Author's disclaimer: I do not own or control any element of Star Wars by George Lucas, nor that of Foundation or Second Foundation by the late Isaac Asimov. This story is not for sale, but is for free distribution for the enjoyment of readers.
"There has to be more," said the man silently to himself. He gazed out before him, but the room was empty. It usually was. He was frustrated. It had all been easy – too easy. Memories of his childhood flooded back to him, wherein he recalled being an object of scorn, ridicule and pity. That of course was before he had discovered his latent talent.
He had nearly failed to achieve his goal – all because of a young woman who had liked him – him! It was weakness. It was an utterly foolish weakness, and the man swore it would never be repeated. He recalled the moment at which all of his plans were nearly smashed. He could recall it clearly. An older man was slumped over book films, barely able to remain coherent, but the knowledge was there. The old man retained life only in his eyes, and for that reason he remained coherent, though his body had been sapped of all strength and will otherwise.
On that day, a woman stood in that room with him too, along with a young man. She had nearly ruined it all, but just as she drew her blaster he saw it clearly. He leaped. But his leap was different from that others might have made. It was in his mind. He clamped on to the woman's emotional will and stopped her. She froze before she could make contact and activate the blaster. It had been pointed at the old man. So close!
Eighteen months after that event, the man finished his task with ruthless efficiency, and the galaxy was his. His official title was First Citizen, but most of the galaxy knew him by the name with which he had branded himself: The Mule.
The Mule allowed such memories to course freely through his mind, for they served to remind him how weakness could quickly bring about disaster. He punished himself with such memories. The large room in which he now sat was empty but for himself, and he knew that no guards were outside his door. Indeed, no guards were on his palace grounds at all. He had no need for them.
He was a mutant. His physical appearance was unimpressive, and indeed he would appear laughable to most with whom he had not come into mental contact. His limbs were long and thin, his body was small and frail, he had a beak of a nose, and he had large, soft brown eyes. Few knew what he actually looked like, and that too was not accidental. Rumors circulated about the appearance of the Mule, but the most prevalent was the one he had invented years before, that of a tremendously-powerful man of staggering physique and proportion, who's eyes were never visible – and to look upon those eyes brought on madness, or even death.
Persons who came into contact with the Mule were Converted. The Mule had early discovered an ability to not only read the emotions of persons but also to adjust them, permanently. Even his most bitter enemies could be and were transformed into his most loyal and dedicated servants, without but of the slightest mental effort by the Mule. To him, human minds were a series of dials and switches that he could read, reach into and adjust at will. Nobody could hide their emotions from the Mule. He could read even the most subtle changes in emotion like a book. He had even the ability to read and project emotions over a wide area, including the projection of a pervasive and irresistible sense of fear and dread. Such a dread fell over anyone who approached his palace unbidden.
Once again, the Mule recalled the day he had stopped that woman. Her name was Bayta Darell. She and her husband, Toran, had been fleeing from the Mule and his forces, after the fall of Terminus, home planet of the Foundation. They brought with them an older man named Ebling Mis. They fled to the former capital of the old Galactic Empire, the the former planet-city of Trantor. They had with them a clown known as Magnifico, who claimed to have served the Mule and then escaped from him. What none of the others knew was that the clown claiming to be Magnifico was indeed the Mule himself.
The Mule leveraged his extraordinary mutant power to induce Ebling Mis into expending all of his mental energies into researching the location of the secretive Second Foundation. Indeed, the Mule's manipulation allowed the older man to drain all of his physical energy in the process, all but killing him, reducing him to a shell of his former self. The Mule had been careful to manipulate everyone in that small group of people into believing he was only a harmless clown – all save one.
Bayta Darell showed affection for him – real affection. The Mule was not accustomed to that, since he had known only revulsion, disgust, amusement, or pity from others. Because of that, he had decided earlier not to convert her. Her true emotions had become too precious to him, and so he left them unmodified. That decision nearly cost the Mule everything.
After the Mule clamped down on Bayta Darell and prevented her from killing Ebling Mis, he took complete control of the situation with his mind. All emotions of the room's occupants were under his command. The old man recovered from the shock that he had nearly been killed by his friend, and the woman's husband was still reeling from the same. The old man, still retaining a look of surprise, uttered, "It's here! It has been here all the time – right here on Trantor."
Later that day, the Mule had taken swift and decisive action. The members of the Second Foundation were powerful, and they had the ability to make mental adjustments of their own, though not on the scale of which the Mule himself was capable. They were too dangerous for the Mule to attempt to convert. He ordered the ancient capital of the former Galactic Empire razed from orbit – nothing survived. For good measure, he ordered troops in radiation suits to scour the surface of the planet with instruments of detection, ensuring no one had burrowed underground.
