On her way back to the Enterprise after attending a conference at a nearby starbase, Deanna Troi brought her shuttlecraft out of warp at the designated rendezvous point. The viewscreen displayed nothing but empty space; the Enterprise would not arrive for another three hours. She had made a quick exit from the starbase in order to escape the persistent advances of a lecherous and obviously inebriated Andorian. Although that meant she would have to wait a while before the Enterprise showed up, Troi was looking forward to this chance for quiet, undisturbed reflection. After all, she hadn’t set aside as much time for rest and meditation in recent weeks as a Betazoid needed.
Soon after she lit a pair of chocolate-scented votive candles and closed her eyes, however, the soothing New Galactic Age music gave way to a sudden cacophony of warning buzzers. She spun around to face the viewscreen. It now showed her a huge and rapidly expanding wormhole that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Troi desperately flung herself toward the helm controls, knowing that it was probably too late to escape.
Strong turbulence threw the counselor to the deck as the shuttle was pulled into the vortex of the wormhole. Both candles splattered against a bulkhead, leaving small sizzling puddles. Fortunately, the interior of the shuttle was not flammable. Troi cautiously picked herself up from the deck as the turbulence lessened. The viewscreen cleared, displaying a pattern of stars that she had never seen before. Then the wormhole, as quickly as it had opened, once again closed behind her.
A computer inquiry provided little help in determining where in space and time she might be. About all Troi could figure out was that she had somehow ended up in another galaxy, long ago and far, far away.
Padme Amidala narrowed her eyes suspiciously as she viewed the image of the small vessel that had just appeared in front of her personal yacht. Could this be another assassination attempt? Although the star charts for this sector indicated the occasional presence of unstable wormholes, she had never considered the security implications to be of much concern. After all, the wormholes had no history of having been used for hostile purposes.
The craft’s design and weaponry matched no known enemy configurations, and it had made no threatening moves toward her yacht. All the same, a politician didn’t survive as long as she had without taking all possible precautions for her own safety. Since the start of the Clone Wars, the most prudent course of action, as the old saying went, was to shoot first and ask questions later. In the unlikely event that the occupant of the strange vessel had only peaceful intentions, Amidala planned to make the poor fool prove it.
“Target all weapons on that ship,” she ordered, before opening a communications channel. She noted that the alien ship, instead of targeting its own weapons in return, merely activated some kind of shielding system. A gesture of good will, evidently. Such ridiculous folly was almost enough in itself to convince Amidala that her visitor must have come from another galaxy.
“Alien vessel, you have violated the territorial limits of the Naboo system,” she announced sternly. “Surrender at once and prepare for a lengthy detention.”
The comm system squawked with static before resolving into a woman’s soft voice. “This is Commander Deanna Troi of the United Federation of Planets. My intrusion was entirely unintentional. May I request assistance in finding a way to return to my original location? Star charts showing recent wormhole activity would be most helpful.”
A reluctant smile began to form on Amidala’s lips. The alien visitor was certainly bold enough, despite her absurdly pacifistic behavior. Perhaps she might have technology or skills that would prove to be useful. This could turn out to be the start of a very interesting relationship.
Troi brought her shuttle down smoothly on the field where she’d been instructed to land. The small spaceport appeared to be part of an isolated, well-guarded private compound. As she stepped down to the soft, slightly damp ground, Troi saw two bearlike aliens approaching her, with their sidearms drawn. They wore no clothing, unless one cared to count their bulging ammunition belts. One of them produced a scanner of an unfamiliar design, evidently checking her for concealed weapons, and then uttered a low growl.
“Thank you, Rurichowa. Yes, I’m pleased that our visitor has the good manners to remain unarmed.” The trace of a sneer on her aristocratic captor’s face gave Troi the distinct impression that no sensible person in this galaxy would have done so. That impression was reinforced by the amused condescension that she could sense emanating from the other woman.
“I am Senator Padme Amidala. If I find that you possess useful skills, I may deign to allow you to serve me.”
Not the most pleasant greeting, but it could have been worse. Troi firmly shook the pale, slender hand that Amidala extended toward her. An unexpected tingle raced along her nerves at the contact, and she could feel a probing presence begin to take shape at the corners of her mind. The attempted mental intrusion was clumsy, indeed rather childish, by Betazoid standards. Naboo’s inhabitants evidently possessed only the most rudimentary psionic skills. Troi carefully brushed the intruding tendril of consciousness away from her thoughts, as if shooing away a fly, and released Amidala’s hand.
“You’re a telepath! How splendid!” Amidala beamed, her delight clearly genuine. “And so highly skilled! Even the Jedi Knights lack your skill in repelling thought-incursions, although I have to admit there are a few masters whose thoughts I’ve never been able to affect. For instance, that nasty little frog Yoda — not that I’d want to wade around in the muck of his thoughts, anyway — but never mind that. I’m only a touch-telepath, as you’ve discovered, and my training as a politician dealt only with manipulating others. My ability to sense emotions is very limited. Do you have any idea of just how long I’ve been looking for a bodyguard with empathic abilities that function at a reasonable range? For years, my dear, for years; the Jedi snap up all the talented children as soon as they find them. If you can stay here and work for me, I’ll make it well worth your while.”
