Synopsis: Further adventures of Seven as she and her Trekkie friends confront their ultimate challenge - Star Wars fans.
Note: This tale contains numerous characters from both the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. If a reader is unfamiliar with the Star Wars characters, the official Star Wars databank can provide more information than I can include in this tale. I am trying to not clutter the story with too much detail on the characters, but to provide enough to identify most of the characters...
This story was posted a long time ago (in a galaxy far away ....) on another site. It has been mildly modified here - some of the very long list of changed characters has been deleted or shortened for readability without altering the intent of the story. And I know that I really pushed the limits of my own universe. So sue me - after you enjoy the story.
This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
*** Prologue ***
Danni bolted upright, her eyes open and tightly focused. She forced herself to take a deep breath so she could concentrate on what had so disturbed her regeneration cycle. After a few moments, she swung her legs off the steel platform and stood. The swirling tendrils of energy which had animated the head rest of the unit faded into nothingness, leaving the room mostly dark. That fact, however, didn't bother Danni. Her Borg eye implant amplified the light, making the room appear to her as if bathed in sunlight.
Softly, she padded across the room and gracefully eased her curvy feminine body, clad as always in a silvery cat suit, into a chair at a desk. From old habit, she glanced needlessly at a glowing digital clock; her Borg chronometer implants made external clocks totally unnecessary. 'Six fifty-two a.m. Darla is certainly awake by now,' she muttered to herself. She picked up the phone, and after thinking for a moment, she manually pushed the buttons. For a moment or two, she held the receiver to her ear, waiting, and judging from her expression, it was not patient waiting.
"Darla?" she asked aloud. "Danni. I think we need to go to the con next week." She frowned. "No, nothing ... solid. Call it a hunch." "Yes, I know. But I really got this sudden sense that we're going to be needed." "Yeah, I guess _you_ would call it woman's intuition. But _I_ wouldn't." "Okay. You call a few people, and I'll talk to the Klingons." "Right. Bye." Danni hung up the phone and stared at it for a few moments. She couldn't shake the feeling that had awakened her and caused her to make the call. Something was going to happen. Something big.
As soon as he'd shut his pickup door behind him, Sean Lowell wiped his brow with his sleeve - again. "I can't wait to get changed," he muttered. His hair was nearly soaked with sweat, and if not for the black color of the one-piece jumpsuit he wore, it would be showing massive sweat spots. He leaned heavily against the truck for a moment to rest, seemingly oblivious to how he might appear to the neighbors. After all, it wasn't every day one saw a man in a black body suit leaning against a pickup truck in his driveway - not in most neighborhoods, anyway.
On the other side of the truck, his wife Emily smiled, clad in a T-shirt and pants. "Yeah," she said, sounding sympathetic. "But the kids loved it." Her T-shirt was simple black, with a Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper helmet superimposed over an Imperial logo. Beneath that were the simple words 'Got Armor?'
Sean nodded slowly. Like the other members of the 501st Legion, Sean and Emily supported many charitable events, like the appearance at the Children's Hospital earlier that afternoon. "Yeah, I know," he said, sounding just a little sheepish. For many of the children, a chance to see Stormtroopers, Boba or Jango Fett, or even Darth Vader, was a huge thrill. Sean and Emily were happy to participate. "But I've got to figure out a way to stay cool in the armor." With fatigue in his step, he started walking toward the door to their house.
"You going to get your armor?" Emily asked as she glanced at the large trunk in the rear of the truck. With the camper shell, it was safe from theft, but that apparently wasn't her concern. The hot sun would make an oven out of the back of the pickup.
Sean sighed. "As soon as I change." He'd put way too much time and money into the costume to let the white ABS plastic Stormtrooper armor be ruined in the hot sun.
Emily nodded and closed her door. With her purse in one hand and her digital camera in the other, she followed Sean up the walk. "Too bad you don't have a real suit," she mused. "With a built-in cooling unit."
Sean laughed. "Yeah. That'd be cool. Or to actually be a Jedi or Sith? Or an alien? I bet you'd ..." His words cut off abruptly.
"What?" Emily asked almost immediately. She saw Sean reading a note that had been taped on the door.
Sean sighed. "Probably nothing," he sighed, "but then again, it might be." He handed the note to Emily and got out his keys to unlock the door.
Emily scanned the note. "Len said a meteorite hit our backyard?" she asked incredulously. "Is this another one of his jokes?"
Sean shook his head as he opened the door, basking for a moment in the cool air-conditioned breeze wafting around him. Knowing he was wasting energy, he stepped inside and closed the door after Emily, too, was out of the bright afternoon sun. "Doesn't sound like one of his gags," Sean said as he began to strip from his body suit. "He doesn't have that much imagination."
Emily frowned. "I'll go out back and have a look while you shower, okay?" She stepped to the kitchen, set her purse and camera on the table, and opened the patio door to their backyard. She had a feeling of dread as she stepped out to the patio. Slowly, she scanned the yard, fearing she'd find a smoking crater or something similar. But she didn't see anything. Emily felt herself relax a bit. It _had_ been a gag.
Then she spotted something in one of her flowerbeds. Her eyes narrowed as she peered. It looked like the neighbor's dog had been in her flowers again! She glanced, and frowned. The gate was still shut. So what had happened to her flowers? Puzzled, she walked briskly to the damaged bed.
Emily surveyed the damage. Something had blasted through one corner of her garden, taking out a rose bush and some assorted bedding plants, and even tearing up a bit of sod in the adjoining grass. She knelt down beside the dirt and looked more closely. She couldn't see anything that looked like it could have caused this. No lumps, no smoking rocks, nothing. Just like something had hit the flowerbed with destructive force as it passed through their back yard. She stood. If so, where was it? She scanned the yard again, and still she saw nothing.
Sighing to herself yet again, Emily trudged back to the house, skirting the edge of the pool as she did so. If something _had_ hit, it wasn't serious. Just a little touch-up on the garden and the lawn, and it'd look perfect. It could even wait. From the corner of her eye, she glanced at the pool. That was what Sean needed to cool off - a dip in the pool. Especially after standing all day in his hot armor.
Emily did a double-take. She peered again, then moved around the corner of the pool to avoid the reflected sun glare. The frown returned. There was something floating in the pool.
Emily poked her head into the living room, alarmed by her husband's outburst. "What?" she asked. She found herself staring, with Sean, at a large rectangular gray mass. "What ...?" she stammered. "Is it ... growing?"
Sean nodded. "I just rubbed the symbols on the face," he added, his eyes still riveted to the box.
When it reached the size of a telephone booth, the box stopped growing. It just sat there, plain and gray and looking completely out of place.
"You got any idea what it is?" Emily asked softly. Her hands still held the makings of another costume she was creating.
Sean stared at the gray box. "Not a clue," he replied just as softly.
Emily suppressed a shudder. "This is _weird_! I think we ought to leave it alone," she whispered.
Sean hadn't heard her as he moved quickly to the box. He walked around two plain gray sides, then he stopped. "I wonder if these are the controls," he asked as he stared at a black panel, a red crystalline three-fingered plate, and a purple knob.
"Sean," Emily pleaded softly, "let's leave it alone." Once she realized that he wasn't listening, she decided to change her course. "Did you get your armor out of the car yet?"
"What?" Sean swore under his breath. "No. I forgot." He glanced once more at the box, then he trudged slowly toward the door. His curiosity wasn't as strong as his sense of duty toward his precious Stormtrooper armor.
Emily sighed with relief as her ruse distracted Sean from the box - even if it was a brief victory. When she thought about the strange gray box, she felt a sense of foreboding.
"You going to come to bed?" Emily's weary voice startled Sean.
"In a couple of minutes," he answered quickly. "What time is it, anyway?"
Emily sighed. "It's nearly eleven."
"Huh?" Sean glanced at the clock to confirm her answer. "I didn't realize it was this late."
Emily sighed again. "Well, it is. Now would you _please_ leave that thing alone and come to bed? Before something happens?"
"Too late," Sean answered with a grin. "Look at this!" He grabbed Emily's hand and pulled her to his side. "I think this thing reads minds."
Emily looked at the box, at the display. "What ... how?" she stammered. "That looks like ... Aayla Secura." She stared at the image of the sexy blue-skinned Twilek Jedi.
Sean smiled. "Yup. All I had to do was touch the red plate here while I was thinking of her. The box made the picture show up on the display."
Emily's eyes widened. "Is this some kind of computer graphics display?" Her mouth dropped open. "Maybe this is some secret Air Force technology or something! We shouldn't be messing with it!"
Sean shook his head. "You know what those symbols on top looked like?" She nodded slowly. "The display had screens and screens full of them when I started." He pressed his lips together and shook his head more. "This isn't Air Force technology," he said firmly. "It's more like ... something alien."
Emily's eyes narrowed as she considered his words. "But ... that means ..."
Sean nodded, smiling. "We're not alone. UFOs are real. All kinds of neat things." He took Emily's hand and pressed it to the red plate. "Here. You try."
Emily frowned. "What do I do?"
Sean smiled. "Just think of one person or thing. You have to concentrate, but it'll show up on the display in a few seconds."
Emily turned her attention to the display. For a few seconds, nothing happened, then a figure began to materialize as if from a fog. Slowly, the figure took shape and definition, until Emily dropped her hand from the plate. The cone-headed Jedi master Ki Adi Mundi was clearly displayed on the screen. "Wow! It
Sean let her look for a bit before he put his hand on the red pad. In moments, the slave-girl version of Princess Leia was displayed. Still, Sean wasn't done. For a few more seconds, he concentrated, and then the display changed until Leia had very large breasts.
Emily slapped his arm. "Hey!" she objected in feigned protest. "What is it with you guys that every time you can, you exaggerate a girl's breasts?"
Sean laughed. "Just trying to see what she'd look like if she had your magnificent rack," he said playfully. Emily was sufficiently endowed that she would never take his playing as a threat or insult.
"My turn," Emily said again, pushing Sean aside by playfully bumping him with her chest. She put her hand on the red plate, and soon, a stern Grand Moff Tarkin showed on the display.
Sean countered quickly with Aurra Sing, the white-skinned bounty hunter from The Phantom Menace.
Emily smiled. "You know, the guys would have a lot of fun with this. Maybe we should take it with us?"
Sean nodded. "Yeah," he commented, suppressing a yawn as he tried to agree. "But right now, I'm getting tired. It's a long drive to the con, and if we're going to make the Garrison meeting before the convention opens, we'll have to leave early." He glanced once more at the screen before turning reluctantly away.
If Sean hadn't been so tired, he probably wouldn't have stumbled trying to get around Emily, the box, and the coffee table. Then again, if he hadn't bumped the purple knob then, eventually curiosity would have caused him to try touching it. In any event, when he touched the knob, half of the side of the box simply vanished. There was no sliding, no opening, no motion or sound. One moment, the box had only the display panel, the red paw-shaped crystal, and the purple knob. The next, half of the side was missing.
Emily jumped back from the box in surprise and fear. She'd overcome her initial hesitancy about the alien technology, but it had returned with a vengeance when the side disappeared.
Sean, too, started at the sudden change in the box, but he recovered quickly and peered inside. "Hey, there's another control inside," he said. Drawn by his seemingly insatiable curiosity, he stepped through the opening. Even before Emily could open her mouth to protest, Sean touched the inner knob.
The side of the box disappeared. Emily, her mouth already opening to speak, screamed. She pushed the purple knob and banged on the metal where the opening had been.
In a few seconds that seemed like hours to Emily, the side of the box reappeared. Emily started to sigh with relief.
Then Aurra Sing stepped out.
Emily screamed again, then she looked around Aurra to the inside of the now-empty box.
Aurra Sing looked stunned. She glanced up and down her chalk-white arms, from the extra-long fingers to her bare shoulders, and then down her rust-colored jumpsuit to the orbs on her chest. She swatted at the single ponytail of red hair dangling around her face as she leaned forward. The hair came from a single clump of hair on her otherwise chalk-white bald head, adding to her alien appearance. "What the hell?" she asked, and her eyes widened even more at the sound of her voice.
Emily fought the panic threatening to overcome her. "Where's Sean?" she demanded, glancing once more into the empty box. "What have you done with my husband?"
Aurra Sing looked at Emily. "It's me," she said, still amazed at the sound coming from her throat. "I'm Sean." She looked down at herself again, then at the figure displayed on the control panel. "The box ... changed me!"