The woman, Bayta, became his. It was an easy thing to adjust the emotions of her and her husband, so that Toran did not care that she left him, and she fell completely in love with the Mule. He had desired to retain a tiny portion of the true affection Bayta had at one time felt for him, but it was simpler to convert her altogether.
To his disgust, the Mule had discovered that he was infertile. Great teams of Foundation scientists worked with unlimited funds to find a solution, and one had been found. An heir with at least some of the Mule's abilities was absolutely essential, if his empire were to last beyond his own life span, which was also projected to be short. Scientists found it more difficult to find a solution to his limited lifespan, but they worked on it still. He discovered that due to his mutation, his lifespan would be shorter than most others, and that infuriated him.
Now, the Mule sat upon his throne, First Citizen of the new Galactic Empire. The forces of the both the first and second Foundations were crushed beneath his heel, and those who had at one time opposed him were now his most loyal and ardent supporters – or dead. To be sure, not all the members of the Second Foundation were eliminated, for the Mule was not foolish enough to believe they had all been on Trantor during its surface bombardment. The ones who remained concerned him, but they were a minimal threat. Even so, his agents hunted them, chasing down all rumors and leads.
Centuries before, a man named Hari Seldon had invented a science called Psychohistory. That science allowed future events to be predicted through mathematics, at least on a grand scale. Psychohistory was useless at predicting individual actions or even those of groups of relatively small scale. Seldon had predicted the fall of the first Galactic Empire that had lasted for many thousands of years. His plan called for the setting up of two Foundations. One would be a physical foundation that would establish itself on the far side of the galaxy, and it would focus on physical science and technology, growing in strength as the remnants of the old Galactic Empire continued to decay and crumble. That was the First Foundation, known to the galaxy as simply The Foundation.
The Second Foundation had been set up in secret, its existence unrevealed even to those of the first Foundation. It was composed of psychohistorians with significant mental powers. These were not ordinary psychohistorians, but they were men and women capable of mental telepathy and limited mind control. Their primary task was to ensure the first Foundation remained on track to eventually become the second Galactic Empire. They studied and modified Seldon's original plan, and they leveraged their telepathic powers of persuasion within the first Foundation to that end. Hari Seldon's plan had called for that to take a thousand years.
The Mule smiled. Seldon's ghost should be thankful. The Mule accomplished in a mere few centuries what would have taken the Foundation and the secretive Second Foundation a thousand years. The thirty thousand years of darkness and chaos that Hari Seldon had originally feared would follow the fall of the first Galactic Empire had lasted a mere few centuries.
The Mule arose from his seat and walked to the great windows in his throne room. The night sky shown with stars all around, and most of them owed allegiance to the mutated man gazing upon them. Still, it was not enough. Bitter memories of his younger years churned within him, and he transformed them into desire – a desire for conquest and complete domination. All would adore him, for they would have no choice.
Thanks to the scientists from the former Foundation, newer, more advanced ships had been developed, and computer technology had achieved quantum leaps. Hyperspace travel was much faster, more dependable, and it was now able to be powered by incredibly powerful but small gravitic drives. Multitudes of those newer ships had been dispatched to all corners of the galaxy, even to the unstable core with its collection of black holes.
General Han Pritcher, once another bitter enemy of the Mule and servant of the Foundation, was due within the hour. His scouts had discovered something of keen interest in the vicinity of the mass of black holes at the center of the galaxy. Ships of the old Galactic Empire had not ventured there, since they did not possess the technology to do so safely. That was no longer a concern for the Mule.
"I don't see how that is possible," said the officer in a matter of fact voice. He stood behind the man engaging him, whose face had previously been buried in a terminal. The station was embedded within the rock face of Kessel. The young man before the officer was not an idiot; the officer addressing him was certain of that. His men comprised small enough a crew that the officer had found sufficient time to study the records of each, at least in some detail. The size of the station also called for the billet of an Imperial captain, which was the rank attached upon the tunic of the officer. He served Palpatine's Galactic Empire.
"I understand, sir, but nevertheless the readings are correct," replied the man at the terminal. Unlike the captain, the man wore no rank, but he was a non-commissioned officer with years of training and experience behind him. Like the captain, he too had been dubious of the initial readings, but then he had personally checked the terminals and run diagnostics of the instruments. The relays were functioning normally, and the readings were consistent. Near the mass of black holes closest to Kessel, sensors had obviously detected a small ship, but only for a short while. Then it had vanished, as though it had never been there in the first place.
