"That should even the odds a bit," Henry said with some small satisfaction. "Your troops are tenacious, I'll give them that." None of the Jedi responded. They looked on grimly or monitored the progress of the evacuation and the shield repair.
"Can you do anything to help them?" Zekk asked, turning to Thomas. The telepath shook his head.
"I'm fending off telepathic attacks on the crews of the New Republic ships, and that's taking a lot of effort. I dare not try anything else. If my concentration wavers your fighter pilots could fall asleep at their controls." He lapsed into silence, a look of determined concentration on his face.
"We should consider ourselves lucky he can do that," Henry said. "It's beyond the scope of any one ordinary telepath, even a fully trained psi-cop."
"Incoming transmission," the translator droid called, even before Lowbacca could speak.
"What is it?" Luke asked urgently, moving to the Wookie's side. The transmission consisted of two words, no encryption. "Cavalry's coming?" the Jedi master blinked. "What does that mean?" Henry came over to read the message for himself and grinned.
"Help's on the way," Henry offered.
Less than a minute after the transmission was received, a jump point opened and two ships emerged. One was an NR heavy cruiser that jumped directly into the fight, issuing orders to surrender. The Earth ships showed no interest in doing so. The other was the Santa Maria.
Henry glanced over at Thomas who was showing signs of strain. "Bester is signaling the cruiser," Zekk said. "Looks like he might be ready to talk."
"No," Thomas gritted. "Line of sight."
"What?" Luke asked. Thomas doubled over, groaning.
"What's wrong with him?" Raynar asked, worriedly.
"The change," Henry answered, "it's accelerating." He glanced back up at the screen as the cruiser suddenly changed course and accelerated toward one of the remaining frigates. "Bester and the other psi-cops must be manipulating the bridge crew somehow."
"Illusion," Thomas gasped. "They've got the bridge crew confused."
"Can't you do something?" Zekk asked. "They're going to ram that frigate." Thomas concentrated and the others looked up in alarm as the temple actually shook.
Thomas used his anger at Bester to focus past the pain and disorientation. At the moment, his abilities were limited, but there was one close by that could do what needed to be done.
Aboard the Santa Maria, Leia Organa-Solo watched in horror as the cruiser increased speed, apparently intent on ramming the frigate.
"What are they doing?!" she demanded.
"Calm yourself, madam president," Lyta advised. "I can stop it." She cocked her head, as if listening and nodded. Her eyes, much to Leia's surprise, began to glow bright green. The cruiser turned aside at the last moment. "Now then, Mr. Bester. Let's see if you like having your strings tugged." She concentrated.
Leia watched as, first Lyta and then more and more of her eerily silent crew turned their eyes toward the screen. Badly wanting to know what was happening, Leia opened herself to the Force and found herself in the middle of a storm. It seemed as if a great gale was blowing around her, threatening to sweep her away. It was the kind of power only the dark side could raise. The dark, powerful emotions of anger and hate were driving the storm. Gasping and trembling, she withdrew.
She stared at Lyta, suddenly wondering what she had gotten herself into. There was a huge struggle going on, and there were three distinct areas from which the storm was being generated. One was aboard the two enemy ships. It seemed to be a large number of dark Jedi working in concert. The second was on Yavin 4, at the Academy. Her concern for her children and brother caused her to reach out again, trying to sense them. Instead she found herself buffeted about like a leaf in the ongoing storm, and had to withdraw. The third was standing right beside her. The woman who had presented herself as Lyta Alexander was pounding her enemies aboard the alien ships. It was obvious that her abilities in the Force far exceeded Leia's. It was equally obvious that she had no reservations about drawing on the dark side of the Force.
There was something peculiar about the conflict, Leia realized. There was no physical aspect to it. The battle was being waged on one plane alone. It was strictly mental. It was just one more puzzling aspect of the current crisis. When Ms. Alexander had come to her asking help with this 'Psicorps' problem it had seemed so urgent, especially when she learned that the Academy might be targeted. One cruiser was all she could spare on such short notice; fortunately Ms. Alexander had resources of her own.
Leia approached Captain Ta'lon. "There's a battle being waged out there, fiercer than anything I've seen before." Ta'lon glanced at the screen. Actually, the battle had all but ended. The ships were only exchanging occasional salvos now, and none of them had come close in some time. Then he realized what she meant.
"A mind war?"
Leia thought this a curious appellation, but it fit. "Yes. The crews of those ships out there are caught in the middle. They're being pulled one way, then another by this struggle between your boss and her enemies. There must be some way to end this. They can't survive that for very long." Ta'lon nodded gravely.