“I’m sorry, Senator, but I can’t accept your generous offer. I have no experience as a security officer and wouldn’t be at all qualified. Besides, I have to return to my ship and resume my duties as a counselor.”
“As a what?” Amidala looked blank. “Well, it doesn’t matter, whatever it is. You’re going to have to wait a long time before that wormhole opens again, and while you’re waiting, you may as well make yourself useful. Even if you have no experience in security, a few sessions of weapons practice and martial arts training should be sufficient. As you’ve seen, I keep the Wookies around to provide brute force when necessary. They can be replaced quite easily. On the other hand, an empath who has the ability to sense an assassin lurking in another room is far harder to come by.”
Troi said nothing for a moment, as she tried to find a diplomatic way to phrase another refusal without causing an angry reaction. Although she had no desire to become involved in the political affairs of worlds she knew nothing about, Amidala seemed to be quite capable of preventing her from re-entering the wormhole if sufficiently provoked.
Apparently mistaking the brief hesitation as indicating a potential interest in the job, Amidala reached again to touch Troi’s hand, murmuring as she did so, “And there can be other pleasant — compensations — between two women with the good fortune to possess such complementary telepathic abilities. Surely you’ve shared pleasure with other women before, my dear, haven’t you?”
This time, the tingle that radiated into her body from Amidala’s touch was unmistakably centered in the area of her groin. Troi took a long, shuddering breath, thinking of just how long it had been since Will Riker had made her feel half this good. True, he was an enthusiastic lover, but his near-total lack of empathic awareness had always been a major failing — not to mention his inability to keep his pants zipped whenever he met an attractive alien. Looking at things from that point of view, it was about time she had a few of her own adventures, instead of meekly waiting for Will to return from his latest conquest.
When Amidala, still holding the counselor’s hand, turned to lead the way toward the nearby mansion, Troi didn’t need any more persuasion to go with her.
The soft morning light filtered into the bedroom through the rich draperies. Amidala cast an appreciative glance along the length of Troi’s sweaty figure as her newly acquired lover writhed in ecstasy under her skilled ministrations. She could feel the resonance of Troi’s pleasure echoing all through her own body, a delicious sensation that she had never before experienced with such marvelous intensity. Even after a long night of delightful mutual exploration, she was certain that Troi still had more surprises in store for her.
And it had been so ridiculously easy to convince the foolish woman that she had chosen to stay on Naboo as Amidala’s bodyguard of her own accord. Troi had carelessly neglected to consider the possibility that Amidala might possess more telepathic talent than she had chosen to display, even though Amidala had been entirely truthful in describing her ability to manipulate the minds of Jedi Knights — who were, after all, the galaxy’s elite. Such carelessness would prove to be most unfortunate for Troi, who would never get another chance to escape Amidala’s domination.
But then, Amidala thought, considering the rapturous delight that her new lover was enjoying, perhaps there was nothing unfortunate about it after all.
Troi spun around, her bare feet sliding easily across the polished hardwood floor, and aimed a powerful backward kick in the direction of Rurichowa’s midsection. The hulking Wookie roared as he swung a paw downward to block the kick, not quite fast enough. Troi could sense amused approval from the slender figure lounging in the doorway.
“Yes, I think you’ll do quite nicely, Deanna. A few months of practice have done wonders. Now go shower and change into something more formal. My husband will be arriving within the hour.”
That unwelcome bit of news brought a scowl to Troi’s face. “You never told me that you were married.”
“As far as our relationship is concerned, it’s not important.” Amidala shrugged lazily. “I married Anakin purely for convenience, because I needed protection. He’s a Jedi warrior, one of the most powerful, and he’s saved my life on several occasions. When it comes to sex, though, I’d much rather be enjoying your gorgeous body, believe me.”
Amidala sounded entirely sincere. Feeling somewhat reassured by that explanation, Troi left the exercise room and got into the shower. As the warm water cascaded over her body, she closed her eyes, imagining the soft caresses of Amidala’s lips touching her.
The awareness of disturbing emotions from an unfamiliar mind intruded upon her fantasy. She could sense a malevolent, brooding presence, a powerful and obsessive entity with a casual enjoyment of cruelty. Whatever it might be, it was rapidly coming closer. She shut off the water, toweled herself dry with a quick shudder, and dressed quickly. Amidala would have to be warned at once.
She found the senator, now garbed in an elegant velvet gown, calmly descending a staircase as if she had no concerns at all.
“There’s some kind of evil presence approaching,” Troi blurted out, unable to conceal her agitation. “I’ve never felt anything like it before. I can sense a vicious, warped mind, extremely powerful, capable of killing huge numbers of innocent victims with no remorse whatsoever.”
“I’m afraid that’s just Anakin, my dear.” Raising a hand to her throat, Amidala languidly adjusted a gleaming pearl necklace. “The poor boy has, shall we say, a few bats flapping around in the braincase. But I assure you that he’s completely devoted to me and would never do me any harm. In fact, he often tells me that he would die for me. Quaint, isn’t it?”