Emily glanced at the display panel and then at Aurra Sing. She frowned. "Sean? Is that really you?" she asked nervously. She saw the display, the empty box, and what appeared to be Aurra Sing standing before her. Though it seemed impossible, Emily was convinced beyond words that Sean had been changed by the mysterious alien box.
Aurra Sing nodded, wincing again at the bobbing ponytail. "Yeah."
Emily lunged at the control panel and pressed her hand against the red plate. In seconds, she'd called up an image of her husband. "Change back," she prompted with a sense of urgency in her voice. "Hurry!"
Sean needed no further prompting. He ducked back inside the box and touched the purple crystal. Again, the door vanished, and after a few seconds, the opening reappeared. This time, Sean stepped out. He patted his body as if to reassure himself that he was all present. He stepped back away from the box and flopped back into a chair. "Wow!" he said, his voice carrying both the joy of a new discovery and fear at what had happened.
Emily sat down beside him. "That's ... spooky," she said softly, her eyes fixed on the alien device.
Sean thought for a moment. "I've got an idea," he suddenly announced. Again, he sprang to the control plate. As he worked, Emily joined him, warily watching what he did. Slowly, another figure formed, and with a quick grin to Emily, Sean pressed the purple knob and stepped into the cabinet. A few seconds later, he emerged, this time clad in white armor over a black body suit and carrying a helmet under his arm. "What do you think?" he asked.
Emily glanced at the image on the display. "A little heavy for a clone, aren't you?"
Sean put the clone trooper helmet on. "This is cool!" he exclaimed in a heavily muffled voice.
Emily started to relax. "Now I _know_ the guys would love this box," she said with a grin. Then she yawned. "But it's late. I think you ought to change back so we can get some sleep. We're leaving pretty early tomorrow, remember?"
Sean nodded. Reluctantly, he stepped to the control and recalled his original body. As he was about to press the purple button, Emily grabbed his hand. "Just a sec," she said before she touched the red plate. With a grin, she touched the purple knob, opening the device. "Okay."
Sean glanced at Emily, then he tried to see the display, which she was conveniently blocking. When she wouldn't move, he snorted and stepped into the box.
A few seconds later, Sean emerged. He glanced down, then at Emily. "I thought you said you wanted to sleep," he said in a gruff voice.
Emily raised her eyebrows and grinned. "Eventually," she said playfully as she took Sean's hand and led him back toward their bedroom.
"So what is it?"
'It' referred to the plain gray attache-case sized box on top of the pile of luggage. Sean grinned at his friend. "I told you once, Len, I'll show you when we get checked in and get our gear stored.
Sean shook his head. "It'll go faster if you help carry the stuff up to the lobby." Sean closed the back of the camper shell and twisted the handles to secure it. He picked up two armloads of suitcases, pausing to get the gray box balanced under his arm, and then he started trudging toward the elevators.
Nearly an hour later, mostly delayed because of the long check-in line at the hotel desk, Sean, Emily, and Len trudged off the elevator and down the hall to their room. As they walked, a girl dressed as a Vulcan paused and stared at the box with one raised eyebrow. "Do you mind if I ask where you obtained that ... device?" she asked in a curious tone of voice.
Sean frowned. It seemed that she recognized the box - which was, of course, impossible. "I found it," he said with a shrug.
"Does it have any ... unusual ... properties?" she asked with one raised eyebrow.
Sean glanced at Emily, then he shook his head. "Nope. It's just an attache case."
"Fascinating." The girl turned and continued down the hall.
Emily glanced at Sean, who had turned toward her. Both had expressions of curiosity. "What was _that_ about?" Emily asked, unable to contain her bewilderment.
Sean shook his head. "I don't know," he answered softly. He dropped one armload of gear and opened the door, then helped get the gear inside.
"Okay, now what is it?" Len asked again.
Sean put the box on the floor and rubbed the symbols. Immediately, the box grew until it was once more full sized.
Len was watching with a mixture of shock and awe. "Cool!" he said finally as the box finished growing.
Sean grinned. "It gets better. Think of a character."
Emily smiled. "The more unique, the better," she added.
Len glanced at them both. "Oola. The Twilek dancer from Jabba's palace," he finally said.
Sean's grin grew. "Okay." He turned to the box and placed his hand on the control plate, using his body to shield the display plate from Len's view. He glanced over his shoulder. "Okay, touch that purple knob," he directed.
Len flinched when the side disappeared. Emily and Sean exchanged knowing glances. "Okay," Len answered hesitantly.
"Now step inside and touch the purple knob on the inside." Sean smiled at Emily.
Immediately, the opening disappeared. A few moments later, when the side again opened, a very surprised and green Twilek dancing girl emerged, her hands cupped over her breasts and her mouth open in shock. "What ...? she started to ask.
Sean grinned. "It's some kind of alien technology that changes you to match whatever you want to be." He stepped aside so Len could see the display.
"But ..." Len protested in a sultry voice, "but ... you made me a ... a ... a girl!"
Emily took Len's elbow and led him toward the mirror hanging over the dresser. "No, the box made you into a Twilek dancing girl," she said. Then she grinned. "Besides, it was _your_ idea to be Oola!"
Len stared wide-eyed at the image in the mirror. "I'm ... I'm ... her!" he exclaimed softly. "It ... it really ... changed me!" Mesmerized by the image in the mirror, he slowly moved his hands over his breasts, down past his waist, and down around his rounder hips. "I'm ... this is ... it's real!" he stammered. His lekku, the Twilek 'brain tails' seemed to twitch nervously.
Emily led him back to the control panel. "Let's get you changed back." She suppressed a shudder. "Before you do something ... weird." She pushed the image from her mind. "And then I've got an idea for the opening ceremony tonight."
"Okay, so you all _claim_ it's some kind of alien technology that can change you," Dave Johnston, a heavy-set young man with a dark beard and mustache, scowled from his perch on the edge of the dresser. His girlfriend Anne, a short stout woman, leaned against the dresser beside him. The room was crowded with almost two dozen people, and the few spaces left to sit were taken, leaving some to lean or stand. "I don't get what ..."
Sean interrupted the beginning of one of Dave's long-winded soliloquies. "I know you're skeptical," he said calmly. "So was Len. But it _works_." He smiled. "And I can prove it. Since you're the biggest skeptic, I want you to think of the most _unlikely_ costume a _man_ could wear for an appearance." He gave a sideways glance at Len, knowing that the same line had tricked Len into becoming Oola. He saw Len's answering - but nervous - grin.
Dave glared at Sean. He was going to end this farce now so they could get back to the convention. "Okay," he said with a determined expression as he stepped to the side of the box. "How does this work?"
Sean smiled warmly. "Just touch the red plate, and then think of what you want to be. Once you have the image formed, touch the purple knob and step inside, where you'll touch another purple knob to make the change."
Dave glanced at the controls, then he nodded. "Sounds simple enough." He touched the plate, and with his body shielding the view of the display, he set to work. In only a few seconds, he finished, and still blocking the display, he touched the purple knob. A collective gasp sounded from those who could see as half the side simply disappeared. Dave gulped nervously - so far, this was far more than he'd expected, but he'd gotten himself into it, so ...
With a deep breath, Dave stepped boldly into the box, and as he touched the control inside, the opening vanished.
A hushed murmur echoed through the gathered crowd as they watched. The strange box was unlike anything they'd ever experienced. It _was_ doing what Sean had claimed, but that still wasn't proof for them.
In mere seconds, the opening reappeared.
A gasp rippled through the room.
Out of the box oozed ...
Jabba the Hutt.
Sean tilted his head - he hadn't quite expected _this_! He glanced at Len, who seemed a little disappointed himself. Sean also noted that even though Jabba was much larger than the box, somehow_ he fit! Perhaps the box had some kind of dimensional shifting properties as well, especially since Jabba seemed to slide out so easily and without even touching the sides of the opening!
Jabba glanced down at himself, and his eyes widened. "This is ... impossible!" he exclaimed in a deep, echoing voice. He looked up, scanning the room full of astonished friends and co-members of their 501st garrison. "It ... it really works!"
"I wanna try!"
As the enthusiastic clamoring for turns grew louder and more frantic, Sean held up his hands in a weak gesture for silence, but no one seemed to notice. "Dave!" he called loudly, to be heard over the commotion.
"Silence!" Jabba boomed in a loud, deep, echoing voice. Instantly, the room was hushed. Jabba smiled. "First, I'm going to change back," he announced. With a couple of ungraceful lurches, Jabba turned to the control panel, oblivious to the fact that his tail had knocked over a chair and two people. As the assembled group watched in suspense, Jabba worked the control panel. He hesitated, however, at the opening, his eyes turning to Sean. "I don't think I'm gonna fit!" he said nervously.
Sean frowned, then he shrugged. "You fit coming out, so you _have_ to fit going back in." He tried to sound reassuring, but in fact, he was as nervous about Dave getting back into the box as Dave was. If Dave couldn't get back in, Dave would be stuck - as a Hutt.
With a worried look in his eyes, Dave lurched toward the opening. Sean understood Dave's worry - he was easily three times as wide as the opening. And yet, as he approached and started to push into the narrow opening, it seemed that he shimmered around the edges, and Sean got the impression that Dave got much narrower, though in the same proportions, as he scooted forward. Where he could see past the 'opening', Jabba's body _inside_ the box was in the same proportions as that part outside.
The opening vanished as Jabba touched the controls, and a few moments later, it reappeared. Dave emerged, seemingly unscathed by his brief conversion to Jabba. He visually inspected his body as he patted himself, checking to ensure that he was properly restored. Even though Sean and Len had claimed that the box worked for them, Dave shuddered when he thought that it might not have worked _perfectly_ and that he might be missing some parts.
"Me next!" A tall slender man near the front of the group pressed to the control panel.
Sean held up his arms, trying to hold back the surging crowd. Everyone wanted to try the box, and he realized that keeping order, holding them back away from the box, would be like holding back the sea.
"One at a time!" Dave boomed, adding his voice to Sean's efforts at crowd control. "You'll all have a turn."
The guy grinned and darted between them. In a few moments, a tall figure in black cape and a shiny black helmet emerged. A rhythmic mechanical breathing sound emerged from behind the faceplate of the helmet.
"Whoa!" one guy called in admiration. "Cool!"
"I find your lack of faith disturbing!" the figure in black boomed. "Wow! I even _sound_ like Vader! This is _so_ cool!"
Dave turned to Sean. "You said you had something planned for the opening ceremonies tonight?" he asked curiously, suddenly oblivious to the group in the room.
Sean grinned. "We can let the box make our costumes.
Dave frowned. "But we all have costumes..."
Sean's grin spread. "But if we go as something totally wild, something unexpected, something no one has _ever_ done as a costume ..."
Dave's eyes widened, then he nodded. "Like when I did Jabba the Hutt?" He grinned as he turned to the assembled Garrison. "Guys, I've got a great idea...."
A disturbance in the rear of the hall interrupted the emcee, and he tried to stare past the lights. He couldn't really see, but judging from the noise, whatever was interrupting his program was big. Low murmurs grew louder, then shouts of amazement and cheering rippled outward from the open rear doors. Cameras started to flash in an ever-widening circle, like the rings of a target centered on the cause of the disturbance.
The emcee frowned, wondering what was causing this major interruption to his program. Even though science fiction conventions were organized and run by amateurs, these types of disturbances _didn't_ happen. "What's going on back there?" he finally demanded in frustration when he realized that not a soul in the hall was paying him any mind.
The spotlight swung from the emcee back to the center of the disturbance. The emcee gasped as he recognized Jabba the Hutt flanked by two pig-like Gamorrean guards.
Egged on by the crowd, Jabba oozed and slid and lurched forward, followed by his retinue. As the applause continued unabated, Jabba halted at the foot of the stage, and his guards flanked him. Next came Bib Fortuna, his Twilek majordomo. Then came Boba Fett, the blue elephantine band leader Max Reebo, the Bith wind player D'an Barquin, a figure that appeared to be Lando Calrissian in his guard disguise, Jabba's elephantine friend and confidant Ephant Mon, the green Twilek dancer Oola, the white Twilek Lyn Me, Rystall with her flaming red hair, the green-skinned Rodian dancer Greeta, skiff guards Klaatu and Nikto, the Boush bounty hunter, and finally, tethered to a chain held by Jabba, Princess Leia in her metallic slave bikini.
The group stood for several long minutes, bathed in a near constant flash as it seemed that everyone in the hall snapped photo after photo. Finally, as the flash died down a bit, Jabba turned to the emcee. "Start this convention," he ordered in a booming voice. "There are parties to attend, and I will not be late!"
