After a meeting with Countess Adriana Monocerotis and several ship captains, the countess briefs them on their exploration plans. The Nova Star will explore 17 planets in 5 systems inside the Dragon’s Lair Nebula. Although the Galactic Survey used long range sensors to observe, measure and catalog every planet and moon in the nebula several centuries ago, nobody has been able to get a ship into the center of the nebula without the hyperdrive collapsing, due to an extremely large number of giant stars around the nebula’s perimiter. The gravity of these stars collapses a hyperdrive in about the same way as an Interdictor. Nobody has ever been close enough to determine whether any of these planets are habitable, much less attempt to settle them.
With the aid of the scientist, Doctor Nogo Larogo, the Nova Star enters the Dragon’s Lair Nebula and manages to reach the interior without falling out of hyperspace. They are the first ship ever to explore the interior of the nebula, or so they think.
What they discover is not what they were expecting.
Many have made it to the interior of the nebula, just not by using a hyperdrive. There is a thriving Herglic colony which wants nothing to do with Human Imperials. On another planet, they find a xenophobic Wookie living in a log cabin. On other planets, they find an abandoned pirate base, a worked-out irridium mine, a jungle planet full of giant reptiles, a greenhose planet with droid-eating slugs, and an abandoned Imperial Intelligence listening post.
As they explore the spy base, they discover a star chart on which all the other inhabited worlds in the area are marked. There is one more they haven’t found – one which wasn’t even recorded in the Galactic Survey archives. It is so close to its parent star, it can’t even be detected from this close. In fact, it looks like it should be inside the star’s coronasphere, yet it is marked as inhabited.
With their treasure trove of star maps and Imperial Intelligence documents, the characters head for the mystery planet. Their tri-phasic shields make it possible to enter the weak coronasphere of this dim star, find the hidden planet, and land in a 50-mile-across protected biome on the side facing the star. The area is protected by a simple magnetic shield, strong enough to hold solar flares at bay but smart enough to let the Nova Star pass through.
In the center of the biome, they discover the castle of a mad scientist, a Duros called Theron Ploon. He has been dead for 17 years, but his droids are still slaving away, tending the gardens and the small animals, cleaning the castle and trying to keep each other and the shield in good repair. They also vigorously defend the castle against the intruders.
Once the battle droids are subdued, the characters search the house and uncover disturbing secrets – a cybernetics lab where cybernetic implants for spies were created, a partially working scale mockup of the main powerplant of the Death Star, a scale model of a smaller (never built) version of the Death Star, Prototypes and research material suggesting that Dr. Ploon made extensive improvements to the tri-phasic shield, battered equipment salvaged from the Star Forge, a specialized communication device capable of sending holo-transmissions into the Maw, a cyborg who was killed by the droids not very long ago, tons of information about the Yuuzhan-Vong from years before anyone should have known they were coming, detailed long-range sensor scans of Zonama Sekot, full medical records (including never before revealed near-fatal injuries) of one of their past leaders, Count Vladimir Monocerotis I, and a scale model of the former count’s flagship. It is apparent that this mad scientist was the inventor of many dangerous technologies used by the Emperor, but also of the technology that allowed the Nova Star to penetrate the Dragon’s Lair and find his castle.
Believing that they are on the trail of the true reason the Yuuzhan-Vong thought Casperia had to die, they dig deeper, and find more and more links between Dr. Ploon, Count Vladimir I and Emperor Palpatine. They also discover records of transmissions made from the specialized communication equipment and make note of the coordinates of every transmission. They recognize most of the destinations – the Maw, several locations on Coruscant, Casperia, Korriban, The Eye, Kuat, Geonosa, Camino, Wakatu, Kashyyyk, and others. They also spot a few locations where no planet exists, even some where no planet could ever exist. They make note of these impossible locations and make plans to visit some of them.