Chief Engineer's Personal Log, Stardate 95421.9

As of today, I have served in Starfleet for twelve years, seven months, two weeks, three days, ten hours, and nine minutes. In all that time, I have not once questioned my decision to serve here…until today.

When I was deciding what career path I should choose, I had applied to both Starfleet Academy and the Vulcan Science Academy. It was the Science Academy I was hoping to enter, as it was far more prestigious, and would therefore make my mother more satisfied. I succeeded in my endeavor. At my initiation ceremony, the officers told me that I had done well, despite my "disadvantage" of being half human. I realized then that even though I had been accepted, I would never be truly welcomed. My human heritage would be common knowledge, and it would cause any studies of mine to be subject to scrutiny not normally given to a member of the Science Academy. In that moment, I felt a human emotion surfacing-pride, I believe it was-and I knew then and there where my destiny lay. I declined admission, and accepted entrance to Starfleet, an institution that, unlike the one on Vulcan, truly valued the diversity it promoted. At the time, I was concerned that my mother, a Vulcan, would be disappointed in my decision, but she allayed my fears by telling me that my decision was logical in light of the prejudice I faced.

Now, I find myself wishing that I had simply endured the prejudice and stayed at the Science Academy. Had I done so, I would not have been placed in the difficult position that today's events had forced me into. Our visit to the Andromeda Galaxy was cut short when Captain Aizen received a disturbing revelation of an alliance between the Romulans and the former rulers of this galaxy, and their plans to launch an invasion of Federation space. He decided that we should return to the Beta Quadrant and seal the wormhole behind us.

Upon our arrival at the wormhole, though, we came upon two large war vesssels-"Star Destroyers", I believe the locals call them-at the entrance, about to pass through. They were blocking our path, and had to either be stopped or destroyed; if the Romulans got hold of the blueprints for them, they would have had little trouble conquering the Federation. The Captain ordered me to calibrate the deflector array to emit a phase-variance graviton beam and fire it at the wormhole. I was reluctant to do so, as I knew that my actions would permanently close the wormhole. However, the Captain's logic was sound, and I had no choice but to obey. The Destroyer entering the wormhole was destroyed, and we engaged the warp engine and evaded before the remaining ship could determine our location.

I have chosen to honor both my human and Vulcan heritage by moderating my emotions. Now, I wish I would have chosen one or the other. Even if I had still declined entrance to the Science Academy, if I were fully Vulcan, I could deal better with my overwhelming guilt and anguish; if I were human, perhaps I would have had the courage to defy the Captain's orders.

But I have gone on long enough in this irrelevant line of thought. The Captain has set a course for us to return to the Rebel fleet. Perhaps I shall meditate and center myself so I can better resolve my ambivalence toward logic.

The door chimed. "Who is it?" Halibel asked.

"It's me," the reply came.

Why must it be him, of all people? She sighed. "Enter."

Nnoitra slowly strode in, which was rather unexpected. He seemed to prefer barging most of the time, but the ship's predicament had obviously hit him hard, too. Even his usual grin had disappeared. "How are you holding up?" He asked.

"I am persevering," Halibel answered, not opening her eyes.

He sat down next to her. "You're not feeling too happy." It wasn't a question.

"What makes you say that?"

"Any normal person would be," Nnoitra pointed out. "After all, you did carry out the Captain's order."

"We've been over this," Halibel said, a hint of irritation in her voice, "Vulcans are not devoid of emotion. In many ways, our emotions are stronger than those of humans…and Cardassians, for that matter. We have taught ourselves to control our emotions, and have built our culture around such control."

"It's bothering you." Again, it was a statement, not a question. "You meditate whenever something's heavy on your conscience."

"Leave me alone," Halibel said, turning to face away from him.

"How do you know talking about it won't make you feel better?" Nnoitra leaned closer.

"If I wanted to talk about it, I would have spoken to Counselor Inoue," Halibel insisted.