The crowd erupted in a new round of applause. Eventually, however, the crowd quieted sufficiently for the emcee to continue, and the convention was officially opened.
Sean grinned at Dave as the group slowly changed back to their normal forms. "Did you see the look on that guy's face?"
Dave, rid of the enormous bulk of Jabba and back to being human, laughed in reply. "That's one for the books," he agreed. "But I'm glad I don't have to slog around as Jabba for too long. That's hard work!"
Emily smiled as she wrapped her arm around Sean's waist. "Did you hear how many people were asking how we all made the costumes? Especially the Jabba?"
Sean nodded. "I told them it was a trade secret."
Dave laughed. "I bet that didn't convince many people." Just then, a knock sounded at the door.
Emily glanced nervously at the box, then back to Sean. "Should we answer it?" The message was clear, if implied. They felt a need to protect the secret of the box from strangers.
Sean frowned as the knock sounded again. "Hold it, guys," he said to those still unchanged. "Let's see who this is." He strode quickly to the box and placed his hand on the red crystal, and almost immediately, the box shrank to briefcase size. "We'll finish changing in a minute or so," he reassured those still in 'costume', including slave Leia, Lyn Me, Boba Fett, and Nikto.
As Sean kicked the metal box behind the bed, Emily opened the door. "Can I help you?" she asked slowly as she scanned the two men standing in the hall. Both were of average height, and both wore the 'Got Armor?' T-shirts that seemed so common to members of the 501st Legion.
One of the men looked at Emily, then he smiled. "Emily Lowell?" he asked with confidence.
Emily frowned. "Do I ... " Her question cut off as a look of recognition dawned on her features. "Kent Myers?" she asked uncertainly. She saw his smile and nod, and she turned back to the room. "Honey, it's Kent Myers. You remember, we met him at StellerCon last year?" She opened the door wide and gestured for the two men to come in.
Kent smiled at Sean. "Hey, Sean!" He glanced at the people still 'in costume' and he shook his head, still smiling. "Figures you guys would be behind that stunt!" His voice carried admiration for what they'd done. "This is Rich Stevens."
"Hey Rich," Sean said in a simple greeting. He turned back to Kent. "You still with the Tyrannus Garrison?"
Kent smiled. "Yup. We did quite a turnout here. In fact, the entire legion has a pretty good turnout. About two hundred members."
Dave whistled. "Wow! That's a pretty good showing."
Kent nodded. "And some of the other members think we ought to do something special for David Prowse."
Dave nodded. "Like the Death Star arrival scene in Return?" He referred, in their particular shorthand, to Return of the Jedi.
Kent nodded. "That would be fantastic. The problem is, a lot of the guys who flew in, like the guys from Titan, the UK Garrison, and the California Garrisons, didn't bring their costumes. Did you guys bring yours?"
Sean shot Dave a knowing glance. "Maybe even better," he said with a grin.
Emily's eyebrows raised. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking," she started, "then count me in."
"But ... there weren't any female troopers," Sean protested. "And you don't have any ..." He halted mid-sentence when he saw Emily's grin.
"It changed you and Dave ... to Aurra and Oola. Why couldn't it change me? _And_ into costume?" Emily asked cautiously.
Sean frowned, then he slowly nodded. He knew better than to argue with Emily when she made up her mind. "Hey, we could even do David in Vader costume!"
Dave wrinkled his nose and frowned. "Too hot, remember?"
"But if he did the entrance in costume, then changed ...?" Emily interjected. "We could keep the box off-stage, and it would only take a few seconds for him to change out of the costume."
Kent finally gave up. "What the hell are you guys talking about?" he demanded.
Dave and Sean exchanged glances again, then Sean retrieved the box and activated it. In seconds, it grew back to telephone-booth size. Kent and Rich stood in silence, gawking at the sight.
"You haven't seen anything yet," Sean grinned.
Sean strolled casually through the tables in the main hall, where conventioneers took a moment to sprawl and rest. He laughed to himself as he saw the people staring in wonder at him. So far, the box was making this a fun convention. The "Jabba's palace retinue" still had people talking, mostly about who had pulled it off. And then, to top that, all the 501st members present used the box to create costumes. When David Prowse, Vader himself and honorary commander of the entire 501st Legion, made his entrance, the 501st Legion recreated Vader's entrance to the second Death Star. And though they couldn't persuade Prowse to make an entrance in costume, one of the 501st members did the entrance scene, then ducked offstage, ostensibly to change. David Prowse came from behind the curtain, as if he'd just quickly changed from his costume to his normal clothing. It was another smash hit, and everyone was talking about it.
Sean glanced at his watch, an odd maneuver since the watch was almost lost among the long fur on his body. Emily was in a workshop on Jedi costuming for another half hour. He wondered if he should use the box to change back. Walking around as Chewbacca was starting to get boring.
Sean ignored the voice; already, he'd been accosted for pictures by many fans, and though the 501st considered it one of the necessary evils of appearing in costume, he was weary of it. Changing back was starting to become even more appealing.
"Hey!" the voice boomed again. "Walking carpet!"
Sean halted, took a deep breath, and turned. He reared his head back. "Grrrrrarrarrr!" he roared at the person who'd just insulted him.
His voice halted midway through the second roar. The man facing him was a Klingon in full battle armor. "I would speak with you," the Klingon demanded. From the tone of voice, it sounded like he was used to getting his way.
Sean briefly considered his options. He could walk away, in which case the Klingon might get even more insulting or attempt to start a fight; or he could stay and talk. Sean nodded slowly. "What do you want?" he asked cautiously.
"You have used a gray metal box that grows from a briefcase to a telephone booth? That is how you made your changes?" the Klingon demanded.
Sean's heart skipped. He scanned the Klingon, from the bony ridges on his forehead to the armor on his feet. He slowly realized that the man wasn't wearing a costume. Which meant that the girl from the hall the previous day who looked very Vulcan ... Sean gulped ... probably was. He felt his hands tremble as he realized that the Klingon and the Vulcan woman knew about the box, and had probably been changed by one.
"I ... I don't understand. Gray box?" he stammered.
The Klingon frowned. "You do not wear a costume, Wookie. We have learned to recognize the effects of a box," he snarled. "And you have no idea what you are dealing with."
Sean straightened. He wasn't used to feeling this threatened. "I have to meet my wife," he said stiffly. "After I change out of my costume." He turned a walked away, wondering if the Klingon was going to do something rash. Instead, as he glanced over his shoulder, he saw the Klingon roaring with laughter, his head tilted back, and holding his sides.
A knock on the door awakened Sean. He sat up, and despite feeling a bit tired and hung over from the partying the night before, he instantly remembered. The combination of weights bobbing on his chest, the strange sensations of the lekku attached to his head, and the other strange feelings. He shook his head lightly to clear his thoughts. The knock sounded again.
"Who is it?" he shouted, cringing from the soft alto voice he possessed.
"A ... friend." The voice sounded somewhat familiar, but Sean couldn't place why.
"Uh," he said, "Can you come back later?"
"It is a matter of some urgency," the voice replied. Something about the tone let Sean know that he probably _should_ talk to the person.
"I've got to get decent." He shook Emily, still looking like Han Solo. "We've got company," he whispered as he woke her.
Emily groaned slightly. "Uh, who is it?" she asked softly.
Sean shook his head. "I don't know. But they said it's important."
Emily winced. "But ..." Her mind raced. "Quick - we can use the box to freshen up." She stood quickly and touched the controls, then emerged from the box in her own body - and fresh clothes. Then Sean's changed back, and he looked more than a bit relieved to be back in his own body.
Emily started for the door, but Sean put his hand on her arm. "Just a sec." He touched the controls again, and in moments, the box had shrunk to its original briefcase size. Sean scooted the box behind the curtains. Then he nodded to Emily.
"Can I help you?" Emily asked politely as she opened the door.
The Klingon Sean had seen earlier that day pushed brusquely past Emily. Behind him, Seven of Nine strutted sexily into the room. "You are Sean and Emily Lowell," she asked in a tone that seemed less a question than statement of fact.
Emily glanced at Sean, and then she nodded. "But what ...?"
"Where is it?" the Klingon demanded of Sean.
"What?" Sean asked after a quick glance at Emily.
The Klingon frowned, but Seven put her hand on his arm. "Easy, Mike," she chided. She smiled at Sean and Emily. "Klingons can be a bit ... impatient," she explained.
Mike frowned. "Bah! At least we don't waste time with _diplomatic_ nonsense!"
"What is it you're looking for?" Emily asked of Seven, working hard to keep her voice neutral and free of the nervousness she was suddenly feeling.
Seven smiled. "You have been observed with a gray metal box, about the size of an attache case."
Sean glanced at Emily. "I believe you are mistaken," he said hesitantly.
Seven shook her head. "You have _no_ idea what you are dealing with." She glanced around the room. "Based on the changes and _creative_ costumes that your group has displayed so far, there is no doubt you possess such a box." She looked directly at Emily. "You _must_ stop using the device. It is far too powerful, and it can be dangerous."
Emily thought for a moment. "If we see this device," she said, "we'll keep your warnings in mind." Her hesitation in answering belied her words.
Mike glared at Emily and Sean, then he turned and stormed out of the room. "Damned fools!" he muttered as he left.
Seven frowned, then she nodded. "If you find the device, please call me. It is _very_ important. Especially given the ... extreme nature of some of your group's changes." She handed Emily a card, then she too strode from the room.
"Well?" Len sat in one chair, looking around the room at the other members of the Garrison.
Sean shook his head. "I ... I don't know," he answered. "She ... they ... seemed pretty serious."
"You suppose they found one?" one of the women conjectured. "And they don't want any competition for the costume contests?"
"Maybe," Emily said. "Maybe not. I don't know."
Len frowned. "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but this thing is _way_ too cool to stop using!"
Sean and Dave nodded. "Len's right. This is too good to stop using." Nods and murmuring indicated that most of the group agreed with the two.
"I guess you're right," Emily conceded. "But there's one condition," Emily added in a stern voice. The room hushed. "No one, and I mean no one, is to enter the costume contest if he or she uses the box. Got it?"
Dave and Sean exchanged a quick glance - they hadn't thought of using the box for creating costumes. "Emily's right," Dave chimed in. "It wouldn't be fair to others if anyone were to use the box to enter the contest. Agreed?"
Slowly, murmurs of agreement circulated through the room.
Emily nodded and retrieved the box. After opening it, she turned. "Who's first?"
"We are!" a young woman called out. She stepped forward with her hand firmly clutching a man. "We want to be Han and Leia."
Emily shrugged. "Your choice." She saw the man looking a bit pale at her suggestion, and she realized with a start that _she_ intended to be Han.
"Do we have to?" the young man asked. "It just seems ... weird!"
The young woman scowled at him. "You promised me, remember?"
The man gulped. Sensing that she'd won, the girl sprang to the side of the box and touched the keypad. Once she was done, she touched the purple knob and opened the device. She gestured, and with a visible gulp, the young man stepped in. After the change cycle finished, the door reappeared, and Princess Leia, in her long white dress and her hair in the signature braided buns from A New Hope, stepped into view. She looked very unhappy. "Remember, this is only for a little bit," she said, flinching at the sound of her voice.
The girl giggled with delight, then turned her attention back to the control pad. She emerged as Han Solo, complete with his blaster pistol at his side. "This is going to be _so_ cool!" she said confidently.
Leia frowned. "But it's only for a little while, right?" she protested. Han took her arm and, with a huge grin, led her out of the room. The former man scowled at the laughter rippling around the room.
The changes went quickly - it was obvious that members had already spent time thinking of who - or what - they wanted to be. Several seemed unchanged, except for the Jedi robes and lightsaber handles. Two guys emerged as Clone Troopers - one a plain trooper, and one with the green decorations of a sergeant trooper. Both had the imposing blaster rifles of the clone army.
Len changed into Darth Vader, then as the group watched, he peeled off an ultra-realistic costume. With a grin, he stepped to the box again, only to emerge in an X-wing fighter pilot costume.
"Wait a sec," Dave cautioned as he saw Len peeling off that costume as well. "Give others a chance."
"Yeah," a girl protested. She pushed Len aside and stepped to the box, emerging a few moments later as Barriss Offee, a Jedi Master. With a grin and a flourish, she grasped her lightsaber, pretended to give it a couple of swings, then clipped it to her belt.