“But . . .”
“Deanna, believe me, there’s nothing to worry about. Now, why don’t you run along and find something to do, by yourself. I’ve decided that it might be best if you and Anakin don’t have any contact with one another, after all.”
Standing on the lush grass as she watched Anakin’s spaceship climb into a dazzlingly clear sky, Amidala took a deep breath of the crisp air. How refreshing it was to be rid of his annoying, puppylike devotion, at least for a while. Of course, she had played the clinging wife and pretended to be distraught about it, as usual. Now that he was gone, though, she could get back to enjoying her life.
She heard footsteps behind her and turned to find Deanna Troi, wearing that old alien uniform, with a surprisingly purposeful look on her face. Evidently, the mental control had started to wear off; it had been several days since Amidala had last touched her.
“I need to get back to my ship,” Troi announced, looking thoroughly mutinous. “According to the star charts I’ve been studying, the wormhole is due to appear again today. But you have a force field in place around my shuttlecraft, preventing me from leaving. I want you to shut it down, at once.”
“Really, Deanna, do you imagine that you’re a prisoner here?” Amidala laughed lightly. “How very absurd. I’ve been keeping your shuttle safely protected since your arrival, entirely for security reasons, of course. You’re free to leave whenever you wish. The force field controls have only a simple thumbprint lock; I’ll walk over there with you right now and unlock them. But surely you have time for one last kiss before you leave?”
Just as Amidala reached for her, Troi took a step to her left with a look of increasing worry, gazing intently at a bright streak that had just appeared in the eastern sky.
“That’s not part of Anakin’s fleet.”
“No, it’s a cargo ship that’s scheduled to make a delivery today. I’ve known the ship’s captain for years; he’s thoroughly loyal. There’s no reason for concern.” Amidala smiled brightly, once again extending her arms toward her recalcitrant lover.
“It’s been hijacked,” Troi shouted. “They’re going to . . .”
That was all Amidala needed to hear before she started diving for the meager shelter afforded by a small concrete warehouse building. She could see Troi not far from her, just as a missile struck the spot where the two women had been standing. Clods of earth and tufts of grass spattered down around her. Then something rock-hard struck her in the side of the head, and she slumped to the ground, senseless.
The compound’s air defenses finally fell silent as the hijacked ship, trailing a huge plume of smoke, crashed into a nearby woods and exploded. Troi raised her head cautiously and glanced toward the two Wookies, both of whom appeared to be severely injured and incapable of movement. She opened her hand and dropped the chunk of concrete that she had just used to bash Padme Amidala in the head.
“It’s been real, it’s been fun,” Troi muttered, looking down at the unconscious woman next to her. “It’s not been real fun.”
She lifted Amidala up in a fireman’s carry and trudged toward the shuttle, feeling grateful that the Wookies had made her lift weights and practice for hours carrying a dummy. You just never knew when a skill might suddenly come in handy.
Although clumps of debris littered the ground next to the shuttle, the force field appeared to have protected it from any damage. Pressing Amidala’s thumb firmly against the lock, Troi smiled as a green light glowed on the panel. She dropped her former lover to the ground, without much concern for how hard Amidala fell, and proceeded to shut down the force field. According to her calculations, she’d be back in Federation space within minutes.
Just as her shuttle emerged from Naboo’s atmosphere, however, three ships of the local defense forces moved to pursue her. Someone had probably made the assumption, not unreasonable under the circumstances, that she had been involved in a conspiracy with the hijackers of the cargo ship. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to convince her pursuers of their error. A pale gleam from the direction of the wormhole’s coordinates indicated that it was already beginning to open.
Troi commenced evasive maneuvers just as one of the pursuing ships fired a warning shot past her starboard bow. A torpedo of some kind, launched a few seconds later, missed by a narrow margin. Although the shuttle’s shields were functioning at maximum capacity and would provide some protection, Troi didn’t know enough about her attackers’ weaponry to feel entirely confident in the shields. She managed to coax a bit more speed out of the shuttle’s straining engines and reached the wormhole just as her pursuers fired again.
She hadn’t expected that they would follow her into the wormhole. Finding herself alone in Federation space once again, after a short and bumpy ride, she was glad to discover that her prediction had been accurate. No doubt the Naboo defense forces had more urgent concerns at the moment.
As the wormhole closed, Troi accessed the time signal from the nearest subspace relay station to reset her shuttle’s chronometer. She discovered, much to her surprise, that less than three hours had passed in her own galaxy since her disappearance. Evidently, the intervals between the wormhole’s appearances were considerably more irregular on this end. No one on the Enterprise would even realize that she had been gone.
The comm beeped, and the familiar face of Will Riker appeared on the viewscreen. “We’ll be arriving at the rendezvous point in about ten minutes. Are you all right, Deanna? You look really tired.”
“I’m fine, Will. Nothing to worry about.” Troi ran a hand through her bedraggled hair, trying to restore it to some semblance of order. “Just ran into a little unexpected turbulence while I was waiting.”