"You know," Nnoitra ignored her, "I'm not having an easy time here, either. This ship is so blasted cold outside of my quarters. I may never see Cardassia Prime again, or feel the warmth of its sun on my face. On the bright side, I also won't have to worry about the Obsidian Order breathing down my neck all day."

Halibel opened her eyes. "How are you so composed?" Her voice bore a hint of anger; this was unusual, as she rarely expressed any degree of emotion. "How do you find it so easy to control your passions at a time like this?"

"Are you really sure you don't want to tell me what's bothering you?" Nnoitra placed a hand on her thigh.

"I suppose I have nothing to lose," she didn't try to remove the Cardassian's hand from her leg. "And Counselor Inoue is probably busy."

Few people under the leadership of Supreme Commander Tu had suffered even a semblance of the abuse she was dealing to the practice dummy in her quarters. It was outfitted with a Starfleet Captain's uniform and a brown wig. She was dressed in tight-fitting, revealing workout clothes, and dealt the dummy countless kicks, punches, elbow jabs, and practice sword strikes. Her face was flushed and angry, and her whole outfit was saturated with sweat.

"That…selfish…schutta!" She punched the dummy in its shoulder, knocking it to the floor, where it sprung back up. As far as she could tell, her movement was doomed. The Galactic Alliance would be crushed by the Imperial Remnant sooner or later, and all because Aizen insisted on obeying that kriffing Prime Directive. Sure, her soldiers would fight honorably, as she had inspired them to, but even they couldn't keep the Empire down forever; especially not with their new figurehead. She'd heard rumors that he, like his predecessor Vader, was a Sith Lord. If that was true, and the Empire won, the Galaxy would doubtlessly be in for at least another century of Palpatinism. Her father had taught her to dedicate her life to preventing such a thing from happening. He had been everything to her, and knowing that she was fulfilling his wishes was the only thing that had been able to stop her grieving his untimely death.

"Mistress Neriel," her protocol droid, P3-SH3, contacted her on the intercom.

"WHAT?" She demanded, still striking the dummy.

"I apologize for interrupting your physical conditioning, but you have a visitor."

She paused briefly. "Who is it?"

"It is the Federation Captain. Shall I show him in or send him away?"

This was unexpected. After a moment of thought, she stuffed the practice dummy into her closet and grabbed a towel from a rack nearby. "Show him in, Pesche," she said, wrapping the towel over her shoulders.

The door slid open and Aizen stepped inside, one of his hands behind his back. "Hello again, Supreme Commander," he said, looking her up and down. "Have I come at a bad time?"

"I didn't think I'd see you again," she said, drying her forehead. "You've got quite some nerve, coming back here."

"I didn't expect a warm welcome back, so I thought I'd bring you a little gift." Aizen pulled his hand from behind his back, revealing a bouquet of various flowers from the botany bay on the Noches.

"Oh!" Nel gasped at seeing them, and leaned in to smell them. "They're lovely! I'll have my droid put them in a vase."

"So, are you still willing to accept my help?"

"Yes," she said, "In fact, we can't win the war without it."

"I see," Aizen breathed a sigh of relief, glad that the Supreme Commander's warlike upbringing hadn't bred away all of her femininity. "So, what exactly do you need from us?"

She sat down on her couch, and invited Aizen to join her. "We need you to explain your Warp Drive to our scientists so that we can adapt it to our ships."

"But…aren't you already capable of faster-than-light travel?"

"Yes, but our hyperdrive has a weakness that the Imps have been able to exploit, and the Romulans have helped them overcome that weakness on their own ships."

"What is it?"

"I don't understand it fully," Nel said, "But I will have Admiral Ackbar explain it to you. He's more knowledgeable about technology than I am. I can take care of the political aspects of our alliance."

"Okay. What intelligence would you be willing to share with me?"

"Anything you need. We have seen how principled you are, and we don't wish to alienate any potential allies."