One woman emerged as the armored bounty hunter Boba Fett. A guy came out as Jango Fett. Darth Maul came next, followed by the old Obi-Wan Kenobi. A girl changed into Mace Windu. Another changed herself into Oola, the green Twilek dancer. One guy changed into Chewbacca, while another became Nien Nunb, the jowled, mouse-eyed Sullestan alien who'd co-piloted the Millennium Falcon with Lando during the battle of the second Death Star. One older heavyset woman changed into Luke Skywalker.
Finally, everyone had changed except Dave, Sean, and Emily. "Okay, Len," Emily spoke, "go ahead and finish."
With a grin, Len went back to the machine. In a matter of minutes, he'd created a clonetrooper costume. As he took it off, Sean and Dave started doing the same, since two could change while the third removed a costume. By the time he was done, Len had costumes for Vader, X-wing and Tie pilots, a Tusken Raider, a Clone Trooper and a Clone Trooper pilot, a snow trooper, a storm trooper, and a sand trooper, an Imperial admiral, and a Jedi. Even though they had a few costumes themselves, neither Dave nor Sean were as prolific at costume creation as Len.
Emily shook her head as Len peeled off his Jedi robes. "You've got quite a haul here," she observed.
Len grinned. "Yeah. I figure, might as well make good use of the box."
Sean smiled. "Clever. But how are you going to haul this stuff home in your car?"
Len opened his mouth to answer, then he frowned. "I'll ... " His frown deepened. "Well, maybe you can help ...." He stopped again as he looked at Sean's pile of costumes.
"Rent a U-haul?" Dave laughed.
Len scowled at him. "I guess I'll have to," he finally agreed. "I hadn't thought of that."
Dave laughed again. "Or you can ship it." He looked over the piles of costumes. "Let's get this up to our rooms."
As the two trudged out the door, their arms overflowing with bits and pieces of costumes, Emily shook her head as she observed Sean's pile. "Since we've got the box, you didn't have to make all those costumes right now!" she scolded him.
Sean grinned sheepishly. "I guess I got a bit carried away," he answered.
"Yeah, as soon as Len and Dave started, you had to join in, didn't you." She sat down, still shaking her head. "Don't tell me - it's a guy thing that I just wouldn't understand, right?"
Sean led the weary retinue into his room, flopping heavily into a chair. Emily took the other chair, and an assortment of others wordlessly filed in and sat down on the beds, the dresser, and the floor.
"Long day," Dave said simply.
"Where should we go for dinner?" Emily asked as she glanced around the room.
Len looked thoughtfully at the box, still full-sized in one corner of the room. "I want to try something first." He levered himself up from the bed and worked the controls. After a bit, he opened the door, stepped in, and the side vanished. Moments later, a sand trooper, clad in perfect armor, stepped from the box. The large backpack seemed to be perfectly detailed.
Sean snorted. "At least if you're going to make a costume, make it a good one," he chided Len. "You've got one of the best sets of sand trooper armor in the entire Legion!"
Len drew his blaster. "Maybe," he said, his voice sounding far off and just a touch electronically distorted. Just like the movie. Len walked to a window and opened it. He pointed the blaster into the air, and after glancing around the room, he pulled the trigger.
Len and the others recoiled at the sharp sound of a blaster firing into the sky. "Holy shit!" Len cried as he stepped away from the window, staring at the blaster. "It really works!"
Sean jumped up and grabbed the blaster. "Let me see that," he said sternly. He looked at the device, then he looked out the window again. He saw a neat hole in the screen where the blaster bolt had pierced it. "Hmmm," he said. He glanced around, then he pointed the blaster down toward the ground. He pulled the trigger, and another bolt shot out of the gun.
Sean and the others winced as they saw shards of concrete blast free of a concrete column of a building under construction next door. "Damn!" Sean said as he gingerly handed the device back to Len. "That thing really _does_ work!"
Len gingerly holstered the weapon. "Yeah. Just like I was thinking when I made the suit." For a few seconds, there was silence as the Garrison members considered the power the box had just demonstrated. "Hey!" Len interrupted. "You know how fast these costumes get hot?"
Sean and the others nodded. "Yeah. So?" he asked.
Len shook his head. "I'm not getting hot at all. It's like this thing is air conditioned or something!"
Sean stepped closer to Len and bent over to study Len's armor. He even rapped the chest plate a couple of times. "Hey, this isn't like plastic," he reported, surprised. "It's feels like some kind of composite or something."
Len peeled off his helmet. "Yeah, and the helmet is a little heavier, too. I was thinking of the way it's described in the 'Star Wars Encyclopedia'. And the box made it!" He grinned. "Cool!"
"I wonder ...." Dave mused as he strode to the controls. He frowned as he thought, and the box was obviously having some trouble with his request. Several long minutes later, just as Dave was about to give up, the door opened. Dave stepped in.
Out stepped the spitting image of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Attack of the Clones, clad in his Jedi robes. He hefted the lightsaber from his belt, and with a flick of the controls, it hissed to life.
Gasps of astonishment coursed through the room. Not only could the box make a functional set of sand trooper armor and blaster, but it could also make a fictional weapon like a light saber.
Dave swung the blade easily, then he shut it off. When everyone looked at him, he frowned. "Look," he said, "if it can make a real blaster, then this thing," he indicated his now inactive lightsaber, "could be really nasty."
A college-age girl named Jenny moved to the control panel. "Hmmm ..." she mumbled half to herself. She touched the plate, her brow furrowed in concentration. Almost immediately, a familiar image appeared. But Jenny wasn't done. She closed her eyes to better focus, and the room got strangely silent as she concentrated. Finally, she took a deep breath and let it out heavily. She glanced over her shoulder at the rest of the gang, then she touched the purple knob.
When Jenny emerged, she was Shaak Ti, clad in dark robes with large horns and striped lekku. In her hands, she carried the handle of a lightsaber.
"Whoa!" Len said in admiration. "Pretty cool Shaak Ti!"
Jenny smiled. "If it can make lightsabers, I wanted to see what else it can do."
Emily's eyes widened. "You trying for force powers, maybe?" she asked hesitantly.
Jenny grinned. "Yup." She closed her eyes, and at first, she seemed to be intensely concentrating. As she relaxed her intense focus, though, it seemed that something startled her, and she visibly flinched.
Emily and Sean frowned. "What was that?" they asked almost in unison.
Jenny opened her eyes wide with surprise. "It ... it works!" she said in astonishment.
Jenny shook her head. "I don't know. Nothing was happening when I was concentrating, but when I relaxed, I could picture every one of you in my mind!"
Emily's eyes widened. "Let's try something. We'll blindfold you, and then you describe who's behind you and what they're holding." Jenny nodded.
After a lengthy and thorough test, Emily sank back onto the bed as Jenny took off the blindfold. "Wow!" she said in amazement. "It really _does_ work!"
"What else can you do?" Len asked eagerly. "Levitate? Force push? Visions?"
Jenny shook her head. "I ... I don't know." She sat down. "I was _thinking_ of all those things, but I really don't know what I got." She focused on a table. For a few moments, she seemed to be deeply concentrating, but finally, abruptly, she let out a sharp breath and sat back. "It's no use. I can't levitate things."
From behind her, Sean tossed a rolled up sock. Almost before it was out of his hand, she had moved her hand and body to block it. And her lightsaber was drawn and ready.
"Wow!" came a chorus of awed responses. "That's incredible!"
Emily thought for a second. "Faster reflexes. Enhanced non-visual senses. It looks like it gave you what you were thinking of!"
Jenny laughed. "And you can be sure I wasn't thinking of that midichlorian bullshit!"
Dave scratched his chin as he walked back to the box. After a bit of concentration, he re-entered the device, emerging a few seconds later looking unchanged. "Want to try something?" he asked Jenny as he took his lightsaber from his belt. Everyone knew instantly that he'd used the device to acquire force powers, just like Jenny.
Jenny nodded and stood, drawing her own lightsaber. The spectators drew back to give them as much space as possible.
For several seconds, the two sparred ferociously, their blades flashing green and blue, with bright sparks as the blades touched. A lamp was sliced neatly in two and one drape was slashed before the two stopped and turned off their lightsabers.
"Well, that's going to cost a little bit," Sean said dryly as he looked at the pieces of the lamp.
Dave winced. "Oops," he said meekly. "Sorry."
Emily laughed. "Don't worry about it. We'll take it out of the garrison funds."
Jenny glanced around the room. "If you're all done playing, can we go get something to eat?" she asked. "I'm getting awfully hungry."
Dave smiled. "Yeah. And let's go in costume."
Emily glanced at Sean, and he could tell that she was thinking of something unusual. "Not like we are now. Let's make the costumes ... unique," she suggested. "Everyone pick a character. We'll put the names in a hat. And everyone will draw a character to become for the night."
"Including the party circuit?" one guy asked, sounding a bit uneasy.
Emily nodded. "Including the party circuit."
Dave nodded, then he scratched his chin as he thought for a moment. "Human or humanoid. No Hutts. No B'Omarr monks. It has to be something that _you_ would be comfortable being all evening." He grinned. "Because _you_ might just draw the name and end up being that ... character!"
One guy tilted his head. "Yoda?"
Dave wrinkled his eyebrows, then he glanced around the room. "What do you think?"
Everyone nodded or shrugged their assent.
Then one guy spoke up. "If we draw, we might get stuck as a female character?"
Dave glanced at Emily and Sean, who both nodded. "Yeah. That might happen."
The guy shook his head. "Nope. Count me out."
"Chicken!" "Candy ass!" "No curiosity?"
The guy stared down his taunters, then he shut up and sat down, knowing he'd been dared and shamed into playing along.
Emily passed out slips of paper, and each of the sixteen members wrote a character's name on the paper. As Emily collected them, her eyebrows raised. "Okay. Everyone draw a paper. I'll take the last one, just to be fair."
As the slips were drawn, audible groans and moans indicated that some of the people were unhappy. Finally, Emily took the last one. "Interestingly, there are eight guys and eight girls, but there are nine female characters." Everyone glanced around, wondering the same thing - who had 'crossed over'?
Chuck, the same guy who'd protested the potential for cross-gender costumes, scowled as the other garrison members stared at him. "Okay," he admitted harshly. "I figured if we were going to play this and I might get stuck, I might as well make sure I'm not the only one!"
Sean had drawn Mara Jade, the red-haired former Emperor's Hand and force-using wife of Luke Skywalker, who'd appeared in numerous novels. Len drew Wedge Antilles, the X-wing pilot from both movies and novels. Dave got Aayla Secura, the blue-skinned Twilek Jedi woman. The other guys drew Admiral Daala, an attractive Imperial admiral from the Star Wars novels; Grand Admiral Thrawn, a blue-skinned red-eyed master Imperial admiral, again from the novels; Count Dooku, the Sith apprentice from Attack of the Clones; Jaina Solo, daughter of Han and Leia and a Jedi from the novels. As he'd feared, Chuck drew a female character - Padme Amidala in her white jumpsuit.
Things were equally interesting for the women. Emily drew Corran Horn, a Jedi from the Star Wars novels. Dave's girlfriend Anne drew Asajj Ventress, a dark-side apprentice to Count Dooku from the animated Clone Wars series. Jenny, by strange coincidence, drew Shaak Ti, the exotic Jedi master, and thus didn't have to change. The other ladies drew Darth Vader; Darth Maul; Ysanne Isard, a strikingly beautiful Imperial Intelligence officer with one blue eye and one red eye, from the novels; Lyn Me, the white-skinned Twilek dancer; and finally, Kir Kanos, a member of the Emperor's Royal Guard in his classic red helmet and robes.
Emily glanced around the group. Some of the people, especially those who'd swapped genders, seemed highly uncomfortable. Chuck, for example, was staring down at his breasts as if he didn't know whether to feel himself up or to cover them with his hands to hide them. "Ready?"
"Yup," Len - Corran Horn - quickly answered.
"Not really," the guys who'd become Padme and Jaina Solo rebutted quickly.
Anne grinned. "Past time to chicken out." Since she was closest to the door, she turned to open it so the group could leave. Instead, she was interrupted by a knock. She glanced at Emily and Sean.
"Who is it?"
"Kent Myers," came the muffled answer through the door.
Emily nodded to Anne, who opened the door. She started at the sizable contingent standing outside the room, filling the hallway.
"Uh, can we, uh, like, borrow ...?" Kent started to ask, not sure who was whom.
Emily laughed. "I'm over here," she answered in her Wedge Antilles voice. "And no, you can't borrow it. But I can help you guys change - I _assume_ that's what you're here for, right?"
Kent glanced at Rich, then around the group. "Uh, yeah. I wasn't ... you know."
