The Providers is the name assigned to a trio of three non-humanoid beings that controlled the planet Triskelion in the M24 Alpha trinary star system. They appeared as three disembodied brains contained in a special device that served the role of life support as well as communication.
The Providers did not devote themselves to conquest or scientific exploration or expansion but rather had the habit of abducting individuals from varying species and forcing them into gladitorial combat. The object of which was their need to 'gamble' and place bets on who the victor would be and, thus, earn the reward in quatloos.
The Providers encountered the Vulcan travellers that were on the Exile from their homeworld in order to continue their civilization anew. They captured scouting parties from the Exile fleet of the Great Ships and forced them into gladitorial combat. Several died until an elder Vulcan known as Rovalat infiltrated the Provider base. The aged Vulcan was allowed to enter by the Providers who bet on his success, however, Rovalat gained the advantage by threatening to destroy the Providers life support equipment. In exchange for stopping his course of action, Rovalat demanded that the Vulcan prisoners be released to which the Providers responded by unleashing their Master Thrall on the Vulcan. The Thrall was defeated but more Drill Thralls took its place. Sensing his chances of success diminishing, Rovalat threatened to destroy the Providers by using a fusion grenade.
In exchange for letting the prisoners go, the Providers asked that Rovalat stayed to amuse them, to which he agreed. After the Vulcan prisoners were released, Rovalat activated the grenade which exploded within the Providers chamber. Rovalat was kiled, however, his image caster, which sent a visual link to the Exile ship Shavokh showed that the Providers survived. (TOS - Vulcan's Soul novel: Exiles)
- This perhaps suggest that the Providers were a very old species that pursued their current form of life for many centuries.
Centuries later, the Klingons first encountered the Providers. Klingon privateers exchanged beings taken on prize ships as new Drill Thralls for valuable mineral resources from the Providers. (TOS novel: The Final Reflection)
The Federation's first contact occured in 2268. The Providers abducted Captain James T. Kirk via some form of long distance transporter and forced him into gladitorial combat with the Drill Thralls under their command. (TOS episode: "The Gamesters of Triskelion")
The Romulan Star Empire attempted an invasion of the planet in order to gain the advanced technology of the Providers but this failed due to intervention by the Federation and Klingon Empire. (TOS short story: "The Lights in the Sky")