"Good," Aizen leaned forward, ready to stand.

"Wait," Nel grabbed his arm. "Isn't there anything else you want from us?"

"I didn't have anything in mind."

"You collapsed the wormhole, didn't you?"

Aizen's eyes went wide. "How did you know?"

Nel shrugged. "I can't think of any other reason why you'd change your mind about helping us. You're trapped here, with no communications with Starfleet, and you have nothing else to do."

"Yes," Aizen said, "That about sums it up."

"I have plenty to offer you once the war ends. Your crew, I'm sure, wishes to settle down somewhere. There are thousands of human colonies throughout the galaxy, and I'm sure I could help you locate a suitable one. And, of course, we'd give them money to help them start their new lives," she offered.

"That's more than we could ask for," Aizen said. "You have yourself a deal."

"Good," Nel smiled and held a datapad out to Aizen. "If you would just place your thumbprint here…"

Aizen complied. "Thank you. You're helping us more than you know."

"As you are helping us. The Empire is pure evil, and they cannot be permitted to rule the galaxy again. At some point, I might fill you in on the extent of their atrocities. But for now, we have work to do. I'll transmit Admiral Ackbar's contact information to your ship's computer." She extended her hand. "I hope ours will be a long, strong, and friendly alliance."

Aizen shook it. "I hope so, too." He pressed his badge. "Aizen to Noches. One to beam up."

As her newly found friend disappeared in a cloud of light blue energy, Nel walked over to her bed and removed a metal box underneath. It would open only with her retinal scan. iIt's now or never, she thought. If only you were alive to see this day, daddy…

Inside the box was an object older than any living creature in the galaxy, and far more powerful. Four thousand years before, the person who used it had threatened the very existence of the Old Republic. It had several cracks, no doubt the result of time. It was, in fact, a white mask with three small slits to accommodate the eyes and breathing appendages of a humanoid. In and of itself, the mask held no special power; it was not an object of the Jedi or the Sith, though it did bear a great similarity to many Sith artifacts in that it granted its wearer the power to control many loyal followers, much like the talisman of Karness Muur. But, unlike the Muur Talisman-which granted the wearer the power to create and subjugate hideous mutants known as rakghouls-the mask gave the wearer control over a sophisticated, powerful army of many species with minds of their own, but all loyal to the same ideal-the Mandalorian way.

Her hands trembled as she delicately and ceremoniously pulled the mask from the box and placed it on her face. Power was as much a burden as a strength, and she intended to make the New Republic stronger than before, which would all be possible with this mask. "From this day forth," Nel intoned, "History shall know me as Mand'alore…the Restorer. Clan Odelschwank will live again."

"Why did you come after me?"

Miska didn't look up from the control panel. "Huh?"

TREA swiveled his chair to face her. "Come on. You got your bio-mimetic gel back. Why not just let me go? We're not in your galaxy anymore."

"Do you still not grasp the magnitude of your crime?" Miska's usual irritation was showing.

He put his hands behind his head and leaned back. "I think you just can't bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight."

Miska scoffed. "I don't know where you get your delusions, phaser-brain." Before TREA could think up a response, she changed the subject. "What can you tell me about this planet we're going to?"

"Tatooine is a desert planet, like Vulcan. However, it's a lot less pleasant than Vulcan. The system has two suns, so it's a lot hotter, and the inhabitants are disagreeable at best. Tatooine just has a few things, and in order from least dangerous to most dangerous, they are sand, Jawas, banthas, sand people, krayt dragons, and Yami."

"Yami's your boss, right? What's he like?

"He's your typical Hutt: greedy, arrogant, gluttonous, and powerful. He has only two redeeming qualities: he pays well, and he's got a sense of humor. He offends easily, so I think that you should just stay in the ship while I speak to him. Trust me, if you anger a Hutt, it's the last thing you'll ever do."

"Really?" Miska's voice rose. "You think I'm not trained in diplomacy? I am a member of Star-" She was cut off as the ship lurched.