"How could a ship, especially one so small, jump into hyperspace without our detecting it?" demanded the captain.
"I don't think it entered hyperspace, sir."
"Then where did it go?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Did it take readings prior to … disappearing?"
"If it did, then we did not detect any scans from it, sir."
"Perhaps it is some form of CIS technology we were unaware of."
"It did not come close to matching anything I've seen of the CIS, sir."
"Well, I cannot report this as it stands. We need something more!"
"Sir, we have the physical dimensions of the object and some power signature readings."
"But we don't know where it went!"
The officer sighed and pondered what he would put in his report. As it was, the report would be full of holes, and his higher headquarters would endlessly badger him with questions, perhaps even ordering him to report in person. The captain enjoyed the solitude of his assignment. He had been an officer in the old Republic, before then Chancellor Palpatine announced the formation of the Empire four years ago. He recalled the intensity of arduous ground campaigns and terrific space battles, and he now looked forward to retirement. He had no further military or political aspirations, and thus he had remained at his current rank for many years more than others of his rank.
What was that object that had appeared and disappeared so suddenly? He had fervently hoped that instrument or computer malfunctions would reveal the report to be inaccurate, but that hope was now dashed. His men were good at what they did, and so the readings were accurate. But no hyperspace readings were odd, and a ship so small should not have had an energy signature like that, nor did ships of that size possess a cloaking device. He shook his head and made his way toward his small office. This was going to be a long day.
In a small, dimly-lit room, two young men gazed at each other, immersed in animated conversation.
"Is there any further hope of restoring it?"
"Yes, but it is nearly mathematically impossible outside of the most extreme measures."
"You had something else to say."
"The agents of the Mule have discovered something unexpected."
"Does the Mule suspect anything?"
"Unlikely, but it is not impossible."
"Indeed. To underestimate the Mule proved disastrous for us, and for the galaxy."
The room was plain and dark, inside of an old ship. One weak source of light bathed faces of the two men speaking, flickering in the darkness. A three-dimensional projection of the Prime Radiant shone between the men as they spoke, though they did not exactly speak. Much of their conversation was in the form of slight facial changes, shifts in thought patterns, and other cues to which they were sensitive. Their conversations were short, so that a great deal could be said in a very small amount of time. Often, the men did not speak at all, but rather they projected their thoughts and emotions, which were readily understood by each other. These were men of what was left of the Second Foundation.
Hari Seldon and his team had designed the Prime Radiant centuries before, and it was the primary tool the Second Foundation had used to chart the course of the First Foundation toward establishing the second Galactic Empire. That was supposed to have taken a thousand years, assuming no major deviations to the plan. But then nobody had accounted for the Mule.
Members of the Second Foundation still existed, but they were scant and scattered. They were careful not to remain in one place for too long, but rather they lived as galactic nomads and traders. Indeed, anyone who met them thought they were traders and treated them accordingly. The Mule's ruthless attack on Trantor had been devastating, and the survivors numbered now barely more than a hundred men and women, across the galaxy. Their physical separation from each other was necessary for survival.
Still, Hari Seldon's plan existed, and the survivors of the Second Foundation had not given up all hope, yet. They still had the Prime Radiant, and to their knowledge the Mule did not. The Prime Radiant contained an enormous amount of information. It had to, for it contained a projection of history out to a thousand years, including multiple variations. The projection was unattractive to the men in the room, for it now indicated that the plan was almost unsalvageable. The Mule sat upon his throne on the planet of Kalgan, his incredible mutant powers bending an entire galaxy to his will. The planet Terminus, once home to the powerful First Foundation now lie under his sway, and their brilliant scientists and workers in technology were his in totality.
"What have they found?" inquired the First Speaker. His title denoted him as the senior member of the Second Foundation, and it allowed him little more than what its name denoted. He was always allowed to speak first.
"We do not yet know, but our agent informed us of great alarm and surprise among scouts returning from the core."
"Indeed," the First Speaker raised an eyebrow. By tradition, the First Speaker was an older man, at least in his mid-forties. The destruction of Trantor's surface had forced an end to that tradition, as older men no longer existed within the Second Foundation. First Speaker Prattok was only thirty-two. Most of the other survivors were considerably younger, but they showed maturity for their age. Their survival depended upon it.
Both men continued in conversation, though few actual words were exchanged. As always they diligently studied the numbers projecting forth from the Prime Radiant, searching for means to return the current timeline to Seldon's plan. Optimism for a return had been dim for a long time now, but perhaps there was at last some shred of hope.