"There is one thing we can do." He gestured to his communications officer. 'Send it now."
Luke understood what was happening now. It had taken time to see the pattern in the chaotic struggle going on above Yavin 4. Thomas and someone aboard the newly arrived alien vessel were attacking Bester and his psi-cops. The two were enormously powerful, but they were only making a token effort to work together. There was brute force and a fair degree of skill involved, but it wasn't enough. Bester and his crew fought with amazing tenacity and skill. Either Thomas or the stranger aboard the ship alone might have been defeated by now, but they were forcing the dark Jedi, as Luke insisted on think of them, to divide their attention.
Bester and his people worked in concert. Luke thought he detected at least a dozen minds all coordinating their attacker's defense, working in concert. It was a stalemate. The constant hurricane like battering they were taking kept the psi-cops on the defensive. They couldn't mount an effective, decisive strike against either, but their defense was so solid and well coordinated that even the combined efforts of their enemies weren't making any headway.
It couldn't last. Less than 10 minutes before, Thomas had been rendered almost helpless by the spasms that Henry told them marked the increase in his powers. It was only a matter of time before another such increase took him out of the fight for a few crucial seconds. While Luke understood the conflict there seemed to be nothing he could do to affect the outcome either way.
He had always avoided using the Force in the way they were using it. The conflict was, frankly, beyond him. They were using techniques that were unfamiliar to him, techniques and strategies that seemed to draw directly from the dark side. He had pulled his students aside to try to devise a strategy, but the battle had grown so fierce that interfering at this point would only serve to distract Thomas and whoever was aboard that other ship. If something didn't happen soon to change the balance Bester might win.
Then something happened. Three jump points opened and more alien ships began to emerge. A broadband transmission directed toward Bester's ships was picked up by all of them.
"This is Earth Alliance warship Rasputin, Captain Susan Ivanova commanding, to renegade vessels. You are ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded. Resist and you will be destroyed."
"Who are they?" Raynar asked for everyone else.
"Earth troops, legitimate ones. Those other ships are White Stars. The Interstellar Alliance showing support for a member world." Henry smiled openly for the first time since he had had his first vision.
Bester's focus wavered. Luke could sense it. Then the focus changed. Bester attacked. Without warning Thomas whipped around to face them, his eyes going wide with shock and recognition.
"No! Not again!" Luke was thrust back by an unseen force and thrown against a wall. Without hesitation Henry stepped forward and slapped his friend soundly. Thomas' eyes crossed briefly, and then he shook his head, clearing his mind.
"What?" Then he realized what had happened. "Damn that little…" He broke off, doubling over in pain. "Not now," he gritted. Suddenly, he bolted for the door.
Luke, Henry, and Jacen followed, while the rest continued to work frantically at their various tasks. They didn't know what he was doing, but he was clearly in trouble.
They followed him as he left the temple and began climbing the outside stairs to the top. Unable to keep up despite Thomas' evident pain, they could only watch as he reached the top. He spread his arms and a wave of raw physical energy expanded from his body, forcing them back. It passed quickly, but they found that reaching him now would be too dangerous.
Thomas' body was surrounded by a crackling corona of energy. Henry stared, as did the others, in awe, as his form seemed to expand, gradually losing cohesion as it grew.
"This isn't possible," Jacen whispered. Henry thought it a rather foolish statement, but he was too caught up in his own amazement to say anything.
They were in trouble. Leia could feel it. The attack from the planet had ceased, and the dark Jedi aboard had turned their full attention toward Lyta and the ships that were supporting her. When the Rasputin and the White Stars had arrived a moment ago, it looked like victory was assured. Then the presence on the surface of Yavin 4 had vanished and now the ships were wallowing.
Captain Ivanova had told her that their gunners couldn't get solid target locks on the renegade vessels. Their eyes seemed to blur and lose focus. The Rangers aboard the White Stars were having a little better luck. They had fired on the ships with increasing accuracy.
It wasn't going to be enough. Leia could tell that already.
Then things changed. A massive disturbance in the Force, like a shock wave, rose from the moon's surface. No, it had come from something rising from the moon's surface. She focused on Yavin 4 and could see point of bright blue light moving fast toward the renegade ships. Ta'lon came to stand beside her.
"What is that?" He asked.
Leia shook her head. "I have no idea, but it shines so brightly in the Force. It seems to be… bending the Force around it. I've never seen anything like it."
The point of light flared and grew and assumed a recognizable, humanoid shape, looming over the battle. Leia, Ta'lon, and everyone else on the bridge stared, slack-jawed.