"Sir," Worvil spoke up. "We're being hailed."

"Put them through," TREA instructed. A large humanoid man with dark skin and yellow eyes filled the viewscreen. "What do you want, Zommari?"

"I want you to stop your ship, turn off your shields, and prepare to be boarded. I'm taking you to Yami."

"I was just on my way to see him," TREA said, "So back off."

Zommari raised his hand. "You're coming with me. Now."

"Have you forgotten, Zommari? I'm an android. Your Sith powers have no effect on me."

"Really? Thank you for the reminder." He turned slightly and pointed to Miska.

Miska clutched at the collar of her uniform and made a series of gagging noises. TREA reached for the communicator switch, but the panel erupted in sparks, fusing the switch in place. Miska's face was showing a tinge of blue. "Fine! You win. I'm lowering my shields."

Zommari lowered his hand and Miska gasped, her face returning to its natural color. "How did he do that?"

"Even I can't fully explain it."

Several hours later, after Zommari had taken them aboard his ship and landed on Tatooine, the two of them stepped off the loading ramp and into a landspeeder Zommari had stored on his ship. Miska was bound with a rope and TREA with a durasteel chain-a mere formality, as their captor could have felt the speeder unbalancing if either of them were foolish enough to try jumping out. At least a full minute passed before Miska could comfortably open her eyes all the way. "You weren't kidding," she said as they cruised through streets filled with dirty, destitute families, glaringly crooked vendors, and desperate thugs, all of whom were giving Zommari's speeder a wide berth. "This place feels like an oven. I'm sure Nnoitra would love it here."

"Yeah," TREA's voice was deeper than usual, and his words came out more slowly. "The heat's really making my circuits lag. I should've drunk a bottle of coolant when I had the chance." He raised his voice to speak to their host. "Say, Zommy, why is a powerful Sith Lord like you doing bounty work for a mere crime boss?"

"The Hutt has an ancient holocron that my master wants," he answered. "I plan to exchange you and the girl for it."

TREA seemed intent on discovering every detail of everything he was pulled into. "I don't get it; why not just take it from Yami? I'm sure you are more than a match for a Hutt and his bodyguards."

"My master says that the Hutt may prove useful to us again in the future. He is well-connected. Believe me, my master's orders are the only reason the Hutt is still alive now. To me, he is nothing more than a festering, mountainous pustule who fancies himself a high lord of merchants and criminals."

"I see." TREA turned back to Miska. "I think I should explain more about Yami to you. He's head of the Llargo clan. They're powerful Hutts who pretty much destroyed the Desilijic clan. Desilijic's last leader, Jabba, was the de facto ruler of Tatooine. Hutts consider themselves superior to all other species in the galaxy, and they don't like being told otherwise. If Yami questions us, let me do the talking. If he asks you a question specifically, address him as 'Your Excellency', and do all you can to hide your disgust."

"I beg your pardon!" Miska was indignant. "You can't be a Starfleet officer if you hold prejudices against aliens. I've met members of over fifty different sentient species."

"Trust me," TREA insisted, "You'll find it very hard to be impartial around Yami."

"We're here," Zommari announced, bringing the speeder to a halt right next to a stone staircase leading to a large, circular building made of rusted durasteel. The party was approached by several large, menacing, porcine creatures carrying large axes. One of them pointed its axe at Zommari and snorted in a rather threatening tone. Zommari raised his hand and the creature sputtered, clutching its neck, until it fell down dead. Miska winced, her feelings of revulsion placed by ones of sympathy. The rest of the creatures moved to the sides of the staircase, allowing Zommari to walk his captives up the steps and through the front door.