"I mean," Rich blurted out, "it _is_ your box. But we'd like to change for the night."
Emily and the others laughed aloud. "Yeah, I think we understand." Emily glanced around the room. "It's a bit crowded in here, so why don't you guys wait on the mezzanine. Sean and I will be down in a few minutes."
A _few_ minutes took nearly half an hour. There were almost forty changes, and the list read like a "Who's Who" of Star Wars. Some became the actual cast, while others simply changed their clothes into costumes like Jedi robes, stormtrooper and clone trooper armor, and X-wing and TIE fighter pilots. The costumes and characters were from both the movies and the 'Expanded Universe', or novels and graphic novels which supplemented the Star Wars universe.
Just as they were finishing, one guy burst into the room out of breath. "Oh good," he panted. "It's not too late."
Emily and Sean looked over the newcomer, then Sean gestured to Kent. "Who's he? I don't recognize him," Emily whispered.
Kent looked over the young man. "Mark Westin. I think he's from Orlando. I bumped into him last night. He just joined the Legion last month."
Sean looked over the man carefully as he operated the controls. Around twenty-eight, trim to the point of looking athletic, he seemed - somehow - to be out of place. But anxious to get to dinner with their friends, Emily and Sean merely shrugged and let the guy finish his changes. When everyone had left, Emily collapsed the box, hid it behind the curtains, and followed Sean.
As the elevator doors closed, Emily couldn't hold her snickering any longer. She still appeared as Corran Horn, and her chuckles turned to outright laughter. "That was so fun!" she exclaimed as tears of mirth ran down her cheeks. She glanced at Darth Maul. "You scared the pants off that poor waiter!"
The girl who'd become Darth Maul for the evening grinned wickedly. "Serves him right! Serving me lukewarm soup, and then serving a burned steak! Poor bastard probably had to change his shorts!" The steak really wasn't burned, but well done.
Len laughed. "And all the people who thought you guys were really the major stars!" He laughed. "As if real stars would eat at a place like that!"
Sean, feeling the effects of two glasses of wine, leaned against Emily. "Just as long as no one tries to pretend that they really _are_ a star," he said slowly. It was an easy statement for him to make. His character, Mara Jade, had never been portrayed by an actress. She existed only in novels and in some drawings. All of the drawings featured her as a curvy attractive redhead, a description that now fit Sean.
Dave frowned. "I'm not thrilled with all the guys trying to hit on me," he complained. He saw Chuck's glare. "At least everyone recognizes Natalie Portman, and since they think you're her, they leave you alone." He laughed. "You're out of their league!" He put his arm around Sean's shoulder. "Not so for us less _well-known_ women!"
Chuck took a deep breath, puffing out his chest in a manly display of defiance. Unfortunately for him, in the tight white jumpsuit, it just accentuated his bust line and made him look like he was jealous of the other female bodies. "Well, that's just _one_ of the benefits of being famous," he said with mock condescension.
Sean slapped him. "You're so bad!"
"Indeed," the man who appeared as Count Dooku said simply. "Bad enough to turn to the Dark Side, perhaps?"
Anne turned to face Dooku. "You already _have_ an apprentice, my master!" she hissed with feigned menace. "Or have you forgotten?"
By the time the elevator stopped, everyone was holding his or her sides from laughing too hard and the seemingly unending stream of Star Wars-related inside jokes. "Which party first?" the girl costumed as Isard asked.
Emily put her arm around Sean to steady him, since he was a bit tipsy. "Follow the noise. We'll go to the loudest one first." She glanced around. "Where's Jenny?"
Sean shrugged. "She went back - to change again."
Emily frowned. "We were going to stay in costume all evening."
Dave laughed. "Become Yoda, she wished to. Change her mind, we could not," he said in his best imitation of Yoda's voice and strange grammar.
Sean's eyes widened as his jaw dropped. "Yoda?"
"Yup. Yoda," he snickered.
"With the Force?" Emily asked with certainty.
Dave nodded again. "Strong in the Force, Yoda is. Join us, Yoda will. To the party we must go," he added in the strange grammar of the green Jedi master. Dave set off down the hall, following the noise as Emily had suggested.
The noise took them to a WorldCon bid party. At the door, a surprised hostess looked over the group. "Uh, you want stickers?" she asked hesitantly.
Emily started to answer, but Darth Vader stepped forward, pointing his finger menacingly at the girl. "Your stickers are insignificant compared to the power of the Force!" he said in a deep, James Earl Jones voice.
The girl stared, wide-eyed, as the Dark Lords stormed past her into the party suite. Dooku, Asajj Ventress, Isard and Thrawn followed closely, making a meaningful and imposing entrance.
Emily shook her head sadly. "You'll have to forgive our friends," she said evenly. "They're a little grouchy today. Seems they got up on the wrong side of the Force this morning."
Sean, Dave, and Chuck all flinched at her joke. "That's so bad!" Dave hissed. They waited patiently for the girl to apply stickers to their convention badges.
Inside, the Imperials were already causing quite a stir. When the other Star Wars characters joined them, the effect on the party was almost electric. People were pressing around them for a variety of reasons, including to see the well-done costumes and to see if the people who appeared to be the stars really _were_ the stars. And the few who dared to inquire about autographs were very quickly discouraged.
Emily quickly sensed that the other party guests were segregating her group. The 'Imperials' were surrounded and fawned over by fans that were either dressed in Imperial costumes, or who Emily knew were 'Imperial-sympathizers' in their Star Wars fandom. Likewise, those fans whose thoughts, admiration, and sympathies were oriented toward the Jedi and the New Republic tended to gravitate toward the 'good guys' of her group.
Emily sighed as she again glanced at the 'Imperial' group - the more notable characters were also dealing with a few overzealous fans. It _shouldn't_ have happened - this was a bid party, and only true fans attended - fans who should know better than to think that real celebs would attend.
"I find your lack of faith disturbing."
Emily spun at the deep booming voice which carried easily through the crowd. She saw Darth Vader pointing angrily at a fan, fingers held out in the 'force choke' pose. The fan being addressed seemed both awed and frightened by the convincing impression of Vader. She shook her head again. This was turning out to be a bad idea after all. Everyone was getting a little _too_ much into their roles. Perhaps they should change back.
Aayla Secura, in reality Dave, slid between the fan and Vader in a defensive pose, and before Emily could say anything, Aayla drew her lightsaber. Fans drew back, gasping in surprise and awe as the bright blade hissed to life. "This time, Sith, you've met your match," she said bravely.
The crowd drew back quickly as Vader drew his lightsaber. "You do not understand the power of the Dark Side," he intoned as his own red blade extended.
In a flash, his blade swung toward Aayla. She sensed it coming and with minimal motion, blocked the blow. The blades collided in a bright flash, and Aayla twirled quickly, swinging her own blade toward the unguarded hip of the Dark Lord.
Vader was as quick as Aayla. Their blades hummed and clashed as they battled on, all the while the crowd stood in rapt attention, watching the fantastic duel in awe. The time crawled by, and after what seemed an hour to the observers, Vader slipped his blade past Aayla's guard. She dropped her own saber as her scream mixed with the nasty hissing of Vader's blade biting into her thigh.
The crowd flinched visibly. Aayla's reaction was so genuine that the observers were unsure if the battle and injury were real or fake. Emily rushed to Aayla's side even as Vader stepped back uncertainly, letting his saber turn off.
"You okay?" Emily whispered to Aayla as they knelt beside the wounded Jedi.
Aayla gritted her teeth. "Hurts," she stammered softly. Her eyes seemed unfocused from shock.
Emily nodded, then glanced around to her group. "Len, Sean, Anne, let's get him back to the room." Her orders were crisp and firm to assert control over what she knew was a bad situation. She looked at the others from the group. "Give me your sabers."
Sean and Anne were working to lift the wounded Aayla to her feet. "Can you stand?" Anne asked.
Aayla shook her head, fighting tears. "No," she mumbled.
Emily glanced at Sean. "Cross-arm carry." They locked wrists, then eased under Aayla's seat and lifted her. Emily glanced at Jenny. "Get the sabers," she added as she and Sean started moving Aayla toward the door. "Anne, help out."
Jenny glanced at Emily. "On their way, hotel security is," she reported with grim certainty.
Emily closed her eyes for a moment, and she nodded. "I know. I can see them. Let's move it."
Emily grimaced as she examined the wound on Dave's leg. Fortunately, the lightsaber had cauterized the wound even as it cut, which prevented bleeding. And as deep as the wound went, Dave would have lost a lot of blood.
"How bad is it?" Dave asked cautiously.
Emily frowned. "It's not too bad," she lied.
Dave shook his head feebly, causing the blue lekku to quiver, and sighed. "You can't lie to me," he observed. "I can see it. With my Force senses. It's pretty bad, isn't it?"
Sean glanced at Emily and bit his lip.
"Bad, the wound is," Jenny answered somberly.
Dave forced a tiny laugh. "Too bad I wasn't thinking about healing powers. Then I could have already started healing myself." His voice, already softer because he was in Aayla's body, was even weaker and more unsteady.
Jenny bit her lip. "Going into shock she - er, he - is, " she said, her words echoing the fear she was feeling.
Emily frowned at Jenny. "Stop that, please."
Jenny looked at Emily, a bit confused, then she understood. "Stop it, I cannot. Talk like Yoda, somehow, I do. An effect of the device it may be."
Anne glared at Jenny, then she glanced at Emily. "Change him back - into Dave?"
Emily glanced at the wound. "If the box will heal the wound. Otherwise, we're going to have to get him to a hospital." She turned to Dave. "If we hold you, do you think you can operate the box?"
Dave nodded. His blue skin was paling, and he was sweating and trembling. "I think so."
Sean looked behind the curtain, then behind the chairs. He turned, his face ashen. "It's gone!"
"What?" Emily felt her world spin. "What do you mean, gone?"
"It isn't where Jenny said she left it," he answered unsteadily. "It's not where we left it before we went to dinner!"
Anne looked at Jenny, her features starting to show panic. In silent answer, Jenny shook her head. "Not here is the box." She looked positively grim. "Large is its disturbance in the Force. Easy to find it should be. Not in the room is it."
Anne sank onto the bed, her face pale. "What ... what do we do?" she asked, her voice weak.
In silent answer, Jenny - Yoda - squatted beside Dave. Her eyes closed, and her brow furrowed in concentration. Her hand stretched out over Dave's wound. For a long time, she was immobile. Then she sat back. She looked at Emily and shook her head. "I don't know."
Anne looked at Dave. "He seems ... calmer." Indeed, his breathing was a little less ragged, and he wasn't sweating as much.
Emily shook her head again. "We're going to have to take him to a hospital," she said softly. "
"No." Dave's voice was weak, but firm. "No hospital."
"But ..." Emily started to protest, surprised though she was from his words. Like Anne and Sean, she thought that Dave was unconscious.
"No hospital." He raised his head slightly. "Look at me. If you take me to a hospital, I'll be ... a freak. I'll end up in some lab or something. There's no way you can explain this."
The voice from the doorway startled Emily, Sean, and Anne. Jenny merely turned her head slowly, her green Yoda ears curling at the tips. "Knock you should have. Polite it would be."
The trio framed in the doorway were a contrast in style. Seven of Nine, with her silky brown hair and silver cat suit, stood in stark contrast to male. His white skin, mottled with dark splotches, was pierced in many locations by mechanical devices, tubes, and hoses. Machinery engulfed his left arm, and indeed seemed to form a major component of his body. He seemed as eerie and unworldly as the woman was attractive. He was Borg. The third person, the speaker, stood in dignified calm, her long black hair falling loosely about her shoulders, and her body mostly concealed by a simple robe. Though her hair concealed her ears, from the upsweep of her eyebrows, everyone knew that the ears were pointed. She was Vulcan.
Emily's eyes narrowly focused and her voice became harsh. "What do you mean intruding in our room?"
Seven ignored her tone of voice. "You ignored my earlier warnings. Your use of the device is becoming dangerous. You _must_ cease using it."
Sean frowned as he stepped in front of the Seven. "What's it to you?"
Seven shook her head softly. "The device is very dangerous - far more dangerous than you realize." She frowned. "You should realize that after your stunt at the bid party. I'm only trying to help you avoid more trouble."
Sean glanced at the Borg. "Sure. You only want to help," he said sarcastically.
His feet clumping heavily on the floor, the Borg advanced toward Sean, and behind them, Anne crouched beside Dave. As Sean stepped forward to block the drone, the drone pushed Sean aside easily, knocking him halfway across the room.