"ENOUGH." The voice filled their minds, overpowering and yet remarkably gentle. "THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATH TODAY." A huge hand encompassed the renegade vessels and they blazed brightly for a moment.
Leia expected the ships to be gone when the light faded, but they remained, floating helpless in space. "What is that thing?" Leia whispered as if she feared it would hear her.
"I think it's Thomas," Lyta answered, in an awed tone. "The question is, what did he do?" There was a sudden change in the atmosphere on the bridge as if they could feel the weight of the being's attention.
"I HAVE MADE THEM WHAT THEY DESPISE MOST," a voice in their mind's answered. "THEY CAN NO LONGER THREATEN YOU, OR ANYONE." It seemed to regard them silently for a moment. "GOOD-BYE LYTA. I NO LONGER HAVE A PLACE HERE. I GO TO JOIN THOSE WHO HAVE PASSED BEYOND THE RIM. WE WILL MEET AGAIN, THOUGH, IN TIME."
Bester and his crew were quickly collected. Their ships were dead in space. All vital circuitry, save what was needed for life support had been melted and fused. The telepaths themselves were in little better shape. It quickly became obvious to the Mimbari telepaths that had come to deal with them, that no special accommodations would be necessary. Their telepathic abilities were gone.
Captain Ivanova, Lyta Alexander, Luke Skywalker, and Chief-of-State Leia Organna-Solo, sat around a small conference table onboard the Rasputin.
"There's no doubt," Luke confirmed. "Their link to the Force has been severed. They are now what they would call 'norms.'"
Ivanova nodded. "A fitting end. Of course there's still a lot of cleanup to do at home, but when this comes out, the power of the Corps will be broken, permanently." She turned to Lyta. "You don't look terribly happy about that?"
"Hmm? Oh I am. I was just thinking about Thomas. I can still hardly believe that happened."
"I know what you mean," Ivanonva said. "I've seen it before, and I still have trouble believing it." The others looked at her, astonished.
"Ironheart?" Lyta asked.
"Yes, I was in Command and Control on B5 when it happened. Amazing." She shook her head.
"I'd heard rumors of course but…"
"Commander Sinclair had me arrange a little 'accident' in data storage. There's no record of it. Best it was buried, forgotten." After a moment of consideration the others nodded. Lyta decided to change the subject.
"What about the girl Bester used against you? Has she recovered?"
"She has," Leia nodded. "Jaina woke up a couple of hours ago. She doesn't remember anything since her trip to Corruscant."
"Thomas said he would help her," Luke looked at each of them in turn. "I guess that was the last thing he did before he left."
"He knew Bester and his methods pretty well," Lyta said thoughtfully. "If anyone else had done the work, I might be worried about hidden booby-traps or other surprises. I'm fairly sure Thomas would have cleared them out, though." Leia looked relieved.
"So," Ivanova spoke up, deciding a change of subject was in order, "What's next? When I report back to Earth what happened here there will be those who will move for immediate sanctions against the Psicorps. It could get ugly." She glanced at Lyta as she said this. The telepath nodded.
"I'll be there to do what I can, but the telepath's who've taken refuge here are out of it. They fled Earth to avoid exactly this type of conflict, and there are others who want to get away, too."
"We can't delay long," Ivanova reminded her. "Maybe enough time to get another load of refugees out. Pack up as many as you can. There'll be no need to be subtle about it."
"Yes, I'll do that." She considered the other woman carefully. "What will you do about the colony?"
Ivanova smiled. "What can I do? Even if rounding up rogue telepaths was in my job description I don't know where your colony is, and soon enough, Earth is going to have more pressing problems than a relative handful of escapees." Lyta didn't need to scan her to know she was being truthful. The grateful look she gave the other woman was heartfelt.
"That only leaves you, madam president. What will the New Republic do? Now that you know of the anomaly that brought you this new problem?"
"It's not a problem," Leia shook her head. "What happened here was regrettable, but I don't hold you or your people responsible. You are welcome here. The colony, what did you call it? Camelot? Will receive as much or as little help as you like." She looked to her brother. "Perhaps the Jedi Academy will be able to help some of your people." Luke nodded.
"The Academy always welcomes new students and the New Republic will have a shortage of Jedi knights for some time to come. Our training can help the telepaths you bring here to learn how to better defend themselves if ever someone like Bester comes here again." Lyta nodded thoughtfully.
"There are those who would take that offer, I'm sure." She smiled. "Besides," she said, in a rare display of whimsy, "what would Camelot be without knights to protect it?"