Even touring a prison on the Klingon homeworld couldn't prepare Miska for what she saw. "Thugs" would have been an overly generous description of the crowd around her; two dozen different species, all of whom were armed to the teeth (or whatever passed for teeth amongst them) and looking at her in a manner clearly designed to intimidate. She did her best not to let them know that they were succeeding. At the far end of the dimly-lit chamber, there was a throne with a yellow light shining down on its occupant: a gigantic wrinkled slug with two bulbous green eyes and short, stubby, three-fingered arms. The creature's skin was oozing some kind of yellow oil that Miska could smell from four meters away. She forced her lunch back down her esophagus.

The creature emitted a loud, deep bellow. "He!llo, Zom!mari! Y!ou nev!er fa!il to dis!appoint me."

"Where is it, Yami?"

The Hutt waved his arm, and a human-like creature with two long tails growing out of its head appeared, carrying a pillow with a small box in it. The box floated into the air and flew into Zommari's grasp. He opened it and removed from it a pyramid-shaped object about the size of his palm-the holocron, obviously. Before he even touched it, Miska felt a shiver run through her body-whatever this holocron was, it contained pure evil. Though it may have been the dim lights playing tricks on her eyes, she could have sworn that she saw a cloud of black energy emanating from it.

As if to confirm Miska's notions, menacing red light glowed from the crystal and seemed to respond to Zommari's touch. He glared at it, and a cloaked figure wearing a Mandalorian mask emerged. "Who are you?" The figure asked. It was impossible to tell if the voice was male or female.

"I am Darth Zommari, and I seek the secrets of Revan. Is that who you are?"

"Yes, I am Darth Revan, but I will not share my secrets with you. You are not yet ready."

"I will prove myself. But not right now." Zommari stared at the holocron, and it shut off. "Very well, Hutt, I am satisfied. My prisoners are now yours. Do whatever you like with them."

"I ve!ry mu!ch l!ook for!ward to do!ing busi!ness wi!th y!ou in th!e fu!ture!" Yami called as Zommari walked out.

Two of the pig-like guards stood behind TREA and Miska, urging them to step closer to Yami. "TR!EA, my b!oy, wh!y di!d it ha!ve to co!me to th!is? Y!ou we!re o!ne of my be!st smug!glers, an!d y!ou ma!de th!e mis!take of los!ing yo!ur car!go. H!ow cou!ld y!ou ma!ke su!ch an ama!teurish blun!der?"

"He didn't lose his cargo," Miska interjected, her Universal Translator finally having adapted to Huttese. "Zommari stole it, and he's probably selling it as soon as he leaves the planet."

"Miska," TREA would have jabbed her with his elbow were his arms not chained, "For your own sake, shut up."

"No, no! Le!t h!er sp!eak!" Yami let out his deep, guttural laugh. "It's qu!ite r!are th!at I me!et a hum!anoid wh!o c!an sp!eak th!e ton!gue of sop!histicated, civ!ilized peo!ple so we!ll."

"Remember what I told you about talking to him, Miska," TREA warned.

"Wh!at is yo!ur na!me, pr!etty o!ne?" Yami probed.

"I am Ueda Miska of the planet Bajor in the Milky Way galaxy. What happened was that TREA was on his way to deliver your shipment, and his ship was seized in a tractor beam by Yami, who took us prisoner and stole TREA's cargo. He duped you to get that holocron and made off with your goods."

"A!re y!ou call!ing me a fo!ol?" Yami demanded.

"I most certainly am…Your Excellency."

TREA bowed his head in defeat. Miska was just too hotheaded for her own good. To his surprise, Yami began laughing. "Y!ou're bra!ve, lit!tle huma!noid, b!eing so hon!est to a Hu!tt. B!ut ar!e y!ou be!ing hon!est ab!out wh!at hap!pened to TR!EA's car!go f!or me?"

"Think about it," Miska said, "If TREA had done something stupid like, say, selling your cargo instead of bringing it to you, why would he have returned to this galaxy?"