The flash of light was as unexpected as it was bright. In a motion almost too fast for the human eye, Asajj Ventress stepped between the Borg drone and Dave, her lightsabers flashing to life. She slashed with one of her pair of red lightsabers as the Borg extended his prosthetic multi-tooled arm toward Sean. With a thud, the still-clacking mechanical arm fell to the floor.
The drone stood for a moment, as if confused by the loss of his arm. Then the drone started moving toward the Sean again.
Anne slashed a second time, this time aiming to wound a leg. But just before the lightsaber blade impacted the drone, it stopped, blocked by a nearly transparent shield which had somehow appeared. Anne drew back and repeated her attack, and again the shield appeared and blocked the glowing blade. Now the drone was advancing toward Anne, and his assimilation tubes were extended.
Without warning, the Borg drone was hurled backward against a wall as if struck by a giant hand. Slowly, the drone stood again, his head tilting to one side and then the other, while his eye scanned the room in search of some mysterious attacker.
Beside Anne, the diminutive Yoda stood, one hand on the hilt of his lightsaber, and the other extended to do a Force push. She had a determined look on her face.
The strong commanding voice caused everyone to halt, including the drone. Anne and Jenny, like the others, turned toward the source of the command.
Seven stood near the door, her face marred by a frown. "Stop." She glanced around the room, then her gaze settled on Emily. "Are you in charge?" she demanded.
Emily glanced around, then hesitantly stepped forward. "Yeah, I guess so," she answered.
Seven frowned at Emily. "I _told_ you that the box was dangerous. I tried to warn you."
Emily grimaced. "We ... we weren't sure if you ... well, what your motives were."
The Vulcan woman raised an eyebrow. "Your caution is understandable," she said evenly, "give the powers that you have discovered from the alien device."
Seven nodded her agreement. "I understand," she said simply. "First off, I'm not a competitor. My name is Danni. I ... am familiar with those devices, and I want to help you."
Sean's eyes narrowed. "Help us? How? And why should we trust you?"
Danni turned slightly, then she glanced at Emily and Sean. "Can we talk - in private?" she asked.
Sean was taken aback. Far from her earlier commanding presence, this request was very meek, even humble. He glanced at Emily, then he nodded. "Yeah," he answered.
Emily glanced around the room, settling her gaze on Jenny. "You guys go wait in your room." She waited until everyone from her group had left, then she gestured to the chairs. "Can I get you anything?" she offered to Danni and the Vulcan woman.
The Vulcan woman lowered herself to the floor, cross-legged, as if she was going to meditate. Rather than relax, however, her eyes seemed intent and alert, as radars scanning and recording every detail.
Danni sat down in a motion that was fluid grace. "No thanks," she started, then she tilted her head slightly. "On second thought, if you have a Diet Seven-Up, I wouldn't turn it down." The Vulcan woman shook her head. "Darla, why don't you wait outside?" Danni asked.
The Vulcan woman, Darla, narrowed her eyes. "Are you certain?"
Danni nodded. "Yes. It'll be okay."
Without another word, the Vulcan woman rose and glided silently from the room.
Sean sat on the edge of the bed and flipped open a large chest cooler. "No 7-up, but we've got Sprite," he offered.
Danni nodded and reached out to accept the can from Sean.
Emily sat down in the other chair and sprawled back, her relaxed posture belying her inner feelings. She glanced at the Borg drone standing like a statue in the room. Her eyes widened as she saw the mechanical arm slowly and visibly rebuilding itself. "He really is Borg?" she asked.
Danni glanced at the drone. "Oh, yes," she answered with a nervous laugh. With a suddenness that startled Sean and Emily, the Drone unfroze and turned, clomping toward the door. Seven watched Emily and Sean. "I just asked him to leave," she said lightly. "I thought his presence might make you a bit nervous."
Sean nodded. "Yeah, he was." His features clouded. "You - asked him?"
"They usually intimidate people," she said with a smile. Her expression darkened slightly. "Okay, Sean," she said, addressing Emily.
Emily laughed. "Actually, I'm Emily."
Danni frowned, then she glanced questioningly at Sean. "And you're ... Sean?" She observed Sean's nervous nod. "Hmm, maybe this won't sound so strange after all."
Sean frowned. "It's not ... well, I know it sounds weird. But ...." He was looking down at the carpet, too embarrassed to look directly at Danni. "We randomly drew characters for our changes tonight," he tried to explain.
Danni laughed. "Don't worry. I run into this all the time," she said. "I'm even ... well, experienced in that type of change." She took a long sip of her drink. "A couple of years ago, my roommate and I went to a convention. There, I found an alien box - just like the one you've been observed with."
Emily's eyes widened. "So _that's_ how you know ..."
Danni nodded. "I ... changed into Seven ... to put in an appearance. Apparently, I did too good a job of designing the changes." She saw Sean and Emily's looks of disbelief. "I ... am partly Borg. My implants are fully functional - even to the point of making it impossible for me to change back."
Emily's eyes widened. "So ... you used a Borg implant to communicate with the drone?" Her voice sounded a little unsteady, even nervous.
Danni nodded, still smiling. "And no, we're not going to take over the world or anything like that. The drone's name is Matt. He's still an individual - whenever he wants to be. They only link up when they want to or need to." She frowned. "But I didn't come here to talk about the hive. I came to talk about the alien device you're using."
"You said one of them changed you, and it won't change you back?" Sean returned to Danni's original subject.
Danni nodded, her expression a bit sad. "That's right. When I designed the Borg changes, I included all my knowledge and speculation of nanotechnology." She smiled a tiny bit. "I _used_ to be studying for my PhD in nanotechnology. So everything I knew about nanotechnology and about Seven went into the changes." Danni took a sip of her soda. "You know how the box works. It scans your mental images. Whatever you're thinking about, it creates - if its technology can handle it." She smiled. "As I know too well from my Borg implants, it's a pretty sophisticated technology, so there isn't a lot it can't do." She laughed softly. "And as you're learning from the lightsabers."
Emily looked warily at Danni. "You said ... you've experienced some other changes."
Danni winced as she slowly, deliberately set her soda can on the table. "I was afraid you'd bring that up." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "The reason I'm not surprised by your gender swapping is that I used to be male. Before I got stuck, that is."
Sean's eyes widened. "You ... were a _guy_?" he asked incredulously. In fact, his words would have sounded a bit more convincing if he himself hadn't been Mara Jade.
Danni noted that fact. "And your point is...?" she asked, staring directly at the breasts on Sean's chest.
Sean followed her gaze, then he felt his cheeks warm as he blushed.
"I didn't intend to be stuck as Seven. I didn't want to be a woman. It just ... happened." Danni sounded more than a bit unhappy.
"Sorry," Sean apologized as he recognized the pain in Danni's voice.
"How long?" Emily asked simply.
Danni sighed. "Almost two years," she answered. Then she abruptly changed the subject. "I didn't come here to talk about me. I came about the device you've been using. The F'wirthian Morphic Adaptation Unit, Mark 4, to be precise."
Emily frowned. "You seem to know a hell of a lot about it."
In answer, Danni extended her arm, and her twin assimilation tubes shot out. "Let's just say I have a very ... intimate ... relationship with _my_ unit."
Sean opened his mouth to say something, but he decided better. He'd seen the assimilation tubes on the Borg drone, and he'd seen some incredible creations by the device. It just _might_ be possible that the Borg assimilation capabilities were real. He gulped out of nervousness.
Danni frowned. "I'd like to understand how the box is creating these 'Force' powers. And the lightsabers."
"I thought the thing read minds. That's how it made the lightsabers and Force powers," Sean speculated.
Danni shook her head. "It does have a mechanism to scan your brain waves, so that's the 'mind reading' part. And the changes are complete - down to the genetic level. But it's based on technology, not fantasy and wishes. It couldn't make a person into a Genie or give them magical powers." She shrugged. "It has to be technologically feasible."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Emily quoted.
Danni laughed softly. "I guess Clarke was right on that count. In fact, if one of these devices were to appear in less modern times, it would be considered magic." She glanced around the room. "Could I interface with your MAU device to see how it's making these things?" she asked hesitantly.
Emily glanced nervously at Sean. "We ... we can't find it."
Danni's eyes widened, and she paled visibly. "What?"
Sean gulped again. "When we got back from the bid party, we couldn't find it."
Danni closed her eyes for the briefest of moments, then the door opened. Both Darla and the Borg Drone entered, Darla, of course, moving much more rapidly.
"Is it as you feared?" Darla asked simply.
Danni nodded. "Worse. Their device is missing. And it was functional."
Darla's eyes narrowed, and she pursed her lips tightly together. "We must alert the others. We must find the device."
Sean shook his head. "Why? You act like it's a major conspiracy or something."
Danni stared grimly at Sean. "Or something. The device is extraordinarily powerful. Imagine what could happen one were to fall into the wrong hands. A device that could make any person look like anyone else. The ultimate spy. Or give an agent superior technological ... skills."
Emily suddenly felt a chill run down her spine. "I ... we ... hadn't thought of that," she admitted softly. Her eyes narrowed as she watched Danni's expression. "You've ... you've encountered someone who wants this technology?" she asked with more conviction than question.
Danni nodded. "Yes. There is at least one agency in _our_ government who is highly interested in the devices." She grimaced. "And we know of two foreign agencies that are actively pursuing the secrets of the device. To date - fortunately - all their activities are investigating the ... effects ... of the devices."
"Effects?" Dave asked with a gulp of nervousness.
Danni nodded, even blushing a little. "You've seen the Klingons and Vulcans and the Borg?" she asked. When the trio nodded, she continued. "Those are mild. Very mild."
"Mild?" Both Sean and Emily were suddenly very alert.
Danni nodded somberly. "That's why we have to find the device."
Darla's eyebrow raised. "The so-called Force senses you have - if real - could perhaps be useful."
Emily opened her mouth to speak, but she stopped. "I'll get the other Jedi."
The man glanced around the darkened utility room nervously, his cell phone held to one ear. "That's right," he snapped. "It's a functional device. Get to the rendezvous point in half an hour." He shook his head. "No, I don't know how much time is left." He stopped and cocked his head to one side. "Someone's coming. Half an hour." He hung up the phone, then he backed away from the door. Carefully, he opened the back door, the one that led into the service corridors and elevators. As quietly as possible, he closed the door and began to pad down the stairs.
A strange duo cautiously entered the utility room. One was short, with very long pointed ears, while the other had horns atop her head. The short one looked around the room carefully. "Gone he is."
"I feel it, too," the other said. Moving slowly, Yoda and Shaak Ti crossed through the utility room to the service door.
Shaak Ti grasped the handle and attempted to turn it. "Damn," she cursed. "It looks like he wedged it shut or something."
In response, Yoda drew his lightsaber. In one deft stroke, he cut through the locking mechanism and the door burst open. As Shaak Ti leaped through the now-open door, an energy bolt came from the landing below. With superhuman reflexes, Yoda and his blade vaulted in front of Shaak Ti and deflected the shot with a burst of bright energy from where the lightsaber hit the blaster bolt. Shaak Ti's blade was drawn a fraction of a second later - just in case, even as they heard the clatter of the armored feet running down the stairs.
"Careless this one is," Yoda said unexcitedly. "Gave away his position, he did."
Shaak Ti nodded. "Careless, but also dangerous. He intends to keep the device at all costs."
Yoda shook his head. "Set for stun, the blaster was." He eased himself into the stairwell, a glowing green blade held at the ready. "Proceed with caution we must."
Down the stairwell the man ran, his costume of stormtrooper armor clattering with every step, his blaster unholstered in one hand and the box under the other arm. It was clumsy, running this way without the handrails, but he felt the adrenaline surge of danger. As he rounded a corner at a landing, he heard a noise at the bottom of the stairwell, a strange, almost unearthly noise as if something alien was dragging itself up the stairwell. He stopped, peered over the railing, then sprinted back up one flight to a doorway. With the Jedi above and something unknown below, he opened the door, closing it quickly, and, he hoped, quietly, behind him.
He was in another utility closet, and he opened the outer door into the hotel corridors. As he raced down the hall, he turned a corner - and nearly ran into a man dressed in long robes.
"It could be hazardous to run here," the man started to say, then his strangely upswept eyebrows raised. "You ... are the one who took the device?" he questioned sharply. As the Vulcan man turned to grasp the stormtrooper, the stormtrooper leveled his gun An energy bolt erupted and enveloped the Vulcan. The Vulcan collapsed in a heap.
The man, still in armor, turned around the corner, ignoring the stunned Vulcan behind him. From his belt he took a key card, and without pausing, he opened the first door he saw. He glanced around quickly to be sure he was alone, then he darted across the room. He parted the thick drapes, then he smiled to himself when he saw the balcony. 'Perfect,' he thought to himself as he stepped out onto the balcony. Five stories below, the streetlights cast their circles of light on the busy streets, and the occasional spotlight shone up to highlight the hotel building itself. This balcony, however, was not in a highlight, so he was nearly invisible.
The man glanced down. There were other balconies below, and a roof nearby. He pulled a line from the stormtrooper utility belt, just as Luke had in 'A New Hope', hooked it on the balcony, and began to climb over the rail. As he started to descend, he heard a noise at the door, and he saw the two Jedi - Yoda and Shaak Ti - burst through the door. He hastened his descent.
"He's getting away!" Shaak Ti called as she saw the man descend from the balcony. She drew her lightsaber, but Yoda stilled her hand.
"Harm him, we must not. Cut the line, you must not," the old Jedi Master rasped.
"But he'll get away," Shaak Ti protested.
"So sure, are you?" He chuckled. "Observe."
As the man climbed onto a balcony below, there was a flare from the street. Slowly at first, and then more quickly, a figure rose at the head of the flare. Now, it was twin flares, flames from nozzles astride a jetpack which was strapped to the back of a helmeted, armored figure. The man heard the roar of the rockets, and he turned, his face suddenly ashen, as he saw the familiar green and gray of Boba Fett ascending quickly to the balcony beside him.
Boba landed, a little off balance, and straightened himself, turning to face the armor-clad figure. The man turned, again with his blaster, and shot at Boba Fett.
The Mandalorian armor of Boba Fett absorbed the blast with no effect. As the man looked, angered at the intrusion and horror-stricken that nothing had happened, he saw Boba Fett raise his arm, extended toward the man. The man turned to run just as a dart thudded harmlessly against his armor. He bolted out of the room, crashing over a room service cart laden with food, then shoved the cart back against the door just as Boba Fett came through. Boba went down in a tangle of cart, dishes, and food.
The man ran down the hall, around a corner, and ducked into another stairwell.
As he turned to descend, the man saw an unearthly half-human, half-machine turning up onto the landing below, and then look up. The being's face was half hidden by mechanical devices of strange forms, and a red laser seemed to sweep up and down him. The Borg continued to relentlessly climb up the stairs, his eye scanning the man as he moved with emotionless determination.
The man shot, and the Borg halted. Slowly, it collapsed. But there was another behind it, and it came up the stairs as if nothing had happened. The man shot again, but this time, it was as if a prismatic shield had appeared in front of the Borg. The shot didn't even reach the being. The man turned and ran back up the stairs.
As he exited the stairwell one floor up, the man paused momentarily. He glanced around, and then he saw the landing which overlooked the mezzanine. He ran to the railing and looked down.
The mezzanine was only one floor below. He looked again - it was a long way down, but then he heard a sound in the corridors. He looked up and saw a gorgeous red-head with extended lightsaber racing toward him. He loosed a shot - which was easily deflected by the lightsaber. He turned and jumped over the railing.
Sean - Mara Jade - ran to the balcony and looked down. He'd half expected to see the man lying crumpled on the floor. Instead, the man was getting up, slowly, and he started limping across the mezzanine toward the escalator.
Without thinking twice, Sean vaulted over the railing. As he fell, he concentrated on landing upright and softly, and surprisingly, when he hit, it seemed as though he'd only fallen a few inches instead of over twelve feet. He darted after the fleeing man in the stormtrooper armor.
The man dodged and wove his way through the dealers' room. There were many fans in costume, and he seemed to blend in with the crowd. For the first time in what had seemed an hour, he permitted himself a faint smile. They couldn't track him in here.
He heard a roar, and turned with the rest of the crowd. Overhead, a man in silver and blue armor, with a jetpack and helmet, was hovering, scanning the crowd. The man frowned to himself - he'd already dealt with one man in armor. This was getting very old. He turned and walked, slowly and deliberately, toward an exit. He knew he looked out of place, since every face in the crowd was looking up at the hovering Jango Fett. But he had to get away.
As he stepped more quickly toward the door, he heard someone cry out, "There he is!" He glanced over his shoulder and saw four large men, with knobbed ridged foreheads, long unkempt hair, and covered in scaled armor, trotting toward him. The man ducked around the corner and began to run as fast as his twisted ankle would carry him.
He glanced over his shoulders again, and he saw the Klingons giving chase. He paused, and loosed a blast toward the running aliens. The blast hit one, and it halted him mid-stride. But as the man watched over his shoulder, he saw the Klingon stagger, steady himself slowly, shake his head to clear it, and then resume running.
As he hobbled along, the man glanced down at his blaster rifle, and awkwardly because of the gray case under his other arm, twisted a knob. He paused and loosed another shot at the Klingons. This time, the Klingon collapsed and hit the floor.
The man ran some more. The sound of the shots was attracting attention, and as people peeked out into the hallway from the various meeting rooms, he ducked and wove through them, using the curious fans as a newfound shield to interfere with the pursuing Klingons.
The man saw his opening, and he took it. He ducked into the main exit stairway - down to the parking garage. He was close to his escape, and he redoubled his determination to successfully complete his mission.
The man, still in stormtrooper armor, burst through the door into the dimly-lit parking garage. He glanced around to orient himself, then he set out at his best pace toward a row of cars.
From behind a pole, a woman stepped. She had flaming red hair atop her curvy body, and was clad in a dark skin-tight jumpsuit. The man paused, then he halted as the woman drew a lightsaber. It hissed to life as she held it up.
The man shot, forgetting that he'd increased power to his blaster to fight the Klingons. As he squeezed the trigger, too late, he remembered. A look of horror spread across his face at the thought that he might actually harm this woman.
The woman's arm moved faster than his eye could follow, the blade moving with it. It intercepted the bolt, deflecting it harmlessly into the floor. The man saw that she was between him and his car, and as he heard the clomping in the stairwell, he panicked. He shot, again and again and again, but each time the woman easily deflected the shots. And with each shot, she advanced a step toward him. He raised the blaster one more time, but even before he could pull the trigger, her lightsaber moved with impossible speed, and the tip of his blaster clattered to the ground.
The man threw the useless remains of his blaster at the woman, and the need to dodge the weapon distracted her enough for the man to flee. Even as he turned, he heard the door open. Three of the half-human machines clomped through the door, and immediately they began a slow advance toward him. He turned again, to run between the cars. He stopped short - between each car was a Klingon - each wearing a wicked grin and bearing a viciously curved sword, the Klingon Bat'leth.
He turned again, fleeing in the only direction possible - down the other drive. Even as he turned, he heard it. That familiar, impossible roaring whooshing sound. The helmeted figure, clad in a blue jumpsuit and silver armor pieces, landed. He turned again, but before he could take another step, he felt his arms encircled by a wire cable that wrapped around him again and again. He looked up, frustrated, as the metal case fell from beneath his arm. The last thing he saw was a woman with long, straight, black hair, upswept eyebrows, and pointed ears, as she touched his shoulder.
Danni shook her head as she glanced around the room. Mike, her gruff Klingon friend, was their, as was Darla, the Vulcan. Also present were Sean, still changed into Mara Jade, Emily, still in the form of Corran Horn, Anne as Asajj Ventress, Jenny as the diminutive green Jedi master Yoda, and the unconscious stormtrooper agent sprawled on the couch. Danni shook her head. "This is one hell of a mess now." Mike and Darla mutely nodded his agreement.
"Is he ... one of the agents you were talking about?" Sean asked softly.
"Yup," Mike snarled as he nodded.
Danni sighed. "According to the Collective, he's already reported to his superiors. He's late for a rendezvous, so they're probably on their way here."
"Damn," Mike cursed. He spun to glare at Emily and Sean. "See what you've started?"
"Mike," Danni said sternly, "give it a rest." She shook her head. "They didn't know."
"But now the agency knows more about us," Mike protested angrily.
"So now what?" Emily asked softly. "Do you eliminate him or something?"
Darla stared unbelievingly at Emily. "That would be both illogical and highly unethical."
"Replace him?" Mike suggested.
Darla shook her head. "Not again. I will not be party to another identity murder." Though her voice was emotionless, it was nonetheless firm with resolve.
Mike's jaw set with determination. "Agent Q's ... change ... was not an identity death."
Emily's mouth dropped open at Darla and Mike's exchange. She decided she'd have to ask Danni more about it - if Danni would talk.
"But can't you have someone ... impersonate him?" Sean asked as he glanced around the room.
Darla started to speak, but Danni touched her arm to still her. "We had to do that once before. It was not altogether successful. Nor was it ... pleasant."
"So why not just let him go with a box, then?" Emily asked suddenly.
Darla raised her eyebrows, and Mike frowned. "Explain," Danni commanded.
Emily glanced around her group. "Surely this agency already knows a lot about you. And from what you've said, they've encountered these devices before, so they already know something about them. And you said that the boxes stop working after a while."
Danni's eyes lit up as she grasped what Emily was getting at. "So if we give him something that looks exactly like a non-functional box, then the agency will think they won one..." She glanced at Mike. "What do you think?"
Mike shook his head. "I dunno. But it sounds better than anything I could think of."
Darla's eyebrow raised even higher. "Perhaps we could implant a Borg transceiver into the replica box, and then _we_ could learn more about the agency instead of having it work the other way."
Danni smiled. "That's it! I'm going to use the MAU to make a replica box. Darla, can you change his memories so that they're more of a dream? Give him a nice, normal, and uneventful walk to his car so he can make his meeting?"
Darla sighed. "It is preferable to erasing his identity." As Sean and Emily watched in awe, Darla put her fingers to the temple of the agent. In near total silence, she concentrated, her own eyes closing as she focused on the task at hand. Finally, after a few long minutes, she broke the contact and lifted her head. She glanced at Danni. "He will believe that he had a nightmare about being chased by science fiction characters. He will also believe that after he purloined the device, he simply walked out of the hotel to his car, which would not start, thus making him late for his rendezvous."
Mike grinned. "Good." Then his eyes widened. "His ankle! How ...?"
Darla had a smug look on her face - if, that is, Vulcans could be smug. "He will remember twisting his ankle doing down the service stairway, in which he ran to avoid bumping into fans who were also using the stairway."
Danni smiled as she retrieved a case from inside her device. She'd managed to have her device activate, make a clone copy, and stow again, while the others watched Darla and her mind meld. "You think of everything, don't you?" Then she looked at Mike. "Get him to his car, and set him in it. He'll be coming to in a couple of minutes, and his fellow agents will be here very soon.
Mike started picking up the agent, but in his stormtrooper armor, he was not easily held. "Let me help," Emily suggested as she grasped the agent's other arm. Together, they got the agent's arms on their shoulders, and with Mike holding the fake case, they dragged him out the door.
"Qapla!" Mike's voice boomed from the doorway as soon as he spied Danni in the crowded party suite. As he moved toward Danni, he snagged a metal goblet of drink from a tray. "Success!" he cried again.
Beside him, Emily seemed small, even insignificant. Even as Corran Horn, she was shorter and far less physically imposing than the large Klingon. She glanced around the room nervously, looking for Sean and some of his friends. From the assortment of Klingons, Vulcans, and other Star Trek characters, Emily felt even more out of place.
She felt the presence of Sean before she actually saw him. She permitted herself a thin smile; the extra senses of the Force were rather useful at times. Emily gently - she hoped - pushed away the goblet sloshing over with _some_ red liquid that was proffered to her. Judging from the effects that it was having on the Klingons, it was clearly some rather potent drink, and she didn't think getting drunk, or even tipsy, would be a good idea.
"I take it things went well?" Danni asked as Mike and Emily got within earshot.
Mike grinned. "It was close, but I think we pulled it off."
"Explain," Darla's request for clarification was obvious.
Emily smiled. "It looks like they bought it."
Mike tilted back his head and roared as he clapped Emily's shoulder - with sufficient strength to nearly knock Emily from her feet. "Boast of your victories!" He grinned at Danni. "It was a great victory! She helped him 'recover' from his spill on the stairway, and even helped him limp to his car!" He took a great swig of his drink, leaving red liquid pouring down his chin. "She even offered to call for help if he required!"
Danni's eyebrows raised. "Really? What was his reaction?"
Emily tried to shrug modestly. "He seemed quite grateful for the help, and he kept looking at the box. It was like ... I don't know ... he was expecting me to try to take it? Anyway, he got in his car and then his 'friends' showed up."