"Y!ou ma!ke a go!od poi!nt," Yami reached into a bowl of water beside his throne, pulled out a small, squirming creature, and shoved it down his throat. "Y!ou s!ay th!at wi!th su!ch con!viction, I belie!ve y!ou." TREA raised his head hopefully. "B!ut the!re mu!st st!ill be cons!equences. TR!EA, you're go!od, an!d I li!ke y!ou, bu!t I can't aff!ord to ma!ke exc!eptions. Y!ou ow!e me tw!enty-f!ive ba!rs of go!ld-pres!sed lat!inum. Luck!ily, I ha!ve a j!ob f!or y!ou. I wa!nt y!ou to se!nd a mes!sage to Dord!oni of th!e Soc!accio kaj!idic on N!al Hut!ta. He h!as be!en cut!ting in on my bus!iness, an!d I wa!nt to te!ll hi!m to kn!ock it of!f. I nor!mally pa!y te!n ba!rs fo!r th!is jo!b, so I wi!ll simp!ly be red!ucing yo!ur de!bt to fif!teen ba!rs."

"And…what if he hates the message, and has TREA disintegrated?" Miska voiced concern.

"He won't!" Yami assured her. "To us Hut!ts, messe!ngers ar!e sa!cred. Harm!ing on!e is a cr!ime heav!ily pun!ished."

"I'll take the job, Yami. I'm sure that goes without saying."

Yami chuckled. "Of cou!rse, of cou!rse. Gua!rd! Un!do th!eir rest!raints."

One of the porcine sentries approached, cutting Miska's ropes with his knife and cutting TREA's chains with a small plasma torch. "Okay, Yami. Where's the message?" The same alien who had given Zommari the holocron came with a holoprojector and a box.

"Thanks, Bib," TREA said, lifting both items with relative ease. "Come on, Miska, let's go."

"No!t so fa!st," Yami warned, and two of his guards blocked TREA with their axes. "Y!ou ma!y go, bu!t t!he gi!rl mu!st st!ay as col!lateral."

"But…" TREA protested.

"Just go, TREA," Miska said. "I'm a Starfleet officer; I can take care of myself, and I think I've gotten on Yami's good side."

"What if…" He wouldn't leave.

"Just go," Miska repeated. "I've gotten through tough situations before." She leaned toward him and lightly kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be fine."

"All right. See you later, I guess." On his way out, TREA looked back over his shoulder three times before the palace doors closed behind him.

"Co!me he!re, co!me he!re," Yami instructed Miska, pointing to the floor directly in front of his chair.

Miska knew better than to disobey. "What is it, Your Excellency?"

"Te!ll me, h!ow is it th!at y!ou sp!eak my no!ble lan!guage so we!ll?"

She didn't dare tell him how, for fear that he would take her communicator and she would, by proxy, violate the Prime Directive, so she made up a lie. "My people are gifted with languages more than anything else. We learn them very quickly."

"Go!od," Yami said. "I ha!ve a j!ob f!or y!ou. I ha!ve be!en with!out a trans!lator fo!r so!me ti!me. I wo!uld ha!ve ask!ed TR!EA, bu!t I am mo!re in ne!ed of go!od pi!lots. Y!ou sho!uld be id!eal f!or th!e j!ob. Wi!ll y!ou ta!ke it?"

"What are the benefits?"

"In add!ition to fr!ee ro!om an!d bo!ard, y!ou wi!ll ge!t pa!id te!n str!ips of lat!inum a d!ay, y!ou wi!ll ha!ve y!our o!wn pers!onal gu!ard, your own personal quarters, an!d y!ou wi!ll be giv!en what!ever med!ical treat!ment y!ou re!quire."

"What would it cost me to stay in your palace as a guest?"

"Te!n str!ips p!er d!ay," Yami said.

Miska didn't have that kind of money. "Okay, I'll take the job."

Yami waved his arm, and his majordomo stepped forward, carrying a pillow with what looked like two strings with rags on them. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a salmon pink dancer's outfit that left little to the imagination. "Y!ou wi!ll al!so we!ar th!is," he instructed.