Darla raised her eyebrow. "Did you observe the reactions of his compatriots?"
Emily nodded. "I saw a bit as I left. I didn't want to hang around and make it seem obvious," she added. "Anyway, they didn't seem to be in any panic or anything."
Sean glanced around the room nervously. "Maybe we should go to our parties," he suggested.
Darla raised her eyebrow. "Why?"
Sean frowned. "Look at them."
Darla glanced around the room, then her eyebrow raised higher. "To what do you refer?"
Sean sighed, and he Danni mutter what sounded like 'Vulcans'. "Look. Your group isn't mingling with our group. It's like ... a standoff or something!" He winced. "You can almost feel an unspoken tension."
Danni nodded a bit. "I was hoping this wouldn't happen. After all, you guys are like us in that you've changed." She shook her head sadly. "I guess ..."
"I said, you have warped taste in science fiction!" a Klingon roared, his words a touch slurred by too much drink. He glared at a shorter, but equally ferocious-looking Darth Maul.
Maul sneered. "It is not wise to insult a Sith!" His hand was ready to reach for his lightsaber.
Danni glanced at Mike, who charged across the room and intercepted the fist coiling to strike at Maul. At the same time, Sean reached his outstretched hand toward Maul, with the result that Maul's lightsaber flew across the room into Sean's outstretched hand.
"Enough!" Danni roared over the growing noise. The effect was electric. If there was any single person who had authority over all the Trek fans, it was clearly Danni. She turned to Emily. "I'm afraid you're right. There's just too much ..." She stopped when she saw Emily's open-mouthed stare across the room, and she followed the gaze.
A green-skinned Orion slave girl was wrapping herself around one of the Jedi, dancing seductively and sensuously. Around him, the Klingons were hooting appreciatively at her dance, although a bit of jealousy seemed to be present that _they_ weren't the focus of the dancer's attention. And not too far away, Oola, the green-skinned Twilek dancing girl was sitting on the lap of a Klingon warrior, laughing and giggling as she shared a sip of his wine.
"Well, I'll be damned!" Sean muttered softly. "Maybe our groups aren't so different!"
"Yeah," Danni said with a soft laugh, "maybe we've discovered a new universal rule of sci-fi. Green skin goes with an overactive libido!"
Darth Maul approached Sean and held out his hand toward the lightsaber handle. Sean glanced at Emily, who shrugged, then he handed it back. "No more fights, got it?"
Maul frowned, but nodded. "Okay." He saw Sean and Emily's eyes widen, and he turned to follow their gaze. His eyes settled on an armor-clad busty Klingon woman looking him over and licking her lips.
"You have a warrior's spirit," she said appreciatively, undisguised lust in her voice. "I may try you." She grasped his arm tightly and pulled him to her side.
Maul's eyes widened, then he glanced at Emily. His face had a frightened, almost fearful look. Emily grinned. "What's the word?" she asked aloud. "Qapla?" She smiled at Maul. "Qapla!" she roared.
Sean watched the exchange, then his mouth opened. "But ... wasn't Denise the one that changed into Maul?"
Emily grinned. "Yup. She always was a blowhard! I'd like to see how she gets out of this one."
Danni's own mouth dropped at the exchange, and then she started laughing. With Mike and Danni wiping tears of mirth from their eyes, they watched as the suddenly helpless Maul was led away by a strong, curvy, and overly-lustful Klingon woman.
"Looks like that Sith Lord has met his match!" Sean noted dryly. He smiled at Danni. "Maybe we aren't so different after all."
Danni shook her head sadly as she looked around the room. All the Star Wars characters were still 'in costume'. "I told you the box would quit working after a short time." She glanced at Sean and Emily. "Are you sure this is the right one? You didn't accidentally give the agent the real one, did you?"
Sean scowled. "Of course not! I double-checked by making sure it worked!"
Danni sighed. "When the device quits working, it quits. Period and stop." She saw a few jaws drop. "Most of the time, someone who is playing with the device gets stuck in one odd form or another."
Maul's mouth hung open. "You mean I'm stuck ... like this?" Maul's body had scratches and scrapes visible, obvious souvenirs from his encounter with the Klingon woman.
Others began to complain, not least of them Sean and Emily now in bodies of opposite gender.
Danni held up her hands to silence the discussions. "I said _most_ of the time." Her words brought a deafening silence to the room. She looked at the box, then she reached her arm toward it. Her assimilation tubes shot forward and merged with the alien metal. For a few seconds, Danni closed her eyes in concentration. Then she opened her eyes and the tubes retracted. She handed the box to Emily.
Emily looked warily at Danni, then at the box. She traced the alien figures on the top, and immediately, the box began to grow, until it assumed its normal phone-booth proportions. Emily glanced warily at Danni, uncertain why Danni was helping them.
Danni smiled. "You - and only you - can activate the device."
Sean frowned. "Why?" he asked simply.
Danni glanced down at the carpet, then at Mike. His questioning shrug gave her none of the reinforcement or encouragement she needed. Finally, she looked back up at Emily and Sean. "Because ... you're good people. I don't know," she added uneasily. "I ... I guess I just ... I guess it's because I like you." She looked down, embarrassed.
She looked up when she felt arms around her. It was Emily - still as Corran Horn - wrapping her in an embrace. "I can honestly say that I think you're pretty cool yourself," she said softly. "And if you don't mind, I'd like to call you friend." She saw the smile on Danni's face, and she reached out to clasp her hand. "But I have one question."
Danni frowned. "Shoot."
"How did that thing make lightsabers? And the Force powers?"
Danni bit her lip. "It involves some pretty heavy Quantum Physics. I'm not sure I can explain it, but I can always get the Collective to help. _If_ you really want to know!"
Emily cringed. "No!" she said hastily. "I wasn't looking for a technical explanation. I was just ... curious." Then she smiled. "And we promise to be careful with them - however they work!"
"Well?" Sean asked Emily as the last of their group filed from the room.
"Well, what?" Emily asked in response.
"You ready to change back?" Sean answered with a question.
Emily nodded. "Yeah. This is fun, but it's time to get back to being me."
"I'm willing to bet that most kept Force powers," Sean speculated as Emily stepped to the side of the box. He shook his head. "I'm not sure I completely understood what Danni said about _how_ the Force works."
Emily frowned. "Something about sensing the electrical and magnetic and gravity fields."
Sean nodded. "Yeah, I know that part. She said they're all around us anyway, and that the Force just gives us a way to sense them." She frowned. "But the Force push? And the other manipulations?"
Emily's brow wrinkled. "Maybe we can control the fields a little bit?"
Sean shrugged. "Maybe. Anyway, it's kind of cool!" He grinned. "Did you see the way everyone stared when I grabbed Denise's - Maul's - lightsaber last night?"
Emily grinned. "Yeah. I think everyone thought the Force was cool." She knew for a fact that most of the group had elected to keep the unique powers. "Funny about Jenny, though. Staying Yoda."
Sean laughed. "As Yoda, she will stay. Good business opportunities she senses. Fun she will have, hmmm?" he mocked in his best Yoda voice.
Emily laughed as well. Then she looked thoughtful. "I feel sorry for Tim. Stuck looking like Princess Leia."
Sean paled at the thought. "Yeah. Do you think he - she - is really pregnant?"
"That's what Danni said. The box won't change someone who's pregnant."
Sean shook his head in disbelief. "It was good of Tammy to stay with him. To become him so they can stay together and all."
"Yeah. Tammy'll make a good dad."
Sean frowned. "It's going to be messy, though. Some people are going to think that Tim left Tammy for a Leia look-alike."
Emily nodded slowly. "Yeah. But they'll get through it. Danni said the Collective can help if they need it." She shook her head. "Turns out they're the ones behind the new OS and business suite. The Collective has more money than they know what to do with." She stepped to the control panel. She saw the thoughtful look on Sean's face, and she paused. "What's on your mind?"
Sean glanced up, then he snickered. "Are you reading my mind?" he asked. He looked down again. "No, I was just wondering."
"What it was like."
"What _what_ was like?" Emily started to ask. Then her mouth opened. "Oh. Ohhh!!!" She glanced warily at Sean. "You want to try something ... different?"
Sean continued to stare at the carpet. "Maybe," he said softly. He shrugged. "I guess I might be just a little bit curious." He looked up at his wife. "As long as you don't get me pregnant so I'm stuck."
Emily stared for a long moment, then she grinned. "I guess I'm a bit curious, too. But there's a couple of little problems."
Emily laughed. "What would you say if I told you I was having a fantasy about a having my way with a large-breasted blue Twilek Jedi?"
Sean's eyes widened, then he started to snicker. "You always did have a way of making our _games_ interesting, my love."
***** Epilogue *****
Agent L involuntarily patted the bandage on his forehead as he waited in the office. Beneath the bandage, the contusion was healing, but he was bound to have a scar. Moments later, the 'senior' agents assigned to work with him came in. He didn't bother to rise; the agency wasn't like that.
D sat down behind his cluttered desk and turned to his keyboard. In moments, he opened a document, while his partner C sat down lazily in another chair. After scanning the document for a bit, D turned to L. "Well?" he asked simply.
L glanced at C, then looked at D. "Looks like we missed it by a few hours," he answered.
"Yeah," C said, sounding more than a bit frustrated.
L heard C's mood in his words. He looked down at his shoes. "If I hadn't tripped, or if I'd have gotten into the room a little earlier ..."
D shook his head. "No accusations," he said firmly. "Just an observation."
C nodded. "We've never been this close before. We're getting better. Eventually, we'll get one."
L shook his head. "Yeah, but _I_ was the one in the field. It's my responsibility."
D shrugged. "If you want to take the blame, go right ahead. No one else is blaming you."
"Besides, you're the first one of us who actually used one of the damn things," C added.
L glanced at the two agents, then he sighed and leaned back heavily into the chair. "Yeah. I guess there's that."
D stared at the computer screen for several long seconds. "Well, I guess we can file this one as closed. We recovered the box, but no-joy on active."
L nodded slowly. "Sounds like a wrap to me, too."
C frowned slightly; he'd noticed something in his partner's tone and choice of words. "We got a new case," he announced. "Pretty sensitive, from what the Director said in the summary." He turned and stared at L, his face impassive.
L glanced at C, and saw the look. He knew what it meant. Cases like these were _always_ compartmentalized. "I think I'll go see what the Boss has for my next case." He stood, and without a glance behind him, he strode from the office.
C reached out and shut the door after L had left. "Something isn't quite right, is it?" he asked bluntly.
D shook his head. "It's all a little _too_ convenient."
C nodded his agreement. "The 'dream' about the chase. The injury on the stairs. And the debriefs and news stories from the convention."
D sighed and sat back in his chair. "Psych gave him a very thorough check and hypnotic memory scan. Everything checked out."
"And that bothers you."
D nodded slowly. "You know the reports. Cybernetic Borg. Star Trek aliens. And now Star Wars aliens and characters. Weapons. Force fields. Blasters. Laser swords."
C interrupted. "They're called 'lightsabers'."
D frowned. "_I_ know that!" he snapped. "I'm not _that_ old!"
C started to say something, then he decided to hold his tongue. After a second, he found another direction. "You think there's too much correlation between his dream and the reports?"
D nodded. "And I bet you do, too." His eyes narrowed as he scanned the file. "You know that these people aren't just your average yokels dreaming of big-chested blondes. These guys are smart. Real smart."
D raised one eyebrow. His partner was starting to think like he was. And that was both good and bad. "It seems that there are two groups. The Star Trek guys, and this new group of Star Wars people. And I think we better watch both these groups."
C nodded grimly. "You know," he observed quietly, "we might have better luck with the new group. They haven't had their ... toy as long."
D narrowed his eyes. "Good point. We'll have to ask the boss to assign an agent to it."
D shook his head. "His cover is blown." He looked at his computer for a few seconds as if the display would help him collect his thoughts. "He's a rookie. He's making rookie mistakes. And with these groups, we can't afford that. They're too smart."
"I see your point. The boss'll probably give him something simple. Like the hunting group. Or that logging camp." C sighed.
D nodded his agreement. "He'll probably do okay on the simple ones." He glanced at the computer again. "In the meantime, we're going to have to open up some new case files," he said. "How many weird Star Wars aliens are there running around out there now? How many more after the _next_ convention?"
C laughed. "This could be one _thick_ case file." He clicked his computer and saved the files. "Let's go get a cup of coffee. I have a feeling we're going to need it."
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